Don’t Crucify Me, Bro! part 2
Part Two, How Does Crucifixion Save Anyone?
How, exactly does the death of Christ “pay for our sins”? The answer is not quite as easy as midi-chlorians in the blood, but it may be just as disappointing. Theologians hungry to defend their beliefs have come up with a few mechanisms to attempt explain exactly how the crucifixion of Jesus works as a vehicle for redemption. Problematically, many of them are no more theologically advanced than the means of death itself:
- Blood atonement – The idea that “spilled blood” can wipe away sins. This concept is not new to Christianity, the sacrifice of animals and humans was common place in ancient Mediterranean religions. To hold this belief, one would have to accept that blood itself either holds “sin” or some kind of cleansing agent. In the religion of Mithras, a faith that ran concurrent with early Christianity, a convert would receive a literal baptism of blood by having a bull’s throat cut above them, allowing the blood to pour over their body.
- Penal substitution – Christ has paid for your sins so you don’t have to. If this were true, God would be nothing more than a debt collector, with no care as to who paid the bill. This view is not reconcilable with justice simply because the guilty party does not pay the price for their own crimes; nor does it show forgiveness, since an innocent man does. In variations of this belief, this price is paid to Satan rather than to God. But, a universe in which God must pay Satan to get all of humanity out of hock is definitely not Christianity as any modern church sees it.
- Satisfaction – When asking for “satisfaction” we are more inclined to think of pistols at twenty paces than we are an almighty being. In feudal societies, though, the practice of hanging exaggerated penalties onto the smallest of crimes was common to keep the rest of the peasants in line. Once the hoi polloi see their buddy hung by the thumbs for stealing scraps of bread from the royal kitchen’s dust bin, all thoughts of infringing on the king’s belonging’s is off the table. This view would, of course, turn God into a stone cold tyrant with no more appeal than Joseph Stalin.
- Trans-formative experience – This concept is new in the world of theology. Paul Tillich favored it, and it certainly seems less barbaric, though it certainly does strain vague explanations. Christ’s death is a demonstration of God’s love for us, though I have always felt that a hug, rather than a whipping, is a much better act of love.
Keep in mind, that all of these explanation require an archaic belief that “sin” is an actual state of being that can be acquired and, in some instances, passed down through family lines.
“I Jehovah thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, upon the third and upon the fourth generation of them that hate me” (Exodus 20:5)
Sin is a word we have all had so severely beaten into us that, even if we choose to abandon it, we find ourselves looking for a secular substitution, and there simply is not one. Every act harmful to other human beings is not a sin, and every sin is not a harmful act. What did the ancients believe sin to be? Well, the treatment of the handicapped in the Bible certainly shows that an uninformed pre-scientific view of the world led to many misunderstandings about the nature of physical differences.
“Whosoever … hath any blemish, let him not approach to offer the bread of his God. For whatsoever man he be that hath a blemish, he shall not approach” (Leviticus 21:17-18)
Are we to adopt such discriminatory practices simply because they are mentioned in ancient Hebrew literature? No.