Monday, February 19, 2007

Crucifying the Crucifixion

Let us take a hard, heretical look at the central tenet of Christianity: the Crucifixion/Resurrection scenario, as described in the New Testament. We will begin by assuming, for the sake of argument, that the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) are 100% historically accurate accounts of an actual (rather than mythical) hybrid God-man named Jesus. We will also temporarily accept, for the sake of argument, the doctrines of Creation and the Trinity.

The Crucifixion scenario appears to be founded upon a few operating assumptions:
1) Mankind is inherently sinful and evil.
2) Those who sin must die, while those who do not sin cannot die.
3) Blame (hence death) for sin is transferable to blameless creatures (including human virgins), but only by those who believe in such transferability.
4) God is completely blameless.

Putting it all together, the idea is that, by sacrificing himself to himself on behalf of mankind, the blame for all human sins can be transferred to God, thereby resolving the problem of mankind's inherent sinfulness--for those who believe. And, joy of joys, Jesus still gets to live. How clever. Everybody wins. Right?

The problem with this scenario is, each these underlying assumptions is highly questionable:
1) Far from being inherently evil, human beings appear to have basically good intentions. Only extremely rare sociopaths go around plotting to do evil for the sake of evil. Everyone else realizes that, as a social species, our survival and well-being depends heavily upon how well we get along with each others. We're hard-wired to be nice, and seek to become even nicer. Indeed, adherents typically convert to various religions because they think it will help them fulfill their pre-existing drive to become a better person. Religion would not exist if people were not already inherently good.
2) The death penalty for everything, including impure thoughts? (Matt. 5:17-48) Come on! Any nation that adopted such an absurdly overbearing system of law would be devoid of citizens within a week!
3) Transferring blame from someone who does deserve punishment to someone or something that does not is inherently unfair, by definition.
4) If an omnipotent God created everything according to his own predetermined plan, then he alone is to blame for everything.

Even if the assumptions behind the Crucifixion can somehow be rendered acceptable to those with even moderate reasoning ability and a healthy conscience, there is still the problem posed by the alleged resurrection. If Jesus resurrected, then in the end, he sacrificed nothing of value whatsoever. According to all four Gospels, the "death" of Jesus was both staged and faked!

If the Bible relays this scenario accurately, then God must be a seriously confused, morally debilitated monster of a deity, better suited for pity than for worship. The fake death of his Son/himself to give the appearance of taking advantage of a loophole in his own blatantly corrupt system of law, is so obviously absurd on so many levels that it is extremely difficult to understand why any rational, honest person would accept such nonsense as Gospel. If anything, the Crucifixion/Resurrection scenario makes far more sense as a ritual act of suicide, intended to convey God's penitence toward us, for screwing things up so badly in the first place!

Believers, please try to take your faith more seriously, and strive to become better evangelists. I can testify from personal experience that truly understanding the core tenets of Christianity is the key to rejecting them.


  1. While I agree with you on the absurdity of sin, sacrifice and crucifixion, it's a mistake to reference the Jephthah story here.

    That is the lone instance of human sacrifice in the Bible, and I'm happy to reference it to show the barbaric, immoral beliefs of the roving band of murderers who wrote the books of the Old Testament.

    However, while it is a human sacrifice, it is not a sin sacrifice and doesn't have any relevance to the point you're making. That sacrifice was made as a deal to win a battle, not as a method of atonement.

    It's still abhorrent, but it doesn't apply here.

  2. Actually, though, Jephthah's daughter aside, I think most Christians would believe that at least one human virgin was offered as a sin sacrifice: Jesus. Unless that whole thing with Mary Magdalene was what it looked like. Hmm...

  3. Your analysis is right on. Very good.

    I wonder why when I attended Bible "study" as a young lad we didn't have counter analysis such as this --- well, you don't get the other analysis because that would be real study, not "study" with those quotes around the word.

    Keep up the good work!

  4. Sorry for the delayed reply...

    Jesus was definitely a sin sacrifice, though I'm not certain you'll get many Christians to back the idea that he was properly human (and some might object to virgin, though probably far fewer).

    He was also a self-sacrifice, along with about 10 other possible objections.

    I think I'd just prefer to go with the great points you made about the absurdity of sin and sacrifice in general - and repeatedly point out the Bible's support for human sacrifice, slavery and other immoral acts as examples of moral absurdities to compliment the doctrinal ones. :)

  5. One question that I wish more people would address is "what exactly did Jesus's death accomplish?" I mean, given that he was God, etc., etc., what did his sorta-sacrifice do for humanity? What does it mean when they say he took on the sins of mankind? Ask a dozen Christians and if you get answers at all, they'll all be very different, and very telling.
    Apparently some early Christians (and I really need to find a source for this) believed that the sacrifice wiped out all sin, forever. Naturally, this makes any church-based threats fairly toothless. So, some believe that he wiped out all sin for everyone at that time, making a clean slate starting at 29 CE or whenever (so why is there still Original Sin?), others say that his death gives everyone the chance to possibly maybe make it into Heaven, despite their sins (how about that forgiveness, eh?). And a thousand other contradictory, inconsistent variations in-between.

    As insane as the doctrine of Crucifixion is, it doesn't hold a candle to the insanity of what it's supposed to represent.

    Great post, though. Sorry for any derailment.

  6. Tom,
    You make an excellent point. If you haven't read it yet, you might like my "Poor, Tragic Yahweh" post from January. According to the Bible, Jesus' death was just one more failure in a protracted series of botched attempts to reconcile God with man, thereby making things right in the world once and for all. After awhile, you'd think he and his adherents would get the message that maybe we're holding up our end of the bargain just fine. We're not responsible for his social ineptitude, self-defeating "divine plan" or, oh, lack of existence. He will only be able to correct his shortcomings if he first learns to acknowledge them.

    In other words, I think God would benefit greatly from praying the following prayer (to himself, of course):
    "Oh, I just noticed--I don't exist after all! Okay, I guess we'll have to correct that... [God appears in a puff of smoke.] Now I just need some way to convince everyone I exist and am worthy of their worship. Hmmm. Thanks to the omniscience I just gave myself in my act of self-creation, I know exactly what would work for many of them... [Malaria disappears overnight, the rate of child rape drops to zero globally, and so on. Atheists everywhere are deprived of the Problem of Evil. Belief in a God worthy of human trust finally becomes logically and morally tenable.] There, that's better. Great Me! Why didn't I think to take these simple steps sooner? Those atheists are so clever!"

  7. According to Romans 6:23, "The wages of sin is death". If this means a physical death, then each of us pays the price upon our corporal demise and at that point, we're sin-free and therefore saved. If this means a "spiritual" death, then Jesus didn't pay the price since according to the bible story, he never died "spiritually" (he spent 3 days in hell, then ascended to heaven). I expand on this in my article at - at the time of this posting, it's the top-most article (sorry for the plug but I thought it was apropos).

  8. Stephen,
    Let me begin by saying that I agree with your overall conclusion. However, I think it may be instructive to note possible replies to at least the first three of your points.

    Reply to (1): You point out that humans have basically good intentions. However, a Christian would no doubt account for this fact by observing that the Holy Spirit is constantly speaking to us through our conscience, urging us towards the good. This is what separates pre-pentecost humans from post-pentecost humans and accounts for the much harsher punishments prescribed in the Old Testament. The basic idea is that before pentecost, stringent punishments had to be prescribed to deter people from committing wrong because the Holy Spirit had not yet come. However, after pentecost, such external (or legal) measures are no longer necessary since the Holy Spirit now speaks to us through the inner voice of our conscience. This fact (ignoring the possible oxymoron of calling it a “fact”) accounts for the apparent inherent goodness we observe in human beings today.

    Reply to (2): Under the new covenant sin is no longer legally punishable by death, so there is no need for a contemporary society to attempt to enforce the Old Testament laws (or Jesus' much more demanding version of these laws). This goes right back to the pre/post-pentecost distinction I adumbrated above. Most Christian theologians would agree that after the crucifixion, resurrection and subsequent arrival of the Holy Spirit there is no longer any need for the state to prescribe punishment for religious offences (activities of The Christian Right notwithstanding).

    Reply to (3): According to Christian dogma, God is the author and legislator of the law. God is also the one who decided what the appropriate punishment for violation of the law should be. Given this fact, it does not seem inconsistent to suggest that God may transfer the guilt associated with violation of the law unto Himself. Admittedly, there is something viscerally reprehensible about the idea of God transferring guilt unto an innocent person against that innocent person's wishes. However, it does not strike me as reprehensible in the same way for God to transfer this guilt unto Himself (i.e., the second member of the Godhead, Jesus Christ) since God was the one wronged in the first place. A similar line of argument can be used to explain the apparent inconsistency of God forbidding murder and then commanding the taking of life (as He does on numerous occasions in the Old Testament). The taking of life may be seen as analogous to stealing. Since God is the owner of all life, then the taking of life is like taking something that does not belong to you. However, if God commands you to take a life, then it's like the owner of of something giving you permission to take it. (A scary idea I know, but strictly speaking it does not seem inconsistent). The take home point is this: it is God's prerogative how he deals with those who have wronged Him since He is the one that has been wronged.

    Reply to (4): I'm in almost complete agreement with you on this one. Your contention is further supported by the fact that for many Christian theologians, it was only the human element of Christ that died. (The divine element, being eternal, obviously could not partake of death.) However, the subject of Jesus' divine-human nature is a hotly debated one among Christian theologians. Thus, it would be difficult to provide a single reply to your final set of criticisms that would be truly representative.

    In conclusion, I would point out that the criticisms of Christianity on the part of non-believers often boils down to a matter of competing intuitions. However, if my intuitions happen to conflict with yours, it is usually difficult to establish which of the two intuitions (if either) is preferable. Consequently, rather than criticising Christianity from the outside, it may be more effective to attempt to find inconsistencies within the Christian worldview itself.


PLEASE NOTE: The Atheist Experience has moved to a new location, and this blog is now closed to comments. To participate in future discussions, please visit

This blog encourages believers who disagree with us to comment. However, anonymous comments are disallowed to weed out cowardly flamers who hide behind anonymity. Commenters will only be banned when they've demonstrated they're nothing more than trolls whose behavior is intentionally offensive to the blog's readership.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.