Thomas Paine
Thomas Paine Age of Reason

Cruci-Fiction - Nailing Down the Story

by Stephen Van Eck

The Crucifixion is the focal point of the Christian faith. It is the central event of Jesus' earthly mission, and according to the doctrine of substitutionary atonement, the means by which we are saved from hell and given admission into heaven. But only through a conditioned attitude of unquestioning faith can the whole thing fail to be seen as profoundly absurd.

Assuming God created us, it's clear we were created imperfect. That's something God should have known. But rather than conclude that God's ultimately responsible for our imperfection and the consequences thereof, Christians all to eagerly proclaim - as doctrine demands - that we are all utterly depraved, somehow.

We're trained to accept that God damns us to hell for this imperfection (and rarely realize that the punishment in no way fits the "crime"). And we're told that the only way the Almighty could rectify the problem was to send himself down in human form, as a sacrifice to appease his own wrath. Wrath, we must remember, over the imperfection he himself created in us.

If the Crucifixion were merely God's way of punishing himself for doing such a lousy job making us, the whole thing would make better sense than it does.

The concept of substitutionary atonement, as Paine pointed out, is based on pecuniary justice, the defect of which is best illustrated by an analogy. Suppose, as Paine suggested, a man owed a sum of money, and another man came and paid the debt out of his own pocket. That would be an act of generosity that could properly settle the first man's debt. But contrast that with the case of a vile, despicable felon.

Could justice be served if an innocent man offered to serve his sentence, or accepted execution in his place? Clearly not, for an innocent man would be punished, while a detriment was left scot-free to continue wreaking evil. Thus the principle behind Christ dying for us sinners is proven, based on logic, to be deeply flawed.

Another problem with the Crucifixion is that, all things considered, it wasn't such a big deal after all. According to one gospel, Jesus was on the cross for a mere three hours, a mercifully short period compared to the days most crucified men suffered before dying of dehydration and exhaustion. What's more, if Jesus really was God, he went to the cross knowing he wouldn't really die.

Sure, his mortal shell would expire, but his eternal spirit would continue, better off than before, since our frail physical shells are the principal conduit for suffering in this world.

Only if someone were to go to his execution not knowing the outcome would it begin to approach a genuine sacrifice. Or conversely, if his purpose were to suffer, then he should have gone on living. Dying early is taking the easy way out.

The prize and the price both need to be placed in the balance here. Weigh three hours of suffering versus the everlasting bliss of heaven, and we should all be willing to be crucified. Yet three hours was supposedly sufficient to atone for everyone of Earth?

Compare the magnitude of the sins committed by everyone who ever lived, and the amount of punishment this might call for, and its clear that the only way three hours can cover it all is by a flat declaration to that effect. As if flat doctrinal declarations become reality upon utterance.

Yet Jesus paid it all, as the hymn goes. His death somehow cancels out all our sins for us. We've already shown that this is an erroneous notion of justice, and it must now be seen that it cannot possibly be the case. Because despite the atoning work of Jesus, many of us are going to hell anyway, or so say the Christians. And why will people go to hell, despite Christ's much-vaunted sacrifice?

Not for anything they've actually done wrong - - Pauline doctrine has us all hell-bound totally without reference to our actual sins. It's our intrinsic state, prior to and irrespective of our offenses. No, we are to be sent to hell simply for not believing in Jesus! We can be living paragons, but still condemned, just for not believing an absurd story on demand, without proof.

Now why God would make this the crucial test of all existence defies explanation. I have yet to see even the feeblest attempt to explain it. But as far as I'm concerned, if Christ's death on the cross was to atone for the sins of the world, then we should all be saved whether we believe it or not. (Why should it matter if we don't? Or more importantly, why is it so vital that we do?) And if some go to hell anyway, then the sacrifice was not sufficient, and Christ's mission was a failure.

How can we reasonably be expected to believe this tale, anyway, when the only accounts of it are so discrepant? The four gospels differ in so many details that were they taken as objectively as any other account, they would not be accepted as credible testimony in any court of law. When you consider their divergences, as well as the inherent absurdity of it all, we cannot be blamed for rejecting it as nonsense, based on the intelligence and reason God gave us.

It merely reflects poorly on those who believe it just the same. Perhaps believing in the face of abundant contradiction is part of the devious little test that God sees fit to put us to, but such a notion only makes him seem more clod than God, and not at all worthy of our devotion.

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