Tuesday, February 22, 2011 Login

What Must We Do To Be Saved?

The following is a guest post by OpenDiary blogger Atheist Under Ur Bed. This is part of an ongoing series that will be posted each Monday. You can read the introduction to this series by clicking here.

Welcome once again to Monday School – “The Rational Corrective To All That Nonsense You Learned Yesterday.”

Baptism of Jesus (Bogojavlenie, ortodox icon)
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The closer we examine concepts such as God, Jesus, and judgment, the faster they seem to burn away like fog under a rising sun. Today I’d like us to expose Christianity’s keystone concept of salvation to that same bright sun of examination. Will anything of substance remain when we’re done? Let’s find out!

For the sake of argument, let us assume that you’ve accepted as true what the average Christian seems to believe about God, Jesus, and judgment. Let us imagine that you have sincerely begged that Christian to tell you what you must do to win God’s favor and avoid eternal hellfire. Being a good Christian who is anxious to hasten your salvation, he or she immediately gives you his or her own personal copy of the New Testament with the words, “THIS reveals all you need to know!” Thrilled at the prospect of soon obtaining eternal life in heaven, you run home with this work and begin to read….

The first really relevant passage seems to be Matt. 6:14Open Link in New Window: “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you….” That sounds simple enough. If we forgive others, God will forgive us. Period. No exceptions are listed. No asterisk is apparent which might direct our attention to the fine print at the bottom of the page. Since it’s Jesus himself who supposedly said this, one can’t reject its truth without rejecting either the Bible or Jesus. If we forgive others, God will forgive us – and we’re in!

Somehow that doesn’t seem quite right, however. Why should our eternal salvation depend upon whether or not we forgive the guy who murdered our child, say, or the latest suicide bomber who has targeted our countrymen? Even worse: Other Christians you know have told you that other things besides forgiveness are required. You keep reading in hopes more will be said….

Matt. 12:36-37Open Link in New Window: “But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.”

Hmmm. So, apparently, simple forgiveness is not enough. It’s our words that matter. What words? Well, Matt. 16:31-32Open Link in New Window says that blasphemy against the Holy Ghost will not be forgiven – neither in this life nor the next. Not even if we forgive others? Apparently not. This seems to contradict Matt. 6:14Open Link in New Window. Better keep reading!

It is with great relief that we come to Matt. 19Open Link in New Window: 16-26. It is there that we find someone in our exact position. Lacking a New Testament that has yet to be written, a man goes to Jesus himself and asks, “Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?” Our eyes eagerly read Jesus’s reply: “Keep the commandments.” Which?? “Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”

Ok, now you’re really confused. Jesus hasn’t mentioned that we need to forgive anybody. He doesn’t recall that he’s already asserted that it’s what wesay that’s the key to our salvation. Now he says “Keep the commandments.” When asked which, he mentions only five of the famous Ten Commandments. Does that mean we can ignore the rest and still be saved? So it seems. But one of those commandments he has left out is “Have no other gods before me.” So, are we now free to worship other gods so long as we honor our parents and remember not to murder, steal, commit adultery, or bear false witness??

Maybe Jesus was merely citing these five as a shorthand reminder for all ten? A new problem arises: “Love thy neighbor” isn’t one of the Ten Commandments at all. It pops up in Lev. 19:18Open Link in New Window. Now what?? It seems either Jesus was saying we need to obey these six rules – and only these six – or he meant to imply we must obey everything in the OT that might conceivably be interpreted as a commandment. Including those nasty commandments to kill witches, gay men, offspring who talk back to us, etc. There are over 600 commandments, I’m told – many abhorrent to modern sensibilities, and many at odds with “Love thy neighbor.” Yikes!

We read on. The guy Jesus is talking to says “All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?” Jesus has an answer. Does Jesus say, “You must be baptized”? Does he say “You must believe every word of the Bible is literally true”? Does Jesus say “You must be born again” or “You must one day soon believe I have risen from the dead” or “You must regularly confess your sins and consume holy wafers and wine”? No. What Jesus says is this: “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven…. 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.”

This is amazing. It takes one’s breath away. The Christian who gave you this book to read seems not to have ever read it himself! Instead of selling what he has and giving the proceeds to the poor, he has a big home, a nice car, and goes around repeatedly telling others they MUST be born again, and they MUST believe Jesus died for their sins, and they MUST ask Jesus for forgiveness – things Jesus himself had the chance to demand here and did not when asked point-blank “How do I win eternal life?” Jesus doesn’t mention anything that must be believed. He doesn’t mention faith. It’s what we do and how we treat other people that matters – period. According to Jesus himself, even atheists apparently can be perfect in this regard and entitled to eternal life in heaven.

With eyes wide open, you read on….

Matt. 19:29Open Link in New Window: “… every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.”

Say what?! Stunned, you scream at Jesus, “But you just told me I had to honor my father and mother! How can I do that AND forsake them?!?!”

No answer. None. You are left to sit in silence and recall all the other contradictory things the Bible has told you. You are left to wonder why so many of your Christian friends berate and even hate politicians who seem to contradict themselves, yet give Jesus a full and complete pardon when he does the same thing….

Glumly, you turn to Mark. Maybe Mark will clear things up….

As luck would have it, Mark pretty much repeats what Matthew has quoted Jesus as saying about salvation.

Until you get to Mark 16:16Open Link in New Window: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.”

Doesn’t matter if you forgive others. Doesn’t matter what you say or do. Suddenly, belief & baptism are what matter; and if this passage is to be believed, they are all that matter.

Lucky for you, Mark 16:16Open Link in New Window is almost certainly a lie.

How can I say this?

1) This is one of the last and most important things Jesus allegedly ever said – and yet only Mark reports it. Although Jesus is supposedly talking to his 11 surviving apostles, somehow these words of his never reached the authors of Matthew, Luke, John, or Acts.

2) The Encyclopedia Britannica tells me there are no such visions of the risen Jesus in the best manuscripts of Mark we have, and that verses 16:9-20 are commonly held to be “later additions.” That’s polite academic language for “bullshit,” and its presence anywhere within the Gospels is enough to call into doubt virtually everything they say.

3) The verses which immediately follow Mark 16:16Open Link in New Window contain at least one obvious lie: “And these signs shall follow them that believe… They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them….” The “eyewitness” testimony of whoever wrote these words simply cannot be trusted. At least not until I see Christians survive drinking arsenic-laced lemonade.

Against your better judgment, you decide to read Luke….

Luke 19:1-10Open Link in New Window tells us the story of Zaccheus. He was a rich man and a recognized sinner who told Jesus that he had given half his goods to the poor. He also tells Jesus that if he’d taken anything from any man by false accusation, he’ll restore it four-fold. Jesus’s verdict? “This day is salvation come to this house.” He didn’t ask Zaccheus what he believed. He didn’t ask if he had faith or been born again. Once again, what a person does seems all that Jesus cares about.

Then we come to John. The Gospel of John seems to have been written long after the others. John differs from them in many ways. And it is John that really mucks things up.

John 3:3Open Link in New Window: “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

John 3:5Open Link in New Window: “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”

John 3:15Open Link in New Window: “… whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.”

Matthew, Luke, and the main author of Mark seem to have been asleep at the wheel when Jesus allegedly said these things. Go figure.

One moves on to Acts 13:48Open Link in New Window. “And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.” What?! Those ordained to eternal life believe rather than the other way around?? You mean it’s all fixed? God has already decided who will and won’t be saved and belief is merely a sign rather than a prerequisite???

Alas, Romans 8:28-30Open Link in New Window seems to confirm this very troubling state of affairs: “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.” Ephesians 1:4-6, 1Open Link in New Window:11; 2 Thessalonians 2:13Open Link in New Window, and 1 Peter 1:2Open Link in New Window all seem to agree: Salvation is predestined.

In desperation, you open up your copy of the Old Testament. What does it say?

“Blessed is the man whom thou choosest, and causest to approach unto thee, that he may dwell in thy courts….” – Psalm 65:4Open Link in New Window

So, you tell me: Is one saved by good works? (What works?) Right belief? (What are the right beliefs?) Blind faith? (Faith in what?) Baptism? Did God arbitrarily choose who will be saved long before we were even born, as Calvinists believe? Read the Bible all you want, from now until forever, you simply will not find definitive answers to any of these questions no matter how hard or sincerely you try. It is like trying to assemble a bike according to an instruction manual that reads “Insert A into slot B, and then B into slot A, but by no means should you ever allow A or B to come within 10 feet of each other. Consult diagram C for details (not included).”

Other questions for which no good answers exist: Is it a case of “once saved, always saved” or can one fall from grace and lose one’s salvation? Is a deathbed conversion after a life of evil enough to get one into heaven? Is a delirious deathbed renunciation of one’s Christianity enough to get one damned for all eternity even if one has lived a moral life? Does God add up all the minutes one has been good or believed a certain thing in one’s life and compare that sum with all the minutes one has been bad or not believed that thing? Exactly how many alms to the poor or minutes of repentance does it take to make up for the theft of a pen? The rape of a child? The machine gunning of unarmed civilians?

Rather than continue to chase after the illusory answers the Christian dreamscape only seems to provide, I humbly suggest it is time we wake up and learn to spend our time in far more productive ways.

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