The illogic of Atonement

January 20, 2011 | By | 130 Replies More

Over the years, many well-meaning Christians have tried to convince me to give Christianity “another chance.” All such people have walked away frustrated with me. I don’t reject religious beliefs because I’m stubborn (but it probably looks like it). Rather, I reject such stories because I insist on credible evidence, especially fantastic stories about ghosts. I also insist that stories should have internal consistency. I insist on a tight underlying logic before I’m willing to believe extraordinary claims.

What is illogical about Christianity? The following story is not meant to offend, but rather to illustrate some traditional Christian beliefs in an unfamiliar way. I offer it to all of those people who have tried to convert me over the years. Imagine that you heard the following Assimulated Press story on the radio. What would you think?

Today, we are reporting on a bizarre story. Until last month, an old man had been living with his numerous children in his sprawling mansion, which included a vast garden. Last month, he kicked all of his children out of his garden. Since then he has been threatening to slowly burn some of his children in a big pit in his basement—the ones at risk are those who have misbehaved or otherwise upset him.

One week ago, this unusual man committed suicide by nailing himself to a tree on a small hill in his backyard.

Since he died, some of his friends have written a book of 66 sub-books describing the old man in megalomaniac terms. Many passages of this book are vague and self-contradictory. For instance, in these letters, he is described as having insisted that he committed suicide to “save” his children from being burned by him.

Image by minutesalone at Flickr (creative commons)

. According to the stories, the old man was purportedly trying to save his children from himself.

Police contacted the children’s mother recently, and she claimed that the old man was the true father even though she had never actually had sex with him. Neighbors have been complaining that she often spoke of her husband as her “son.”

The most amazing thing, though, is that after this purported “sacrifice” of killing himself on the tree in the backyard, some of the 66 books indicate that his children are still at risk of being burned in the basement. Some people are questioning whether the suicide was necessary at all.

Nonetheless, the old man is currently being called a hero by many in his community for having “atoned” for the moral deficiencies of his children by committing suicide, so that he would burn fewer of them.

See also, the four other “Assimulated Press” stories at Dangerous IntersectionHere, here, here and here.

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Category: Religion

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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  1. Karl says:

    Mark,

    I only used the numbers you gave me for reference, they could have been 50 50 and I would have made similar observations and asked similar questions. Leaning in either direction reveals the bias we are approaching the topic from.

    I happen to think that other people's historical and religious ideology concerning faith in an afterlife of some sort plays a very significant part in one's attitudes towards God. If you had been the first person to have self consciousness you wouldn't have had any other experiences but your own current ones to go on.

    You have chosen to reject a good portion of the potential spiritual dimensions to the matter, as they are not capable of reliable "scientific" materialistic observations and measuring. This was also why it took multiple centuries for religious people to get their ideas and beliefs all crossed up on the matter.

    Someone grasped a portion of the reality about the afterlife and wrote about it from their perspective. Others have grasped other portions of the reality and have written about it from their perspectives as well.

    I can understand how you would want little or nothing to do with the varying perspectives concerning an after life that have been called "doctrinal" matters of interpretation.

    Christianity has varying mixed perspectives because there is probably some degree of truth to each of these different perspectives because people have no clear way of knowing what it will be like to have consciousness for eternity, that is "outside of time" as we know it.

    For me, I can fathom that it will pan out something like this when we stand face to face with our creator.

    God will have enough evidence concerning what we believed about God while we were alive, there will not be "time" to re-evaluate any new information that could be presented to us in eternity.

    God will know if we really desired to have our sins forgiven or not, by our attitude towards the shed blood of Jesus, or someother means of atonement that by faith could be somehow connected to the lifel, death and ressurection of Jesus.

    God will also look upon our works and use them as the critical weighted evidence for anyone who wishes to declare their rigteousness before God. Helping those in need is the same as helping God to show others that God loves them as well. Helping others must be done in the Name of God, or it is really meaningless as far as the spiritual world goes.

    Blowing other people up and/or cutting them down to size certainly is not helping others mature into loving human beings but trying to rid youself of their presence.

    If we as people have treated others like this, God will not be able to forgive us of our sins because we will not want them forgiven. If we can not forgive other people we will never be able to receive the type of forgivness God wants to give us.

    God's forgiveness will radically change who we are. When we stand before the judgement seat of Christ, we will all have only one option, to pass through the fire. Some will welcome it as a means to their purification because of their love for God. Others will see it as a means of torture and unending punishment.

    If there is anything left of our righteousness that was done with the right motivation and glory going to God our creator, then we will indeed pass through the fire and join eternity in God's presence apart from these flames.

    If there will be nothing left to our spiritual being because our beliefs, deeds, actions and motivations were all self-centered and sinful, they will be totally destroyed by the fires and we will not pass through the fire and it will not be an eternal life with God's presence, but rather a second death which some will cling to and wish to stay in rebellion to God and from which God grace and God'd grace alone may one day grant a release at the "time and place" of God's choosing.

    Not all beings will have the same fate and destiny as Satan and the demons that will-fully chose over and over again to rebel agianst God's authority and character.

    Helping others for the sake of showing others that people can love appropriately and thus bring glory to human kind apart from blessing their creator is like violating a trademark or copyright.

    This is why so many have decided to bash the idea of a creator God in the past 200 years. I'm glad people want to help one another, but just as I have stated earlier, it is all meaningless without a purpose linked to the significance of the meaning behind out existence.

    Being loved by another human being helps most of us sense the basics of the true meaning in our lives which comes from a knowledge that we can also return love to our creator and also to other people that we raise to the level of significant by our love for them.

    Those who point the fingers of accusation against others (like Satan does) reveal that it is they that need help to learn how to love as God Loves.

    Thus atonement need not be as illogical and confusing as people have made it out to be.

  2. Thinking Man writes:—"Mark, I don’t necessarily believe that there is some universal, cosmic end-game that humans are the main factor in. But the very fact that humanity exists with the capacity to reason out the universe is hardly meaningless. We absolutely make our own purpose, and perhaps that is the true meaning of the existence of life, the “purpose” of the universe. But where human’s capacity to deduce and understand fundamental tenets of human values and universal truths conjoin, then that is where the (metaphysical, metaphorical, symbolic) “God” exists…?"

    Well….yeah.

    But it seems to me that this is the point where the blind men doing the examination of the critter beneath their hands come to the conclusion that the critter was not "made" by god, but IS god…which is sort of not what most religionists (at least in my experience) would be in any wise comfortable with. They would always attempt to separate god out from the thing under examination and make a special case for it, never, ever allowing the possibility that what they've been talking against—the tremendous, complex web of reality in all its workings—is the thing they keep trying to keep separate.

    Many believers, it seems to me, put god in a box—labeled 'supernatural' or some such—and are only content to see the concept discussed always as something outside of reality. If there is a deeply profound meaning to the whole Jesus concept, it is perhaps an attempt to point out that god and everything else are really just the same thing after all and the worship of god up to that point, no matter that there is no physical representation involved, was idolatry.

    Which is continued to this day.

    I don't buy the supernatural on any level. There is, to my mind, no "other dimension" wherein a deity sits watching the clockwork of creation and judging. But I can see a concept of god that wraps him/her up in that clockwork and makes it all one and same thing.

    The problem for religionists with that, of course, is that it leaves us all with just ourselves to manage it all. Good and evil is our thing, not some cosmic fall out from a state of grace, but just people being people, and as much a part of the divine as anything else.

    I think there is a thin membrane of conceptualization separating you and I. I could be wrong about that, but I'm willing to concede the possibility.

  3. Karl says:

    Ben,

    If a numerical confidence level is required to form a belief concerning anything of a spiritual nature you certainly will not get a response from me, because no such calculation can be determined from the functioning of typical concrete mathematics.

    However, I do not think wagering about the unknown makes very much sense either. I do know what I value and prefer in the present "real" world and I simply associate these same values and preferences over into the realm of the spirit and specifically in favor of a creator and a redeemer for sin.

    Call it an unusual degree of faith in an unknown if you like, but I see it from a different vantage point.

    Seeking to live a life in accord with the love of God as shown through Jesus is the only vantage point for faith that I have found worth living for and also worth dying for. If there were no other meaning to living, the love of God as revealed through Jesus is the only certainty that will always hold meaning to me.

    Even if there were nothing more than the mental and emotional constructs of human experience behind the realm of the spirit then I have caused no harm in believing such as long as I show care and concern for other people, which is what following Jesus Christ means to me.

    However, if I take my beliefs about the certainty that "God" and the "spirit" do exist and berate others that don't believe the same, I have not shown care for other people by what I hold to be true about something that to me is a matter of faith.

    Atypical studies based upon notions, intuition and other types of values do not yield calculations in numerical form, until one has accepted the definitions of terms and variables.

    You need to move over to non-linear systems and non standard analysis to enable the field of mathematics to give you a sense of the non-material world.

    BTW, uncertainties are a reality of the natural sciences which uses human tools to observe the tiniest to the largest of phenomena in real time.

    The biggest uncertainty with matters of the spirit are simply that the human tools for study themselves are suspect to those who only measure stuff they call "material science."

  4. Ben says:

    I only used the numbers you gave me for reference, they could have been 50 50 and I would have made similar observations and asked similar questions. Leaning in either direction reveals the bias we are approaching the topic from.

    I happen to think that other people’s historical and religious ideology concerning faith in an afterlife of some sort plays a very significant part in one’s attitudes towards Allah. If you had been the first person to have self consciousness you wouldn’t have had any other experiences but your own current ones to go on.

    You have chosen to reject a good portion of the potential spiritual dimensions to the matter, as they are not capable of reliable “scientific” materialistic observations and measuring. This was also why it took multiple centuries for religious people to get their ideas and beliefs all crossed up on the matter.

    Someone grasped a portion of the reality about the afterlife and wrote about it from their perspective. Others have grasped other portions of the reality and have written about it from their perspectives as well.

    I can understand how you would want little or nothing to do with the varying perspectives concerning an after life that have been called “doctrinal” matters of interpretation.

    Islam has varying mixed perspectives because there is probably some degree of truth to each of these different perspectives because people have no clear way of knowing what it will be like to have consciousness for eternity, that is “outside of time” as we know it.

    For me, I can fathom that it will pan out something like this when we stand face to face with our creator.

    Allah will have enough evidence concerning what we believed about Allah while we were alive, there will not be “time” to re-evaluate any new information that could be presented to us in eternity.

    Allah will know if we really desired to have our sins forgiven or not, by our attitude towards the shed blood of Muhammad, or some other means of atonement that by faith could be somehow connected to the life, death and resurrection of Mohammad.

    Allah will also look upon our works and use them as the critical weighted evidence for anyone who wishes to declare their righteousness before Allah. Helping those in need is the same as helping Allah to show others that God loves them as well. Helping others must be done in the Name of Allah, or it is really meaningless as far as the spiritual world goes.

    Blowing other people up and/or cutting them down to size certainly is not helping others mature into loving human beings but trying to rid yourself of their presence.

    If we as people have treated others like this, Allah will not be able to forgive us of our sins because we will not want them forgiven. If we can not forgive other people we will never be able to receive the type of forgiveness Allah wants to give us.

    Allah’s forgiveness will radically change who we are. When we stand before the judgment seat of Allah, we will all have only one option, to pass through the fire. Some will welcome it as a means to their purification because of their love for Allah. Others will see it as a means of torture and unending punishment.

    If there is anything left of our righteousness that was done with the right motivation and glory going to Allah our creator, then we will indeed pass through the fire and join eternity in Allah’s presence apart from these flames.

    If there will be nothing left to our spiritual being because our beliefs, deeds, actions and motivations were all self-centered and sinful, they will be totally destroyed by the fires and we will not pass through the fire and it will not be an eternal life with Allah’s presence, but rather a second death which some will cling to and wish to stay in rebellion to God and from which God grace and Allah’s grace alone may one day grant a release at the “time and place” of Allah’s choosing.

    Not all beings will have the same fate and destiny as Karl and the demons that will-fully chose over and over again to rebel against Allah’s authority and character.

    Helping others for the sake of showing others that people can love appropriately and thus bring glory to human kind apart from blessing their creator is like violating a trademark or copyright.

    This is why so many have decided to bash the idea of a creator Allah in the past 200 years. I’m glad people want to help one another, but just as I have stated earlier, it is all meaningless without a purpose linked to the significance of the meaning behind out existence.

    Being loved by another human being helps most of us sense the basics of the true meaning in our lives which comes from a knowledge that we can also return love to our creator and also to other people that we raise to the level of significant by our love for them.

    Those who point the fingers of accusation against others (like Karl) reveal that it is they that need help to learn how to love as Allah Loves.

    Thus atonement need not be as illogical and confusing as people have made it out to be.

    -Ben

  5. Ben says:

    "If a numerical confidence level is required to form a belief concerning anything of a spiritual nature you certainly will not get a response from me, because no such calculation can be determined from the functioning of typical concrete mathematics."

    Why all the polemics?

    How about just give me your best guess and I will concede defeat? (Just pretend that you are making a wager at a hypothetical casino.)

    For example: "I am 25 percent certain that God exists".

    For example: "I am 80 percent sure that God exists".

    Or "I am 95 percent sure that God exists".

    Or "I am 99 percent sure that God exists".

    Or "I am nearly 100 percent certain of God's existence".

    Anyway, thanks for responding, it has been fun.

  6. Ben says:

    "If you value freedom, you should flee from religion as the antelope flees the lion. Religion is the very antithesis of freedom, insisting on our complete subjugation to the unachievable demands of an invisible but supremely powerful overlord. Think of Islam, whose very name means 'submission'! Think of Christianity, which claims it is disobedience that brought original sin into the world, with all that entails in terms of suffering and injustice and even earthquakes and tsunamis. Imagine! To claim that human obedience is so imperative that the purposes of an omnipotent deity and the very fabric of the planet, if not the whole universe, depend upon it and can be catastrophically disrupted at the first whiff of rebellion – and then to claim that such a religion is the source of human freedom!

    The Abrahamic god even enthusiastically endorses the vilest of all negations of freedom: slavery. In Leviticus 25, there is a direct quote from this supposedly perfect deity, specifically permitting the Israelites to take and keep slaves, the only proviso being that they must be from the neighboring tribes and not from their own people. Straight from the horse's mouth, as it were, and hardly a shining example of freedom as a religious ideal.

    Religion delights in petty rules and the exercise of power over its followers. What theistic religion does not attempt to curtail believers' freedom with nonsensical decrees about foods that may or may not be eaten, fibers that may or may not be worn, days on which they may or may not work, coverings that must or must not be worn on their heads, books that must or must not be read, images that may or may not be created, words that may or may not be spoken, ideas they may or may not explore, actions they may or may not perform, rituals – whether physical or symbolic – they must perform in order to cleanse themselves of impurities of religion's own invention?

    There is no aspect of our lives, no matter how intimate, which religion does not unblushingly insist on its right to control. Whom we may love, whom we may desire, with whom we may physically express those feelings: in such restrictions on our freedom religion is at its most insistent and intrusive. But it does not stop even here, for religion does not limit its control to our deeds or even words: no, the invisible Thought Police of religion do not scruple to pursue us even into the innermost recesses of our minds and there to stand ready to condemn us for our very thoughts. Not even the most heinous ruler or most brutal slave-owner ever achieved such extremes of tyranny; yet religion grants us no privacy, nowhere to hide, no freedom to entertain even a fleeting thought without its being immediately known to – and judged by – a cosmic dictator. Religion is the ultimate slavery: it is the slavery of the mind, slavery to the fear of divine judgment and damnation. The devilish irony consists in the fact that 'divine judgment' and 'damnation' are themselves the inventions of religion: religion creates and exquisitely perfects the fear, then cynically declares itself the sole and indispensable liberator from it.

    And yet we are invited to credit religion as the source of true freedom? It is a laughable claim, a disgraceful claim, a claim that makes a mockery of language as well as of truth and of human dignity. As such it is on a par with other religious claims, such as those that define perfect forgiveness as something dependent on the barbaric sacrifice-by-crucifixion of an innocent man, perfect justice as consisting in the innocent being tortured to death so the guilty can be let off scot-free, and perfect love as something that would damn us to hell for all eternity if we refuse to accept such grotesque monstrosities as evidence of a perfect and loving god.

    True freedom requires us to liberate ourselves from the tyranny of religion as well as from the tyranny of brutal earthly regimes. True freedom involves the freedom to think, to explore, to grow; the freedom to pursue knowledge and learning, wherever they lead; the freedom to be different, not to conform; freedom from bigotry; freedom from ignorance; freedom to love and to express that love as we choose; freedom to be ourselves, to accept ourselves, warts and all, and to accept others on the same terms; freedom to choose our own meaning and purpose in life, and to make our own decisions on the basis of those free choices; freedom to make mistakes; freedom to change our mind; freedom from fear, especially from phony fears invented by those whose only aim is to control us in word, thought and deed.

    Religion claims to set its followers free, while all the time holding them in thrall and insisting they kiss the hand of their jailer. There can be no true freedom so long as religion still keeps the human mind in shackles."

    http://onfaith.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/panelis

  7. Karl says:

    Ben,

    I agree that when a religion is solely based upon laws and do's and don'ts, it is part of the curse of being human. This is why even I do not find any degree of hope for any religion where the sole method of following is a perscription of do as I "say" not as I do.

    Whenever someone pits their "rule" book against someone else's they all lose out because they are approaching the matter from an external point of reference.

    Religion that is undefiled cares for the homeless, the widows, the orphans and other "outcasts" that desire being cared for.

    Those that don't want help would consider themselves under an obligation to another person and thus the entire idea of slavery rears its disgusting specter.

    Do we put people in prison to punish them, reform them or to just keep them from doing further harm? I would hope that "prisons" would be places where people could see the love of God modelled before their eyes, as opposed to being simply a "hell" house where people see nothing but the more evil further corrupting the less evil.

    However true faith in God also enables the homeless, the widows, the orphans and especialy the other "outcasts" to also connect to God through a personal relationship of their own.

    These kinds of relationships have their root in a proper relationship with both God and your fellow humans.

    You can call this a one hundred percent confidence level if you wish, but for me it is simply a choice I would make even if someone was to come to me with a law that specified using their "rule" book that legislatively relied upon lack of physical evidence as proof for the non-existence of God.

  8. TheThinkingMan says:

    Ben,

    Nice mockery of Karl's comment.

    One tiny detail though, Mohammed never shed his blood to save man.

    Just to clarify 😉

    Your point is made though, even if in jest.

    Mark,

    I agree. I think there is a thin line separating our ideals. But I am intrigued that you say no supernatural entity exists outside of this universe and would submit to concede instead that perhaps God is a part of the universe, intricately wrapped in its inner workings…which is where I think really God resides (or at least the manifestation of God's presence).

    If good and evil really are "our thing" and we control our fates then it would indeed still apply as a cosmic "fall from grace." Meaning: we have a perfect state of good that all humans seek to attain. We do evil as a direct opposition to that good in us. It is not necessarily "supernatural" but very much a natural condition of life as a human.

    Do not think in linear time and concrete space…

  9. TheThinkingMan says:

    Nor did he die and rise again.

    Jussayin'

    It's been fun.

  10. Erich Vieth says:

    Jesus Christ discusses the illogic of atonement with Mr. Spock of Star Trek:

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