MATTHEW'S FLAMING PANTS

6-Aug-2015


Christians all around America (and, to my knowledge, in no other country with a Christian majority) perceive themselves to be under attack from "godless forces" that threaten to criminalize Christianity (to quote Mike Huckabee, for one, who imagines he can bring God to the presidency) and in any number of other ways wish to force Christians to abandon their beliefs.

Inevitably, Christians are fighting back against whatever forces they believe are so threatening them. It is not surprising that some have focused their attention on the public schools, as a place where they can indoctrinate young, unformed minds and bring them to an understanding and reverence for Jesus Christ.

And having formed the intention of spreading the word to a captive, defenseless audience of children, it is likewise not surprising that some of the more fanatical among Christians have availed themselves of one of the most useful tools of propagandists: flat-out lying.

The latest news on that front comes to us from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the non-profit organization whose primary goal is to promote the separation of church and state. The FFRF is at present trying to end the avalanche of Christian indoctrination practiced by the Mount Vernon Independent School District in Mount Vernon, Texas. See the story on the FFRF website: "FFRF Combats 'Pervasive Religious Endorsement' In Texas School District". There are more details in an article at Addicting Info: "Texas Public School District Posts Pretend Quotes From Reagan, Washington, AND the Bible", which points out, "[T]here seems to be a PUBLIC school district in Texas that doesn't like the fact that the nation wasn't founded upon any religion, but rather the freedom to live as you choose, and has decided to just make sh*t up."

Besides displaying Bible verses and crosses everywhere in sight, the hallways of the schools in the district have, painted in large letters on the walls, quotes from famous people encouraging Christian principles -- quotes that in many cases are out of context, misquoted, misattributed, or in some cases simply invented.

One quote, for example, has Ronald Reagan saying, "Within the covers of the Bible are the answers for all the problems men face." Reagan never said such a thing.

There is a quote of George Washington saying, "It is impossible to rightly govern a nation without God and the Bible," which can be found on a list of quotes wrongly attributed to Washington, things he is widely believed to have said but didn't, on the website of Mount Vernon, maintained by the estate where Washington lived in Virginia, not the school district in Texas. Washington, in any case, being a deist, was extremely unlikely ever to have said such a thing about the Bible.

According to the school district walls, Thomas Paine said, "Reputation is what men and women think of us, character is what God and angels know of us." While it is believed that someone said that (some sources say Horace Mann), it certainly wasn't something Thomas Paine would have said. Paine, another deist, is the author of The Age of Reason, a repudiation of the Bible.

If the school district superintendent made, at some point, a conscious decision to capture young minds for the Lord by lying, he is in good company: the Bible itself sets the example. Just to give one example which, in my mind, stands out, the writer of the Gospel of Matthew in the New Testament made an effort to make the story of Jesus, in particular his death and resurrection, more dramatic by fabricating details that don't appear in any of the other gospels.

On Easter morning, for example, while the other gospels have women (usually including Mary Magdalene) coming upon the tomb in which Jesus had been interred following his crucifixion, and discovering that the stone sealing the tomb had been rolled away and the body was missing, with an angel (in one case Jesus himself) on hand to tell them Jesus had risen from the dead, Matthew has the women, on arriving, witness an angel suddenly appearing while an earthquake shakes the ground, frightening the guards of the tomb into unconsciousness, after which the angel rolls the stone away while the women are watching. (And, of course, as in the other gospel versions, the tomb is empty.)

And THEN, Matthew transports us to the midst of a secret conspiracy: "While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, 'You are to say, "His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep." If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.' So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day." (Matt. 28:11-15)

This meeting of the elders and the guards (not hinted at in any of the other gospels) is clearly a fabrication, since there is no possibility that the author of the gospel of Matthew could have been present at such a meeting, even if he had been alive at the time (he wasn't), nor would anyone who was present have passed along the details to any follower of Jesus. The purpose of the invention is revealed within the passage itself (so we don't have to guess): According to Matthew himself, there were stories passed around by Jews, over the decades following Jesus' death before the gospel of Matthew was written, saying that the Roman guards had simply fallen asleep on duty and the body had been stolen. So Matthew attributed the stories to a conspiracy among the Jewish elders and the guards to spread such a story. Making up such a conspiracy is easy, verifying it is impossible. And accepting it as fact requires you to believe that the guards were persuaded to say "We fell asleep on duty," historically a capital offense in many armies, rather than pass along the fascinating account of what they had actually seen.

Christian apologists will respond to my accusation: Matthew didn't need to be present at the secret meeting, because God told him about it. But besides still leaving us puzzled as to why in the world the guards went along with the plan to incriminate themselves (after being paid up front), it also leaves us hanging with the other story Matthew made up, about the women at the tomb experiencing an earthquake and seeing an angel of the Lord roll the stone away right in front of them. That disagrees with every other gospel account, and leaves one to wonder: if God told Matthew about that part of the story, why didn't he tell any of the other gospel writers? (Which also leads one to wonder the same about the conspiracy story.) If that is what actually happened at the tomb, the women would have been frantically excited about it, and would have told the story to everyone who would listen -- so why do all the other accounts simply say that the women arrived and found the tomb unsealed, without any Heavenly drama?

Perhaps the leadership of the Mount Vernon Independent School District can use that as their defense: If inventing stories out of thin air is good enough for one of the writers of the Bible, it's good enough for us.



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