Gospel Doctrine for the Godless

An ex-Mormon take on LDS Sunday School lessons

Category: Jesus being kind of a jerk (page 1 of 2)

NT Lesson 28 (Eyewitnesses)

“We Are Witnesses”

Acts 1–5

LDS manual: here


To show that eyewitness testimony is unreliable, and that God will kill you if you don’t gibe moni plox.


Have you ever noticed that the fame of a religion’s founder often grows after they’re dead? Joseph Smith, Sai Baba, Osho, and so on. By then, it’s too late for the leader to tarnish their image, and after a brief period of confusion, the followers flip into hagiography mode. They also start aggressively proselytising.

And so it is with early Christianity. We’re going to see how the spread began.

The LDS Church makes a big deal out of having witnesses to events — the witnesses for the gold plates, the witnesses to Brigham Young doing a really good Joseph Smith impersonation, and the Book of Mormon as a witness (of sorts) for the Bible.

Christians also make a big deal of having eyewitnesses; that’s why they think the New Testament is so special. It’s supposed to be the evidence for Jesus. Imagine: all these miraculous events are described, and there are eyewitnesses! The Bible says there are, and how is that not convincing.

Acts 1:1 The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach,
1:2 Until the day in which he was taken up, after that he through the Holy Ghost had given commandments unto the apostles whom he had chosen:
1:3 To whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God:

Acts 5:32 And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him.

I don’t know why Christians think this is supposed to be some kind of knock-out evidence. A lot of things are written in books, and we don’t always count them as evidence. If that were the case, then this

would be evidence for the Yellow Brick Road.

There are a few things wrong with the ‘eyewitnesses’ idea.

  • As we’ve seen in previous lessons, the gospels were written down decades after the events were supposed to have happened. A lot can happen to change your memory of events in that time.
  • Even worse, the gospels are full of anachronisms, which means they couldn’t have been written by eyewitnesses in the first place.
  • And the earliest versions we have are copies of copies — again, not written by eyewitnesses either. At various points, verses and stories have been inserted — stories that have been believed for centuries, until scholars have come along and said, “Um, actually…”

So the whole idea of the Bible being an eyewitness account starts to look really flimsy.

Eyewitness accounts are unreliable

But let’s say that the gospels were written thirty or forty years later by eyewitnesses to the events (instead of being, as seems more likely, versions of stories that were circulating around the Christian community at the time). Even if we had that level of confidence — and we don’t — eyewitness accounts are unreliable.

Watch this TED talk with Elizabeth Loftus, a psychologist who has studied memory.

Ask: According to Dr Loftus, why are our memories of events unreliable, even for events we’ve witnessed?


  • The wording of questions can influence our memory.
  • Talking to other people can influence our memory.
  • False memories can be implanted.

This is something that believers, in my experience, do not really have a way of explaining. Yet this doesn’t seem to dent their confidence in the veracity of the Bible with its emphasis on eyewitness accounts that aren’t really eyewitness accounts at all.

But this confidence is selective. Are they willing to accept the eyewitness evidence of people who claim to have seen Mary? You can find information about her apparition to some imaginative children in Medjugorje. Apparently their tours are very popular. Are they willing to believe the eyewitnesses who report supernatural phenomena?

Many phenomena have been reported at Medjugorje, such as the sun spinning, dancing in the sky, turning colours, or being surrounded by objects such as hearts or crosses. Many have reported that they have been able to look at the sun during those times without any damage to their eyes.

The reports are clearly imaginary — wouldn’t anyone else have noticed the sun dancing in the sky? or  suddenly looked like a big bowl of Lucky Charms? — and yet there are eyewitnesses willing to testify.

Are they willing to accept the testimony of eyewitnesses who saw Muhammad split the moon with his fingers? Of course not. So why would they be willing to accept the testimony of eyewitnesses who saw Jesus alive again? Their dependence on eyewitness accounts is clearly selective.

Eyewitness accounts are not really credible without independent verification from multiple sources, which is absent from these stories.

Main ideas for this lesson

Still waiting

Jesus jetpacks up to heaven, but thank goodness there are some angels to explain it.

Acts 1:10 And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel;
1:11 Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.

And so began a legend that Jesus would return. Two thousand years later they’re still waiting.

Is glossolalia a real language?

This reading contains the first instance of glossolalia, or ‘speaking in tongues’.

Acts 2:1 And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.
2:2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.
2:3 And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.
2:4 And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

So what is ‘speaking in tongues’? Is it a real language? Well, if it were a real language — maybe, the language of angels — we might expect it to have an inventory of sounds that was the same, no matter who on earth was speaking it. We might also expect it to have sounds that differ from those of, say, English or Spanish or whatever language the speaker was used to.

Do we find those things? Well, according to Dawn Heverley in her paper Phonological Aspects of Glossolalia, it seems that the glossolalia of English speakers only uses the sounds of English. The glossolalia of Dutch speakers has the same sounds as Dutch. Same for Spanish, and so on. This makes it sort of unlikely that people are speaking some other language, and they’re probably just babbling away in sounds they’re familiar with.

If you’d like to hear me talking about this with my friend Ben Ainslie, have a listen to this episode of Talk the Talk.

How well do missionaries learn languages?

Mormons aren’t big on speaking in tongues, and they tend to interpret the events in Acts as communicating in other languages for the purpose of teaching the gospel. This seems reasonable, given these verses.

Acts 2:5 And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven.
2:6 Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language.
2:7 And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans?
2:8 And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?

And the way they think this manifests is that missionaries are good at learning languages in the Mission Training Center. From Mormonwiki:

In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints the gift of tongues is manifested every day among the thousands of missionaries serving around the world. Missionaries learn foreign languages and the interpretation thereof with astonishing ease, and words come to them that they have not mastered.

I’ve heard stories like this: LDS missionaries learn languages incredibly fast, and the FBI, the CIA, and the KGB are all trying to duplicate their methods, and they’ve all failed.

Okay, so how well do missionaries learn languages while on a mission? According to the research, not all that well. Redditor hoserb2k notes a few conclusions from the literature:

  • Conclusion 1) On average, returned missionaries are not proficient, much less fluent [in] their mission language.
    • Using the FSI test (the test used by the US government to ascertain the language ability of its diplomats), the average returned missionary ranks 2+ out of five.
    • [They] can handle with confidence but not with facility most social situations including introductions and casual conversations about current events, as well as work, family, and autobiographical information; [they] can [also] handle limited work requirements
  • Conclusion 2) Returned missionaries speak on a level only slightly better than a comparable two-year university study, the same reading and significantly worse writing skills
  • Conclusion 3) Compared to a US University, a mission is incredibly ineffective as a method of foreign language acquisition.
    • They were largely lacking in their ability to support opinions, speculate and produce speech without errors that disturb or distract.…
    • Missionaries typically have well rehearsed experiences and monologues they are able to present with great smoothness and fluency.
  • Conclusion 4) Cultural understanding
    • Schwartz (2001, 234) writes [of returned missionaries] that they have a “superficial understanding and sensitivity to the target culture

In short, missionaries are able to use language in a manner consistent with the limited domain within which they operate. They don’t experience a Day-of-Pentecost outpouring of language skill.

When I find stuff like this, it makes me think that the church was wrong about everything. I mean, of course it was, but it’s amazing how every once in a while you stumble over something you had never questioned, and — oh, that was wrong, too? Damn.

“Was nothing real?”

Are believers justified in disobeying laws?

There’s a bit of conflict in LDS doctrine on the topic of obedience to secular authority. On the one hand, you’ve got the twelfth Article of Faith.

A of F 12 We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.

On the other hand, there are scriptures like these from Acts, in which the apostles refuse to obey authorities over their conscience.

Acts 4:18 And they called them, and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus.
4:19 But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye.

Acts 5:28 Saying, Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.
5:29 Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.

I would like to say that this is the church trying to have it both ways, but it would probably be more accurate to say that this is a complex issue with good points on both sides! It is important to have a functioning and lawful social order. And if there’s a conflict between the law and one’s conscience, civil disobedience can be a justified and positive way of bringing problems to the fore.

On the other hand, it’s a worry when people try to use their religious belief as a way of picking and choosing which laws they get to obey. Mormons are very big on this now because gay marriage, but I wonder how much they’d like it if it were used against them.

Thing is, I taught a whole Sunday School lesson about this once, bringing up the scriptures on both sides. It generated a lot of good discussion, and got class members thinking. (I probably finished with some rubbish like “Take it to the Lord in prayer” or some such rubbish.) But it was good to finally have a nice meaty topic in church! It was a nice break from the vapidity and torpor that (I was beginning to notice) otherwise typified the Gospel Doctrine curriculum.

Then in April 2003, at the beginning of the second Iraq War, Gordon Hinckley gave a General Conference talk that touched on this. At last! I thought, a prophet who is in touch with the Lord, and can explain more about this.

I don’t know what I was expecting for a general LDS audience. But I was crushingly disappointed by what we got. He basically ignored any complexity and threw it over to authority.

The question arises, “Where does the Church stand in all of this?”

First, let it be understood that we have no quarrel with the Muslim people or with those of any other faith. We recognize and teach that all the people of the earth are of the family of God. And as He is our Father, so are we brothers and sisters with family obligations one to another.

But as citizens we are all under the direction of our respective national leaders. They have access to greater political and military intelligence than do the people generally. Those in the armed services are under obligation to their respective governments to execute the will of the sovereign. When they joined the military service, they entered into a contract by which they are presently bound and to which they have dutifully responded.

When all is said and done, we of this Church are people of peace. We are followers of our Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ, who was the Prince of Peace. But even He said, “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword” (Matt. 10:34).

Again, I don’t know what I was expecting. But Hinckley-as-prophet didn’t seem to show any of the moral sophistication — or indeed, scriptural knowledge — that I had as a simple Gospel Doctrine teacher. It was a return to vapidity. If I was looking for a way to explore gospel issues, it wasn’t going to happen here. Even the leaders at the highest level weren’t going to help me out. It was a real load on my shelf, and I think I regarded him differently after that.

Ananias and Sapphira

In the early days, Christianity (as did Mormonism) flirted with living in a socialistic commune.

Acts 2:44 And all that believed were together, and had all things common;

I think I made class members nervous when I’d talk about socialism.

But what should have made me nervous was that God would sometimes kill people who didn’t pay up.

Acts 5:1 But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession,
5:2 And kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
5:3 But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land?
5:4 Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God.
5:5 And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things.
5:6 And the young men arose, wound him up, and carried him out, and buried him.
5:7 And it was about the space of three hours after, when his wife, not knowing what was done, came in.
5:8 And Peter answered unto her, Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much? And she said, Yea, for so much.
5:9 Then Peter said unto her, How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? behold, the feet of them which have buried thy husband are at the door, and shall carry thee out.
5:10 Then fell she down straightway at his feet, and yielded up the ghost: and the young men came in, and found her dead, and, carrying her forth, buried her by her husband.
5:11 And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things.

God killed a lot of believers in the Old Testament, but this is the first instance of God killing believers in the New (besides Jesus, of course). And what issue was so important for God to step in? It’s the money. Money money money. Because God has all power in the universe, but if people don’t pay up, then it starts to affect the bottom line, and that’s bad for business.

Seriously, what was this story but an attempt to frighten the early Christians into forking over everything they had to the apostles? (Laying it at their fucking feet, no less!) God is a mafia boss who shakes people down, and whacks them when they don’t comply.

Now here’s a fun idea. Have a Primary class, and you want to teach this lesson? Why not have them act it out? They’ll never shortchange the Lord again!

There are printables.

Here are some tombstones you can make. “Aren’t you glad that God doesn’t strike us down instantly now?”

Religion is just so much fucking child abuse. All of it, from start to finish.

God can take care of himself.

Let’s finish this lesson with a good story. Lawmakers are concerned about this group of Christians — and no wonder, since they’re using their religion as an excuse to write their own laws.

Acts 5:34 Then stood there up one in the council, a Pharisee, named Gamaliel, a doctor of the law, had in reputation among all the people, and commanded to put the apostles forth a little space;
5:35 And said unto them, Ye men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what ye intend to do as touching these men.
5:36 For before these days rose up Theudas, boasting himself to be somebody; to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves: who was slain; and all, as many as obeyed him, were scattered, and brought to nought.
5:37 After this man rose up Judas of Galilee in the days of the taxing, and drew away much people after him: he also perished; and all, even as many as obeyed him, were dispersed.
5:38 And now I say unto you, Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought:
5:39 But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God.

Now from what we’ve read in our lessons, I’m very pleased to fight against the god of the Bible. He’s a petty, vicious, megalomaniacal, self-aggrandising jerk who routinely kills his way out of problems that he created. He’s homophobic, misogynistic, and racist, and I’m happy to fight against that kind of person.

But Gamaliel has a good point: If this God person has got such a big dick, then he can fight his own battles. Around the world, Muslims, Christians, and others are eager to take up the sword of divine vengeance and cut others down. Or to defend their God with death threats — when, as we’ve seen in this lesson, God can do his own killing, thank you very much.

That’s all for now. Next time, we’ll meet a young upstart named Paul, who would form the basis of much Christian doctrine — and he never even met Jesus. Until then.

NT Lesson 27 (Resurrection)

“He Is Not Here, for He Is Risen”

Matthew 28; Luke 24; John 20–21

LDS manual: here


To show contradictions in the resurrection story, and to encourage readers to seek evidence for extraordinary claims.


This lesson is about the pivotal event of Christianity: the resurrection of Jesus. I say it’s pivotal because if it didn’t happen, then there’s no point to Christianity at all. And Paul says as much.

1 Corinthians 15:14 And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.

This really came home to me when my father passed on. I realised that I was the grown-up now, and I had to decide how I was going to live. And if there was a life after this, or no life after this, I wanted to know it. It’s amazing how much you can learn when you don’t care about defending the story you’ve always lived by, and you just want to know if you’re right or wrong. Well, at this point, I wanted to know if I was right or wrong.

So for me, the crucial question became: Did the resurrection of Jesus happen?

And my answer: Of course not. Why would it? Don’t be a credulous nincompoop. People don’t just get up from being totally dead. When has that ever happened in all of human experience? Never. So if someone wants to convince me that it really happened, thry’re going to need better evidence than copies of documents. And as Sam Harris points out, that’s all we got.

Bible scholars agree that the first gospels were written decades after the life of Jesus. Decades.

And of course, we don’t have the original manuscripts. We have copies of copies of copies of ancient Greek manuscripts which have thousands — literally thousands — of descrepancies between them, many of which show signs of later interpolation, which is to say that people added passages that then became part of the canon. There are whole books of the canon, like the book of Revelation, which for hundreds of years were not included because they were deemed false gospel. There are other whole books, like the Shepherd of Hermas, which you probably haven’t heard of, but for centuries it was considered part of the canon, and then was later jettisoned as false gospel.

Generations of Christians lived and died being guided by gospel that is now deemed both incomplete and mistaken. Think about that. This process, this all too human process of cobbling together the supposed authoritative word of god is a very precarious basis to assert the claims of Christianity. But the truth is, even if we had multiple contemporaneaus claims of the miracles of Jesus this would not be good enough. Because miracle stories abound even in the 21st century. The devotees of the South Indian guru Sathya Sai Baba ascribe all of the miracles of Jesus to him. He reads minds, he fortells the future, he heals, he raises the dead, he was born of a virgin. Sathya Sai Baba is not a fringe figure. You may not have heard of him, but they had a birthday party for him a few years ago and a million people showed up. There are vast numbers of people that think he is a living god.

So Christianity is predicated on the claim that miracle stories — exactly of the kind that today surround a person like Sathya Sai Baba — become especially credible when you place them in a pre-scientific religious context of the first century roman empire, decades after their supposed occurance, as attested to by copies of copies of copies of ancient Greek and largely discrepant manuscripts. We have Sathya Sai Baba’s miracle stories attested to by thousands upon thousands of living eye witnesses and they don’t even merit an hour on cable television. And, yet, you put a few miracle stories in an ancient book and half the people on Earth think it a legitimate project to organize their lives around. Does anyone else see a problem with that?

Actually, yes, I do.

Speaking of “largely discrepant manuscripts”, we’re going to see how the stories in the gospels are hopelessly confused as to the details of the resurrection. Here’s a helpful infographic.

This was God’s opportunity to report the facts of the case, and it resembles nothing more than a mishmash of human fabrication.

So how does Christianity paper over this? The surprising answer: By expecting you not to demand any evidence for its claims, and by telling you that you’ll be blessed if you believe without evidence. How about that?

Main ideas for this lesson

Rolling away the stone?

Let’s start at the beginning: In the morning, two Marys (and a Salome, if you believe Mark) were heading to the tomb.

Matthew 28:1 In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre.

Mark 16:1 And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him.

Other Mary: Why do I have to be ‘other Mary’?
Mary: You’re not married to Jesus.
Other Mary: Well, you’re not married to Jesus!
Mary: (silence)

I don’t know what they thought they were going to do; there was supposed to be a huge stone there. But then Matthew reports a second huge earthquake that no one else noticed, and an angel rolls away the stone.

Matthew 28:2 And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it.

Already we have a fail. Round tomb stones weren’t really a thing at the time. They wouldn’t be popular until about 70 CE, which supports the idea that this was a later addition. Richard Carrier notes:

There is another reason to doubt the tomb burial that has come to my attention since I first wrote this review: the tomb blocking stone is treated as round in the Gospels, but that would not have been the case in the time of Jesus, yet it was often the case after 70 C.E., just when the gospels were being written. Amos Kloner, in “Did a Rolling Stone Close Jesus’ Tomb?” (Biblical Archaeology Review 25:5, Sep/Oct 1999, pp. 23-29, 76), discusses the archaeological evidence of Jewish tomb burial practices in antiquity. He observes that “more than 98 percent of the Jewish tombs from this period, called the Second Temple period (c. first century B.C.E. to 70 C.E.), were closed with square blocking stones” (p. 23), and only four round stones are known prior to the Jewish War, all of them blocking entrances to elaborate tomb complexes of the extremely rich (such as the tomb complex of Herod the Great and his ancestors and descendants). However, “the Second Temple period…ended with the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. In later periods the situation changed, and round blocking stones became much more common” (p. 25).


Jesus then appears to different people in contradictory and mutually exclusive ways. Rather than recount it, I refer to this portion of our infographic.

If that’s not enough for you, I have this PDF file from my good friend David Austin. (He should get a blog.) Click the image to download a copy for yourself.

Thomas and doubt

Jesus appears to the rest of the apostles. And since it’s John, notice the “fear of teh Jooz”. He’s always on about the Jews.

John 20:19 Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.

Good so far, except Thomas wasn’t there. And he won’t believe it until he sees it.

John 20:24 But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.
20:25 The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the LORD. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.

Good on him. He’s demanding the kind of evidence that’s required to support a claim. That’s what a person should do.

John 20:26 And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you.
20:27 Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.
20:28 And Thomas answered and said unto him, My LORD and my God.

Thomas believes, but at least he’s doing it right. He wants evidence, he gets it, and he changes his mind.

But now here’s Jesus with the kicker.

John 20:29 Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.

Here we have it, folks. This is the one that I count as the worst verse in scripture. Jesus is saying that evidence is fine, but no evidence is just as good. Maybe even better.

By insisting that believing without evidence is somehow on a par with believing with evidence, Jesus takes the metric that rational people use to evaluate claims, and turns it on its head. If we all did this, there’s no limit to the mutually exclusive and contradictory claims we could believe. To accept this way of thinking is to abandon reason.

Imagine how irresponsible it is for a god to demand this. Here we are in our short lives, having to choose the right religion or philosophy or story among tens of thousands, and if you get it wrong, it’s no salvation for you. Those are serious consequences (which God has set out). A responsible parent would spell out the evidence for his gospel fairly clearly. God doesn’t do that. Instead, he expects you to pick one without adequate reasons, and hope you got it right. To be fair, he also is supposed to give out feelings, the nature of which can easily be misunderstood, and which are experienced by followers of all religions. Otherwise, good luck.

This theme of not needing evidence is often taken up by believers I’ve met. When I ask for evidence, they never provide it. Instead, they make excuses for why I shouldn’t expect evidence, or they tell me why I should accept substitutes for evidence (like feelings). Strangely, they don’t seem to see how this is an evasion of the responsibility to back up what they say.

Read this excerpt from The Ethics of Belief, written by William K. Clifford in 1877

To sum up: it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.

If a man, holding a belief which he was taught in childhood or persuaded of afterwards, keeps down and pushes away any doubts which arise about it in his mind, purposely avoids the reading of books and the company of men that call into question or discuss it, and regards as impious those questions which cannot easily be asked without disturbing it — the life of that man is one long sin against mankind.

Ask: How does the LDS Church encourage people to “avoid the reading of books and the company of men that call into question or discuss” church doctrines?
Answers: By avoiding material that is not “inspiring”, and by labelling books and people who tell the truth about the church as “anti-Mormon”.

Ask: How is the refusing to confront doubts “one long sin against mankind”?
Answer: One of the most important things we can do in life is to advance our collective knowledge. Doing this helps create technologies that can cure illness, sustain life, and improve the quality of living. But this only works if we make reality the metric against which we compare other ideas. Accepting false beliefs means that we stop advancing, and start retreating, and this helps humankind not at all.

I’d like to take a moment and bear my testimony of doubt. Doubt is amazing! Doubt has helped me figure out what’s true and what’s false far better than faith can. Having faith just confirms what you believe, whether it’s right or not. It’s like a compass that always points in the way you’re going. What good is that? It might be okay if you’re trying to feel good about your beliefs, but if you’re trying to find out what’s true, it’s no use at all.

By contrast, doubt won’t hurt true claims (as long as you understand the kind of evidence required to establish a claim). However, it’s lethal to false ones.

Why’s it have to be snakes?

Jesus eventually jet-packed back up to heaven, but before he did, he left this instruction:

Mark 16:15 And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.
16:16 He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.
16:17 And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;
16:18 They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.

Poison aside, let’s talk about the snakes. This scripture has resulted in generations of pastors dying in snake-handling churches of the American South.

Snake-handling preacher Cody Coots got scared when the 6-foot long rattler bit his right hand early Monday.

Just three months ago, his father, Jamie Coots, died within minutes of being bitten by a rattlesnake during a service at his Middlesboro church.

The loss was still fresh for his family and friends, and Cody Coots, who took over for his father, had just been bitten by an even bigger rattler.

At first, “All I could think about — am I going to make it?” Coots said.

Jamie Coots, 42, was handling three rattlesnakes during a Saturday-night service at the church when one bit him on the right hand. Jamie Coots had survived more than half a dozen previous bites, but that night the venom quickly overwhelmed him.

His legs buckled in the bathroom at the church after he murmured “Sweet Jesus,” said Andrew Hamblin, a snake-handling minister from Tennessee who was with him.

People at the church rushed Coots home. He had made clear earlier that he did not want medical attention for a bite; his family sent an ambulance crew away as believers prayed over him.

A deputy coroner pronounced Coots dead about 90 minutes after he was bitten.

This raises all kinds of questions for me.

  • When someone dies from a snake bite in these churches, why don’t they take it as a sign of the victim’s lack of faith?
  • Why do they pray for the person to get better? Is that supposed to be some kind of Plan B, in case of lack of faith?
  • And where are all the poison-drinking churches? Did they used to exist, but poison worked more reliably than snakes?

Then there’s this quote:

If you don’t understand it, don’t knock it,” said Hamblin, who was close to Coots. “We adhere to the literal interpretation of the Gospel.”

I think I do understand it. They believe the Bible, and that is a terrible and costly mistake. However, unlike most believers, they take the claims of the Bible seriously. Well, one of them.

NT Lesson 22 (More parables)

“Inherit the Kingdom Prepared for You”

Matthew 25

LDS manual: here


To encourage readers to develop their gifts of critical thinking, and avoid prejudice.


The reading this time is from Matthew, and Matthew alone. Usually there are some repeats in the other gospels, but not this time; Matthew’s the only one who records these things. Given Matthew’s propensity to make stuff up, this probably means that it’s a collection of stories that were around at the time, and not anything that Jesus might have said.

This lesson is brought to you by the number 10, because we’re treating these parables in this lesson:

  • Parable of the ten virgins
  • Parable of the ten talents
  • Parable of the sheep and the goats (possibly ten of each)

Main ideas for this lesson

Parable of the ten virgins

This one doesn’t make a lot of sense at first.

Matthew 25:1 Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom.
25:2 And five of them were wise, and five were foolish.
25:3 They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them:
25:4 But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.

So what’s this story about? A bunch of slippery virgins? Are they all for the groom?

Not exactly. When you were part of the wedding party, you waited with a torch. If you didn’t have a torch, you might have been a wedding crasher. And those torches needed to be topped up with oil, or else they’d go out.

By the way, if you’re teaching this class in an actual Gospel Doctrine class, you’re meant to bring a container of oil, and when someone gives a suggestion, you’re supposed to add a droplet of oil to the container.

If you are using the jar and the oil or colored water (see the attention activity), explain that the jar represents the lamps in the parable. Put a drop of oil or water into the jar each time a class member suggests what we can do to prepare.

This is meant to teach class members that everything they do contributes only an insignificant amount to the oil level.

Alternatively, you can squirt class members with oil, and tell them it will heal them of their infirmities.

Matthew 25:5 While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept.
25:6 And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him.
25:7 Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps.
25:8 And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out.
25:9 But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves.

I suppose sharing was out of the question.

Matthew 25:10 And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut.
25:11 Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us.
25:12 But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not.
25:13 Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.

While I was on my mission, I had an investigator ask, “Does everyone who gets baptised stay active?” I told him, no, some don’t.

“Well, what percentage stays active?” he asked.

At the time, it seemed to me to run about half and half, so that’s what I said. And for justification, I made a rather deft (I thought at the time) link to the Parable of the Ten Virgins. Five out of the ten were ready, five weren’t; there you go, fifty percent. Isn’t it great how you can find a scriptural justification for a figure you just pulled out of your ass?

What I didn’t know was that the facts were much worse: As mentioned in an earlier lesson, only about a third of Latter-day Saints are active, according to the church’s information expert.

What if The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were a congregation of just 100 people? This is what Blaine Maxfield, chief information officer of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and managing director of the church’s IT department, invited attendees of the LDSTech Conference to imagine Thursday morning at the University of Utah.

Other notable statistics included:

  • 35 are adult males
  • 42 are adult females
  • 13 are in Primary
  • 10 are youths
  • 36 attend sacrament meeting on a weekly basis
  • five can’t read or write

Wait, what?

We’re not supposed to know this, of course. The information was quickly redacted in the Deseret News article, but saved on the Net.

Isn’t this a bit of a giveaway that even members don’t really find meetings worthwhile? Members frequently talk about all the good things the church does for them, but it doesn’t look like it here. If the church really improved people’s lives, you wouldn’t be able to keep people out! Instead, you have to patiently coax them into baptism, and then you have to run around after them to keep them active. If the church were true or practical or useful, it would be more obviously so.

Of course, just like in the parable, the virgins get the blame; they don’t make it because they’re not prepared. But in real life, people don’t keep going to church because it’s a rather tedious and unpleasant waste of time where you’re made to feel bad about yourself. And you’re supporting a hate group that works tirelessly to deny rights to people. Plus the fact that it isn’t actually… you know… true. There are some very good reasons to stop participating in the LDS Church, and they have nothing to do with oil.

Parable of the talents

So, just a bit of context. Jesus is expanding on his earlier parable, where he explains that he gives to give more to people who have done well for themselves — and by the way, if someone doesn’t want him to be king, then he’s going to kill them.

Luke 19:26 For I say unto you, That unto every one which hath shall be given; and from him that hath not, even that he hath shall be taken away from him.
19:27 But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me.

Jesus hasn’t changed. He’s still the maniac he was in the Old Testament.

Matthew 25:14 For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods.
25:15 And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey.
25:16 Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents.
25:17 And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two.
25:18 But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord’s money.
25:19 After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them.
25:20 And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more.
25:21 His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
25:22 He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them.
25:23 His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.

Capitalism FTW!

Side note: One of my Russian professors at BYU was making a defence of socialism in class — hypothetical, mind you! — and told us that none of the parables of Jesus ever advanced capitalism. I responded with the Parable of the Ten Talents. He reflected, and retracted the claim. Fun at BYU.

Matthew 25:24 Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed:
25:25 And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine.
Maybe he was afraid of getting killed, because he’d heard about the previous version of this parable. Just saying.
25:26 His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed:
25:27 Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury.
25:28 Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents.
25:29 For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.
25:30 And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

The LDS manual has a teaching idea.

Give each class member a pen or pencil and a piece of paper. Ask them to write down one or two of their talents or gifts along with at least one specific thing they will do in the next few weeks to use them in the service of others.

Ask: What will God do to you if you do not increase your talents?
Answer: Cast you into outer darkness, apparently.

Maybe it’s worth asking, though. What talents do you have? Which ones kept you in the church for so long, and which ones got you out? For me, my patience, tolerance for ambiguity, and my sense of social cohesion kept me in for far longer than they should have.

It’s fairly common for ex-Mormons to beat themselves up a bit, post-deconversion. How could I have been fooled for so long? How did I not see the con? Why did I stay in for so long? But we all had our reasons, and in some cases, these reasons were brought on by the good things about us. We should value them. They made us what we are today, even if they once had less-than-salubrious effects. And we should also value the things that got us out, including critical thinking, skepticism, willingness to laugh at those who take themselves too seriously, and regard for our own way of thinking over what others will think. (We might have learned some of these things in church, too.)

Parable of the sheep and the goats

I admit that goats are weird and creepy.

But are they so terrible that Jesus had to make a parable with them as a villain?

Matthew 25:31 When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:
25:32 And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:
25:33 And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.

Wow. What happens to the goats?

Matthew 25:41 Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:

This is just another reference Jesus made to sending people into everlasting fire.

Let’s just take a moment and reflect on a group of people who have been the targets of prejudice in times past. While things have improved for them, they are still sometimes misunderstood even today. I’m talking about… the left-handed.

The Bible pretty consistently favours right-handers over left.

Ecclesastes 10:2 (King James Version)
A wise man’s heart is at his right hand; but a fool’s heart at his left.

When does the Bible talk about how great someone’s left hand is? Never. Left-handers were considered “sinister” — the word sinister even means ‘left-handed’. Just one more form of prejudice that the Bible writers found acceptable.

Ye have done it unto me

Okay, now for a change of pace. You know that I spend a lot of effort bashing away at the Standard Works. I do this because, frankly, they’re terrible and they teach bad things. They don’t deserve their reputation for teaching kindness and decency.

On the other hand, I have to give credit where credit is due, and here’s one of the best scriptures in the lot.

Matthew 25:34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
25:35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
25:36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
25:37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
25:38 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
25:39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
25:40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

A message missed by those who worship Republican Jesus.

Condescending Wonka

Lucy and Linus

 Stephen Colbert perhaps said it best.

It’s great that Jesus encouraged love and generosity. On the other hand, it seems hypocritical of Jesus to teach love and generosity, and then in the very next verse threaten people with eternal torture in fire. (I might say: If Jesus tortures even one of the least of my brethren in fire for eternity, he has done it unto me.) But then this inconsistency is to be expected in a completely made-up story cobbled together over hundreds of years. Thank goodness it’s all a myth.

Let’s finish with a closing hymn. See you next week.

NT Lesson 20 (Hypocrisy)

“Woe unto You, … Hypocrites”

Matthew 21–23; John 12:1–18

LDS manual: here


To help readers to avoid hypocrisy, and to point out the kind of hypocrisy that the church deals in.


This lesson is about hypocrisy, and that really is a terrible thing. Pretending to be one way while being another way leaves you feeling split down the middle. I think a lot of us know what this is like.

And I don’t want to say that people in the LDS Church are a bunch of hypocrites. It would be hypocritical of me to say so. We all have trouble living up to the ideals we espouse, and our implementation won’t always be perfect. The best we can do is keep trying to improve, and to try to make the inside match the outside. Ironically, this task has been much easier for me since leaving the church.

Here’s why: as a kid in a Mormon family, you kind of get your moral system handed to you. How to live, what’s right and wrong — that’s what church leaders are for, to tell you that stuff. Morality is for them to know, and for you to find out, like in General Conference. You’re encouraged to study things out in your own mind, and get “personal revelation”. But if you get a different answer than the one you’re supposed to get — well, that doesn’t get you too far in a church where they tell you what kind of underwear to put on, and where wearing a blue shirt instead of a white one is considered daring at best and an act of rebellion at worst.

So you get this moral code issued to you at birth. It’s not negotiable, and you’re constantly reminded that obedience is the first law of heaven. But sometimes the code doesn’t make sense, and maybe it doesn’t really fit you. You notice that other people have to think about their moral choices, and they seem to do mostly fine, even though their code differs from yours. And your code excludes a lot of normal stuff that isn’t so bad, but you’re supposed to feel bad when you do it.

What’s a young person in a Mormon setting to do, besides obey the phoney moral code? There are basically three choices:

  1. Rebel. Make your own code. Not the favoured option for someone who wants to be a “good kid”.
  2. Give up. I saw a lot of kids do this. Eventually you forget what was in your own heart.
  3. Sneak. This was very popular, too. It’s a way of keeping peace with the adults, but still having some latitude to live your own way. But it turns you into a hypocrite. And then when you hear lessons in church about the danger of hypocrisy, you feel bad for engaging in that pattern of behaviour. But you might not realise how the imposition of this artificial and nonsensical moral code contributed to your behaviour.

Ask: What is hypocrisy?

My computer’s dictionary defines hypocrisy as: the practice of claiming to have higher standards or more noble beliefs than is the case.

By this definition, the LDS Church commits a lot of hypocrisy of its own.

  • LDS leaders work tirelessly in the service of bigotry, working to deny the validity of the relationships of LGBT people, and bemoaning the consequences if such marriages have legal recognition. But then they decry the lack of tolerance afforded to their bigotry — moaning that for progressives, tolerance is a “one-way street”. How to respond to this? My response is that it’s hypocritical for them to renounce tolerance by persecuting LGBT folks, and then to demand tolerance when it’s convenient for them — especially when they intend to use such tolerance… to promote intolerance.
  • It claims to have the standard of truth against which all others can be evaluated. But as we’ve seen in lessons, its own teachings — on evolution, the history of the earth, and (as we’ll see next year) the origins of the native peoples of the Americas — are demonstrably false. They teach that the Book of Mormon is “the most correct book upon the face of the earth”, when it is actually not even a correct book. In addition, the church promotes a counterfeit method of “knowledge from feels” that does not lead to truth. It does this while calling out “counterfeits” of its own — counterfeit families, counterfeit belief systems, and so on.
  • It demands honesty from its members — the temple recommend interview asks if a member is “honest in their dealings” with other people — while the church itself has always been less than forthcoming about its own history and origins. Facts have been routinely dismissed as “anti-Mormon lies”, and then when the church has tried to make a belated show of clearing the air, it quietly publishes anonymous (and therefore retroactively deniable) essays, showing some of the facts that will reflect best on the church. Members are instructed not to tell potential converts about its strange and potentially off-putting temple ceremonies.

Now where did I get the idea that it was okay to shade the truth and present oneself in the most positive light? How easily I slipped into it, and how long I kept that up!

I want to explain how I try to avoid hypocrisy. I’m a university lecturer and a presenter on my language podcast Talk the Talk, and so there’s a temptation for me to want to be the Smart Guy. But I’m not, not really. I feel like I hardly know anything! And pretending I do is really destructive. When you pretend to know more than you do, it keeps you from learning more. And then it’s all about you and reputation and protection, and not about what’s true.

My advice: The antidote to hypocrisy is humility. Intellectual humility is not only an appealing quality in a thinker, it’s repulsive when it’s absent. So here are my tips.

  1. Say “I don’t know”. We sometimes get allergic to saying “I don’t know” in academia. But that’s something that you have to say! Saying “I don’t know” is the beginning of knowledge. But the next thing out of your mouth should be, “How can we find out?” or “How would we know the right answer if we saw it?”
  2. When you’re wrong, cheerfully admit it, and update. No one is going to get it right all the time. And just about everything we think is true is going to be a little bit wrong. There’s no shame in admitting that. I actually love it when someone can tell me when I’m wrong. That means I don’t have to believe that wrong thing anymore! What a great thing! And if I know people are able to get back to me about mistakes, it means the feedback system is working, and that means I probably got everything else right. Right?

Here’s a recent episode of Talk the Talk where I corrected a mistake, and used it as a springboard for further discussion. Have a listen.

Main ideas for this lesson

Mary and the ointment

At the start of this lesson, Jesus is eating with friends. Then things get weird. Right in the middle of dinner, Mary starts anointing.

John 12:2 There they made him a supper; and Martha served: but Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with him.
12:3 Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment.

I’m trying to imagine what this would have been like, if this happened at a dinner with friends. One of the guests starts rubbing something on another guest’s feet, and rubbing their hair all over them. I’m thinking ‘awkward, inappropriate, and uncomfortable’.

John 12:4 Then saith one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, which should betray him,
12:5 Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor?
12:6 This he said, not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein.

Apparently John could read minds. This must be what they call the “gift of discernment”.

The LDS lesson manual says:

Mary’s actions were criticized by Judas. What did he say should have been done with the ointment? (See John 12:4–5.) How was Judas a hypocrite?

Because people who say they’re concerned about the poor are hypocrites! That means that a hypocrite probably created this meme:

and this one:

and this one.

Pointing this out doesn’t sound hypocritical to me — it sounds like a fairly valid criticism.

Anyway, what’s Jesus’ response to Judas? Well, that you’re always going to have poor people.

John 12:7 Then said Jesus, Let her alone: against the day of my burying hath she kept this.
12:8 For the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always.

Jesus saith: Poverty is an intractable social problem, even if you’re an all-powerful being. Embrace inevitability, and don’t spare the ointment!

Think I’m being unfair? Nope — this idea is used by political conservatives to justify poverty.

Despite a significant rise in income inequality in Texas, Gov. Rick Perry (R) is arguing that it’s not something the state ought to be worried about.

“We don’t grapple with that here,” Perry told The Washington Post in a recent interview, while acknowledging that the state’s richest residents have seen the greatest spike in earnings.

Biblically, the poor are always going to be with us in some form or fashion,” he added, an apparent reference to Mark 14:7. While Perry takes the message from the Bible to mean poverty is hopeless and therefore not worth grappling with, Jesus Christ was actually delivering a different lesson: “For ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good,” the Son of God advises in the King James version of the Bible.

Triumphal entry

Over to Matthew. You know Matthew, right? He’s the one who seizes onto everything Jesus does, and claims it’s a fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy. To which I’d respond: Prophecies are easy to fulfil when you know about them.

Except sometimes he gets it wrong. Here’s a passage in Zechariah that Matthew claims Jesus fulfils:

Zechariah 9:9 Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.

There’s a literary device in the Old Testament called parallelism, where things get repeated twice. It sounds nice, and gives the passage some heft.

We see this kind of thing in Isaiah 2:3.

…for out of Zion shall go forth the law,
and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem

Or Amos 5:24.

But let judgment run down as waters,
and righteousness as a mighty stream.

So notice the parallelism in Zechariah: he starts with

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion;
shout, O daughter of Jerusalem:

and finishes with

riding upon an ass,
and upon a colt the foal of an ass.

Except that Matthew somehow misses the parallelism. He says that Jesus was actually riding two animals at the same time, an ass and a colt.

Matthew 21:1 And when they drew nigh unto Jerusalem, and were come to Bethphage, unto the mount of Olives, then sent Jesus two disciples,
21:2 Saying unto them, Go into the village over against you, and straightway ye shall find an ass tied, and a colt with her: loose them, and bring them unto me.
21:3 And if any man say ought unto you, ye shall say, The Lord hath need of them; and straightway he will send them.
21:4 All this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying,
21:5 Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass.
21:6 And the disciples went, and did as Jesus commanded them,
21:7 And brought the ass, and the colt, and put on them their clothes, and they set him thereon.

That’s some fancy riding, Jesus!

Palm Sunday – Good Friday Conflict

The always-comprehensive kyroot points out a plot hole in this story.

Jesus is adored and worshipped as a King as he enters Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. He then proceeds to work miracles, heal the sick, and demonstrate his supreme wisdom, making him even more a figure for adulation. But five days later, without explanation, he is abruptly hated so much by his own people that, given a chance to have him released, they chose to free a common criminal instead. There is something seriously wrong with this story.

God hates figs

Here’s one of the truly bizarre stories about Jesus.

Matthew 21:18 Now in the morning as he returned into the city, he hungered.
21:19 And when he saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only, and said unto it, Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever. And presently the fig tree withered away.
21:20 And when the disciples saw it, they marvelled, saying, How soon is the fig tree withered away!
21:21 Jesus answered and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do this which is done to the fig tree, but also if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be done.

Mark adds that it wasn’t even the time for figs to be ripe.

That’s some psychopathic behaviour there. You can take Jesus out of the Yahweh, but you can’t take Yahweh out of Jesus. Or something.

You should check out this video, because it really is quite funny.

Parable of the marriage feast

Speaking of psychosis, Jesus tells a great story about how his father will kill loads of people at the last day.

Matthew 22:1 And Jesus answered and spake unto them again by parables, and said,
22:2 The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which made a marriage for his son,
22:3 And sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding: and they would not come.
22:4 Again, he sent forth other servants, saying, Tell them which are bidden, Behold, I have prepared my dinner: my oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready: come unto the marriage.
22:5 But they made light of it, and went their ways, one to his farm, another to his merchandise:
22:6 And the remnant took his servants, and entreated them spitefully, and slew them.

Okay, well, killing people is not good. But really, the only thing that most people did wrong in this story is not going to a party.

Matthew 22:7 But when the king heard thereof, he was wroth: and he sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city.

Whoa! Disproportionate response, God! I wouldn’t destroy a whole city. About the most I’d do is unfriend someone.

Matthew 22:8 Then saith he to his servants, The wedding is ready, but they which were bidden were not worthy.
22:9 Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage.
22:10 So those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good: and the wedding was furnished with guests.
22:11 And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment:
22:12 And he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless.

He was like, “I was out on the highway, and someone brought me here. I don’t even know anybody.”

Matthew 22:13 Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness, there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
22:14 For many are called, but few are chosen.

Whoa again! Outer darkness is pretty harsh for just having the wrong garment on.

So there it is. If you don’t believe in him, God is going to kill you (perhaps symbolically?). And if you do believe, but you have on the wrong garment (perhaps symbolically, perhaps actual garments), it’s OD for you.

This is a good example of something I’ve been mentioning during our New Testament year: People think Jesus is all about the love, but really, he’s the same old psychopath that Jehovah was. Obviously views on the Trinity differ, but if you were looking for evidence that God the Father and Jesus were the same person, all you’d have to do is show them the terrible scriptures from the OT, and then these scriptures from the NT, and you’d have to admit, “Yep, that’s totally the same crazy angry guy.”

Render unto Caesar

Here’s another area where some churches show more than a little hypocrisy. Jesus is having another bash with the Pharisees. They say:

Matthew 22:17 Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not?
22:18 But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites?
22:19 Shew me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny.
22:20 And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription?
22:21 They say unto him, Caesar’s. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.
22:22 When they had heard these words, they marvelled, and left him, and went their way.

Good call, Jesus. Religious figures should be giving Caesar his due, and in our day this means paying tax.

Currently, religions are tax-exempt. When churches don’t pay tax, the rest of us have to pay their share. That means we’re forced to support religions we don’t even believe in. Lately, religious organisations have been screaming because they’re being forced to kick in for employees’ birth control. They argue that they shouldn’t have to pay for things that run counter to their beliefs. But when it comes to the rest of us funding churches contrary to our belief, somehow it doesn’t rate a mention. Talk about hypocritical!

And this is way bigger that the relatively trifling amounts for contraception. How much is this costing us?

April 29, 2006: Tax exemptions to Australian churches are costing federal, state and local governments more than $500 million a year, new figures show.

Half a billion dollars.

That’s Australia. How about the USA? Better sit down.

While some people may be bothered by the fact that there are pastors who live in multimillion dollar homes, this is old news to most. But here is what should bother you about these expensive homes: You are helping to pay for them! You pay for them indirectly, the same way local, state, and federal governments in the United States subsidize religion — to the tune of about $71 billion every year.

Churches are businesses. They should pay taxes like every other business. If they do charitable work, fine. Treat that like any other business that does charity work. But letting them get away without paying their fair share hurts all of us.

Compulsory love

Finally, Jesus talks about the first and great commandment.

Matthew 22:35 Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying,
22:36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law?
22:37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
22:38 This is the first and great commandment.
22:39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
22:40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Christopher Hitchens pointed out that the commandment to love someone is a horrible commandment.

What is it like, I’ve never tried it, I’ve never been a cleric, what is it like to lie to children for a living and tell them that they have an authority, that they must love—compulsory love, what a grotesque idea—and be terrified of it at the same time. What’s that like? I want to know.

I’ll tell. Having to love an absent father figure who knows your thoughts and can sentence you to eternal isolation is a terrible emotional ordeal. You have to read about how he’s killed those who didn’t obey him, and you have to try to admire that — to love it. It can’t be done without warping a person’s idea of what love is.

Love is a great thing, and yet commanding love is twisted. You can’t command someone to love, especially not to love everyone. It may not be appropriate or helpful to love everyone, including people who are doing you harm. If there’s contact with abusive people, what may be required is to cut off contact and get away from them before they drain you. This is okay to do.

That was quite a lesson. Until next week, be well, and I hope you have a match between the way you present and the way you are.

NT Lesson 18 (Lost)

“He Was Lost, and Is Found”

Luke 15; 17

LDS manual: here


To show how Christianity demeans people who believe differently as “lost”, and how it demeans its own members as “unprofitable”.


For this lesson, Jesus has a few parables about how to treat those who are “lost”.

Right off the bat, I have a problem. As an ex-Mormon and ex-Christian, I don’t think of myself as lost, and I find it insulting that Christians learn to portray me that way. I could think of Christians as “lost” — what else am I to call someone who ignores and denies the good in this life because they’re busy working for the next — but I don’t really think that. I think we’re all doing the best we can with the knowledge we have. Isn’t that a more respectful way of working through our differences?

Anyway, what advice does Jesus give on how to treat the “lost”? According to these parables:

  • Parable of the lost coin
  • Parable of the lost sheep
  • Parable of the prodigal son

we’re supposed to be happy for them… when they come back to church. But that’s about it. Until they do, Jesus doesn’t have too many ideas. Could this be why Mormons are usually so bad at relating to former members?

Main ideas for this lesson

Lost sheep

Let’s start with the Parable of the Lost Sheep.

Luke 15:4 What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?15:5 And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing.
15:6 And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost.
15:7 I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.

Ask: Why would members esteem one person who comes back over ninety-nine who never leave in the first place?
Answer: When someone leaves, it places members in an awkward situation. They either have to think that the person was wrong to leave, or perhaps — gasp — acknowledge that they had a point. But if that person comes back, the conflict is resolved. Of course that person was wrong to leave — by coming back, they’ve admitted it themsleves! It must be tremendously validating when someone returns.

The LDS lesson manual continues this theme.

• In what ways might a person be “lost”? What is our responsibility toward those who are lost? (See Luke 15:4–5, 8; Alma 31:34–35.)

Possible answer: Someone might be lost when they masturbate to porn, and our responsibility is to rat them out to the bishop! That’s according to the LDS video “Wounded on the Battlefield”, here hilariously sent up by Dusty. (Language warning, of course.)

Ask: What do we call a religion in which members monitor and report each other for trivial infractions?


This next part concerns child abuse. It’s not something I’ve been through, but many people have, and worse, the abuse has happened in a religious setting. I’m going to try to be as sensitive as I can about this, but please be aware if this is a triggering issue for you, and I’d appreciate seeing your thoughts in comments.

Jesus speaks of offenses against children, saying that they’re inevitable. He’s only an omnipotent being — what can you do?

Luke 17:1 Then said he unto the disciples, It is impossible but that offences will come: but woe unto him, through whom they come!
17:2 It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.

Nice try, Jesus, but these are just words, not deeds.

Ask: If you were an all-powerful being, and you saw that this was happening to a child, what would you do?
Possible answers: Drop the offender with a non-suspicious heart attack, cause amnesia, change the offender’s mind like God did to Pharaoh.

Ask: What does God do instead?
Answer: Sits and watches, and threatens the offender with punishment later.

Tracie Harris from the Atheist Experience expressed it rather tersely:

When I bring this up to believers, their answer usually revolves around agency. It’s regrettable that this happens, says the believer, but God refuses to abridge the agency of the offender.

My question then becomes: What about the child’s agency? What about their agency not to be abused? Why is the offender’s agency the only one’s that gets respected here?

If this isn’t good evidence that no god exists, then it’s definitely good evidence that this god isn’t worth worshipping.

While I’m on this topic, could I put a word in about bishop’s interviews. LDS bishops — generally men from the community with no training in counselling — routinely interview adolescents in closed-door sessions, in which the young people are quizzed about their sexual behaviour, including masturbation. This needs to end.

We could also argue that religion itself is a form of child abuse. Taking the mind of a child, and diverting it toward supernaturalism is a terrible path that can take years to undo. That’s not to equate sexual abuse and spiritual or intellectual abuse — given the choice, I’d take the spiritual / intellectual abuse I got, instead of the sexual abuse I didn’t get. But it’s worth pointing out that there are different forms of abuse, and even the non-sexual kinds can be damaging.

Unprofitable servants

So it appears that Jesus has no trouble disparaging people who believe differently as “lost”. But he also doesn’t have very much encouragement for those who do believe.

Luke 17:7 But which of you, having a servant plowing or feeding cattle, will say unto him by and by, when he is come from the field, Go and sit down to meat?
17:8 And will not rather say unto him, Make ready wherewith I may sup, and gird thyself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken; and afterward thou shalt eat and drink?
17:9 Doth he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I trow not.
17:10 So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.

In other words, don’t think you’re good just because you did what you were commanded. You’re still unprofitable.

This idea has a function. After all, we want people in church to feel good, but not too good. That why we hear so much about avoiding ‘pride’. So Latter-day Saints are hearing this in church this week, and thinking, yep, I sure am unworthy.

Keep them down. That’s how you keep them coming back. Treat ’em mean, keep ’em keen. This is classic abuser behaviour.

I’d like to offer some good news to my Christian friends. You don’t merit the abuse that Jesus and your religion dish out. You’re better than this.

Additional lesson ideas

The kingdom of God is within you

This scripture was left out of the lesson:

Luke 17:20 And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation:
17:21 Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.

This scripture seems to imply that one can find spiritual answers inside oneself. That’s very dangerous to a hierarchical top-down model of spirituality, which is why Bruce McConkie fought it so hard. Watch as he turns it into an affirmation of the church system.

“One of the heresies which prevails in a large part of modern Christendom is the concept that Jesus did not organize a Church or set up a formal kingdom through which salvation might be offered to men. This poorly translated verse is one of those used to support the erroneous concept that the kingdom of God is wholly spiritual; that it is made up of those who confess Jesus with their lips, regardless of what church affiliation they may have; that the kingdom of God is within every person in the sense that all have the potential of attaining the highest spiritual goals; and that baptism, the laying on of hands, celestial marriage, and other ordinances and laws are not essential to the attainment of salvation.

“It is true that men have the inherent capacity to gain salvation in the celestial world; in a sense this power is within them; and so it might be said that the kingdom of God is within a person, if it is understood that such expression means that a person can gain that eternal world by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel. But it is also true that Jesus did organize his Church and did give the keys of such kingdom to legal administrators on earth. (Matt. 16:13–19.)

“Even the marginal reading in the King James Version changes the language here involved to read, ‘The kingdom of God is in the midst of you,’ meaning ‘The Church is now organized in the midst of your society.’ The Prophet’s rendering of Jesus’ thought, as such is recorded in the Inspired Version, is of course the best of all. Its essential meaning is: ‘The Church and kingdom has already been organized; it is here; it has come unto you; now enter the kingdom, obey its laws and be saved.’” (McConkie, DNTC, 1:540.)

Oh, Bruce. Is there anything you can’t turn into a reification of your authority?

Old Testament stories and the end of the world

Rather threateningly, Jesus refers to the Flood and Lot’s wife as though they were real events — thus reaffirming that he still intends to kill a lot of people at his return.

Luke 17:26 And as it was in the days of Noe, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man.
17:27 They did eat, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, and the flood came, and destroyed them all.
17:28 Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot; they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded;
17:29 But the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all.
17:30 Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed.
17:31 In that day, he which shall be upon the housetop, and his stuff in the house, let him not come down to take it away: and he that is in the field, let him likewise not return back.
17:32 Remember Lot’s wife.


And that leads us to one of the first scriptures that will eventually be wound into a doctrine known as the Rapture.

Luke 17:34 I tell you, in that night there shall be two men in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left.
17:35 Two women shall be grinding together; the one shall be taken, and the other left.
17:36 Two men shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left.

Two men in a bed? Two women grinding? Thunderf00t once had the opportunity to interview two members of the Westboro Baptist Church, and when the interview inevitably went south, he threw this in as a last chance to offend them.

I’m posting this video, not because I’m a fan of Thunderf00t, because I found it amusing and relevant to the scripture. I actually find his anti-feminism off-putting and misguided. But here’s the clip. The relevant part starts at 15:52.

Well, that interview went down the tubes, so now let’s have a closing hymn. As so often is the case, this one’s from Morrissey, and it’s “Lost”. The relevant lyric: “Everybody’s lost. But they’re pretending they’re not.”

See you next week.

NT Lesson 17 (Hell)

“What Shall I Do That I May Inherit Eternal Life?”

Mark 10:17–30; 12:41–44; Luke 12:13–21; 14; 16

LDS manual: here


To encourage readers to reject bad advice given by Jesus, along with the immoral doctrine of Hell.


Here are the main themes for this lesson:

  • It’s bad to be rich
  • Don’t plan for the future
  • You will be tortured with fire forever if you are bad (or rich).

The first one is maybe a bit iffy, the second is just plain terrible advice, and the third one is the most immoral doctrine in all of Christianity.

In other words, the scriptures in this lesson are the blurst. Let’s take them by course.

Main ideas for this lesson

The rich young man

We start with a rich young man who wants to follow Jesus.

Mark 10:17 And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?
10:18 And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God.


Mark 10:19 Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother.
10:20 And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth.
10:21 Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.
10:22 And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions.
10:23 And Jesus looked round about, and saith unto his disciples, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!

Christians tend to gloss over this scripture, and they’re certainly not keen to give all their money away, as nonstampcollector has pointed out.

The creator of Russell’s Teapot has also lampooned the Christian tendency to take everything literally, except that one scripture.

And even though I have my views on income inequality and how bad it is for society as a whole, I still have a hard time condemning all wealth as evil. I think of Elon Musk, who’s doing a lot to help humanity in the areas of energy, transport, and space travel, and not coincidentally making a pile of dough off of it. I suppose most rich people aren’t Elon Musk.

But what I really want to point out here — once again — is that this scripture is evidence that Christianity was an end-of-the-world cult. Believers were taught that the end was coming very soon, within the lifetimes of people who were alive then. It makes no sense to say, “Sell everything, give it away, and follow me” if you have to then go on to live a normal life. But it makes a lot of sense if you think the world is going to end in a few years.

The end-of-the-world theme continues in Jesus’ next discourse.

Don’t care for your life, and don’t work

Luke 12:22 And he said unto his disciples, Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat; neither for the body, what ye shall put on.
12:23 The life is more than meat, and the body is more than raiment.
12:24 Consider the ravens: for they neither sow nor reap; which neither have storehouse nor barn; and God feedeth them: how much more are ye better than the fowls?
12:25 And which of you with taking thought can add to his stature one cubit?
12:26 If ye then be not able to do that thing which is least, why take ye thought for the rest?
12:27 Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
12:28 If then God so clothe the grass, which is to day in the field, and to morrow is cast into the oven; how much more will he clothe you, O ye of little faith?

Again, this advice makes no sense in a normal life plan. It’s terrible advice! But if the world is going to end, it makes a lot of sense.

The good news is that the world isn’t going to end, as least not in ways that doomsday prophets have anticipated. Many have predicted the end of the world (with an unsavoury amount of anticipation), and they’ve always been wrong.

So what are believers supposed to do about this? Again: sell errything.

Luke 12:33 Sell that ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth.

Cough it up, Christians.

Jesus is come to divide families

Jesus explains that he’s more important than family. This is SMO for a cult leader.

Luke 12:51 Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division:
12:52 For from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three.
12:53 The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against the father; the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother; the mother in law against her daughter in law, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.

We’re even supposed to hate our family — and our own lives.

Luke 14:26 If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.

Is it any wonder that members treat unbelieving family so awfully sometimes?

This is why it’s wrong to say that the church supports the family. As I’ve said before, its aim is to supplant the family. And this goes back to Jesus.

Rich man and Lazarus

But even that’s not as immoral as his teachings about hell. As in many other scriptures, Jesus teaches about torture in hell with actual fire.

Luke 16:19 There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day:
16:20 And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores,
16:21 And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.
16:22 And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried;
16:23 And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
16:24 And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.
16:25 But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.

Mormons, like many other denominations who have found the idea of eternal torture distasteful, tend to soft-pedal the doctrine of hell — and ignore the words of Jesus in the process. They say it’s something nebulous like “separation from God”. (Can I just say that separation from God is amazing, and everyone should try it.)

On the other hand, you’d be amazed at how many Christians I’ve talked to who, in confidence, have admitted that they do believe in the reality of hell with fire and torture and ouches. Think of that. They believe that the punishment for lack of belief — not misbehaviour, but misbelief — should be eternal torture. They think I deserve pain for the rest of eternity, because I don’t believe the same as their god does. How moral is that?

And let’s not pretend that the doctrine of hell is entirely absent from Mormonism. It’s still there.

It doesn’t matter for this discussion whether hell is literal fire or just solitary confinement. Both are cruel. Both are immoral forms of punishment. A punishment of infinite duration for crimes of finite duration is not moral.

When I mention this, Christians and Mormons tell me, “No, but you see, you’re missing the point. God provided Jesus as a way of avoiding hell. He doesn’t want you to go there!”

Which doesn’t help. Who created the punishment in the first place? It’s like an arsonist who starts fires, puts them out, and expects a great reward for rescuing people from the fire. God is only trying to save people from a punishment he created.

Here’s another angle. Who is the doctrine of hell designed to work on? Not unbelievers — threatening someone with hell who doesn’t believe in it is quite ineffective.

No, this idea is designed to frighten the people who are already on board. I could understand if Jesus were threatening those who oppose him. But it’s a singularly despicable move for Jesus to threaten the people who believe in him.

And here’s the kicker: This being — who tortures people for eternity — isn’t reviled as evil. No, he’s hailed as the ultimate good guy.

No only that — he’s meant to be worshipped. Not just tolerated and welcomed into polite society, but actually worshipped for this.

If anyone else did the things that the Christian god is going to do, you’d lock him up. But since it’s capital G God, he gets a pass.

Imagine also: You’re supposed to be happy in heaven, while those you love are [ broasting in hell | sentenced to isolation | relegated to servitude ] for eternity. How would one be able to enjoy eternity knowing this?

Russel’s Teapot again:

The concept of hell is damaging to children. It is a form of mental abuse — different from sexual abuse, but still damaging. Richard Dawkins writes:

I received a letter from an American woman in her forties who had been brought up Roman Catholic. At the age of seven, she told me, two unpleasant things had happened to her. She was sexually abused by her parish priest in his car. And, around the same time, a little schoolfriend of hers, who had tragically died, went to hell because she was a Protestant. Or so my correspondent had been led to believe by the then official doctrine of her parents’ church. Her view as a mature adult was that, of these two examples of Roman Catholic child abuse, the one physical and the other mental, the second was by far the worst. She wrote
“Being fondled by the priest simply left the impression (from the mind of a 7 year old) as ‘yucky’ while the memory of my friend going to hell was one of cold, immeasurable fear. I never lost sleep because of the priest – but I spent many a night being terrified that the people I loved would go to Hell. It gave me nightmares.”

Fortunately, the concept of hell is recognised by many people for the immoral doctrine it is. Robert Ingersoll, a pioneering atheist in the late 1800s, wrote:

THE idea of a hell was born of revenge and brutality on the one side, and cowardice on the other. In my judgment the American people are too brave, too charitable, too generous, too magnanimous, to believe in the infamous dogma of an eternal hell. I have no respect for any human being who believes in it. I have no respect for any man who preaches it. I have no respect for the man who will pollute the imagination of childhood with that infamous lie. I have no respect for the man who will add to the sorrows of this world with the frightful dogma. I have no respect for any man who endeavours to put that infinite cloud, that infinite shadow, over the heart of humanity.

If there is a God who will damn his children forever, I would rather go to hell than to go to heaven and keep the society of such an infamous tyrant.
— Robert Green Ingersoll, “The Liberty Of All” (1877)

And Christopher Hitchens pointed out that this was an innovation that starts with Jesus.

Not until gentle Jesus, meek and mild, are you told if you don’t make the right propitiations you can depart into everlasting fire. One of the most wicked ideas ever preached and one that has ruined the lives and peace of mind of many, many children…preached to them by vicious, child-hating old men and women in the name of this ghasty cult.

Transcript for people who can’t watch videos

Well, it’s here that we find something very sinister about monotheism and about religious practice in general: It is incipiently at least — and I think often explicitly — totalitarian. I have no say in this. I am born under a celestial dictatorship which I could not have had any hand in choosing. I don’t put myself under its government. I am told that it can watch me while I sleep. I’m told that it can convict me of — here’s the definition of totalitarianism — thought crime, for what I think I may be convicted and condemned. And that if I commit a right action, it’s only to evade this punishment and if I commit a wrong action, I’m going to be caught up not just with punishment in life for what I’ve done which often follows axiomatically, but, no, even after I’m dead. In the Old Testament, gruesome as it is, recommending as it is of genocide, racism, tribalism, slavery, genital mutilation, in the displacement and destruction of others, terrible as the Old Testament gods are, they don’t promise to punish the dead. There’s no talk of torturing you after the earth has closed over the Amalekites. Only toward when gentle Jesus, meek and mild, makes his appearance are those who won’t accept the message told they must depart into everlasting fire. Is this morality, is this ethics? I submit not only is it not, not only does it come with the false promise of vicarious redemption, but it is the origin of the totalitarian principle which has been such a burden and shame to our species for so long.

I do not like being threatened. And while you may be able to threaten someone into behaving, you can’t threaten them into being good.

Any moral behaviour that results from threats and coercion is not real morality.

Additional lesson ideas

Camels and needles

LDS culture doesn’t seem to mind prosperity, and yet Jesus was rather unambiguous about how rich people will fare in the next life.

Mark 10:25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.

Does that mean it’s bad to be rich? Usually in Gospel Doctrine, there are some noises about how people need to help the poor, but there’s nothing wrong with being rich per se. And that’s where it gets left.

But this scripture reminds me of a formative experience on my mission.

As a missionary, I read the Ensign magazine a lot. I really liked “I Have a Question” because it was kind of myth-busty sometimes. So I liked this article:

Jesus once said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” (Matt. 19:24.) Can you give me some background on this statement?

John A. Tvedtnes, specialist in ancient Near Eastern studies and instructor at the Brigham Young University–Salt Lake Center. Over the years, biblical commentators have taken three approaches in exploring the meaning of this scripture. The first of these has found wide acceptance among Christians because of the beauty of its teachings. It holds that in ancient times there was a small gate cut inside the larger gate of the city through which one might enter after nightfall, when the city was closed. Although this small gate—termed the “eye of the needle”—could readily admit a man, a camel could enter only by first being relieved of its burden and then by walking through on its knees. The imagery here is that of the sinner casting away his faults (or the rich man his worldly possessions) and kneeling in prayer.

Unfortunately, there are problems with this beautiful explanation. One is that the camel’s anatomy does not permit it to crawl on its knees. More serious, however, is the fact that there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever of the use of such small inset gates in the time of Christ. One may see them today in Jerusalem and Damascus, where the local tour guides will call them by the term “eye of the needle,” but there are no such gates dating prior to the twelfth century A.D. Moreover, the guides have taken the term “eye of the needle” from modern commentators of the Matthew passage and not from an authentic ancient tradition.

Soon after reading this, the bishop gave a lesson in Elders’ Quorum, and what do you know, this scripture came up. However, the bishop seemed unaware of the above Ensign article, which I and a few other elders had read. So he spoke of a book by Spencer W. Kimball, in which he supposedly told the whole camel story, complete with the camel hobbling through the gate on its knees. He was so impressed with the symbolism.

You can imagine what I did, as the smart-alec punk kid that I was. I raised my hand and said, “Um, actually, I read that that wasn’t true,” and then I explained what was said in the foregoing article. A few other missionaries hesitantly nodded along.

The bishop didn’t seem to taken aback, though. Instead he just said, “Well, I still believe it, because Spencer W. Kimball wrote it in his book, and he was the prophet when he wrote it.” And the lesson moved on, and that was that.

Now I don’t know if Kimball really did write any such thing in one of his books. Perhaps he didn’t, and the bishop had the whole thing wrong. But that’s not the important part.

The important part was that I watched how a man could have a mistake explained to him, and then choose to persist in his mistake. It was a classic Appeal to Authority. And I realised, “Here is a man who does not want to know what is true. He would rather be wrong and believe in his leaders.”

Leaders could be wrong, and people would defend them and go right on believing. I never forgot this. How could I, when I was confronted with this attitude in church so many times in the decades to come?

Just to be clear on the fallacy of Appeal to Authority: it’s good to listen to people who have expertise in their field. I’ve even seen some people call the fallacy the Irrelevant Appeal to Authority, implying that not all appeal to authority is fallacious. Listening to people who know more about an area is how we learn. But there are a few caveats:

  1. Someone with authority can be wrong, even in their area. What matters is the evidence for the idea, not the status of the person.
  2. Expertise in one area does not guarantee expertise in another. Smart people can be smart, but still be prone to naive ideas outside their area of expertise. There’s at least one Nobel prize winner who’s a climate denialist, and needless to say, they didn’t win the Nobel for their work in climatology.

And of course, we need to update when we find out we’re wrong, even if it’s some know-it-all punk kid who tells us.

Everything shall be revealed

There’s a Mormon joke:

Q: Why do you always bring two Mormons with you fishing?
A: If you only bring one, they’ll drink all your beer.

The joke works because of the well-known tendency on the part of Mormons to police each other’s behaviour.

Well, here’s one scripture that works toward this.

Luke 12:2 For there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known.
12:3 Therefore whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops.

Many times when this scripture would come up in church, people would flutter. Imagine all your secrets being broadcast from the housetops! How awful!

I always wondered how this would work. Would it be one person reading out everyone’s misdeeds? Or would there be multiple houses? Maybe it would be like a music festival with different stages. You might hear someone say, “They’re reading out Brother Midgley’s sins over on 5th Street pretty soon. Shall we wander over?”

I suppose the idea might hold some appeal for people who are obsessed with other people’s peccadillos (and perhaps their sexual adventures?). But in the end, this is a way for a community to get its members to police each other’s behaviour. The housetop scenario is a fiction. There are secrets we take to the grave, for better or worse.


Jesus reiterates his comments on blasphemy against the Holy Ghost.

Luke 12:10 And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but unto him that blasphemeth against the Holy Ghost it shall not be forgiven.

With all the immoral and harmful ideas we’ve seen in this lesson, I have no trouble saying:

Fuck the Holy Ghost.

Even if the god of the Bible were real, and you were to prove his existence to me, I would still fight him for being a sadistic asshole.

I am more moral than God, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost put together. (Trinity joke.) And so are you. Never let someone treat you as less than you are because you refuse to accept this immoral system.

NT Lesson 16 (The blind man)

“I Was Blind, Now I See”

John 9–10

LDS manual: here


To encourage independent thinking, and to question the goodness of a god who allows suffering.


This lesson covers two stories
  • Jesus heals a blind man on the Sabbath
  • Discourse on sheep

Main ideas for this lesson

Why God allows affliction

It’s a classic question that religious people ponder: Why does God allow suffering?

Nice try, Jesus, but I’m not the omnipotent one here.

Ask: What answers have you given to the question of suffering?

One answer is the “Calvin’s Dad” answer: that adversity builds character.

For some kinds of suffering, this is true. I’m heading to the gym today, where I will suffer some discomfort, with the expectation that I will get swol. But this suffering is rather mild. For the suffering of, say, a parent whose child is swept from their very own arms during a tsunami (true second hand story), it’s arguable that there are better ways to build character, if that’s what god is trying to do.

Another answer is that there are consequences for our actions, and we should experience those consequences and learn from them. Again, very true if we’re talking about actions that I chose to do.

But what about suffering that arises not from our actions — or indeed, anyone’s actions? What about natural disasters (like our tsunami), which God could of course avert? What about diseases that arise? What about (say) polio, where people needed to be placed in devices so they could breathe? This isn’t a consequence of anyone’s actions, and it’s difficult to see how this debilitating condition has helped anyone to be stronger, in character or otherwise. Why does a god whose followers claim him to be loving and good allow this kind of suffering?

Stephen Fry elaborated on this theme, rather impressively off the cuff, I’d say.

Jesus has a rather surprising answer.

John 9:1 And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth.
9:2 And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?

The disciples think that this misfortune is God’s retribution for sin. Well, thank goodness Jesus is going to put that notion out of their heads, right?

9:3 Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.


Think about that. For his entire life, this man has lived without sight, and for what? So he can sit there when Jesus comes along, get healed, and show everyone how great God is.

In other words, God apparently made him blind to prove a point. And in so doing, God creates entirely unnecessary suffering.

Is it really surprising that the people who best understood the Hebrew Bible found this unpersuasive?

Moreover, let’s us imagine that all of this is true. Is awe the most appropriate response to this kind of deity? Do you even feel safe in a universe run by such a being?

This is a universe in which the supreme being can withhold valuable information for centuries, and cause illnesses so that he can use them in order to reveal that which he could have revealed all along without using sentient beings as pawns.

The father and Jesus are like an arsonist and firefighter tag team. One sets the fire and the other takes it out. And we are all supposed to be impressed that someone can set fires and another can take it out.

Ask: How does Jesus heal the man?
Answer: He has magical saliva.

John 9:6 When he had thus spoken, he spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and he anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay,
9:7 And said unto him, Go, wash in the pool of Siloam, (which is by interpretation, Sent.) He went his way therefore, and washed, and came seeing.

This must have been a really miraculous event, because not only did it restore the man’s sight, it also somehow gave him the neural training that babies typically get in their first year or so to be able to process vision at all. Wow!

Except this is pretty bogus. If someone hasn’t trained their occipital lobe to interpret visual stimuli, then simply turning their eyes back on doesn’t help them see. It takes months. One man who had this happen was Shirl Jennings. Actually, Jennings had had his sight until age 3, at which time he went blind. Science restored his sight years later, but the resulting visual input was confusing for him. He didn’t mind when he went blind again soon after, mostly because then he didn’t have to watch the terrible movie based on his life starring Val Kilmer and Mira Sorvino. #tendermercies


The Gospel Doctrine teacher trapped inside me is telling me that the point of the story is that Jesus makes blind people see, both temporally and spiritually. But even Jesus quashes that notion. According to Jesus, he came to cause both sight and blindness.

John 9:39 And Jesus said, For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind.

As we’ve seen before, Jesus wants to conceal truth from some people — usually the unprepared or antagonistic. Wait, aren’t those the people who reject him? This is actually a rationale constructed to answer the question, “If Jesus is so true, why doesn’t everyone accept him?” Which I think is a great question, but Jesus’ answer is that they’re blind. Not because they’ve engaged in rational thought and decided to only accept ideas with evidentiary support. They’re just blind. To a Christian, there’s never a good reason to come to a different conclusion. If you don’t buy this jazz, it’s you who has the problem.

If I were to engage in some textual analysis, I’d suppose the latter blind group is the smarty-pantses of the world who think they know stuff, but don’t accept Jesus. I think we’re talking about Kevin Sorbo’s sneering professor character in God’s Not Dead.

Because the best way to stimulate students’ critical thinking is to browbeat them with your atheism. Works every time.

This could be seen as one more manifestation of the kind of anti-intellectualism that’s typical of Christianity.

Well, that’s enough bad movies for one lesson, but the rest of the story about the blind man is actually quite interesting in places, so have a read.


Chapter 10 takes us to a discourse on sheep.

John 10:1 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber.
10:2 But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.

And so on.

I have never liked the sheep metaphor. It’s supposed to be about caring for others, the shepherd laying down his life for the sheep. But sheep do not represent the best in us. Sheep are docile and stupid.

If those are the kinds of followers Jesus was after, then there are a lot of people like that, but I aspire to something a little smarter, a little more independent. Less ovine, is what I’m saying.

And then there’s the “other sheep” comment, which has spurred loads of speculation.

John 10:16 And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.

LDS doctrine says it’s ancient Americans, and Book of Mormon Jesus repeats this verse to them. Including the part about sheep, which in the absence of any actual sheep, would have made no sense to them. But more on that when we get to the Book of Mormon next year.

Additional lesson ideas


The LDS manual encourages readers to share their testimony, using the formerly blind man as an example.

How did this man’s testimony grow as he continued to share it? (Compare verses 11, 17, 33, and 38.) How has your testimony grown as you have shared it?

There’s something sinister here. LDS leaders encourage people to “share their testimony” as a way of gaining a testimony.

Boyd Packer
It is not unusual to have a missionary say, “How can I bear testimony until I get one? How can I testify that God lives, that Jesus is the Christ, and that the gospel is true? If I do not have such a testimony, would that not be dishonest?”
Oh, if I could teach you this one principle. A testimony is to be found in the bearing of it!

Mormons enthusiastically promote this bad advice.

Dallin Oaks
Another way to seek a testimony seems astonishing when compared with the methods of obtaining other knowledge. We gain or strengthen a testimony by bearing it. Someone even suggested that some testimonies are better gained on the feet bearing them than on the knees praying for them.

In other words, saying you believe something has a curious tendency to make you believe that thing, since why would you say it unless you believe it? In other other words, Latter-day Saints are encouraged to lie to themselves and others, until they believe it. The message here is: Let the power of cognitive dissonance and peer pressure work for you! But it’s dishonest, and has no place in a thinking person’s toolkit for finding truth. What blamed fool thing couldn’t you convince yourself of using this method, if you tried hard enough?

One more time for this Dan Barker quote.

I have not really thought about evolution for a long time, and I still think it’s true. When something’s true, it doesn’t need to be continually pumped up like a leaky bike tyre.

Blasphemy review

Is anyone alarmed at the ease with which people pick up rocks to stone Jesus?

John 10:30 I and my Father are one.
10:31 Then the Jews took up stones again to stone him.

Stoning and summary execution is the kind of thing religious people do when they can get away with it. There’s a bit on blasphemy in this lesson (just search for blasphemy on the page, and I talk about it on the radio in this lesson.

Let’s finish with a closing hymn. This one seems appropriate: Morrissey, with “Yes, I Am Blind”. It’s even got sheep in it.

NT Lesson 14 (The Good Samaritan)

“Who Is My Neighbour?”

Matthew 18; Luke 10

LDS manual: here


To show that indoctrination, ostracism, and magical cursings are not good ways to treat people.


The purpose for this lesson, according to the LDS lesson manual, is:

To help class members humble themselves, forgive others, and show charity for one another.

That’s all very well, but it’s only a part of the story. Believers like to cherry-pick the good bits of the Bible, and that gives people the impression that it’s all nice and good, with love, puppy dogs, and rainbows for everyone. And while there’s lots of good stuff in these two chapters about forgiveness and service, there are also some really bad examples of how to treat people. So this lesson’s here for some balance.

Main ideas for this lesson

Little children

Jesus teaches that you have to be like a child to get into heaven.

Matthew 18:1 At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?
18:2 And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them,
18:3 And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.

Ask: Why would it be beneficial to a religious leader that his followers be like children?

Children are great. They have a playfulness, an openness to experience, and in lots of ways a lack of bias that’s quite enviable. They haven’t yet taken on political or social baggage that makes it hard for us adults to change our minds sometimes. There’s a lot to recommend about having a childlike outlook.

Children are also not great at critical thinking. With their scarcity of real-world experience, they believe everything you tell them, which works to the advantage of religious leaders. This is why religions focus on the indoctrination of children, before they’re able to challenge dogma.

Ask: Is there a positive function for the uncritical acceptance that children are prone to?
Answer: Richard Dawkins thinks so. In this video, he points out that children usually benefit when they uncritically accept information from parents and carers.

He likens it to the navigation system of a moth. When the only light source is the moon, moths are able to navigate smoothly. But artificial light sidetracks their systems and makes them fly in crazy loops around streetlights.

By the same token, there’s a positive function to children believing what adults say. But when those adults are affected by religion, the bad is accepted along with the good, and the religion spreads. It’s a case of something bad hijacking something good.

Partial transcript if you can’t watch video:

These moths are not committing suicide. They’re doing a piece of behaviour which would be sensible for all the millions of years that were there when the only lights you ever saw at night were celestial objects at optical infinity. Now I think that that’s what religion is like. I think that religion is a byproduct of probably several psychological predispositions which in themselves have Darwinian survival value, but which have consequences parallel to the consequence of the moth flying to the candle flames — have consequences which probably don’t have survival value. But just as the moth doesn’t know that the candle flame is not at infinity but is close by, so those of us who have these psychological predispositions which would have been a good thing in our ancestral past — may still be a good thing — the consequence of leading to religious behavior which may not be a good thing doesn’t occur to us. I mean, the kind of thing I’m thinking about is a tendency to obey authority in a child. It’s probably a good thing for child to obey its parents — to believe its parents, indeed — when its parents tell it things about the world, because the child is too young to know a lot of important things about the world, and would die if it ignored its parents’ beliefs; its parents advice. So good advice like “Don’t jump in the fire” has survival value. But the child brain, just like the moth brain, has no way of distinguishing the good advice like “Don’t jump in the fire” from the stupid advice like “Sacrifice a mongoose’s kidneys at the time of the full moon, or the crops will fail.” So I suspect that religion may be a complicated set of byproducts of psychological predispositions, each one of which itself has an advantage, but the religious byproduct is either neutral or — well, we don’t even need to say whether it has an advantage, it doesn’t matter; the Darwinian explanation is sufficient if we postulate that the original psychological predispositions had Darwinian survival value.

Again, religion poisons everything.

While I’m talking about moths, has everyone seen Norm MacDonald’s moth joke?

Another take on this topic: Think of your role models. Who are the people you look up to?

As for me, I look up to smart people. My heroes are the people who are doing science. These are people who have worked to understand the world, and to build their intellectual character so as to have humility and avoid bias and self-deception. Those are the people I want to be like.

Ask: What intellectual climate is a group trying to encourage if its role models are the most cognitively immature and intellectually docile people in all of humankind?
What benefit would that be to such a group’s leaders?

Early Christians must have noticed that, just as in the church today, the people they were attracting weren’t the sharpest tools in the shed. And so they wrote a rationale into the Bible.

Luke 10:21 In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes: even so, Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight.

Yeah, they knew.

Hell, with fire, again

Jesus repeats his advice to cut off your hands and feet, and put out your eyes.

Matthew 18:8 Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire.
18:9 And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.

This is the third time Jesus has mentioned hell, with actual fire. We’re going to cover Hell in more detail in lesson 17.

For now, though, let’s talk about an extra angle on this scripture from the Joseph Smith Translation.


From the LDS Gospel Doctrine manual:

Discuss Matthew 18:8–9 and Mark 9:43–48 (see also Matthew 5:29–30).

JST Matthew 18:9 And a man’s hand is his friend, and his foot, also; and a man’s eye, are they of his own household.

What do these verses mean? (See Matthew 18:9, footnote 9a, which indicates that the Joseph Smith Translation identifies these offending elements as people who lead us astray. It is better to end our association with people than to allow them to lead us into sin. See also Joseph Smith Translation, Mark 9:40–48.)

Mormons, by and large, do not ostracise family members, and that’s a good thing. At least, they don’t do it officially. (I note, however, that I never see my old Mormon friends anymore. Maybe we never had much in common, besides church.)

This scripture, however, encourages people to disconnect from their unbelieving friends. Christianity, like a lot of ideologies, makes it difficult for believers to interact with non-believers. Some time ago, I wrote a blog post about this, which centres on a video from the Atheist Experience, in which Jeff and Matt discuss the divisive tendency of Christianity.

Partial transcript:

People who actually understand what love is; people who actually understand what morality is; people who actually understand reality; it is almost unbearable to watch the people that you love be so absolutely duped into a divisive, hateful religion that they think is not divisive; they think it’s inclusive, and they think it’s positive.

The division is entirely one-sided. I didn’t end relationships when I became an atheist. Christians ended those relationships, and it was because their particular religion cannot tolerate.


Jesus again condemns divorce — advice which many Christians happily dismiss, and good for them.

From the manual, again:

Explain that Matthew 19:1–12 describes a situation in which the Pharisees tried to trap Jesus by asking him about the lawfulness of divorce (see also Mark 10:1–12).

Explain that in ancient Israel, a man could put away, or divorce, his wife for insignificant reasons. Jesus taught that in a perfect world, such as the celestial kingdom, divorce does not exist. Because the earth is not yet perfect, divorce is allowed but should not happen except for the most serious reasons. Matthew 19:9 indicates that a man who put away his wife for a frivolous reason was still married to her in the eyes of God, and he thus committed adultery if he married another woman. (See James E. Talmage, Jesus the Christ, 3rd ed. [1916], 473–75, 484; see also Bruce R. McConkie, The Mortal Messiah, 4 vols. [1979–81], 2:138–39.)

I just want to add that when someone disapproves of something, it’s very common for them to claim that people do it for frivolous reasons.

  • Divorce: They get married, and figure that if it doesn’t work out, they’ll just get divorced and try someone else!
  • Abortion: Why, it’s just a form of birth control for some people!
  • Leaving the church: They were offended and wanted to sin. Something something milk strippings.

This way of thinking sees people trivialising the life choices of other people when those choices don’t accord with theirs. I don’t know anyone who takes any of these decisions lightly — in most cases, it’s one of the most difficult and well-thought-through choices in that person’s life — but for someone with this view, it makes it difficult for them to understand why anyone would make that choice. Or should I say “sin that sin”. So much for empathy.

Dusting off feet

Jesus tells missionaries to dust off their feel if people don’t believe them, as a kind of curse.

Luke 10:10 But into whatsoever city ye enter, and they receive you not, go your ways out into the streets of the same, and say,
10:11 Even the very dust of your city, which cleaveth on us, we do wipe off against you: notwithstanding be ye sure of this, that the kingdom of God is come nigh unto you.
10:12 But I say unto you, that it shall be more tolerable in that day for Sodom, than for that city.

This has led to some pretty wild stories about modern foot-dusting. Here’s one about Samuel Smith, brother of Joseph Smith.

“Samuel was sick at heart, for this was the 5th time he had been turned out of doors that day. He left the house and traveled a short distance and washed his feet in a small brook, as a testimony against [the tavern owner who had rejected him]. He then proceeded five miles further on his journey, and seeing an apple tree a short distance from the road, he concluded to pass the night under it; and here he lay all night upon the cold, damp ground. In the morning, he arose from his comfortless bed, and observing a small cottage at no great distance, he drew near, hoping to get a little refreshment…. He…proceeded to Bloomington, which was 8 miles further.
“Here he stopped at the house of John P. Greene, who was a Methodist preacher and was at that time about starting on a preaching mission. He, like the others, did not wish to make a purchase of what he considered at that time to be a nonsensical fable; however, he said that he would take a subscription paper, and if he found anyone on his route who was disposed to purchase, he would take his name, and in two weeks Samuel might call again and he would let him know what the prospect was of selling. After making this arrangement, Samuel left one of his books with him, and returned home. At the time appointed, Samuel started again for the Reverend John P. Greene’s, in order to learn the success which this gentleman had met with in finding sale for the Book of Mormon. This time, Mr. Smith and myself accompanied him, and it was our intention to have passed near the tavern where Samuel was so abusively treated a fortnight previous, but just before we came to the house, a sign of smallpox intercepted us. We turned aside, and meeting a citizen of the place, we inquired of him, to what extent this disease prevailed. He answered that the tavern keeper and two of his family had died with it not long since, but he did not know that anyone else had caught the disease, and that it was brought into the neighborhood by a traveler who stopped at the tavern overnight” (Lucy Mack Smith, History of Joseph Smith, pp.225-226)

Yep — he dusted off his feet, and gave someone smallpox. Because that’s how smallpox works. Kind of a dick move, isn’t it?

This scripture stands as a bit of a contrast to the previous chapter, where Jesus refuses to curse some Samaritans.

Luke 9:51 And it came to pass, when the time was come that he should be received up, he stedfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem,
9:52 And sent messengers before his face: and they went, and entered into a village of the Samaritans, to make ready for him.
9:53 And they did not receive him, because his face was as though he would go to Jerusalem.
9:54 And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did?9:55 But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of.9:56 For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them. And they went to another village.

Consistency wasn’t Jesus’s big thing.

On my mission, foot-dusting-off was the subject of some discussion. Some missionaries were like, “Well, the scripture tells us to do it,” and other elders were like, “OMG, don’t do it, you’ll kill someone and destroy entire cities.” Never did it occur to me that I was worshipping and serving an abusive asshole.

The silly things we used to think.

Satan falling from heaven

A throw-away quote from Jesus gives us one of the world’s great pick-up lines.

Luke 10:17 And the seventy returned again with joy, saying, Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through thy name.
10:18 And he said unto them, I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven.

The good Samaritan

We’re getting to the end of this lesson, and we’ve seen so much bad behaviour so far. Let’s hear a good story.

Luke 10:25 And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?
10:26 He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou?
10:27 And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.
10:28 And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.
10:29 But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour?
10:30 And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.
10:31 And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.
10:32 And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side.
10:33 But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him,
10:34 And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.
10:35 And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee.
10:36 Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?
10:37 And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.

It’s great to do good where you see it — and it’s sometimes hard to recognise such a situation in the moment. In a famous study, psychologists found that our willingness to help was more a function of the situation, and not our personality.

We are all too quick to apply dispositional labels on people for their actions or lack of actions, while ignoring the situational factors that are so influential in behavior. We need to stop and think before being too hard on ourselves or on others for actions and behaviors.

Even so, one does get the impression that Jesus didn’t find Samaritans entirely positive.

If I could give some secular homework for this lesson, maybe it would be to look for opportunities to help. Some causes present themselves to us online, while others appear in real life. Maybe taking time to notice them would help us to step up and make a difference. Let’s all take a cue from the slogan of the Sunday Assembly, and “help often”.

See what you can do by next week.

NT Lesson 13

“I Will Give unto Thee the Keys of the Kingdom”

Matthew 15:21–17:9

LDS manual: here


To show how religious people try to shift the burden of evidence through character assassination and attacks.


I sometimes say that Jesus acts like kind of a jerk during his ministry — although “kind of a jerk” is an upgrade from the complete psycho that he was in the Old Testament. But during this lesson, Jesus really goes for it, abusing people who don’t believe in him, and even those who do.

Here are the stories we’ll be tackling in today’s lesson.

  • Jesus calls a Canaanite woman a “dog”
  • Jesus criticises people who ask for evidence
  • Jesus says he will build his kingdom on a “rock” which is either Peter, or revelation, or something or other
  • Jesus says he will come back within the lifetime of people who were alive then

Main ideas for this lesson

Jesus the racist

In our first story, Jesus calls a gentile woman a dog. Imagine: A woman’s daughter has a mental illness. She hears that there’s a guy, Jesus, who’s good at this kind of thing. Desperate, she goes to him and asks for help.

Matthew 15:22 And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil.

Ask: What might you say to her?
Answer: I’d tell her that mental illness isn’t caused by demons, and she should consult a psychiatrist.

But Jesus doesn’t even say that; he just ignores her. Finally, she annoys the disciples.

Matthew 15:23 But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us.
15:24 But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

This is a really important point: Jesus only ever intended to teach Jewish people. He never meant for his message to go to Gentiles, and he would have been horrified to see modern-day goyim worshipping him. Bob the WASP out in North Dakota? Pfeh. Ignore him.

Apparently Jesus didn’t realise that this was going to be a block to future growth, and it would take people with more vision than he had to realise that gentiles would be an important growth market. Diversifying your portfolio and all that. But at the time, Jesus didn’t get it.

Matthew 15:25 Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me.
15:26 But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs.

Ouch! Not cool, Jesus. “Sorry, lady. Jews only. They’re the children, you’re the dog.”

Matthew 15:27 And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.
15:28 Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour.

There’s a saviour for you: the only reason Jesus helped her is because she was able to come up with a witty riposte. What a douche.

The bread trick again

In the last lesson, Jesus miraculously fed 5,000 people on some bread and fish. Now he does it again, feeding 4,000 people.

Remember how in previous lessons, there would be composite stories — two versions of the same story, side by side?

  • The creation
  • Animals aboard the Ark
  • Abraham tells Pharaoh that Sarah is his sister

Well, now we have another example. This happens when people invent two versions of a story, and the compiler basically just leaves them both in.

Asking for evidence

There’s a well-agreed-upon rule of argumentation, and it’s called the burden of evidence (or burden of proof): If someone makes a claim, the onus is upon them to provide evidence for that claim.

Religious people — as with people with extraordinary but unsupported claims — don’t try very hard to support their claim, but they expend a great deal of energy trying to dodge the burden of evidence, and shifting this burden to others.

Here’s how Jesus responds to the burden of evidence:

Matthew 16:1 The Pharisees also with the Sadducees came, and tempting desired him that he would shew them a sign from heaven.
16:2 He answered and said unto them, When it is evening, ye say, It will be fair weather: for the sky is red.
16:3 And in the morning, It will be foul weather to day: for the sky is red and lowering. O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times?
16:4 A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas. And he left them, and departed.

Ask: How does Jesus respond to people who ask for evidence?
Answer: He calls them adulterers.

Okay, so the Pharisees and Sadducees are asking for the wrong kind of evidence. They want a sign from heaven, some miraculous display. Asking for this is asking to be fooled by conjuring tricks. But asking for some kind of evidence is a normal response to a grandiose claim, and if a claimant tries to dodge this most basic responsibility, then this should serve as a warning. That Jesus responds to this perfectly reasonable request with charges of adultery tells me that he knew he didn’t have the goods.

Ask: What logical fallacy is someone committing if they say that anyone who challenges them must be committing adultery?
Answer: Click here to see the answer.

Joseph Smith used this dodge as well.

When I was preaching in Philadelphia, a Quaker called out for a sign. I told him to be still. After the sermon, he again asked for a sign. I told the congregation the man was an adulterer; that a wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and that the Lord had said to me in a revelation, that any man who wanted a sign was an adulterous person. “It is true,” cried one, “for I caught him in the very act,” which the man afterwards confessed when he was baptized. (Feb. 9, 1843.) DHC 5:268. (Teachings, p. 278)

I will give you one of the Keys of the mysteries of the Kingdom. It is an eternal principle, that has existed with God from all eternity: That man who rises up to condemn other, finding fault with the Church, saying that they are out of the way, while he himself is righteous, then know assuredly, that that man is in the high road to apostasy; and if he does not repent, will apostatize, as God lives. The principle is as correct as the one that Jesus put forth in saying that he who seeketh a sign is an adulterous person; and that principle is eternal, undeviating, and firm as the pillars of heaven; for whenever you see a man seeking after a sign, you may set it down that he is an adulterous man. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 156-157)

It is, of course, outrageously ironic for Joseph Smith to have accused anyone of adultery. He was making hay with women before the so-called “sealing power” had been restored, before any “revelation” on the subject, and then lying to Emma and everyone else about it.

Joseph F. Smith continued this dodge.

What is sign seeking?
“It is a wicked and adulterous generation that seeketh after a sign. Show me Latter-day Saints who have to feed upon miracles, signs and visions in order to keep them steadfast in the Church, and I will show you members of the Church who are not in good standing before God, and who are walking in slippery paths. It is not by marvelous manifestations unto us that we shall be established in the truth, but it is by humility and faithful obedience to the commandments and laws of God.
Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine

This is a strange claim. In reality, no member could ever be sustained by “miracles, signs and visions” because these things don’t happen. If they did, it wouldn’t be possible to keep people out of the church, and there would be no need for missionaries. The church strings its members along by encouraging them to interpret ordinary events as miracles.

One related point before we move on. Many Latter-day Saints say that people shouldn’t expect to see miracles because the real convincing power comes by the Spirit / feels / emotional reasoning. This quote from the D&C Student Manual ties it all together:

When we understand this process, we can see why sign seeking is condemned. Someone who demands outward evidence of the power of God as a condition for believing is seeking to circumvent the process by which faith is developed. He wants proof without price. As with the adulterer, he seeks the results without accepting the responsibility. Thus it is a wicked and adulterous generation that seeks signs.

This is shifting the “burden of proof” all over again. Why should someone pay a “price” to come up with evidence that the claimant should be providing? Why doesn’t the claimant simply produce the evidence, instead of demanding that the listener do the work for them? Would the claimant be happy to undergo “the process by which faith is developed” for any dumb claim that anyone else chooses to bring, like Muhammad or Reiki?

This is a failure to provide publicly-available evidence, directing the listener instead to unreliable evidence and emotional manipulation. It’s the same as saying, “You have to believe it first, and then you’ll believe it,” which is a tautology. It’s very commonly engaged in by believers, and it’s no surprise that they get the idea from Jesus himself. But it’s a nasty slur, and it’s poor reasoning.

“Upon this rock”

Oh, how Mormons tap-dance around this scripture. It’s like the only time they bust out the Greek.

Matthew 16:13 When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?
16:14 And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets.
16:15 He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am?
16:16 And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.
16:17 And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.
16:18 And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
16:19 And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

It’s tricky because Catholics use this to show that Peter was the first pope. Jesus built the church on Peter (πέτρος, petros, “rock”), you see.

How do Mormons respond? By ignoring the whole thing about Peter, and going back to the previous sentence about “revelation”. Here’s the real Gospel Doctrine manual:

Jesus said to Peter, “Upon this rock I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18). The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that the rock Jesus referred to is revelation (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith [1976], 274).

Protip: If your argument involves ignoring a chunk of the text, it’s probably not very good.

I don’t have a point with this because I think it’s all silly. But, if you’re an ex-Mormon, isn’t it nice not to have to take this stuff so seriously anymore?

When was Jesus to return?

I always thought of the Second Coming as something that was always meant to happen 2,000 years after Jesus. (Coincidentally, that just happens to be the time I’m alive.) But imagine my surprise: early Christian belief held that Jesus would come back during the lifetimes of people who were living then.

Matthew 16:27 For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.
16:28 Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.

This scripture has caused all kinds of gymnastics, creating the myth that John the beloved is still alive somewhere, Highlander style.

But if you think Mormons have it bad, spare a thought for the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who pegged the time of “some standing here” to 1914. They expected Jesus to return before the last person in that generation died. Well, Jesus had better hurry, because that was 101 years ago, and counting. (The JWs would appear to have abandoned this line of thinking.)

Additional lesson ideas

What did they leave out of this lesson?

For some reason, the lesson manual skipped this part:

Matthew 15:11 Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.

15:17 Do not ye yet understand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught?
15:18 But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man.

Ask: Why might the LDS Church wish to downplay this scripture?
Answer: Now that the Word of Wisdom has been elevated to non-negotiable doctrine status (much worse than other sins), the idea that what you eat or drink is not that big a deal would upset the order of things.

Whatever you’re eating, drinking, or smoking, I hope you’re enjoying it. Until next week, cheers!

NT Lesson 12 (Walking on water)

“I Am the Bread of Life”

John 5–6; Mark 6:30–44; Matthew 14:22–33

LDS manual: here


To remind readers that regular people have used science to help humanity more than Jesus ever did with his comparative paltry conjuring tricks.


At this point in our story, Jesus has a pretty good thing going on. Not only has he taken over John the Baptist’s franchise, he’s managed to convince people that he can do miracles — conjuring tricks, really — turning water into wine, faith healings, and so on. This prophet gig is pretty sweet!

But, as with every con artist who believes their own hype, overreach was inevitable. And this week, Jesus has his “bigger than the Beatles” moment.

Here are the high points of this lesson:

  • Faith healing at the pool of Bethesda
  • Loaves and fishes
  • Walking on water
  • Many are offended by his “Bread of Life” speech

Main ideas for this lesson

Pool of Bethesda

We start with Jesus healing a man at the site of a pool with some… shall we say… unusual visitors.

John 5:2 Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches.
5:3 In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water.
5:4 For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had.

Imagine. Angels are popping in, popping out, dipping their toes in the water, and giving it magical healing properties.

What I think is cute about this story is how John just totally buys into the angel angle, and reports it straightforwardly, without blinking an eye. Of course angels are real, says John, and that’s what heals people. Duh.

John 5:5 And a certain man was there, which had an infirmity thirty and eight years.
5:6 When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, he saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole?
5:7 The impotent man answered him, Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me.
5:8 Jesus saith unto him, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk.
5:9 And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked: and on the same day was the sabbath.

Poor guy, waiting for 38 years. God knows that he wanted to be healed, but I’m sorry, guy. The rules say that God won’t heal you unless you actually touch the water first. Rules are rules.

Well, not everyone believes in angels, and that’s the story behind this scripture. It would appear that the translators of the KJV worked from texts that had the angel story, but there were earlier texts that they didn’t have access to, and these texts don’t include the angel story in verses 3 and 4.

Defenders of the decision to omit John 5:3b-4 consider the verses to be later interpolations or glosses, dating no earlier than about AD 500, and not to be found in the original manuscript as whispered by God into the ears of his human secretaries. Defenders of the KJV, on the other hand, get very cross indeed when even one jot or tittle of the Word is messed with.

There are some Bible fans who acknowledge that some scribe slipped in the angel story (hey, thought the scribe, it had to be an angel; there’s no other explanation), but it’s not a big deal to them. But the issue here is: with all these additions, deletions, discrepancies, and interpolations, how can we see the Bible as an accurate record of what happened? And if we can’t, then why should we place any credibility in Christianity?

By the way, Jesus didn’t just heal the guy and leave him; he came around once more to threaten him.

John 5:14 Afterward Jesus findeth him in the temple, and said unto him, Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee.

Because physically infirmities come from sin, donchaknow.

Loaves and fishes

Here’s the story of Jesus miraculously feeding 5,000 people with a few loaves and fishes.

John 6:5 When Jesus then lifted up his eyes, and saw a great company come unto him, he saith unto Philip, Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat?
6:6 And this he said to prove him: for he himself knew what he would do.
6:7 Philip answered him, Two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may take a little.
6:8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, saith unto him,
6:9 There is a lad here, which hath five barley loaves, and two small fishes: but what are they among so many?
6:10 And Jesus said, Make the men sit down. Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand.
6:11 And Jesus took the loaves; and when he had given thanks, he distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to them that were set down; and likewise of the fishes as much as they would.
6:12 When they were filled, he said unto his disciples, Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost.
6:13 Therefore they gathered them together, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves, which remained over and above unto them that had eaten.

Jesus (allegedly) fed thousands of people a couple of times, which was very nice for them. But Norman Borlaug, architect of the Green Revolution, saved millions of people from starvation.

Link text: If you don’t know who Norman Borlaug is, He was a man who saved over a billion people worldwide from starvation. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 in recognition of his contributions to world peace through increasing food supply.

But there’s more to Borlaug’s story. Unlike Jesus, Borlaug was a proponent of social justice.

Unlike Jesus / Jehovah, he had the will and the ability to ensure that people didn’t go hungry. Borlaug did what God wouldn’t.

Walking on water

In a display of divinity, Jesus reportedly walked on water. Let’s pick it up from Matthew.

Matthew 14:24 But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary.
14:25 And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea.
14:26 And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear.
14:27 But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid.
14:28 And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water.
14:29 And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus.
14:30 But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me.
14:31 And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?
14:32 And when they were come into the ship, the wind ceased.

I’m not trying to say that this miracle can be done by just anyone:

Nigerian Pastor Tries To Walk On Water Like Jesus, Then Drowns In Front Of His Congregation
Walking on water is not easy. Not too many people have the ability. Let’s see, there’s Jesus, and well, that’s about it. Unfortunately for one pastor on the West Coast of Africa, his attempt to become the second man to make this impossible feat a reality cost him his life.
Pastor Franck Kabele, 35, told his congregation that he was capable of reenacting the very miracles of Jesus Christ. He decided to make it clear through way of demonstration on Gabon’s beach in the capital city of Libreville.
Referencing Matthew 14:22-33, Kabele said that he received a revelation which told him that with enough faith he could achieve what Jesus was able to.
According to an eyewitness, Kabele took his congregation out to the beach. He told them that he would cross the Kombo estuary by foot, which is normally a 20 minute boat ride.
Sadly by the second step into the water Kabele found himself completely submerged. He never returned.
This is not the first incident of this nature in Africa. At Ibadon zoo in south-west Nigeria, a self-proclaimed Prophet claimed to be able to do what the Daniel of the bible did by walking into a den full of lions.

But this feat has been duplicated.

And as you’d expect, it was a very clever trick.

There are also non-Newtonian fluids that you can walk on, in this case a very thick mixture of corn starch and water.

I’ll just leave this here.

What can I say? Fictional characters can do some amazing things.

Let’s give science the final word on the topic.

Eating flesh and drinking blood

Finally the breaking point comes. Jesus says that you need to eat his flesh and drink his blood to be saved.

John 6:53 Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.
6:54 Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.
6:55 For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.
6:56 He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him.

Wait, isn’t drinking blood against the Old Testament?

And no wonder people would be put off — it’s a rather nauseating doctrine.

Not only that; it’s also a bit plagiarised. Eating the flesh and drinking the blood of a deity figure predates Christianity, in particular the worship of Dionysus in a rite practised by the Maenad.

The rite climaxed in a performance of frenzied feats of strength and madness, such as uprooting trees, tearing a bull (the symbol of Dionysus) apart with their bare hands, an act called sparagmos, and eating its flesh raw, an act called omophagia. This latter rite was a sacrament akin to communion in which the participants assumed the strength and character of the god by symbolically eating the raw flesh and drinking the blood of his symbolic incarnation. Having symbolically eaten his body and drunk his blood, the celebrants became possessed by Dionysus.

Everything’s a reboot.

“To whom shall we go?”

It’s tough when a speech bombs. Jesus loses a lot of followers. It’s his Howard Dean moment.

John 6:66 From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.
6:67 Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away?
6:68 Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.

As a believer, I often thought of this scripture. “Who else would I follow if I didn’t follow Jesus?” It seemed absurd to stop being a Mormon; what else would I be? Who else would I follow?

What I didn’t realise was that when Jesus seemed like the only game in town, it was because I didn’t know there were better games. Life offers more choices than just choosing whom to follow.

This is why, for me, leaving the church was so freeing. Having decided that almost everyone in my life had been mostly wrong about everything — and thank goodness — I realised I’d have to do some thinking for myself, and determine what my life was going to be about. But this time, I’d have to use some reason, logic, and evidence so I’d be maybe a little harder to fool this time. No more gurus, no more mystics, and if someone wanted to say they were an expert on something, they were going to have to have their credentials in order. It’s an approach that’s made all the difference in my life.

Additional lesson ideas

Anti-semitism in John

We’re going to see this a few times, but it’s worth pointing out that John has a blame-the-Jews agenda. The Gospel of John is arguably the most antisemitic book in the New Testament. Here’s just a taste.

John 5:16 And therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus, and sought to slay him, because he had done these things on the sabbath day.

More of that later — with a view to the consequences.

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