Mark Owen

When fantasy overtakes reality

About eight or nine years back I first subscribed to pay-TV - 'cable' as it is commonly called - although mine doesn't come by cable but by satellite.

I had always known that the Christian faith looms large in American consciousness but had no idea just how large until American TV channels came streaming into my home on a regular basis. What a revelation!  Here were people who not only went to church on Sundays but who spoke of 'God'  in much the same way as they spoke of Mrs Smith, their next-door neighbour - in very familiar terms. (So familiar, in fact, that - and I find it a matter of great amusement - they often resort to the expression 'Oh my God' when something startling comes their way.)

O course, not all Americans have this cosy relationship with the deity but is common enough to be disturbing. But don't get me wrong. It is not disturbing to the paradigm by which I now live. That is not what disturbs me.  What is disturbing is to see the way the believers' memes flow from the studios and sets and stages of TV-land out into the wider world, infecting many others with this madness called faith.

Even an intelligent broadcaster like Bill O'Reilly (a man I admire greatly, even if I differ from his conservative outlook on many matters) speaks as if the delusions of religion so dearly embraced have some reality. For delusions they surely are.

Humanity created to fail? The Garden of Eden populated by a talking Serpent? A virgin birth? A dying and rising man-god? The Miracles? And wonders such as earthquakes heralding a messiah (but only seen by some)? This is not reality; this is fantasyland. No wonder a people so imbued with this jaundiced view of human existence churn out so many otherworld movies and TV shows.

The populace is conditioned to accept that ghosts and ghouls exist, that Satan is a real person, that personality continues after death - and can be contacted! All such hokum is a lot of fun unless it is treated seriously and alas, it so often is. I enjoyed Buffy the Vampire Slayer as much as anyone but I do not for one moment believe in the existence of entities beyond the human.

Don't these people ever examine the sources of their belief system? Don't they ever ask why they should take notice of their Bible? Are they so dumb that they cannot see the fatal flaw in the claim of the Christian Scriptures to be the word of the deity? The Word was not there, waiting to be discovered by the Jews or (later) by the Church. The Word did not come first. The Hebrews came first, then the Word. Likewise the Christians came, then came their Word. The New Testament was never handed down from some entity on high, the New Testament was cobbled together by a  bunch of bishops, chief among them the Bishop of Rome, in the 4th century CE.

In my paper The First Christians there is an extensive account of the development of the New Testament, an account that goes a long way to explaining why over the centuries prophets and preachers have managed to derive so many rival theologies from these same documents (a perfect example being the recent crazy outburst of mania over 21 May!). While ever people who should know better embrace this fantasy world there will be a continued proliferation of cults and causes, alarms and warnings, and there will be people (as just happened) who will give up all their worldly possessions (mostly into the ever-ready exchequer of the prophet) in the same lost cause that has been a lost cause since religious faith began.

Mark Owen, 2011 -