Well, it's Zombie Awareness Day, and I've been skimping on my blogging this week, despite resolving to do more. Oh well. It's a dark and stormy night beyond my window (despite being almost 11AM now), so definitely zombie weather.
I really enjoy The Brick Testament (and I'm glad to find they've started on Revelations, and even updated while I was typing). I had done a share of skimming the Bible and finding absurdities on my own. The experience made up a large chunk of my journey to atheism. Reading The Brick Testament's excerpts from Jesus's life and teachings, however, got me deeper into a certain opinion that many of you have already arrived at anyway:
Christianity started as just another rebellious apocalypse cult.
Now, I imagine there are going to be various thoughts, many of which are going to be variants of "Well, duh!" I thought I'd lay this out anyway, since TBT really boosted my confidence in the hypothesis to levels that I found it more disturbing. A couple millenia of history initially had me numbed to the feeling, like it was a quirk of history: It doesn't take a genius to infer that all religions started small, but I tended to think of most being a sort of ghestalt of superstitions that standardized over time, kind of like we've seen with UFO believers in recent decades.
The difference I felt was kind of like this: When followers looked at David Koresh, they saw Jesus. When non-follower Christians looked at him, they saw a crazy man using cult recruiting tactics. Well, now when this ex-Christian atheist looks at Jesus, I see David Koresh and his ilk. Here come the examples, illustrations, and other stuff I've given some thought to:
Jesus's Birth: He gets fathered by the holy spirit, to a virgin woman who is discovered to be pregnant. In short, this is an absurd claim that makes me wonder if it was Big Lie marketing: That someone could suggest she got pregnant by magic instead of an affair or some other old-fashioned method, and do so with a straight face has a certain power for some people: "If he was just trying to sell me something by lying, he would tell a more believable lie, therefore he must sincerely believe it." In addition, to "prove" the truth, they add on something of a coverup, Herod, the Big Bad Government Man tries to off the magic bouncing baby and does the horrible deed of killing lots of babies to get Jesus, as well as display how evil he is and how desperate he is to get rid of the competition. Sounds like a lot of cults and conspiracies circulating about these days: They spin everything they can as persecution (though to be fair, some instances can be real persecution) and advertise the government's distaste in them as "evidence" of their truth. Pretty much the gadfly corollary writ large. Of course, communications in the day were poor, so nonlocals would likely only have travelers' word for it.
Baptism: What Chosen One would be complete without the clouds parting and deep voices from the sky?
Satan's Temptations: Hero's Secret Test of Character... Only "secret" part is it's out in the desert where no one would see him go through it.
Walking on Water/Moving Mountains: Set up for allowing a follower to blame himself if he doesn't have enough "faith" to do magic.
On Marriage and Castration: Ritual castration's popular among cults, isn't it?
On Wealth/Accept Communism or Die: Cults usually have a solid form of income from new recruits.
The First Book Burning: I doubt it was the first, but you know how cults like to control information and eliminate the competition. They want believers to think they've got a unique magic of their own, too.
Speaking in Tongues: SkepDic's got some of the details covered. To me, it seems a lot like hypnotism, so-called qi-attacks, and those preachers who knock down believers with a wave of their hand: It's shaped by cultural expectations. If I recall correctly, people back then thought crazy people and epileptics were magic. Glosolalia happens in schizophrenics and I don't have trouble imagining it happening with an epileptic, so a crowd suggestible to quiver and gibber probably wasn't hard to find back then.
The Parable of Many Murders: Putting God up as a landlord and humanity as a bunch of savages who won't pay the rent. Manufactured guilt for a crime not commited, since that absurdly patient landlord doesn't exist. Jesus puts himself up as the landlord's son, so you'd better not disrespect him or the fictional landlord boogey man'll get you.
On Family: Cults love to divide families. Anyone who's had a falling out with their family has a neon sign saying "recruit me" floating over their heads. Hating oneself also saves cults the effort of breaking someone down before building them up in their image.
On Prayer: I usually prefer to read it as an endorsement of modesty in your piety, though I suppose it could also be read as suggestion of secrecy. Definitely one of the shakier things in my thoughts, but there it is.
On Self-Defense: I'm definitely a fan of non-violence most of the time. It can get ridiculous to the extreme, but if you think of this as a principle of non-violent protests, it's easier to win sympathy when you're not resisting The Man. Of course, this sympathy can be used for good or for evil.
Dogs and Pigs: Smells kind of like a metaphor for... What's the term Scientologists use for critics who supposedly can't be cleansed of their thetans?... Ah, yes: DB.
On Hell: In my understanding, Christianity pretty much invented the place (or rather copied it from other religions), since Judiasm didn't originally have an afterlife. When you've got a punishment no one has evidence of, you have to compensate by making it more extreme... You know, kind of like how your mother told you to tie your shoelaces for fear of tripping and breaking your neck, rather than honestly tell you that there's a chance you might stumble and skin your knees and elbows?
On the Law of Moses: If a cult's a spinoff of an existing religion, they'll often claim that they're not the ones changing anything, and that it's the mainstream church that's corrupted things.
On Peace: The usual apocalypse stuff.
On Giving: Taken to this extreme, I think it dips into the communism thing.
Anyway, I've linked and rambled enough for now. Drop your thoughts in the comments and keep your eyes open for zombies.