Out From Under the Umbrella

playing in the rain

Bizzaro World


A few days ago in a post entitled Every Time I Fail DougB, from the lovely Groping the Elephant blog, asked this question:

“How ridiculous is the notion that someone else could “pay” for our sins for us? Exactly why should we owe God for being sinners?”

The short answer to the first question is: very.  The short answer to the second one is: we shouldn’t.  The long answer, however, is a little more nuanced.  It’s ridiculous on a number of different levels.  First of all let’s look at the reasons why we’re told we need a savior.

  1. We are born sinners.
  2. We cannot be good enough on our own.
  3. God cannot look at sin, he cannot be in it’s presence.
  4. Forgiveness from God requires a perfect blood sacrifice.

Every since Adam and Eve, who incidentally were fictional characters, ate the forbidden fruit, we are told, that each and every person after that were born sinners.  Is the fall of man supposed to be a metaphor to explain that no man has ever been perfect?  That starting with the very first of our ancestors we were corrupt? Maybe that was the writer’s intent – to put simplistically a very complicated matter.  So evolution wasn’t kind and we’re not perfect?  Bummer.  I listened, nearly daily for years, to James Dobson expound on the fact that we are born sinners.  No one has to teach a child to lie.  No one has to teach a child to do the thing they lied about. They begin to do so at a very young age.  I bought all of that psychobabble.  Children do things that they eventually lie about because it looks fun.  Children lie because they’re afraid.  It’s an evolutionary trait called “fight of flight”.  Lying is a way to flee.

Having made some mistakes in life, or maybe not mistakes but downright transgressions, we have it pounded into us that we are sinners.  Not only are we sinners, but even our best isn’t good enough according to Isaiah 64:6, “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.”  Then there’s Roman’s 3:23, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.”  I could keep going but I won’t, you get the idea.  Now that we know just how wretched and wormy we are, what can be done about it?  Remember that we’re born this way and there’s nothing we can do about it?

We’re sinners, born that way through no fault of our own, and there’s nothing we can do about it, and God can’t look at us until we’ve received forgiveness.  Habakkuk 1:13 says, “You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on wickedness…”.  In Matthew 27:46 we see God turning away from Jesus presumably because he became sin for us all, “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”.  Supposedly God can’t look on us in the sense that he can’t see evil and have it go unpunished.  And well, we’ve established that we’re all evil.

That leaves us with the perfect sacrifice.  Jesus.  The only man who had never sinned:  “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” 2 Corinthians 5:21.  Throughout the Old Testament the Israelites made their guilt offering and their sin offering to YAHWEH as per the instructions in Leviticus 5.  God has required death as a sentence for sin and shed blood for atonement since Adam and Eve dropped the ball in the garden.  After he banished them from the garden, he himself killed an animal and gave them clothes from it to wear.  He had to provide a sacrifice before Adam and Eve could stand before him restored.

Writing all of this now makes me cringe.  I realize putting it in writing just how bizarre and twisted it all sounds.  That we would be created, whether by God himself or evolutionary processes, as imperfect beings, and have that held against us to the degree that we would need to kill and burn animals up to a final and permanent human sacrifice to a bloodthirsty God is beyond evil.  Why do we owe God for being exactly the way he made us?  It makes no sense.

Yet in my knowledge that I wasn’t and am not perfect I felt I needed forgiveness from a higher being than just the person I wronged.  In my desire to feel free and forgiven I gave myself over to the knight in shining armor, the prince on a white horse, the savior, the perfect sacrifice.  It all sounded so heroic, so romantic; the notion that had I been the only one who had ever transgressed, Jesus would still have gone to the cross for my sin, for my guilt, for my shame.  I loved him for that.  So without thinking through whether it made any sense, whether it was rational, whether it was plausible even, I took the plunge beneath the warm baptismal waters pledging my life to Jesus the Christ.

I studied some apologetics.  If I was going to share the gospel I needed to be able to defend my faith.  I read The Case for Christ, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, More than a Carpenter.  I studied the How Now Shall We Live? discipleship training material.  I took every discipleship training class offered at my church, eventually becoming Discipleship Training Director.  But in retrospect I didn’t look at the evidence objectively.  The only reason I studied any apologetics was to shoot down the objections of unbelievers, never once considering whether those objections had any merit.  Only when I did look at the evidence objectively did I see gaping holes in apologetics and Christianity; wounds left there by the weapon of reason.

*Edited because I intended this to be strange world, not market world. 🙂


23 thoughts on “Bizzaro World

  1. Nothing destroys religious faith quicker than an honest examination of it.


  2. "*Edited because I intended this to be strange world, not market world. :)"Okay, that footnote cracked me up completely. That question – how, exactly, could Jesus pay for my sins? – is one of the core issues that led me away from Christianity.


  3. I'd never heard of James Dobson until I moved to Colorado Springs, where he lives. At first, I thought my new friends were exaggerating. But then I became interested enough to study him a little bit. What a huckster!The man cherry-picks science to lend false support to Evangelical views of human nature. Any intellectually honest person who studies the evolutionary sciences would be remarkable if they came away thinking humans are born bad.Humans are born "scarce half made up". Our brains do not finish forming until our early twenties. Consequently, some abilities develop before others. The ability to lie develops sooner than the ability to feel genuine compassion. But both traits in just about everyone at about the same ages. Compassion, for instance, develops in nearly everyone who is not brain damaged or otherwise impaired around the age of seven.Consequently, if one wanted to look at the issue in moral terms, then it would be more truthful to say humans are typically born with a potential to develop a full range of values. Consequently, it seems to me it is intellectually dishonest of Dobson to emphasize the innate basis for "bad" morals while largely ignoring the innate basis for "good" morals.


  4. Sorry for the rant, D'Ma. I allow Dobson to annoy me. To get back to your main point, the notion that an all powerful being requires a barbaric blood bath to be appeased for sins — how could any genuinely wise deity invent either one of those two notions. i.e. the notion of sin and the notion of appeasement? If such a god exists, he's the village idiot of the gods.


  5. "If such a god exists, he's the village idiot of the gods."oh, I really like this!


  6. @ Paul – Exactly. Human beings aren't born sinful; we're born ignorant. It's not the same thing.


  7. @Michael: That's an excellent distinction to make! I think it's also true that our brains are born only partly formed. You can't reasonably expect us to, say, display foresight in our actions if our brains are not yet fully wired to process those kinds of thoughts.


  8. I identified with your post a great deal. I'm still struggling with my own internalization of the idea that I'm hopelessly broken. While I don't consciously think that anymore, I find that it comes out in strange ways.@Michael: I like the way you put that. It takes learning and practice to overcome ignorance, and that is indeed doable.


  9. All of the Abrahamic religions depend upon the notion that the perfect creator somehow produced an imperfect product, conveneiently ignoring the illogical outcome of this belief. An all powerful, all knowing, "perfect" creator cannot possibly have made an error! Logic, unfortunately, must be discarded or ignored by Christian apologists (note the "apology"), since it makes it even more difficult to reconcile their religious teachings with reality. This is especially important to believers who cannot get any real affirmation of their hopes for some after life reward, other than to convince as many people as possible that they "have it right". Belief in human imperfection goes a long way in helping to explain how bad things happen to innocent children and even to adults who are striving mightily to obey the teachings of the Church or Mosque of their choice.


  10. Good one.I always find it amusing when someone throws up the defense that God can't look at/live with/be around sinners. God confronted Adam and Eve in their sinful state in the Garden of Eden, engaged in hand-to-hand combat with Jacob/Israel, and (the biggie) allowed Satan access to heaven for some time despite his sinful nature. And, of course, Jesus hung out with sinners too.I, too, got a giggle out of the editorial note. 🙂


  11. @DougB,At one time I believed nothing destroyed doubt quicker than an honest examination of the Bible. Boy how wrong was I?===============================================@Michelle,Thanks!==============================================@MM,You know how you wright a word and it just doesn't look right? I kept coming back to this thinking "Bazaar" just doesn't seem like the right way to spell that, even though it is a correct spelling of the word. Then it dawned on me exactly what I had spelled. Geez, I can be a real goofball sometimes. 🙂 When you start really questioning the logic of Jesus paying for our sins it kind of falls apart.==============================================@Paul Sunstone,Don't worry about the rant. Now that I've stepped back from that mentality and taken a much closer look at it I realize how one dimensional it is. As for calling Dobson dishonest…I'm not sure he is being intentionally so. I think he really believes what he's saying. Belief in a position does not make it true or trustworthy, though. While I do believe he's guilty of cherry-picking science and it may be intellectually dishonest on his part, I believe he's as deceived as his followers are. That's some scary stuff.


  12. @Michael Mock & Paul Sunstone,Bingo! People aren't born sinners. They're born a clean slate. They're born ignorant. Can you think of anything more innocent and pure than a newborn?!? As the old saying goes, "garbage in – garbage out".================================================@BrandonE,Thanks for reading and commenting. "I'm still struggling with my own internalization of the idea that I'm hopelessly broken. While I don't consciously think that anymore, I find that it comes out in strange ways."Exactly! I don't believe that I'm hopelessly broken and in need of a bloody sacrifice for my hopelessness anymore, but the indoctrination of those ideas are still triggered in unexpected ways and at unexpected times. It's probably going to take quite a while to reprogram my mind not to react in the "old" ways anymore.===============================================@Harvey,Ahhh, but the Church – the Southern Baptist Church – has found a way to explain away the fact that their Supreme Commander in Chief botched the job. It's easy. He didn't make a mistake. He knew exactly what He was doing all along. He intentionally made us flawed so that we would recognize our dependence on the One and Only Creator. See? Do I get a perfect score for that gymnastic feat?===============================================@TWF,Yet another olympic gold medal worthy piece of gymnastic artistry; God cannot look on sin in the sense that He can't let it go unpunished. In other words, He sees it or else He wouldn't know who to send to hell. ==============================================@Sandra,I really liked that comment, too!


  13. That's an interesting take on Dobson, D'Ma. I think you could be right. The man is a bit of a mystery to me. The one fact that might argue against the notion Dobson is as deceived as his followers is that Dobson has a much better education than his followers. Actually, he has a much better education than most people — a doctorate from a public university. That's not to say it's impossible that he's as deceived as his followers. That could still be true. But it's something to consider, perhaps.


  14. @Paul Sunstone,It is true that Dobson is well educated, but somehow when it comes to religion that doesn't seem to matter. Some extremely well educated folks are deceived – even if it is self-deception, cognitive dissonance, whatever you might want to call it. No matter the evidence they seem to be able to hold onto their beliefs so tightly they have nailprints in the palms of their hands. They can somehow ignore the evidence in favor of their cherished Holy Book. It's a mystery to me as well.


  15. Paul and D'Ma,I've been believing Shermer's the Believing Brain, and he makes the point that the brighter you are, the better you are at using rationalization to justify whatever your beliefs are. He stresses that we tend to look for evidence to fit our beliefs, not vica versa.


  16. @D'Ma: That's a very good point. And if true it illustrates the ability of a religion — or any seductive ideology — to delude its adherents. Or at least, provide them with a means of deluding themselves. @DoOrDoNot: That's also a very good point. It's also something to keep in mind. Thanks!I think it's because we are so good at making errors in reasoning that we need each other to check our work for us. But that system seems to break down when you have too many people who are out to deceive others for their own gain.


  17. @DoOrDoNot,That was exactly the point I was making in the last paragraph of my post. When I did study and apply apologetics it wasn't because I'd given it an honest and objective examination. It was so that I could rationalize what I already believed. The mystery to me is that I could dismiss objections to my belief so easily without even so much as a consideration. Only when I gave them honest consideration did I realize they carried merit. The same is true of very well educated people. Not only in the area of religion, but other held beliefs as well. Once you take a position on a given subject, you tend to look for evidence to substatiate it, not refute it.==============================================@Paul Sunstone,I think we delude oursevles quite a lot, even though we don't want to admit that.


  18. I don't delude myself. But I'm the only one who doesn't. How odd is that?(Just kidding)


  19. I never understood either why the Christian God penalizes humans for flaws that he created them with in the first place. If sin is so noxious to the Christian God, why did he create the conditions for it? O_oWe know the answer to this conundrum. Humans created this whole notion of inherent sinfulness so that believers would be guilt-tripped into adhering to their religion. I doubt that a supreme being would deliberately create flawed beings and then despise them for the flaws.With regard to popular Christian apologetics books, blech. The ones I've read were basically page after page of rhetorical techniques and logical fallacies, rather than well-reasoned arguments. I suspect that such books are intended to reinforce the beliefs of Christians rather than to convince non-Christians.


  20. Seek to justify all beliefs rather than holding any belief without questioning it. Consider, in all cases, the possibility that that belief may be wrong. Be willing to doubt it. Say to yourself .. "this other person might be right and I may be wrong". It is ok to have firmly held beliefs . . . as long as they are justified and have been doubted first. Now there are some basic beliefs every human being needs in order to function . . . things that really should be obvious anyways. It is ok to have a kind of faith in those things. Just make sure that you openly doubt and question as much as you possibly can … . something organized religion never does. Consider the most probable and self correct what you believe is probable based on every new observation. Do that and you will get by in life just fine whithout so much blind faith.


  21. @Paul Sunstone,You're delusional! hehe=============================================@Ahab,I never stopped to consider(until recently) the conundrum of God having created humans flawed. As far as I was concerned it was mankind's decision to rebel. I know, I know God created man with that capacity knowing full well that he would rebel. Created flawed. Punished for being the way we were created. Asinine. Obvious. Yet I was oblivious. I sensed that I was flawed and believed I needed to be fixed. Nonsense.I suspect that such books are intended to reinforce the beliefs of Christians rather than to convince non-Christians. That was the purpose for which I read them. It doesn't sound as if such books are convincing to skeptics at all.==============================================@mikewithalotof0'sanda1,That's the main purpose of this blog. Sure I talk about other things as well, but mainly it's to hash out beliefs, the rationalization or lack thereof of those beliefs and my feelings about doubt. Thanks for commenting. I've added you to my blogroll.


  22. There's another Adam and Eve question that never occurred to me until just recently: if they were created sinless, how did they manage to violate God's command? There seems to be an inherent contradiction there.


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