The Raving Theist

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God Squad Review CXLVI (Atonement through Sacrifice)

April 2, 2006 | 10 Comments

“Why would killing something take away your sins?” a Catholic asks the Squad. The reader “never questioned what we were taught” but now thinks the idea of having someone innocent die to atone for the wrongs of others “seems crazy.” The Squad admits that there’s a “paradox” at the very least, “because in any setting other than sacrifice, blood defiles and does not cleanse.” Nonetheless, they seem to be under the impression that merely repeating the theory is enough to explain it:

In the person of Jesus, the sacrifice was no longer offered to God. Now, the sacrifice was offered by God. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, atonement was made for the sins of all people who believe in Jesus as “the Lamb of God.”

Sacrifice spills blood, and blood is life, and life needs to be protected and saved. In the rabbinic and New Testament transformations of this ancient practice, the concept of sacrifice is brought to new levels of spiritual richness. We believe that even the nonreligious among us can grasp the deep meaning of blood sacrifice . . . . Sacrifice is not just a concept that lies at the heart of religious faith; it’s a concept that lies at the heart of life.

Not at the heart of my life. The only person who has ever suffered for my wrongdoing is me. And that old lady I beheaded last week to beat a parking ticket.


10 Responses to “God Squad Review CXLVI (Atonement through Sacrifice)”

  1. Rod
    April 3rd, 2006 @ 11:29 am

    Just playing “devil’s advocate.” :-)

    You said, “The only person who has ever suffered for my wrongdoing is me. And that old lady I beheaded last week to beat a parking ticket.”

    What about the hypothetical lady’s family? What about your friends and family if you were convicted and jailed for the crime?

    Just a thought.


  2. Mookie
    April 3rd, 2006 @ 5:44 pm

    “But he died for your sins!”

    Uh-huh. And how does a man dying absolve me of my past ill deeds? Or, in the case of the human-hating. genocide-causing original sin, how does a mythical figure dying mean another mythical creature forgives me for being human?

    Imagine someone saying: “I believe in an entity in the sky that impregnated a human female, killed the son that erupted from her, and with this act forgave all of humanity for being a faulty product of his creation.” I would have to doubt their mental stability, and would have to question the basis for many of their actions. The scary thing is America is full of them – millions of delusional people!

    Sometimes I think most of them know its all a bunch of nonsense, but feel the need to defend it so as to comfirm their place amongst the others.

  3. Erik
    April 3rd, 2006 @ 6:33 pm

    Well, he had to kill the old lady’s daughter, too, but that was an unforeseen tragedy.

  4. Rod
    April 3rd, 2006 @ 7:05 pm


    I agree. I find such a being repugnant. I wouldn’t give deference (much less worship) to him/her/it.


  5. The No God Boy
    April 3rd, 2006 @ 7:14 pm

    I’d like to know how “blood cleanses”. It usually takes other substances to clean up blood. I have never had a mess or a stain and though “hey, pour some blood on it…..that will clean it up”. Just try that with a white shirt.

    Blood is not sacred. It’s tissue. Period.

    If tissue cleanses, then a big wheelbarrow full of toe nail clippings, boogers, the white stuff from pimples, corn shavings, hair and dead skin cells should clean just as effectively.

    I only jesus had known!!!

  6. Rod
    April 3rd, 2006 @ 8:15 pm

    Mookie (cont.)

    … But, of course, you’re smart enough to know that that being has nothing to do with the God of the Bible.


  7. HappyNat
    April 4th, 2006 @ 10:19 am

    “the white stuff from pimples”

    No God Boy, the white stuff is puss. Glad I could help out.

  8. Jamaal
    April 4th, 2006 @ 2:15 pm

    I seem to remember Barbara Ehrenreich writing about a possible primitive reasoning for this in her book Blood Rites. It rested on a few recent theories about the origin of man and civilization, not through becoming hunters and creating the tools we needed to become better ones, as we are often taught, but instead as scavengers behind and prey for the larger land mammals that we once shared the world with.

    In short, the theory is that the proto-men spent most of their time hiding for safety, and when a big kill by some animal was noticed, they would come out in groups in order to scare the predator away long enough that they could snag their fill of protein from the carcass.

    In times of need (a long period within which no kills had been spotted) the blood religion would start through a decision to sacrifice of one of the members of the group either in order to attract large predators back to the area, or maybe just symbolically to give back to the predators in order to convince them to be generous again.

    If this has any validity, it’s easy to see why the innocence of the victim would become so exaggerated:

    1. Because children are far less useful than adults, and you can make more pretty quickly, and

    2. Because if being sacrificed was earned through bad behavior, the politics within a small group would pretty much become unmanagable.

    I hope that I’m doing at least some justice to this, but it has been a long time since I read the book.

  9. tarkovsky
    April 4th, 2006 @ 2:50 pm

    I refer you to Tarkovsky’s movie The Sacrifice. In there, the protagonist is ready to sacrifice something he holds very dear (his son) if the Almighty-Supreme-Being does not destroy the human race.

    Now the idea here (and there are countless better writers out there than me on the topic) is that the concept of sacrifice has always been very easy for the common folk to understand. “Sacrifice one of my precious lambs? Are you serious?”

    The first xians building their Church had to come up with some funky explanation and take advantage of a very exceptional situation (a dude called Jesus). So they came up with the concept that Jesus was the son of God. But for that to stand in any way, they needed another concept, i.e. atonement.

    Perhaps 2000 years later the concept of atonement in the light of sin seems strange but up to and including Freud, “sin” was very very well understood.

    As usual I think of it in terms of survival strategy: “sinning” is simply going against the community’s agreed upon set of rules.

    The concept of God sending his son to clean our sins is a very tricky beast indeed, it is in fact hardly understandable (as pointed out frequently on this very site); but as Nietzche once put it, it has to do with the notion of debt and honor.

    Throughout the ages, humans have always done terrible things to other humans as long as there is a higher justification, then the sin is somewhat watered down, so to speak.

    These days, killing is still very sinful, except for instance in some cultures in order to obtain a place in heaven with 732 virgins. Taking life away, animal or human, is pretty drastic.

    In conclusion, we atheists are no longer held responsible of our “sins” by a non-existent God, but that doesn’t mean “sinning” has disappeared, we are still judged by our fellow humans. Our “sins” are therefore relative to our culture, our socio-economic-geographic situation in the world, our laws, our local survival strategy.

    There is no absolute sin, only relative sin.

  10. Jaz
    April 5th, 2006 @ 6:53 pm

    Perhaps on the other hand, the time when you lied as a child and someone else was punished or when someone covered up for you, but, oh, wait, but only you have ever suffered for your wrongdoing.

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