Sunday, April 22, 2012

Salvation, too little too late

I think it was Easter last year, a cousin of mine commented that she was thankful that even though we lowly humans are unworthy or undeserving, we can be made clean by Jesus' sacrifice.  It's bad enough that christians generally believe this supernatural legend but they misunderstand what they're supposed to believe.

**Are christians made clean by the sacrifice of Jesus?
 Blood magic. Many christians erroneously believe the blood of the lamb (the crucifixion of the Jesus character) makes us clean. Ancient Israelites sprinkled the blood of sacrificial lambs on the top of the ark of the covenant to create a barrier between the judgment of YHWH (or more directly the ornamental angels) and the contents of the ark. The contents (either the stone tablets/remnants of the ten commandments OR Aaron’s staff, mana and the broken tablets, depending on which part of the bible you’re reading) represent the sins of man. But the ritual was to intervene and shield the Israelites from judgment. As Judaism doesn’t hold an afterlife component, this covenant was to prevent YHWH’s immediate wrath rather than his eternal wrath.

In christian mythology, Jesus is the new covenant. He does not make you clean. He makes you forgiven/un-judged. Or rather, his life/sacrifice is an offer of forgiveness.  But without acceptance that forgiveness is powerless. He does not make us so that we are sinless but he accepts the burden of our sin so that we are excused from judgment. He shields us from judgment just as the lamb’s blood on the ark shielded the Israelites from judgment.

As mortal, physical, subjective beings we cannot be perfect in the eyes of a perfect being. Even if we allow that YHWH is not a perfect being, we have to question the whole architecture of sinners striving to join the company of a being that cannot abide sin. Even the nature of sin must be questioned. Is it merely anything which separates us from YHWH, or YHWH’s will? Like most nonsense, it is so vaguely defined and unverifiable that it suits the whim of the user. Anyway, Grace does not make people perfect. It does not directly spiritually cleanse. It allows absolution and in so doing reduces the immediate burden of sin and consequently allows the sinner loosen the mutual embrace they have with sin. Absolution gives us hope. And the idea that a perfect being is trying to help us allows us to reach beyond the expectations we have made for ourselves. For some reason, it is almost universally easier for people to trust an unseen force than to trust themselves.

**Are humans worthy of salvation?
What about worth? Or worthiness? At least 1200 years after the amalgamation of the Israelites, YHWH instituted a policy change. I'm not against change, growth, improvement or correction.  I just expect there wouldn't be room for them from the timeless author of the universe.  Anyway, YHWH added an afterlife, or revealed that there is one. Why the change? The old plan wasn’t working, or wouldn’t work, with the afterlife component. And Judaism was for Israelites. Christianity was supposed to extend to gentiles as well. So before there was a messiah… those folks… well we are left guessing. Some interpret scripture in a way that everyone, including those who have never been exposed to the Jesus story, will be given the opportunity to recognize and accept the messiah on judgment day. Yeah, maybe. But it’s still pretty strange that YHWH would let things go on the way they did, as long as he did, and only cared about the Israelites before Rome captured Judea. Why is it that since that time it is important for people know about Jesus but before that time it was not? Were they less worthy? Looking at the Old Testament even the heroes were generally repugnant. Or maybe they didn’t need the good news as much as later humans. (I don’t think that’s it.) And oddly enough, it is YHWH’s chosen people that reject the supposed messiah. Shouldn’t they be most worthy?

YHWH has a history of being disappointed in humans. He had (even though he kinda makes the rules) to expel Adam and Eve from Eden. He killed everyone on Earth except the one good man and his family. But then that one good man, Noah, turned out to be a shameful sod. The one man worth saving from Sodom also turned out to be a drunk as well as incestuous. YHWH has a bad record of judging good character. Perhaps that explains televangelists. If we are worthy, from a divine perspective, the standard is very low, or very odd. But this all points to YHWH realizing late in the game that people are not good enough to serve the purpose for which they were created. Whose fault is that? Who made us the way we are, the way we’ve always been? Who made the world the way it is? The only way to hold YHWH innocent is to allow the deity to be omniscient about physics but a bit dim regarding psychology and sociology.

Defenders of the obviously fallible deity invoke the notion of freewill as the reason for everything that’s wrong with humans and humanity. But this falls apart for any of several reasons. Will we have free will in the afterlife? If so, then why is YHWH such an absentee deity now? If not, then why on Earth is it important now? We should also consider if we actually even have free will now? Sure we make choices but our choices are dependent on what we want and our understanding of circumstances. How much choice do we have over what we want? We may be able to prioritize but what do we base those priorities on? Calling this subjective feedback loop and algorithm “free will” may be a bit misleading.

So if we assume the Judeo-Christian creation myth and general Christian salvation belief is at all true, we find ourselves inadequate by design yet completely accountable for our shortcomings. If I design and make an airplane that won’t fly is it the airplane’s fault? That’s just ridiculous. Even if I give the plane intelligence and “free will” similar to our own: ridiculous. Even if I hold direct, verifiable correspondence with my creation it is still egregiously unjust for me to hold it accountable for the design flaws I conceived and implemented. Should I then decide that I have to destroy the failed airplane unless it believes I am my son and my son is the plane’s salvation? How does that make anything better? If I hadn’t screwed up (perhaps intentionally) the plane wouldn’t be in this predicament. If I hadn’t done such a bad job the plane wouldn’t need… forgiveness/un-judgment. Does it deserve salvation? I would say that more than salvation it unconditionally doesn’t deserve to be judged for its lack of flight. 


  1. And what about eating this sacrifice? The ceremony of salvation is about eating god, not sprinkling blood around. And Jews were instructed never to eat or drink blood. So how does that work?

    The Catholics with their weekly cannibalistic ritual and confession make some kind of coherent sense. Just because you've been baptized doesn't mean you get a free pass. The "born again" movement seems to have given people a get-out-of-jail free card. I haven't seen a coherent write up explaining their theology. They seem to rely on personal experience and random quotations (mainly from John) rather than explaining how sins committed after being "saved" are handled. What's to keep a born-again from running amok?

  2. Communion is a whole different animal than the covenant and the new new covenant. Communion always seemed a little odd to me. I seemed like it was supposed to be a way that we could take Jesus into us physically in his physical absence. I see it as a "Remember me in this way (ritual) and I will be with you." But I'm speculating. To my memory, the Jesus character is vague as to what specifically is happening in this ritual. I always took it to be a purely symbolic gesture. I'm sure there've been volumes upon volumes written based on extensive studies promoting probably as many explanations as there are authors. I don't really know and to be honest, since it's all made up I have only the slightest academic curiosity as to what's really supposed to be happening in the ritual. I suspect this ritual was misappropriated from another religion. But given that many cultures have rituals making the sharing of food and drink a bonding ceremony, this detail of the Last Supper may be the result of Chinese whispers. The Last Supper need not even have taken place for this legend to have taken this peculiar turn.

    For Baptists (and my observations could be wrong) the magic is in John 3:16 and having Jesus in your heart. All the other rituals and accoutrements are just ways of augmenting that Jesus-in-your-heart spiritual connection. Similar to Catholic confession, a Protestant that realizes they have sinned appeals directly to the deity. Forgiveness is as certain as the sincerity of the petitioner. It was never clear to me to what degree such petitions carry forward to cover future stumbles. Is it good for a week? Six transgressions?
    All non-major transgressions? It seemed to be personal and subjective... and a little like the No True Scotsman fallacy: As long as you have Jesus in your heart you're covered but if you do something really bad (again subjective) you must not have had Jesus in your heart.

  3. Try looking at the whole situation from a different angle.

    The whole point of God creating humans was not because God needed help, but because God wanted humans to be able to participate. And in order for humans to truly participate, rather than just go along as spiritual robots...whatever we define as "free will" came with it. This left open the possibility for what we call sin: behavior in opposition with God. Think of it like light - darkness and light are not really opposites; rather, darkness is a lack of light. Sin is a lack of Godliness, a separation.

    So when Jesus comes along with the Good News...well, it's the same good news that was there to begin with: that God created humans to work/play/coexist WITH God. That was what God tried to convey to the Israelites to begin with, but it didn't work out. That doesn't mean it couldn't have worked out, and that doesn't mean that God didn't know it wouldn't work out - God chose to give the Israelites a chance, and that chance was supposed to be one in which the good news about getting to participate with God was shared with the people around them. They never really did that. So Jesus came along to make sure that happened.

    The fact that there's all this ritualistic stuff to us that seems very strange nowadays is, I believe, more a matter of being two thousand years out of context than anything else.

    It's a weird way to have to think about it, I know: but for whatever reason, it's better from God's point of view to let us try and screw up, than not let us try at all. And that's where the forgiveness comes in - it's about living WITH God, rather than how well you're living.

  4. part 1
    "Try looking at the whole situation from a different angle."

    I've done that. If we cherry pick our perspective we can convince ourselves of anything. It's called bias. I can make up all sorts of excuses for the bad decisions a hypothetical god might make. It's called rationalization. These tricks for deluding one's self and others are not unique to the worship of YHWH. The methods you've used to excuse your god from responsibility for it's creation are no different than the methods used to explain the motives of Zeus, the Loch Ness monster and butt-probing aliens. If you want or need to believe in something badly enough you will find ways to justify it. Muslims do it. Mormons do it. Buddhists do it. Political ideologues do it. And to be honest, it takes a great deal of effort and integrity to require your beliefs withstand scrutiny without rationalization.

    "The whole point of God creating humans was not because God needed help, but because God wanted humans to be able to participate."

    I did not suggest that humans would or even could help God. Participate in what? In the absence of a universe there was nothing a human could participate in. I might speculate "participate in experiencing God." That would just be creepy. But anyone advancing a guess as to why an alleged magical god would magically create a non-magical universe and a non-magical sentient species that can only "participate" by the most indirect and unreliable means. Lots of people are convinced of their "participation." Unfortunately their alleged supernatural partners are not confined to YHWH. Subjectivity, wishful thinking and a little imagination are all that are necessary for a transcendent experience. And there is nothing but pure credulity (more subjectivity, wishful thinking and imagination) to make any one supernatural entity more convincing than another.

    "free will"

    Even if we assume free will exists the only way for a deity to give it to us is to hide itself completely from us. To quote myself: Will we have free will in the afterlife? Even if we assume (or "hypothesize" if you prefer) we have free will it only makes the coercion of eternal consequences that much more sinister. But free will is an illusion. For every decision we ever make there are always factors that weight our priorities. For any decision you've ever made wasn't there something that could have swayed you the other way? Have you ever made a decision and after learning more realized you made the wrong choice? You have only your desires and the available information to credit for your choices. Are we completely responsible for our desires? Are we completely responsible for the information we have available? Neither. But we are accountable for the choices we make. Assuming there is a god, our belief in it and the acceptance of it's policies are a direct result of the information (including reliability) available and our god-given desires. I refer back to the faulty airplane metaphor. If we do not accept god or God's will, it is God's fault for making us this way and keeping us in the dark. If you would like to suggest there are "holy" text that tell us what we need to know I have two more tirades available. tl:dr: 1, The authors and revisionist of the Bible are unreliable. There are so many subsets of Judaism, Christianity and Islam that we can not reasonably claim that the Bible is an adequate source of information about the nature and motives of an alleged one true god.

  5. part 2
    "Sin is a lack of Godliness, a separation."

    This is very important to remember. Because as we recognize our fallibility in recognizing the nature and motives of an alleged one true god, and further realize the existential unlikelihood of such a god, it becomes apparent that we can't be objectively certain about what is or isn't sin and, more importantly, there probably is no such thing as sin. Certainly we may transgress against our fellow humans, other animals or anything capable of subjective experience. But if there is no god then these transgressions are not sin.

    "So when Jesus comes along with the Good News..."

    Me: " Should I then decide that I have to destroy the failed airplane unless it believes I am my son and my son is the plane’s salvation?" There would be no need for Good News if we had not been designed to fail. I also love how the Israelites were supposed to share participation with God with the people around them. That's not the theme of the Old Testament I read. It was pretty clearly us against everybody and YHWH is on our side. And God can talk to Moses and Adam but not everyone else? But what I love about this part of your comment is that it is thinly veiled anti-Semitism. I'm not saying you hate Jews. But what you wrote basically says, god gave those Jews a chance and they screwed up, so God gave up on them and went with plan B. Well probably more like plan F with all the genocides and re-starts. But even Jesus doesn't allow us to fly (metaphorically). All Jesus does is allow us to continue participating in a less painful manner. Even if the promise of the Good News were true it would clearly indicate that YHWH screwed up but can't admit it. It's petty, ridiculous and thankfully fiction.

    "So Jesus came along to make sure that happened."

    Good job, Jesus. 33.32% of the current population is *some* form of christian.

    "The fact that there's all this ritualistic stuff to us that seems very strange nowadays is, I believe, more a matter of being two thousand years out of context than anything else."

    Just like belief in magic and deities. The difference between mythology and religion is subscriber count.

    "It's a weird way to have to think about it, I know: but for whatever reason, it's better from God's point of view to let us try and screw up, than not let us try at all."

    How are we screwing up (assumed: sinning) if we are operating as designed? We act as we should be expected to act, given our nature and available information.

    " And that's where the forgiveness comes in - it's about living WITH God, rather than how well you're living."

    So he'll let you participate but only if you ask him to forgive you for being the way he made you? As long as people want to believe this nonsense, they will. But for those willing to understand the world and themselves, ghost stories are merely unsubstantiatable distractions.