The Voice

WRITER INTERVIEW IN THE VOICE MAGAZINE, DECEMBER 2015

Adam Dickson puts some questions to author David Lawrence Preston

How did you start out as a writer?
I started by writing papers for academic journals. I had several dozen published. One was a case study on Aldi in 1990 (before they came to the UK) that won me an award for European Business Case Study of the Year.

In 1993 I started collaborating with a holistic health practitioner to put together a course in living we called the Dynamic Living Programme which was purchased in 27 countries around the world. We also published three books together – Creating Confidence and Awaken Your Inner Power (Element Books) and Decide to Win (Cassell) on sports psychology.

Our partnership was terminated in 1997, and since then I have published four more – on Confidence Building, Life/Self Coaching and Spirituality. The latest – 201 Things About Christianity You Probably Don’t Know (But Ought To) – examines the Christian religion from a historical/factual point of view.

I also produce a regular blog – blog.davidlawrencepreston.co.uk – covering my interests in health, spirituality and personal development.

How did you become an author for Hay House?
I approached them with my latest book. They referred me to their imprint, Balboa. Balboa embraced it enthusiastically.

Your most recent book has a controversial theme – can you tell us about that?
Ever since I was a child dragged to Sunday school every Sunday I have questioned the validity of many of the Christian teachings. The New Testament (Old, too) is full of contradictions and untruths and much – while acceptable to earlier generations – simply doesn’t make sense in terms of our modern scientific understandings.

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What are your writing aims for the future?
My next book will present a 21st Century version of progressive Christianity – compatible with scientific discovery – in which the old myths are discarded and deeper truths about the nature of the infinite and spirituality are discussed.

I also write on health and, in particular, energy medicine and the biofield. Some of my material finds its way onto my health and energy website, www.davidlawrencepreston.co.uk.

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The Nature of Creative Intelligence

The religious powers-that-be describe the qualities and characteristics of their particular deities in various ways. For example, the supreme being of Islam, Allah, and the ‘Father God’ of Christianity are loving, fair and merciful, but mete out stern justice to non-believers in the afterlife. These beliefs are a matter of faith and rely solely on ancient ideas captured in scripture written long ago.

G_d

I don’t believe in this kind of g_d, but I do believe that there is a Creative Intelligence underpinning and infusing everything. Many quantum physicists – including Einstein and Max Planck – agree. This Intelligence is certainly not a person, but a ‘presence’ or ‘principle’.

Its qualities can be inferred from science, experience and common sense. The world around us provides plenty of evidence that intelligence is at work. It has beauty, order, meaning and intent. What kind of power could produce these effects? Only a positive, bountiful and constructive life force. What would life on Earth be like if this were not so? Could we exist? How long would we survive? Could life on this planet, where everything is in perfect balance, have been created by a malevolent power? A negative life force would surely destroy its own creation.

Since Creative Intelligence is inherently good and it flows through everything, then everything must in essence be inherently good. Only human ignorance and stupidity disturb the balance of nature. Imagine if we were to disappear like the dinosaurs millions of years ago; the Earth would soon be returned to its natural state of harmony.

If humans were to raise their consciousness, rise above their destructive behaviours and work together to create a perfect world, who knows what would be possible?

©David Lawrence Preston, 23.7.18

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A life force flowing through us

In surveys, when people are asked if they believe in a Higher Power, many say they do, but when asked what they mean by this, they can’t say.

Perhaps there’s a scientific explanation. Anyone who watches a flower bloom, holds a new-born baby, gazes at the night sky or contemplates the ocean senses a life force flowing through us, an energy field of which we are all a part. But to explain why, our intellect is of little use. As Max Planck, Nobel Prize winner for physics, wrote:

‘Science cannot solve the ultimate mystery of nature. And that is because, in the last analysis, we ourselves are a part of the mystery that we are trying to solve.’

My logoHow can a finite being possibly understand the Infinite? Should we even try? Isn’t human intelligence too limited to encompass anything so vast? Muslims understand this completely. Allah, the creative force, is beyond description. Allah can’t be seen or heard, has no shape or form and no gender, but has always existed, will always exist and knows everything that can be known.

The creative force can’t be detected through our five senses. It can’t be seen or heard and has no smell, taste or texture. It can only be inferred through advanced mathematics and sophisticated scientific instruments.

Much of the physical world is beyond the range of human sensory parameters. Dogs can hear and smell things we can’t, eagles have much better sight, bats sense radar-like vibrations we cannot, and we know from looking into a microscope that there are infinitesimal organisms living on our skin and in our bodies which we can never see with the naked eye.

If so little of the material world falls within our sensory parameters, how much harder is it to visualise intelligence or an energy field! Take electricity. We can’t see, hear, taste or smell it, but we know it exists. We can put it to good use. Similarly, we can’t detect a creative force through our senses but we can observe the effects. When we appreciate that there is more to life than meets the eye we have taken a big step towards grasping our spiritual nature.

There is only one prevailing power in the universe, the one that set off the Big Bang and brought our universe into existence. It flows through every atom and every cell of every living thing, through our bodies, activating our minds.

There is no absence of life, potential or intelligence anywhere, fortunately, for we are dependent on it for everything, including our very existence.

©David Lawrence Preston,21.6.18

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What holds it all together?

Scientists tell us that matter is made from atoms and atoms come from waves and particles – but that the particles that make up the atoms don’t really exist! What, then, holds it all together? According to Max Planck (1885-1947), the theoretical physicist who originated Quantum Theory and who won a Nobel Prize for his work on the atom:

‘All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force… We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent Mind. This Mind is the matrix of all matter.’

What is this force? What is this ‘Mind’ that is the matrix of all matter? Is there really a creative intelligence from which all energy and matter originates?

The human mind is so limited we can only ever see a small part of the picture. All we can do is try to make sense of the evidence and be willing to amend our ideas when new evidence becomes available.

Mahatma Gandhi said,

‘Whilst everything around me is ever-changing, ever-dying, there is underlying all that changes a living power that is changeless, that holds all together, that creates, dissolves and re-creates. That informing power or spirit is God.’

Of course, the word ‘God’ has negative associations and is very off-putting to many people. Read the words of J. Krishnamurti, a distinguished 20th Century teacher educated in both Eastern and Western traditions. He urged us not to be put off the idea of a Creative Intelligence by worrying about what we call it:

‘I am not going to use the word ‘God’. I prefer to call this Life.’

Frankly it doesn’t matter what you call it. ‘God’ is just the personification (or symbol) of this omnipotent and omnipresent power. I prefer to avoid this term. I refer to it mainly as Creative Intelligence because this conveys precisely what it is.

If there was a ‘God’, don’t you think he/she/it would find the descriptions given to it by humans laughable?

D0 you have a preference? Do you accept the notion of a Creative Intelligence, which is endorsed by many scientists, but don’t know what to call it?

Are you put off by any particular term? Why do you think that is?

Tell me what you think. I’d love to hear from you.

©David Lawrence Preston, 19.6.18

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Science and Christianity

Christianity has always had an uneasy relationship with science. Many scientific discoveries have appeared to question the very basis of this religion.

The problem for Christians is that some of the statements in the Bible are just plain WRONG. For example, at the time the Genesis creation stories were written, the Hebrews believed that the Earth at the centre of the universe, it was flat and covered by a dome above which were ‘the waters’. Occasionally the dome leaked (it rained). The sun and stars were fixed to the inside of the dome, and below the ground was the place of the dead, portrayed by the ancient Greeks as Hades.

It’s hardly worth stating that we know better now.

In the Middle Ages, scientists were harshly treated for publishing theories which were perceived to contradict Biblical teachings. Nicolaus Copernicus (1473 – 1543) published an astronomical model in 1543 which had the sun at the centre of the universe and the Earth and the other planets rotating around it. He did not attract the censure of the Catholic Church at the time, but Galileo Galilei (1564 – 1642) was not so lucky a century later when he propounded a similar view. The church declared his findings false and contrary to scripture and forbade him to promote his theory.

Galileo later defended his views in his ‘Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems’, which angered the Pope and the Jesuits, both of whom had supported him up until this point. He was tried by the Holy Office, found guilty of heresy and forced to recant. He spent the rest of his life under house arrest. It took 359 years to rectify this wrong. In 1992, Pope John Paul ll acknowledged in a speech that the Catholic Church had erred in condemning him.

For several hundred years, science and religion staged an uneasy standoff. Scientists avoided making contentious statements about religion and vice versa. Then came Charles Darwin, the author of ‘The Origin of Species’. He was declared ‘an enemy of God’ for daring to advocate a theory that refuted the church’s view of creation. Even so, he never lost his belief in a creative force behind the universe. He wrote, ‘When I wrote The Origin of Species, my faith in God was as strong as that of a bishop.’

Some pioneers of science had no difficulty seeing science and religion as compatible. Albert Einstein was viewed as a heretic by the church, yet he had a profound belief in a universal mind, spirit or creative intelligence that transcended the universe and was beyond our comprehension. He and many others, including Sir Isaac Newton and the ‘Father of Quantum Mechanics’, Max Planck, shared a sense of humility and awe at what they discovered in the natural world and gave the credit to this creative intelligence.

Nowadays the church is more comfortable with scientific research. The Catholic Church, for instance, employs ordained scientists to investigate such diverse subjects as the big bang, epigenetics and global warming, but their starting point is always the Bible teachings. They seek to fit the data to the Bible teachings, not find the best explanation that fits the data. We are without doubt gaining a greater understanding of how the material universe works, but are no nearer to understanding why the universe is as it is than were the ancient Hebrews or Greeks.

©David Lawrence Preston, 12.6.18

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Happy Easter Everyone

Every year on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Equinox, Christians celebrate Easter, as they have ever since the First Council of Nicaea in 325 CE. Easter is the day on which they believe their Saviour’s body came back to life after suffering a horrendous death, and that he was seen in corporeal form for several weeks before ascending to ‘heaven’ on a cloud. This is the very basis of the Christian religion.

JC

They believe it because some of the Gospels (not all of them, as we’ll see) say it happened. But most Christians have never read the New Testament in full, let alone studied it. They don’t know who wrote it, or when, or how it came to be in its final form. Nor are they aware of the inconsistencies and contradictions it contains.

If they read it, knew its history and thought about it, Christians would realise that the Gospel accounts of the resurrection are just as implausible as a three day old mangled dead body coming back to life would be today!

The church says the contradictions don’t matter, but they would, wouldn’t they? What matters is that believers accept their version of events without question, as a matter of faith, without letting inconvenient facts getting in the way.

But surely for the New Testament stories to have any real value they must be substantially true, which means historically accurate. Otherwise they are on the same par as the Tales of Narnia, Lord of the Rings and other stories written to make a point – thought provoking but works of fiction nonetheless.

What the Gospels Actually Say

The church claims that the entire New Testament was written by people who were all either present at the events they describe or who spoke to eyewitnesses and then presented accurate, unembellished accounts of what they saw or heard.

But this simply isn’t true!

The earliest gospel was written around 70 CE, and most Biblical scholars agree that it is probably the most historically reliable. The second and third were written around 80-90 CE and the fourth between 99-100 CE. All four were unnamed until the late second century when the names Mark, Matthew, Luke and John were ascribed. But they didn’t reach their final form until much later, after they had been translated and mistranslated many times and many additions and redactions had been made.

The longer the period between the actual events, the writing of the manuscript and its reaching its final form, the more embellished became the story.

The earliest New Testament writings are seven of the letters attributed to Paul of Tarsus (Thessalonians 1, Philippians, Philemon, Corinthians 1 and 2, Galatians and Romans). These date from 53-58 CE, a quarter of a century after the crucifixion. The other letters in Paul’s name were written much later after his death, not by him.

Paul had met with at least two of the disciples who knew Yeshua, Peter and James, yet he never claimed a physical resurrection. He wrote that Yeshua appeared in changed form. He wrote (1 Corinthians 15: 3-7): ‘For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received,’ and went on to report a number of ‘appearances’ to the twelve disciples (strange – after Judas’s suicide there were only supposed to be eleven) and to a wider group of believers.

The First Gospel (later named ‘Mark’) originally ended with the body missing and an angel telling the disciples to return to Galilee where they would see him. They were clearly not expecting this, and fled in terror (Mark 16:5-8). Much later, another section was added by an unknown author (Mark 16:9-19) in which Yeshua ‘appeared’ to them several times and spoke. Nowhere did either author claim that he had risen in bodily form.

The Second and Third Gospels (written around 80-90 CE and subsequently named ‘Matthew’ and ‘Luke’) used the First as a guide and added their resurrection narratives. reported dozens of sightings, although their accounts are remarkably inconsistent. Most of them began and ended mysteriously, for instance, he ‘drew near,’ then ‘disappeared from sight’ like a ghost.

The Third Gospel expanded the story, adding several more appearances in which Yeshua ‘came near’ and ‘stood among them’, showed them his wounds, ate fish, then vanished. Later, he ‘withdrew from them and was carried up to heaven.’ (Luke 24:51) None of these incidents are found in the other Gospels. Moreover, far from fleeing to Galilee, the disciples stayed in Jerusalem and ‘were continually in the temple.’ (Luke 24:50) Perhaps he wasn’t sure of his facts or like any good journalist didn’t want to let the facts get in the way of a good story.

The Acts of the Apostles, written by the same author as the Third Gospel, merely says he ‘presented himself alive’ to the disciples over a forty day period.

By the time the fourth Gospel was written, it was clear that most Jews did not accept Yeshua as the Messiah, and this was reflected in the increasingly exaggerated claims made on his behalf.

Whereas the first three Gospel writers portray Yeshua as what G-d would be like if he took human form, the Fourth Gospel (‘John’) thought he was G-d! This work is regarded by scholars as an abstract work of theology rather than a serious attempt at historical accuracy. Here Yeshua appeared to Mary Magdalene outside the tomb but warned her not to touch him since he had not yet ‘ascended to the Father’. (John 20:17)  Later he ‘stood among’ the disciples and invited ‘doubting’ Thomas to touch his wounds. He also he appeared to different disciples on various occasions, in one instance filling their nets full of fish and offering bread and fish for breakfast. On this occasion, in common with most of his ‘appearances’, they did not recognise him immediately.

The Gospels agree on only two details – that the tomb was found empty on the third day after the crucifixion, and that Mary Magdalene was one of those who discovered the empty tomb. None of them say that Yeshua was seen walking out of the tomb, nor do they explain how he was seen fully clothed, considering the burial clothes were left in situ.

What happened to the body?

The Second Gospel has an interesting postscript that illustrates the writers’ dilemma: explaining what happened to Yeshua’s body. According to ‘Matthew’, the Jewish leaders, petrified of what would happen if the word got out that Yeshua had come back to life, paid the soldiers guarding the tomb to spread the story that the disciples came by night and stole the body while they were asleep. ‘This story is still told among the Jews to this day,’ he wrote fifty years after the crucifixion. (Matthew 28:15).

It was normal practice to leave crucified bodies on the crosses until the vultures had torn off the flesh, then remove the bones and dispose of them in sulphur pits outside the city used as a crematorium. It is highly probable that this is what happened to Yeshua’s body too.

But to say so would not have suited the gospel writers. Instead they wrote that Pilate allowed the body to be taken by an influential follower and placed in a sealed tomb. Quite why the Pilate would have allowed this particular troublemaker to be given special treatment is unclear.

When Yeshua died, his disciples were scared and confused, their hopes that the ‘kingdom of God’ was about to appear and reform the world shattered. Then, as the decades rolled by, their successors began to see him as the personification of G-d, and then G-d himself in human form. But how could G-d die? How could they execute G-d as a common criminal and leave his remains to rot in a sulphur pit?

Hence the Easter stories transformed Yeshua’s death and abject defeat into a noble sacrifice, the triumph of life over death, the victory of the Saviour over the Romans and the ultimate vindication despite not being recognised as the Messiah by the Jews. This was their purpose.

A miraculous presence

Apart from the apparent disappearance of the body, the only other historical fact of which we can be sure is that some of Yeshua’s followers believed that they felt the miraculous presence of their dead Master and perhaps saw visions of him. We can’t say exactly what these, but they obviously felt real because many of them suffered and died for it. It’s not unusual for bereaved people today to ‘see’ a departed loved one or ‘feel’ their presence – it happened to me when my father died.

But, in common with Paul, Peter, James and the authors of the First and Second Gospels, I don’t believe his body came back to life in a physical sense. If he had, the events would surely have been mentioned in the historical records of the day, not just the Gospels, and the Jewish population would surely have been won over. But they weren’t.

Diabolical Mimicry

There were many myths concerning a dying and resurrected god-man across the Middle East from the 5th Century BCE onward. In Egypt:

  • He was God made flesh, the Son of God.
  • His mother was a mortal virgin.
  • He was born in a humble cowshed before three shepherds.
  • He turned water into wine at a marriage ceremony.
  • He rode triumphantly on a donkey while people waved palm leaves to honour him.
  • He died, and on the third day rose from the dead and ascended to heaven in glory.
  • His followers awaited his return as judge in the last days.
  • His death and resurrection were celebrated by a ritual meal of bread and wine which symbolised his body and blood.

This was not Yeshua ben Yosef, the man whose life inspired the Christian religion, but the Egyptian god-man Osiris, five hundred years before his birth! The similarities were so obvious that the Second Century Roman satirist Celsus described Christianity as ‘diabolical mimicry’ and accused Yeshua of ‘having invented his birth from a virgin’. But this is unfair – Yeshua knew nothing about this (and neither did his mother) since the virgin birth stories were invented long after their death.

Of course, the resurrection is not verifiable in a factual/historical sense. You either believe it or you don’t. If you believe, no evidence, no insights, no knowledge, no common sense will shake your belief.  That’s the way the human mind works; it’s also the nature of belief.

© David Lawrence Preston, 25.3.2018

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Hay House/Balboa Press, 2015

Heresy and Truth

In the early 1980s, the newly appointed Anglican Bishop of Durham, Dr David Jenkins, said he did not believe the gospel birth stories nor that that a physical resurrection had taken place, and that such beliefs were not necessary to be a good Christian.

You may remember the uproar in some Christian circles. Many – including the Prime Minister at the time, Margaret Thatcher – thought he had no right to call himself a Christian and senior members of the Church of England demanded he be tried for heresy (the last heresy trials had been over a hundred years previously).

Moreover, on the day of Dr Jenkins’ ordination at York Minster, lightning struck the Minster and part of the roof caught fire. Proof, said his critics, that God was angry with the church for appointing him.

All this made quite an impression on me, having rejected the strict Methodist upbringing to which I had been subjected. I began to take an interest in religion from a historical point of view. I quickly discovered that Bishop Jenkins was merely expressing a view that had long existed among scholars. For example, Dr Albert Schweitzer wrote in 1906: ‘The histories of Jesus’ birth are not literary versions of a tradition, but literary inventions.’[1]

But what was the Bishop really saying? Let’s take a look at the Christmas and resurrection stories:

The Christmas story which is enacted around the world every December is based on just two gospels – ‘Matthew’s’ and ‘Luke’s’. ‘Mark’ and ‘John’ have nothing to say on the issue. Indeed, the Fourth Gospel reports an incident in which a crowd doubted that Jesus was the Messiah precisely because he did not come from Bethlehem, but from Galilee[2]

nativity

The familiar Christmas tale combines ‘Matthew’ and ‘Luke’.

Joseph and Mary travelled from Nazareth to Bethlehem on a donkey. Their son was born in a stable because there was no room at the inn. They were visited by shepherds and three wise men from the East. According to ‘Matthew’, and ‘Matthew’ alone, the family then had to escape to Egypt to avoid persecution from King Herod. Eventually they returned to Nazareth and nothing more was heard of them for over a decade.

Now apart from the sheer implausibility of such a tale, it is compounded by a number of ‘inconvenient’ facts based on what we know about history and the culture of Palestinian society at that time.

To start with, the above narrative is a combination of two incompatible and very different sources. The only thing they have in common is the location, Bethlehem, and their wish to portray Jesus’ birth as important. ‘Matthew’ was also concerned to link it in as many ways as possible to the ancient Hebrew prophecies.

There is no mention of this miraculous birth anywhere else in the New Testament: no mention in the earliest gospel, ‘Mark’, and no mention in Paul’s letters, which pre-date ‘Mark’. Paul had met with the disciples Peter and James (Jesus’s biological brother) – surely they would have discussed such a remarkable turn of events? Or is it simply that these stories hadn’t yet been circulated when the earliest New Testament texts were written?

There’s no mention of the birth in ‘John’s’ Gospel; no mention in the Acts of the Apostles; and no mention in the later letters. Nowhere in the gospels does Jesus make any reference to his birth, and neither do his mother or his brothers! Curious!

Bethlehem

It was especially important for the author of ‘Matthew’s Gospel’ that Jesus was seen to come from Bethlehem, since the prophet Micah had foreseen a Messiah being born there [3]. ‘Matthew’ stated it as a fact [4] but made no attempt to explain how they came to be in Bethlehem; that story came only from ‘Luke’. He wrote that a census was to take place which required every citizen to return to their ancestral home. Because Joseph was said to be a descendent of King David, this meant David’s city, Bethlehem.

Good story. The problem is, it simply isn’t true. Historians have searched in vain for an empire-wide census at the time of Jesus’s birth, but there was none. In any case the Romans had no jurisdiction to hold a census in Galilee since this was Herod’s province. And not even the Romans would have insisted that a heavily pregnant woman travel the eighty miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem through hostile territory on a donkey.

The flight into Egypt

According to ‘Luke’[6], after the birth the family immediately returned to Nazareth. But ‘Matthew’s’ gospel says that Mary, Joseph and the baby fled to Egypt to avoid an order from King Herod that all new born Jewish boys be killed. But there’s no record of any such decree, and no record of a slaughter of Jewish babies at that time. It is simply a literary way of linking Jesus’s birth to the passage in the scriptures in which Yahweh says, ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.’[7]

So were ‘Matthew’ and ‘Luke’ fibbers? Yes and no. They saw no harm in using a little artistic licence or borrowing a few ideas from other cultures. They simply wanted to encourage people to join their new community.

JC

Let’s turn to Jesus’ crucifixion, burial and resurrection.

While Jesus’s crucifixion is not in doubt (it is about the only fact about his life that is mentioned outside the official gospels), the circumstances of his burial are contested. It was unheard of for a crucified person to receive a decent burial. It was normal practice to leave them on the cross until the vultures had torn off the flesh, then take the bones to the sulphur pits outside Jerusalem which were used as a crematorium. The balance of probability is that this is where Jesus’s body ended up too.

The gospels say that that Pilate, the Roman governor, gave permission for Jesus’ body to be removed and placed in a tomb. Quite why this notoriously cruel and ruthless man would have given permission for the body of this particular insurgent to be given this special treatment is unclear, except it set the scene for what followed next.

Nobody saw Jesus walk out of the tomb!

Why make up a story? When Jesus died, his followers’ hopes that he was the one to liberate his people were shattered. Then, as the decades rolled by, successive generations of Christians began to see him as the personification of G_d. But how could G_d die? How could they execute G_d as a common criminal?

The New Testament writers and subsequent theologians had a lot of explaining to do! Resurrection was the startling explanation they came up with.

According to the gospels, Jesus repeatedly told his disciples that he would be killed and then resurrected on the third day[3]. Did he actually speak those words? We don’t know. According to these same sources, nobody – not even his closest disciples – expected him to rise again, and when the post-Easter Christ figure ‘appeared’ to them, all the witnesses were so surprised they didn’t recognise him.

Most of the gospel sightings began and ended mysteriously. Usually he ‘drew near’ then ‘disappeared from sight’. But the gospel writers went to great lengths to insist that the risen Jesus was not a ghost, nor a badly injured man hobbling around. Even though he could appear and disappear at will and walk through walls, they claimed he ate, drank and could be touched.

Paul of Tarsus would not have believed this. He believed that Jesus returned in changed form, not as a resuscitated corpse but transformed into a spiritual body

I don’t have space to go into all the inconsistencies in the resurrection stories, so I’ll summarise:

  • In ‘Mark’s’ Gospel the disciples fled in terror and returned to Galilee.[4] The original gospel ended there, but decades later twelve extra verses were added by a second author in which the Christ figure ‘appeared’ to them several times, spoke to them and was immediately whisked away to heaven. Nowhere does either author claim that Jesus had risen in bodily form.
  • In ‘Matthew’s’ Gospel, Mary Magdalene encountered Jesus as they fled from the empty tomb, but she didn’t recognize him. Clearly he wasn’t the man they remembered from just a few days earlier.
  • ‘Luke’s’ Gospel added several more appearances in which Jesus ‘came near’ and ‘stood among them’, showed them his wounds, ate fish, then vanished. There are no such claims in ‘Mark’ or ‘Matthew’. Moreover, far from fleeing to Galilee, the disciples stayed in Jerusalem and ‘were continually in the temple.’
  • In the Fourth Gospel – written around 70 years after the crucifixion – neither Mary Magdalene nor Peter recognised him at first. Later, he ‘stood among’ the disciples and invited ‘doubting’ Thomas to touch his wounds.[5] He also appeared to the disciples on various occasions, once while they ate bread and fish for breakfast and another in which he appeared on a beach and gave the disciples some advice on fishing.[6]
  • Acts of the Apostles, written by the same author as ‘Luke’s’ Gospel, merely says he ‘presented himself alive’ to the disciples over a forty day period before the momentous events of Pentecost.

Once again we find ourselves wondering which, if any, of these accounts is correct, since they can’t all be right! The only things the gospels agree on is that the tomb was empty on the third day and Mary Magdalene was one of those who discovered it. Bear in mind that with many of the gospel stories, the longer the period between Jesus’s life (c 5 BCE-30 CE) and the writing of the gospel (c 70 CE – 105 CE), the more embellished they become.

Psychologists tell us that we are just as likely to see what we believe as believe what we see. In my opinion there’s no verifiable evidence for a physical resurrection, just the words of a small group of devotees. But we must all decide for ourselves. Whatever you choose to believe is true – for you. That’s the nature of belief.

Bishop Jenkins described the resurrection stories as ‘a conjuring trick with bones’ – hardly likely to endear him to the diehards. But what I believe he was trying to say was important – seek the deeper, metaphysical truths in the scriptures rather than blindly accepting them as literal truth (which they are quite plainly not).

But what are these truths? The 19th Century mystic, Charles Fillmore, said that ‘there is only one metaphysical interpretation and that is your own.’ In other words, what matters is what the biblical texts mean to you. For me, Christmas is about celebrating the birth of divine consciousness or the Christ spirit within, and the resurrection about re-affirming the indestructible nature of consciousness.

Spirituality for me is knowing that the life force, universal energy, Christ spirit, zero point field,  whatever you want to call it, is present everywhere, including in me, and expressing it with joy. I believe that Bishop Jenkins – the man branded a heretic by members of his own church – thought the same.

I conclude my book ‘201 Things About Christianity You Probably Don’t Know (But Ought To)’ with the following comment:

If I have to believe in a virgin birth, walking on water, dead and decomposing bodies coming back to life and a man being carried up to heaven on a cloud before I can realise my spirituality, then there’s no hope for me. For me, in this sense conventional Christianity is a barrier. I can study it, learn from it and borrow the sayings and parables that make sense to me. The rest I can reject without fear of eternal damnation (a loving G_d wouldn’t do that to me anyway).

That’s what Bishop Jenkins was driving at. That’s not heresy – that is truth!

©David Lawrence Preston, 19.3.2018

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[1] The Quest of the Historical Jesus

[2] John 7:40-42

[3] E.g. Mark 9:31 and 10:34; Matthew 16:21 and 17:23; Luke 9:22 and 24:7; John 20:19

[4] Mark 16: 5-8

[5] John 20:19-20

[6] John 21:4-6

The earliest passages in the New Testament

Not many people realise – even Christians – that the earliest passages in the New Testament appear in letters written by the apostle Paul of Tarsus around 52 CE. They think the gospels came first, but they didn’t. Paul’s genuine letters predate the first gospel, ‘Mark’, by 15-20 years.

By the time the official gospels came to be written (between 70 CE and 105 CE) the fledgling Christian community had been heavily influenced by Paul’s letters. They are the only New Testament writings of a known individual describing his experiences first hand, which cannot be said of any of the other letters, the gospels or Acts of the Apostles.

Paul’s letters are arranged in the New Testament according to length, the longest (Romans) first and shortest (Philemon) last. This is not in the order in which they were written, nor does it reflect their authenticity, subject matter, literary quality or importance.

Thirteen letters in Paul’s name appear in the New Testament. Paul wrote, or more accurately, dictated, only seven of them; the other six were not written by him but, presumably, by Paul’s followers and successors. Some of the early letters reached their final form several decades after his death.

The seven definitely by him, all between 52-62 CE, are:

  • Thessalonians 1
  • Philippians
  • Philemon
  • Corinthians 1
  • Corinthians 2
  • Galatians
  • Romans

Four letters are so different in style, content and doctrine and written so late that they could not have been by the same man:

  • Ephesians (c80-100 CE)
  • Timothy 1 (c95-100 CE)
  • Timothy 2 (c95-100 CE)
  • Titus (c95-100 CE)

Colossians and Thessalonians 2 are also attributed to Paul, but scholars are divided about their authenticity. The consensus is they were probably written in the seventh or eighth decades. (See Kenneth Davis’s brilliant scholarly work,  ‘Don’t Know Much About The Bible.’)

Forgeries? Yes, but in those days it was considered perfectly acceptable to use the name of a respected deceased person, either to add authority to a document or express what the writer thought he would have said had he still been alive.

The irony is, most clergy know this to be true but make little mention of it from the pulpit. Why not?

©David Lawrence Preston, 20.1.2016

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Where do the laws of nature come from?

There’s an ongoing debate around the globe about how this world was made and how we came to be on it. In the USA it takes the form of heated discussions between those who trust science and those who prefer a religious – primarily Christian – interpretation.

On one side are the Evolutionists. They follow scientist Charles Darwin’s view that life evolved from tiny microbes in the sea. Those best suited to their environment and willing to adapt when necessary thrived, multiplied and gradually became fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals and finally us. Leading proponents of this view argue that we are the result of DNA reproducing and perpetuating itself. They believe they are supported by the scientific evidence.

On the other side are the Creationists, who believe the Bible is literally true, that the earth was made in six days and all this happened a mere six thousand years ago. Carbon dating techniques which show the earth to be much older than this are misleading, they say, because the Creator deliberately made it seem older. Some schools run by Christian fundamentalists teach only this view.

However, there is a third idea – intelligent design. Proponents don’t dismiss evolution, but argue that it’s not just down to adaptation and the survival of the fittest, but that some organising intelligence is overseeing the process. If this is correct, what is this ‘organising intelligence’? Is it just another name for G_d? Is it something that can be supported scientifically? And if it can, is it any help to us living our daily lives?

The Christian G_d is portrayed as a big man in the sky, overseeing everything right down to our daily behaviour. I cannot prescribe to this view. If there is a universal intelligence I am certain it is nothing like a human being. It is more likely to be non-physical, pure consciousness, a ‘Presence’ or information source shaping energy and matter.

The sooner we get rid of old-fashioned notions of a G_d formed in our image, the better!

©David Lawrence Preston, 5.1.18

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Where are you at?

In his best-selling book, Further Along the Road Less Travelled, M. Scott Peck pointed out that we are not all at the same place in terms of our spiritual growth. He identified four ‘stages’ of growth. If you had to pick one which most accurately describes you, which would it be?

Stage One

Stage One people have little or no interest in spirituality. They appear to have few moral principles and live chaotic lives. Some, however, rise to positions of power, including some politicians, business leaders, etc.

Stage One people occasionally become painfully aware of their situation. Some rise above it and some self-destruct. Some convert to Stage Two. When this happens, it can be sudden, for example, a dramatic religious conversion.

Have you previously rejected the very idea of spirituality but are now beginning to take an interest? If so, it’s possible that you are ready to move on from Stage One.

Stage Two

State Two people look to authority and are dependent on an organisation for their governance. This could be the military, a business organisation, public institution or religious body. According to Peck, the majority of traditional religious believers fall into this category. They rely on their religion for stability and to deliver them from uncertainty.

Sooner or later some Stage Two people (often the young) question the need for an organisation with rigid structures, rituals and superstitions and begin to move to Stage Three.

Are you a person who likes conformity, respects authority and likes rules? Do you look outside yourself for leadership and control? If so, you’re probably at Stage Two.

Stage Three

These people dislike authority and feel no need to look to an organisation for direction. Some are agnostics or atheists; some are drawn to other philosophies. They are truth seekers without being religious in the usual sense of the word. They are often involved in causes working for peace and justice.

Stage Three people often regard Stage Two people as brainwashed and gullible, while Stage Two people feel threatened by them because of their lack of respect for convention.

As they develop, they begin to glimpse a bigger picture and may even begin to take an interest in some of the mythology that engages their Stage Two associates. At this point, they begin to move towards Stage Four.

Have you turned you back on organised religion yet have a sense that there must be more to life than you’re currently experiencing if only you could find it? If so, you’re probably at Stage Three.

Stage Four

Stage Four individuals believe in the underlying connectedness between all things. They are comfortable with the mystery of life and seek to explore it more deeply. They are inspired by some aspects of the great religions, but not bound to them.

At first sight, Stage Two and Stage Four people appear opposites, yet they have much in common. They may recognise the same passages of scripture, but interpret them differently.

Stage Three people are baffled by Stage Four. On the one hand, they aspire to their awareness and spirituality, while being puzzled about their interest in those old myths and legends.

Peck acknowledged that people do not always fall neatly into categories and that there is some overlap. For instance, Stage Three or Four people may turn to the church at times of celebration or stress, drawing strength and/or comfort from its rituals. They are also to be seen on religious premises when rites of passage take place – what clerics call ‘hatching, matching and dispatching’.

If you have a sense of your own spirituality and the one-ness of all things, you are probably at Stage Four.

If not – let me take you there!

©David Lawrence Preston, 28.12.2017

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How To Books, 2007.

Front cover 201 things

Balboa Press, 2015