and the evangelical deception.
Most evangelical Christians would bristle at the suggestion they have been deceived or are deceiving other in promoting Jesus as the eternal Savior of mankind. But such “thinking” is not based on anything but an irrational belief in the Bible as the divinely inspired Word of God fueled by fear of death and hope in the afterlife.
27Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”(Mark 8:27, emphasis added)
The Grand Delusion
Nobody was more surprised he was not the messiah than Jesus himself. Today, groups like evangelicals continue to propagate this deception, especially on their children and the vulnerable.
I can tell you with reasonable certainty, Jesus was not who most people think he was. In fact, he wasn’t even who he thought he was. Mystery about his true identity has not ceased for two thousand years largely because Christians had controlled the narrative. There is no excuse for this to continue in a post Enlightenment scientific world where rationalism not revelation is king. Unfortunately many among us live in a post truth world where experiential faith girded by fear and hope rules.
Most Jews (Israelites) regarded Jesus as a prophet and briefly as a potential political messiah (“King of the Jews”). His death ended both expectations. The total absence of a single follower or even his own mother at his tomb is the most damning evidence against the resurrection story. His prolonged failure to return as Israel’s messiah and redeemer resulted in most Jews abandoning him. A trend which continues to this day.
The irrational evangelical*
*Note to Reader: I am acutely aware of the nebulousness surrounding the term evangelical. It has become virtually impossible to accurately define what an evangelical is today, but it’s currently the best term we have. When used throughout this article it will be with the acknowledgement that not “all” evangelicals subscribe to any one belief but a significant number do to those mentioned below. Therefore it will be the responsibility of the reader to make his or her own determination as to whether the material applies to them. The one thing almost all evangelicals must concede is belief in the resurrection of Jesus. If this central pillar is removed, Christianity crumbles. It is my contention such a belief is exclusively irrational finding no basis in empirical data, logic, reason or common sense.
To label Jesus as “deluded” is to invite criticism. However, the vast majority of those who take umbrage at this suggestion have no rational basis for it. If you distill Christian believe to its purest form, it is founded on irrational experientialism and blind presuppositionalism. When backed into a rational corner, most Christians default to their personal relationship with God, Jesus or the Holy Spirit as the ultimate proof of the validity of their faith and the authority of the Bible.
The infallibility of experientialism
While groups like evangelicals will ostensibly profess belief in the absolute inerrancy of the Bible, it is really their experience with God which serves as the basis for their conviction in the authority of the Bible.
A divine spiritual or mystical experience or encounter with God or the supernatural does not prove anything beyond the experience itself — no matter how powerful and affirming it may be. By itself, it cannot provide independent truth, I.e., the existence of God.
Individual experience cannot be shared anymore than pain can be shared. People may have similar faith experiences but this only proves the commonality of the source. Like two snowflakes, no two religious experiences are absolutely identical anymore than any two individuals are identical. Evangelical Christianity, or any iteration of it, stops and starts at a personal experience or “relationship” with God.
Anyone who has ever engaged in a spirited debate with a Bible believing Christian know how frustratingly fruitless and futile it can be. It is like playing a game of mental chess where one player has a magic king which can move anywhere on the board when put in checkmate.
A personal relationship with God is by definition supernatural and those who default to it are intractable when it comes to challenging it. No argument in the universe regardless of how compelling can dissuade someone from their own awareness of or encounter with God. Doubt is the only key that can unlock the door of faith and only a believer holds it.
An unlikely ending to a spectacular beginning
Jesus revolutionized my life then I abandoned him.
The path I took from devout follower of Jesus to diehard unbeliever is unique. It establishes my credibility both academically and experientially to write on such a controversial and complicate subject.
I was converted as a depressed and distraught teenager from a non Christian home. There were many contributing factors to my insecurities. My father was an uneducated and harsh man who was emotionally detached from my mother and his children. He offered little affection or guidance. My mother had her hands full with seven children one of whom was special needs requiring additional care. For the most part we were left to fend for ourselves.
We were easily the poorest of our friends living in a century old run down farmhouse with little insulation and plumbing issues that left a large external hole in the upstairs bathroom. A plastic tarp served as the only barrier from the outside. Our “rugs” consisted of carpet scraps taped together. Large rats occupied the basement while mice the kitchen.
As a left handed child, I faced additional obstacles. I struggled through school from the beginning receiving low grades for sloppy or unfinished work. I grew increasingly frustrated in class at not being able to take legible or complete notes and quickly fell behind. I rarely did homework or assignments to avoid more negative feedback and as a way to punish those who treated me as a problem. I became the proverbial class clown to gain attention and deflect my pain.
I was always among the smallest in my class earning nicknames like, “runt” and “scrawny Ronnie.” I was the source of constant ridicule and teasing always trying to make friends. As I grew older my pain seemed to increase as I became acutely aware of my deficiencies both academically, physically and socially. I longed for a girlfriend but was ashamed of myself and thought I had nothing to offer anyone. I can vividly recall the immense emotional torment of “loving” a girl but not having the confidence to do anything about it.
I remember constantly wondering why God had chosen to punish me. What had I done to deserve this pain. Eventually I resigned myself to being a loser with few prospects apart from working in a grocery store. Then I was approached by one of the schools brightest and most popular students.
He invited me to church. I accepted not because I thought I would find answers but because I felt honored he wanted me to come with him. Anybody who showed any interest in me, I would gravitate towards. The details of what transpired during the next three months cannot detain us now. Suffice it to say, I converted because I had never received such unconditional love and support from anybody, including my family. Almost immediately those I encountered at this small church warmly accepted me and soon adopted me as one of their own. They genuinely cared about helping and listening to me.
I am writing this as someone who has completely rejected everything about Christianity that claims to be divine or supernatural. I do not believe Jesus was anything more than a self deluded Israelite from Galilee with messianic dreams that died with him on the cross. I believe the Bible is exclusively the product of ancient imagination unrestrained by science. I firmly reject the God depicted in the Bible is anything more than a reflection of tribalistic thinking. But, many of those evangelical Christians who loved me and tried to help me did so out of sincerely genuine motives. This truth is undeniable.
What will surprise most readers is what I am going to say next. Jesus absolutely transformed my life in a way that could only be described as miraculous. My life changed so radically, I didn’t even recognize the “new” me. One of the most noticeable physical changes was when I realized my fingernails needed cutting. I had chewed my nails habitually since I could remember. I was no longer nervous and anxious. I also had a new capacity for love and was happy. I began to like myself and felt my confidence grow stronger each day. People respected me and wanted to be around me. It was, and still is, I can say without reservation the most wonderful time of my life, even if it was generated by religious fantasy.
It should come as no surprise to anyone I would immediately dedicate my life to serving Jesus. I first went to Bible school overseas, then Moody Bible College (Chicago, Illinois) when I returned. Finally I enrolled at Dallas Theological Seminary (Dallas, Texas), but when I graduated my evangelical faith was in shambles. I had too many doubts to seek a ministry position. Instead, I purposed to take a year to deconstruct and rebuild my faith using the tools and knowledge I had acquired during the last decade of training.
If there is anything unique about my journey to find the truth, it is how I ended up losing my faith. I set out to deepen and strengthen my commitment to God, not abandon him. My motives were pure. I was immensely satisfied in my relationship with God. It was the evangelical system both theologically and practically which I had come to view with skepticism. In short, I felt being trapped in evangelicalism with evangelicals was stifling my faith.
I saw blatant hypocrisy and insipidness of commitment all around me among my fellow believers. I wondered why they lacked the discipline and dedication I found a natural outgrowth of my love and gratitude toward Jesus. I reasoned it must be the consequence of evangelical dogma.
Doctrines like pre-tribulation premillennial dispensationalism seemed synthetic and fostered a bland and shallow version of Christianity. Escape from judgment and the promise of eternal security de-incentivized Christians from righteous living and promoted languidness.
I reasoned by dismantling my faith and reconstructing it theological brick by brick, I would emerge a stronger Christian. Surely God would reward my efforts with a more authentic faith.
I approached the Bible with unflinching objectivity in an effort to discover the true meaning of the text. I was certain my unwavering faith in who Jesus was would sustain me in this quest. In doing so, I unknowingly had let down my faith guard and was seeing the Bible for the first time without any preconceived bias. It was intellectually liberating but also disconcerting. At first many of the doctrines I had been suspicious of fell, such as symbolic not efficacious baptism and verbal plenary inspiration. Then other beliefs I had thought inviolable began to crumble such as the Trinity and supreme deity of Jesus. Eventually, the cornerstone of Christianity was in my sights — the resurrection.
The resurrection myth
No doctrine is more cherished or more important to the Christian faith than the literal resurrection of Jesus from the dead. One’s eternal hope rests squarely on whether this is historical or not. I began to perform a precise exegetical study on the details contained in the four gospels on this event, analyzing and comparing them with unflinching honesty. It took me several years. In the end, reason prevailed and I had to conclude it was both logically and theologically unjustified on two grounds. First, the contradictions and logical implausibilities among the gospel writers, and second, the prophetic link validating Jesus role from the Hebrew Bible.
In the four decades I have dedicated to an exhaustive study of the Bible, nothing has captured my attention more than the life of Jesus. His birth, life, death and resurrection are the pillars of Christianity. If any one is removed, the entire superstructure crumbles to the ground.
Who was Jesus, honestly?
Jesus, quite simply, was a common everyday Israelite from Galilee who had a transformative experience when he was baptized by John. He was about thirty years of age and the son of a carpenter. During or shortly after his baptism, Jesus had a heavenly encounter with God (Yahweh), whereby he thought himself anointed and appointed by God to preach the “good news” of the soon to arrive kingdom of God as an End Days prophet (Mark 1:14,15). About a year later while visiting Jerusalem, some politically active Passover pilgrims (Zealots?) nominated him, “King of the Jews.” A title he readily accepted. It was this moment he sealed his own fate putting him on a course with destiny.
46About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lemasabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”)((Matthew 27:46, quoting Psalm 22:1))
These final words of Jesus as he hung on the cross, reveal his innermost anguish and the cruel reality of the situation. His God had abandoned him. As the life drained from his body, he knew his messianic dreams would die with him. He trusted in God until the end, but in the end God deserted him.
This moment marked the end of the earthly Jesus and would not have merited so much as a footnote on the pages of history were it not for his band of followers, particularly the women who adored him and attended to his burial.
Nobody expected Jesus to be raised from the dead lest of all his disciples who were already making preparations to return to their previous vocations. Even the women who visited his tomb that Easter morning were there to embalm him for permanent burial. He had failed in his bid to gain the throne thus ending all messianic expectations. It was a reign that never came.
A woman of questionable psychological stability from whom Jesus had exorcised seven demons (Lk. 8:2), Mary of Magdala, would be the linchpin to start the resurrection myth. Her mystical encounter with an angel(s) and the risen Jesus himself would serve as the genesis to launch the biggest religion the world has ever seen. Her claim would ignite the faith of others who would also share in similar mystical experiences. Christianity had begun.
The survival of this fledgling faith depended on eyewitness accounts of the resurrected Jesus and the immediate inauguration of the Messianic kingdom, neither of which materialized. This gave birth to the ascension theory and the return of the heavenly glorified Christ found especially in apocalyptic sections of the synoptic gospels. Again, expectations waned with each passing day without a Redeemer for Israel.
Meanwhile, a new branch of Christianity had begun among the pagan Gentiles through the efforts of a converted upstart Pharisee named Paul. He would introduce his Gentile version of the gospel which had been stripped of all Judaistic encumbrances especially circumcision. Unbeknownst to Paul, his new gospel would ensure Christianity’s future survival.
Paul’s “other” gospel
11”I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. 12I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.”(Galatians 1:11,12)
The conflict between the Jerusalem church’s original gospel and Paul’s new version for Gentiles is well documented in the books of Acts (Acts 15:1-5) and Galatians (Gal. 2:11-18). The saying, “History is written by the victors,” is applicable to Christianity’s final version.
As the decades passed, Jewish Christianity languished and a once fervent hope turned to despair due to Jesus’ protracted delay. In Romans chapters nine through eleven, Paul seized on this opportunity to introduce his teaching of a divinely orchestrated national “spiritual hardness” (Rom. 9:18; 11:7,25) among Israelites to allow for Gentile inclusion. To explain only a small acceptance among Jews, he deferred to remnant theology.
5”So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. 6And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.
7What then? What the people of Israel sought so earnestly they did not obtain. The elect among them did, but the others were hardened…”(Romans 11:5-7, emphasis added)
25”I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, 26and in this way all Israel will be saved.”(Romans 11:25,26a, emphasis added)
Masterfully, he posited the reason for Israel’s widespread disbelief was divinely ordained. A temporary spiritual blindness had beset the nation so Gentiles could partake of salvation. When Jesus did arrive in “the clouds of glory,” the blinders would be removed and “all Israel would be saved.” Realistically, Paul thought it would occur in his lifetime. This theological rationalization seemed perfectly suited to explain the initial limited Jewish response along with Israel’s present widespread rejection and the enthusiastic response among Gentiles. It would also seemed perfectly suited to the most important event looming on the horizon since Jesus’ death.
The Jewish revolt and fall of Jerusalem under Roman general Titus (66-70AD), would have a catastrophic effect on Jewish followers of the heavenly Christ. It would sound the death knell for the original Jerusalem church while launching Gentile Christianity on an independent path. Christianity was now free from its Jewish parentage and able to flourish on its own. It still had many challenges to face both from within and without but its foundation had been firmly established in the Roman Empire.
The “All or Nothing” Gamble of Jewish Christianity
5”The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.”(Matthew 25:8, also 24:48; 25:19, emphasis added)
13“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.”(Matthew 25:13, emphasis added)
31“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.”(Matthew 25:31,32, emphasis added)
46“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”(Matthew 25:46, emphasis added)
The horrendous events surrounding the siege and fall of Jerusalem seemed to portend the coming of Jesus. Either he was coming back soon as messiah or he was never coming back. The gospel writings reflect this all in attitude among Jewish Christians which was hemorrhaging followers and those who remained were growing increasingly disillusioned and apathetic. The message was be alert and ready or be found unprepared and suffer judgment (see texts above).
If we pull back the camera of history, a clear picture emerges. Israel’s rejection of Jesus was justified and to be expected. Although Christian writers have been quick to condemn Jewish antipathy toward Jesus and his followers, this presumes Jesus was a legitimate messiah. Those Jewish leaders entrusted with vetting messianic claimants determined Jesus did not satisfy the necessary criteria and rejected him. They were right!
It is the reason Jews have continued to refuse acknowledging his messiahship for two thousand years. Centuries of coerced conversions and persecution by Christians bare testimony to this strained relationship. Jews are vilified even today for their abject resistance to Christianity. This in spite of a tight knit relationship with evangelicals for several centuries, none more so than today.
Gentile Christianity, on the other hand, was not encumbered with hope of national restoration like their Jewish brethren. They had no expectations rooted in prophetic history or a physical kingdom and earthly ruler. Furthermore, doctrines like the Trinity, which would be anathema to Jews, found receptivity among Gentiles comfortable with polytheism. Gentile Christianity promoted a mostly spiritual kingdom and king making it theologically malleable. The ecumenical councils of the fourth through sixth centuries are testimony to Christianity’s ability to evolve and change unfettered by the carnal constraints inherent in the traditions.
WWJT (“What would Jesus think?”)
If Jesus were alive today, he would be aghast that his name had been attached to a religion entirely outside Judaism that extolled him as God, especially a version as shallow as American evangelicalism.
To suggest the current model of evangelical Christianity practiced by Americans was envisioned by Jesus is indefensible. And to be fair, this divergence from who the earthly Jesus was and taught began as soon as the resurrection story was launched. The resurrection story spawned the theory of Jesus’ divinity to explain his disappearance. When neither followers or skeptics could locate him, it was surmised he was glorified in heaven and now possessed a spiritual body.
32″God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. 33Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. 34For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said,
“ ‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand
35until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” ’[Psalm 110:1]
36“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”(Acts 2:32-36)
Early Christians entertained a Jesus in subordination to God (1 Cor. 11:3) both in role and essence who was ”both Lord and Messiah.” He was the highest of the created order (Heb. 1:3). John would hijack the “logos” concept and apply it to Jesus to stress his eternality. Centuries later this would develop into full blown equality with God and the doctrine of the Trinity.
Initially Gentile Christianity broke with Jewish Christianity along the fault line of the Mosaic Law. But this was only the beginning of a theological fissure which would expand until the divinity of Jesus rose to the height of equality with Yahweh and the doctrine of the Trinity was born.
Evangelicals have invented some of the most pernicious doctrines Christianity has ever seen in Pre-tribulation premillennial dispensationalism, easy believeism and eternal security. In conjunction these doctrines have bred a flaccid and lethargic brand of Christianity not remotely close to biblical or traditional Christianity.
The Apostle Paul: The Savior of Christianity
Paul really is the true savior of Christianity. Were it not for him, Christianity would have withered and died before the end of the first century. Time prevents us from going into a detailed analysis of Paul indispensable contribution to Christianity. We pause only for a brief synopsis.
Why someone formerly so committed to Judaism would be the ambassador of a faith which jettisoned these ancient traditions is at first glance puzzling. One can only guess it was for pragmatic reasons.
After his dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus (Acts 9), Paul re-channeled his zeal for Judaism to Christianity. However his past atrocities against Christians cast suspicions on his motives. Was he an impostor seeking to ferret out Christians for punishment? Also, he endeavored to evangelize his Jewish brethren who castigated him as a defector and detractor from Judaism, a preacher of a false messiah. Jewish antagonism to his efforts limited his options for a gospel exclusively linked to Judaism.
According to the book of Acts, Peter was first to offer the gospel to a “God-fearer” named Cornelius (Acts 10). These were Gentile half converts to Judaism who had not been circumcised but otherwise practiced strict conformity to the law. It was the opportunity Paul needed.
If historically accurate, Paul’s visit to Psidian Antioch (Acts 13:13-52) marks perhaps Christianity’s most pivotal moment. It is here Paul declares the transition of the gospel from Jew to Gentile on the basis of their antipathy to it (Acts 13:46). A close inspection of the text yields some interesting details.
23“From this man’s descendants God has brought to Israel the Savior Jesus, as he promised.”(Acts 13:23, emphasis added)
26“Fellow children of Abraham and you God-fearing Gentiles, it is to us that this message of salvation has been sent.”(Acts 13:26, emphasis added)
32“We tell you the good news: What God promised our ancestors.”(Acts 13:32, emphasis added)
38“Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you.”(Acts 13:38, emphasis added)
44”On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. 45When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy. They began to contradict what Paul was saying and heaped abuse on him.
46Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. 47For this is what the Lord has commanded us:
“ ‘I have made you [sing.] a light for the Gentiles,
that you [sing.] may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’”[Isaiah 49:6](Acts 13:44-47, emphasis added)
According to the text, Paul’s decision to “turn to” the Gentiles was precipitated by the local Jews “jealousy” resulting in their heaping of abuse on him. What is easy to miss is the source of this anger was because Paul had stressed repeatedly the gospel was solely for Israel (see above texts) only to then offer it to pagan Gentiles. Note this was prior to the Jewish leaders opposition. Paul pre-empted his trip to the synagogue to preach to the Gentiles without provocation.
Unlike Cornelius, these residents had no connection to Judaism. They were pagan polytheists. Paul was effectively removing the gospel from Judaism entirely. It is perfectly understandable why those affiliated with Judaism would take such umbrage at Paul’s actions. Paul was singlehandedly destroying centuries of ancient tradition which had fairly recently (The Maccabean Revolt of the 2nd century BC) seen the deaths of many Jews who refused to compromise their faith to accommodate Hellenism.
The attractiveness of offering the ancient promises without any of the attending covenantal obligations serves as a defining moment for Christianity. Paul would experience stiff resistance from Jesus’ disciples but expediency would outweigh theological concerns. Jewish Christianity was floundering while Gentile Christianity was flourishing.
A faith predicated on fear and a promise of hope
Why does a faith rooted in ancient superstitions continue to dominate the world two thousand years later? Fear and hope are religions greatest and most effective weapons. The first creates the need for the second. Christianity more than any religion exploits mankind’s perennial fear of death and the afterlife but adds the element of judgment to stoke the fires hotter. Those who don’t believe will face the wrath of God. Not believing is on par with rejection and carries a steep price.
There is a second reason for Christianity’s long standing prominence in Western Civilization — ignorance. Until the last five hundred years, Christians were illiterate and unlearned about the Bible they venerated. In the context of the Middle Ages, their ignorance was excusable. Today, despite having an endless resource of information readily available, most Christians choose not to avail themselves of biblical knowledge.
Regular polls belie a paltry knowledge of even the most basic understanding of Christianity’s central tenets. A vague familiarity with some texts, themes and stories passes for biblical literacy. Generally speaking, Christians are uninformed, ill-informed or misinformed about the Bible. Herein, lies the crux of the matter and the impetus for my work.
Anybody who views the Bible as, “The inspired Word of God,” meaning it is imbued with God’s divine spirit, is either guilty of lack of knowledge about the Bible or incorrect knowledge about the Bible. Being a Christian means you have bought into the central premise of the New Testament — the resurrection. This is compounded by a belief the entire corpus of Hebrew writings “points” to the person and work of Jesus as the eternal messiah. While most have become so accustomed to seeing the Bible as presented by Christians, they barely flinch at such a suggestion. Conversely, those who approach these writings from a position of evidence, logic and reason are compelled to reach a different verdict.
Word of God or religious propaganda?
Society has been conditioned to think of the Bible as a special book. It is not. It is a collection of the writings of highly devoted religious men. In the case of the Hebrew Bible, Israelites belonging exclusively to the cult of Yahweh are responsible for controlling and creating its content. Whereas in the New Testament, believers in the divine Christ are credited with constructing a religion embedded in ancient prophecy.
Nobody thinks the gods of Greek mythology or any ancient religion are real. Nobody worships Marduk or Moloch. Many evangelicals would go so far as to discount any current gods (Hinduism) or spirits (animism) other than the God of the Bible, angels, Satan and demons. So why does this sacred book continue to enjoy such a vaunted position in society? How did it ever get out of the first century of its inception?
Being born-again, again
It may surprise most to know, the vast majority of evangelicals are the product of re-population from within. Evangelicalism survives on the conversion of its children. And while parents may feel they are doing their children an immense service by converting them early in childhood, this presumes the validity of the faith being transferred.
What would an evangelical think if a cult member indoctrinated (brainwashed) their child into believing what they did? I am definitely not saying evangelicalism is a cult, but it does have cult-like characteristics such as its own alternative reality, authoritative writings which transcend all others including science and group reinforcement to name a few.
In an ideal Christian world, almost all conversions would take place during adulthood independent of familial coercion as depicted in the New Testament. The reason this is not the model is because forcing your children to convert effectively keeps evangelicalism going and reduces the necessity for outside converts. The primary goal of churches is directed at keeping their youth within the fold. I believe this to be evangelicalism greatest crime.
Subjecting children to evangelistic efforts is unfair and unjust. No child has achieved a level of cognitive ability to be able to ascertain logically whether Christianity is reasonable viable. This decision should take place during adulthood independent of the influence of primary caregivers or authority figures within the church. If this were the practice, evangelicalism would all but disappear. Simply put, evangelicals prey on the weak, vulnerable and easily exploited members of society.
Favorite targets of televangelists are the elderly and sick because of fear of their own impending death or that of a loved one. Also, the desperate and needy are lured by promises of deliverance and healing. Few healthy, educated, successful adult converts to Christianity.
“What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” (Tertullian, 2nd century AD)
No rational road leads to belief in an infallible Bible as championed by evangelical or conservative Christians. Only those who have already accepted its central premise — the supernatural resurrection of Jesus from the dead — would ever subscribe to its teachings.
Accepting the Bible at face value is to fall victim to the greatest piece of religious propaganda ever produced by men. To assume the Bible contains predictive prophecy, miracles and the supernatural, is non contradictory, factually accurate and logically plausible is to have never studied it objectively and critically, which is to say, as a dispassionate unbeliever without faith bias.
Religions worldwide are largely populated by the offspring of adherents. A child born in India is unlikely to be raised a Buddhist unless born into a Buddhist family. Inheriting your parents faith also carries cultural appropriation increasing the incentive to carry on the belief and making it hard to abandon one without sacrificing the other. Many American Christians are as fiercely nationalistic as they are religious making each indistinguishable and inseparable from the other. The intrusion of politics into American Christianity has added additional complexity to the matter. Sacralism is a blight on the political landscape of America.
Evangelical or conservative Christians are among those most guilty of the ideological impregnation of their children. A child is exposed to “the gospel” at a young age with many being immersed in the evangelical culture and indoctrinated during childhood. It may be as basic as the need to “be saved” to escape eternal damnation. While parents will profess to allow the child to choose whether to continue in the faith when an adult, by this time most have been sufficiently crippled intellectually and emotionally to have little hope of leaving psychologically unscathed.
The ultimate goal of all parents is to save their children, a noble calling only if valid. After that, their concerns may diminish but this singular event traps a person into thinking they are forever saved as long as they don’t stop believing and deny Jesus. This helps to explain how millions claim to have been saved yet show no distinguishable signs of aspiring to New Testament ideals. These “closet” evangelical Christians remain an untapped reservoir who can be potentially recruited and activated by unscrupulous evangelical leaders.
Why the Bible is not the Word of God
Nobody enters the faith through the door of reason because there isn’t a logical path that leads to it. As noted, faith is instilled during preadolescence before a child reaches intellectual maturity or through a personal crisis experience when one is most vulnerable (see below). Then the faith is reinforced to provide cognitive equanimity by postulating belief in the non rational spiritual realm. This carries a presupposition of the supernatural which reinterprets reality to conform to it based on the biblical text.
I can say with utter conviction, anybody studying the Hebrew Bible independently would never arrive at anything approximating Christianity, especially the Gentile version. Furthermore, a rationally objective analysis of the New Testament in historical context would conclude Christianity was an ancient superstition based on a creative use of Hebrew prophecy called esotericism. Early Christians approached the prophetic writings like a treasure hunter looking for gems. Hidden beneath the surface, literal meaning of the text were “mysteries” revealed in time by God’s spirit to those whom he chose.
There are many reasons why one should not believe the Bible is the inerrant word of God but none so important as the inconsistencies, contradictions and implausibilities surrounding Jesus’ resurrection as recorded in it. I must confess I was blind for years to what was before my very eyes. You don’t see what you’re not looking for, and you most certainly won’t look for something you don’t want to find. Also, the so called proof texts used by New Testament writers to construct their theology cannot be justified on the basis of an honest, literal, historical and contextual interpretation.
A steep price to pay for intellectual honesty
I surrendered my life for Jesus. Then I surrendered Jesus for my life.
I sacrificed some of the most important and best years of my life, thousands of dollars, time, energy, pleasures, friends and family on the altar of faith — willingly, joyfully and ignorantly.
How could I throw away a faith that had given me so much peace, comfort, strength, direction, meaning and hope? The loss of my faith was a steady and slow erosion over several years. One day it collapsed under the weight of rationalism. After years of exhaustive study, it was painfully obvious there was no faith left in which to believe. It had been an illusion. Simple intellectual honesty had brought me full circle, with one exception. I discovered it was not God who changed my life. The potential had resided within me the entire time. I think this is the lesson to be learned.
Faith works by unlocking one’s potential. The belief in “Someone” else more powerful than ourselves who indwells us (Eph. 1:13) by His holy spirit is the essence of the Christian life. Being a Christian is not simply a belief, it is a victorious life over sin by identifying with Jesus death and unleashing the power of his resurrection (Romans 6:5,6). It is a matter of thinking we can’t reach our human potential because we are restricted by sin. Only Jesus can free us from ourselves.
The realization it was me not God who had turned my life around was deeply satisfying and bitterly sweet. I wondered how my life would have turned out had someone had helped me gain the confidence I desperately lacked as a child. I would never have been so vulnerable to being evangelized. How many others like me were there? It should be a wake up call for anyone who thinks without God they are destined to failure or worse. It’s the Wizard of Oz phenomenon.
I paid a huge price, twice. First when I gave up everything for Jesus, and second when I gave up Jesus to reclaim my life. I graduated with two theological degrees and an investment of fifteen years in evangelicalism. It takes a great amount of bravery to walk away from friends, a career and years of Christian service and training. What can you do with an education in something you no longer believe? Write a book?
Evangelicals unknowingly are victims of their own ideology. Once trapped, it is difficult to escape. Fear of divine reprisal in the form of eternal damnation forces many to pay lip service and exhibit a less than robust style of faith. The American religious landscape is littered with lethargic and apathetic followers of Jesus. But even this comes with a high price tag.
Evangelical Christian in America has turned its focus from internal piety to external religious reform. Instead of trying to effect society through a vibrant expression of New Testament ideals, evangelicals have weaponized the Bible and turned politically militaristic. These efforts have the appearance of sanctimony but lack the moral integrity of the proponents. Hypocrisy has become evangelicals’ trademark.
Jesus may have been a social justice warrior but with extreme limitations. His sole concern were for his own people, “The lost sheep of Israel.” Gentiles would be judged mercilessly. Only those who conformed to the strict dictates of the Law both internally and externally would escape the coming wrath.
My credibility to speak against evangelicalism is incontestable. I make no apologies. I only ask the reader to separate the attack on the authority of the Bible from an attack on those who hold to it. I as well as anybody knows the personal nature of evangelicalism. It is what makes it so attractive and satisfying. It also what makes it so dangerous.
The primacy of feeling
Evangelicals often complain they are unfairly characterized as anti-scientific and anti-reasonable. In most cases they are not but when it comes to their faith, evangelicals are ruled by emotionalism.
The origins of American evangelicalism are tied to the Great Awakenings or revivals of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Historians are unanimous in identifying several salient features of this era, none more so than emotionalism. It was lack of feeling in the conversion experience on which the fathers of revivalism first focused. Could one be truly saved who could not point to a time when they knew (read felt) their sins forgiven and had gained assurance of salvation? At the time, most Christians had entered the faith as children through baptism making such a moment indiscernible. However, it was determined evidence of not having had a conversion experience could be seen in the cold formalism which pervaded Christianity.
Evangelicalism did not begin in a vacuum. The Age of Reason had had a deep impact on Christianity. It forced many to reconsider the supernatural aspects contained in the Bible. Many espoused a more modernistic faith that accommodated the burgeoning discoveries of science. Deistic thinking postulated a distant and detached God who “wound up” the universe and left it to run on its own through natural laws. Christians applied this perspective to the Bible ridding it of the intimacy it once held. The result was a rationalistic faith devoid of vibrancy but strong on orthodoxy. Some thought this approach was insufficient for salvation and made their concerns known.
Evangelicalism now as then is an opportunistic faith. By exploiting a person’s fear of not being saved doubt is created. Key verses are quoted to place the authority of the Bible behind it. Anyone who has ever heard the late Billy Graham preach is familiar with this tactic. Going to church, being baptized, taking communion, reading the Bible or obeying the Ten Commandments does not get one to heaven. Salvation is easy, instant and guaranteed. One has only to confess they are doomed sinners and “accept Jesus into their hearts” and presto, instant salvation.
The profusion of feeling throughout evangelical churches throughout America and abroad bare testimony to this fundamental precept. Joy should permeate the lives of those who have had their sins forgiven not religious austerity.
A faith devoid of evidence
There is no evidence the Bible is the word of God other than a person’s sense of its divine nature. The more important question is, “Why are evangelicals so stubborn in refusing to accept the obvious?” There are myriads of reasons to reject its divine authority.
The answer: Fear
Most evangelicals are reticent to admit their faith is fear based because it has be subsumed by hope. Like a millionaire is not afraid of starving to death until all his money is gone, evangelicals have forgotten, if they ever knew, the fear of death and the afterlife. Or to put it another way, if evangelicals could lose their salvation by failing to live righteous lives, society would be transformed overnight. Poverty, homelessness and social injustice would disappear as millions of evangelicals strove to practice the principles Jesus taught. Sadly, no such incentive exists.
A free ticket to heaven which cannot be revoked and is available to anyone who wants it without qualification is the most detrimental teaching ever contrived by modern day evangelicals. It has created a false security for evangelicals who have never been saved to begin with.
Salvation begins with a repentant attitude and is proven by the manifestation of the fruit of repentance. Repentance initiates faith and evidences true faith has occurred after salvation. Evangelicalism rarely stresses this indispensable and critical aspect of salvation. Ironically, a movement which began by seeking to generate true conversion is itself populated by complacent fake Christians on a collision course with a judgment they think they have escaped… hypothetically speaking.
Apocalypticism: A dangerous proposition
If I had a pet peeve with evangelicalism, it would be The Rapture theory. No belief has done more damage to the vim, vigor and vitality of Christian living that it has. It has so de-incentivized the urgency of living an exemplary life and bred a hollow and languid style whose hallmark is complacency.
American evangelicalism is driven by pre-tribulation, premillennial dispensationalism. At its core is the noxious idea Christians (Only those who have had a personal salvation experience and accepted Jesus into their hearts) are exempt from all manner of judgment. Instead they will be gloriously “raptured” before the Great Tribulation after which they will return with Jesus at his Second Coming to help execute judgment on all ungodliness. This period known as Armageddon, is to be a time of incredible turmoil and suffering. Christians will watch as heavenly spectators while the world seethes in God’s holy vengeance culminating in the Final Judgment. Because at this time they will have been transformed into perfect glorified bodies free of pain, judgment has been redefined as disappointment at not having been better Christians while on earth resulting in fewer rewards.
Suffice it to say no such teaching can be found anywhere in the New Testament and was popularized two centuries ago by a man named JN. Darby. It was based on a mistranslation of a single verse in 1 Thessalonians and remains a test of orthodoxy for many evangelicals especially on inerrancy.
Conversely, the Bible explicitly teaches when Jesus returns, hypothetically speaking, it will be sudden and unexpected. Those of his followers who are not alert and prepared will suffer harsh judgment. Righteousness in the form of good works (“fruit”) is the sole requirement for escaping his wrath.
So if this is all a product of Christian imagination, why even bring it up? Because many American evangelicals detach themselves from environmental stewardship and embrace a dangerous political perspective which poses a grave threat.
Evangelicals believe this world has an expiration date and a predetermined ending. The world will end when God decides and how God decides regardless of what men and women do or don’t do. Global warming will not be the end of mankind nor will a war that God does not intend. Christians can bask in the confidence of knowing the Middle East will be the arena of global conflict and they will not endure a single moment of suffering.
The cozy relationship between American evangelicals and the nation of Israel is well known throughout the world. And while this has certainly had tremendous benefit for Israel both politically and financially, it may be a Trojan Horse.
Israel figures prominently in evangelical eschatology. Ultimately they will turn to Jesus as their messiah when he returns. However, before this happens Armageddon must take place. Therefore it is imperative evangelicals not be a cross purposes with God. They must align themselves with his agenda as they see it spelled out in the Bible even if it means fomenting conflict between Israel and her neighbors. In short, peace is not part of God’s plan until after this war to end all wars has taken place.
It is easy to ridicule evangelicals for their beliefs but they are no longer innocuous as many in the LGBTQ community, women’s advocacy rights groups, immigrants, minorities and proponents of social justice will testify. The Trump presidency has only emboldened them by giving them unprecedented influence to the Oval Office. They have used this access to push forward a narrow political and moral agenda with delirious consequences.
With another crucial election looming and a world still reeling from a pandemic, it is hard to know which way the wind is blowing. But one thing is certain, another four years under Trump as president does not bode well for anybody despite what evangelicals may think.
God help us all… unlikely?