If the wages of sin is death, then who’s the paymaster?

wages of sinOne of the most contentious issues in Christianity is the nature of Christ’s atonement. Virtually everyone who self-identifies as a Christian believes that Jesus died to redeem humanity. It’s when the question, “exactly how does that work?” comes up that the consensus falls apart.

This topic has become a point of contention in recent years, as thinking people begin to question the stories they learned in Sunday school. Here’s a summary of what most Protestant churches teach about the reason for Jesus’ crucifixion:

God is conflicted in his feelings about humanity. He loves us, yet his just nature demands that he punish us for our finite number of sins by torturing us for an infinite amount of time.

To reconcile this internal conflict, he sent His Son to take the punishment for our sins by dying on the cross. God let his perfect Child get beaten and murdered for all the bad stuff the rest of us have done. Then he looked down from heaven and said, “well, that evens the score!”

When we believe that Jesus’ bloody, torturous death placated God’s yearning to torment us, then we receive forgiveness and eternal life. If, on the other hand, we reject this story (for whatever reason) then God tosses us into a giant pit of flame, where we will suffer forever.

A million years from now, those who believed this crazy yarn will be partying in heaven. On the other hand, the rest of us will be screaming in agony at the top of our lungs, for whatever we did wrong hundreds of thousands of years before.

Were you a glutton? It’s fire and brimstone for you, fatso. Did you lust after swimsuit models? Burn in Hell, you dirty perv. Did you stick with the religion of your ancestors after hearing the missionaries preach? Bad choice, chump; Buddha’s not gonna pull your sorry, Christ-rejecting ass out of those flames.

And if you dare to fall in love with someone who has genitals like yours – oohhh bboyyy, are you gonna get it, you dirty faggot!

Is it any surprise that intelligent people have trouble accepting this “good news?” The real mystery is why this nonsense has gone unchallenged for so long. Let’s look at just a few of the numerous plot holes in this horror story.

• How can a God obsessed with justice punish someone infinitely for a finite amount of evil?
• How does the fact that an innocent person got beaten and murdered for someone else’s crimes equal “justice?” Isn’t that just the opposite of justice? For example, let’s say I have two kids. One sets fire to an orphanage while the other is volunteering at a soup kitchen. So, to make things right, I beat the living crap out of the innocent one and declare the scales balanced. Does that sound like the action of a wise, loving father or the despicable crime of a lunatic?
• Why does God need someone to suffer and die in order to cut his children some slack? After all, each of us was born screwed up, according to traditional Christian teaching. We couldn’t have made the grade if we tried. Doesn’t that merit some leniency, since we had no choice but to blow it?

God forces us to be born as slaves to sin, then holds us accountable even though we had no say in the matter. But we get a free pass if we call Jesus’ crucifixion the ultimate act of love. That’s the “good news” proclaimed from millions of pulpits across the globe every Sunday.

If anything ever deserved to have BS called on it, then it’s this perversion of every good and decent moral principle ever affirmed by God or humanity. I’m going to explore this issue in depth in the coming weeks, including some alternative views of the meaning of Christ’s death. In this post I simply wanted to lay out the issue. As always, your comments are welcome.

PS Please forgive my angry tone. I normally try to be more gracious in my presentation, but I have my limits.

A very brief argument for Universalism

buddhaThe key to a strong argument for universalism lies in acknowledging that the Buddha was right about the illusion of a single, unchanging self that survives one instant to the next.

People ask me if Hitler will be in heaven. I ask, “which Hitler?” Long before Hitler was a mass murdering dictator, he was a terrified boy being savagely beaten by his father while trying to protect his beloved mother. That Hitler will be in heaven.

Why I am not a Christian

mother-teresa1It’s no secret that the worst people in history have always cloaked themselves in righteousness-sounding words. Hitler was, according to himself, a “savior of humanity.” Slave owners claimed they were “benevolent benefactors” to their human property. Then there was Robespierre, leader of the French Revolution, who stood for “human dignity and equality” even as he butchered innocent people by the thousands. I mention him because I’ve been watching History Channel documentaries all day.

I have only scratched the surface of human hypocrisy by citing these examples, but you get the idea. There’s something in human nature that fiercely rejects Jesus’ call to honest self-examination, even among those who call themselves his followers. Thus, raging homophobes are “defending family values,” gossips and backbiters are “expressing their godly concerns,” and wealthy exploiters are “fighting Socialism.”

In all fairness, those on the Religious Left are just as guilty of this sort of false piety. One example is a liberal pastor I know, who spreads hateful nonsense about Evangelicals in the name of “promoting tolerance.” It seems odd that so many people, all devoted to such high ideals, are so eager to destroy each other – for the glory of God and the betterment of humanity, of course.

It’s because of these people that the word “Christian” has such a negative connotation in modern American society. The secular world has watched for centuries as “Christians” have been on the wrong side of history time after time. Let’s look at the score card:
• Democracy vs. monarchy
• Slavery
• Women’s suffrage
• Minimum wage laws
• Environmental protections
• Universal healthcare
With each of these issues, many or most of those who call themselves Christians have fought for the oppressors, and against the common people whom Jesus loved so much.

There have been many exceptions to this rule, of course. MLK and the church-people who supported him are perhaps the best known examples. Nonetheless, in the past 40 years or so the word “Christian” has been hijacked by the Religious Right, so that it has come to mean something very ugly in the minds of millions.

That’s a shame, because the word has a beautiful meaning. It refers to a person who actively seeks to follow the example of Jesus, a man who took the side of the poor and oppressed, who preferred peace to war, and who never, ever said a single word about homosexuals one way or the other.

He did, however, have some rather unkind things to say about the wealthy, a class which most Americans, myself included, fall into, though we don’t always realize it.  Just ask an Ethiopian if we “middle-class” folks are actually rich.

Because of how the word has been perverted in recent decades, I will not say that I am a Christian.

But there’s another, more fundamental reason why I refuse to apply the term to myself: I simply don’t have that much gall. To say “I am a Christian” would be to put myself in the same league as people like Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Friedrich Bonhoeffer, Saint Francis, and others who lived up to the word’s true meaning.

I’m not like those people.  I don’t live up to the meaning of the word, at least not consistently enough to be worthy of it.

I go to church, I take communion, I read Scripture, I pray, I believe in God, and I confess my sins. But none of that makes me a Christian. Instead, it makes me someone who has checked into a spiritual clinic, in the hopes of getting better one day. That’s what the church is supposed to be, you know: a hospital for sick people who need to get better.

Maybe one day I will be healthy enough, spiritually and morally speaking, to call myself a Christian. In the meantime, I will keep taking my medicine and following my Doctor’s orders. After all, that’s what sick people are supposed to do.