Atonement theory is problematic. To the “initiated” it seems to make sense, but to those to whom is was not presented as a “fact” of faith, it seems scurrilous.
Atonement is the theory that God needed a sacrifice to appease His wrath and make him favorable toward humans, similar to the animal offerings the Jews sacrificed at the Temple in Jerusalem. For less sophisticated thinkers, as I once was, this theory is presented as a continuation of the Jewish sacrificial system as described in the Jewish Scriptures. It was Paul who made the theory what it is today; an explanation of why the Christian church, created by Jesus’ death and subsequent faith in his death, has replaced the Jewish system as God’s means to “reconcile” sinning humans to himself.
I say less sophisticated because it did not occur to me to ask the obvious question; why was such a convoluted answer to human “sin” needed to begin with? God, if all-powerful and all-knowing, is his own moral system and is not required to perform complex leaps of strained logic merely to forgive what He made sinful to begin with. I began to see very slowly that the only convoluted logic required was by the minds of men who created the institution to begin with. Annie Besant noticed this ages ago. Writing on the Atonement in My Path to Atheism:
This side of the Atonement, this unjust demand on men for a righteousness they could not render, necessitating sacrifice to propitiate God for non-compliance with his exaction, has had its due effect on men’s minds, and has alienated their hearts from God. No wonder that men turned away from a God who, like a passionate but unskilful workman, dashes to pieces the instrument he has made because it fails in its purpose, and, instead of blaming his own want of skill, vents his anger on the helpless thing that is only what he made it.
Well, exactly. Why blame the created object for imperfection? Rather childish isn’t it? Topping that off, God placed the imperfect objects in a testing environment, knowing their weakness and knowing the outcome, and blamed them yet again for failing. As an etiological myth it might be amusing, but as a Christian “fact” of faith, it fails utterly. Amazingly though, millions believe it. Millions stake their spiritual lives on it without ever once taking it apart and examining it to see if it makes sense. They assume it makes sense because they assume that’s what God did and they are TOLD that’s what God did. Being told relieves them of investigating it themselves. End of debate (for them).
Needless to say the Jews did not accept the argument that Jesus died as the final sacrifice required. It was perhaps a neat explanation for a destroyed Jewish temple for the new Christians, but for the Jews who did not believe in this Messiah, Adam and Eve were mythological people in a mythological story and had nothing to do with Jesus the man. We could perhaps then say that Saul (Paul) was the first fundamentalist believer to proffer the atonement argument (2 Corinthians 5:14-21).
Despite the origins, I, like Annie Besant, find the atonement theories illogical and a tad repugnant now. Before reading more and questioning more, I was a blind faith believer in all of these theories. However, one can only suspend disbelief for so long.
- Evangelical’s Politicization of Atonement Theology (bloodstainedink.wordpress.com)
- atonement theories (mikewittmer.wordpress.com)
- Another way for Jews to atone this Yom Kippur: the eScapegoat (religionnews.com)