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Secular Sunday: What Sacrifice?

April 12, 2009

Today is Easter Sunday. The holiday when Christians celebrate being forgiven for something that a just god wouldn’t hold them responsible for in the first place. 

Ignoring the injustice of the notion of sin in general, and original sin in particular; ignoring the injustice of eternal punishment for temporal crimes; ignoring the immorality and barbarism of requiring blood and sacrifice to atone for any wrongdoing big or small; pretending for a moment that all of these things make any kind of sense, let’s focus in on what folks are celebrating this weekend: the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

So the big deal is that God sent his son (who was also God) to sacrifice himself for the good of mankind. We’re supposed to kneel in gratitude at the feet of the ultimate sacrifice. 

And my question, as I’ve already alluded to, is: what sacrifice?

The Christians claim that Jesus came to conquer death. But he didn’t conquer death — everyone still dies, even Christians. 

“No,” the Christians clarify, “he didn’t conquer physical death. He conquered spiritual death.” The implication (or sometimes the explicit continuation) is that everyone dies a physical death, but this life is short and transitory (see “sacks of meat and fluid”), an experience of suffering in a fallen world on our way to the great worship-party in the sky. 

The point of sacrifice is that you give up something that you otherwise need. But Jesus giving up his earthly life, according to Christianity, is not giving up something he needs — in fact, since everyone dies a physical death he is not doing anything that everyone else doesn’t do. What he is doing that other people don’t do is coming back from the dead. But one could hardly call not having to stay dead a “sacrifice.” 

Did Jesus die a spiritual death in our place? Not apparently, as his resurrection would be impossible if his soul was dead (Zombie Jesus!!) or in Hell. The Apostles’ Creed asserts that Jesus did descend into Hell between his death and resurrection, but other sects of the religion claim (probably accurately) that this is a misreading of the text. 

Did Jesus suffer for us? Not as far as I can tell. I wouldn’t want to spend a night and a day being tortured, beaten, and eventually brutally murdered. I imagine that would be sheer agony. But I also wouldn’t want to have terminal cancer or the Ebola virus, which also would rend me in agony before finally killing me.

Some people get to die peacefully and without suffering, but the hard fact is that most people don’t. Was Jesus’ suffering actually moreso than the child who is abducted from his parents, raped, beaten, and finally murdered? Was his suffering longer than the young woman who was locked in her father’s basement for 24 years, birthing seven incestuous children from nightly rape sessions without ever seeing the sun? I submit that it was not. Jesus suffered like most humans suffer, and as crucifixions go I would even say that he got off light — he died after only three hours whereas crucifixion was a slow death that could often take more than a day. Yeah, Jesus got worse than I would ever want to get, but so do a lot of people. I don’t see the especial sacrifice there, especially since he didn’t take away the suffering of the examples I gave and those like them. 

That not only did Jesus not suffer for very long, and not only does he not have to stay dead, but he gets to be God at the end of it all. Not just be with God, he gets to be God, and rule the universe and lay claim to having created it in the first place. 

Say a reality show producer came up to me and told me that he wanted to destroy my car for his show. As compensation, he offers me any car I want, price being no object. Not only will the show buy me any car I want, but they will continue to buy me any car I want any time I decide I want a different one. They will pay for all my gas. They will pay for all my insurance. They will pay for any parking tickets or tows or repairs or replacements ever required even if they are the result of my own negligence or misconduct. 

The “catch” is that they will be shooting on a Friday, and they won’t be able to get me my new car until the following Monday (business days). And, just for the hell of it, let’s say there’s also a bizarre stipulation that I can’t even leave my house for some reason until I get the new car. 

If I take that deal, and the producer is good to his word, and for the rest of my life I’m driving Mercedes’ and Lamborghinis and Tesla Roadsters without ever having to pay a single red cent for any of it — can anyone credibly claim that I made a “sacrifice” by letting them destroy my 2004 Nissan Sentra?

According to the Christian mythology, Jesus won the lottery; but according to Easter tradition, we’re meant to call that a sacrifice.

And more astonishingly, we’re expected to do so with a straight face.

2 Comments
  1. Some of the things you said do not actually reflect Christian theology:

    1.He conquered physical death not “spiritual” death through the resurrection. This is a very firm point, it’s in the bible that it is specifically not merely some spiritual resurrection but a physical bodily one and that we expect the same. People still die, but the whole idea is that we will rise again. Physically, bodily.
    2. Jesus descending into hell, in the original language refers to the underworld rather than hell in the sense of a place of eternal fire.
    3. Jesus’s suffering was not so much the physical aspect as it was the taking upon himself of all sin.
    4. Jesus’s sacrifice is not necessarily best read in the sense you mean it. It is a sacrifice in the sense that when you slaughter an animal to God it is a sacrifice, people eat the animals they sacrifice to God (usually), in that sense it hardly seems to be a sacrifice, but that’s how it goes.

  2. I always thought that cannibalism and Human sacrifices were sins. Not only that, but they ate Him before He died.

    Anyway… Some things I question are: Did Jesus know He was going to rise from the dead? If not, then He did sacrifice Himself (though He still got off light because His troubles ended at his death). Then again, He must have believed His soul would still depart for the place of spiritual bliss just like the way that He tried to tell people their soul would. We waffle back to the idea of Him knowing that He was going to be okay anyway and that there little was to sacrifice. Then again… again, He could have sacrificed His living form to show people that they can go to Heaven past the suffering of death (or showing them “the way” or showing them that they can guarantee their lottery winnings… supposedly by living according to the rules that the people who followed Him set for everyone).

    Of course, that is all conjecture.

    Also for more conjecture, it could be that people grossly misinterpreted or grossly misrepresented what the Dude was saying (and did) either out of ignorance or by deliberate action. (Perhaps when He laid His hand upon the blind man and commanded him to see, He really bitch-slapped the fool and told him to stop pretending to be blind.) 😀

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