Monday, May 12, 2014

Weird Christian pamphlet, part 1

My wife recently found a small flyer in our letterbox that had apparently been distributed to all the neighbourhood. Interestingly, it does not contain any address, it does not advertise a book or anything else one is supposed to buy, and it does not promote any specific church. It seems as if the author really, truly believes what they wrote and merely aims to convince people instead of trying to sell them a membership or something like that.

I find it fairly interesting, perhaps mostly because I have rarely interacted with believers like the author, and find it very hard to understand them. The title page consists mostly of a garish, kitschy picture of numerous white-robed, white-skinned men on white horses being led by a face-less, red-robed person raising a sword. Because there is something that looks a bit like the eye of Sauron in the background I thought at first they had stolen the picture from some old edition of the Lord of the Rings, but on further consideration it is probably meant to be the sun with a bit of a smudge in front of it.

Under the kitsch we find this piece of text, with the first line massive and the subsequent ones so small as to be barely legible:
The Second Coming of Jesus Christ
For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.
1 Thessalonians 4/16-17
So the pamphlet is obviously about the rapture. This should be fun.

As expected, the second and third page deal with the rapture itself, although the fourth later takes a different track.
This when Jesus Christ comes for His saints, those who have by faith completely trusted the eternity of their souls to His saving power with nothing else added.
Fine, but how do you know any of that?
"For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord."
Ah yes, we had that one already on the title page. Paul, the founder of Christianity, wrote a letter to some other Christians in which he said that the rapture is going to happen. The thing is, I can write a letter in which I say that I will get $10,000,000; sadly, that does not make it true either.

And really it is quite astonishing how confident the rapture-believers are considering that Jesus himself said that it would happen during the lifetime of some of the people listening to him (Mark 9:1, Matthew 16:28), that Paul, if interpreted plainly in the quotation above, apparently expected it to happen during his lifetime, and that numerous other predicted apocalypses have failed to happen since. At some point most sane people would start to reconsider, but perhaps religious logic is just very different from standard logic.
Those left behind will cry out for help and comfort. Questions will rise in every heart. Where did the "Christians" go? One man, Satan's soul-incarnate, the anti-Christ, will have all the answers.
The is the start of a trend for our author, a trend of asking rhetorical questions in the subheadings and then failing to address them. In this case, "people will be confused" is not actually a valid answer to "will you be left behind?". Pro-tip: Perhaps try "yes" or "yes, unless you accept Jesus" next time, that would work much better.

That being said, even if one were to accept the premises of belief in the rapture without evidence, at this point the whole story starts to fall apart. Should the rapture actually take place and all members of one specific sect suddenly disappear, people would not have unanswered questions because so many Christians have done what the author did and made sure pretty much everybody in Western civilisation has heard of this.

We would not put "Christians" into scare quotes because we are, sadly, well acquainted with their beliefs, nor would we wonder what is going on. We would simply say, "damn, looks like those loonies were right after all", and we would know that the anti-Christ is the anti-Christ so he wouldn't be able to deceive. One could call this a self-refuting prophecy.
"The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie, and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness."
Ah, so this is how it works. As in the case of the Pharaoh whose heart he hardened, god will control peoples' minds so they believe Satan's lies, and then he can say, "ha, you believed the lies, now burn in hell". It is interesting to contemplate what that does to human agency and the free will defence generally used by Christians when faced with the problem of evil. In effect, it is as if somebody dragged their dog into the kitchen then tortured it to death for the crime of ... having entered the kitchen.

I can just about understand how somebody could believe in a god who would do this, if they were born into a deeply Christian household and raised in complete ignorance. What I cannot understand is how somebody can believe in such a god and at the same time believe that such a god is worthy of worship. If I believed in such a god (and of course I don't), I would reject it for being a cruel, murderous psychopath. Ah, maybe that is how the leftovers end up joining Satan, because he is less of a barbarous monster than the Christian god?
Peace will reign for 3 1/2 years.
Note how this paragraph cleverly implies but fails to openly state that the bible provides the detail of three and a half years. Because as far as I have read, it doesn't. The schedule has apparently been invented based on some piece of text that talks about a week and has no connection to eschatology.
Then in this time called The Great Tribulation in Rev.7:14, all of God's judgment will be meted out on this world as Satan's emissaries, the beast, the anti-Christ, and the false prophet wreak havoc on mankind.
Again, religious logic must be very different from regular logic, because it is unclear to me what they are trying to say here. God will, as we see in the following paragraph, cause terrible catastrophes and wipe out most of the world's population, so in what sense is it Satan's emissaries who "wreak havoc"? Sounds a bit too much like a bully beating somebody up and then telling them, "now look what you did, you went and hurt yourself".
Revelation 16 records 7 great judgment poured out on a God-forsaking world and its satanic leaders. Putrefying painful sores, seas and rivers filled with dead men's blood, and the stench of dying aquatic life will plague man and beast. The sun will scorch the blasphemous flesh of man, and then disappear into the blackness of full darkness, as men gnaw their tongues in pain.
It is interesting to note that everything from this point on makes even less sense. If the sun goes dark, everything on earth dies in short order, and none of the subsequent events can possibly happen. This may have made sense to some ignoramus on a Greek island in late antiquity, but today it is just embarrassing and best serves to demonstrate that revelation is nothing but an all too human fever-dream.

I should also mention that all grammatical and typological mistakes are as in the original.
The Euphrates River is dried up and God sends great earthquakes, tremendous thundering, and lightning, as huge hail stones pound the remnant of earth's inhabitants. "It is done." thunders from heavens as God's wrath is satisfied.
This too, by the way. To the author and his audience in the Middle East, the fate of the Euphrates River must have appeared of utmost significance. To a worldwide audience today, it is basically some odd creek somewhere in a distant corner of the globe. Few parts of revelation betray the stultifyingly narrow horizon of the people who wrote the bible as clearly as this. They claimed to know the true past and future of the world but would have been surprised to be informed of the existence of Iceland, let alone of Australia or the two American continents with all their diverse human cultures, plants and animals.
And then, the second phase of Christ's Second Coming transpires!
"...The coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints."
He comes and defeats the armies of the anti-Christ.
Armies, remember, that will at this stage be frozen blocks of dead organic matter in a world of complete darkness because the sun has gone dark. Should not be too hard to defeat them under those circumstances, so please don't brag that much about it.
The Lord Jesus will then reign for 1000 years!
Again, the man-madeness of these prophecies seeps from every pore. Why would the creator of the universe, if he (it?) had provided this information, consider multiples of ten to be significant? On the other hand, it is no surprise that a sapient animal with ten fingers does.
You say, "I just can't believe it. I've so many questions."
Let's allow God's word to answer them for you!
Translation: Let's allow the incoherent writings of some guys in antiquity who would have considered a cigarette lighter to be a divine miracle answer them for you.
"So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him." MATTHEW 24:44.
"But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." MATTHEW 24:36.
I mentioned before the author's habit of not actually answering their own rhetorical questions. "When will the rapture take place?" - "Let's allow God's word to answer this question: no idea, really." - "Uh, thanks for that clear answer I guess."
"Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left." MATTHEW 24:40.
We are on a roll here: "Will it affect me?" - "Yes, because Matthew said that some farmer will be raptured."
If you miss the rapture you will be left behind to go through the Great Tribulation, then, as a deluded non believer, you will end up in hell for all eternity.
Honestly, one wonders why the Great Tribulation with all its punishments is stressed so much because compared to hell for all eternity the suffering it entails is insignificant.
"And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am." JOHN 14:3.
Jesus Christ would not lie. He promised to come again, and He will, for those who are ready, THE SAVED.
Let's just say that if I were asked to peer review this line of argumentation, I would have to suggest major revision.
"Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that time of refreshing may come from the Lord," ACTS 3:19.
"Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved-you and your household." ACTS 16:31.
The above line about the household may have made sense in a time where only free men counted for anything, and all their wives, children and servants were seen as their possessions. Today, a line like this looks distinctly odd. Except to our author apparently.
"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God." EPHESIANS2:8.
Because this is at the end of the third page, and thus at the end of the part that deals with the rapture and tribulation, I assume that it was meant as a positive note: see, god has given us a gift! But it does nothing but once more raise the issue that the creator of the universe, as seen by the author, is basically evil. He has decided in advance who will get saved and who will burn in molten sulphur for all eternity, so his, and not the sinner's, is the responsibility.

Note that I am a determinist myself, and quite convinced that the state of the universe plus the laws of nature 'predetermined' my 'fate' a long time ago. But there is still a moral difference between a determinist-materialist view of the world and a supernatural puppet-master view of it, and it is the difference that counts for most of us humans. In the former case, we are part of a net of cause-and-effect, but crucially there is no other person controlling us except us; we still have agency, and if something bad happens it is either our (personal or collective) responsibility or nobody's. In the latter scenario, we are, crucially, merely puppets of another agent who has decided every outcome in advance, and even our greatest crimes, failures and sufferings are his responsibility alone.

Again, how can you worship a torturer and tyrant like that?

Next time: the fourth page, which deals exclusively with the Mark of the Beast.

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