In one on my early posts, James’ Journey – Part 1 – Transition from Christianity to Atheism, I discussed how, as a Christian at the time, I had serious trouble with the whole ‘salvation’ concept, finding it bizarre, weird and highly implausible:
I began to have serious trouble seeing the logic behind ’salvation’. I mean, according to the bible, here we have an omniscient God who knew everything that would happen even before he created the first electron of this universe. He created angelic beings, of which he KNEW some would disobey him EVEN BEFORE he created them, and that one of them would be Lucifer who would eventually be the catalyst of Man’s ‘fall’. Then he created man and woman whom HE KNEW would disobey him before he created them because Lucifer would tempt them – which he also KNEW would happen…
In other words, God knew from the start, that there would be a fall. In his omniscience he knew how everything would play out, but then he let it play out anyway. So as predicted, Man ‘falls’, and all his descendants, we are being asked to believe, are ‘living in sin’, requiring God to sacrifice himself to himself in order to appease himself and pay the ‘price’ to himself for Man’s sin?
As if this isn’t bizarre enough – those who fail to accept this hard-to-believe story as true and take Jesus as personal saviour then get sent to hell (no matter how good they were) to be tormented for eternity?
No, it made no sense.
Indeed, it made no sense. It makes no sense.
Well, this being THE season, others have chosen to also express their bafflement at this most bizarre story, which happens to be believed by millions of Christians around the world. One such person expressing his bafflement is one of my favourite bloggers, PZ Myers:
You all know the Easter story: a god turns into a man, gets tortured and killed, rises from the dead, and somehow this act makes us all better. It’s a tale best left unexamined, because it makes no sense. We are supposed to wallow in an emotional thrill that taps deep into our social consciousness, not think about what the story actually says.
The part of the story that works for us is the idea of self-sacrifice. That’s potent; we are social animals, and an individual sacrificing him or her self for the greater good has a lot of impact, materially and symbolically, and also stirs up powerful and conflicting emotions. Think about a real example, a soldier throwing himself on a hand grenade to protect his compatriots; it’s a noble sacrifice, it means that one dies so that others may live, it makes us wonder whether we would be brave enough (or crazy enough, or despairing enough) to do the same. We look at someone who does that as a genuine hero, someone who cared so much for his fellow human beings that he would make the supreme sacrifice to spare them.
So that’s the aspect of the Easter story that the Christian faith milks for everything it’s worth. The suffering of Jesus is amplified: look at the weird obsession Catholics show for graphic portrayals of the bloody, twisted, tormented Christ on a stick; look at Gibson’s horrible torture porn movie, The Passion, that lingers sickly over every lash of the whip, every beating, the long slow bleeding death. This isn’t just a quick self-sacrifice, Jesus suffered a long lingering death, just for you. He must have cared about you so much!
Uh, except for one thing. Where’s the grenade? What is he saving us from?
This is where the myth falls apart. Don’t look! Be distracted by the crown of thorns and the spear and the nails, and by the magic trick on the third day! Whatever you do, don’t question the sacrifice!
Because, unfortunately, Jesus isn’t saving us from anything real, and he made no change in the world with his death. Ask a Christian, and they’ll tell us he’s saving us from Original Sin, our flawed, weak, inherently wicked natures. But what that sin is is an act committed by a pair of mythological ancestors (they didn’t even actually exist), and the sin was being willful, curious and disobedient to an imaginary man in the sky — it was a non-existent crime. I don’t believe in being held accountable for my ancestor’s weaknesses (as Patti Smith sang, "Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine"), and in this case I don’t even consider what they did to be wrong. So Jesus suffered for an act that I would consider a virtue, committed by myths against a myth? That’s no hand grenade, that’s a fairy tale. Nobody needs to die to protect me from a fairy tale.
Another problem: Jesus cheats. We’re supposed to believe that he’s saving us from an imaginary ancestral sin, and that he’s doing so by dying…but he doesn’t! He comes back three days (OK, actually a day and a half) later, perfectly healthy except for a few holes which don’t seem to perturb him much, and he gets to magically zoom up into the sky and live forever in his dad’s palace. This is no sacrifice at all.
Now, if our hypothetical soldier who threw himself on a grenade turned out to survive the experience hale and healthy because, for instance, the bomb was dud, he’d still be a hero — he didn’t know it would fizzle, and the intent was there. This doesn’t help Jesus, though. He’s omnipotent and omniscient and knew his own nature, and knew that you don’t kill a god by hanging him from a tree and poking him with sticks. Jesus faked his heroism. He’s no hero at all.
The rest of this wonderful rant can be found on his blog.
Christian theology all just seems like one sick game. Thankfully, some of us out-grew it.
It is quite possible that a controversial apocalyptic prophet named Yeshua existed, and roamed across Palestine two thousand years ago. It is also possible that the Romans considered him an insurrectionist and had him put to death by crucifixion. There is nothing particularly extraordinary about this, for at that time crucifixion was a common form of execution practiced by Romans. It is also true that the Jews were waiting for someone who would deliver them from the yoke of Roman rule, and there had been many such candidates for the role of Messiah prior to the arrival of Yeshua on the scene, and many more since in the decades and centuries that have followed. It would therefore not be surprising for Yeshua to have had a horde of followers who believed him to be a ‘messiah’ even though he wasn’t. All of this is very plausible.
It is another thing, however, to claim that such an individual was divine, or the son of a ‘god’. That part, I don’t believe at all. That’s what it is pointless about celebrating Easter. Not only is the whole concept of ‘salvation’ bizarre and meaningless, but there’s no good reason to believe that the person in question (if he existed) was what Christians claim he was.
Well, at least we got 3 days off. Can’t complain about that, can we?