Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Rational Response- Vicarious Redemption

This month's "Rational Response" is a rejoinder to the morality claim of Christ supposedly dying for our sins (if there really is such a thing).

It is an oft heard appeal for us to obey God becuase he gave up his only begotten son, or because Jesus sacrificed so much for us.

But is this a moral teaching?

Is this really a good reason to bow down to a being (real or not)?

And finally does this story display God's (and therefor Jesus') good and loving nature?
These are only a few of the questions that we have to ask ourselves when thinking about this.

For me, I have always had a hard time listening to this story (even while I was a Christian) for a few reasons;

1. What did he actually "sacrifice"? He is an aspect of god, and as such the mythology tells us that he can't die. The only thing that "died" was his mortal skin that he adorned in order to appear human. Sure he was in pain, but was it a sacrifice? His suffering was over in a mere 3 days (not all that long in the grand scheme of an infinite life) and he rose to be the ruler of the universe. Sounds more like a hazing ritual for a promotion than a sacrifice.

2. Did he die for US? He died because the other part of himself (we won't get into that bit of irrational nonsense here) decided that he needed blood entertainment in order to forgive his creations. Not just any blood would sate his wrath, but the blood and torture of his son. There was no choice. He wasn't told that we would suffer unless he took our place, nor did he plead for us not to be tortured in such a way. He just went along with God's decision to kill him. He chose that method of forgiveness. He could have chosen
anything, but he chose torture and blood. So he was just participating in a play of his own writing. There was no outside agency that was going to harm us if he didn't act. It was his choice, so there really is no component of heroism here.

3. Is it a moral teaching? NO! It is exactly the opposite for many reasons. It espouses the idea of vicarious redemption and that is about as lazy and immoral an idea as they come. You are no longer called to be responsible for your own crimes, because someone else will pay for them in your stead. Where is the
concept of personal responsibility, the very ideal upon which morality is based?

4. Does this show God's mercy and goodness? This is the crux of the argument for me. As I said before, there is no outside agency coming to hurt those whom Jesus loves. So there is nothing requiring him to stand before us to save us from the pain of whatever punishment we have coming. There is only him, and he makes the rules. He decided that we were immoral, he decided that the only way that he wanted to forgive us was to torture and kill someone, and he decided that someone would be his son. That is like getting robbed, and then in order to forgive the thief, stabbing your own mother in the face saying "that feels better, I can forgive you for robbing me now. Want to come back to my place for beers?".

(Don't worry my mother is tough, she'll only spend 3 days in the hospital).

I can't imagine the robber extolling your moral fiber to his robber buddies. He wouldn't be saying "His mother got stabbed so that I could be forgiven, what a great gal!". He would be saying "What a crazy bastard! He did give me beers though, and never stabbed me even once, so I guess all's well that ends well.... But let's not cross this crazy guy again, OK?"

I find the teaching of vicarious redemption and the cross to be morally reprehensible and intellectually impossible. Can we actually pass on our own responsibility to others for our wrongdoings?  The very concept of moral absolution degrades our morality as it deprives us of the opportunity to discover ethical values, and relieves us of the intellectual and societal responsibility to do so.  Thomas Paine once said that we can take on another man's debt, or even his place in prison, but we can never take on their crimes as though they were our own. That is an impossible action that would rob him of individual culpability for his actions and his responsibility to others and thus rob him of his morality as well.

So do we really think that you can take on another person's crimes as though they were your own?

Would we even want to live in a society where you could?

1 comment:

  1. I find it so ironic, that you posted this today. I was just at a family wedding this past weekend. An outdoor wedding, where we sat in full sun, for no less than an hour and a quarter as we were forced to sing an endless stream of semi-monotonal repetetive spiritual choruses (we sang 8 and they all sounded exactly the same), listen to a half dozen scripture passages, and a 15-minute meditation delivered by the bride's own ordained mother (Never liked her btw. She's a right-wing, pro-life propaganda monger if I ever saw one). And oh yeah...the vows, which took up a full 5 minutes. Considering the the heat and the elderly in the crowd, I found the whole thing to be unblievably inconsiderate and single-minded. I came away with the worst burn I've had in years. ANyway...I digress. I did have a point! Somewhere.
    Oh yeah...during the scripture readings and the meditation there were endless references to God's infinite unselfish love, and at one point she mentioned, yet again, how incredibly selfless and altruistic it was of Jesus to die for our sins! As she said it I was drawn back to my youth when I, too, would find my rational self gagging on that little bit of spiritual "wisdom". Even as a child I thought..."But he KNEW he wasn't REALLY going to die. He was coming back. It was all part of the plan, wasn't it? Not really much of a sacrifice was it?" What a complainer. Kind of a disappointment as far as supreme beings go, don't you think?
    But I always kept quiet, because nobody else seemed to think that way. But now, it's good to see that I"m not the only sane one.
    ANyway...sorry for the rant. But that wedding is still fresh and I'm still a bit raw about it. It's been years since I've had to sit through that kind of stuff, and my inner rationalist was just screaming to get out. But the most rebelious thing I managed was to NOT participate in the "laying on of hands" for the happy couple.
    I kept waiting for all those old cronies that I hadn't seen for years to ask me what church I was attending now. But nobody did. Maybe they were afraid of the answer.