When Jesus says there’s fire, there’s no fire?

When Jesus says there’s fire, there’s no fire? December 9, 2015

Like babies who refuse to be picked up, Christian apologists refuse to engage in reading comprehension when it portrays crying babygolden boy Jesus as a moral lunatic.  For those who are unaware, canonical gospel Jesus intended to return with an army of angels to set the vast majority of humanity on fire for all eternity.  This was no minor footnote in Jesus’ ministry or something he morally deferred to someone else on and took little to no responsibility for.  Canonical gospel Jesus brought it up continually and thought he was literally THE guy leading the charge on Judgment Day. Hence I’ve said things like:

The entire apocalyptic ministry is hinged on threats of eternal hellfire (especially in the Gospel of Matthew). Matthew 3:10-12, 4:17, 5:13, 5:20-22, 5:29-30, 7:13-14, 7:17-19, 8:12, 10:14-15, 10:28, 11:20-24, 13:30, 13:38-42, 13:48-50, 18:6-9, 18:34-35, 22:13-14, 23:33-36, 24:50-51, 25:30, 25:31-33, 25:41, 25:46

Naturally lots of people have noticed this makes Jesus something akin to a 20th century genocidal dictator or a comic book supervillain.  Christian apologist David Marshall didn’t like that, but didn’t much know what to do with it except to sloppily appeal to the authority of St. C. S. Lewis who basically claimed that supposedly mixed metaphors cancel out all the bad stuff.  Sure it does.  Just like a barrage of varied insults cancels out the ill will.  I also facetiously put out a call for help on Marshall’s behalf.  Someone named Joshua Smith in the comments of Marshall’s blog post about it chimed in to shed darkness on the matter.

So here’s where I take the Christian apologist and walk him or her by the hand and rhetorically enforce basic reading comprehension point for point on the standard issue religious obscurantism at play.

Smith says:

Matt. 3:10-12 is most likely about the temporal judgment on Jerusalem.

Does anyone really think that the coming “kingdom of heaven” mentioned in these verses is only supposed to be a local event?  Also, any kind of temporality to the judgment is not mentioned.

Here’s part of the Biblical quote:

The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

Surely Josh doesn’t think Jesus intends to let the bad trees outside of Jerusalem off the hook, does he?

Elsewhere (just keep reading!) Jesus says everyone from all the world will be put on trial and that the fire is eternal.  Hence, in context, this is certainly Jesus threatening everyone with eternal fire.  That is, if Jesus gets to tell us what Jesus means.

Jesus’ rhetoric partially alluding to the fall of Jerasalem may be inferred, but pretending like it abruptly stops there is just goofy in context of everything else explicitly added on throughout the rest of the Gospel of Matthew as we’ll see.  Regardless, Jersalem probably represents the center of Jesus’ mythical apocalyptic world and would be representative of the whole anyway even if explicit statements as such could be found here (which there aren’t).  Americans talk as though the U. S. is the only important country in the world (and we even call ourselves “Americans” as though that doesn’t refer to two whole continents of people).  Something similar may be going on.

Technically Matthew 3:12-14 discussed above is actually John the Baptist kicking Jesus’ message off at the very beginning of the Gospel of Matthew which is important, because Smith doesn’t notice the connection when he says:

Matt. 4:17 says nothing about Hell or fire.

And yet, in context, this is the Gospel of Matthew declaring that this is Jesus preaching John the Baptist’s message from Matthew 3:10-12.  Read Matthew 4:12-17 in light of 3:1-3.  This tells us a great deal about how to understand the character of Jesus preaching the message of his kingdom of heaven.  In other words, it’s not just John the Baptist going off on his own tangent if you just read Matthew 3:10-12.  And it’s not just Jesus preaching some nice kingdom of heaven if you just read Matthew 4:17.  Combined, it’s Jesus preaching the kingdom of heaven as John the Baptist characterized it.  Reading in context helps.

Smith says:

Matt. 5:13 says nothing about Hell or fire.

Let’s see.  Matthew 5:13 says:

[Salt] is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

This is Jesus justifying the morality of treating those whom he labels “goats” [which turns out to be just about everyone] as morally disposable and harkens back again to what’s already been established in Matthew 3:10-12 and 4:17. Jesus could have made a small footnote about hell and then moved on to never mention it again.  For comparison, Christians like David Marshall hate talking about hell at all.  Instead, here we have another example of Jesus elevating it in importance in his messaging.  It counts.

Smith says:

Matt. 5:20 says nothing about Hell or fire.

Matthew 5:20 is included in the 5:20-22 bit because it is an example of telling you about what kind of person is going to Jesus’ hell.  Jesus says, “…unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”  This is the first indication of Jesus’ sense of perfectionism.  [See my video laying out my whole case from the gospels on that issue, here:  https://youtu.be/Nn7w-NLesbc?list=PLIrF19dV-9vY3HW_uStCBwpftJUv9uKZd] One must be outwardly perfect like the Pharisees and inwardly perfect as well.  Perfect people are hard to come by and hence pretty much everyone would be going to Jesus’ hell.

Smith says:

Matt. 5:21-22 makes the point that one should not murder, hate, or call names. Clearly a monstrous moral teaching.

No, this is Jesus equating anger and name calling as morally *equal* to murder.  That *is* a monstrous moral teaching to erase all shades of gray from one’s moral reasoning.  Or perhaps you think the thought of shoving someone you don’t like should be treated the same as literally nuking the site from orbit?

Smith says:

Matt. 5:29-30 specifically talks about entering “Gehenna.” Check a commentary: this was the name of the valley outside Jerusalem where waste was burned. Since Jesus didn’t mean his audience was going to go into that particular valley, this is clearly metaphorical.

Clearly metaphorical for what?  Not burning?  Not torture?  Not inflicted violence of some kind?  I’m certainly not reading the verse “literally” as though Jesus thought people would be thrown into that actual burning trash pit.  However, via the almighty powers of basic reading comprehension, it is most reasonable to assume at the very least that Jesus is threatening violators of his mystical moral scheme of things with retributive inflicted suffering of one kind or another.

But why not fire?

Why wouldn’t a first century Jewish rabbi think there was anything wrong with that?  Is that not the kind of thing the actual emperors of his day would do to those not in their favor?  Most modern people would never countenance the torture of crucifixion as a reasonable form of justice, but these were clearly less enlightened times.  We have the privilege of knowing what justice can look like when living in less threatened and less desperate circumstances as a rule.  But we have supposed holy books telling us supposed gods have the ethics of that level of desperation, because the gods and their morality are the fictions of those ancestors.

Smith says:

Matt. 7:13-14 says nothing about Hell or fire. It does say that destructive behavior is often easier than virtue, which is clearly moral lunacy, because everyone knows it’s easy to be good.

It says that it’s hard and *therefore* few will be saved.  Jesus specifically, actively declares, “only a few find it.”  Not, “Fortunately, despite the difficulty most still make it.”  Upon Smith’s reading we’d have to say, “being good is hard therefore everyone will make it, because people are really good at doing hard things.”  This doesn’t qualify as reading comprehension in my book.

Other, similarly silly apologetic excuses on this issue of “few being saved” can be found argument mapped here:  http://www.war-on-error.com/Map_The_Bible_teach_1921681711423183512122.html

Smith says:

Matt. 7:17-19 is using a simile of a tree, so the fire is just as non-literal as the wood. Tree:person::fire:fire is not how analogies work.

Jesus says:

Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

Using a violent analogy in context of continually reinforcing the idea of violence (as we’ll continue to see) doesn’t make this an example of Jesus not threatening people with violence. And if “fire” is the most popular metaphor/analogy/imagery, then why would we not rightly suppose Jesus means fire?  You know, just like the majority of Christianity has ran with for two millennia.  Maybe Jesus should have learned to communicate his peaceful message of Judgment better.  Perhaps not referencing “fire” at all would have been prudent.  He could have just prophetically quoted parts of C. S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce and cleared up all the contrived confusion from modern Christians who can’t morally stomach 1st century brand justice.

Smith says:

Matt. 8:12 focuses on simply lack of participation in the feast. Also, in context it is actually about inclusivism and not being racist or ethnocentric. Clearly moral lunacy.

It’s not so simple.  Matthew 8:12 says:

But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

This passage is not the strongest imagery Jesus uses to characterize his views, but it certainly counts as a mention.  Being thrown into darkness is certainly *compatible* with being set on fire.  I imagine most thoughts of fire in the ancient world would have been associated with darkness anyhow.  Or perhaps for the analogy’s sake, most dinner parties didn’t end with actual violence and so it would have been rhetorically awkward to force it.  It speaks of separation and emotional trauma and anger associated with being out-grouped.  One is being “thrown out,” not merely being courteously asked to leave and be on one’s way as many modern Christians would like to suppose.  Regardless, the passage is thematically related and counts as Jesus thinking to threaten people as important.

Smith says:

Matt. 10:14-15 simply talks about the day of judgment. Clearly, condemning those who have done wicked deeds to some kind of punishment is moral lunacy, as evidenced by the fact that all moral people want to abolish judges, courtrooms, legal penalties, etc.

Jesus said in Matthew 10:15:

“…it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.”

Jesus’ god rained down fire and incinerated Sodom and Gomorrah.  One imagines that their eternal judgment would be comparable in ferocity.  And Jesus is threatening *everyone* who rejects his evangelists with something worse than that.  Many people reject the Christian gospel for ethical reasons, but Jesus never brings up such a possible distinction (not to mention he seems to try fairly hard to say there isn’t one).

See my argument map on the black and white thinking: http://www.war-on-error.com/Map_Jesus_mysticis_192168431551426748419612.html).

Christians often want to equate any challenge to their mythological justice system as though we aren’t interested in justice at all.  We live in a world where many elements of our culture’s “judges, courtrooms, [&] legal penalties” are actively challenged for the sake of their reform.  For example, one should reasonably condemn the U. S.’s  for-profit prisons and the mass disproportionate incarceration of black people over the should-be-a-non-crime of marijuana use.  It is not a reasonable response to say that such criticism means the criminal justice system should be abolished or that there shouldn’t be anyone in any kind of prison at all.  But so many Christians so often engage a laughably obtuse false dichotomy when in defense of issues pertaining to the immorality of their mythological justice system.

For more on this, see my video on “Judging Jesus’ Judgment Day.”

Smith says:

Matt. 10:28 again refers to “Gehenna.” See above.

That’s still Jesus threatening people with something like setting them on fire.  Why is Jesus getting a free pass on that again?

Smith says:

Matt. 11:20-24 again refers to a day of judgment. Sound moral thinking rejects such a thing. Also, the focus is on cities, not individuals. Cities don’t go to Hell, they are destroyed, often by invading forces. Like, say, the Romans…

Jesus hates infrastructure?  Seriously?  Or the *people* that make up those cities? Jesus is threatening Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum with judgment so if Smith is trying to say Jesus is referring to the fall of Jerusalem Smith seems to have his cities crossed [maybe those cities fell, too?  I don’t know.].  Regardless, Jesus may conflate events related to the fall of Jerusalem with his coming judgment because he believes they will all happen within his own generation’s time frame.

But that’s an argument map (see here: http://www.war-on-error.com/Map_Jesus_was_a_fal_1921681711425063857935.html) and a video for another day (see my video on “The Fruit of False Prophecy” here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S87Rw8KJQVM).

Smith says:

Matt. 13:38-42 is interpreting Matt. 13:30, so listing them separately is just quote padding. And v. 42 says that those who break the law will be punished–moral lunacy!–by being thrown into an oven. Not metaphorical at all.

Including the seven verses in between allows Christian minds to wander too much.  Clearly Smith’s Christian mind had plenty of opportunity to wander away from basic reading comprehension already.

Anyway, Jesus said in Matthew 13:41:

“The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

[Note there has been Jesus imagery of setting people on fire and imagery of “weeping and gnashing of teeth” separately and now they’re combined!  Oh my!  I thought (according to St. C. S. Lewis) all the hell analogies/metaphors/imagery all conflict!]

Apparently any hint of metaphor is a get-out-of-moral-comprehension free card in a lot of Christian thinking.  If a scientist says, “I think we should shoot all our earth garbage to be burnt up in the furnace of the sun,” the usage of the metaphor of the “furnace” doesn’t mean she doesn’t want to set all the garbage on fire.

Smith says:

Matt. 18:6-9 mentions Gehenna again, and also instructs people to cut off parts of their body. No hyperbole here!

Gehenna is still threatening people with setting them on fire.  And Jesus praises people for *actually* cutting off their bits in Matthew 19:12.  Goooo celibacy!

See also my argument map on “Did Jesus really mean the extreme commands he gave?“ here: http://www.war-on-error.com/Map_Did_Jesus_reall_192168431551425362224091.html

Smith says:

Matt. 18:34-35 doesn’t actually say “to be tortured.” He is handed over to the basanistais: this may be “torturers,” or “investigators.”

So let’s say it’s a toss up between “torturer” and “investigator.”  Contextually do you think Jesus is saying his heavenly father will just “investigate” sinners until they pay back all they owe?  What would that even mean?  Or does it make more sense that he’d mean that they’d be tortured as that is at least a means of being “paid back” (even if it’s an immoral one)?

Further, Jesus in general uses lots of violent imagery, violent analogies, and violent metaphors to communicate his sense of justice in a time period where violent retributive justice was the norm.  I’d say the balance of contextual evidence clearly favors the torture version.  Most translations of Matthew 18:34 (<<< as you can see in the link) have “to be tortured” or “to the torturers” or “to the tormentors” or even “to the scourgers” or “inquisitors” probably because my argument is correct.

Smith says:

But the point is the revocation of the master’s favor.

No, because there are many kinds of consequences possible that would constitute the revocation of a master’s favor and Jesus tells us which kind to expect.  A master could ignore the offense because she is above it.  She could wait for that person to come to ruin in their own time as a result of the same bad behavior.  She could engage in programs designed to reform the unfavored person through therapy and education, because inflicting violence on someone doesn’t often cure them of violence.  Or she might hand them over to jailers to be tortured like we’d expect from a person in power in a time period like this.  So, yes, Jesus’ point clearly goes much further than Smith would prefer.

Smith says:

Oh,yeah, and the servant had tried to strangle his fellow servant over a tiny debt, so punishing him would be immoral.

Please point out to me where I’ve ever argued nothing at all should be done about immorality?

Smith says:

Matt. 22:13-14…okay, this is getting tiresome. Wedding:heaven::being bound and thrown out of the house:______. Or does he think that Hell involves actual ropes?

Laugh, Jesus brings this stuff up a lot, doesn’t he?  😉

Jesus said (through the dialog of a parable):

Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

I doubt Jesus means literal ropes, but this is much more specific imagery that reinforces that being “thrown out” of the feast was meant violently and not just as exaggeration.  As I said in regards to Matthew 8:12, “One is being ‘thrown out,’ not merely being courteously asked to leave and be on one’s way.”  This is a persistent theme from Jesus of violent retribution in a time period where violent retribution was standard.

But you never know.  Perhaps a first century apocalyptic rabbi would have thought the angels might actually wield swords to chop people up and literally tie people up to throw them in the lake of fire.  Who are we to judge what their mythology should or shouldn’t include?

Smith says:

Okay, that’s enough.

But I’m not done!

Or rather, Jesus isn’t done making violent threats.

To summarize what Smith ignores:  In Matthew 22:14 Jesus reiterates in parable form that “few” will be saved from his wrath.  I’m assuming Matthew 23:33-36 is another Gehenna reference, which again is threatening people with setting them on fire.  Matthew 24:50-51 has Jesus threaten people with, “He will cut him to pieces”!  Oooh, violent variety!  Matthew 25:30 has more violently tossing people out.  And finally Matthew 25:31-46 has Jesus’ much more explicit description of his end times wrath in this hellacious theme’s grand finale that includes bits like, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, […] All the nations will be gathered before him…” and to the damned he says, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” and “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

It’s as though when I say, “Canonical gospel Jesus intended to return with an army of angels to set the vast majority of humanity on fire for all eternity,” I’m basically just reading off the goddamn page.

And when I say the punishment can’t possibly fit the crime, I’m engaging in a type of moral reasoning over disproportionality that most Christians (not to mention Moses) agree with.  Even Smith betrays this metric when he sarcastically said earlier, “Oh,yeah, and the servant had tried to strangle his fellow servant over a tiny debt, so punishing him would be immoral.”

So there’s nothing new, amazing, or exotic here.  It’s just basic reading comprehension combined with basic moral comprehension resulting in an unfavorable and unavoidable conclusion for Jesus and Christianity.

Smith says:

Listing quotes without taking any time to read with cultural or literary attention is really not much of an argument.

I think my readers can judge for themselves who better engages in basic reading comprehension of canonical gospel Jesus.

In a later comment Smith says:

Skeptic who would fail the old analogy section of the SAT: “Appealing to C.S. Lewis, a scholar who studied creative literature from Homer through Spenser and himself wrote creative, metaphorical literature, is worthless!”  Okay.

Marshall, Smith, and C. S. Lewis would have us believe that this endless violent rhetoric from Jesus concerning eternal punishment for pretty much everyone is actually like this Key & Peele comedy sketch, “Georgina and Esther and Satan – Uncensored.” The sketch has these nice church ladies who excuse all their violent and vulgar thoughts with the suggestion that they only meant it as a metaphor for their peaceful and innocent prayer lives.  *chuckles*

I don’t think I need to assume that these folks (Marshall and Smith) couldn’t get high scores on their SATs.  I’m sure their powers of reading comprehension works just fine on a host of other topics.  But they’re clearly hopelessly biased when it comes to critically evaluating Jesus’ moral reputation.

David Marshall says (to Smith):

Thanks for checking the references more carefully. Yeah, it seems The Snake [he means me!] is a little lacking in exegetical caution, or perhaps scruples.

Don’t take the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of how horrendously evil the Bible is, David!  This fruit is only pleasing to the rational mind’s eye and useful for gaining secular wisdom and other things apparently many Christians apparently would rather do without.

Yes, and thank you, Josh.  For checking less carefully.  Very helpful.  Next up, Josh can’t find slavery or genocide in the Old Testament, not-just-the-spiritual jihad and death to the infidel in the Koran*, or racism in the book of Mormon*!  And other wonders of the religious apologetic world!

*But of course he can find the bad stuff in everyone else’s religion.  Just like David Marshall had not trouble doing with the Koran:

“As for shame, I think anyone who calls Mohammed a prophet,  half of the creed of Islam, should feel shame.  Mohammed killed four times as many innocent people on a single day, as did these terrorists in Paris.  And there was no one to comfort their families, who were made slaves and concubines.  It is a shameful thing, to so highly honor a tyrant, a murderer, a torturer, and a slave-trader.   (Though of course not a rare thing, in the West or here in China.  Here’s looking at you, Chairman Mao.)”

Is killing lots of people “bad,” David?  Is killing even more people than usual even worse?  What if someone threatens to kill just about everyone by setting them on fire?  Would that be outlandishly evil or something?  And what if they wanted to torture them for all eternity?  Might your morality-o-meter register a negative signal of some sort?  laugh

Compare Mohammed to Chairman Mao and hardly a Christian bats an eyelash, but accurately point out that mythological Jesus is morally worse in concept than every 20th century genocidal dictator combined for planning to do much worse than they ever did (even if not for all eternity!) and everyone (including lots of biblically illiterate atheists!) loses their minds!

See my argument map on that: http://www.war-on-error.com/Map_Jesus_was_more__192168431551427416132132.html

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