Behold the Lamb of God

Following up on my last post, I’d like to take a look at the core of Christian morality from a slightly different perspective. As I said before, the heart of the Gospel and the Old Testament sacrificial system is the idea of negotiable guilt—the concept of guilt as something independent of the facts about whodunnit, something negotiable (in the transactional sense) that can be transferred from one person to another. It’s a perverse and corrupt basis for a moral system because it ends up justifying the practice of punishing the innocent so that the wicked can escape justice.

But wait. Didn’t Jesus voluntarily lay down his life, in a heroic self-sacrifice to save the souls of sinners? Didn’t he freely give all to save all, and doesn’t the moral virtue of that humble service outweigh the moral liabilities of the negotiable guilt system?

Well, no, though I can understand the powerful emotional appeal that makes people think the answer ought to be “yes.” We admire the drama, the heroics, the self-sacrifice (and of course the ultimate vindication and happy ending when, the story says, Jesus triumphed over death). But having warm feelings about an idea is not the same as “examining everything carefully” so that we can “hold fast to what is good.” So let’s consider this aspect of the Christian moral system.

First of all, let’s notice that even if Jesus did voluntarily lay down his life for the benefit of the wicked, we’re still making the assumption that the suffering of the innocent does indeed have some kind of magic mojo to make the sinner’s guilt disappear. In other words, we’re still basing our moral values on the kind of bizarre voodoo in which the suffering of the innocent creates some kind of force or power that can be applied to the benefit of the wicked.

This is a rather nasty, black-magic sort of concept, but it’s absolutely essential to make the Gospel work. If the sufferings of the innocent are merely an injustice or an evil turn of events, with no magical benefits for the wicked, then when Jesus goads the Sanhedrin into a lethal fury, all he’s really accomplishing is a rather exotic and elaborate form of suicide.

Technically, of course, suicide is itself a sin, so had Jesus deliberately and intentionally created the circumstances of his own death, he would be sinning, and thus would lose the innocence that is supposed to make the mojo happen. The Gospels, however, portray Jesus as submitting—reluctantly—to the will of the Father. “Not my will but Thine be done” means it was not Jesus’ will to die, but someone else put him in a situation where he could not refuse. As Hebrews tells us, he “learned obedience” through what he suffered. His Dad made him do it.

This kind of coerced submission puts Jesus into rather a grey area, under any moral system. Did he really seek his own death, or was he just obeying with a gun, as it were, pointed at his head? It’s an interesting question, but it’s a moot point. The benefit his death supposedly creates for sinners is not drawn in any sense from his willingness to die, but merely from the fact that he suffered and shed his blood, as the New Testament emphasizes over and over again. For example, in Hebrews 9 we read:

In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. It was necessary, then, for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. Then Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.

Notice, it’s the blood—the emblem of the suffering and death of the innocent victim—that produces the magical benefits for the wicked. Much as we might admire Jesus for being willing to go to his death for the benefit of sinners, the whole premise of such a “benefit” is that guilt can be transferred from the wicked to the innocent, such that the subsequent abuse of the innocent somehow rewards the wicked. Voluntary or not, what Jesus was pursuing was not noble. Though our feelings may say otherwise after the relentless indoctrination of countless hymns and sermons, there’s a nasty bit of blood magic at the core of the Cross.

I’m not saying, of course, that mercy is immoral, or that it’s never right to forgive sin. If you’re going to forgive sin, though, then just forgive it. Making innocent people suffer for things they never did is injustice, not forgiveness. If it’s your intention for the truly guilty to escape the consequences of their offenses, then just don’t punish anyone at all, duh! That would be a moral form of forgiveness.

Notice that the “negotiable guilt” system of morality actually makes mercy impossible. Under the classical Christian system of transactional morals, it’s not that sin was ever forgiven, or ever could be forgiven. Over and over the New Testament writers inform us that all sin was punished. The punishment was diverted onto Jesus instead of onto those who were actually guilty, but the full punishment was meted out. No sin was ever actually forgiven. Our “merciful” heavenly Father has never actually shown any real mercy. Under the Christian moral system, He can’t.

You see what I mean when I say the Christian moral system is hopelessly corrupt. Christians sing God’s praises for His alleged grace and mercy, yet the Gospel itself is founded on the premise that God never has and never could show any real mercy. A truly forgiven sin is a sin for which no punishment is ever meted out, which means no innocent sacrificial victim is needed to endure the suffering and death that the punishment requires. If God is capable of that kind of forgiveness, then the whole Gospel falls apart.

Unfortunately, that leaves us with a moral system in which God cannot ever actually forgive sin. He must necessarily pour out retribution on someone, even if (or rather, especially if) they never actually committed the sin He’s punishing. That’s what it means to be “forgiven” in the New Testament. But a system in which you say, “I forgive you,” and then dish out the punishment anyway, is a very perverse and immoral system!

Imagine for a moment if real people actually practiced such a system. Let’s say we show up at a party, and the host greets us at the door, holding a small, cute, adorable puppy. “Oh how cute,” we say, “you’ve adopted a new pet?”

“Oh no,” says the host, “I’m just borrowing this puppy so that if any guest says or does anything that offends me, I can just torture this puppy until I’m satisfied that the guest is forgiven.”

Superior moral system or batshit crazy?

It’s the same principle of negotiable guilt that the Judeo-Christian sacrificial system is built on, and it’s no more moral or admirable there than it is at the party of our puppy-punishing host. That Jesus would volunteer to perpetuate such a system is hardly a demonstration of virtue, and is evidence of a seriously flawed sense of moral judgment.

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Posted in Atheistic Morality, Society, Unapologetics. 4 Comments »

4 Responses to “Behold the Lamb of God”

  1. Bacopa Says:

    Sin is sometimes equated with debt. Suppose I lend someone money. He can’t pay me back and gets his family to bail him out. Do I care? No, I got my money plus interest.

    But sin is not like money. If someone has wronged me and wishes to make amends, that person must suffer for my benefit.

  2. Hunt Says:

    Hitchens calls this aspect of Christianity “vicarious redemption,” that one’s sins can be passively transferred to the sacrifice of Jesus and thereby nullified. He came to a similar conclusion about its moral value. No worthy moral system can make “sin” (e.g. rape, murder) just go away. We can forgive someone, we can pay their debt, but we can’t take away a person’s responsibility for their own action. I think the rather intense devotion to this kind of “balance sheet” Biblical morality probably originates in very ancient times, when civil and minor moral wrongs were often offset by transactional payment. (We know how the major moral wrongs were dealt with.) The OT is filled with various right/wrong repayment schemes, all probably intended to maintain a kind of primitive harmony. The same system was carried into religious realm with the kind of accounting scheme laid out in the NT regarding sin and forgiveness. It’s all pretty messy. Maybe they would have done better with Excel 🙂

  3. ThatOtherGuy Says:

    “If someone has wronged me and wishes to make amends, that person must suffer for my benefit.”

    Only if you’re feeling vindictive. And if you’re not an all-forgiving infinitely merciful deity. In which case one would THINK you could just say “hell no, don’t worry muthaf*cka, we coo’.”

  4. Bacopa Says:

    I know what I said is a bit vindictive. Of course I can (and often do) choose to forgive. But even in these cases I want the person who wronged me to acknowledge to me their responsibility for the harm done. That’s the minimum price for forgiveness.