By David Madison 2/24/23.
Here’s the link to this article.
They just say NO to their Lord and Savior
Weird scripture has given rise to weird versions of Christianity. In Mark 16 the resurrected Jesus assures those who believe that they will be able to “pick up snakes”—as well as drink poison, heal people by touch, speak in tongues, and cast out demons (Mark 16:17-18). So there are indeed Christian sects today that make a big deal of handling snakes, and on occasion we read that a snake-handling preacher has died. These folks didn’t get the word that this text is found in the fake ending of Mark—that is, verses 16:9-20 are not found in the oldest manuscripts of the gospel; these were added later by an unknown crank. Most Christians today, we can assume, do not rank these among their favorite Bible verses.
Indeed there are many verses that the devout pretend aren’t there, because these verses have a strong cult flavor. I’m sure that the community of the faithful today are shocked to hear their religion called a cult—they wince at this designation. But they don’t pick up on this fact because they are unaware of so many embarrassing verses, especially in Jesus-script in the gospels. Unaware is one way to put it, obtuse is also appropriate. Or they’re just careless, in the sense of not taking care to read the gospels. If they took seriously the claim that the gospels are the word of their god, why don’t they binge-read these basic four documents, to discover as much detail as possible about their lord and savior?
The clergy are thankful they don’t. Their parishioners might soon appreciate why the word cult works pretty well in describing early Christianity. New Testament scholars noticed this a long time ago. But most church folks are unaware of their writings, and are happy to worship Jesus as presented to them by the church, since they were toddlers.
One of the signs of cult fanaticism is the demand for absolute loyalty. Another is weird belief about how a god is going to intervene in human history. One manifestation of this at the time of Jesus was messianism: belief that god would send a mighty holy hero who would put things right. For believers in first century Palestine, this included throwing out the Romans, and this would be a cataclysmic event with widespread death and suffering. The early Jesus cult embraced this idea, savoring the idea that their god would get even. This idea of vengeance—and the demand for absolute devotion to the cult—ended up in Jesus-script. It doesn’t fit at all with carefully nurtured Sunday School image of Jesus that so many of the devout adore today.
It is quite common for Christians today to give high ratings to family values. They are confident that Jesus placed high value on family love and loyalty—hence his severe condemnation of divorce. But in Matthew’s 10th chapter we find Jesus counseling his disciples on the problems they’ll face as a consequence of following him. However, this reads more like a warning—written by Matthew well after Jesus had died—to those who belonged to the Jesus cult. Nonetheless this is presented as Jesus-script, often printed in red as a guarantee that these are authentic words of Jesus:
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace but a sword.For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law,and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household” (Matthew 10:34-36). In Mark 13:12-13 we find a similar warning: “Sibling will betray sibling to death and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death,and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”
The next couple of verses derail even more into cult fanaticism, i.e., the holy leader expects a supreme level of devotion: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37-38).
If the author of Luke’s gospel was aware of this Jesus-script, he clearly wasn’t happy with it. He wanted the meaning to be bluntly clear: “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). Luke felt that the word hate would make the point better, i.e., that the cult expected undivided loyalty. Not only hatred of family was required, but even of life itself.
Why isn’t this verse a deal breaker? If you’ve been taught for years to adore Jesus, but then discover this verse (and even the milder one in Matthew), why not head for the exit? Is this the holy hero you really want? The most common response to this text I’ve heard is, “Oh, Jesus couldn’t have meant that!” This is based on the idealized image of Jesus firmly lodged in pious brains. But the Greek word for hate is right there? How do these excuse-makers know—some 2,000 years after the fact—what Jesus was thinking? What’s the data to back up this claim? Isn’t Luke supposed to be reliable reporter—according to Christian theology? He quoted Jesus using the word hate.
It’s not hard to spot the maneuvering used by church authorities to disguise the plain meaning of the text. In the Revised Standard Version, the editors chose this heading for Luke 14:25-33: The Cost of Discipleship. Most of the devout probably assume that following Jesus makes demands on their lives, so this heading gives no offense. But an honest heading would have been, The Cult Fanaticism Displayed by Jesus. We could put it bluntly to churchgoers: do you indeed love Jesus so much that you hate your family? To keep people in the dark, some modern translations simple remove the word hate. The Message Bible’s version of Luke 14:26: “Anyone who comes to me but refuses to let go of father, mother, spouse, children, brothers, sisters—yes, even one’s own self!—can’t be my disciple.”
Does “let go” of family members and even life itself render this text more acceptable? Even more contemptable: this is not a translation. This is a paraphrase to disguise the meaning of Luke’s Jesus-script. Plainly stated: this “translator” is lying; he doesn’t want readers to know what’s in the Bible. When cult fanaticism is so obvious, cover it up.
What’s the reason for not heading for the exit? There can be major consequences for leaving the church, for saying out loud that you no longer believe. This is alarming for those who still embrace Jesus, and they often shun those who have made the brave decision. Or they declare that eternal punishment in fire is the reward for disbelief: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever disobeys the Son will not see life but must endure God’s wrath” (John 3:36). “The one who believes and is baptized will be saved, but the one who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16).
Even before Matthew and Luke had created their strident Jesus script about “loving Jesus more than family” and “hating family to be a disciple,” Mark presented a story of Jesus identifying true believers as his real family:
“Then his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, ‘Your mother and your brothers are outside asking for you.’ And he replied, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’And looking at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.’” (Mark 3:31-35).
The Revised Standard Version editors calls this section: The True Kindred of Jesus, endorsing Jesus slighting his family.
Whoever does the will of God. Cult leaders are always confident that they know what their god wants, and they attract loyal followers who take their word for it. This cult mentality prevails today among Christians who know for sure that their god hates abortion, gay marriage, and separation of church and state. They are eager to gain power and enforce their cult fanaticism, while being blind to their own faults. I’m baffled that the Catholic Church gets away with what it does. It might qualify as the most dangerous cult in the world for this major sin: maintaining a priesthood infiltrated with men who rape children. And coverup seems to be a primary response.
Here is another example of Luke going beyond Matthew in cult fanaticism. In Matthew 8:19-22, we read:
“A scribe then approached [Jesus] and said, ‘Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’ Another of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.’”
Luke added this, 9:60-62:
“And Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead, but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’ Another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.’And Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’”
The cult hero is obsessed with his understanding of the kingdom of god, in this case: if you want to say goodbye to your family, you’re not fit for the kingdom. How is this not cult fanaticism? We have to assume that most churchgoers just aren’t paying close attention. How do they really feel about this? Jesus doesn’t want to hear that a potential follower has an obligation to bury his father; that another wants to say goodbye to his family before descending into servile obedience to a religious zealot who wanders the land with “nowhere to lay his head.” If the devout bothered to read/study the gospels carefully—which in this case means examining the Matthew and Luke texts side by side—they might notice that something is wrong here. This is not attractive theology, designed to win followers who aren’t on the verge of insanity.
And speaking of insanity, here’s one of my favorite gospel quotes, Mark 3:20-21:
“Then he went home, and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind.’”
This is not found in the other gospels. We indeed wonder what the author of Mark could have meant by “out of his mind”—Mark who portrayed Jesus as an exorcist. Which is hardly surprising: the ancient world embraced all manner of superstitions. Mark, by the way, knew nothing of the extravagant birth narratives found in Luke and Matthew. When the shepherds visited the manger to see the newborn Jesus, and reported the message of the singing angels (that this Jesus was a savior, the messiah), “… Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). Wouldn’t she—and the family—have expected out-of-the-ordinary behavior when Jesus set out to proclaim his message?
When we take a close look at all the Jesus-script in the gospels, there is so much that is disappointing—and even alarming, when it reflects apocalyptic delusions. In preparing my 2021 book, Ten Things Christians Wish Jesus Hadn’t Taught, my list of not-so great—even bad—Jesus sayings came to 292.
In this article I’ve focused on a few verses that reflect the extremism of the gospel authors. Article Number 1 in this series is here.
David Madison was a pastor in the Methodist Church for nine years, and has a PhD in Biblical Studies from Boston University. He is the author of two books, Ten Tough Problems in Christian Thought and Belief: a Minister-Turned-Atheist Shows Why You Should Ditch the Faith (2016; 2018 Foreword by John Loftus) and Ten Things Christians Wish Jesus Hadn’t Taught: And Other Reasons to Question His Words (2021). The Spanish translation of this book is also now available.
His YouTube channel is here. He has written for the Debunking Christianity Blog since 2016.
The Cure-for-Christianity Library©, now with more than 500 titles, is here. A brief video explanation of the Library is here.