Sep 4, 2008

Atonement: Paying Your Debt in Full


The Christian faith is hinged on the concept of atonement. Through the death of a deity, the sins of mankind was supposedly been paid in full. It is the perfect debt consolidation! All your past sins and future sins are already forgiven if you accept Jesus Christ as your savior. Well, it is a very successful idea that has survived over two millennia. It is a concept that is touching and sentimental. It appeals to the conscience and sense of gratitude of the believers. What could be more humbling than the idea that the Son of God has sacrificed himself in order for you to be saved?

However, the concept of atonement is not an original Christian concept. It was originally developed by the Jews and other ancient people centuries before Christianity. The ritual of animal and human sacrifices was practiced to pacify the wrath of angry gods. In Judaism, animal sacrifices were done as means of cleaning a person of his sins. In the process, the temple priests had their regular supply of lamb meat or mutton. A whole industry grew out of the idea of atonement.

When Christianity was developed, Jesus was dogmatically elevated to the rank of ultimate sacrificial lamb. He became the high priest and arbiter between God and man. He was seen as the unblemished lamb that was the only acceptable offer to God. On the other hand, the Church grew as some sort of non profit debt company catering to the needs of the sinful but repentant flock. If you become a Christian, all your debts to God will be fully paid because Jesus is supposedly acting as your guarantor. The Church merely facilitates the process.

Divine debt settlement, however, is not as simple as it may seem. It has the duality of coercion and sympathy-manipulation. If you do not believe in Jesus as savior, you will be eternally damned in hell. Well, that is the coercion component. On the other hand, the sympathy-manipulation component is the idea that Jesus have acted as your proxy in accepting all the punishments that you are supposed to suffer. If that were true, then Jesus must also languish in hell for eternity. Hmmm… something is inconsistent about this atonement business.

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