CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

Lee Randolph has posted a catalog of uniformly silly, vulgar and inconsistent stock objections to Christianity. Normally I wouldn't give it a second thought, but since this Sunday is Easter I was struck by the tone of some of the accusations he makes, because he provides an unwitting illustration of the kind of thinking and behavior that Christ came to save us from. So I'd like to take a look at some of his objections, those having to do with Christology, and use them as a springboard to make some more general observations about the meaning of Easter. This will be a two-part series.

First, notice the title of the post: The Horror of Easter. I think he meant to say the horror of the crucifixion and Christian adoration of the cross as a symbol of salvation, because I don't see how anyone in their right mind could see something horrific about an event that foretells the eventual transformation of the entire universe into a paradise without evil or suffering. Assuming he is referring to the horror of the crucifixion, the first thing to say is that he's right to emphasize the ugliness and horror of the cross. A man nailed naked, beaten and bleeding to a wooden post is a gruesome sight, right out of the worst torture porn flick you can imagine. And Lee Randolph would be in good company among the ancients. As the Apostle Paul reminds us, the message of the cross was "a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles." (1 Cor 1:23) Cicero described crucifixion as "the cruelest and most disgusting penalty," one which Roman citizens did not even like to think about (Against Verres 2.5.165). Josephus called it "the most pitiable of all deaths." (Jewish War 7.203)

And yet hundreds of millions of Christians now gaze in awe at the 'wondrous' and 'beautiful' cross. They cling to it, wear it in miniature proudly around their necks and gesture with it in affirmation of their faith. Certainly to the non-believer this must seem perverse: how can an instrument of torture have been transformed into a thing of beauty? What would we think if a group of people went around wearing miniature guillotines around their necks or adorned the walls of their homes with pincers, racks and other torture machines?

To understand why the cross is a thing of beauty we have to understand what was accomplished for us on that cross, and what that reveals about the real state of affairs in this world. Because to see the world with cruciform eyes is to have all one's standards of beauty and justice radically altered. What the cross shows us (at least, those of us with eyes to see) is that when the world thought it had judged and condemned Jesus, an innocent victim, it was really the world that was put on trial. When the demonic powers of this world thought they had made a spectacle and mockery of Jesus, it was really the powers themselves that had been defrocked and made a spectacle of. And when the Jews and Romans looked up and thought they saw an ugly, repulsive cross, what really happened is that the world of power and tyranny had been shown to be ugly, while the beauty of God's way of love, humility and truth shone bright and clear (see here for some further reflections along these lines).

But what exactly did Jesus do for us, and why did he have to do it? Lee gives his own asinine summary of what he takes the reason for Jesus' death to have been:

"The principle that all of us have done things so egregious as to warrant the death penalty is itself egregious. Name one thing that you have done that you should be put to death for."

First of all, I don't think the 'death penalty' is the best metaphor for the consequences of sin, even though they do refer to death in some sense. Clearly when Paul says that "the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23) he is not referring to mere biological death. Jesus himself had warned his disciples not to fear "those who kill the body, but cannot kill the soul. Rather, fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell." (Matthew 10:28) The death which is the consequence of sin is clearly a spiritual death, a separation from God and captivity to the forces of chaos and ugliness. Human beings lost in sin are hostages to fear, fear for the integrity of their bodies and their spirits (here used metaphorically, I don't necessarily subscribe to a dualistic anthropology) in a world full of forces and institutions hostile to human flourishing. Marilyn Adams describes the basic human problematic as vulnerability to horrors, or "evils the participation in (the doing or suffering of) which constitutes prima facie reason to doubt whether the participant's life could (given their inclusion in it) have positive meaning for him/her on the whole." (Christ and Horrors, p.32; for further summary and analysis of this book, see the excellent series by Richard Beck, starting here)

Before going on to discuss why we find ourselves in such a predicament and what Christ did to release us from it, I want to address Lee's outrage at the notion that "
all of us have done things so egregious to warrant the death penalty." Clearly Lee imagines himself to be a decent sort of fellow. Sure, he's probably done things he's regretted, if pressed he'd probably admit to having harbored malicious thoughts for some of his fellow human beings and possibly even lustful and objectifying ones for attractive women he's come across. Surely, though, he's not all that bad. He leads a pretty average life, perhaps more or less middle class. He doesn't break the law on a regular basis and he certainly doesn't do things like rape children, torture animals or kill people he's angry at. How could he possibly merit the death penalty?

It is at this point when atheists who think they are 'alright' show the most egregious lapse in their self-understanding. They fancy themselves pretty reasonable, decent people who can't imagine getting carried away by a lynching mob or forcing husbands to watch as they rape their wives repeatedly and bounce their babies off bayonets. Here's the bombshell, though: the people who do those things are just as reasonable, moral and sane as the self-righteous atheists, and conversely the supposedly decent and reasonable atheists are just as monstrous and despicable as the people who do those things.

Why? Because even if thanks to the prosperity and stability of Western economies people don't often have occasion to succumb to their fear of death and the dissociation of their socio-cultural identity (likely consequences of famine, plague, wars and other disruptions), that fear is still an integral part of them nonetheless. And when that fear does take over, people suddenly become vulnerable to the allure of various ideologies which promise peace, security and prosperity even if they require the enactment of monstrous atrocities against their fellow human beings. People all too easily come up with scapegoats to vent their anger and frustration at being held captive by hostile forces beyond their control or comprehension. When a particular group of 'other' people becomes the scapegoat (such as the Jews in Nazi Germany), they cease to be fully human in the eyes of their persecutors. While there may be an awareness at some deep level that what they (the persecutors) are doing is monstrous, they find themselves powerless to override their demonic impulses.

But the persecutors just a short while ago may have been perfectly sane, responsible, helpful, law-abiding citizens, which makes their transformation all the more shocking. When rumors first began surfacing in Rwanda about the possibility of a Hutu genocidal attack on the Tutsis, the reason more Tutsis didn't take notice and either flee or make plans to hide is that they could not imagine their Hutu neighbors, who often lived next door to them and had the same kind of middle-class lifestyle as they did, turning into human butchers. To this day it has proven impossible to track down all the perpetrators of the atrocity because the Interahamwe (civilian militia members) were often "the
neighbors, friends and co-workers of Tutsis."

There may be some people with a genetic predisposition to pederasty or sadism. But when it comes to the capacity of human beings to perpetrate monstrous horrors on their fellows there is no neat demarcation, there is no sociological or biological marker of people who would be prone to participating in lynching or genocide. Everyone is equally capable of such acts, and everyone is subject to the fear and the temptation of ideology that turns human beings into monsters and their victims into something less than human. That means everyone is bound in sin, no exceptions, and that means that everyone is cut off from the life of God, because that life removes the fear of death, and only in the absence of that fear can we be truly human, i.e. truly immune to demonic and oppressive ideologies and the tendency to scapegoat.

But even aside from this general capacity to perpetrate monstrous evil, we are all complicit if not actively involved in a huge variety of horrors without our realizing it, because its victims are far enough removed from our circle of benevolence that we take no notice. As Marilyn Adams observes, "Few individuals would deliberately starve a child into mental retardation. But this happens even in the United States, because of the economic and social systems we collectively allow to persist and from which most of us profit. Likewise complicit in actual horrors are all those who live in societies that defend their interests by warfare and so accept horror-perpetration as a chosen means to or a side effect of its military aims." (Christ and Horrors, pp.35-36) We might also mention people's failure to stand up and speak against the injustice of slavery for fear of reprisal or complacency with the status quo, our tolerance of corrupt politicians, our stinginess in donations to charities that serve the poorest people in the world, etc.

The bottom line is that, whether we are (or at least imagine ourselves to be) 'decent' people or not, we are still complicit in monstrous evils and have the ability and motivation to directly inflict such evils on our fellows. Thus we are all violent, ugly creatures fully deserving of God's wrath. That includes you as well, Lee Randolph. The apostle Paul's judgment stands: "All have sinned, and fallen short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23)

In the next post I'll look at possible reasons why we find ourselves in this predicament and what Christ did to save us from it.

Further Reading:
-Hope in troubled times, pp.31-60
-The Scapegoat


16 comments:

John,

Very thought provoking post. I saw the "monstrous evil" tab and had to read it.

I would add a few points.

Of course we don't think most of our fellow humans have done something worthy of the death penalty because we all judge each other from the same fallen condition. That's fine as far as it goes and necessary for human civilization, but it really doesn't tell us about the cosmic scales of justice as they apply to every dark thing I have done or intended or allowed to happen by not acting. The point of human civilization is not to reproduce God's intended Kingdom here on earth prior to His return but mitigate the effects of our sin and allow for the spread of the Gospel. This did not stop past human civilizations from being more free with the death penalty of course.

Further, the ultimate torment suffered by Christ was not the torture or even his death, but the separation from God ("My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me...."). Death is a powerful metaphor for a worse fate, a final complete sundering of the person from God. Sounds like there is some missing the forest for the trees going on over there at DB, which would not be the first time and is not always unintentional.

Finally, it sounds like the DB poster has a big problem with the penal substitutionary view of Christ's death and resurrection. I think this is an important view, but it is not the only possible view and should not be thought to be the sum total of what was going on even from an evangelical point of view. A good book fleshing out the different views on the atonement is The Nature of the Atonement: Four Views by Thomas R. Schreiner, James Beilby, Paul R. Eddy, and Gregory A. Boyd.

* Gregory A. Boyd: Christus Victor view
* Joel B. Green: kaleidescopic view
* Bruce R. Reichenbach: healing view
* Thomas R. Schreiner: penal substitutionary view

CallMeIrresponsible said...

So let me get this straight, I'm guilty because I'm capable of evil?

Yes, you are an imperfect being capable, under the wrong pressures, of doing terrible things.

Therefore you should feel terribly guilty for failing to be as infallible as a god---and convert to Christianity.

Because this morally perfect God did the most wonderful thing for you....dictated that his son must be tortured to death.

Which....uh....well.....somehow makes things all better.

Layman, what theory of atonement do you favor?

Seriously, this whole, "I sent my son to be tortured to death to heal the rift between humanity and myself" just sounds sick and depraved.

But maybe you can clear it up for me. The penal substitution theory (the one I grew up hearing the most on Sunday mornings in my Southern Methodist church) obviously doesn't cut it.

So what does makes sense of this weird idea?

Ellis,

I'm a fan of the kaleidescopic view, which sees merit in the penal substitutionary perspective but think it is too narrow to account for the full meaning of Jesus' death and resurrection.

And Ellis, God did not dictate to Jesus in the way you suggest. Remember, Jesus is God and a volunteer. I can see having questions about a solely penal substitionary view but those concerns are best stated with an accurate representation of its underlying beliefs. Otherwise, it looks much like a strawman instead of real questions about the theology you are questioning.

Ah...David,

Still spouting trite commentary, I see. Let me ask you somthing since you seem to have all of the answers.

Let's assume for a moment that God exists. (Yes, I know that will be difficult for you, but I am sure that you are capable of such imaginings.) And let me further give some of the attributes of God so that you don't have to wonder. God is the ideal being. He is the very source of all goodness, justice, love, mercy -- all of the good and wonderful things you can think of -- being Himself perfectly good, just, loving and merciful. Moreover, God is infinite. Thus He can be infinitely good, just, loving and merciful.

Now, imagine for a moment that He really is behind everything that exists in this universe because He is the source of the universe and everything in it. The universe and everything in it, while very large are by very nature finite. Thus, even if the universe were created good, it would only be finitely good. Thus, the universe and everything in it cannot be as perfectly good as God. It will necessarily be less perfectly good than God.

Should God have not made the universe because it would have non-good, i.e., evil, in it?


And Ellis, God did not dictate to Jesus in the way you suggest. Remember, Jesus is God and a volunteer. I can see having questions about a solely penal substitionary view but those concerns are best stated with an accurate representation of its underlying beliefs. Otherwise, it looks much like a strawman instead of real questions about the theology you are questioning.


How can I attack a strawman version of your views on atonement when you haven't really stated them yet? What's the kaleidoscopic view of atonement? A link or brief summary would be helpful.

On to BK's comment:


Now, imagine for a moment that He really is behind everything that exists in this universe because He is the source of the universe and everything in it. The universe and everything in it, while very large are by very nature finite. Thus, even if the universe were created good, it would only be finitely good. Thus, the universe and everything in it cannot be as perfectly good as God. It will necessarily be less perfectly good than God.

Should God have not made the universe because it would have non-good, i.e., evil, in it?


There is a rather glaring error in your reasoning here.

You jump from the claim that the goodness of the universe God created being finite to its being, therefore, imperfectly good.

But why should one think that something finite which was good in all its finite parts and as a finite whole is imperfect? There is no obvious reason for the assumption that the good of any finite thing is imperfect simply for its not being an infinite object.

And then you compound the error by jumping from its being imperfect for being not infinite to its having nongood (evil) within it.

How do come to this bizarre idea that the finite but good includes the evil simply by failing to be infinite?

Should God have not made the universe because it would have non-good, i.e., evil, in it?


The only objection you've raised to the universe for my consideration is its being finite.

Obviously, if that were the only way in which it was imperfect it would be an absurd objection to our universe.

Of course, this is far from the only way our universe falls short of perfection.

If only we DID live in such a universe.

By the way, if you consider the universe's being finite such a terrible thing (something that seems absurd but, hey, its your scenario) why would God have not made it infinite?

A universe infinite in extent is not a logical impossibility---therefore within the power of an omnipotent God.

But why should one think that something finite which was good in all its finite parts and as a finite whole is imperfect?

Your example of a something that is finite that is perfect is...? In other words, one of the things that tells us that things that are finite are not perfect is experience. The other thing is quite simple: that which is finite is limited by its very nature. That which is infinite is not limited by its very nature. As your very question points out, even if something is good in all of its finite parts, it is still limited in goodness. Only that which is limitless and infinite can be perfectly good.

By the way, if you consider the universe's being finite such a terrible thing (something that seems absurd but, hey, its your scenario) why would God have not made it infinite?

Because the only thing that is infinite is God. If God created it, it could not be infinite because it would have a beginning.

JD, yes, you are correct. We human beings have a great potential for evil, all of us. This is a very sad state of affairs, I know. But we also have a great potential for good, all of us. Why focus on one potential and not the other? I could just as easily focus on the self-sacrificing people who have given up life, limb, and property at little or no immediate benefit to themselves and made the argument that we are all capable of being good. We are you know. Do you deny this?

What is the best explanation for this state of affairs? I think the best explanation is that we as human beings are very strongly influenced by our social environment. Depending on life's circumstances we could be very good or very evil. With this as the best explanation of our condition then the question becomes what God in his right mind would ever condemn us in the first place?

As far as atonment theories go, they all fail miserably. I'm glad Layman is wrestling with this issue and reading about it. He knows the difficulties. That's why he cannot simply embrace one of them. He has to have a mixture, but a mixture cannot be maintained either for it is not consistent within itself.


As your very question points out, even if something is good in all of its finite parts, it is still limited in goodness. Only that which is limitless and infinite can be perfectly good.


Then you and I define "perfectly good" differently. I define it as "completely good".

And you still haven't addressed my objection to your claim that if something is finite but good it has nongood in it. That clearly is an error.


Because the only thing that is infinite is God.


Says who?

How do you know God didn't create an infinite universe? Or any infinity of other universes? I know of no well-established theological conclusion that this is contrary to scripture or sound christian doctrine.


If God created it, it could not be infinite because it would have a beginning.


A thing can be infinite spacially while still having a beginning point in time.

Regardless, though, its largely irrelevent to the core of the question you presented my with:

"Should God have not made the universe because it would have non-good, i.e., evil, in it?"

I have already explained that it does not follow from the universe's being finite that it has non-good (evil) IN it. This is an obvious error on your part.

I'll respond later. Have a presentation to make.

Hey Dave show me the academic journal you got this stuff published in. show me the brilliants articles you have the major academic journals?

He comes to my blog and whines "show me a God argument so I can crush your arguments and show how stupid it is to believe." I told him "unles we lay the ground work it will seem stupid to you. So before I do that I want to lay the ground work.

He whines the whole time 'I want to get to the arguments."

I go ahead and do one before I lay the ground work. what does he say "tat's stupid.' he's totally flipped It sounds so dumb.

then I tell me and PUt the argument up with a long detailed expalination. Does he give an argument? does he make a logical argument about it? no he's starts mocking and insulting.

he starts going "you can't get that published n a journal" as though there are all these journals about God arguments. Only someone who is not an academic would think that.

Only someone who has never tried to get published in an academic journal would think it's real easy and the only reason you couldn't is because you are just stupid and your arguments are no good.

I show him the list of academics who were on the editorial board the journal I ran. It' was refereed it was indexed it had Issn number, it was indexed by ebsco, one of the major ones. But that means nothing to this guy because he knows nothing about academic publishing. He can't appreciate what it means that ran a journal was successful and appreciated by other academics. only an ignorant atheist would concludes that meant I'm a failure because I didn't get published in a bunch of major journals that I didn't run.

How about that John Lofuts. does self publishing make you a failure?

Hinman, IMHO your "transcendental signifier" argument for theism is amorphous, rambling gibberish. I'm not going to waste my time dissecting an "argument" that's as vague and insubstantial as a puff of smoke.

I'm sorry if that hurts your feelings but its my honest frank opinion about the essay. I'm not going to pull my punches simply because you're sensitive about your apologetic writings.

Especially when you respond to the statement that you've written a very bad essay by calling me (I quote):

You are a little uneducated coward who has never been to college....

Whining little cry baby has been exposed as the ignorant know nothing that he is.

Cowardly custard.

I think you are (an) ***hole.
You can fill in the blanks on what Hinman actually said above. My manners aren't bad enough to even quote him directly here.

And, to set the record straight, I graduated with a degree in fine art and am going back for a second degree in applied math.

Note, Hinman, that I never called YOU by any insulting term. I called YOUR ESSAY rambling, amorphous gibberish. Yes. Which is harsh (but also true, in my opinion).

It is you that has responded with personal insults and juvenile name-calling.

This will be our last communication. In the future I will not lower myself to respond to anything you say.

that just shows how silly you are. The argument is way over your head. Do you not know who Derrida was? never hard of him hu?

you are just saying "reading, its' just a bunch of squiggles."

why can't you be honest and just say 'that's over my head." stop trying to save face. you make your self seem a lot more ignorant.

come on who is the Hume guy anyway? what a bozo this Kant was.

I've lost all respect for you Ellis. here's why. You had a choice, you chose the coward's choice. i laid the argument out for you and tried to build the foundation for understanding. you could have chose two things:

(1) show what's wrong with it.

(2) say "I don't understand this is out of my area."

no dishon0r there. You chose in instead the cowardly way out. mock and belittle and try to wound the ego so you can destract attention from the act taht the argument is over your head. Then blame argument because you can't answer it.

It's too stupid to waste your time on eh? And yet, belittling me is not too stupid to waste your time on hu?

If I so dumb and could never get published why are you wasting your time arguing with me? Doesn't that makeyou dumb too?

ou can fill in the blanks on what Hinman actually said above. My manners aren't bad enough to even quote him directly here.

And, to set the record straight, I graduated with a degree in fine art and am going back for a second degree in applied math.

Note, Hinman, that I never called YOU by any insulting term. I called YOUR ESSAY rambling, amorphous gibberish. Yes. Which is harsh (but also true, in my opinion).


you called the tun buddy. you chose the cowardly approach of mockery, ridicule and character assassination."

now you have to die those thousand deaths see, because every time you hear a God argument you are going to have to remember (yes but there was one I chickened out of answering).

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