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50 simple questions for every christian
By Guy P. Harrison
Prometheus BooksCopyright © 2013Guy P. Harrison
All rights reserved.
DOES CHRISTIANITY MAKE SENSE?
These may be the most simple and important questions of all: Does this religion make sense? It is true? Am I sufficiently convinced about this to honestly call myself a Christian? While these may seem like fair questions to an unsure skeptic, those within Christianity might consider it impolite, unnecessary, and even idiotic to ask such things. Of course it's true. Of course it makes sense. Given the high stakes of this religion's global influence and possible afterlife repercussions, however, shouldn't everyone—Christians included—be asking these questions?
Does it make sense? This simple question goes far beyond nitpicking contradictions in the Bible or citing problems with popular claims about the benefits of Christianity and the reliability of prayer. It is about the basic concept, the core claim that distinguishes this religion from others. It is, of course, impossible to summarize it in a way that satisfies all Christians, but it goes something like this: God sent his son, Jesus, into the world so that he could die for us. His sacrifice was a pardon for our sins that allows us to be saved from death and enjoy eternal life in heaven. Without Jesus, we would all be doomed because of our inherently sinful nature. In this great act of mercy, God saved us from ourselves. And all we have to do in return to accept this gift is to repent our sins and embrace Jesus as our only lord and savior.
This is about as concise as one can describe Christianity without veering off into endless doctrinal conflicts. Short and simple as it is, there will still be some, I suspect, who would feel the need to subtract or add, but I hope most would agree that it's an accurate and fair synopsis. So let's analyze it line for line and see what happens.
GOD SENT HIS SON, JESUS, INTO THE WORLD SO THAT HE COULD DIE FOR US.
We are immediately confronted with a huge problem. God is Jesus and Jesus is God. How can we say that God sent his son and sacrificed him for us when they are the same being? I understand that many Christians don't spend much time thinking about it, but according to the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, God the father and Jesus the son are the same being. (The Holy Spirit, or Holy Ghost, completes the Holy Trinity.) This is no trivial matter, and it's not some minor point that weasel doubters use to annoy Christians. Sincere skeptics recognize a fundamental problem with this story.
The Holy Trinity has long been considered one of the most important claims in Christianity. It can't reasonably be ignored in any serious discussion about Christianity because, if true, it means that God sent himself to Earth, sacrificed himself to himself, and then returned to be with himself. The skeptic can only ask how any of this makes sense. It's not rude or unfair to attempt to reconcile the "great sacrifice of Jesus's life" with the concept of the Holy Trinity. It's an obvious and necessary question, isn't it? Christians often juxtapose the horror of Jesus's crucifixion with the love God shows us by allowing his son to suffer and die. Christians have asked me to imagine how difficult it would be to sacrifice my own son. But it's not the same thing. Temporary pain aside, if Jesus was God and knew that he would return to heaven after his death, where is the big sacrifice? What did Jesus/God give up? These are the things skeptics wonder about while trying to understand Christianity. It's not about being argumentative or stubborn. It's a basic comprehension issue. There seems to be a very serious problem with the claim that God sent his son to Earth as a sacrifice for us because God and Jesus are supposed to be the same being.
HIS SACRIFICE WAS A PARDON FOR OUR SINS THAT ALLOWS US TO BE SAVED FROM DEATH AND ENJOY ETERNAL LIFE IN HEAVEN.
The traditional telling of Jesus's execution presents it as a gruesome and terrible event that rivals most horror movies. In fact, director Mel Gibson did depict it in a way some describe as a contemporary horror film. Released in 2004, The Passion of the Christ shocked moviegoers with bone-crunching sounds and flesh-ripping images. If the crucifixion of Jesus did happen and was even fractionally as inhumane and cruel as Christians claim, then the obvious question that comes to the skeptic's mind is "why?" Why did Jesus or anyone else, god or human, have to suffer and die? Human sacrifice? Really? If this did happen, as Christians say it did and for the reasons they say it did, there needs to be some better reasoning, some rational explanation for why it was necessary. Why would a god need to rely on such a disgusting and primitive act to forgive us and save us from his judgment?
Most societies on Earth realized centuries ago that ritual human sacrifice is as barbaric as it is unproductive. Tossing virgins into a volcano or carving out some guy's heart atop a temple once might have seemed like sensible investments for better times ahead, but eventually it dawned on most that such practices were cruel, stupid, and unnecessary. As an act of punishment and/or religious rite, it is beneath us. We are better than that. So why would God need such an act to offer humankind an escape clause? Surely he could think of a better way to save us from death and eternal damnation. But wait, isn't God in charge of everything? Why would he have to do anything to provide us with a route to salvation and heaven? Couldn't he simply have skipped the whole slow, agonizing death of Jesus and just forgiven us? Is he bound by some laws that even he must follow? What is going on?
I have asked this sincere and simple question of many preachers and devout Christians over the years. To date, none have come up with a good answer—at least, no answer that would satisfy a typical skeptic. The best they offer is: "We can't understand God's ways." Or they simply repeat the alleged point of the act: "Jesus had to take on our sins so that we could be saved." But why? This is the central most important event that Christianity is based on, and it seems completely unnecessary to many non-Christians. Why did Jesus have to absorb our sins in a manner that involved whipping, punching, stabbing, hammers, and nails? It sounds very much like a story that ancient mortals would tell, believe, and admire, rather than the real-life actions of a god who runs the universe.
WITHOUT JESUS, WE WOULD ALL BE DOOMED BECAUSE OF OUR INHERENTLY SINFUL NATURE. GOD SAVED US FROM OURSELVES.
Original sin is such an old concept that it has come to be viewed as far less bizarre than it really is. But thoughtful Christians who pause to think about this idea for a moment are likely to recognize that something doesn't add up. We are inherently guilty? Condemned before we even learn to walk and talk? What sort of justice is that? To skeptics of Christianity, it seems crazy to view newborn babies as defective and doomed forever without spiritual intervention. Of course all people are imperfect, but hopelessly flawed at birth and deserving of endless agony in hell? Really?
Let's not dwell on the charge that we are all members of a corrupt and "fallen" species by birth. Rather, we should ask why it is we need saving in the first place. What is it we need saving from? The answer is God. He and his rules are the threat that we imperfect humans are up against. Therefore, God, in the form of Jesus, has offered to save us from himself. This is odd, to say the least, yet billions of Christians, generation after generation, say they are profoundly grateful to God for his gift of salvation. I do not mean this in a disrespectful way, but God in this context seems very much like a gangster who
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