Jesus, The Crucifixion, Religion, and Human Beings.

This is a comment i left on someone’s blog replying to various aspects of it which I thought worth copying and pasting into a blog.  I am reading the believing brain by micheal shermer and thinking a lot about how the mind works which probably influenced this a bit, but I have also thought about what makes myself and others tick for years, so not that much.  Anyway, here goes:

A few things occur to me – one is that jesus did not suffer more than anyone ever suffered – crucifixion was an extremely common way to kill people in that time and place, so much so that jesus died next to more than one person who was being executed the same day in the same town, at least according to scripture.  To puff it up as this rare singular thing is just theatricality.

As for dying for humanity I have never in my life found any sense in this and have asked countless christians how this could possibly make sense and have never gotten an answer beyond being ignored or condescended to.  A father who can’t forgive me for something that happened before I was born that he set into motion and could’ve prevented unless someone else (again before I was born and which I had no hand in) brutally murdered his son.  That contradicts ever notion of morality I have ever accepted in my life.  Both vicarious guilt and vicarious redemption are evil in my opinion, and any father that would be more inclined to forgive someone after they brutally murdered his son than before would be considered by you, me and most people as being totally insane.  Yes if someone died for me it would be profound (even if it didn’t make sense), but the plot of any science fiction story would be profound if it were true, as would the claims of any religion.  The problem for me is that nobody has established to begin with that the claims are true.

The idea that x religion or x god or x philosophy can not only make you happy but is the one and only thing that can fulfill you and make you happy is very common across many religions, political beliefs and cults.  Scientologists are desperate to ascend the ranks because they’re convinced that it’s not talking out painful memories that is therapeutic, but that getting “audited” and having evil alien souls removed from you is the only way to make you feel better.  There is in this exclusive attitude toward happiness an air of desperation.  I have experienced my share of pain and sadness in life and nearly ever day I discover new things about myself and about what it means to be a person and a man and what makes me happy or sad or depressed.  So I can understand the appeal of thinking that there is one singular thing that can make everything better – and even the placebo effect this belief might have in actually raising one’s spirits.  But the people I’ve met who believe this way to me do not seem particularly happy, or any less prone to feeling sad or unloved or unhappy than any atheist I have ever met (which is to say that we all feel unhappy, not that atheists do moreso than anyone else which I do not believe is the case).  I am by no means an expert in human happiness or the mind, nor do I make any claims about the soul if such a thing exists, but to me the idea of a “god-shaped hole” in one’s heart that only god can fill is like saying there’s a pizza shaped hole in your stomach that only pizza can fill.  Someone who was once hungry, his mouth full of delicious pizza, might easily become convinced of this fallacy.  But as far as I know the human mind is more complicated than that, and while we may be able to count the basic emotions we can feel on one hand the things that can evoke them are innumerable.  The idea that only one thing can make you happy or content is as absurd as the idea that only one thing can make you afraid.  We’re just not built that way.  And this kind of “our religion has a monopoly on meaning, morality, truth, happiness, etc” sort of thinking to me is a shackle that enslaves people rather than a truth that enlightens them.

As for communication with god, as I have said we are complicated beings full of conscious and unconscious thoughts and impulses and instincts and motivators and behaviors and someone who is told a god is communicating with them can easily look inside themselves and find something to label “god” and confirm the claim.  God sent me my dream last night, when I read the bible and ideas pour into my head that’s god sending them.  When I see someone hurting and want to help them that’s god nudging me toward the right path.  Whereas someone in the KKK who feels something very different and comes up with different conclusions when they read the scripture believes they are being similarly guided.  And an atheist when they read a secular text and are moved by it or feel compelled to do something sees it as their own inner workings, the various aspects of their own psychology.  I am sympathetic to the latter view if for no other reason that these inner workings can be shown to exist in other species and can be shown to lead people in many different directions under different circumstances.  Is god talking to you but the head of the klu klux clan is mistaken or lying when he says something simliar?  What about a christian from your own church who prays about the meaning of a passage and feels god is giving them a different interpretation?  Some people are lying when they claim to be in communication with god, con men exist and we all know this.  But most people are not lying, they genuinely believe.  And most of them hold to a different theology to everyone else based on that belief.  So are we communicating with god, or talking to ourselves?  I have for a few years now wanted to perform an experiment – take a thousand catholics and a thousand protestants of one sect or another, and ask them all to go home and earnestly pray and ask god if their sect is the true sect, if the other sect is, or if neither sect is.  Then have them come back the next day and anonymously write the answer they feel god guided them toward on a piece of paper.  If say catholicism was the true religion would they all spontaneously become catholic?  And if god is communicating with people why hasn’t something like that happened already?  Wouldn’t everyone just be catholic or not be catholic.  Are all catholics or all non-catholics lying when they say they feel god’s influence?

I just don’t buy it.  This is an internal, subjective reality that does not map out into the objective world.

I could probably continue but I may have already overstayed my welcome.  Please know that it is not my intention to offend you or even to steer you toward one belief or another, but I act rather out of a general view that we should question our beliefs, whatever they are, and seek truth, whatever it may be.

About agnophilo

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14 Responses to Jesus, The Crucifixion, Religion, and Human Beings.

  1. herose4grace says:

    You probably shouldn’t buy it. I wouldn’t either if I understood things the way you do. However, in the first place, Adam and Eve are icons of human nature. He would be forgiving YOUR sins as a human being. Second, the difference between Him and the criminals alongside of Him on the cross is in the innocence of Him. That’s what makes it less common. As a mother, I would lay my life down for my children, even suffer for them because of that one element of light; LOVE. It’s what love does. Remember, Jesus is God in physical. In the dark, there is no light. If light enters darkness, the darkness can’t exist in light. That’s the metaphor. It is God’s nature that doesn’t allow evil to be alongside of him like darkness can’t exist with light. Lastly, for someone who interprets the writing to do deeds like the Klu Klux Clan, that is “taking His name in vain”. That commandment doesn’t mean, “Thou shalt not swear.” It’s when you use His message to twist it into justification to undo His love and do evil. Atheists can feel His influence as much as anyone. The sect doesn’t matter. There is no church above another, just God’s church. The reason for churches is to study and come together to accomplish more good. There is power in numbers. It’s not to argue about which one has more details of history. One does not have to be right before another.

    • agnophilo says:

      I agree that the bible is much more reasonable if you take it non-literally, but I still don’t think it makes sense. Setting aside that nobody has shown me that a god or spirit or whatever exists except as an abstract concept, even if I go along with what you are saying I can’t make sense of it. A good person is good because of god’s influence and evil cannot coexist with god, therefore a good person is incapable of evil? Or if a good person walks into a prison all the murderers and rapists should become good because their evil cannot coexist with god’s influence inside of him, right? Clearly this is not the way the world works. I understand the analogy but it does not seem to comport with reality. I think good and evil and the why and how of human nature are a lot more complicated.

      I do appreciate your general sense of humility though : )

  2. sherrivalence says:

    Somewhat a random question: How come you lower-cased the “J” in Jesus’ name? I understand that you don’t believe in God but Jesus is a real person who did walked on earth. We not only have the Bible to prove that but we also have non-biblical sources like the writings of Suetonius, Tacitus, Pliny the Younger, The Emperor of Trajan, and Josephus.

    You should write blogs (or just ask smart questions like that) for Strange Notions. The website is ran by Catholic apologists who aim to accurately explain Catholic teaching and they’re always inviting non-believers to have fruitful conversations to seek the truth (70% of their comments on their articles are by atheists). It’s hard to find Christians who thoroughly know about their Faith randomly online or out in the street. I’ve been a Catholic all my life and most of the lessons I learned in CCD classes were how to be kind to other people.

    • agnophilo says:

      I didn’t capitalize the j in jesus because it’s a blog comment and I don’t devote a lot of time to spelling and grammar. No subtext was intended. Sometimes I capitalize proper nouns, sometimes I don’t. As for the secular sources of jesus’ existence I don’t believe any of them were even alive when jesus’ supposedly lived, and even if they had all met him we wouldn’t accept the fantastical claims about jesus if someone claimed them or you or I or president obama just because people made the claim, so why should we accept them about jesus?

      And as for atheists generally being versed in theology, when the pew research center polled americans to gauge their general knowledge about the bible and religions the group that ranked highest was atheists/agnostics – the group that ranked lowest was christians (excluding mormons who ranked second or third place). The explanation I usually hear from atheists as to why they know so much about the bible is that they were christian, studied the texts, and that is what lead them to atheism. Beliefs like a young earth, rejection of education etc become far less common with education, and religiosity (in a doctrinaire sense) overall declines rapidly the higher someone’s level of education, though it varies depending on what someone studies. Obviously becoming an expert in tax law will effect one’s beliefs about the age of the universe less than say physics or geology.

      I don’t get online much to write blogs for my own blog let alone other peoples’ blogs, but if you like one of the many I wrote in the past and want to copy/paste into yours (with a link and credit to the original) it just ask.

      • sherrivalence says:

        There is no scholar in the world who does not believe Jesus existed. Even Richard Dawkins had to admit He existed. But whether He resurrected or not is a totally different argument. I believe Peter Kreeft makes a very convincing argument regarding that topic.

        The thing about reading the Bible is that people need to read them in the Church. I mean, you wouldn’t read Hamlet on your own, right? And the Bible is like a library, It has different genres.

        I only suggested going to because you seem to really want a real conversation about the Bible. The website has provided me some answers I never dared to ask like if the Church hate women and if God really tempt people to evil. So whenever you got time and you’re feeling bored, just head there.

        And I don’t write anything on the website. I usually just read a few articles from there and reshare them in my blog here so I can kinda bookmark them for easier access and share with other people.

      • sherrivalence says:

        But I’ll totally keep that resharing offer in mind. whenever I ask a question over there.

  3. sherrivalence says:

    For some reason today, I thought of this line in your blog:
    “but to me the idea of a “god-shaped hole” in one’s heart that only god can fill is like saying there’s a pizza shaped hole in your stomach that only pizza can fill. ”

    I think all humans yearn for God the way orphans and adopted children wonder about their real parents. God made us because He love us and we’re made to serve him. I think just the fact that most atheists try to refute the evidence for God is a sign that they yearn for Him. Of course, there are people who are indifferent about religion but I think they start questioning it when they fall in love or lose a love one.

    • agnophilo says:

      I’ve never yearned for a god (let alone the god of any one religion) even when I believed there was one. And I’ve known many religious people (some very devout) who have never felt connected with god personally either. Believers do not even have identical faith experiences, let alone believers and non-believers. I think people have emotional needs and they want them to be fulfilled (like the pizza shaped hole example). We yearn for love, we yearn to belong, we yearn for purpose etc, and if we think a god or religion or group or cause or whatever will get us that, then yearning for x emotional need translates into yearning for y thing. As for atheists trying to refute the evidence for a god, speaking for myself and many atheists I have known and talked to about this, the desire to butt heads with evangelists and argue and contradict religious ideas comes not from a fixation on those ideas but on the perception that some beliefs do real harm. People who have been harmed by religion or seen other people harmed by it will oppose it, the same way someone who has been harmed by communism will contradict and argue against communism (when it comes up). If organized religion was perfectly benign I would no more feel the need to argue against it than I would argue against belief in fairies or something. It’s the same with psychics who pretend to talk to dead relatives, people want to debunk them because they’re taking advantage of peoples’ grief, not because they somehow believe or hope psychics are real.

  4. CalebAnderson says:

    In response to your first problem with a sacrificing god, the fact that crucifixion was a common method of execution. It certainly was, and, if you’re familiar with the story, the two men crucified with Jesus obviously experienced just as much physical agony as he did. Sometimes too much emphasis is placed on the physical aspect of the sacrifice of Christ. Christian doctrine is that, yes, he suffered physically, but it’s also the idea that in sacrificing himself, he was taking on the punishment of man. You may have seen an illustration some Christians use, of a chasm, on one side is man, on the other God, in between, bridging the chasm, is a cross. The suffering of Christ is suffering because he is separated from God for the sake of man, he dies, but then is resurrected. If it helps, think of it this way, there is a human father and a human son, they have a friendship, perhaps even a better than average friendship, but the son and the father, for the sake of their family, choose temporary, utter separation. Not just separation as in physical difference, (in the modern world that is a bit less of a problem) but no contact what so ever. Nothing. No e-mails, no calls, no letters, no skype, nothing to remember the father by. This is the closest way I can think of to explain it in a human context.
    In response to your problem with God allowing Adam to sin. Yes, in one sense, God did allow Adam to sin. A lot of emphasis is placed on free will these days. God could have forced Adam not to sin, but it wouldn’t be free will. A robot can’t love its creator, nor can it have free will.

    ps: I did approve your comment on my blog “Christian Contemplations”, and reply.

    • agnophilo says:

      In your analogy what if the father then said he would speak to the son again, but only if he nailed him to a tree and shoved a spear in his side first? Would it make sense then?

  5. CalebAnderson says:

    You claim in your post that God essentially killed his own son. This is simply not true. Regardless of whether or not you believe the Bible to be true, the Bible does not say that God killed his own son. It says, if you will allow me to quote, “For God so loved the world, that he gave [let, sacrificed] his only begotten son, so that whosoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” -John 3:16.
    Indeed, on the contrary, it was humans that killed Christ. Christ came to Jerusalem, preached a doctrine of forgiveness through him, gave the people, and the pharisees and other religious groups, every chance in the world to follow him, but they refused. They cheered his arrival in Jerusalem, then in 24 hours scourged and murdered him.
    As for why it was necessary for God to sacrifice his only son, think of it this way: something serious requires a serious answer, or response, or discipline. Human sin was serious. It couldn’t just be brushed under the rug. It required a serious response.

    • agnophilo says:

      So it was necessary for his son to die, god knew it would happen, told people it would happen (prophecies) sent him to die and then when it was over he had nothing to do with it? You are demonstrating what in psychology is called compartmentalization, you believe god is a loving father who would never harm his son AND you believe that god loves us so much that he was willing to have his ONLY son tortured to death for us – two completely conflicting ideas. What I am saying in a nutshell is that if you acknowledge the web of contradictions the whole thing seems absurd.

      As for your “because it was serious” answer to why jesus had to die on the cross, that makes no sense. It’s an arbitrary sentiment.

  6. Brian Dead Rift Webb says:

    “As for dying for humanity I have never in my life found any sense in this and have asked countless christians how this could possibly make sense and have never gotten an answer beyond being ignored or condescended to. A father who can’t forgive me for something that happened before I was born that he set into motion and could’ve prevented unless someone else (again before I was born and which I had no hand in) brutally murdered his son.”

    I barely touched on this in my recently published ebook “Christian Freedom!”

    The purpose of the mosaic law was never to make someone righteous. It was to make sure that the bloodline of Jesse was maintained, and work as a prophecy of the one to come. Jesus fulfilled the prophecy, which meant that he couldn’t change or do away with the law, but if the law could not be fulfilled by anyone, then it had to be fulfilled by the one person who could.

    It isn’t the simple fulfilling of the law that makes us all warm and fuzzy the some person was slaughtered by a state driven by the people. Only a psychopath would find that a warming feeling. I think I just insulted a massive number of Christians.

    However, since Jesus was the one who was able to fulfill the prophesy, then it was Jesus who was promised to be the one who would reconcile man back to God. Not by his death, but by his loving obedience, knowing that it was going to be man who would torcher and slaughter, but his obedience to also be raised from the dead that makes him unique. Of all who have died, he is the only one who was resurrected and set at the head of God’s new family. This is why Romans 10:9 and 10:10 were written like they were.

    Again, I find the Christian populous to be filled with people who don’t know, or read the scriptures to even know what they spout. Which is why I love reading your few posts, because they call out the garbage of those who claim of be with me in my faith.

    Agnophilo, now I remember why I stopped reading your blog. You point out the hypocrisy of the very christians, and I see this all the freaking time as it is.

    Keep doing the solid work of a free thinker and critic. You are still an asset to the living. 🙂

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