The Triple Tragedy of a Human Sacrifice

The Triple Tragedy of a Human Sacrifice April 22, 2019

Editor’s Note: With this post, Easter is finally over, here on the Rational Doubt blog.  We’ve enjoyed the music, pondered new meaning for the cross with a Freethinker and now we put it all to rest with this former preacher’s searing criticism of a religion that kills its own God.  Linda LaScola/Editor

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By David Madison

Christian theology fails the decency test

When crucifixes are part of church and home décor—and even sported as jewelry—it’s hard to get the point across that something is terribly wrong: A horrifying belief has been normalized…and for what? Guy Harrison has made the point perfectly: “No one seems to know why a god who makes all the rules and answers to no one couldn’t just pardon us and skip the barbaric crucifixion event entirely.” (Christian in the Light of Science, ed. John Loftus, 2016)

The central doctrine of the Christian faith should make decent people shudder — no, it should make them wretch. And no, the apostle Paul acknowledging that Christ-crucified is a stumbling block doesn’t “make it all better.” These verses emerged from his troubled mind:

“For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (I Corinthians 1:22-24)

So it seems to make sense for those within the cult, to those who are sure they are “the called.” But no amount of parroting the apostle Paul can change the fact that monotheism took a bad turn when it embraced human sacrifice. In a post here on Debunking Christianity, on 20 October 2017, koseighty remarked,

“If you start with the necessity of a human sacrifice to enable an omnipotent god to forgive his creation, it’s all downhill from there.”

As we all know, in Hebrew folklore God stepped in at the last second to stop Abraham from killing his son, but Christianity failed to grasp the wisdom of this ancient text, and things really did go downhill. Hence, there’s what can be called the Triple Tragedy of a Human Sacrifice.

TRAGEDY NUMBER ONE
Actually, this one might not have happened at all. Is it true, in fact, that a first century Galilean peasant preacher got it into his head that he was the “son of God” and that his destiny was to be put to death, in exchange for which his god would forgive a remnant of humanity? Delusional thinking at this level—and acting it out—is a tragedy. Of course, it’s an absurd scheme on any level, but that doesn’t mean that Jesus didn’t believe it. In the New Testament context, we’re talking about expectations of a “messiah” (anointed=Christ), and folks who have had delusions about being a/the messiah have not been all that rare, as can be seen here.

Jesus could have believed this about himself, but did he? We have no way of knowing because his words have not survived. Now please, don’t wave the Bible at me indignantly and protest, “Look, they’re right here!” Because they’re not right there. The gospels were written decades after the time of Jesus, and their authors give no clue about their sources (well, Matthew and Luke copied Mark—which was a bad source); indeed, the gospels look a lot like theological novels. There is no contemporary documentation whatever for any of Jesus’ deeds or teachings—no surprise there: perhaps 95 percent of his listeners were illiterate. And as far as his words being passed on by word-of-mouth, accurately for decades? Accuracy would probably have tanked after just one or two retellings. No, waving a Bible around, with all the Jesus-words printed in red, is useless.

TRAGEDY NUMBER TWO
Of course, Christianity began as a tiny sect—and remained so for a long time—so we might be tempted to ask, So what if it embraced vicious, repugnant theology? But Christianity turned out to grab major market share on the world stage. So, what a tragedy it is that a major world religion today has, as its centerpiece, a human sacrifice.

This course was pretty well set by the time the gospels were written—of course, one of the initial boosts came from Paul’s writings, and from the anonymous author of the Letter to the Hebrews

(9:22, “without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins”).

But in the gospels Jesus was retro-fitted to be tragic hero, as scripted, for example, by the author of Mark’s gospel:

  • “The Son of Man is to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him; and when He has been killed, He will rise three days later.” (9:31)
  • “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death and will hand Him over to the Gentiles. They will mock Him and spit on Him, and scourge Him and kill Him, and three days later He will rise again.” (10:33-34)
  • “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (10:45).
  • The author of John’s gospel, right from the start, draws an explicit parallel with animals sacrificed at the Jerusalem Temple, when he sees Jesus approaching: “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (1:29).

John takes the prize, moreover, for creating one of the most disturbing texts in the New Testament. Once the human sacrifice has been made, John described the next step:

“Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also will live because of Me’” (6:53-57).

Why don’t Christians throw up? See what happens when theologians get carried away?
If Jesus dying on the cross was a real thing, what would have been the harm of honoring him as a hero—as has been the case with countless Christian martyrs? Why add the part about God needing a sacrifice to forgive sins? Why add the grotesque bits about eating flesh and drinking blood?

This major world religion should be ashamed of itself.

TRAGEDY NUMBER THREE
A couple of billion people seem to think all of this is okay. For centuries priests and theologians have worked hard to tame and domesticate a human sacrifice, thus the third tragedy is that this deformed piety has been hardwired into so many human minds, thanks to relentless indoctrination.

Sometimes John Loftus’ Outsider Test of Faith is illustrated brilliantly by experience in the real world. Sociologist Phil Zuckerman has related the story of taking his daughter to visit a historic California mission, as part of a school assignment:

“The mission was lovely: beautiful landscaping, old buildings, indigenous flowers, a trickling fountain. And then we walked into a large hall—and that’s when my younger daughter lost it. The space was full of crucified Jesuses. Every wall, from floor to ceiling, was adorned with wooden and plaster sculptures of Jesus on the cross: bloody, cut, and crying in pain. Some were very life-like, others more impressionistic.

“But all exhibited a tortured man in agony. My daughter had no context to understand it; she had no idea what Christianity was all about and had never been exposed to this most famous killing in history. She just saw what it objectively was: a large torture chamber. And she burst into tears and ran out.

“I followed her outside, and once I had caught up with her in the courtyard, she wanted any explanation. But how does a secular parent explain such gore to a five year old? ‘Um, well, you see…there are millions of people who think that we are all born evil and that there is an all-powerful God who wants to punish us forever in hell—but then he had his only son tortured and killed so that we could be saved from eternal torture. Get it?'”

“The whole thing is so totally, horrible, absurdly sadistic and counter-intuitive and wicked. Not to mention baldly untrue.”

Horrible. Sadistic. Wicked. Please, Christians, try to see the grim imagery of your faith as the little girl saw it—as an outsider. And be honest: if this whole business had been presented to you first as an adult—surely as the ravings of a backwater cult—would you have considered it seriously for even a moment? Yet the folks who arranged the torture-décor would vow, with all their pious energy, that this was the scheme worked out by a loving god to save souls.

This is religion at its worst. It’s well beyond bad taste, and—unless there is an evil god—baldly untrue.

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Bio: David Madison, a Clergy Project member, was raised in a conservative Christian home in northern Indiana. He served as a pastor in the Methodist church during his work on two graduate degrees in theology. By the time he finished his PhD in Biblical Studies (Boston University) he had become an atheist, a story he shares in the Prologue of his book, published in 2016: 10 Tough Problems in Christian Thought and Belief: a Minister-Turned-Atheist Shows Why You Should Ditch the Faith.This post is reprinted with permission from the Debunking Christianity Blog

>>>>>By Juan de Juanes – [2], Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23065137 ; By Bronzino – Œuvre appartenant au Musée des beaux-arts de Nice, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11949765

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  • Linda_LaScola

    Hello — I want to start the discussion by pointing out the “Easter” piece in yesterdays NY Times.

    Nicholas Kristof’s interview with Serene Jones, the head of Union Theological Seminary sounds remarkably like some of the interviews I did with liberal clergy in the Dennett-LaScola study.

    See for yourself at: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/20/opinion/sunday/christian-easter-serene-jones.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage

    • alwayspuzzled

      Jones’ interview has some similarities with Highland’s “A Freethinker Climbs the Cross”.

      • Linda_LaScola

        Except Jones identifies as Christian and Highland definitely does not.

        • alwayspuzzled

          Good point. This might suggest that for some people labels are defining identity markers, and for other people labels are just a useful convenience (or inconvenience?).

    • carolyntclark

      Minister Jones, much like Gretta Vosper, reveals the philosophy of a Humanist, with the similar bedrock of the message of love, justice, and mercy as the basis of her Church.
      After denouncing the supernatural trappings of Christianity, declaring “I am a Christian Minister” implies living the ideology of the human person of Jesus. ….” the physical resurrection….. seems to me to be a pretty wobbly faith…..No, faith is stronger than that.”
      Why does it require any Faith at all to be a devotee of a exemplary model ?

      • ElizabetB.

        Good question! fwiw — I think of “faith” as our opinion as to what is good, since what’s good is not something that can be decisively demonstrated — “a devotee of a exemplary model” I’d think of as an example of faith…. But it does seem that here Jones is using “faith” in a narrow sense, to indicate her whole religious outlook…. Thanks, Carolyn!

  • Guy Harrison has made the point perfectly: “No one seems to know why a god who makes all the rules and answers to no one couldn’t just pardon us and skip the barbaric crucifixion event entirely.”

    But what happens after the pardon? Do we go back to doing the terrible things we clearly did in the wake of Jesus’ [alleged] crucifixion? (That’s the pattern we see in Jeremiah 7:1–15 …)

    The central doctrine of the Christian faith should make decent people shudder — no, it should make them wretch.

    Of course: we, thinking we were righteous, carved our sins into Jesus’ flesh while thinking they were his sins. After all, Jesus had a chance to lead a violent insurrection. When it was clear he refused, Barabbas was released instead. This cements a belief that the solution to evil is to kill the evil people. It took a gulag to convince Aleksandr Solzhentisyn otherwise:

    In my most evil moments I was convinced that I was doing good, and I was well supplied with systematic arguments. And it was only when I lay there rotting on prison straw that I sensed within myself the first stirrings of good. Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either – but right through every human heart – and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us it oscillates with the years. And even within the hearts overwhelmed with evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains…an un-uprooted small corner of evil. (The Gulag Archipelago)

    It was “decent people” who convinced the Romans to crucify Jesus. I’m defining “decent” here as it always is defined: by the culture. The true enemy is self-righteousness, which is perhaps the superpower of humanity. No matter how evil we are, the Other is more evil. This self-righteousness is so powerful that humans were confident enough to kill true Righteousness. Or so the narrative goes. Wouldn’t that necessarily make “decent people” shudder?

     
    [Edit: Did you mean ‘retch’ instead of ‘wretch’? The Christian might be rather happier with the ‘wretch’ version.]

  • alwayspuzzled

    J. S. Mill, one of history’s great thinkers and an atheist, always put together his opponents’ strongest argument and then attacked that argument.

    Creating a weak, one dimensional opponent to attack is an admission that one’s own argument is weak. It is what the Evangelicals do when the Evangelical preacher preaches to the Evangelical choir. Interestingly, “The Triple Tragedy of a Human Sacrifice” sounds very much like an atheist preacher preaching to the atheist choir. Old habits die hard?

    • ElizabetB.

      Thanks, alwayspuzzled! In this case, I see David as taking Christianity’s most egregious error, and countering it there. Of all the goods and failings of this particular religion, I have to agree that this failing is the most tragic and the most in need of repairing.

      The idea of giving one’s life for someone or for some noble cause — sacrifice in that sense — is inspiring. But the idea that killing an innocent person makes the universe better, makes the moral universe better, that killing an innocent person can right a wrong, is abhorrent and cannot be allowed to slip into our mental outlook on life.

      In the wider picture, the Zukerman piece that David links to mentions several doctrines that are harmful to children, as well as doctrines that help them, and is an interesting read.

      I think David does well to lift up this particular doctrine for examination. Taking into consideration all the goods and ills of Christianity, this doctrine may be the only reason I might agree that on balance, it would be a good thing to eliminate this particular religion.

      • alwayspuzzled

        “the idea that killing an innocent person makes the universe better”

        This is the charge that Madison makes against Christians, but this is not what Christians claim.

        Let’s think about blood sacrifice for a minute. The ritual sacrifice of animals and humans (usually captives, slaves, or children). Or mythic sacrifices of gods – Thammuz, Osiris, Baal, for instance. In all of these cases the sacrifice is involuntary. But in the Christian myth, the sacrifice is completely voluntary. Not only is it voluntary, it has also been planned ahead of time. This voluntary aspect of the sacrifice is probably one of the things that gave the early Jesus Movement a strong marketing edge over a lot of the other cults around at the time. And the voluntary aspect of the sacrifice is at the core of Christian theology and the Christian message.

        Madison completely ignores the importance of the voluntary aspect of the sacrifice. He is an atheist preacher preaching to an atheist choir.

        • ElizabetB.

          This is what seems almost impossible to explain; so far I’ve never been successful. The problem is in the abstract. As I wrote, someone voluntarily giving their life for another is inspirational, and that is the way I talk about Jesus’ death when I lead devotionals. The problem is the idea that in the moral universe, killing an innocent person does not add to the evil in the world. Instead, killing an innocent person makes things better. Either the moral order or one’s idea of God ok’s, even requires, the killing of an innocent person. That just cannot be. Thanks for the reply!

          • alwayspuzzled

            Elizabeth,
            I agree that the story is very problematic, and the theology of substitutional atonement built on the story is even more problematic. It is clear that the primary purpose of the theology of substitutional atonement (along with the theology of Sacraments) from the beginning was to give the Church’s leadership a tight grip on the Church’s membership.
            But if Madison really wants to debunk the story, he cannot leave out a crucial (perhaps the crucial) element of the story. He does leave it out. He is an atheist preacher preaching to an atheist choir.

          • ElizabetB.

            Many thanks for the feedback. For future writing, it may be good advice to include the trinitarian view that ‘God out of God’s great love took this task upon God’s-self,’ in order not to leave that view unaddressed. About substitutionary atonement — for me, the arguments have seemed reasonable that it grew up because Jesus’ followers were struggling to understand how an all-powerful God could allow this awesome teacher to be tortured to death. Later on, I’m afraid it’s all too clear that you’re right, it became a power tool. Always, thanks for the thoughts

        • Voluntary or not is totally beside the point: God’s scheme required a human sacrifice, which is nasty religion. And that is at the very core of Christian thought. “Planned ahead of time” makes it even worse: So God found a willing victim if Christian theology is to be believed (Mark depicts a pretty reluctant Jesus). Large measures of magical thinking were added to the sacrifice-resurrection mix as well, Romans 10:9: “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Catholic piety especially (and Mel Gibson) can’t get enough of the gore. Most atheists already sense the ghastliness of all this, so NO I am not really ‘preaching’ to them. I’m trying to hold up a mirror for Christians to look at themselves.

          • ElizabetB.

            “God found a willing victim” — though, if one is a trinitarian, one thinks that God is offering God’s-self; Jesus is part of God. In that case, it’s the moral order that is requiring God to do this….

            Revisiting this issue is making me think that maybe I really do need to say farewell to the tradition I’ve grown up in. This may be the issue I really can’t metaphorize….

          • alwayspuzzled

            “I’m trying to hold up a mirror for Christians to look at themselves”

            The mirror your sermon holds up is like the funhouse mirrors that deliberately distort the reflected image.

        • Geoff Benson

          Ignoring the likelihood that the whole story is entirely contrived, though possibly based on an actual execution, I fail to see why being voluntary (and, let’s face it, even the story as told doesn’t suggest it was entirely voluntary) redeems (no pun intended) it in any way. A sacrifice is required and, whilst usually victims are less than willing to be sacrificed, on this occasion there is the advantage that the victim is, sort of, willing. Big deal.

          Having said which, if Jesus really was god, and he knew that his death, albeit temporary, was needed to bring about some much greater good, then there was intense pressure on him to fulfill the ‘sacrifice’. Hardly out and out voluntary.

      • The idea of giving one’s life for someone or for some noble cause — sacrifice in that sense — is inspiring. But the idea that killing an innocent person makes the universe better, makes the moral universe better, that killing an innocent person can right a wrong, is abhorrent and cannot be allowed to slip into our mental outlook on life.

        But … isn’t that the point? Up to Jesus, humans would regularly scapegoat the innocent, thinking that they had thereby purged themselves of taint. And with every imperfect human being, one can find some way to justify the scapegoating; one can pick some small defect and amplify it and/or add other stuff. You just need the tiniest plausibility and mob logic will take you the rest of the way. Jesus was the first scapegoat who was obviously innocent and no convincing mythology could be written which argued otherwise.

        To put it another way: it is not clear you could even state your point, had Jesus not been crucified. It is quite possible that humans would still be telling tales about how the scapegoated really deserved it. Scholar René Girard found that every religion other than Judaism and Christianity, at least up through Jesus’ crucifixion, did exactly this. And no scientist has ever demonstrated an inexorable law of nature which states we will become more moral in time.

        Only the perfect scapegoat would show us that we scapegoat. Only the perfect scapegoat would unveil the truth. No act of power, no miracle, no war campaign, could possibly convince us of such a thing.

        • ElizabetB.

          Luke, I appreciate very much your thoughtful comment. Yes, I’m familiar with Girard. I’ll think about your point, but initially I have objections…. One is that, as a Christianity-as-metaphor-type Christian, I think of the historical Jesus as not perfect, Another is that, even if I thought of Jesus as perfect, I question whether this is the first time in human history that scapegoating has been recognized. And, I observe that since Jesus, we continue to scapegoat. What I’ll have to mull over is the question as to what this would mean in the moral universe: to kill an innocent person in order to reveal that we kill innocent persons.

          • Maybe this is not the time, but I think much could be gained from exploring why/how you think Jesus is imperfect. Otto Borchert looks at this matter in his 1921 The Original Jesus, finding that Jesus would not be judged as καλὸς κἀγαθός by: (i) the Romans; (ii) the Greeks; (iii) the Jewish elite; (iv) Jesus’ disciples; (v) those in Borchert’s time. But curiously, the bases for judgments of imperfection differ from group to group. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”? Well, that or “we are the instruments with which we measure reality” and we are prone to attribute defects in the measurement to the measured, rather than to the instrument. How does one show that the defect is actually in the instrument? Well, in some situations it seems like the only way is via failed scapegoating—where the scapegoat really is killed, but the story about the scapegoat’s guilt won’t stick.

            If you can find an earlier recognition/​unveiling of scapegoating that is tied to neither Christianity nor Judaism, you could make a huge splash among Girard scholars. While I am not a scholar myself, I would love to investigate it as well.

            Finally, Girard did not say that we would discontinue scapegoating. Instead, he says that the nature of scapegoating was forever altered. It could never be a fully believable fiction; what Jesus did was introduce a crack that would spread, but not shatter things immediately. We have tried to patch up that crack many a time, but we just can’t have the same kind of success which Girard saw before Jesus’ death. Indeed, what Girard predicted was that the violence-reduction strategy of scapegoating would have to be countered by much greater violence. I don’t think he can be taken to necessarily entail an increase in per capita violence, else Pinker’s Better Angels would appear a decisive refutation. More likely, he knew what Nietzsche did when Nietzsche predicted the next century would see 100,000,000 deaths by violence or other evil (such as utterly avoidable starvation).

             
            P.S. According to increasingly dominant ideology in the West, one has 100% right to do with one’s body whatever one wishes, as long as it does not cause† pain or suffering in others. And so, if Jesus wishes to give himself up for humiliation and execution, that is within his rights. To call this ‘evil’ is to be caught in self-contradiction. Somehow you helped crystallize that realization, so thank you!‡
            P.P.S. I’m glad you appreciated my comment. My way is generally to show my respect via critical engagement, rather than nice words. I take it this is a stereotypically Jewish strategy, although I am a Protestant.

            † This is highly nontrivial; if I play porn at high volume when there are small children playing outside of my open window, am I causing them pain or suffering? I’m stealing/​adapting this example from The Disenchantment of Secular Discourse. But hopefully we can ignore such complexities for the time being.
            ‡ This is more evidence that Charles Taylor was on to something with his 1989 essay Explanation and Practical Reason, where he argued that there is much profit in arguing according to others’ standards, rather than imposing your own onto them.

          • ElizabetB.

            Thanks, Luke. Initially, about “if Jesus wishes to give himself up for humiliation and execution, that is within his rights. To call this ‘evil’ is to be caught in self-contradiction. Somehow you helped crystallize that realization, so thank you!” —

            This is the issue I have never been able to communicate: The “evil” is the idea that killing an innocent person, with no extenuating circumstances, is a good.

          • The “evil” is the idea that killing an innocent person, with no extenuating circumstances, is a good.

            I agree, although that “no extenuating circumstances” is a wide proviso so I’m not sure how much I’m stating. I can add that I disagree with the theories of atonement where it was God demanding someone to beat on and kill. But if we examine the cultural context where those theories of atonement arose, we might find that they were medicinal to bad understandings. I’m ok with God working that we; he certainly takes us through right-angle turns when it comes to scientific revolutions.

            The thing is, I think we humans are much more willing to kill innocents and that we don’t like this exposed. Just look at how little uproar there was when Obama declared all 18+ males killed by drone strikes to be presumed enemy combatants unless proven otherwise. Then we can add another key aspect: I have discovered that many people find the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to be much more terrible than the firebombing of Tokyo, even though the latter was more devastating. It seems that people respond nonlinearly to evil. So it might be really important for our own willingness to admit the truth, to have someone so innocent as Jesus be tortured and murdered in a brutal, humiliating way. If Jesus is willing to endure this—as he clearly was at Gethsemane, according to the story at least—then the ideology of bodily autonomy increasingly accepted by the Enlightened West must not complain about Jesus’ choice on pain of contradiction and hypocrisy.

            Perhaps there is another element: if we assume that this is just a broken world (whether mindlessly evolved or created by warring gods), then some baseline amount of evil is expected. And so we deal, perhaps by writing and performing tragedies. And since we like to balance the books in our minds, we attribute more guilt to those who suffer than is correct—see the book of Job. The occasional murdered/​ostracized, scapegoated victim removes the “error” from the books so we can continue without making true correction. Girard might not be fully comprehensible if one assumes a baseline amount of evil. He, I think, is hoping for zero through our choice to face ourselves, rather than hide in lies and self-deception. But we do not want to face ourselves. Thanks to Jesus’ choice, we can’t lie to ourselves quite as well as we could before. And that might be just the “splinter in the mind” to, at some point, convince us to aim toward zero rather than be happy with a baseline.

          • ElizabetB.

            I think David here is talking about the “no extenuating circumstances” killing of an innocent person — that is what is so horrific to imply is good — whether or not Jesus is seen as willing to endure it.

            So long as I stay within the Christian tradition, the way I put together the death story for myself is an amalgam of Crossan, Wink, etc — Jesus was a nonviolent revolutionary who challenged the political and clerical powers of that day: A God of equality and love was “king,” not Caesar; and God forgives and loves quite apart from a system of temple taxes, etc. His popularity threatened the powers, so they threatened him — but he would not back down, even under torture. After his death, his devastated disciples were shocked to still experience the power of that love that is at the heart of being itself. Alas, clerical powers have resumed the temptation of presuming to dole out humans’ innate connection to the universe, so the idea of “original blessing” is hard to assert in the West and we have to keep at it. The Protestant ’empty cross’ is an improvement over the crucifix, which portrays human evil (evil doesn’t have the last word), but the better symbolization is the communal potluck.

            At the same time, I want to say that that Solzhenitsyn quote is one of my favorites — thank you for reminding me! (I’m familiar with it as “rotting straw” rather than Sol himself rotting…)

            It’s been an interesting dialog — thank you!

          • ElizabetB.

            Thanks again, Luke!

            About “I think much could be gained from exploring why/how you think Jesus is imperfect…. ‘….we are the instruments with which we measure reality’ and we are prone to attribute defects in the measurement to the measured, rather than to the instrument” —

            I agree wholeheartedly that our evaluation of someone definitely reflects who we are, our values. …I think of Jesus as imperfect because I think of all humans as imperfect and so far I haven’t read or experienced anything to convince me Jesus was an exception. However, I think that the historical Jesus definitely was unjustly executed — the injustice and consequent revelation of scapegoating would not hinge upon his being perfect.

            About “If you can find an earlier recognition/unveiling of scapegoating that is tied to neither Christianity nor Judaism, you could make a huge splash among Girard scholars….”

            My fullest encounter with Girard was reading Walter Wink’s “Powers” trilogy, where he expresses his admiration: “…the real value of Girard’s hypothesis lies… in its analytical power to unmask the nature of human violence today. Even if aspects of Girard’s overall thesis fail to convince, his understanding of mimetic rivalry and conflict and of the scapegoat are among the most profound intellectual discoveries of our time, and will remain permanent contributions to our understanding of Jesus’ crucifixion.” [154-5, Engaging the Powers]

            I’ve never investigated the question as to when people began to recognize scapegoating, so will stay tuned for further information! Maybe I so thoroughly ingested Wink that I’ve just thought “it always has been thus” : )

            Looking back at my tattered “Engaging the Powers” section on “Breaking the Spiral of Violence: Girard’s Hypothesis,” this passage may throw some light on the problem I have tried to express. After describing how the unjust execution of Jesus unmasked the Domination Powers’ reliance on the myth of redemptive violence, Wink argues that the church did not adopt Jesus’ nonviolence. Instead —

            “…Now, however, Christian theology argued that God is the one who provides Jesus as a Lamb sacrificed in our stead; that God is the angry and aggrieved party who must be placated by blood sacrifice; that God is, finally, both sacrificer and sacrificed. Jesus must therefore cease to be a man executed for his integrity, and becomes a ‘Godman who can offer to God adequate expiation for us all.’ (Basil). Rather than God triumphing over the Powers through Jesus’ nonviolent self-sacrifice on the cross, the Powers disappear from discussion, and God is involved in a transaction wholly within God’s own self. But what is wrong with this God, that the legal ledgers can be balanced only by means of the death of an innocent victim? Jesus simply declared people forgiven, confident that he spoke the mind of God. Why then is a sacrificial victim necessary to make forgiveness possible? Does not the death of Jesus reveal that all such sacrifices are unnecessary?

            “The God whom Jesus revealed as no longer our rival, no longer threatening and vengeful, but unconditionally loving and forgiving, who needed no satisfaction by blood — this God of infinite mercy was metamorphosed by the church into the image of a wrathful God whose demand for blood atonement leads to God’s requiring of his own Son a death on behalf of us all. The nonviolent God of Jesus comes to be depicted as a God of unequaled violence, since God not only allegedly demands the blood of the victim who is closest and most precious to him, but also holds the whole of humanity accountable for a death that God both anticipated and required. Against such an image of God the revolt of atheism is an act of pure religion.” [148-9]

            Thank you for sending me back to Wink — and forward to learning more about Girard! And thanks again for the thoughts!

          • ElizabetB.

            Looks like my reply looks like “spam” to Disqus — trying again!

            Full

            Thanks again, Luke!

            About “I think much could be gained from exploring why/how you think Jesus is imperfect…. ‘….we are the instruments with which we measure reality’ and we are prone to attribute defects in the measurement to the measured, rather than to the instrument” —

            I agree wholeheartedly that our evaluation of someone definitely reflects who we are, our values. …I think of Jesus as imperfect because I think of all humans as imperfect and so far I haven’t read or experienced anything to convince me Jesus was an exception. However, I think that the historical Jesus definitely was unjustly executed — the injustice and consequent revelation of scapegoating would not hinge upon his being perfect.

            About “If you can find an earlier recognition/unveiling of scapegoating that is tied to neither Christianity nor Judaism, you could make a huge splash among Girard scholars….”

            My fullest encounter with Girard was reading Walter Wink’s “Powers” trilogy, where he expresses his admiration: “…the real value of Girard’s hypothesis lies… in its analytical power to unmask the nature of human violence today. Even if aspects of Girard’s overall thesis fail to convince, his understanding of mimetic rivalry and conflict and of the scapegoat are among the most profound intellectual discoveries of our time, and will remain permanent contributions to our understanding of Jesus’ crucifixion.” [154-5, Engaging the Powers]

            I’ve never investigated the question as to when people began to recognize scapegoating, so will stay tuned for further information! Maybe I so thoroughly ingested Wink that I’ve just thought “it always has been thus” : )

            Looking back at my tattered “Engaging the Powers” section on “Breaking the Spiral of Violence: Girard’s Hypothesis,” this passage may throw some light on the problem I have tried to express. After describing how the unjust execution of Jesus unmasked the Domination Powers’ reliance on the myth of redemptive violence, Wink argues that the church did not adopt Jesus’ nonviolence. Instead —

            “…Now, however, Christian theology argued that God is the one who provides Jesus as a Lamb sacrificed in our stead; that God is the angry and aggrieved party who must be placated by blood sacrifice; that God is, finally, both sacrificer and sacrificed. Jesus must therefore cease to be a man executed for his integrity, and becomes a ‘Godman who can offer to God adequate expiation for us all.’ (Basil). Rather than God triumphing over the Powers through Jesus’ nonviolent self-sacrifice on the cross, the Powers disappear from discussion, and God is involved in a transaction wholly within God’s own self. But what is wrong with this God, that the legal ledgers can be balanced only by means of the death of an innocent victim? Jesus simply declared people forgiven, confident that he spoke the mind of God. Why then is a sacrificial victim necessary to make forgiveness possible? Does not the death of Jesus reveal that all such sacrifices are unnecessary?

            “The God whom Jesus revealed as no longer our rival, no longer threatening and vengeful, but unconditionally loving and forgiving, who needed no satisfaction by blood — this God of infinite mercy was metamorphosed by the church into the image of a wrathful God whose demand for blood atonement leads to God’s requiring of his own Son a death on behalf of us all. The nonviolent God of Jesus comes to be depicted as a God of unequaled violence, since God not only allegedly demands the blood of the victim who is closest and most precious to him, but also holds the whole of humanity accountable for a death that God both anticipated and required. Against such an image of God the revolt of atheism is an act of pure religion.” [148-9]

            Thank you for sending me back to Wink — and forward to learning more about Girard! And thanks again for the thoughts!

          • I think of Jesus as imperfect because I think of all humans as imperfect and so far I haven’t read or experienced anything to convince me Jesus was an exception. However, I think that the historical Jesus definitely was unjustly executed — the injustice and consequent revelation of scapegoating would not hinge upon his being perfect.

            Something caused scapegoating to finally be unveiled and shown for what it was. I’m heavily inclined to think it was a combination of Jesus’ perfection (no accusation could really stick) and the immediate forgiveness of that scapegoating (without which I doubt repentance is possible). On top of this, one can ask what forgiveness is, if there is no trustworthy promise of fixing the damage.

            My fullest encounter with Girard was reading Walter Wink’s “Powers” trilogy, where he expresses his admiration: “…the real value of Girard’s hypothesis lies… in its analytical power to unmask the nature of human violence today. Even if aspects of Girard’s overall thesis fail to convince, his understanding of mimetic rivalry and conflict and of the scapegoat are among the most profound intellectual discoveries of our time, and will remain permanent contributions to our understanding of Jesus’ crucifixion.” [154-5, Engaging the Powers]

            Neat; I’ve not yet come across Walter Wink. On my list is to understand what happens when enough people do perfect nonviolence. Is it possible that they can just be completely wiped out by psychopaths? And yet, if we are to follow in Jesus’ footsteps and he let people carve their sins into his flesh (while thinking the sins were Jesus’) …

            Wink argues that the church did not adopt Jesus’ nonviolence. Instead —

            “…Now, however, Christian theology argued that God is the one who provides Jesus as a Lamb sacrificed in our stead; that God is the angry and aggrieved party who must be placated by blood sacrifice; …

            To which “church” is Wink referring? It’s arguable that penal substitutionary atonement is rather new in the history of Christianity, as is Anselm’s satisfaction theory. Much earlier is the ransom theory, which has us being slaves of the Enemy who can only be freed “without money”. There is also the Christus Victor theory. And I probably have only scratched the surface.

            Before anyone is too hard on penal substitution, I suggest investigating whether it is in fact a good antidote to the beliefs required to sustain the kind of “justice” system Foucault describes in the beginning of Discipline and Punish. Anselm has some interesting criticisms of the ransom theory, but I wonder if again, the ransom theory was a good antidote to e.g. a controlling guilt/​shame. Even Girard’s theory might need to give way to something which better gets at Jesus enabling “abiding in Christ”—something I think most do not want because they do not want to drink the cup Jesus drank.

            … this God of infinite mercy was metamorphosed by the church into the image of a wrathful God …

            The OT in no way makes God’s mercy out to be “infinite” (the Amorites had 400 years, for example) and I’m not sure why anyone would want his mercy to be infinite, except for oppressors. If you’ve encountered Miroslav Volf, you’ll find a compelling argument that people who have experienced heinous evil will, by and large, either carry out vengeance themselves or trust God to do it better, justly, but completely. I myself experienced the desire for wrath when I encountered a school administration which knew it could do more to prevent student suicides but instead chose to cover its legal butt and stop there. Should they refuse to repent, I want God’s wrath to rain down on them! Otherwise, more people will die who could have lived. If God does not fight such things, God is not good. And it’s not clear to me—maybe Wink has an explanation—that “wrath” can be completely and utterly avoided in the fight.

            Thank you for sending me back to Wink — and forward to learning more about Girard! And thanks again for the thoughts!

            My pleasure! I still have a lot to learn about Girard; the fact that it took so long to have his insights (one could say, self-reflective understanding of scapegoating instead of something implicit) has me very curious. Perhaps it has something to do with a tendency of humans to be self-righteous—that is, think that they are on the side of righteousness, by definition.

          • ElizabetB.

            Thanks again, Luke! Wink was writing especially in the 80’s and 90’s…. I think of him as one of the liberation theologians and activists. ….Good question about the psychopaths! I think the key is that “nonviolence” does not imply passivity — Wink, King, etc are talking about “nonviolent RESISTANCE.” I see an example of that tonight, as Rev. Dr. Barber responds to Saturday’s synagogue shooting with “Yesterday the President justified anti-Semitic white nationalists, saying they just loved Robert E. Lee. Today, another synagogue has been attacked. The hate has gone too far. Love must rise.” — Love does not just accept the blows, but acts. Some analyses I like are King’s “My Pilgrimage to Nonviolence” —
            http://okra.stanford.edu/transcription/document_images/Vol04Scans/473_1-Sept-1958_My%20Pilgrimage%20to%20Nonviolence.pdf
            A little book “The Horrors We Bless” lays out the case for nonviolent resistance being more effective than violence —
            https://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-reviews/R1UV0ZBJPQA9LR/ref=cm_cr_arp_d_rvw_ttl?ie=UTF8&ASIN=0800638972
            and the work of Gene Sharp, whose books have been studied around the planet. I guess you have to have the long view! because right now it surely seems slow going — unless, as you mentioned, you read Pinker : )

            I’ve always understood the apostle Paul and other NT writers to be describing substitutionary atonement among other views — I will look back to see if I’ve just been reading it back in to them. And yes, I was delighted when I saw it pointed out that the New Testament includes many different theories of Jesus’ death, so there were “official” alternatives.

            Jesus’ “god of infinite mercy” that Wink references is God as Jesus revealed God to be (as Wink interprets that) — not the god of every description in the bible, which includes some grisly ideas, Old Testament and New… That’s the drawback of quoting passages out of their larger context!

            Whew — I get your point about the school administration!!!!!!! Seems the situation OUGHT to evoke wrath and motivate us to obliterate it… maybe, as you intimate, by avoiding wrath against the persons as we fight the evil. King’s book of sermons, “Strength to Love,” describes “loving” people who are bombing their homes — delivering them from the evil they are doing as well as stopping the violence — “and so we have a two-fold victory.” Totally mindblowing to me!!!!

            Again, thank you for the thoughts!!!!!

        • Geoff Benson

          Nice try, and probably the best spin you can put on a quite extraordinarily illogical and ill-considered fabrication. Even so it really doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.

          • Ok; do let me know if you want to give the kind of details required for me to give any sort of rational reply.

  • I was raised in fundamentalist evangelical Christianity. I started questioning aspects of it and moved to progressive Christianity in my 20s. In my mid 30s on a trip to Mayan ruins in Mexico where human sacrifice was described in gruesome details I realized that Christianity was another human sacrifice religion, and I realized I couldn’t handle that and left Christianity for good. That was over a decade ago.

    Most Christians have a fit if you mention that they follow a human sacrifice cult. The concept of communion always grossed me out, even in the symbolic way we practiced it.

    • ThaneOfDrones

      Imagine then if you were Catholic, and they insisted it was real cannibalism, not just symbolic.

  • See Noevo

    “Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the
    debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?

    For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it
    pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.

    For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom,
    but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to
    Gentiles,

    but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and
    the wisdom of God.

    For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is
    stronger than men.

    For consider your call, brethren; not many of you were wise according to
    worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth;

    but God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is
    weak in the world to shame the strong,

    God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to
    bring to nothing things that are,
    so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.

    He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom, our
    righteousness and sanctification and redemption;
    therefore, as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast of the Lord.””

    • Cozmo the Magician

      Oh look, TrollyMcTrollface is back with a giant wall of bible bullshit.

      And as usual the troll’s comment has NOTHING to do with the actual topic at hand.

    • Wes Mahan

      See Noevo, these verses describe you perfectly:
      “foolish”
      “low & despised”
      “not wise”
      “weak”
      But of course, to you those are attributes to be proud of!

    • I will pray Eldath, Goddess of peace, for you.

    • DoctorDJ

      Oh, silly See. Your new name is: Ignorantiae Antiquae.

      Corinthians are known for their fine leather, not for ancient magic words from a death cult. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/4c1b4d169c66c3209e9e229c39dd90bdbad67c2ce53c0f27898d7d679e44d193.jpg

  • Cozmo the Magician

    What is even worse is that the ‘sins’ we need to have forgiven are ‘sins’ by OTHER people. The whole concept of ‘original sin’ is just damn sick. According to the buybull we are BORN with sin because everybody all the way back to Adam and Eve are dirty.

    And therein lies the FATAL flaw in christian insanity. There WAS NO ADAM EVE. ALL of the evidence shows that humans evolved from earlier species. The whole garden of eden story is nothing but bullshit. So the whole religion falls apart right there.

    • That’s why Fundies claim that you must accept that as well as the Flood as real, otherwise everything collapses.

      • Cozmo the Magician

        Somewhere on youtube are probably several vids of people fighting with folding chairs/tables/tents/etc I’ll leave it as project for the student to find their own fave (;

    • carolyntclark

      Original Sin is the greatest hoax ever. Without Original Sin, no need for redemption. Without a need for redemption, no need for the Redeemer. No Redeemer, no Christ…poof goes Christianity.The whole elaborate construct is based on a silly fable.

      • Cozmo the Magician

        Yup , its a house of cards built on a table of tissue paper, resting on a floor of snot and the cards are all in twisted little minds.

    • IIRC studies show that those who were abused as children have a greater tendency to abuse when they have children themselves. Now, should we blame the children as much, more than, or less than, their parents for engaging in abuse of the grandchildren?

      • Cozmo the Magician

        As much as my mom was an awesome person who cared for MANY MANY children as a foster parent I always heard other relatives tell me how much I resembled my DAD. He was an alcoholic abusive asshole. Granted, the comments were about our physical resemblance. But I realized that MAYBE I might be just as bad a parent as he was… Thus I have never EVER wanted to be a dad.

        TBH, I have been a violent asshole and a drunk in my past, so damn good thing no woman ever had a baby I helped make. OTOH, I have enjoyed lots of sex and never worried because birth control. On the gripping hand, I HAVE had a positive influence on MANY children due to my experience as a teacher and entertainer.

        YAY birth control! Rubbers, Diaframs (sp), pills, etc. etc..

        Oh wait… On the fourth hand (motie mutie) if mom or dad had used some, I would not be here…

  • Jim Jones

    Then out spake brave Horatius; The captain of the gate
    “To every man upon this earth, Death cometh soon or late,
    And how can man die better, Than facing fearful odds,
    For the ashes of his fathers, And the temples of his gods.”

    The Lays of Ancient Rome: Thomas Babington Macaulay.