Two Letters from a Christian
Peter Meyer's replies are given in blue within the boxes.26 May 2005
I have been a long-time (i.e., more than a year) reader of your Serendipity site. I don’t know exactly how I came across it, but I remember it was when I had just watched the film JFK (again) and got interested in the 911 conspiracy stuff. Your site came into view and I gobbled up as much as I could regarding the demolition. Congratulations on the site. I think it is laid out neatly and clearly, and has some excellent information on it. As well, all the external links were helpful. Anyway, I have regularly (daily if possible) checked back to see what updates you have. Yours and Xymphora’s sites are now the 2 mainstays of my daily surfing experience.
Let me say up front that I am an Australian and as well as that am a Christian, i.e., a follower of Jesus Christ. Before you get a preconceived idea, though, *please* let me distance myself from most of what passes for Christianity in the USA. (There is a reason for all this preamble.) I abhor what George Bush and his ilk are doing to America and the world. It makes my blood boil when I read or hear about how he is supposed to be a born-again Christian. Let me assure you, coming from a follower of Jesus, nothing could be further from the truth. While it is not my place to pass judgment on the salvation or otherwise of a person, "you will know them by their fruits". And I think for anyone, Christian or not, it should be very clear that Bush and co are absolutely not Christians.
As I'm sure you know, the term "Christian" means different things to different people. The only thing that all who call themselves "Christian" have in common is that they believe that in the 1st Century CE there lived a person called "Jesus Christ" who had or has a special and unique relationship to a transcendent world-creator called "God", and whose life and death holds some special significance for the spiritual well-being of every human who has ever lived since then. What the nature of this "special relationship" is (or was), and what this "special significance" is, has been widely debated among Christians and can be answered definitely only dogmatically, i.e., only in terms of the dogma of one or another branch of Christianity.
This concept of a Christian says nothing regarding how a Christian acts. So if George W. Bush holds certain beliefs then we have to say he is a Christian. Those, like yourself, who deny that he is, do so by adding a moral component to the concept of a Christian, and conclude that since a Christian would never act as Bush has done (e.g., instigating wars which result in the deaths of tens of thousands of innocent civilians) then Bush cannot be a Christian. The question of whether Bush is a Christian thus depends on the question of whether one can believe in Jesus Christ (e.g., as humanity's savior) and still act in an evil manner. I think that history provides plenty of examples of this.
I consider myself a reasonably intelligent person. And so it irks me when I hear Christians defend Bush and his actions, and go on about the evil Muslims. In fact, my father-in-law is one such person. I simply cannot talk to him or respond to him about these things any more because he is so set in his opinion. This saddens me, as I think it is not just non-Christians who suppress the truth about things. I think many genuine Christians are simply too trusting of what they read, see and hear (and therefore believe) and are not willing to do the intellectual thinking required to sort out the truth of a matter from the rubbish. I may not be 100% right in what I think, but I have a clear conscience that at least I have looked into things to the best of my ability.
And a lot of the reason for this email is about letting you know that not all Christians subscribe to the policies of the right-wing "fundamentalist" neo-con type religious people in the USA. I'm fairly sure that if Jesus were here today, he would treat the religious right in America as harshly as he treated the religious leaders of his own day ("you hypocrites", "your father is the devil", "you blind guides", etc etc etc).
I can certainly relate to an idea of Jesus as a political and spiritual radical who was trying to save people from the spiritually numbing effects of adherence to the orthodox religion of his time. At this point in time it is probably not possible to know what Jesus taught. I suspect that the spiritual tradition founded by Jesus (and passed on via his brother James) likely died out about a century after him, suppressed by the followers of the anti-gnostic "religion" invented by Paul, which developed into what is now known as "Christianity".
I appreciate the work on your site regarding Zionism. Before, I did not even know that Zionism was a movement at all. I can now see that Zionism and patriotism for Israel are different things. And I understand that when people (such as yourself) attack Zionism, they are attacking a political movement, not the people or land of Israel.
Not quite. The State of Israel has no right to exist, since it came into existence as a result of the theft of land inhabited by the Palestinian people. This fundamental crime invalidates any claim of Israel to legitimacy. And this fundamental crime is denied by all present Jewish inhabitants of Israel.
But lest you were to think I am an aberration, and that the vast majority of Christians around the world are just like Bush, I would like to quote an extended section from C.S. Lewis. No doubt you have heard of him. He is arguably the greatest (clearest, well thought out, accurate) Christian writer and thinker of the 20th century. Much of his writing was done between about 1930 and 1963, when he died (coincidentally on the same day as did JFK). So there are references everywhere to war and the goings-on of the time. Anyway, I was reading a book of his yesterday called "the Four Loves", written in 1960. In the chapter called "Likings and Loves for the Sub-Human", he almost parenthetically talks about patriotism. I thought I would include it, as it struck me how apt it is for this day and age, when a lot of Americans (and Australians, but I think a greater proportion of Americans) are using patriotism as a disguise for evil. Keep in mind that Lewis was a devout and staunch Christian, and also that "his nation" was England, not America. Some of the parallels are eerie. Here’s what he wrote:If our nation is really so much better than others it may be held to have either the duties or the rights of a superior being towards them. In the Nineteenth Century the English became very conscious of such duties: the "white man’s burden". What we called natives were our wards and we their self-appointed guardians. This was not all hypocrisy. We did do them some good. But our habit of talking as if England’s motive for acquiring an empire had been mainly altruistic nauseated the world. And yet this showed the sense of superiority working at its best. Some nations who have also felt it have stressed the rights not the duties. To them, some foreigners were so bad that one had the right to exterminate them. Others, fitted only to be hewers of wood and drawers of water to the chosen people, had better be made to get on with their hewing and drawing. Dogs, know your betters! I am far from suggesting that the two attitudes are on the same level. But both are fatal....both have about them this sure mark of evil: only by being terrible do they avoid being comic. If there were no broken treaties with Redskins, no extermination of the Tasmanians, no gaschambers and no Belsen, no Amritsar, Black and Tans or Apartheid, the pomposity of both would be a roaring farce....
Thus that kind of patriotism which sets off with the greatest swagger of drums and banners actually sets off on the road that can lead to Vichy. And this is a phenomenon which will meet us again. When the natural loves become lawless they do not merely do harm to other loves; they themselves cease to be the loves they were — to be loves at all.
Patriotism has then, many faces. Those who would reject it entirely do not seem to have considered what will certainly step — has already begun to step — into its place. For a long time yet, or perhaps forever, nations will live in danger. Rulers must somehow nerve their subjects to defend them or at least to prepare for their defence. Where the sentiment of patriotism has been destroyed this can be done only by presenting every international conflict in a purely ethical light. If people will spend neither sweat nor blood for "their country" they must be made to feel that they are spending them for justice, or civilisation, or humanity. This is a step down, not up.
Patriotic sentiment did not, of course, need to disregard ethics. Good men needed to be convinced that their country’s cause was just; but it was still their country’s cause, not the cause of justice as such. The difference seems to be important. I may without self-righteousness or hypocrisy think it just to defend my house by force against a burglar; but if I start pretending that I blacked his eye purely on moral grounds — wholly indifferent to the fact that the house in question was mine — I become insufferable....
If our country’s cause is the cause of God, wars must be wars of annihilation. A false transcendence is given to things which are very much of this world....Here it will be enough to say that the Heavenly Society is also an earthly society. Our patriotism towards the latter [earthly] can very easily borrow the transcendent claims of the former [Heavenly] and use them to justify the most abominable actions. If ever the book which I am not going to write is written it must be the full confession by Christendom of Christendom’s specific contribution to the sum of human cruelty and treachery. Large areas of the world will not hear us till we have publicly disowned much of our past. Why should they? We have shouted the name of Christ and enacted the service of Moloch.
I hope and think you'll see that Lewis was a man who clearly had his head screwed on properly. He knows what he’s talking about. He’s a genuine Christian. And yet he’s well aware of the damage that has been done to the name of Christianity in the past by those with some greed-fuelled political agenda. As I mentioned, some of the similarities with what’s going on in the world today are too close for comfort. I guarantee, if C.S. Lewis were alive now, he would denounce the actions of Bush and co as surely as he has denounced similar evil and/or deluded men from the past.
I cannot deny that there have been many intelligent people in the past who were Christians (or rather, who thought of themselves as Christians), and I agree that C.S.Lewis would probably have been appalled at the actions and policies of Bush and his clique. A good contemporary example is Prof. David Griffin.
I guess my whole point is this: please don’t assume that just because some evil/deluded/stupid people enact horrendous policies and at the same time call themselves Christians, that they are in fact Christians, or worse, that they represent Christianity. I shudder at the damage currently being done to the name of Christ by the actions of some who are definitely (in my opinion) not Christians. I want to distance myself from them and say clearly that this is not the difference Jesus came to make in the world. Any serious reading of any of the 4 gospels will quickly prove that. His concern for the poor, weak and outcast shine through clearly, as do his disdain for the power-hungry and greedy.
There is lots more to say on this subject, but I want to send this now. I hope to hear from you in some way, even if it’s to disagree with what I’ve written. I encourage you to keep up with the good work you’re doing and keep posting those pieces.
It is not just a question of whether some politicians are falsely presenting themselves as Christians. There is a deeper question as to whether Europe's Christian tradition has contributed to, or is a primary cause of, the genocidal policies of European and American governments and the threat of extinction which is currently facing the human species. Whatever one thinks of the Jesus who predated the establishment of Christianity as an organized religion, one has to ask whether the insanity which afflicts the modern world has its roots in the religion named after him, or more exactly, in an insane patriarchal monotheism expressed in at least three religions.
27 May 2005
I think the biggest thing I'd like to make comment on is your first comment. Judging by that comment, you're saying that a Christian is someone who says they are a Christian, and then *we* need to adjust *our* understanding of what a Christian is according to the behaviours and actions of said people. Well that doesn't make logical sense. I have no idea about medicine, and so I can't just call myself a medical doctor. Were this to be true, anyone could claim to be a medical doctor. Obviously, this would make the whole concept of "medical doctor" utterly meaningless.
Words have meaning by virtue of being used in a consistent way by almost everyone when they talk or write to each other. The meaning of a word is unclear when there is disagreement regarding its use. There is little disagreement about a term such as medical doctor but there is a lot of disagreement about the term Christian. Even with the former term there may be disagreement (does a medical doctor have to have a degree from a medical school?). For the latter term I think there is very little agreement beyond what I suggested above, that is: The only thing that all who call themselves "Christian" have in common is that they believe that in the 1st Century CE there lived a person called "Jesus Christ" who had or has a special and unique relationship to a transcendent world-creator called "God", and whose life and death holds some special significance for the spiritual well-being of every human who has ever lived since then.
Christians of different varieties may wish to extend this core concept in different ways. Or they may even, as you do, introduce belief in the Bible as part of the concept of what it is to be a Christian. Or they may say that it is not so much a matter of belief in some dogma as a resolution to act in a particular manner, namely, in the way that Jesus is believed to have taught (note that belief enters again here). It is characteristic of those who adhere to a particular faith to hold the view that their explication of what it is to be a Christian, a Catholic, a Protestant, a Muslim, a Jew, etc., etc., is the only right one, all others being misguided. This is because (a) there is no way to establish the superiority of one view over another without making assumptions (which those of other views may not accept) and (b) such views usually form part of the identity of those holding them, which they are thus inclined to defend vigorously.
Same with Christian. As soon as you get people like Bush, and that neighbour of yours, and the womaniser I know, etc, who call themselves Christians, but clearly don't act like you would expect they would, then people either have to conclude that these people are wrong or right. If they're wrong, it means they either know it (in which case they're pathological liars) or they don't know it (in which case they have been deluded and need to do some serious study about it all). If they're right, it means that Christianity has no basis in reality or fact, only in whatever the next Tom, Dick or Harry decides to believe and do. Clearly, this is a ridiculous situation, and if Christianity has no objective fact or truth, then I'm going to eat, drink and be merry, for what's the point of it all?
It's clear from this that part of your concept of being a Christian is acting in a certain way, namely, generally with ethical awareness and in particular in the manner that Jesus acted, or taught others to act. However, I've never understood why one had to be religious in order to be ethical. Some people believe that if someone has no religious faith then there's nothing to stop them from going out to steal, cheat, lie and kill. This view reveals a denigration of humankind, since it asserts that humans are naturally thieves, killers, etc., unless their natural impulses are overridden by restraining beliefs. It ignores the fact that there are large numbers of people who act with moral awareness and yet follow no religion.
In his article The Tyranny of Belief John Lash quotes Marshall Rosenberg discussing the research of Milton Rokeach:
Rosenberg: Social psychologist Milton Rokeach did some research on religious practitioners in the seven major religions. He looked at people who very seriously followed their religion and compared them to people in the same population who had no religious orientation at all. He wanted to find out which group was more compassionate. The results were the same in all the major religions: the nonreligious were more compassionate.When you say, "if Christianity has no objective fact or truth, then I'm going to eat, drink and be merry, for what's the point of it all?" it sounds like you are saying: If Christianity is not true then morality has no basis. But morality does not depend on religion. Acts are good or evil not because some "authority" says so. If you want a quick definition of evil, here's one: An act is evil if it involves the infliction of suffering for no good reason and the perpetrator of the act either knew or should have known that this would happen (and a person is evil if they consistently commit evil acts). By this definition George W. Bush and his clique are evil. But that may or may not have anything to do with Bush's beliefs about Jesus (if he has any).
And again when you say, "if Christianity has no objective fact or truth, then I'm going to eat, drink and be merry, for what's the point of it all?" it sounds like you are concerned lest if you did whatever you wanted to do then you would not be a moral person. But doing whatever you want to do does not itself imply immorality. But it does impose an obligation to consider the consequences of one's actions. This, however, can be done without benefit of clergy, since we do not need a minister or a priest to know when our actions cause harm to others. We need only information (concerning the likely physical consequences of our actions) and an ability to empathize with other humans (something that psychopaths such as Bush are unable to do).
It appears that a central dogma of Christianity (at least, in its Catholic and Protestant forms) is that humans are naturally sinful. A sin is a crime in the eyes of God. Accordingly it appears that all Christians believe that humans are naturally criminals (they naturally cheat, steal, kill, etc.). The Christian religion then offers a way out: Just believe that Jesus (somehow) "died for you" and your guilt will be removed. Just "allow Jesus into your life" and you won't have to feel guilty anymore. Very nice, but if humans are not naturally sinful then why bother with some absurd belief that a divine being sacrificed himself so that a higher divine being would henceforth not judge all humans as worthy of eternal suffering in hell?
And that's why your "what this 'special significance' is, has been widely debated among Christians and can be answered definitely only dogmatically, i.e., only in terms of the dogma of one or another branch of Christianity" is not quite right. The dogma of one branch or another of Christianity actually has *nothing* to do with what a Christian is. It all comes down to whether a branch is in alignment with the Bible, the inspired Word of God. This is why groups like the Jehovah's Witnesses would, on that ground, not be Christian. They don't believe that Jesus was fully God. But the Bible clearly shows that he claimed to be God, and that he was God. So, rather than changing the Bible, we need to change our understanding of what defines a Christian by looking at the Bible.
So here it is clear that according to your conception of what it is to be a Christian the Bible plays a central role, although I think belief that Bible is "the inspired word of God" is still an extension to my suggested core concept, since one has no reason to believe that this is the nature of the Bible other than the association of the Bible with belief in the divine nature of a historical Jesus.
Now I'm aware that a whole plethora of issues arise here, like "how do we know the Bible we have is the same as the originals?" etc. They are good questions, worthy of answers (and there *are* good answers). But my point is that I feel fairly confident of saying that Bush is not a Christian, because his behaviour (over a long period of time) shows that his life and thinking is not in alignment with the Bible, the one true "dogmatic" source of revelation from God (as we Christians believe).
In fact, Jesus himself said "you will know them by their fruits" referring to false prophets in Matthew 7:16-20. And in Matthew 7:21-23, Jesus delivers probably the harshest (but most relevant to this discussion) of his comments: "Not everyone who says to me 'Lord, Lord', will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my father who is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers.'"
I really don't understand how people can have faith in the Bible as "the inspired word of God". The New Testament consists mostly of alleged writings by four of the disciples and the letters of "Saints" Paul and Peter to the nascent churches (no doubt heavily edited before acceptance into the official canon). This is not to say that there cannot be divine revelation which is written down, but what is written is the work of the writer, not the work of the source of the revelation, and the writer puts it down according to their understanding, which is conditioned by the time and place in which they live. So some of the writing that one finds in the Upanishads, the Buddhist sutras, the Koran, etc., may have had its origin in the illumination of the intellect of some human, but we make a mistake if we believe that what is written is sacrosanct, so divinely authoritative that one should not even think about the psychological and historical factors which influenced the writer's phraseology and choice of terms. All texts which purport to reveal divine truth are fingers pointing at the Moon. To see the Moon one has to look up from the text. The text is more or less effective to the degree it enables one to locate the Moon. In this respect I find the Bible, as far as I have looked into it, to be not only uninspired but also uninspiring.
A text which includes a very detailed life of Jesus and which has a better claim to be "the inspired word of God" is the Urantia Book. In the words of a reviewer posted on Amazon.com's page this 4-part work begins with a description of
the total or superuniverse, looks at the "local universe" or creation of Jesus, then goes to the history of Earth which it designates as "Urantia," and finishes with the most amazing, detailed and thrilling account of the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. The book ... develops a sense of cosmology and sense of belonging to a friendly universe greater than we are. I love this book because it has made God more clear to me, more certain. It diverges from Christianity in three doctrines: atonement, virgin birth and Adam & Eve as the first humans.But another reviewer wrote:
I would classify the book as pure fantasy, and I read some parts of it from time to time when I feel the need to read fiction. ... No empirical evidence is given for any of the assertions made in the book, nor is there any hint of a persuasive tone. The authors never attempt to persuade the reader to the essential correctness of its doctrines, and in that regard, it is similar to all religions. Its dogma is elaborate and deeply symbolic, but not mathematical and definitely not scientific. As a branch of aesthetics though it is interesting, perhaps rivaling the ancient stories of the Hindus and Greeks.The Urantia Book is interesting, if only for its language — the sort of thing one might expect if the book were written (as it claims to be) by several Higher Intelligences. Of course, faith in the Urantia Book as "the Word of God" would be of a similar nature to faith in the Bible as such, and might contribute just as much (or rather, just as little) to actual spiritual experience as does faith in the Bible. One difference, however, is that in connection with only one of the texts is there a Church Hierarchy of thousands of men, administering an extensive and probably wealthy worldwide empire, instilling fear and guilt into the hearts of believers and telling them what they should think and and how they should act. Still, from the point of view of a "neutral observer" (if that is possible) what is there to distinguish faith in one book from faith in the other? Not much, except the number of people familiar with each text; though since the Urantia Book was (allegedly) revealed only in the first half of the 20th C. that difference is not surprising.
Personally I prefer the account of Jesus given in The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ. According to this Jesus dies, is resurrected and ascends to heaven, but there is an alternative account according to which he returns to India after his ill-treatment in Palestine. According to some his grave still exists in Kashmir and may be visited today. Then there's the tale that Jesus did not die but survived the alleged crucifixion, sending his wife Mary Magdalene off to France (to found the Merovingian line of kings) while he himself retreated into obscurity among the would-be revolutionaries of Palestine. I'm also inclined toward the Gnostic theory that Jesus was not crucified, but rather it was the Devil who was crucified. Having come along to gloat at the execution of his enemy, Jesus, he succumbed to the latter's greater spiritual power and found himself nailed to the cross instead. But this is a tale like the others.
I don't think it could be clearer: there are many many people who say the right words and "talk the talk" when it comes to Christianity. And yet, these people do not even know Jesus. They are not doing the will of God (i.e., what God wants them to do). And how do we recognise these people? Simply by whether what they are doing is in line with what God wants them to do. Bush fails the test. I hope I don't ...
We agree that Bush is evil. I agree with you also that Bush (whatever he believes about himself) does not deserve to be called a Christian, because his actions display a total lack of concern for the sufferings of others, a characteristic of a psychopath. But the question of whether Bush is a Christian is really of importance only to Christians, who see Bush either as carrying out the will of God ("smiting the heathen") or as constituting a disgrace to the Christian religion by acting in a way totally contrary to the teachings of Jesus, almost, one might say, thereby giving the religion a bad name.
What interests me more is whether Bush subscribes to the apocalyptic doctrines of Christian Zionism. If he does then the situation may be more dangerous than we think.
If you're really interested in discovering what "true Christianity" is all about (rather than the sham versions you are so used to), then read one of the gospels. These are the things which show Jesus as He was. What He said, did, His attitudes, His anger, His denouncement of sin and love for people. That's the starting point. If you've done that, and still have no interest in knowing more about Jesus, that's your call. But the very least that would make sense to do is to go back to the source documents. I encourage you to do this.
Thanks again and regards,
I don't deny that the Jesus of the gospels has some appealing qualities, but also I don't believe that these texts are reliable as a record of what Jesus actually taught. I suspect that what he actually taught was so dangerous to the established authorities of his time that every effort was made to obliterate those teachings. This would have been done by jailing and killing those who attempted to pass on his message and by destroying documents. The main agent in the obliteration of Jesus's message was Paul of Tarsus, who never met Jesus yet went about promulgating a religion of Jesus as a divine being. If you wish to cite the Bible to show that Jesus "claimed to be God, and that he was God" I reply: How do you know that these assertions were not inserted into the text by collaborators or followers of Paul precisely to subvert the true teaching of Jesus (perhaps a teaching of liberation from authoritarian belief systems) in order to replace it with an admonition to worship a divine being, and follow the directions of the office holders within the institutionalized religion set up in his name? Your only answer can be that, as a Christian, you believe that Jesus was God. To this there can be no answer, since it is merely an assertion of belief, an act of faith, an act by which you seem to benefit, but which actually involves your abandoning your God-given right and ability to discern spiritual truth for yourself by the exercise of your intelligence. This may not be easy, but to fail to try is to abandon one's spiritual potential, to give up the attempt to be what a human can be (and, if you wish, was meant to be). If you wished to explore this then a good place to start would be John Lash's Approaching Gnosticism.
Although, as is clear, we disagree about Christianity, we do agree about the immorality of the actions and policies of George W. Bush and his regime. As Prof. David Griffin has made clear, Christians have an obligation to stand up and speak out against what Bush is doing, especially if he declares (as he does) that he is carrying out God's will.
On the subject of the authorship of the Bible Richard E. Friedman's Who Wrote the Bible? is recommended. No-one who reads this book can again claim that the Bible is the Word of God without appearing ridiculous.
For a discussion of this subject see Laura Knight-Jadczyk's The Ark of the Covenant and the Temple of Solomon.
On the subject of the Urantia Book, there are suspicions that it is connected with a plot to establish a world government. See Brian Salter's article 911truth.org, Byron Belitsos, and Urantia.
In August 2006 Xymphora drew attention to the fact that American "Christianity" hardly deserves to be called "Christianity" at all.
Simon Cozens proposes ... that American Christianity — referring to what is variously called American Evangelism, Christian Zionism, or Dominionism, and comprising much of mainstream American Protestantism — isn't really Christianity at all. It seems they've taken the goriest bits from the Old Testament, added the Book of Revelations and a smattering of very Aryan and militaristic visual images of Jesus, and purport to call it Christianity.— Christianity Without Christ
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