They promise eternal life and happiness

A Christadelphian's primary hope is to live forever in a future state of bliss, surrounded by fellow believers and worshipping Jesus and God for eternity. No more sorrow and suffering, no more tears, no more pain, no more death. So the promise goes.

This utopia is apparently available to anyone who wants it. Just give up your ambitions and freedoms in this life, and submit yourself as a slave to a magical, invisible being, and you will be rewarded with more happiness than you can imagine. The sacrifices you make in this life will be more than repaid in the next, and the suffering you endure now will be insignificant compared to the glory you will inherit later. Feeling lucky?

But what are these merchants really selling?

What dreams are made of

It's the ultimate fantasy. A worldwide kingdom of peace. The end of sickness, pain, and death. Eternal life. Eternal happiness. Eternal freedom from the curse of sin and the evils of this fallen world (Christadelphians rarely acknowledge the many good people in the world). They want us to imagine a utopia where we can go anywhere, and enjoy all the natural wonders of the world and of life, without any of the downsides, and a world where no one does anyone else any harm, ever. All of our negative human characteristics will be replaced by perfect attributes, and the world will be rid of everything bad, and be full of everything pure and good.

You may think I am parodying them, but I assure you I am not. It sounds like a fairy tale, but this one is believed by children and adults alike. The descriptions of what this future is supposed to offer are almost always vague, and littered with superlatives and hyperbole. There are only so many ways to describe ultimate bliss, it seems.

Sometimes Christadelphians do try to go into more detail about what people will actually be doing during this time. I've heard talks describing great feasts (seriously - Ezekiel's temple is almost entirely dedicated to eating or sacrificing food!), and teaching the non-Christadelphians about God and trying to preach to them so that they too will want to join the ranks of the immortal saints.

When the evidence of immortality and bliss is right in front of them, I'm not sure how much convincing would be necessary, but the Christadelphian narrative assumes that many, perhaps even most, people would reject eternal life even if it was directly offered in person by evidently immortal beings with clearly demonstrated supernatural powers. Perhaps this is because their message is not readily believed by people today, and thus they assume the same would be true in the future as well. Best to avoid the conclusion that the slow/non-existent growth of their religion today is primarily due to the complete lack of evidence for their claims. No, the reason people don't believe today must obviously be because they just don't want to believe, and thus they would not believe no matter how much evidence was presented. Or perhaps people would reject any offer of eternal life because they prefer evil over good. These are in fact some of the assumptions made by Christadelphians about non-believers today.

The Ugly Details

Of course, part of the Christadelphian narrative is that there will be great resistence to God when Jesus returns to offer peace and happiness to everyone, and thus God will be forced to send in his "army" (why an all-powerful God needs an army I am not sure, but bear with me) and slaughter anyone and everyone who stands in his way. I've heard talks given by Christadelphians about the bloodbath of Armageddon, the epic battle between God and men (as if such a battle makes any sense at all), and the millions of dead bodies left behind afterwards. The speakers made sure to mention the stench of blood from the corpses, and the many years it would take to clean up the "mess". Charming.

But obviously all of this is only necessary because people simply don't know what is best for them. God, who does know what is best, has offered everyone eternal bliss if only they would worship him, but since many people do not want eternal bliss (that is surely the only reason), they refuse to worship God. So God will be forced to kill all of these people. He obviously has no other option, except for, say, educating them, allowing them to live in freedom and peace despite their disagreement, or any number of other peaceful resolutions surely available to an all-powerful, all-knowing being. Nah, just kill them all, exactly the way the people who wrote the Bible would have done it if they were God. Wait, did I say that out loud?

Look, shiny!

This period of tribulation will only last a short time, and we are supposed to forget about this and instead focus our attention on the glorious 1000 year reign of Jesus, when the whole world will be at peace. Because obviously the ends justify the means. Then at the end of the 1000 years, God will finally be able to remove sin and death, something he was unable to do earlier for reasons no one really knows. I have received conflicting answers from Christadelphians. Many seem to think that sin is a necessary or inevitable consequence of free will, and that death is a necessary consequence of sin. I don't know why any of these things are necessary. If you're all-powerful, doesn't that kind of destroy the concept of anything being "necessary"? But where Christadelphians seem to differ from each other is in their answers to the question of whether there will be free will in the kingdom and beyond. Some say there will be no free will, since otherwise they would need another explanation for sin and evil. Others say there will be free will, but never quite explain how God will eradicate sin in that case. If sinless free will is possible in the future, why not now? Why not in the beginning?

But these questions are merely a distraction from the real questions we should be asking about the whole thing.

Is it actually true? How do you know? What evidence is there? Why should anyone believe it? 

I have heard a number of Christadelphians state their confidence in their future salvation and declare how sorry I and other atheists will be when they are proven right. Usually this involves some claim that I will end up standing in front of Jesus and suddenly realise I was wrong. The problem I have with this scenario and others like it, is that it involves a demonstration of exactly the kind of evidence that conspicuously does not currently exist!

The evidence generally presented by Christadelphians often falls into one of two categories. Either it is just plain false (thus ironically revealing their flawed understanding of the evidence), or it doesn't actually necessitate their stated conclusion. That is, there are alternative explanations that work equally well, or are perhaps even more likely (especially if they do not rely on magic).

Let's take the claims about the resurrection of Jesus. First there's the fact that even if the resurrection really happened it still tells us nothing about the accuracy of any words attributed to Jesus. Then consider that the only sources we have are the gospels, the book of Acts, and some writings of Paul. Even if we're extremely generous and say we have maybe a dozen accounts from people who claim to have seen Jesus alive after he died, there are far more such accounts of Elvis, or witches, or UFOs, or Mary (Jesus's mother).

Most of the biblical accounts are anonymous, not first-hand, and are generally agreed by scholars to be biased accounts based on stories that had been passed around for decades. Why would any rational person believe the stories must be true? How is it considered more likely that a person rose from the dead than that stories written in a book might not be factually accurate? We don't need to explain events or miracles or any of that. All we need to explain is how several people might end up writing accounts of a resurrection that never actually happened. The problem for Christadelphians is that there are many other written accounts of miracles throughout history that they don't accept as accurate. For the atheist, there isn't much to explain. Written accounts of events that never happened are very common (even where the authors believed them to be true). Actual resurrections, not so much!

Or what about the claims of fulfilled prophecy? I've written several articles showing why at least some of the prophecies definitely failed, and other articles showing why other prophecies never actually said what Christadelphians claimed. If the idea of ancient books somehow containing cryptic messages foretelling future events is not bizarre enough, surely just one failed prophecy is enough to cast doubt on the whole enterprise!

How about the claims that the Bible was written by a god? Which god? What would you expect it to say if it wasn't written by a god? Perhaps if it wasn't inspired it would sound much like other religious texts. Well isn't that a coincidence! Perhaps if it wasn't inspired it would contain ideas generally held by people from the time and place in which it was written. Bingo! We don't start by assuming books were written by gods. We start by assuming they weren't. That's the null hypothesis. Falsify that, and we'll have made progress.

I don't believe the promises about the afterlife because I don't accept any of the evidence presented to support them. It has nothing to do with not wanting what is being offered. I simply don't believe the offer is real.

An even bigger question

Never mind why I don't believe Christadelphian claims about a future paradise. The bigger question is, "Why do they believe it?"

The vast majority of Christadelphians were probably taught similar ideas by their parents and Sunday School teachers when they were children. Childhood indoctrination remains the number one reason why people grow up believing religious ideas. However, such indoctrination is not perfect, which is why some people eventually reason their way out of religion.

This explanation is demonstrable, and simple. It also nicely explains how we have so many different religions, and why most people tend to adopt the religion of their parents. Furthermore, it explains why religions tend to be linked to geographical regions.

It's time to take a closer look at those promises made by Christadelphians. Sure, it's sometimes fun to imagine what it might be like to have long feasts in a magic castle and rule the world with cool superpowers, but some of us care about what is actually true. If it sounds like a fairy tale, it probably is. In order to be convinced that it's true, I'll need a lot more than an Iron Age book full of talking animals, ghosts and demons.

They promise eternal bliss, but the promise is empty, and instead they want to take away the only life we have!

8 comments:

  1. But demons are obviously just mental illnesses (that can talk and be multiplied into a herd of pigs), Jesus was just accommodating the beliefs of the time (lying?), just like when he accommodated the belief in a literal heaven above us by pretending to jet off there

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  2. When you analyse it like this, the whole Christadelphian idea of the end times and the Kingdom starts to unravel and appears as little more than wishful thinking.

    In particular, there are two ideas that never made any sense to me: (a) the idea that people would fight against God and stubbornly blunder their way to annihilation *even when presented with undeniable evidence of his existence and total power*, and (b) the idea that the wisest being in the universe can't think of a better solution to evil than to kill everyone. Didn't he try that once before? Did it work?

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  3. You are forgetting a vital element of consideration that Almighty God has already stated.

    “My thoughts are not your thoughts,
    and my ways are not your ways,” declares the Lord.

    9 “Just as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so my ways are higher than your ways,
    and my thoughts are higher than your thoughts.”
    Isaiah 55:8-9 (GW)

    God knows the beginning to the end, we know comparatively little in our short and very limited space of the last 6,000 years of written [Adamic] human history.

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    1. I'm not sure why you think this quotation is a "vital element of consideration" in relation to this article, but in any case let's unpack it a little.

      First, consider that the analogy only really makes sense if the Earth is flat (which its author very likely believed). That does undermine the claim somewhat, if you think about it.

      Second, it's rather like saying, "I'd tell you, but you wouldn't understand". It's not convincing when people try to pull this trick on us in conversation, and nor is it convincing when we read it in a book. And by the way, this claim is found in almost all holy books, and attributed to almost every god ever worshipped. Coincidence?

      You claimed these were the words of "God Almighty" (whatever that is), but how was this determined? By what method? Do you just blindly take the author of Isaiah at his word? What if you did the same with the Quran, Book of Mormon, or the Bhagavad Gita?

      You then claimed that "God knows the beginning to the end", which I found amusing given the verses you had just quoted. I can understand that a god might know such things, but how do YOU know that it knows? or even that it exists? You may think you're trusting God at his word, but in fact you seem to be trusting the (human) authors of the Bible at theirs.

      It's true that we don't know everything. There is a lot we don't know, and one of the things we don't know is whether or not there's a god. That seems important to mention here.

      Please provide evidence for your claims, and I'll look into it. Thanks :)

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    2. Steve,
      I think you are setting the bar too high for this person. You and I both know that Christadelphians (and us when we were)don't require the sort of evidence you are asking for and could never provide it.
      What really interests me is why, when they "know" that God neither thinks like them, or acts like them, (has not their "ways"), and does not think in the timescale that they do (be it 70 years or 6000), Just why they want to spend eternity with this unknown entity, doing unknown things, as speculated upon in the main article. So Anon, perhaps you could look at those things too.

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  4. Steve,
    I like this post, for a whole number of reasons, however, it remains unclear to me what exactly it is that Christadelphians "give up" to follow the path to this utopia. Certainly, they do not give up the worldly ambitions of wealth,and consumption, you and I both know that Christadelphians can be as acquisitive as the next man, but have very "scriptural" explanations for their actions. "successful" businessmen, doctors, surgeons,geneticists, security experts,accountants, financial directors and those "yoked" to business partner unbelievers abounded even within the small Christadelphian circle that I moved. If anything, the average "working man" is very under represented in the community. I've never seen anything even remotely approaching sacrifice, or even modesty amongst their numbers.
    In the (evangelical) family/community (most of whom are now long dead, or "asleep" if you prefer), people used the same scriptures to envisage an alternative Utopia, one in which the faithful resided in the "many rooms" or "mansions" that Jesus went to set up in heaven (John 14:2), and were planning on spending the millennium period there, prior to coming back to the new earth to plant vineyards, and live peacefully etc, etc. They didn't seem to feel the need to be involved in the bloodbath that (some) Christadelphians revel in. This of course neatly sidesteps the "problem" of people still not being convinced, because the saved are simply not amongst them.....
    You state that Christadelphians state their confidence in their future salvation. I have to say that I have not observed this. Salvation for the Christadelphian is works based, not grace based. Whilst you average Christian can go to his/her death confident, your average Christadelphian has no such surety, but only "hope".
    What interests me here is not the bizarre concoctions that they come up with, but WHY their minds have come up with a scenario that involves doubt, stress, and ultimately violence with God, to achieve an uncertain future. I much prefer the equally valid utopia that my family (who are now in heaven, with God) have subscribed to.
    Over on your other blog, Antonina raises the question of free will in response to the version of this article over there. This interests me greatly. As a Christadelphian, and also as someone who frequently had to work at weekends, sometimes I did not want to attend meetings on Sundays, but rather to relax, and enjoy my world as I felt necessary. You can imagine how this was looked upon. In this "magical kingdom", what if I didn't feel like feasting at Sulley's temple on sacrificed animals, or singing with angels, but rather wanted to take it easy for a decade or two with some cool beer and a good book? Would this be possible or even allowed? If so then what is going on? If not, them am I actually the same person I was in this life? And if I'm not then how else have I been changed such that the concept of ME is lost altogether.
    As I said.I like this article, please will some Christadelphians chip in and shed some light on what the editor is writing about.

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    1. You raise many valid points, but I think the answers may lie in the fact that Christadelphians are diverse in their level of piety and how they interpret the Bible regarding practical matters (and how much they think they can get away with).

      When I mentioned giving up aspects of this life, I was referring to the amount of time and resources devoted to the religion, including most Sundays and several nights during the week, not to mention large chunks of one's childhood. I've also known Christadelphians to give up study, careers, even relationships, believing they had some "higher" calling that would make these sacrifices worthwhile in the end.

      It's also true that many Christadelphians seem to be attempting to have their cake and eat it too, which just undermines their own professed beliefs in my opinion. Such accumulation of wealth and worldly goods seems to be the opposite of what Jesus preached, but humans are experts at post-rationalisation and Christadelphians are no exception.

      When it comes to salvation I have come across both approaches. Some issue threats of how sorry I will be when they are proven right, or otherwise insist that they are somehow sure of what will happen in the future. Others try to hedge their bets and hide behind the "hope" smokescreen in order to avoid having their beliefs undergo scrutiny. Some Christadelphians play both sides depending on the conversation. They've all got the same amount of evidence - none.

      Your "free will" comments resonate with me. Some depictions of the "kingdom age" sound far more like being recruited as slaves to a totalitarian dictator and sacrificing all free will for eternity. That's not happiness in my opinion.

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    2. "If not, them am I actually the same person I was in this life? And if I'm not then how else have I been changed such that the concept of ME is lost altogether."

      Thoughts like this went through my mind often as I was questioning my former faith. Any concept of "me" changes from year to year anyway. I'm not the same person I was 10 years ago, and the version I'd prefer to be raised as almost certainly depends on which one you asked.

      Having said that, resurrection doesn't make any sense and I don't find it attractive at all. Even if it were possible to reconstruct your body and brain and have it be a snapshot of you from some earlier time, all you'd end up achieving is creating a brand new person with all of your memories. It would be a copy of you, but not actually you.

      To complete the thought experiment, imagine God creating the resurrected version of you. Got it? Now imagine that the real you that is reading this is also still alive. Whatever God created cannot be you. It's a copy. A fake. Now imagine that he created several of them. They all think they experienced your past, but which of them is the real you? The answer is "none" - you're still here reading this.

      In some sense it doesn't matter, because we face a similar philosophical dilemma when asking if the you that wakes up every morning is the same you that went to bed the night before. But for me it all boils down to resurrection being a half-baked solution to a problem that should never have existed in the first place (if there really was a so-called loving god).

      I'd rather face up to the hard reality that when we die all of the metabolic processes that kept our brain functioning (and thus our mind and sense of self) cease, and thus "we" cease with it. Difficult to accept perhaps, but that's part of growing up.

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