Saturday, March 26, 2016



Father always managed to splash me,
shouting, Shmingus-dyngus! —
laughing as I’d run, shaking off
a trail of drops. The Church frowned

on the puddles of this pagan baptism.
Nuns taught me I was a sinner.
in the town where I was born,
a naked baroque angel

held gilded scales to weigh
good deeds against sin.
Heaven was up, hell was down.
the soul huddled, a chilled bird.

Mother said, “There is no hell.
God would not be so cruel.”
At ten I shuddered at the heresy:
hell was where my mother was going.


At fourteen I said, “If God exists,
let him strike me with lightning.”
Waited, shaking with terror.
For five minutes I could hardly

Pigeons cooed.
Broken sunlight
redeemed the rain-streaked masonry.

I began to walk fast, away
from that first-communion girl,
lilacs in her arms, moist and heavy,
veins crossing the silk of leaves.


Across an ocean of baroque clouds,
that other country still exists. Other children
pick up yellow pebbles
on a Baltic beach, believing it’s amber.

Another girl wakes on Easter Monday,
her father hidden in the kitchen.
The water in the basin
shivers with impatient sheen.


My cat wakes me up at dawn,
sky rimmed with a narrow gold.
I wade in the gathering
light of resurrection.

In the yard, spires of lilacs.
I agree with a chittering bird:
it is only practical to be happy.
Again I will climb the same

mountain, follow the bleached star
of the dry yucca where the trail
sharply turns. I agree once more
to the mortal price of love.

At dusk I come home to Mozart,
my one-candle vespers.
The notes shape a brief heaven.
Fog erases the pine-dark hills.

~ Oriana © 2016

The Weighing of Souls, Autun Cathedral, Burgundy, c. 1130 

In 2010, at an art colony in Vermont, I told the famous Polish poet Adam Zagajewski the story of how I waited to be struck with lightning for my blasphemy. He replied, in his expressionless way that worked very well in this situation, “Sometimes there is a delay.”

Nevertheless, back in that moment, at fourteen, I knew I could be wrong: what if the sky wasn’t as vacant as it seemed and the monstrous invisible god did exist? I began to shake with fear. But I was willing to die and suffer in hell for eternity for daring to think on my own. I chose to be sentenced to eternal torture rather than worship a cruel god who created hell. It was the moment of the greatest courage in my life.

Greater courage than going to America by myself at mere seventeen and a half? Yes, I think so, since not just my life but my eternity was at stake. But I knew that I couldn’t abide the church’s blackmail anymore. I could remain enslaved forever, or I could be free — even if ultimately doomed. The conviction of that doom stayed with me for years (I knew my “test” wasn’t a conclusive proof, though if did a lot to reassure me).

It took even longer to learn that my experience wasn’t unique: former believers began to open up and admit that sometimes that woke up at night, seized with the terror of hell. What a church does to a child can never be totally deleted. For me religion was chiefly about hell. You can leave a toxic religion, but that religion never leaves you. Not completely. God ceases to exist at the intellectual level, but not at the emotional level, where the fires of hell smolder still. I’m resigned to that. It’s not a major fear anymore. Is it really still there? Probably only at the unconscious level — it would take dementia or a psychotic breakdown to activate it.

What helped a lot is understanding more deeply that there is no afterlife — no disembodied, brain-free soul that detaches at the moment of death and goes off to be judged. Sure, in a way I knew that the moment I realized that Christianity was just another mythology. But I truly understood this only more recently thanks to the flame analogy. When a candle burns out, the flame doesn’t “go” anywhere. It simply ceases when the fuel that sustained it is used up.

It’s true that “something of us” may remain — a memory, or something we said. We may enter the collective psyche in some tiny and anonymous way. But that’s entirely different from the persistence of an individual consciousness.

As for that tiny something that may remain, please read this blog post, a personal favorite of mine:

To return for a moment to the experience of waiting to be struck with lightning for a blasphemous thought — how ludicrous, and yet how horrific to have been brainwashed with the idea of supernatural surveillance and punishment to this extent. The visible universe is estimated to contain one hundred billion galaxies. That the ruler of the universe would be concerned with a thought passing through the mind of a teenage girl in Warsaw, and violate the laws of nature in order to punish her, is bizarre. It was a fine springtime day, a few small white clouds, no chance of a thunderstorm.

But . . . we were taught that god watches us 24/7, and sees every thought in our sinful heads. Put that kind of insane garbage into a child’s head, and you can expect some insane bit of behavior. That kind of indoctrination is clearly child abuse.


No, “Ishtar” is not pronounced “Easter.” That name comes from Ostra, or Oestre (think “East”), the Germanic goddess of spring. But otherwise, yes.

Easter is an ancient pagan holiday  that falls close to the spring equinox, a springtime celebration of fertility. When I was a little girl, my mother pointed out to me that eggs that I duly took to church on Great Saturday to be sprinkled with the holy water were a symbol of fertility and springtime. At that point I was already used to my somewhat schizoid reality: I totally believed in science, e.g. in evolution, the long length of geological eras, and the huge size of the universe — but didn’t yet dare to draw the logical conclusion that the biblical account (e.g. Eve created from Adam’s rib) was simply nonsense — or call it mythology, at times endearing, at other times dark and disturbing — and if so, then no ruling deity existed.


Igoumenitsa, Greece; Stavros Dafis


I think I understand better now why I was so thrilled when during a history class I first learned about Martin Luther’s rebellion against the church. Later I went on to learn that he was far from being an admirable human being. Still, risking his life, he dared to think for himself and to speak his mind.

And if Luther said that there was no Purgatory — that Purgatory had been made up by the church so that people would be buying masses for the dead and indulgences supposed to release souls from the Purgatory sooner — if Purgatory was made up, what other things could also be made up? I didn’t yet dare to follow up that question, but a seed was tossed into my mind. My mother said there was no hell; Luther said there was no Purgatory
— the unconscious mind starts working on this.

Luther also seemed right about the pagan customs incorporated by the church in the guise of being Catholic and holy. For instance, on Great Saturday I, and many other children, took a basket to church to be blessed. The basket contained onion-skin colored eggs, some bread, some sausage, and some green twigs — I was never told what plant it was, but including some young green leaves was obviously important — for decoration, I thought. Later it all made sense: it was a celebration of spring and fertility, and the hope of a plentiful food supply.

I liked the custom, just as I enjoyed watching the processions where icons and statues of Mary and various saints were paraded in the immediate vicinity of a church. In the countryside, a procession of this kind might actually lead into the fields, so the saints could bless the land. It was quite sweet, with singing and little girls tossing flower petals on the path ahead of the icons and statues. Idolatry? It’s all mythology, magic, theater. 


“Do you know how many people the Bible says were raised from the dead on Easter weekend?

I have to point out to Christians, many of whom maintain that the Bible cannot be wrong, that in one place (and only one place) the Bible says that a whole bunch of people came out of their graves right after Jesus died on the afternoon of Good Friday and then walked around Jerusalem…a couple of days later.  Here’s what it says in the gospel attributed to Matthew about the moment that Jesus died:

   ~ At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people. ~ (Matthew 27:51-53; emphasis mine)

In all my years in church I don’t recall ever once hearing a preacher acknowledge from the pulpit that a bunch of people were raised from the dead and appeared to many on Easter weekend.  Have you ever heard one talk about this?  Surely somebody has addressed it at some point.  But most of them don’t, and never will.  I find that fascinating!

They’ve heard about the earthquake. They know all about the tearing of the veil.  I’ve heard that preached about many times.  I myself have taught before about the significance of the veil because the book of Hebrews builds on that symbolism and it is rich with theological import (incidentally we have zero external historical verification for that happening, but never mind that right now). But for all the messages and sermons and studies I’ve heard on the first part of that passage, I’ve heard almost nothing about a mass resurrection or about a subsequent flash mob in the middle of Jerusalem on Easter weekend.

Does anybody really believe that this fantastic story happened? I’m not sure even Christians believe this happened.  Preachers don’t talk about it, and most Christians don’t even seem aware this story is even in there.  It’s the greatest story never told. The few who know it’s there just scratch their heads and say, “I’m not really sure what to do with that.”  This story is problematic for several reasons.

First of all, no other gospel writer says a word about a mass resurrection. This story is unique to Matthew’s gospel.  If something this dramatic really happened, why did no other gospel writer say a word about it?  And not only that, but nobody else ever says a word about it again, ever—not Paul, not Peter, not James or John—nobody!  That’s insane.  If this was supposed to have really happened, you’d think it would show up somewhere.  It should show up everywhere. But it never does again.

Even the details of the story are really fuzzy. It says there was an earthquake when Jesus died.  It was so big that “rocks split.” It’s unclear whether or not that was the cause of the graves opening, but what’s clear is that it says a bunch of people came back from the dead at that moment. How long had they been dead? Were they decomposed or had they been resurrected in fresh form? And how long did they hang around their graves before they came into town to circulate among the townspeople? All weekend? It says they were raised on Friday afternoon but curiously it says they didn’t go into town until after the resurrection. What did they do during all that time?

This story really is a fly in the ointment for the infallibilists among evangelicals and fundamentalists.  I know not everybody is hung up on having a perfect Bible, but if there’s any place they care about insisting it can’t be wrong, it’s right here on Easter weekend.  They may have decided the Bible can be wrong about common ancestry, or a worldwide flood, or even the Exodus or how many wives and concubines Solomon really had, but not this.

 Bible Story That Nobody Believes

Just to appease my curiosity I spent the better part of a Saturday in my old conservative seminary’s library rounding up as many commentaries on this passage as I could find. I surveyed the whole gamut of biblical scholarship from the most liberal to the most conservative and do you wanna know what I discovered?

Almost none of them think this really happened. Even the conservative scholars. Even the ones committed to biblical inerrancy. The Word Biblical Commentary has this to say about the passage:

    ~ A surprising number of commentators sidestep the historical question altogether. Those who do raise it can be found to use terms such as “puzzling,” “strange,” “mysterious.” Stalwart commentators known for their conservatism are given to hesitance here…

    We should not, of course, rule out a priori that Matthew may be recording historical events in these verses. If God raised Jesus from the dead, he surely can have raised a number of saints prior to the time of the general resurrection…The problem is that the event makes little historical sense, whereas what does make sense is the theological point that is being made. ~

[Theologians] who are still tied to the pulpit in one way or another cannot openly admit that they don’t think this story really happened. That would get them in far too much hot water. Those who write commentaries for their benefit must also be extremely judicious in the language they choose to explain the many things wrong with this story. Most have to obfuscate and equivocate and say things like Raymond Brown says in his famous commentary here:

  ~  …this popular, poetic description is deliberately vague—its forte is atmosphere, not details…to make a matter of major concern their literal historicity is to fail to understand their nature as symbols and the literary genre in which they are presented. ~

Except that’s not really how the story is being told, is it?  The writer of the gospel of Matthew isn’t speaking poetically here, no matter what parallels can be found in either Old Testament symbolism or contemporary Roman folklore. This story ventures beyond apocalyptic poetry and claims that the risen dead marched into Jerusalem and showed themselves to the residents, presumably as further proof that something supernatural has just happened.  That’s how the story goes.  And nobody who’s really wrestled with the implications seems to really think that happened.

Which means we’ve got a double standard at work here.  The story of Jesus rising from the dead has to be true. But nobody in his right mind can make a good case that this other part of the story makes any sense.  So they sweep it under the rug and then tell you to stop scrutinizing the story so meticulously.  “You’re asking the wrong questions,” they say. “Pay no attention to that over there, only look at this over here.  That stuff over there is mysterious, and we’re not meant to understand.”


I seem to remember (though I can’t swear to it) having heard the passage read in church, but with no comment whatever — whereas the earthquake, the solar eclipse, and the tearing of the veil did get a lot of dramatic emphasis.

I'm fairly certain that I heard in church and during religion lessons about the earthquake splitting boulders and the graves opening up. But it seems we were never told about the dead rising from those graves and walking around the city -- just as we were never presented with the passage in Mark that states that the family of Jesus came to take him away, saying that Jesus was "out of his mind" (the Patheos article discusses this too).

But now the cat is out of the bag, so to speak: the dead are out of their graves. What happened later to those other resurrectees? After having visited with friends and relatives, did they just return to their tombs and resumed being dead? What a drag that would be, after their  little walk and socializing . . .

But I wasn’t overly concerned with that. Perhaps because my grandmother was a seamstress, the immediate question in my mind as a child was not theological at all. Instead, I was curious if the torn temple veil got sewn up again. Surely the fabric was expensive, and it would be wasteful to just throw it out and get a new veil (obviously I didn’t grow up with American mentality about replacing rather than mending). Of course I knew that it was best to keep such questions to myself. 

Of course the mass resurrection mentioned only in Matthew is not the only story that is to be highly doubted. Later I learned that there was never any census that required anyone to return to the town of their birth; Mary and Joseph were not likely to be names of the parents of Jesus, but dignified names out of the Old Testament; there was no “slaughter of the innocents” and thus no flight into Egypt and return from Egypt (the story was created to serve as an echo of the Exodus);  and more. There are whole books devoted to debunking the historicity of the gospels. Obviously the correct reading is mythological. If there is an inspiring message to be found in those stories, wonderful. But first of all, we have to come to grips with the fact that this is a mythology.

Roses are excellent at resurrection; here is my Rio Samba, 8 weeks or so after a severe pruning


~ “When one reads the New Testament in the order in which these books were written, a fascinating progression is revealed. Paul, for example, writing between the years 50 and 64 or some 20 to 34 years after the earthly life of Jesus came to an end, never describes the resurrection of Jesus as a physical body resuscitated after death. There is no hint in the Pauline corpus that one who had died later walked out of his grave clothes, emerged from the tomb and was seen by his disciples.

What Paul does suggest is that Easter meant that God had acted to reverse the verdict that the world had pronounced on Jesus by raising Jesus from death into God. It was, therefore, out of God in a transforming kind of heavenly vision that this Jesus then appeared to certain chosen witnesses. Paul enumerates these witnesses and, in a telling detail, says that this was the same Jesus that Paul himself had seen. No one suggests that Paul ever saw a resuscitated body.

Please note that the story of the Ascension had not been written when these Pauline words were formed. Paul did not envision the Resurrection as Jesus being restored to life in this world but as Jesus being raised into God. It was not an event in time but a transcendent and transforming truth.

Paul died, according to our best estimates, around the year 64 C.E. The first Gospel was not written until the early 70’s. Paul never had a chance to read the Easter story in any Gospel. The tragedy of later Christian history is that we read Paul through the lens of the Gospels. Thus we have both distorted Paul and also confused theology.

When Mark, the first Gospel, was written the Risen Christ never appears. The last time Jesus is seen comes when his deceased body is taken from the cross and laid in the tomb. Mark’s account of the Resurrection presents us with the narrative of mourning women confronting an empty tomb, meeting a messenger who tells them that Jesus has been raised and asking these women to convey to the disciples that Jesus will meet them in Galilee. Mark then concludes his Gospel with a picture of these women fleeing in fear, saying nothing to anyone (16:1-8).

So abrupt was this ending that people began to write new endings to what they thought was Mark’s incomplete story. Two of those endings are actually reproduced in the King James Version of the Bible as verses 9-20. But thankfully, these later creations have been removed from the text of Mark in recent Bibles and placed into footnotes. The sure fact of New Testament scholarship is that Mark’s Gospel ended without the Risen Christ ever being seen by anyone.

Both Matthew, who wrote between 80-85, and Luke, who wrote between 88-92, had Mark to guide their compositions. Both changed, heightened and expanded Mark. It is fascinating to lift those changes into consciousness and to ask what was it that motivated Matthew and Luke to transform Mark’s narrative. Did they have new sources of information? Had the story grown over the years in the retelling?

The first thing to note is that Matthew changes Mark’s story about the women at the tomb. First, the messenger in Mark becomes a supernatural angel in Matthew’s story. Next Matthew says the women do see Jesus in the garden. They grasp him by the feet and worship him. This is the first time in Christian history that the Resurrection is presented as physical resuscitation. It occurs in the 9th decade of the Christian era. It should be noted that it took more than 50 years to begin to interpret the Easter experience as the resuscitated body of the deceased Jesus. When Matthew presents the story of the risen Jesus to the disciples, it is on a mountaintop in Galilee where he appears out of the sky armed with heavenly power. Recall once again that when Matthew wrote this narrative the story of Jesus’ ascension had not yet entered the tradition.

Luke follows Mark’s story line about the women at the tomb, stating that they do not see Jesus in the garden on Easter morning. Luke, however, has turned Mark’s messenger into two angelic beings. He has also transferred the locale of Easter to Jerusalem specifically denying Mark’s words spoken through the messenger that Jesus will meet them in Galilee. Luke has heightened dramatically the physicality of Jesus’ resuscitated body. In Luke, the resuscitated Jesus walks, talks, eats, teaches and interprets. He also appears and disappears at will. He invites the disciples to handle his flesh. He asserts that he is not a ghost. Finally in order to remove this physically resuscitated Jesus from the earth, Luke develops the story of Jesus’ Ascension.

Even in the Ascension narrative, however, Luke is not consistent. In the last chapter of his Gospel the Ascension takes place on Easter Sunday afternoon. In the first chapter of Acts, which Luke also writes, the Ascension takes place 40 days after Easter. Whereas the messenger in Mark, who becomes an angel in Matthew, directs the disciples to Galilee for a meeting with the risen Christ, Luke specifically denies any Galilean resurrection tradition. He orders the disciples to remain in Jerusalem until they are endowed with power from on high. The narrative is clearly growing.

In John, the Fourth Gospel (95-100), the physicality of the Resurrection is even more enhanced. In the 20th chapter of this Gospel Jesus appears first to Mary Magdalene in the garden and says to her, “Mary do not cling to me.” One cannot cling to something that is non-physical. Then John suggests that Jesus ascends immediately into heaven before appearing, presumably out of heaven, that night to the disciples, who are missing Thomas. Though Jesus appears able to enter an upper room in which the windows have been closed and the doors locked, he is once again portrayed as being quite physical. This physical quality is further enhanced a week later when Jesus makes a second appearance to the disciples, this time with Thomas present. It is in this narrative that Thomas is invited to touch the nail prints and to examine the place in his side into which the spear had been hurled. All of these appearances take place in Jerusalem.

Chapter 21 of John’s Gospel portrays a Galilean appearance much later in time after the disciples have actually returned to their fishing trade. Here Jesus directs them to a great catch of fish, 153 of them to be specific. Then he eats with them. Finally he restores Peter after his three-fold denial.

When these biblical data are assembled and examined closely, two things become clear. First something of enormous power gripped the disciples following the crucifixion that transformed their lives. Second, it was some fifty years before that transforming experience was interpreted as the resuscitation of a three days dead Jesus to the life of the world. Our conversation about the meaning of Easter must begin where these two realities meet.” ~


Paul seems to be saying that Jesus “appeared” to him [Paul], and to the disciples shortly after his death, as a heavenly being, or a spirit body. The word used by Paul in reference to both himself and the disciples is one that can be interpreted as a “having a vision” rather than experiencing a physical reality. Jesus wasn’t physically “seen”; rather, he “appeared.”

We know that one of the most common form of hallucination is bereavement visions; for instance, the recently dead person seems to be walking just ahead. We may even run up to that person, and only then see it’s a stranger after all, sometimes not even especially similar to the deceased. Or we may hear the person’s voice or certain other sounds indicating the deceased is nearby. I speak both from personal experience and that of friends and others.

A simpler explanation is that “historical Jesus” never existed and that we are dealing here with another dying and rising god. The resurrection story developed during a cultural era when dying and rising gods were nothing new. Even if historical Jesus existed, the existing death-and resurrection narratives would have likely influenced the story.

Attis, Ostia Antica


from Milosz’s “The Land of Ulro”: “Intellectual freedom in a Catholic country always goes hand in hand with atheism, and a comparison of [G’s] aristocratic atheism with [P’s] peasant atheism would make a splendid topic. As would the careers of other Polish atheists. The son of the devoutly Christian Apollo Korzeniowski, Joseph Conrad, could say: “The starry sky above me, the moral law within me” — and the inspiration for his irreligious ethics need not have come from Kant: Seneca would have sufficed.”

Fascinated, I googled Conrad’s views on religion, and got this from the British Humanist Association:

“He disliked the narrowness of his upbringing, particularly his father’s religious zeal. Later in life he wrote to a friend: “It’s strange how I always, from the age of 14, disliked the Christian religion, its doctrines, ceremonies and festivals … Christianity has lent itself with amazing facility to cruel distortion … and has brought an infinity of anguish to innumerable souls – on this earth.”

(Oriana: This reminds me of Nietzsche’s: “Religions are at bottom systems of cruelty.”)

“As a young man, he became fascinated by the sea and sailed to many places, especially in Africa and Asia, first as a sailor and then as a captain. He was saddened to see the divisions caused by religious belief in the many countries he visited. He came to look on humanity not as different nationalities or races but simply as people. It was the brotherhood and sisterhood of all human beings that concerned him. He saw this broken by advocates of the many, and differing, religions practiced in the world. His boyhood had made him distrust dogmatic attitudes of this kind.

He read an essay, A Free Man’s Worship, by the famous philosopher and humanist, Bertrand Russell, which said: ‘We should worship only the God created by our own love of the good.’ Conrad wrote to Russell saying, ‘For the marvelous pages on the worship of a free man, the only return one can make is that of deep admiring affection.”

His religious skepticism appears in his novels. In Under Western Eyes, he writes: “A belief in a supernatural source of evil is not necessary; men alone are capable of every wickedness.” In Heart of Darkness he says, “We live, as we dream – alone.” And Under Western Eyes shows his humanist morality: “All a man can betray is his conscience.” One of the main histories of English literature says that although in his writing Conrad was a realist, he was also “a thinker and a poet”; that in his work there is “a profound ethical element”; and his “idealism lies in the sense of the unknown which we brush past at every moment,” an unusual way of referring to his agnostic view of life.

Joseph Conrad admired other writers with a humanistic, rationalist outlook. To John Galsworthy, the novelist and playwright, he wrote, making clear his own rejection of dogma: “Skepticism is the tonic of mind, the tonic of life, the agent of truth. It is the way of art and salvation.”


Apollo Korzeniowski (Conrad’s father) seems insufferable to me mostly because he was a fanatical nationalist. I haven’t thought of the Catholic angle. The two were no doubt fused together, a phenomenon I later observed in the Catholic church under the Communist rule, which I too found repugnant, yet another way the church tried to control the masses, the idolatry of “God and Fatherland” as a cover for repressive right-wing mentality.

Conrad chose stoicism just as he chose to write in English, though his fluency in French was perfect (he spoke it without an accent) — perhaps because there is something heroic about going with the difficult, but maybe primarily because he admired both the language of Shakespeare and the English culture with its stoic ideal.

I wonder if “aristocratic atheism” and “peasant atheism,” terms that Milosz doesn't explain, form a kind of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza pair. I was fascinated to read that there used to be a lot of anti-clericalism in the Polish countryside, including songs about the corruption and predatory sexual behavior of priests.

Certain Poles accused Conrad of betraying Poland and his native language, but Conrad had his reply: “A man can betray only his conscience.” I am so glad he didn't yield to “patriotic” pressure, which must have been enormous.

And I realize that the loathsome "God and Fatherland" Catholicism that poisoned my childhood must have been only a fraction of what young Conrad was force-fed. To recover from that, to see life and the world in a more universal light, what a journey. And finally, to transform all that pain into the honey of art.

The monument to Joseph Conrad in Gdynia


To the opossum I saw one night picking off grubs (or something) from my Jurassic araukaria, and who got scared at seeing me and ran away: Come back! My lawn is your lawn, my tree is your tree.

ending on beauty

I intended
Never to grow old —
But the temple bell sounds.

~ Jokun, 17th century
 (translated by R. H. Blyth)



Had to look up Dyngus. Now the poem makes sense and is beautiful. But your commentary on going face to face with God and possibly end up in Hell is so powerfully courageous and is more than beautiful. It is truly inspirational.

I also love your light-hearted treatment of  Bible Story That Nobody Believes. If I was teaching a midrash about it, I would have everybody embellish the story even more so they could see even more how obviously ridiculous the story is.

I gained a new appreciation for the opossum.


Thanks for the lovely comments. I hope that readers who aren’t sure google Dyngus. All of a sudden I am also once more in awe of the creative process: how did I connect all the things in that poem? Of course it all flowed from the cognitive-creative unconscious, without any conscious deliberation. That came only during revision, when I changed a few words.

The wild story in Matthew deserves more attention since it throws into question everything else that’s in the gospels and in the bible in general. Should we take any of it literally? What supportive evidence would it require?

Just recently I learned that the Mormon church used to preach that Jesus was married to multiple women and had children — and that some members of the Mormon church were actually genetic descendants of Jesus. That claim was later dropped. What about various other claims? But we know there is no end of making up stories — and usually no harm when we know a story is fiction. It’s when fiction is mistaken for facts that serious harm can result.

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