• Article by: Jonathan MS Pearce

    • D Rizdek

      There is a more serious side to the issue…for my money, one of the most repugnant doctrines of Christianity. The idea that a god…an omnipotent and omniscient god…could not think of, or enact another way of forgiving sins other than through a brutal human sacrifice where Jesus, in human form, is ritualistically beaten and killed so he would shed blood that would cleanse us from all unrighteousness. I think, even if something, somehow, could convince me it is true, I’d not be able to ever think of it as a good thing. It could cost me my eternal soul, but I couldn’t ever deceive myself.

      I found this website: http://www.agapebiblestudy.com/documents/St.%20Augustine%20and%20St.%20Thomas%20Aquinas%20on%20the%20suffering%20and%20death%20of%20Jesus.htm

      As to wondering if God HAD to use the “passion” in order to forgive man’s sins…apparently both St Thomas Aquinas and St Augustine had the same question…ie that God, “for whom nothing shall be impossible” would be cornered into employing this method of dealing mercifully and justly with human sins. They were so convinced that he didn’t HAVE to do it that they had to come up with other reasons why God arbitrarily chose “the terrifying and bloody Passion of His beloved Son as the means for our redemption.” From that article, “St Thomas and St Augustine decided that God’s decision to have Christ suffer to save mankind was good and wise and rooted in indescribable love how much more deeply could that love have been expressed then through the willing sacrifice of His Beloved Son.”

      So it was all for show and none of it was necessary in any material sense of the word…per those guys.

      • Andy_Schueler

        apparently both St Thomas Aquinas and St Augustine had the same question…ie that God, “for whom nothing shall be impossible” would be cornered into employing this method of dealing mercifully and justly with human sins. They were so convinced that he didn’t HAVE to do it that they had to come up with other reasons why God arbitrarily chose “the terrifying and bloody Passion of His beloved Son as the means for our redemption.”

        How Augustine and Aquinas could believe that the God of classical theism is the same God as the God of the Bible, is something I will never understand. Reconciling the passion of Christ (and its alleged necessity) with Gods omnipotence is just one problem, classical theism also says that God is immutable and therefore also impassible, and reconciling impassibility – God not feeling pain or pleasure as the consequence of the actions of others / not feeling anything at all – with the constantly emoting Yahweh of the OT and the compassionate Jesus of the NT is like trying to square the circle.

        • D Rizdek

          It’s amazing how folks can seem to contort a sensible logical thought process into accepting something like this. I have a feeling that if most folks who are now Christians had NEVER heard about Jesus and his death on the cross as a gift to mankind would be repulsed by it if they heard it as adults. Without indoctrination, this would NOT be an acceptable doctrine. Besides the brutality and seemingly ineffectiveness of it, it seems down right selfish to imagine that a god would kill his own son (himself for those who believe Jesus = god) as an arbitrary choice to deal with human sins…sins where were inevitable given how god “designed” us. As Hitchens said (I think it’s his quote), “God made us sick and commanded us to be well.” May he rest in peace.

          • Luke Breuer

            I’m a little confused; I thought that humans murdered Jesus?

            • I’d be interested to see what you have to say about the intelligibility of the atonement.

            • D Rizdek

              It seems the Romans crucified him him after a court hearing. I would call it executed in a typical Roman method.

              Regardless of the reason behind Christ’s death if it was planned from the beginning, or it was simply known that it would happen and who would do it, then god “set up the dominoes” in such a way that Christ’s death was inevitable. In this case humans carried out the act that was planned or known by God from the beginning. To my way of thinking, if it was planned or clearly and unequivocally foreseen, then it is, in essence, God killing his own son.

              BUT, I’m sure many would disagree…especially those who’ve been taught as children or young people and have grown accustomed to the ideas (which now seem incongruous to me) that 1) while Christ’s death had to be either planned or at least clearly foreseen, it was 2) also a completely human driven action for which humans themselves are responsible, not god.

              My point was that I think that if someone was introduced to this concept fresh and new, they would not be so easily convinced that it wasn’t, for all intents and purposes, god killing his own son. I didn’t see it that way when I was a Christian teen, and later as I was deconverting from Christianity to atheism. I still retained the sense that it could be accepted that humans, not god, were responsible for Christ’s death. And even for years after that, it didn’t sink in. But after years of looking at it differently, I slowly realized I see it as god killing his own son.

            • Luke Breuer

              Mt 27:24–26 makes it pretty clear that Pilate didn’t think Jesus deserved death; he explicitly places the moral culpability on the Jews (and they accept it!) and then chooses the expedient option of murder to quell a potentially career-limiting riot. There’s no pretension of ‘justice’, here. Were Jesus a Roman citizen (the only people who really got justice), this would never have happened. So let’s call murder what it is, shall we? It was murder to save the power of the Pharisees and the position of Pilate. It was a political murder.

              As to being “planned from the beginning”, you basically get a choice:

                   (1) sin was planned from the beginning
                   (2) the response to sin was planned from the beginning

              (1) makes God the author of sin; if you go this route, you need not get anywhere near filicide. In this case, when Is 45:7 says that God creates רַע (ra`), it means enough evil for God to be evil, instead of something like this.

              (2) makes the most sense to me. It is evil to merely erase the consequences of sin, for it utterly demeans the suffering experienced. And so, there must be a conservation law of good/evil which is only balanced out in certain ways. Indeed, the question is often: “Will you stand up to that evil?” Explored endlessly in fiction and real life, there is always a cost to standing up to evil. The question is whether people will pay the cost, or become enslaved to fear of such costs. Jesus definitely feared—see Gethsemane—but he willingly paid the cost.

              Can you see a (2) solution that doesn’t cost? The only alternatives I can think of are (a) deleting events from spacetime; (b) preventing evil from happening in the first place. Perhaps you can see others, or find an error in what I’ve said so far.

            • D Rizdek

              As to the murder vs execution, for the sake of discussion, I’ll accept your view and call it murder.

              Sorry this took so long, I was trying to decide how much to respond to. I decided to focus on your question.

              Keep in the back of your mind what is the rationale for making the consequence for sin be physical pain, torment, injury, and bloodshed. Who decides it and what is the logic? I know I’m asking you to figure what you would consider to be a god’s logic, but try.

              “Can I see a solution that doesn’t cost?”


              I am answering this, as best I can, thinking as a Christian, not as an atheist.

              First, living a life with god makes one’s life far superior in this world. I know my brother believes that firmly. So, from that perspective, sinning already comes with a cost (consequence). Don’t you think sinners and people who live without god are missing out on significant, if not almost infinite, benefits? Even if there are not material benefits, there are spiritual benefits of peace, love, joy and the satisfaction of communing with and pleasing the greatest being imagineable and knowing he communes with them. There are also physical benefits if the Christian also adopts practices of temperance, sexual purity and care for their body as a temple of god. In general, people who are not living their life with god would be paying a price for their separation from god. There is the penalty of convincing themselves that this life is all there is and there is no afterlife, they must believe there is no objective purpose, they have lowered character quality, lowered self-esteem, lowered peace of mind, decreased joy and most importantly, the missed opportunities to commune with god. Sinners are slaves, slaves to their earthly passion and vices. They can not enjoy objective morality… they have no basis for morality other than personal opinion. Their “is” does not lead to an “ought.” People who have not accepted the new life offered by god through Jesus are still spiritually dead. In the story of creation, isn’t that the connotation of god telling Adam and Eve that in the day they “eat of the fruit” they will die? I was always told that included a spiritual death that can only be undone…spiritual life restored…when they choose to seek god’s forgiveness, conform their will to god’s and allow him into their lives? This spiritual death, then, is also a cost (consequence) of sin.

              Second, the suffering all humanity endures due to natural causes (diseases, deformity and natural disasters) is considered part of the cost (consequence) of sin entering the world. So in that regard as well it is a consequence for sin.

              Third, when a person humbles himself, putting aside personal pride, repenting of sins and yielding his will to god, which is made necessary because of sin…ie a consequence. Those changes in mind and spirit are a mentally painful and are a significant sacrifice (at first) until the person realizes how much they were missing out on (again, taking on the perspective of Christians who at first considered it difficult to admit their weakness and sins.) That awareness and admission can be emotionally and spiritually painful and is a consequence of sin.

              Finally, probably the greatest consequences of sin is god’s suffering due to sin. There are scriptures to suggest god suffers because of sin and it would stand to reason that he would. It would seem likely that god suffers as humans suffer…suffering which is a consequence of sin.

              An added consequence of sin might also be considered the suffering animals experience. I believe they do suffer, and it would stand to reason they suffer due to sin.

              It seems then that there are many and significant consequences of sin.

              I hear the question, “do these provide a solution?”

              Now, I shift back into my atheist mindset where I grant god omnipotence. These various consequences of sin ARE significant and could be the solution if god decided they were adequate. In fact, harking back to the story of Adam and Eve, god told them the consequence of sin…spiritual death and/or eventual physical death and a life of struggling. So that god apparently thought those were enough consequences…at least he mention other things like sacrificing sheep, sending floods and fire, and eventually having to send his son to die on the cross.

              In general, why must the solution to or consequence of sin involve some sort of painful physical punishment born by physical living beings? Besides your personal belief that Christ’s death was somehow necessary, why are the aforementioned consequences of sin not sufficient?

              Per Christianity, god gave his only begotten son and Christ gave his life. Since I believe he could have done it a different way, I believe the Christian God to be an accessory to murder. I know that’s not what I originally said, but I’ll happily rephrase my accusation. Keep in mind, I’m NOT really accusing a real god of anything. I’m accusing Christians of embracing a doctrine where their god is an accessory to murder.

            • Luke Breuer

              In general, why must the solution to or consequence of sin involve some sort of painful physical punishment born by physical living beings? Besides your personal belief that Christ’s death was somehow necessary, why are the aforementioned consequences of sin not sufficient?

              I’m a little confused, as “the aforementioned consequences of sin” seem to include “painful physical punishment born by physical living beings”—unless the difference is “punishment”, where you are differentiating between God explicitly punishing, vs. nature punishing us when we do stupid things? You also mentioned separation from God in the mental domain; it strikes me that this will inevitably manifest in the physical domain, just as we now know that too much mental stress often leads to physical sickness.

              Keep in mind that Jesus’ murder can be seen as a logical consequence of his threatening the power of the Pharisees and Sadducees. That is, Jesus says that God wants life and thriving for all, but this would require a democratization of power (Mt 20:20–28, Jn 13:1–20). No longer would the Pharisees and Sadducees be able to boss people around.

              Here, I think it would be beneficial to introduce a bit of how those in Jesus’ time viewed the concept of justice. To do so, I shall quote from Alasdair MacIntyre’s Whose Justice? Which Rationality?:

              For the use of the word ‘dikē‘, both by Homer and by those whom he portrayed, presupposed that the universe had a single fundamental order, an order structuring both nature and society, so that the distinction which we mark by contrasting the natural and the social as yet cannot be expressed. To be dikaios is to conduct one’s actions and affairs in accordance with this order. (14)

              This includes a social hierarchy, which includes stuff like Aristotle’s natural slavery. Justice was not seen as respecting the individual rights of others, but of maintaining right order in a society (see Nicholas Wolterstorff’s Justice: Rights and Wrongs). Now we can understand how easily the high priest Caiaphas could say:

              Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. So from that day on they made plans to put him to death. (Jn 11:45–53)

              Here, the complete innocence of Jesus is of paramount importance. On the one hand, Jesus’ death appeared to be required in order to maintain justice, to maintain dikē, to maintain the cosmic order. On the other hand, if the current conception of justice requires this, the current conception of justice is shown to be wrong. This is a tremendous result!

              What is at stake is nothing less than a fundamental change in the conception of justice, where the individual can no longer be squashed for the benefit of the society. The individual now matters. Before, everyone is a slave to the system, for the system rules over them. What Jesus did was to break the power of the system by showing its injustice. I am not sure there was any other way to do this. Jesus’ murder was a demonstration that the conception of right vs. wrong was flawed. Furthermore, Jesus showed that the way to expose and fix this kind of flaw is to willingly submit to it, while keeping yourself pure. For a modern-day example of this, see MLK’s bus protest instructions.

              I’m going to stop here and see what you think of the argument so far. Some of the thoughts I’ve expressed are fairly nascent, and may need a lot of help or just be wrong.

            • D Rizdek

              To the first question, I was talking about a separate physical punishment required by god over and above the many consequences (both physical and spiritual) of sin on earth.

              As to whether one of Jesus’ goals was to emphasize “the individual now matters…” Do you mean in the politics of this world or spirituality? It seemed always clear to me as a Christian that he preached salvation through believing in him because he was sent by the father. He preached love and caring. And in that regard, he preached salvation for the individual through their own thoughts and actions, not due to some action of the church or religious officials. Maybe that IS what you meant.

            • I think you’re wrong here, Luke. It was not murder in our modern sense of the term. I understand that we’re standing on different ground here because you accept the veracity of biblical versus like Mt. 27:24-26 and I do not, but I do believe (along with scholarship) that the author of Matthew is embellishing the story here (and pointing fingers at the Jews, much like you see in each later gospel). Jesus was executed for breaking the law–he was a rabble-rouser during a particularly potentially riotous time of the year. Pilate did his job.

              More importantly you didn’t answer the question as to why the Father planned for his son’s death to be so brutal. I suppose another why of framing the question is to ask whether Jesus could have died by any other way–such as by natural causes–and the Father would have accepted it as a soteriologically significant?

            • Good to hear from ya!

            • Luke Breuer

              I’m curious; what is your method for which texts to consider valid and which texts to consider invalid, such that you can say Jesus was a “rabble-rouser” and was justly executed (by the justice of Roman law)?

              As to why Jesus’ death had to be so brutal: it actually isn’t the most brutal of ways to die or suffer. There are ways to draw out torture for much longer time periods. I cannot tell you why Jesus’ recorded treatment is at the sweet spot. What I can say is that it is brutal enough for us to be without excuse about the brutality of man towards man. Jesus died at the hands of men. It was not ‘nature’ which killed him, but mankind. He was a scapegoat, after the pattern of The Day of Atonement. It was sin which murdered Jesus, not nature.