Shuck and Jive

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Jesus Did NOT Die for the Sins of Humanity, Part 2

My recent post Jesus Did NOT Die for the Sins of Humanity has generated some interest. I think that is a good thing. I think it is a good thing to think about who killed Jesus, and why and how. Immediately following his death, people tried to make sense of it. They did so in ways that made sense to them.

Theology is about trying to make sense of things. It is about meaning. It is about truth and goodness. The death of Jesus has caused a great many to seek to find meaning in it. Some attempts have been more helpful than others. Abelard makes more sense to me than Anselm, but both theories are dated. Theology is a living discipline. Yesterday's theology does no one any good when it is simply repeated. It becomes a formula and then an idol. Idol worship turns into heresy hunting. That is the problem as I see it in the PC(USA).

You know why Jesus was killed?
He was in the way. If you would like to know how I really feel about it, you can read a Palm Sunday sermon of mine, No More Crosses.

This is what I preached the following Sunday:

Jesus didn’t die of old age. He didn’t die of cancer. He didn’t get trampled accidentally by a runaway horse. Jesus was bullied to death. Not only Jesus, but thousands of people were tortured and executed methodically in a spectacle of brutality and control. We have covered over this story with so much theological gobbledy-gook that we miss the main plot. Jesus was a victim of imperial terrorism.

The Easter acclamation, “Christ is Risen!” meant what? I think it meant that they, the people, those who told and wrote the stories about Jesus had had enough. They had had enough of Rome’s bullying. They said,

“Every time we gather for a meal of bread and wine we will remember. We are Christ's body. Christ is alive with us. We will continue to remember and to resist. We will show hospitality to those who are victims of imperial bullying, to the outcast, to the slave, to the stranger. We will lean on and support each other. We will remember and tell the stories of the victims. And we will dream, hope, and work for the day in which the kingdom of God, the empire of God, the empire of justice and peace will be realized on Earth.”

Obviously, Christianity evolved and moved in all kinds of directions and embraced many different mythologies and interpretations, and some of them quite good and helpful. But it is important not to lose sight of our roots. The earliest interpretation of the death and resurrection of Jesus is this:

In Christ, Empire’s brutality is overcome by God’s justice.

I wear this cross around my neck to remind me whose side I need to be on.
There was and is nothing sacred and holy about the execution and torture of Jesus or of anyone. "Holy Week" is a misnomer as is "Good Friday." If anything, remembering the death of Jesus should summon us to honor life not death. It should give us the courage and commitment to speak out and not remain silent in the face of torture, execution, violence, injustice, and needless suffering around the world. Whenever any of us stands up for those who are abused or put down or who suffer injustice from bullies big and small, we practice true religion.

Learning how doctrines and various theological theories and formulas were formed is helpful. It keeps us from making an idol of our theological formulas and then doing bad things with them, like heresy hunting.

I am looking forward to the Jesus Seminar on the Road this weekend. Do come and register at the door. As a special treat, Robert J. Miller will stay over on Sunday to make a presentation at our adult forum at 9:45 and preach at 11:00.

Will all this talk about Jesus by the right wing who are so concerned that everyone repeats the "correct" formulas, while at the same time continually persecuting LGBT people, I will close with Bob Miller's words from Born Divine: The Births of Jesus and Other Sons of God:

Seeing God in the historical Jesus entails a willingness to live within Jesus’ vision of the kingdom of God. This is what is ultimately at stake in the question about the virgin birth and divine sonship of Jesus. If you say that you see the presence and power of God in the life and teachings of Jesus, then this stance of yours should mean that you are willing, for example, to seek the kingdom of God among the marginalized nobodies of our society. If you aren’t, then it’s just talk, no matter how high-minded.” p. 257


  1. Oh my gosh, THANK YOU. This idea that I WAS SO BAD SOMEONE (Jesus) HAD TO DIE FOR ME is the main thing that stands between me and Christianity. (Though I never identified as Christian, even when I was Catholic - I have no interest in the "Christianity" I see around me 95% of the time.)

    Maybe I'm just a victim of therapeutic culture (a la Habits of the Heart), but as someone who has been depressed forever, the Church's message of original sin sure as hell didn't help me be un-depressed. I debate whether I believe in anything like sin or evil at all. I think people do the absolute best they can, given their particular histories (particularly attachment histories) and circumstances. I think that if I made myself believe that no matter how hard I try to work through my own sh*t and be the best person I can be, I would STILL be so bad that someone needed to die for me, I would probably be entirely suicidal.

    And I think it's not just for my own sanity that I refuse to believe that... I think you can have a heck of a lot more compassion for other people if you believe that they're doing their best instead of believing that they're just sinners.

  2. er, I think *I* can have a heck of a lot more compassion for other people if *I* believe that they're doing their best instead of believing that they're just sinners.

  3. Thanks Che! I appreciate very much what you wrote here!

  4. Woo hoo, Che! I told you you'd hear good things here!

    By the way, one of my favorite quotes re: sin comes from science fiction write Robert A. Heinlein, who said “Sin lies only in hurting other people unnecessarily. All other "sins" are invented nonsense. (Hurting yourself is not sinful - just stupid).”