JUST WHAT ARE GOOD AND EVIL? Radical Bleeding Heart image


One of the most amazing things about Christianity is how little it has to do with the moral and religious teachings of Jesus. Even more amazing (astounding, when you think about it) is how little attention anyone pays to this remarkable fact.

Christianity is not an affirmation of the teachings of Jesus; it is an endorsement of His execution. The torture and killing of Jesus is celebrated in a ritual act of symbolic cannibalism. This is the core ritual of Christianity.

His teachings, however, are ignored. But what would happen if we actually took Jesus seriously? What if we honestly considered the possibility of following His doctrines? Of doing what He told us to do?

Some of the sayings of Jesus recorded in the gospels are ambiguous or obscure, but two themes are absolutely unambiguous and perfectly limpid.

One is that to take the road to the kingdom of God one must renounce wealth and embrace poverty. The way to heaven demands a life of extreme simplicity (Mt 19:21-24; Lk 18:22-25).

The other requirement is the absolute rejection of violence and retribution. Your Father in heaven, He insisted, forgives all and forgives unconditionally; to find your way to His embrace you must do likewise (Mt 5:38-48; Lk 6:27-38).

A few small groups on the fringes of Christianity attempt to follow these teachings: the Amish, the Quakers, and certain Catholic orders of monks and nuns, for example. The bulk of Christianity ignores or explicitly rejects them.

How Christians Reject Jesus. In fact the central Christian doctrine of atonement directly contradicts the message of Jesus. In the gospels Jesus is rebuked by “scholars” for presuming to forgive sins, because only God has that power (Mk 2:7; Mt 9:3; Luke 5:21). The doctrine of atonement, however, holds that God sent His Son to earth in order to be tortured and killed in payment for the sins of mankind. God, wanting to absolve mankind of sin, sends His Son to be tortured and unjustly slaughtered to atone for the sins of mankind.

Please think about this.

The implication is that God Himself cannot forgive sins; they must be paid for, if only by a surrogate. Someone must be punished. The laws of the universe demand that right can be restored only when every wrong is answered with another wrong, and not even God can change that. So God, lacking the power to forgive directly, cancels out the sins of mankind by offering Himself, in the form of His Son, as the world's divine whipping boy.

This is a truly bizarre and remarkable doctrine.

But Jesus himself rejected the superstition of atonement. He argued that God not only can forgive, but does, universally and unconditionally (Mt 5:43-47). And, He said, we should do likewise. He scorned the idea that one can pay for sins by being sinned against. Retribution does not erase evil; it merely compounds it.

Confronted with the astounding truth of this wonderful and frighteningly radical idea, a group of people reacted by deifying its author while turning His horrible execution into the embodiment of their total rejection of the idea itself. The invention of Christianity was their repudiation of the Jesus doctrine.

How Psychic Trauma Inspired the Creation of Christianity. It must have been like being blinded by a searing light. The law of retribution, which seems to be indelibly branded into the human psyche, was revealed by Jesus to be only the wicked idea that two wrongs make a right, one of the tools by which Satan rules the world. That must have awed and horrified his followers. Recognizing its truth, but being unable in truth to accept it, they could only see its author as God, as more and better than they could ever be. When Jesus accepted death rather than reject His own teaching, their conflict became unbearable. They resolved it with the Doctrine of Atonement.

That resolution was a complete repudiation of logic but a perfect balm to emotion. The blinding and unbearable truth of His teaching deified Him. But then His execution made no sense. How could God be so abused?

Unless . . . ?

The Doctine of Atonement, although logically an utter repudiation of the teachings of Jesus, made perfect emotional sense to His followers. Their awe of Him was now justified, and the emotional confict produced by their own inability to follow His radical pacifism was dissolved in a new doctrine that now soothingly erased the horrifying teachings of their Master.

Of course all that has been forgotten. Adoration of the crucificion sublimely obliterates the commandments of Jesus for His contemporary worshipers. But while modern Christians just ignore what Jesus said, non-Christians who read the gospels are struck by its extreme nature. It seems too radical to be taken seriously. But was Jesus right? Or is that a just a crackpot idea? Will civilization crumble if we abandon the notion that two wrongs make a right?

[Next: Was Jesus Right?]

Hyam Maccoby, A Talmudic scholar, argues in The Mythmaker that Jesus could not have held such a foolish doctrine as the law of love as opposed to the law of compensation, because it would result in a society in which oppression and violence would reign unchecked (39-40).