(Just published at The Gay-Atheist.)
In the past when I’ve written about the depraved immorality which Christianity passes off as great virtue to the faithful, I’ve focused on the supposed words and deeds of figures in the Bible. And for a very obvious reason — there are just so damn many examples. Just as the angels of God are unable to find righteous men in the city of Sodom, it’s nearly impossible to find a hero of the Bible who is not a mass-murderer or raving lunatic. Moses directs a campaign of genocide against the Midianites, and instructs his soldiers to execute their male prisoners and keep the virgin girls as sex slaves. A crowd of children is torn to shreds by a bear for playfully mocking the baldness of the prophet Elisha. Lot, supposedly the only good man living in Sodom, offers his own daughters to an angry rape gang in order to protect two angels, who presumably could have taken care of themselves, being angels and all. Even Jesus, between miraculous healings and benign pronouncements about the value of love and charity, finds time to needlessly kill some poor farmer’s herd of pigs, disrespect his own mother, and perhaps worst of all, originate the doctrine of hell as a place of eternal torture and torment for nonbelievers.
God himself is the worst offender of all, demanding constant praise and tribute from his chosen people, threatening the disobedient with curses on them and their innocent children and grandchildren, and committing what would be the most heinous act of genocide in history if it had actually occurred, drowning the entire population of the Earth, humans and animals and all, in the great flood.
But there is something at the heart of Christianity even worse than the imaginary crimes of the Bible. It’s worse because, for one thing, it’s real, and for another, God isn’t the guilty party — the faithful are. And not just some of them. All of them. There is an inescapable, undeniable immorality that is an essential principle of the religion, and if one wants to call himself a Christian, he must accept it and embrace it. His soul depends on it.
Since it was so much damn fun the last time, let’s try another thought experiment. Imagine you’re sitting on death row awaiting execution for a heinous crime you have committed — something truly evil, like the premeditated murder of a child. You are guilty, you have been convicted, and the hour of your death draws near. Before the appointed time arrives, you receive an unexpected visitor. It’s a man you’ve never met before, a total stranger, and, smiling, he walks up alongside the bars of your prison cell. “I have good news for you,” he says. “You don’t have to be executed.”
Well shit, that is good news, you think. “What happened?” you ask the stranger. “Have they reviewed my case? Found me innocent?”
“No,” he says. “You’re still guilty. You committed a crime and deserve to be punished for it. But I’ve had a word with the governor, and he’s agreed to let me take your place.”
You’re understandably a bit confused. “What do you mean, let you take my place? What have you done to deserve to die?” you ask.
“Nothing at all,” the stranger tells you. “I’m completely innocent of every conceivable crime. I’ve never wronged anyone in the slightest, never broken a single law, I’ve never even told a lie, not even a little one. I’m utterly blameless.”
Then this stranger holds out the key to your own cell and says “All you have to do is accept the deal, take the key and let yourself out and you’ll be free. I’ll take your place and be punished for the crime you committed.”
Do you take the key?
In this experiment you’re assuming the role of a convicted child murderer, so admittedly your grasp of the whole right/wrong paradigm is already a little suspect, but I think any remotely moral person has to answer that question with an unequivocal “No.”
The exchange I just described would never be allowed in the real world, and we should all know why. Guilt is non-transferable. That’s not how justice works. If you are found guilty of a crime and sentenced to serve so many years in prison, no one can serve that sentence but you. Even if some misguided good Samaritan came forward and offered to do your time for you, this would never, ever be allowed. Why? Because the point of sending people to prison in the first place is to punish (and protect society from) the guilty. We’re not supposed to be locking people up just for the sake of it. It’s not justice to send just anyone to prison when someone’s been convicted of a crime. It’s the perpetrator that must be punished. That’s why we don’t fine you for killing someone; you can’t have someone else pay for your crime.
It seems silly to belabor such an obvious point, but it’s evidently necessary, because billions of Christians have taken the key. The core doctrine of Christianity, the one teaching which must absolutely be affirmed to attain salvation and escape hell, is that Jesus was crucified to pay for your sins. I can’t count how many times I’ve driven by a church that had a sign out reading “Jesus Died for You.” Simply put, if you don’t accept that Jesus suffered and died for the sins you have committed in your own life, you are not a Christian. Every Christian on the face of the Earth, every Christian who has ever lived, when presented with a choice comparable to that of my hypothetical scenario, has chosen to take the key, to escape their own punishment by allowing an absolutely innocent person to die in their place.
Obviously there are even more holes in this doctrine than in my haphazardly assembled thought experiment. For one, Jesus did not have the authority to assume responsibility for the sins of other people, especially the billions of Christians who lived and died during the two thousand years following his death. He may be the son of God, but he can’t change the past — your sins are still your sins, and you still committed them, no one else. For another, the doctrine of original sin, which supposedly necessitated the crucifixion in the first place, is nonsensical. Humanity, Christians are taught, is inherently sinful and rebellious of God because Adam and Eve ate fruit from the wrong tree in the Garden of Eden. Nevermind that there never was an Adam or Eve, nor any such place as the Garden of Eden — why must every succeeding generation be made to suffer for a minor infraction of the rules by our ancestors? And why is the bloody and agonizing public execution of an innocent man thousands of years later necessary to prevent that suffering?
But those questions are beside the point. For now, I want to focus not on the god who offered this depraved bargain, but on the countless men and women who have gratefully accepted it. The crucifixion is usually viewed in terms of the love and selflessness of Jesus. Here’s a typical Christian description, from All About Jesus Christ:
Jesus gave Himself willingly for you and me. Jesus suffered a horrible death for you and me. Jesus loved us so much that He willingly died in utter shame and pain for our sins. In fact, the Bible teaches us that He who was without sin was literally “made sin” for us. God, in human form, allowed himself to be made sin to save us. On the cross, he bore all the world’s sin because of His love. The only way to complete His story of love is to love Him in return.
Nevermind that you never asked Jesus to die for you. Christianity teaches that he did. In order to be a Christian, you must allow his death to stand in for your own. You must allow someone else to be punished for your crimes.
How is this even remotely moral? I realize the faithful are under some pressure when accepting this offer, since they are told that the alternative is permanent residence in a lake of fire, but ultimately that only makes their choice even more reprehensible. Christians are forced first to accept and confess their own sins, then to shun their responsibility for those sins and allow an innocent person to serve their sentence. They are allowing someone else to suffer for what they have supposedly done, to save their own asses. That’s an offer no just god would ever make, and no just person would ever take.
It’s better by far to reject the entire twisted set-up. There was no Adam and Eve, no original sin, and even if there was, no one alive is liable for it. We need not fear hell because there is no hell to fear. We need not fear God because if he exists at all he is nothing like the sadistic tyrant we find in the Bible. And we need not feel bound by the codes and prohibitions of the Bible, since it is a book which was long ago demonstrated to be a very poor guide to history, science, and morality. Our sins are our own, and always will be. Forgiveness is a matter to be settled between us and the people against whom we have sinned, and has nothing to do with the horrific execution of a carpenter and itinerant preacher two thousand years before we were born. Jesus didn’t die for us because he couldn’t have. It was not his right. He had no power to take our guilt from us, and we have no power to give it to him and shouldn’t want to. Life’s not that easy. Even free of the imaginary guilt religion is constantly, gratuitously trying to heap upon us, it’s never that easy.