Happy Easter!

Happy Easter! I’ve been looking forward to this.

You know how it is: it gets past July, and the shops start filling with mince pies and gooey puddings. Where once the supermarket stocked organic asparagus, now they stock 400 varieties of advocaat so you can snowball your brain into a highly flammable soufflé.

You go into a shop – or, God help you, work in a shop – and the permanent soundtrack becomes one of enforced jollity and tinkly sleigh-bells.

Like an old dinghy, Cliff is taken from his normal abode at the back of the cupboard under the stairs, dusted off, inflated as much as his undoubtedly gaping hole will allow (never inflated enough to smooth out the billion wrinkles) and shoved outside to be played with by people who don’t know what real fun is.

And after a few months, it dawns on you that soon it will be 25th of December again, and time for the universe to stop so we can all listen to Auntie Marjorie tell us what’s wrong with “the blacks”. (Maybe you don’t have an Auntie Marjorie, in which case you’re lucky. She’s the kind of woman who makes you want to climb a tree, then pull it up after you.)

But Easter isn’t like that. It’s not a chore. Cliff remains invisible. Easter works.

For a kick-off, it’s the right size for Britain. We don’t like a fuss. Christmas is a fuss. It’s American in scale, and the only people who truly enjoy it are young kids, people who have young kids, and people who desperately yearn to still be young kids. Whereas Easter just ambles into your life without a lot of hoo-ha, has a couple of drinks, gooses you pleasantly, and leaves before it gets annoying. Perfect.

And it always seems to be a surprise guest too. Just like the best evenings out are the unplanned ones, so Easter is better than Christmas. Christmas is like one of those “let’s go to Dublin, all 17 of us, it’ll be great” parties, which ends up being too desperate and organised, like orienteering with a bladder complaint. Easter, however, is like going for a quick drink after work and ending up eating magic mushrooms off a Turkish prostitute at 4am. You never saw it coming, but my God it’s welcome.

You see, its impossible to work out when Easter happens. Figuring out the correct date for Easter is like nailing custard to a wall. I see the eggs in shops, but not even Tesco has the kind of budget required to produce in-store displays for all the possible dates Easter can fall on. So instead I rely on colleagues to tell me when its here.

And who tells them? Their kids. And who tells the kids? Teachers.

(I have no idea how teachers know this stuff. I’ve recently come to the conclusion that teachers are magic.)

But it’s not just the meandering chronology of Easter that I like: it’s the fact that I have no clue which of the 4 days is an actual “thing”. Friday? Sunday? Both? Maybe the Monday – or is that just a holiday because we’re all meant to get hammered on Sunday? Is that in the bible – thou shalt drink a KFC Bargain Bucket full of gin to celebrate Our Lord crawling out of a cave? Who knows. And it’s too late for me to find out; I’ve slipped off the learning curve, and all that gin and chicken-fat has addled my mind.

Which brings me to the traditional Easter food: chocolate eggs and rabbits.

Think about that: eggs and rabbits. You’re all bright people, so I’m sure I don’t need to point out the pagan symbolism of mating and birth that is contained in the rabbits and eggs iconography. It’s spring-festival, captured, colonised and castrated by dull old Christianity. Just like the feast of Bacchus, or as we know it today, Christmas. Pagans knew how to have fun: get pissed at Christmas, and get laid at Easter. But instead we give our children the symbols of sexual adventure, which are, as you’d expect from Christianity, expensive, hidden, wrapped in shiny paper, and hollow.

Personally, I don’t like chocolate, which might be the only minor problem I have with Easter, and it doesn’t stop me from buying eggs for my nephews. I loved chocolate when I was a kid, and have the fillings to prove it. But if you stop eating it for about 4-6 weeks, you lose the taste for it forever. It’s surprisingly bitter. Sure, it seems sweet, but that’s just the insane doses of sugar they put in it to hide the real taste. Say goodbye to your pancreas, chocoholics!

But my favourite thing about Easter is that it’s a perfect break from work. Four days is spot on. Not enough time to get bored, and two whole weekends, back to back. There’s often a good thing on telly, and even if there isn’t, there are bracing hills to climb, happy days at the zoo, or other splendid adventures.

And even when its over, I know that soon it’ll be May Bank Holiday too. But don’t ask me how soon: only teachers know that stuff.

And finally: it’s one year today since I got diagnosed with cancer. And I’m fine. I don’t believe in any of that Zombie Jesus mumbo-jumbo. I’m not reborn. The only miracle was the NHS, so praise be to socialism!

So for once, this blog is devoid of my usually snarky cynicism. No piss and vinegar. I like Easter. But don’t worry, I’ll get better: it’ll soon be Christmas again!

Evolution in a nutshell

It’s pretty simple.

Do you look exactly like your parents? I mean, literally identical? You may have your mum’s nose, and your dad’s ears, but you’re not a carbon copy. You are different.

What happened there, you see, is evolution. You were created by mixing two sets of genes, and the result was something pretty similar, but not exactly the same. You may have the colouring of your parents, or if they’re tall it’s quite likely you will be too. But you’re not literally identical.

It’s called mutation.

Now multiply that by a few thousand generations. Bingo. Evolution. And the earth has been here for 4.2 billion years, with life for the last 2 billion. There’s been plenty of time!

“Ah”, I hear you say, “I accept that evolution might make humans have darker skin or be taller, but it can’t change a mongoose into a squirrel”.

Let’s imagine a herd of grazing animals on the grassy plains of Africa. They’re a kind of antelope. Just as with humans, there is some small variation between individuals. Some are taller. Some are weaker. Some have better eyesight. It’s only a tiny difference, and most of the time it doesn’t count.

Then a lion attacks. The antelope with the best eyesight sees it first, and runs into some trees.

The taller one has longer legs, and can run faster, and he heads out onto the plain.

The weaker one gets eaten.

The antelope with the good eyesight hides in deep undergrowth, and meets another “good eyesight” antelope, and they have kids. This continues for many generations, with the eyesight getting better, and the animal getting smaller so it can hide in bushes. In time, you have a Dik Dik. Huge eyes, tiny body, timid.

The antelope with the long legs ran onto the plain, where there were taller trees. He met another tall antelope, and they had babies, who inherited some of the features of their parents, including being tall. The tall babies survived when a drought came, because they could reach leaves that were higher up. Over many generations, the trend was for the antelope to get bigger and bigger. Zip forward 200,000 years, and you have a giraffe.

In the meantime the lions are also going through an evolutionary arms race. Getting faster, stronger, smarter. One species pushes the other. Different environments produce different results.

It’s called Evolution, and it’s the truth.

Intelligent design.

Some people say “OK, we believe evolution happens” (because frankly, to deny it is like denying the sun exists). “But”, they say, “it’s happening because God directed it according to His intelligent design”.

And my answer to that is: the laryngeal nerve.

The laryngeal nerve is a nerve which goes from the brain to the larynx, and helps with swallowing (and in animals that can make sounds, it controls vocalisation).

It first developed in fish. It took the shortest route from the brain to the larynx. In a fish the heart is close to the brain, right up behind the gills. So the nerve travelled down from the brain, went behind the heart, and then to the larynx. Note it goes behind the heart. That was the shortest distance.

When fish evolved onto land (something the lungfish is still doing today, evolution fans) they needed to be able to move their head in new ways, so they could spot predators. So they developed more of a neck, and that meant some of the organs got pushed down into the torso. Including the heart.

The laryngeal nerve still went behind the heart, but had to take a longer route. It’s much easier to adapt something than to scrap it and start again, so that’s what evolution did: it just kept extending the nerve in each generation, tiny change by tiny change.

Every land animal, dinosaur, lizard, bird, mongoose, bear, whale, cat and human has evolved from those early fish. And in every one of us, the nerve that controls our swallowing and vocals starts at the brain, leads down the neck, wraps around our heart, and back up again to the larynx.

Even the giraffe. A 22 foot long nerve to pass a signal to the larynx, which is only 4 inches away from the brain.

Intelligent design? If that’s as good as God gets, He’s not intelligent at all. And that’s not a design. That’s the result of unplanned chaos.

The truth is, evolution is random and uncontrolled, and only has the appearance of being “designed” in the same way that the water in a puddle fits perfectly into the depression in the ground. Nobody designed the water, it just works that way because of the laws of physics and chemistry.

Similarly, nobody “designed” a Dik Dik, it’s just the best solution for the environment it’s in. Change the environment, and the animal changes too.

You are all atheists!!

I have accepted the Lord Jesus as my personal saviour.

No I haven’t, I just wanted to know what it felt like to use those words in that order. It’ll never happen again, because I believe in God about as much as you do.

Which is hardly at all.

You: No, that’s not true, I really believe in God a lot!

Mole rat: There are over 3000 Gods currently being worshipped. You don’t worship 2999 of those. So you’re 99.93% atheist. And that’s even ignoring the old Gods that nobody follows any more, like Baal or Thor or Zeus. In Namibia there’s a God of Cabbage. Worship him too, do you?

This is the real history of the Bible.

Most of the Old Testament was based on a series of existing myths, including some Baalism and some Zoroastrianism. A few names were changed, and a whole bunch of different legends were merged to form the character of Abraham. But essentially, the Old Testament it’s an amalgam of about 20 or 30 local stories from various tribes in northern Egypt, Syria and Palestine.

At the time it was begun, only about 1 in every 100,000 people could read or write. Writing was in its infancy, and most of the Old Testament was oral history, passed from generation to generation. And you know how accurate Chinese Whispers can be. Try doing it for 1000 years, and see how much the facts get warped.

Then along came the New Testament, which was begun in the year 130 AD. Until then, as with the Old Testament, it was just oral history. The first Bible as we’d know it is called the Sinai Codex, and was written around 160AD. In it, Jesus was not the son of God. That bit was added later.

In fact, a lot was added later. In the Old Testament, it was predicted that a Messiah would be born in Jerusalem. So it became necessary to show that Jesus was born there, or the whole myth falls apart. Therefore, somewhere around the year 300, some unknown scribe decided to add that story about the Roman census, which forced Mary and Joseph to travel from Egypt to the land of their great, great, great, great, great grandparents; and the whole business with Herod killing the babies, etc.

Four small problems:

  • The Romans didn’t hold a census that year. Records exist. They had a census in Palestine in 48BC, and another in 80AD. But none in the year zero.
  • If the Romans held a census, they’d want to know where you live. Not where your great, great, great, great, great grandparents lived. It’s like having a census now and asking you to register at the address your forebears lived at in the year 1862.
  • Even if, for some insane reason, the highly organised Roman Empire decided to hold the craziest census ever, and you really did have to register where your great, great, great, great, great grandparents lived, the question remains: which set of great dot-dot-dot grandparents? You’d have 64 of them. Do you go to visit the graves of the ones in Jerusalem, or the ones in Kent? What are the rules? Has anyone in a church ever thought about this shit?!
  • Oh, and Herod was dead by the time of Jesus’ birth. He’d been dead at least 12 years. Even his wife, Doris (I’m not making that up, she really was called Doris Herod) was dead.

The insane “birth” lie is just one example of the garbage that was added to the original Bible. And a lot was removed too. The Book of Judas, for instance. Scrapped. Didn’t fit with the story the church wanted to tell.

You see, the early Christian church was simply absorbed into the Roman Empire, which used the Jesus story to consolidate power. Roman Empire > Holy Roman Empire. Bingo. Just like that. Rebranded. And to seal the deal, Jesus was given some of the same back-story as the existing Roman god, Dionysus Bacchus. Such as:

  • Virgin birth
  • Born on 25th December
  • Dad was a god, Mum was a mortal
  • Changed water into wine
  • Encouraged his followers to take Eucharist (“this bread is my body” was his catchphrase)
  • Nickname was Yeusus. Not a million miles from Jesus, is it? Even closer in Arameic, where the letter Y is pronounced J.
  • Rode into town on a donkey, welcomed by adoring crowds bearing palm leaves
  • Was known as the King of Kings, and the Lamb of God
  • Died and came back to life after 3 days

You can trust the Bible like you can trust Fox News.

And it didn’t stop in the year 300. Up until the Council of Bishops in 1650, bits were still being added. We all know you can go back and edit your CV to make you sound a bit better, but if you’re writing a history of the creator of the universe (which is what Christians claim), surely you don’t just make it up? Surely there’s some alternative source for all this new material?

So where is that source?

Well, there isn’t one. For 1650 years, it was just invented.

We’re used to thinking about the past, and for some reason 1650 AD doesn’t seem too far away from the year zero. So put it into perspective. Imagine the story of Nelson Mandella, a modern-day figure who is widely respected and has great ideas about peace and freedom and social justice.

Now imagine giving that story to a bunch of people who want to use it to preserve their power and dominate others, and telling them they can add or subtract anything they want from the story until the year 3,650.

Think it’d still be accurate?

Think the Bible is true?

I’m not saying every word in the Bible is wrong. Or that ideas about peace and justice and equality are bad. There is plenty in the Bible that is admirable, but it’s all stuff that we already believe, Jesus or no Jesus. Do you think we just went around slaughtering each other without moral consideration before the Ten Commandments? Have we stopped doing it since? Of course not.

And before I finish, a brief word on the Ten Commandments. Which ten? Somebody chose the ten. Yes, they all appear in the Bible, but they’re mixed in with over 600 other Commandments. There’s nothing that says those ten are the best ones. One of them is that it is a mortal sin (i.e. you spend the rest of eternity in Hell) if you wear mixed fibres. Leviticus 19:19. Check it out. It’s insane.