Pretty gruesome stuff, isn’t it? Strapped to a log, nailed down for good measure. Left to die in your own sweet time. A few days ago I watched an episode of Louis on Hulu. If you don’t know the show, you should check it out.
This particular episode was interesting to me because I lived it. When I was in a Christian grade school, a doctor came into our class and spent the better part of an hour describing all the horrific, excruciating varieties of pain a person goes through while being crucified. No details were left out to spare young minds. It was awful. Truly awful.
At the end of the session, the teacher began listing off sins every one of us had surely committed. Things every normal adolescent does. After each one, she listed off one of the torments the god Jesus allegedly endured and said, “Every time you do it, you’re doing THIS to Jesus! You’re killing him! Every time!”
The terror fest had the desired effect. Many kids left the classroom crying. We all felt horribly guilty. We were all overwhelmed by the sacrifice that the god Jesus had made on our behalf. We vowed not to kill him anymore.
Now that I’m a little older, and have learned that it’s not always a good idea to be swayed by strong emotion, I’ve had some time to think about the sacrifice. I’m not nearly as impressed as I was when I was young. Let me explain.
What is a sacrifice? Well, it has several meanings, but I think only a couple apply to this story. One is the old school religious definition. In many ancient religions, including early Judaism, the gods were thought to be angry and vengeful, and the only way to appease them was to give up things you owned. You brought a goat or a bull or several chickens, put them on an altar and killed them. This act of sacrifice would stay the wrath of the god(s) for some amount of time. It was also possible to make sacrifices when things were going very poorly. If the rains hadn’t come around for a while, a sacrifice might induce the god(s) to throw a little moisture your way.
I wonder if that’s what Jesus Worshipers mean when they say that their god sacrificed himself. It certainly has some similarities. Was the cross meant to be a substitute for an altar? That certainly seems reasonable. But it gets tricky if that’s what it’s supposed to be. The whole reason for the sacrifice to ancient gods was to appease their wrath and anger. That means that Jesus is angry at us… since he’s supposed to be the same as the god Father and the god Holy Spirit.
Why would he be angry? He made us exactly the way he wanted us, right? And he knows everything and always has, so he knew when he made us that our ancestor Adam would disobey him. (Only we know from science that there is no such thing as Adam. Perhaps there’s a mitochondrial Eve, but not an Adam…) So he was getting exactly what he wanted. How could it be any different? If he cannot do anything less than exactly what he wants, then this is precisely what he wanted. So… how could he possibly be angry?
But I guess we have to take it as read that for some reason, the god Jesus got incredibly angry when things happened exactly the way he wanted them to happen. So, to assuage his anger, he turned himself into a man and then arranged things so that he would be crucified. The thing is, since he says he and Father and Holy Spirit are the only god around, and sacrifices are made to gods, that means that he was making himself a sacrifice to himself. That seems very odd. Actually, it sounds downright psychopathic.
Here’s something else I’ve been thinking about. The other useful definition of sacrifice is to give up something valuable for someone else’s benefit. Not necessarily a god. So… a bull takes quite a few years to grow to maturity. The whole time, you have to feed it lots and lots of food. For a poor farmer, sacrificing a bull might mean giving up the majority of his work for the last few years. If he had three bulls, it would be a third. If he had ten, a tenth. And so on. Relatively speaking, that’s a lot of effort being given away for someone else’s wrath.
I am told that Jesus is immortal. Since there is no number I can represent that with, I decided to take a very large number instead. I picked a trillion trillion. (A trillion is one with twelve zeros after it.) Supposing that Jesus felt excruciating pain for twenty four hours, we can say that he “sacrificed” for 1/365 of a year. In decimals, that’s 0.0027, or 0.03% of a year. For a trillion, that’s 0.000000000003%. For another trillion, that’s 0.000000000000000000000003%. So, cutting the god Jesus’s life by a trillion trillion percent, he only sacrificed this infinitesimally small percentage of his time. And since he is a god, and can do anything he likes, he really wasn’t giving up anything else. And since he is immortal, he couldn’t have been really dead. Just… pretend dead.
For the sake of argument, maybe there is a way for a god to be really dead and then come back to life. (Were the god Father and the god Holy Spirit also dead for three days? If not, then Jesus couldn’t have been because he is the same as them, right? But anyway…) That means that for three days he didn’t experience anything at all. That doesn’t sound very bad to me.
I’ve been told by some Jesus Worshipers that Jesus spent his three days of death in hell. That would certainly be worse than just being dead and not experiencing anything. I am led to believe that hell is the worst torture imaginable multiplied by a billion billion. But I’m still not very impressed. Because those three days are still a fantastically tiny period of Jesus’ life. And I have it on reliable sources that my punishment for not believing this whole story is an eternity — the length of god’s life minus the time before I was born — of that same torture.
Sooo… In a nutshell, the god Jesus spent the merest speck of his existence experiencing pain sacrificing himself to himself. If I fail to respect that minuscule gesture, I will be tortured in the worst imaginable way for all of eternity. It’s akin to me saying to you, “Last night, I pinched myself on the thigh for one tenth of a second. I have sacrificed so much for you, you should give me a million dollars. If you don’t, I’ll kill you.”
No… I don’t think it’s much of a sacrifice, and I don’t think it reflects good moral character.