Shuck and Jive

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

The Meaning of Life, Part 20

Let me state this boldly and succinctly: Jesus did not die for your sins or for my sins.

That proclamation is theological nonsense. It only breeds more violence, as we seek to justify the negativity that religious people dump on others because we can no longer carry its load. We must rid ourselves of it. One can hardly refrain from exhorting parents not to spare the rod lest they spoil the child, if the portrait of God at the heart of the Christian story is that of an angry parent who punishes the divine Son because he can take it and we cannot.

The interpretation of Jesus as the sacrificed victim is a human creation. It was shaped in a first-century world by the disciples of Jesus, who drew on their Jewish liturgical symbols as a way the Crucifixion might be understood. They borrowed this understanding directly from the Jewish Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, in which an innocent lamb was slaughtered to pay the price for the sins of the people. The sinful people then had the cleansing blood of that sacrificial lamb sprinkled on them.

We are not fallen, sinful people who deserve to be punished. We are frightened, insecure people who have achieved the enormous breakthrough into self-consciousness that marks no other creature that has yet emerged from the evolutionary cycle. We must not denigrate the human being who ate of the tree of knowledge in the Genesis story. We must learn rather to celebrate the creative leap into a higher humanity. Our sense of separation and aloneness is not a mark of our sin. It is a symbol of our glory. Our struggle to survive ... (our) radical self-centeredness, is not the result of original sin. It is a sign of emerging consciousness. It should not be a source of guilt. It is a source of blessing. We do not need to be punished. We need to be called and empowered to be more deeply and fully human and to develop the godlike gift of being able to give ourselves away freely in the quest for an even deeper sense of what it means to live. Jesus did not die for our sins. Jesus demonstrated in an ultimate way that it is by giving that we receive and by loving that we enhance life.

John Shelby Spong, Catholic New Times


  1. I really like Spong. He makes sense to me too. He ticks of the fundies. That is not why I like him, but it is an added bonus.

  2. Ah, it's the end of atonement theology as we know it.

    And I feel fine!

  3. This makes actual, total sense! Awesome!

  4. I love it - and I love the bit about humans needing to punish themselves because of their self-awareness. Because we're the only creatures to fully understand that we are born and we die, someone needed to cast Adam and Eve out of the Garden, as if understanding our mortality isn't punishment enough!

  5. Why not just become UU's?

  6. Why not just become UU's?

    Covered dish suppers. Not that UUs don't have nice covered dish suppers, it is just that I like the Presby ones a little more.

  7. I think it's a combination of reading Niebuhr and thinking of what theology looks like post holocaust. Both make me reticent over Spong's claim about the human.

    Our estrangement from each other in some cases provides the possibilities of individuality, in other cases it produces gross injustices against the other. If theology points this out, it's not that the theology degenrates the human. It's that it identifies those things we've done which degenerate ourselves.

    Plato suggests the very thing which can save us can condemn us, and our possibilities for self transcendence can be the occassion of disregard for others, for our wider world, and much worse. I think a liberal theology which can take that seriously is needed, as we look to be both empowered by God for "living into our humanity" as well as we look to overcome those things, whether in our nature, or even in the systemic structures of our world (racism, sexism, all sorts of original sins out there) that limit our life together.

  8. Nice critique, Dwight. We are going to do a study of Niebuhr in the coming months.

  9. What are ya reading of Neibuhr? If I ever get to your guys neck of the woods, I'll need to stop by some Sunday morning :)

  10. On the other hand there is Mr. Chesterton to Mr. Blatchford:

    "Mr. Blatchford says that there was not a Fall but a gradual rise. But the very word "rise" implies that you know toward what you are rising. Unless there is a standard you cannot tell whether you are rising or falling. But the main point is that the Fall like every other large path of Christianity is embodied in the common language talked on the top of an omnibus. Anybody might say, "Very few men are really Manly." Nobody would say, "Very few whales are really whaley."

    "If you wanted to dissuade a man from drinking his tenth whisky you would slap him on the back and say, "Be a man." No one who wished to dissuade a crocodile from eating his tenth explorer would slap it on the back and say, "Be a crocodile." For we have no notion of a perfect crocodile; no allegory of a whale expelled from his whaley Eden. If a whale came up to us and said: "I am a new kind of whale; I have abandoned whalebone," we should not trouble. But if a man came up to us (as many will soon come up to us) to say, "I am a new kind of man. I am the super-man. I have abandoned mercy and justice"; we should answer, "Doubtless you are new, but you are not nearer to the perfect man, for he has been already in the mind of God. We have fallen with Adam and we shall rise with Christ; but we would rather fall with Satan than rise with you.""

  11. Spong, and those who agree with him, are partly right: Jesus did not die for your sins. Jesus always intended for YOU to bear the penalty for your own sins.

    Jesus died for the sins of those he chose to receive eternal life; a small minority of humanity.