What a Savior Looks Like

I was re-reading the interview with wrong incarnate (otherwise known as Sean McDowell), when I came across this bit.

Remember, the Christian story makes sense only if we were created by God and then rebelled. Otherwise, what’s the need for a Savior?

And it got me thinking.  If we rebelled against god (that guy wanted to keep us from having knowledge and he murdered whole civilizations, so if he exists I damn sure hope we rebelled!), what would our savior look like?

Imagine a city in which there lives a man of incomparable wealth and influence who kicked his children out of the house and into the street for wanting to go to college.   Not only that, but he’s pretty much running around and killing everybody who isn’t obeying him.  Sometimes he tortures them.  It would be totally understandable for even his children to rebel, for clearly he is a crime lord.  But one day a savior rides into the city and…

A)  …engages the crime lord in battle, ultimately destroying him and giving the people of the city their lives back.

B)  …joins forces with the crime lord and helps the crime lord enforce the “obey or be tortured” edict.

One of those sounds like a savior, the other sounds like the mafia demanding protection money.  “Sure, I’ll keep my family from trashing your business if you just pay your 10% each month for the service and do everything we tell ya.”  Are these ruffians also saviors?

A savior destroys the tyrant, they don’t take a seat at his right hand and say “Yeah, the commoners were totally wrong to rebel – they can fall to one knee or be punished.”  What if Gandalf had plopped down in the throne right next to Sauron and convinced him to only torture the insubordinate who openly disapproved of mass killing?  Each of us would hope that Frodo destroyed him too.

What would we say of Luke Skywalker if he had joined the Empire and convinced Palpatine to only torture all of those who didn’t submit to his rule?  The “new hope” would be our new enemy, and I doubt there’s a Christian on the planet who would say otherwise.  We all seem to easily recognize the difference between a savior and a villain until we read the  bible.

The Christian savior is a guy who marches into god’s fortress, sees that god burning everybody, and rather than drawing steel and attempting to stop the profligate he has the following conversation:

Savior:  “Burning people alive for their honest opinion?  Spectacular!  I’m in!  They deserve it.  But how about we don’t burn the ones who swear loyalty to us and don’t mind us roasting their neighbors?  In fact, if they will swear fealty, let them join our ranks!”

God:  “Yeeeesssssss.  They will worship us or burn!  We’ll even tell them that you’re their savior!  Think they’ll buy it?”

Savior:  “No way!  That’s too much!  Oh, I love it!  Can I pull the lever on the next one?”

Given Christian logic, can we get a savior from our savior, please?

A savior sides with the rebels against the oppressor.  Jesus isn’t a savior, he’s an accomplice.

When powerful beings threaten the well-being of innocent people the world over, this is what a real savior does.

About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • Casimir

    100% as usual, JT. Of course, this perspective only makes sense if you value humanity for humanity’s sake. If, like most theists, you view us as object properties of a higher being, then it’s easy to reconcile a belief that they can do whatever the hell they want with us. A true savior, in that sense, merely reminds us of that fact.

    • http://thekatiejones.net Katie

      Unfortunately, this is true. Christians will also move the conversation from one about a person’s faith to one about God’s grace. How very gracious God is to save any of us lowly creatures at all! I can’t help but picture a bunch of puppy dogs wagging their tails.

  • carolw

    Mmm, Christian Bale…
    I’m sorry, you were saying something about a savior? Kidding. Good points, and I just re-watched Eqilibrium the other day, so your analogy is very apropos. Thanks for the food for thought.

    • Joven

      Me too, although since I’m an mst3k nerd, and its a pretty stupid movie IMO – I had help

    • Rebekah

      Hahaha!!! I did the same thing… <3 him as batman!!! Have you seen him as a kid in the disney movie/musical "newsies"? He sings and dances, lol… and manages to sync adorable and his tough guy thing ;)

  • Steve A.E.

    Man, this is a great post. And Casimir’s comment is terrific for explaining the Christian mindset in light of J.T.’s point here.

  • CJO

    A savior destroys the tyrant, they don’t take a seat at his right hand and say “Yeah, the commoners were totally wrong to rebel – they can fall to one knee or be punished.”

    There’s a perspective missing here, the ancient context in which the annointed savior was invented. Understand that in the ancient Mediterranean, tyrants themselves (at least, autocratic rulers) were pleased to be known as “savior” (Gk. soter): Ptolemy I Soter, Antiochus I Soter, Demetrius I Soter, and Augustus was revered as the son of god (as the adopted son of deified Julius Caesar and the supposed son of Apollo via divine conception). There’s a challenge to this propagandistic narrative, a reversal, in the Jewish conception of the messiah as it developed through an era when the Judean state was subject to these regimes, and cynical kingly propaganda of this sort had a long pedigree going back to Bronze Age Egypt.

    And the ancient Jewish conception of Yahweh as an at best ambivalent figure is lost as well in the modern Christian way of thinking, which has to deny that he is often portrayed as acting like a tyrant. The Genesis myth is the product of a clear understanding of the created world as terribly cruel and mostly unfair and the attempted reconcilliation of this with a personification of the forces that make it so. To many an ancient Jew, God was a tyrant, but one against whom rebellion was impossible. How could it be otherwise, if you take a clear look at what’s going on around you and consider God responsible? (Take later Gnosticism with its Demiurges and legions of evil angels as the further development of the understanding that the one responsible for this mess was not a friend of humanity.)

    So in modern Christian apologetics these nuances are just papered over with the ironic result you discuss in the post. But I tend to give the originators of the tradition more of a pass. Life sucked, a lot, for most people, and the idea that God would never help us out with a savior (yes, from conditions he created), but just keep sending these self-appointed “Soters” to rule over their Promised Land, was intolerable for many. That the “solutions” don’t hold up under logical scrutiny is not surprising.

    • Lana C

      This is an excellent argument. I wish more were of this caliber. Thank you for this, I knew much of it, but you put it very eloquently.

  • Sean

    JT, your post is an excellent straw man.

    And I found out you REALLY ARE mentally ill; incredible that atheists listen to you.

    • Steve A.E.

      I’m not sure Sean knows what a straw man really is. But that’s a small thing, as I’m not sure he knows what common decency is, either.

    • Conrad

      Who would Jesus mock for having mental health issues?

      That’s a real low-class move Sean, do you think that’s a “Christian” thing to do? Is that the example you would set for your kids?
      You should know better than to think that a mental health issue in a particular area negates ones ability to reason.

    • http://skepticfreethought.com Ellen

      I find it incredible that Christians listen to and believe a 2,000 year old story about a zombie claiming to be God’s son rises from the dead telling people all their “sins” are forgiven. Talk about a story that’s mentally ill.

      Incredible your “holy book” or your mother for that fact, hasn’t taught you how to not be an asshole.

    • Brian

      Did you really just counter a supposed straw man by using an ad hominem attack? A troll would do a better job baiting a response, I worry you actually are that stupid.

    • Lana C

      You know, I read somewhere that you are a teacher. Perhaps the parents of any mentally ill children that you teach should know about your views about the mentally ill. Perhaps any mentally ill kids in your congregation should know about it. That they are to be trivialized, not listened to? That is a disgusting and horrible way to act towards anyone, much less someone who has a mental illness, and you as a teacher should know better. What are you, five? You take idiotic pot shots at someone for mental illness. Congrats, you are scum.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1108576277 hannahcapps

      It is pretty astounding that you just found out the JT is mentally ill. But, considering that you just found out, maybe you also don’t know that he is open and unashamed about it. He has shown intelligence in getting treatment, strength in speaking out, and incredible kindness in being a support for anyone who needs it. Why you would disparage someone for that, I don’t understand.

      (Also, it has nothing to do with this article. Pointing out a fallacy in a comment ending with another fallacy? Something I learned not to do in my first year of high school debate.)

    • Michaelyn

      It’s incredible that we listen to JT? Yeah, he REALLY IS mentally ill. More importantly, he REALLY IS intelligent and he finds a way to put arguments and ideas into writing when many of us can’t seem to find the right words. He helps promote an open environment where people are safe to be honest and have intelligent discussions about topics that are often seen as taboo in everyday society. One of those topics is mental illness. He talks about it because there is a terrible social stigma when it comes to people being “crazy” which you happen to be promoting with your dense comment that was not even a tiny bit constructive.
      Next time explain why you disagree without being a bully.

    • http://www.ziztur.com ziztur


      JT’s mental illness is completely irrelevant to this post and/or argument.

      You are a prime example of why the secular community is better than the religious community. We support people with mental illness and can see their arguments for what they are without resorting to ad hominem attacks. We see that JT’s post and voice has value which is not undermined by his mental illness.

      Not only is your comment despicable and abusive, it perfectly illustrates that you are a bigot.

    • teh_faust

      Now, that’s really low.

      Well, I listen to people for what they have to say and not for who they are and I certainly don’t dismiss people because of their afflictions. What I read from many smart and kind people on a daily basis who also happen to be mentally ill is usually much more substantial than this below the belt -swing.

    • http://www.ziztur.com ziztur

      Also Sean, I bet if your pastor stood behind his lectern one day and told his entire congregation of his struggles with depression/anorexia, you would hug him in support… rather than go, “And I found out you REALLY ARE mentally ill; incredible that Christians listen to you.”

  • Davis S.

    Sean, I agree, but would you mind explaining in what ways this is a strawman, in your own words?

    • Davis S.

      (to clarify, I agree with the strawman part, not the personal attacks)

  • Marie the Bookwyrm

    Since Sean seems to have disappeared, why don’t you explain why you think JT made a strawman argument, Davis S.?

    • Davis S.

      I guess it depends on what perspective you’re evaluating the morality of it all from. This is a pretty good post from a humanist perspective, but from the Christian theological perspective, whatever God does is the very definition of good. It’s not necessarily good from our perspective, but it’s at least internally consistent.

      • teh_faust

        Or maybe the point is that the theological perspective is twisted.
        It is a terrible way to decide upon what’s good or not – it makes the standards arbitrary and sucks the very meaning out of the words right and wrong. It sounds suspiciously like “might makes right” to me.

      • Casimir

        This is a pretty good post from a humanist perspective, but from the Christian theological perspective, whatever God does is the very definition of good.

        I think this perfectly illustrates the baffling circular logic of theology. The humanist perspective doesn’t just arbitrarily determine something to be good. It looks at an action and its overall effect and judges whether it’s more harmful or beneficial.

        The theological perspective completely discounts the actual substance of something and merely relies on an external definition of “good” or “bad.” No matter how harmful, traumatic, destructive, abhorrent or malicious, so long as the external agent says it’s good, we are supposed to agree in spite of our personal feelings on the matter. That is morally repugnant.

        It reminds me a lot of the way many (not all) North Koreans can’t comprehend the idea of Dear Leader doing something “wrong.” The concept doesn’t exist for them because its been hammered into them that Dear Leader is always correct, just, and good. God is the ultimate dictator.

        I don’t see anything straw-man about JT’s point. If you view the world as an atheist, you realize that external agent is created by us and ultimately just a way to rationalize bad things. If you see the world as a theist, you ignore the actual event in question and determine its “goodness” on the basis of what god wants, not what we want. Either way, its the theist who looks irrational.

      • http://flewellyn.livejournal.com Flewellyn

        from the Christian theological perspective, whatever God does is the very definition of good.

        This is basically a massive appeal to authority as an end-run around taking moral responsibility.

        If that which God does is good, because God does it, then why have moral law at all? If God can change moral law at a whim, then it isn’t law at all, is it? More to the point, if God kills, tortures, rapes, and performs other acts we recognize as evil at a whim, why is it bad for humanity to do so? “God says so, and God is more powerful than we are,” won’t cut it. That’s just saying might makes right, which is supposedly a principle that Christian morality opposes.

        (And do not say “mysterious ways”. That’s not an argument, it’s an excuse not to make one.)

        On the other hand, if God commands good because God knows what good is, and recognizes the existence of good, then why have God to give us the command at all? If good is a thing unto itself, we need no God to recognize it.

        Of course, it’s not as if I’m the first to think of this problem…it’s the Euthyphro Dilemma. But it’s funny how the arguments in response to it have, for 2400 years, been “shut up, that’s why.”

      • Jurjen S.

        [...] from the Christian theological perspective, whatever God does is the very definition of good. It’s not necessarily good from our perspective [...]

        The problem is that “good” by definition cannot mean “not good from our perspective.” To sustain that claim, you (general “you”) have to coin a brand-new definition for the word “good” that incorporates the diametrical opposite of “good” as we (humans) commonly understand the term.

        There’s a distinct parallel with the “prime mover” argument here, in that the argument can only reach its desired conclusion by surreptitiously ditching its starting premise and replacing it with special pleading.

        • Davis S.

          I guess what I meant to say is that as completely and utterly epistemically broken as the Christian worldview is, something like this isn’t going to be convincing to anyone who doesn’t already have a humanist worldview. Strawman was the wrong term to use, in retrospect.

  • http://angramainyusblog.blogspot.com/ Angra Mainyu

    A definition of “God” roughly matching usage in philosophy would be – following Swinburne, but with less conditions imposed – “an omnipotent, omniscient, morally perfect being, creator of all other beings”; let’s call that “omnimax”.

    Under that definition – or relevantly similar ones -, nothing that God does can possibly be immoral, by definition.

    However, that does not entail that nothing that the biblical god (i.e., the entity described in the Bible as the creator) does is immoral.

    Now, Christians usually claim that the biblical god is in fact God.

    If that claim is accepted, then it does follow that everything the biblical god does is (at least) not immoral.

    But then, there is no good reason to accept such a claim – on the contrary, there are pretty good reasons to deny that.

    So, as long as one keeps in mind the difference between defining “God” as “an omnimax being” or as “the entity described in the Bible”, it should become apparent that the reply that God’s actions are good by definition is not an adequate response to ethical challenges to Christianity based on the actions of the biblical god (as described in the story).

    Of course, the Christian can insist that according to Christian theology, the biblical god is God. However, one can challenge Christianity precisely by assessing the actions of the biblical god (as described in the story), and concluding that such a being is not morally perfect – and so, he’s not God.

    (None of that has any bearing on whether either God or the biblical god exists, of course; that’s a different matter)

    • Rebekah

      That is true but only if one attributes all types of “bad” things to God. Instead of trying to comprehend the value of free volition. Your right to choose of which you obviously hold highly. The only issue is does “God” do all of these horrible things or are they a result of something else all together? The right to choose can only exist when there is something to choose from. In this case the “christian God” (theologically) created something good and gave it free choice. The idea is that this being choose itself over God. Which was deemed wrong and thus a series of events occured with God sending His son Christ to save people from that force. It is out of goodness and love that this was arranged. That is what Christians believe. I don’t see where the problem with that is unless you confuse the ideas and make assumptions from a bias point of view. The only “bad” thing that God did was create freedom of choice if you look at it from a humanist point of veiw. To choose between good and evil…
      What is good to God is obvious in the teaching of CHrist which completed the picture of God who is assumed to be perfect and so can not abide evil. In laying down His life Christ did not join forces with “Satan” he redeemed mankind from the power of Satan and the power of death which was a result of sin which derived from the choice to choose to relate to Satan who hates mankind and all good things instead of God who created and loves mankind and is all things good. From another perspective and a “theological” basis. (whatever that means) It is not necessary for Christians to accept all evil things by “because God is good”… that is just stupid. The one thing is not related to the other. Bad things happen as a result of people choosing badly but God did not force them to choose that way he simply gave them the right to choose. The one thing does not negate or make the other evil.

      • http://angramainyusblog.blogspot.com/ Angra Mainyu

        Actually, as I said a couple of posts below, I made a mistake by posting that here.
        I meant to post it here.

        That said, you seem to be confusing an Argument from Suffering or an Argument from Evil with a moral case against Christianity, and particularly against the biblical god, which is a very different animal, and misunderstanding most of what I said.

        While I reject the claim that freedom is an adequate defense against an Argument from Suffering or an Argument from Evil, that’s beside the point in the context of my reply here: even if such a reply were successful, my points are unaffected by that.

        As for the immoral actions committed by the biblical god, you can find long lists of them in sites like http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/ and http://www.evilbible.com/.

        Also, I posted a moral case against Christianity on my blog (you can find it by clicking on my username above); it doesn’t contain nearly as long a list as the lists on those sites, but on the other hand, it addresses Christian objections to moral cases against Christianity.

        So, you’re free to pick your choice if you like (or just read all of them).

        Not that I would expect an apologist to be persuaded, but others might be.

      • http://angramainyusblog.blogspot.com/ Angra Mainyu

        I tried to reply to your post about an hour ago, but it didn’t work. I’ll try a shorter reply, with no links:

        Actually, as I said a couple of posts below, I made a mistake by posting that here. I actually meant to post it at Greta Christina’s blog, in reply to an entry entitled ‘What does it mean that God is good?’.

        That aside, you seem to be confusing an Argument from Suffering or an Argument from Evil with a moral case against Christianity, and particularly against the biblical god, which is a very different animal, and misunderstanding most of what I said.

        While I reject the claim that freedom is an adequate defense against an Argument from Suffering or an Argument from Evil, that’s beside the point in the context of my reply here: even if such a reply were successful, my points are unaffected by that, simply because I’m not even trying to make that kind of arguments here (though I do maintain that they succeed, that’s another matter).

        • Rebekah

          I maintain. I’ve read them all. However again the difference is I appreciate the cost and value of my freedom to choose and yours. So I won’t call names or belittle your beliefs. Just wondering why you would compel another to defend theirs? and with such animosity and passion… seems strange in a “freethinking” forum.

          • http://angramainyusblog.blogspot.com/ Angra Mainyu

            First, I have not compelled anyone to defend their beliefs. If you feel like defending them, that’s your choice.

            Second, your personal attacks against me are irrelevant to any of the matters at hand.

            Third, I did not call you names, and it’s not clear what it even means to call your beliefs names?

            Regardless, of course there are false and/or unwarranted beliefs that one may criticize, without doing anything immoral about it. Sometimes I do criticize such beliefs. For instance, I might criticize beliefs like (for instance) the Earth is less than 10000 ago, that same-gender sex is always immoral, that Yahweh exists, or that Yahweh is morally good, etc.

            Fourth, your use of quotation marks around ‘freethinking’ indicates that you deny that it’s a freethinking forum. So, on what basis would you assess the behavior that you falsely attribute to me (namely, compelling others to defend their beliefs) is strange in a forum that you consider non-freethinking?

            Fifth, it’s puzzling that you’re complaining about my debating you (or are you complaining about something else?). If you wanted to avoid a debate with me, all you had to do was to refrain from engaging in thread necromancy and replying to a 4-months old post of mine.
            Even now, you’re not being compelled to debate me. You are free to choose not to do so, of course. If you think otherwise, I would suggest that you consider the matter more carefully.

  • http://www.skepticalseeker.com Mikel

    Yea, Savior indeed…Who puts into place laws that are impossible to follow, then condemns people for not being able to follow them? Then says, essentially “if you turn your lives over to me I will spare you from my wrath?” Whatever.

  • http://angramainyusblog.blogspot.com/ Angra Mainyu

    Sorry, I meant to post this in the discussion about what it means to say that God is good.

  • Margaret

    A savior sides with the rebels against the oppressor. Jesus isn’t a savior, he’s an accomplice.

    One for the quote file.

  • Rebekah

    I think these are all excellent arguements… Gotta say though the point is made utterly mute in the comments… I am confused why that one guy started talking about mental illness but even more confused by everyone elses reaction. Name calling for name calling and getting pissed off and all upset when people come on here and feel like they have to defend themselves and their faith because the “free thinking” “open minded” “tolerant” people call everyone who doesn’t think the way they do “dumb” “stupid” etc… ironic I think that the people who scream “tolerance” and “free speech” and “free thinking” only want such tolerances and freedoms for those who think and speak what they agree with. Now that is bigotry.

    big·ot·ry/ˈbigətrē/Noun: Bigoted attitudes; intolerance toward those who hold different opinions from oneself.

    The entire post and most of the comments stem from an utterly bigoted point of view. Unfortunatly the preposition and all the assumptions regarding the christian and judaic faith are mostly shallow misunderstandings and interpretations that leave out crucial and foundational aspects. It could be compared to judging the strength of a building by examining the shingles on the roof with a microscope and glancing from a half mile away at the foundation.

    • JSC_ltd

      Why are you confused at being required to defend yourself and your faith? If an idea has any merit, it should be defensible both according to whatever factual claims it makes as well as rhetorically. Angra Mainyu demonstrated that your ideas are not defensible rhetorically. Furthermore, the factual claims made by the religion for which you argue are unsupported by history, archaeology, astronomy, physics, biology, geology and chemistry. Therefore, you are wrong.

      Why should we tolerate that which is wrong? I can accept that you have the right to belive wrong things, but your pretense that you also have the right to proceed unchastized for holding beliefs that are demonstrably contrary to reality is ridiculous. Furthermore, you ignore the obvious distinction between aspersions directed at a person and aspertions directed at an idea. Saying “religion is dumb,” or “that idea is stupid,” while not overly productive, does not constitute an attack. Saying “you are mentally ill, and it is incredible that [people] listen to you,” however is an attack. I can’t say that I’m surprised that a person who seems to be supporting Christianity is the only person in this discussion making an ad hominum attack; when facts and logic are unavailable, poor advocates turn toward such fallacies.

      • Rebekah

        The point is… that is your opinion. My opinion is different that doesn’t make me stupid. I would love to debate on here all day but I don’t have the time :( I was just suprised to see all the animosity. I have a number of friends and some family who are agnostics but they don’t attack me or call ‘Jesus’ names because that would be disrespectful. I have long apologized for ‘christians’ who are disrespectful and judgemental of the beliefs or disbeliefs of others outside of what they call their ‘faith’. I do point out that hatred and animosity are not the qualities of a christian but instead the qualities of a pharisee. I apologize to all of you for the years of abuse and rude often disgusting attitudes, behaviors, and words you have been subjected to. This is not the face of Christ. It is a product of what Christ called a “breed of vipers” and believe me Jesus as known by the Holy Bible or the Quran was not and is not that way. ON the contrary, Jesus taught love and tolerance and graciousness and spoke against no one except the judgemental pharissees. I do not attack I simply ask that we all allow ourselves to rest and be at peace with one another to “coexist”. Truth is truth and one thing I think we can all agree upon is that hatred and animosity are cancerous to our souls.

        • M Groesbeck

          …and here, again, we have the reason that the theists and theocrats railed for so long against “post-modernism”. A field of study (even if in a number of cases the term “study” was used rather loosely) devoted to examining how people tend to behave as if their thoughts and opinions were reality is completely unacceptable if the religious are to move forward with a plan of, as Rebekah does, flatly denying reality itself and substituting a whole set of untestable and indistinguishable “opinions.”

          tl;dr: when you’re making claims about reality, “opinion” just means “I don’t feel obliged to defend the claims that I’m demanding you all live by, and I’m shocked, just shocked, that you don’t all just obey me. How rude!”

  • RobinK

    Argument makes perfect sense and I loved reading it…but right from the beginning I was overcome with an uncontrollable urge to watch Equilibrium!