Thursday, 17 May 2012

Response to 'Why did Jesus have to die?: Answer 5'

Source: Argumentum

The Revd Canon Dr Chris Bracegirdle, Senior Chaplain to the Bishop of Manchester, tries very hard to squeeze some sort of Christian morality out of his response, but I am afraid - with me - it has fallen on sceptical eyes.
There are a number of views about the meaning of the death of Jesus - or - to put it another way, the meaning of the cross.  One view is that for centuries, the human race had been disobedient to God over and over again and, as a matter of justice, a price has to be paid for that disobedience (often referred to in the bible as sin) in order, as it were, to redress the balance.  Looking at things this way, God who is a God of justice looks at the world and sees that the only way to restore the balance is to sacrifice that which he treasures most - His Son - a sacrifice which is so great that it will "justify" the sins of the world for all time.  This is a development of the idea found in the Old Testament of the scapegoat where the Israelites would let loose a goat into the wilderness, symbolically "releasing" the sins of the people

Some people see this as an unsatisfactory view of God - suggesting it is almost vindictive and at odds with a God who loves.  So another view of the cross puts the emphasis on ransom.  In this view, Jesus  sees Himself as a ransom, offering Himself over to sacrifice in order that the price can be paid for the forgiveness of all who truly seek it - self offering rather than a demand for justice.  Yet another view focuses on a moral example - that Jesus offered Himself to impress on others the need to sacrifice something of oneself in order that the need for right action can be impressed on others.

Whichever theory you follow - and  it's almost certainly the case that no one theory can adequately explain all of this -  at the heart of what happened at the cross is atonement - where somehow, through the death of Jesus, God  has offered the opportunity to us to be "at-one" with Him.  It is a mystery but, for me, belief and trust in a God who is love and is who loves all of His creation beyond our wildest dreams allows me to accept the mystery even though I can't understand it.
There are, indeed, a number of ways an apologist can answer the question of why Jesus had to sacrifice himself for our salvation. None of them serve any useful or meaningful function when we consider what sacrifice and justice mean when considered in a contemporary time frame.

Consider this analogy. A school classroom is a microcosm of global events. The teacher (Jesus) attempts to civilise his flock (the students) and instruct them of the proper way to understand science (truth and knowledge). 

The students are a troublesome bunch; picking on each other and bandying insults and intolerance between themselves, despite the teacher's efforts to bring them to a higher understanding.

Eventually, the class gets fed up with the teacher's preaching and nail him to the blackboard (the Crucifix) where he dies calling out to the headmaster (God) who is nowhere to be seen.despite being more than aware of the predicament facing him.

Afterwards, those that committed the crime (sin) are blissfully unaware of the fact that - despite life at school going on as normal in the absence of the teacher - they are tried in absentia in a court they are not so much as privy to a defence. Notwithstanding this curious court, the headmaster has found them not guilty and has forgiven them for both culpable homicide and their previous offences that were taken into consideration. After all, it was he (He) that sent the teacher in there with a plan to have him sacrificed/murdered, so that the students could be forgiven for their crimes.

Three days later the teacher comes physically back to life again (although the students never know about this), thus rendering the judgement against them invalid. They are once again sinners, but not - it would appear - murderers.

Is this a useful and meaningful example of contemporary sacrifice? Surely if the teacher had not died for more than three days, he cannot be said to have died at all. Whither the sacrifice? Today, sacrifice is something one gives personally; not something that is passed on to the victim of a crime (or series of crimes). Even if one were to accept the burden of their crimes upon oneself, such an act is nothing but folly and a total misappropriation of the principle of justice.

That brings me to the second point. Is this a useful and meaningful example of justice? If the teacher was a 'sacrificial lamb' - either by choice or by divine command - the criminals go unpunished. What is this for justice? 

What we understand both sacrifice and justice to mean today, is to sacrifice your freedom in payment for your crimes. If someone were to take that sacrifice from you - or even offer to do so - then justice has not been served at all, and some random dude has copped it for an ungrateful and wholly oblivious set of habitual ne'er-do-wells who will continue in their rebelliousness without knowing that any line has been crossed.

The fact of the matter is that even should events have transpired much as they did in the New Testament, there was still no requirement in law or morality for Jesus to have been sacrificed or murdered. Looking back 2000 years, there were courts that would have dismissed both a confessed sacrifice or supplication of punishment on behalf of a guilty party even then. Even before that. Has it ever been a requirement of either a single human or humanity in its entirety  to do such a thing?


It could be argued that the teacher's murder/sacrifice actually promoted such behaviour, because no one learned the lesson that non-constructive actions have causal and appropriate reactions and punishments.

As a story, the Crucifixion is a horrific display of post-Bronze age barbarianism. As a historical event to be taken seriously, it is laughably inept. As a relevance to today, it is nothing short of a license to kill and should be treated with the contempt it clearly teaches us.


  1. I think the best part is that at the end he admits the entire concept is a load of crap and falls back on "mystery".

    "I don't know, I can't know, and I think that's *awesome* because, hey, it sure beats thinking."

    1. Yup. Thinking is something I find theists - not least the clergy - tend to overlook. It seems to me that they confuse brain-washing and intuition with critical thinking and analysis.


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