A Favor You Never Asked For.

A Favor You Never Asked For. April 6, 2015

When I was eight years old, I came home from my Catholic church’s Sunday School in complete hysterics because I’d just learned about Jesus’ crucifixion. I’d been told–and had completely believed, because it hadn’t even occurred to me at the time that adults say a lot of stuff they don’t actually objectively know to be true–that all those horrible things had happened to Jesus because of me personally and the many sins that I, a child too young to understand that Santa wasn’t real, had committed up till then. (True, by the way; I figured that out when I was nine or ten.) I felt completely personally responsible for his torture and execution. It seemed so totally out of proportion with what I knew weren’t very major sins anyway. Regardless, it took my grandparents, my mother, and my aunt (a nun!) to get me back under control again.

I didn’t know then that there’s no reason at all to think that this event ever really happened, but I especially didn’t know the following:

You are not under any obligations to someone when that person does you a favor you didn’t ask for.

Attack Kitten
“Attack Kitten” (Evan Bench, Flickr, CC.) It’s cute now, but wait till that kitten grows up!

It’s the Easter holiday, and there’s a lot of crap getting written about sacrifices, this and that and the other, blah blah blah original sin blah blah blah second Adam blah blah blah, and I thought it would be a good time to mention something briefly that I think people–especially those who aren’t used to thinking of religion as something that can be criticized–maybe forget when it comes to obligations.

Christians are very fond of saying that Jesus’ Crucifixion was this grand and glorious favor he did for people to save them from Hell or whatever meaning the Crucifixion is warping into this year; it’s changed over time, over the centuries, you know–or did you? Ever since it supposedly happened, theologians haven’t been able to find consensus about just what it meant or why it apparently had to happen. Really, you’d think that one of the central myths in their entire religion would be something they could collectively figure out, get right, and stick to. But I digress. Also, I’m going to totally ignore that there is no evidence that this myth or any other in the entire Bible ever happened, and just speak metaphorically here today.

In most Christians’ worldview (the ones who aren’t full-blown heretics without even realizing it, at least,), that sacrifice on their god’s part obligates you to accept that gift and to become a Christian to worship and follow Jesus. It might not be part of the formal doctrines or dogma of the faith, but many times I remember feeling quite beholden to Jesus for “dying for me.” I felt like if I rejected him then I was being a major jerk or something.

But I don’t remember traveling back through time and asking any deities if they’d kindly have a bad weekend on my behalf, any more than I remember traveling even further back through time to incur any grand Original Sins that would make me an inherently broken or sinful person in the first place and thus in need of a god’s for me through a bad weekend (not that all Christians think that Original Sin is even a Biblical concept). I’m sure I’d have remembered if I had. It’s like I got dragged into a game I never asked to play, got told to play anyway, and then got punished when I withdrew from the game. Talk about a religion with a big consent problem.

What’s basically happening here is that, having blamed me for an act I didn’t even commit, Jesus is now, what, absolving me of that act by doing something I never asked him to do in the first place? And he’ll punish me if I don’t do whatever he says as a result of him having done me this favor I never requested for an act I never actually personally committed? Or worse yet, he’d punish me for what basically amounts to thought crimes for the most part, done in service to this game I was never asked to play as a result of a sin that my most-distant ancestors have committed to condemn me to a sinful nature to begin with?

As they used to say back down South, bless his little heart.

Mighty nice of him, ain’t it?

But seriously. How does that even make sense?

I never understood the whole Crucifixion thing back when I was Christian. Didn’t understand Original Sin either–I didn’t know at the time that it’s not a universal doctrine, but that would only have added to my confusion if I had. And there just isn’t a single read I can give this whole story that makes sense or even makes the Christian god sound like anything but a narcissistic, uber-violent idiot.

Frankly, if someone came up to me and offered to die a gruesome death for me so I could survive, I’m not sure I could handle the guilt involved in accepting that kind of an offer. If I’d actually done some terrible deed or committed some awful crime that justified my death, then I’d have even more reason to refuse that offer. I don’t happen to believe that it’s moral to punish an innocent person for the crimes of another; that is the act of a barbaric and monstrous system of injustice. In my world, the guilty get punished, not the innocent, even if the innocent make that offer. I’m not even a god and I can come up with a better cosmology than one that requires that an innocent person get punished times lots for the guilty to get off scott-free. As Robert Ingersoll wrote long ago,

It seems to me that the doctrine of the atonement is absurd, unjust, and immoral. Can a law be satisfied by the execution of the wrong person? . . . Can there be a law that demands the guilty be rewarded? And yet, to reward the guilty is far nearer justice than to punish the innocent.

Maybe that travesty, that miscarriage of justice that lies at the heart of Christianity and informs so many of its permutations, is part of why the religion itself–even its “nicer” branches–repels me, and might even be the source of the blatant hypocrisy of so many of Christianity’s most fervent voices. This is a religion that is okay with punishing the innocent and letting the guilty escape justice, and which has no idea what “proportionality” looks like with regard to punishment at all. How else were we expecting things to go when a worldview is based on that shaky of a framework?

I’ve probably heard every single rationalization possible by now for the Crucifixion, and every single way possible to spin-doctor this weird blood-soaked spectacle into an act of divine justice and the only way possible for an otherwise omnipotent, omniscient, omni-benevolent, all-loving-but-totally-justice-obsessed god to redeem the supposedly fallen human race that, let me remind you, needed redemption in the first place because this god held humanity responsible for the sins of their long-ago ancestors and set up a cosmology that guaranteed that such a sacrifice would be required eventually to set things aright. I could spend an entire post by itself sharing my thoughts on that ridiculous notion, but suffice to say that Ingersoll’s “absurd” would be the nicest adjective I’d use on the subject.

And bear in mind that all of that blood and spectacle and all that injustice and unfairness would have happened without my having asked for it to be done for me and without my approving at all of someone suffering for me like that. And “for me” is a deliberate choice of words, because in every church I’ve ever attended, from the Catholic church on up through the liberal denominations I attended as a kid to the Southern Baptists to the Pentecostals, I was assured every single Easter Sunday that even if I’d been the only human being alive on the planet in 33CE, even if I’d only committed one single sin in my entire life, the whole charade would have been totally necessary from start to finish because there’d have been no other way to ensure I had even a chance of going to Heaven without Jesus having a bad weekend on my behalf.

If I asked for that kind of sacrifice, though, that’d be one thing. If I actually asked someone to do that and they did it, then I reckon they’d have some kind of right to make a few requests of me.

But if I didn’t ask for the sacrifice and particularly if I reject it, then I don’t see why I’m morally bound to do anything for the being making such a grotesque offer. Similarly, if a Nice Guy™ gives me a bunch of unasked-for presents or does me a favor I didn’t ask him to do, I am not then obligated to go out with him. My compliance cannot be purchased against my will. Very controlling people or groups can sometimes go all-out with favors and requests because they know that when they do unasked-for favors or give unasked-for presents to people, often those people feel more obligated to comply with their requests. I’m on to that tactic now, but I wasn’t back then. I’m usually one to shine back such largesse, but only to a point, and not if I perceive that control is the goal.

Before the inevitable conversion story full of butbutbut I totally asked for this sacrifice during my Sinner’s Prayer, let me say that actually, nobody alive today actually made that request, so anybody who thinks they did make that request is just doing what Mary did when she was volun-told about her impending pregnancy with Jesus: making the best of it. (God seems to prefer asking forgiveness rather than permission, a trait he appears to share with a great many of his followers–weird, right? I know.)

And then we get into that really tricky territory of wondering whether this sacrifice ever happened anyway. If real unasked-for favors don’t obligate people, then metaphorical ones certainly don’t become any more obligatory. Telling your friends that you really thought very very hard about helping them move isn’t the same as actually helping them move, but then, Christianity’s always had a problem separating imagination from reality (at least unless doing so works to its adherents’ advantage).

And to punish me for not complying after having given me something I never asked for in the first place? Oh, that takes injustice to strange new levels right there.

Again: leaving aside the fact that not a single bit of the Christian mythos has turned out to be demonstrably true, forgetting that we’ve never even figured out if there’s a supernatural realm or not, ignoring that we objectively know not one more thing today about this deity than we did 2000 years ago, I just find this whole situation to be not only laughably bizarre but also immoral in the extreme, and so I reject it with all the force I can muster.

Here’s what else I’ve learned over the years since leaving Christianity:

You are not obligated to return someone’s feelings when they feel something toward you, or to do anything that person asks as a result of their feelings toward you.

Who’d’a thunk all those 1980s movies were wrong? No matter how much we love someone else, or think we do at least, that other person is not obligated to love us back. In fact that other person isn’t obligated to do a damned thing that we want them to do by way of accepting or rejecting us after a confession of love, or to waste their time “teaching us to be better people” if they refuse us, or to introduce us to their single friends if they themselves aren’t interested in a romantic relationship with us. Our emergency does not constitute anybody else’s emergency, as the old saying goes, and neither does the depth of our emotions or how sad we are about being rejected. Would it be nice if people would do all that? Sure, for some folks I’m sure it would, but it’s not mandatory, and if we treat it as such we’re gonna have a bad time because nobody else is required to share our self-serving view.

In the same way, if this “god” of the Christians really loves anybody, then that doesn’t obligate them to do anything back–and the idea that someone would be punished as a result of not accepting this god’s love is yet another reason why non-believers so often compare him to an abusive husband. This whole thing is about boundaries, when it comes down to it–like a lot of the other stuff we tangle with when we begin our journey to recovery.

When you’re surrounded by Easter glurge and all those dumb Christian songs and sermons about how Jesus’ sacrifice and “God’s” love obligates people to do anything at all, remember:

If you didn’t ask for the favor, you don’t owe anything to the person doing that favor–especially if you reject the favor.

You’re also not beholden to return someone’s feelings, no matter how strong or apparently sincere they are.

You are the one who gets to decide just how beholden you are to someone doing an unrequested favor for you. If that means “completely,” then fine. If it means “not at all,” then fine. Nobody else gets to unilaterally override that decision, any more than anybody else gets the right to  decide, for you, what a gesture means to you.

Claims of favors with no evidence supporting that they actually ever happened certainly have even less power over you than real favors that you actually objectively know happened.

 We’re going to talk just a titch more about purchasing one’s rights next time–and I hope you’ll join me.

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