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TheGreatInstigator

Redemption Theology

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I've been on cross-x long enough to know that this thread won't end up being about redemption theology; it will be about Christianity as a whole and how the vast majority of posters on this site think Christians are stupid sheep who are incapable of thinking for themselves. I recognize that. Moreover, I don't have a desire to get into yet another argument about the existence of God, because people who have read my posts know that my religious beliefs tend to be more philosophical (communitarian) than theological anyway. My interest in posting this thread is not in resolving the admittedly a priori question of God's existence, but rather in resolving what I see as the major misconception in contemporary Christian theology: an unmitigated adherence to redemption theology. Even if you're a passionate atheist, I think this post might offer some insight into the beliefs of the United States' largest religious group.

 

Redemption theology is the belief, roughly, that Jesus "died for our sins." It wasn't popular in the early church, as far as I can tell, but it does have a Biblical basis, especially in a few scattered versus of the Pauline epistles.

 

Redemption theology is widely accepted among contemporary Christians, though I'm not sure why. It can be seen in films like The Passion of the Christ, which attempt to glorify Jesus' crucifixion as having been necessary to "save" the rest of us. Even the Catholic Church, which did not seem to have an interest in redemption theology prior to the Protestant Reformation, has added elements of the theology to Mass as part of the Memorial Acclamation (Memorial Acclamation B: "Dying you destroyed our death, rising you restored our life..."; Memorial Acclamation D: "Lord, by your cross and resurrection, you have set us free. You are the Savior of the world.").

 

The basic rationale for the theology seems to be this: historically, the God of the Hebrews demanded blood sacrifice. The Christian God, who is also the God of the Hebrews, demands blood sacrifice in much the same way, but the blood of Jesus was enough to satisfy his requirement for the rest of us. This is why a friend said that he walked out of The Passion of the Christ loving Jesus and hating God.

 

The New Testament discusses Jesus' messianic role as a "savior," but it is not clear what he is meant to save people from. For contemporary Christians (and especially Protestants), the answer is easy: Jesus came to save us from certain death in the fires of Hell. I don't think Jesus saw it that way. Remember, Jesus' Judaism did not take the law-guided form of the Pharisees; instead, he was closest in his beliefs to the Essene sect of Judaism (which produced John the Baptist and authored the Dead Sea Scrolls). The central tenet of Essene Judaism was a belief in an imminent apocalypse, from which salvation could only be achieved by the coming of the Son of Man. It is clear that Jesus, as described in the Gospels, believed the "kingdom of the Lord" (the apocalypse) to be at hand and believed himself to be the Son of Man sought by the Essenes and aligned sects.

 

There is a certain element of mythology that gets inserted later (both in the Apostles' Creed and shortly after the Reformation). Many contemporary Christians believe that, upon dying, Jesus descended into Hell and did battle with Satan, freeing captive believers and opening the pearly gates to heaven. My response: from where on Earth do you derive that belief? Such an account seems better suited for a fantasy-themed video game than for one's theology.

 

I've been typing for a while now, and I'm pretty sure that close to no one is going to read the entirety of this post. But my point is this: redemption theology ought not have a place in Christianity; it has almost no basis in Jesus' teachings and is inconsistent with the rest of Christian beliefs (i.e. John 3:16, that the rationale for Jesus' presence is not in blood sacrifice, but rather God's immense love of the world). I know that there aren't many Christians on this site, but I bet that a few posters are adherents to redemption theology, and I'd like to hear what they have to say.

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Redemption theology is the belief, roughly, that Jesus "died for our sins." It wasn't popular in the early church, as far as I can tell, but it does have a Biblical basis, especially in a few scattered versus of the Pauline epistles.
Not sure what you mean by "the early church," but the idea can be found in St. Ambrose (4th Century), in St. Augustine's writings on Original Sin (also 4th Century), in St. Anselm's Cur Deus Homo (11th Century), and especially Part III of Aquinas's Summa (13th Century), to name just a few Catholic scholars...

 

The Nicene Creed, which dates back to the first ecumenical council in 325 A.D., says of Jesus: "For us men and for our salvation He came down from heaven..."

 

In short, the notion is hardly a modern invention...

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You misunderstand my criticism. I'm not disputing the general notion of Jesus as Savior - Jesus' original apostles obviously saw him as such (the Son of Man). I'm disputing the theological position that sins demand some sort of payment, and that Jesus' payment sufficed for us (i.e. the notion that Jesus "died for our sins"). That notion doesn't appear in the Nicene Creed. I don't know if it appears in Ambrose, Augustine, Anselm, or Aquinas - I should probably look into that.

 

Another name for redemption theology is atonement theology - that may clarify what I'm talking about.

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The New Testament discusses Jesus' messianic role as a "savior," but it is not clear what he is meant to save people from. For contemporary Christians (and especially Protestants), the answer is easy: Jesus came to save us from certain death in the fires of Hell. I don't think Jesus saw it that way.

 

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son. -John 3:16-18

 

John seems pretty clear here that if you don't believe in Jesus you are condemned, and will not have eternal life. He also says if you believe in Jesus you will have eternal life.

 

Also, sidebar: Is your interpretation of Hell that we stop existing?

 

Remember, Jesus' Judaism did not take the law-guided form of the Pharisees; instead, he was closest in his beliefs to the Essene sect of Judaism (which produced John the Baptist and authored the Dead Sea Scrolls). The central tenet of Essene Judaism was a belief in an imminent apocalypse, from which salvation could only be achieved by the coming of the Son of Man. It is clear that Jesus, as described in the Gospels, believed the "kingdom of the Lord" (the apocalypse) to be at hand and believed himself to be the Son of Man sought by the Essenes and aligned sects.

 

Jesus kinda believed some of the same things that Essene Jews did, thus he believed that there was an imminent apocalypse that he was stopping? This reasoning makes zero sense. I think that he did believe the apocalypse was imminent, but not that he was stopping it. Do you have any biblical basis for that belief?

 

I think the apocalypse is going to be from God, it'll be his act of slapping the world in the face, telling nonbelievers to wake up or they're in big trouble.

 

You should read some Revelations stuff, The Left Behind series outlines a scenario similar to my interpretation.

 

Also, Clarification: My definition of apocalypse is NOT everyone on earth dying, but a bunch of horrible stuff happening, as outlined in Revelations and in Isaiah's stuff.

 

There is a certain element of mythology that gets inserted later (both in the Apostles' Creed and shortly after the Reformation). Many contemporary Christians believe that, upon dying, Jesus descended into Hell and did battle with Satan, freeing captive believers and opening the pearly gates to heaven. My response: from where on Earth do you derive that belief? Such an account seems better suited for a fantasy-themed video game than for one's theology.

 

Do you believe that Moses, etc. were all sent to hell and are still there today?

 

I've been typing for a while now, and I'm pretty sure that close to no one is going to read the entirety of this post. But my point is this: redemption theology ought not have a place in Christianity; it has almost no basis in Jesus' teachings and is inconsistent with the rest of Christian beliefs (i.e. John 3:16, that the rationale for Jesus' presence is not in blood sacrifice, but rather God's immense love of the world). I know that there aren't many Christians on this site, but I bet that a few posters are adherents to redemption theology, and I'd like to hear what they have to say.

 

Do you think that we are going to hell because Jesus didn't save us, or that we were already going to go to heaven, so there is no need?

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Ahh!

 

I just tried to post this big reply, but the site logged me out and I lost what I had written.

 

Will reply later.

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"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son. -John 3:16-18

 

John seems pretty clear here that if you don't believe in Jesus you are condemned, and will not have eternal life. He also says if you believe in Jesus you will have eternal life.

I think your interpretation of John 3:16-18 is accurate. However, there's a relevant distinction between what you're saying and what I'm criticizing. John says that we must "believe in the name of God's one and only Son" (it's not clear what "believe" means in this context) to have eternal life. Fine. What John doesn't say is that Jesus' crucifixion satisfied some sort of sacrifice requirement to void the evil of our sins - that belief is the basis of atonement theology. Nowhere (that I know of) does John say that Jesus had to die for our sins.

 

If you believe that is the case (that Jesus' death was necessary to void our sins), then let me ask you this: do you believe the people responsible for Jesus' crucifixion were doing the will of God?

 

Also, sidebar: Is your interpretation of Hell that we stop existing?
My interpretation of Hell is that we find ourselves devoid of connection to God, which is to say that we find ourselves devoid of human connection (since the Holy Spirit is present in all of us). My theology doesn't view Hell as a location to which we might be condemned in the afterlife, but rather an experience we can have during our mortal lives if we choose to forsake God by forsaking other people and living only for ourselves. I concede that there is very little Biblical basis for this belief, and we can discuss it in another thread if you'd like.

 

Jesus kinda believed some of the same things that Essene Jews did, thus he believed that there was an imminent apocalypse that he was stopping? This reasoning makes zero sense.
The answer to this question depends greatly on whether or not you believe that Jesus saw himself as the messiah. If we accept the Gospels as an accurate account of Jesus' life (by no means easy to do, since they were written long after Jesus' death/ascension), then we would have to acknowledge that Jesus did in fact see himself as the messiah. I'll present citations in Mark since his Gospel was written closest to Jesus' historical contexts: see Mark 9:9, Mark 9:31, and especially Mark 14:61-62:
Again the high priest asked him, ‘Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?’

Jesus said, ‘I am; and “you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power”, and “coming with the clouds of heaven.” ’

The rhetoric here is similar to Essene rhetoric surrounding the Son of Man (who will come with the clouds at the moment of the apocalypse), except that Jesus claims to be the Son of Man.
I think that he did believe the apocalypse was imminent, but not that he was stopping it. Do you have any biblical basis for that belief?
I don't know that I can say that Jesus believed himself capable of "stopping" the apocalypse; the apocalypse seemed pretty inevitable, but his coming was certainly a harbinger of the apocalypse. That's not the point. The point, once again, is that Jesus definitely did not see his death as a way to atone for the sins of his followers, and you haven't provided evidence to the contrary.
I think the apocalypse is going to be from God, it'll be his act of slapping the world in the face, telling nonbelievers to wake up or they're in big trouble.
Ok. I disagree, I think the Christian God is a god of love, and I'm not particularly concerned about the apocalypse. I'm more interested in living a Christian life during my time on Earth. But, once again, that's an irrelevant discussion to the subject at hand.
Do you believe that Moses, etc. were all sent to hell and are still there today?
No. I think that's what a lot of contemporary Christians believe (either that or that Moses, et al, were sent to Hell and were not released until Jesus arrived and did battle with Satan. Again, no Biblical basis for that and it still sounds like a bad fantasy video game.)
Do you think that we are going to hell because Jesus didn't save us, or that we were already going to go to heaven, so there is no need?
No. I don't think either of those things.

 

I recognize that you see this as an either-or scenario, in which, if Jesus did not die for our sins, we're either still going to Hell or we were going to go to Heaven anyway. I guess I might sort of believe the latter. But there are two relevant caveats here:

 

(1) Neither you nor I nor anyone else can claim to know what happens after death, and the Bible provides very little insight into that question. I'm not going to pretend to know anything remotely resembling an answer to that question.

 

(2) The God I believe in, who is a paragon of goodness, would not demand a blood sacrifice in retribution for sinfulness. So I don't think that Jesus was put on this Earth to die, and I think that Christians who believe that are missing the point of the most exciting and most important story of their religion. Jesus was not put here to die, he was put here to live and to teach us how to live in a Christian fashion. Death, of course, is a part of life, as is living at the whims of one's society. Jesus had to do all of these things - experience birth, death, and life at the hands of a people. That is the basis of my theology, which generally goes by the moniker of "Incarnation Theology."

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thanks for this thread, it's made for an interesting read. i'll try not to be too heavy handed with the unique lds perspective of the atonement. the tl;dr of all this is i think the crucifixion of christ was necessary for the fulfillment of the law of moses, among other things. i think that can explain some of these questions.

 

first, i agree with greg that the idea christ descended to hell to battle satan before ascending to heaven is silly and unfounded. it would render a second coming unnecessary and is scripturally baseless.

 

What John doesn't say is that Jesus' crucifixion satisfied some sort of sacrifice requirement to void the evil of our sins - that belief is the basis of atonement theology. Nowhere (that I know of) does John say that Jesus had to die for our sins.

1 john 4:10, matthew 20:28, matthew 26:28.

 

If you believe that is the case (that Jesus' death was necessary to void our sins), then let me ask you this: do you believe the people responsible for Jesus' crucifixion were doing the will of God?

this is a tough question to answer in the context of a different conception of the godhead for my beliefs. the short answer is yes; it was the last sacrifice necessary to fulfill the law of moses.

 

My interpretation of Hell is that we find ourselves devoid of connection to God, which is to say that we find ourselves devoid of human connection (since the Holy Spirit is present in all of us). My theology doesn't view Hell as a location to which we might be condemned in the afterlife, but rather an experience we can have during our mortal lives if we choose to forsake God by forsaking other people and living only for ourselves. I concede that there is very little Biblical basis for this belief, and we can discuss it in another thread if you'd like.

mormonism agrees with you

 

(2) The God I believe in, who is a paragon of goodness, would not demand a blood sacrifice in retribution for sinfulness.

what if the requirement of blood sacrifice for sin is not god's law? are there not laws even god must abide by? i know this question seems insane to christianity writ large, but i think it's probably valid. i'm not sure the human mind can comprehend questions like this, the origination of god, matter, energy, etc.

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http://www.christianforums.com/

 

is that way ======>

If you're not interested, stop reading. Believe it or not, some folks enjoy discussing things other than who is getting an at-large invite to the TOC...
You misunderstand my criticism.
Pretty sure I don't, but we can keep discussing it... ;)
I'm disputing the theological position that sins demand some sort of payment, and that Jesus' payment sufficed for us (i.e. the notion that Jesus "died for our sins"). That notion doesn't appear in the Nicene Creed.
Hmmmm. Okay, in the English version from the current Catechism of the Catholic Church, the relevant passage is: "For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered died and was buried. On the third day he rose again in fulfillment of the Scriptures." In particular, the Creed is generally thought to be referencing Isaiah 53. The Catechism expands on the point: "The Paschal mystery has two aspects: by his death, Christ liberates us from sin; by his Resurrection, he opens for us the way to a new life." Additional commentary can be found here. Finally, we can turn to the version of Creed from 381 A.D. (First Council of Constantinople): "...he was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate..." Here, "for us" is taken to mean His death was expiation of human sinfulness...
I don't know if it appears in Ambrose, Augustine, Anselm, or Aquinas - I should probably look into that.
It would be well worth your time, if you are really interested in the subject...

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Matthew 20:28: Even as the Son of man cannot be ministered to, but to minister, and to give his life for the ransom of many.

 

Hebrews 9:12 is pretty direct: Neither by the blood of goats or calves, but by his own blood he entered once into the Holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.

 

Revelation 5:9: And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation;

 

1 Corinthians 1:30 But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption:

 

Romans 6:22 But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.

 

Galatians 1:4 Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father

 

And, it's clear that this is from God,not man: Psalms 49:7 None of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him:

 

I could go on -but I don't think you need to go to post Biblical or even Reformation writings to understand that Jesus paid for our sins with his blood,and in doing so liberated us from sin if we accepted him as our savior and repented for our sinful ways. Remember that true repentance isn't a priest mumbling some words - it is your intention to realize you have sinned, confess the sin, beg repentance for the sin, and genuinely make attempts to sin no more.

 

I think John 11:25-26 sums up: "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.

 

I wish everyone a Happy Easter, Happy and Joyus Passover, or just another stress free and happy day on the rock, but I will adhere to Joshua 24:15

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1 john 4:10,

 

 

I'm interested to hear a response to this. Unless you have qualms with the translation, it seems fairly clear cut.

 

New International

"10This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for[a] our sins."

 

King James

10Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

 

Or are you arguing that, although this notion does surface in the text(s) of the bible, it is not stated (or implied) by Jesus, himself?

 

As a non-religious person, I've found this thread pretty interesting. I've always been intrigued by the sort of sadomasochistic obsession with the crucifixion. The idea seems to be it pains us deeply that this happened, but we had to abuse Him and his willingness to be abused was symbolic of His love for us.

 

Greg, I think a lot of your views fall in line with some Humanist Christians I know. Specifically, your lack of concern with the afterlife and focus on living a Christian life regardless to any rewards or punishments that may result from living (or not living) said way of life.

Edited by Danny Tanner
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your lack of concern with the afterlife and focus on living a Christian life regardless to any rewards or punishments that may result from living (or not living) said way of life.

 

for me, this is the purest form of christianity. refusal to acknowledge the (im)possibility of an afterlife in favor of living a loving life now. i think that's pretty cool.

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Looks like I have a lot of catching up to do. I won't be able to post a comprehensive response tonight, but I'll save you the anticipation:

 

1) I am now ready to concede that there exists a sound scriptural basis for atonement theology. At the same time, there exists a sound scriptural basis for many things that make me uncomfortable, and atonement theology is one of them. This, of course, is not to say that religion should be something that makes us comfortable, but I think that religion that goes against our basic intuitions has a very hard time winning our belief (this is why most of us tend to scoff at religions like Scientology, for example).

 

2) I believe there is a sound scriptural basis for counterarguments to atonement theology. For example:

Pilate therefore said to him, "Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have to power to release you, and the power to crucify you?" Jesus answered him, "You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin."
Note that Jesus calls those responsible for his crucifixion "guilty of... sin." By definition, sin goes against the will of God. Therefore, those responsible for Jesus' crucifixion were not doing the will of God. God's will was never that we would kill his son (another example of this can be found in Jesus' parable about the vineyard leased to tenants; see Matthew 21:33-42).

 

3) Reducing the importance of Jesus' crucifixion to simply fulfilling God's desire for sacrifice in payment for sins seems to boil down the entirety of Christianity to a fairly unremarkable feature. It's not as if the first converts to Christianity were excited to leave Judaism or whatever polytheist religion they had been practicing because "man, wouldn't it be great to avoid this whole blood sacrifice business? It's just so messy!" Christianity derives its strength, beauty, and righteousness from the teachings and example given to us by the Son of God in the form of the perfect human being. Is that not enough?

 

In response to Tanner - yes, Christianity for me is the desire to live a Christian life, regardless of the punishments that it brings. I would hesitate, at this point, to label myself a "humanist Christian" - I believe Jesus is the Son of God.

 

4) In response to "Gary Busey" (I'm sorry, I don't know your real name) - it's fascinating to me that the LDS Church is in agreement with my view of Hell, and I'm more excited to read about LDS than I ever have been previously. I am not, however, willing to accept that there is some law governing sin and sacrifice that even God must obey; this doesn't really jive with the justification for sacrifice originally present in Judaism. My understanding is that the ancient followers of Judaism did not perform ritual sacrifice to win God's favor - they performed sacrifice to please God, but his favoritism for the Jewish people had already been manifested. Therefore, sacrifice in payment for sin was never a prerequisite for admittance to the afterlife, but rather, sacrifice in payment for sin was simply a way to please God the Father, who, like all early gods, desired such payment.

 

5) Most importantly, I don't think the debate is as resolved in mainstream Christianity as this thread would seem to indicate. I present this article by the Rev. Dr. Daniel M. Bell, Jr., an ordained Elder of United Methodism and a professor at the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, South Carolina:

GOD DOES NOT DEMAND BLOOD

 

CHRISTIANS HAVE NEVER embraced blood sacrifice. We have not offered chickens or slain goats, let alone sacrificed our firstborn children to God. Indeed, the very idea of blood sacrifice is abhorrent to us, evoking an almost involuntary visceral reaction. It sends chills down our spines and stirs deep within us a strong impulse to act against such a horrific practice.

 

But although Christians have never practiced blood sacrifice, the logic of blood sacrifice often shapes the way Christians think about God and, consequently, how we act in the world. From fire-and-brimstone sermons like Jonathan Edwards's "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" to a T-shirt sporting an image of Christ crucified with the caption "His Pain, Our Gain" to Mel Gibson's blockbuster movie The Passion of the Christ, Christianity is permeated with images of a wrathful, angry God who demands blood and suffering and threatens to inflict terrible violence as the just punishment for sin.

 

Furthermore, as Christians seek to witness faithfully to God in the world, they reinforce the logic of blood sacrifice whenever they appeal to their interpretation of the divine example to justify or defend social and political practices that draw blood or endorse suffering. God sets the precedent for the necessity of blood and the appropriateness of redemptive violence and suffering in setting things right. Whether it is to defend capital punishment and war, as evangelical scholar J. Daryl Charles does; to encourage impoverished peasants to endure their affliction, as Martin Luther did; or to "comfort" battered spouses, as too many pastors continue to do, God is lifted up as the ultimate sanction and source of redemptive violence.

 

All of this is wrong. God does not demand or require blood to redeem us. God neither inflicts violence nor desires suffering in order to set the divine-human relation right. In spite of its pervasiveness in Christian imagery, the cost of communion, of reconciliation and redemption, is not blood and suffering.

 

Of course, not every sanction for bloodshed or suffering is a matter of blood sacrifice. Violence that is gratuitous, for example, is not. Neither are bloodshed and suffering that are solely sadistic or purely vindictive. What I mean by the logic of blood sacrifice is the notion of redemptive violence. As it was practiced in at least some ancient cultures, blood sacrifice was about violence and suffering as a means of restoring, protecting and preserving the order of things. When things got out of order due to human transgression, blood sacrifice was offered to appease the gods and restore that order. Violence was redemptive. We see and hear that message reinforced all around us: violence secures, violence redeems. Good violence is the only thing that can save us from bad violence.

 

Since September 11, 2001, we have been told that the only way to protect and preserve our life and lifestyle from terrorism is by unleashing the violence of war on terror. Reason, goodwill and diplomacy will not save us. Freedom and democracy can be preserved from the violence of terrorism only by an overwhelming and relentless counterviolence that one pundit called "focused brutality." Those who doubt either the morality of the effectiveness of this redemptive violence are dismissed as not serious, or called liars and hypocrites or even terrorists. If this counterviolence means curtailing democracy and other freedoms, if it means locking up people indefinitely, rounding up their family members and torturing suspects, so be it. Our survival is at stake; this is what is required to save us.

 

On the domestic front, faith in redemptive violence is displayed in a variety of ways. In the wake of a recent shooting on a college campus in the state where I live, signs appeared on the side of the road urging people to "Vote Yes to Guns in Schools," and several bills to that end were introduced in the state legislature. On national airwaves easier recourse to violence was trumpeted as the solution to such horrible acts. These efforts are in line with social trends that stress "law and order," push for more police and prisons, and insist on more draconian prison conditions and an expansion of the death penalty.

 

Culturally, the message that violence saves is evident in movie theaters and on the television screen. The plot of countless shows and movies can be summed up as "People who use bad violence are pursued by people who use good violence, and in the end good violence saves the day." The paradigmatic example of this is the classic Western film High Noon, which reaches its climax as the pacifist character played by Grace Kelly comes to her senses and embraces violence to save her husband and the town. But every generation has its media icon of redemptive violence, from Dirty Harry and Rambo to the Lethal Weapon and Die Hard franchises to Jack Bauer of the hit TV show 24. Although the names and faces change, the message is constant: only through violence is law and order maintained. Only violence saves us from the worst violence.

 

We reinforce the conviction that violence is redemptive in subtle and indirect ways. Consider how we lament the "culture wars" or praise the "war on drugs." In the not-too-distant past we waged a "war on poverty." We grieve someone losing his or her "battle" with cancer and talk about a "battle of the bulge" to counter childhood obesity. A local church calls a teaching series on interpersonal relations "Love Means War." A school administrator does not agree with the position a teachers' union takes and denounces its members as "terrorists." Infants and toddlers are decked out in military fatigues. The most popular video games revolve around apocalyptic levels of violence.

 

Thus far, we have considered how violence is thought to be redemptive in terms of its being inflicted upon others, but another side to our belief holds that sometimes it is redemptive to suffer violence. I may need to suffer or even die to save myself or others. While much of our popular discourse expresses a strong aversion to suffering, this undercurrent affirms suffering violence as a way to make things right.

 

This belief often comes to the fore when we are confronted with the problem of evil. Why do the innocent suffer? Why do bad things happen to good people? Faced with the problem of suffering, victims and those who would console them frequently say that suffering violence can be cleansing, purgative or purifying. Most bluntly, some say that suffering is a means of paying for or being purged of one's sin. One suffers because one has sinned; one pays the price and thereby restores the moral order and ensures one's own redemption.

 

Another version of redemptive suffering neither blames the victim nor insists that we learn something from suffering; it simply holds that there is a compensation or reward attached to suffering violence. This message is sometimes presented to the poor and oppressed. An impoverished woman once told me that her church told her that her suffering on this earth was God's will, that she should not actor expect things to change and that she would be rewarded in heaven. The message is that suffering is either cleansing or compensatory.

 

One might interpret a group of white clergy's exhortation to Martin Luther King Jr. along the same lines. While he was in the Birmingham jail, King and his co-workers were told not to press for change so hard but to wait, to continue to suffer the violence of white supremacy. For doing so they would be compensated by the eventual end of white supremacy's reign.

 

Another form of this compensatory version of redemptive suffering, the free-will defense of suffering, is a bit more abstract. Innocent suffering is rewarded or redeemed by the surpassing goodness of the gift of free will. Granted, God could have eliminated the possibility of our suffering violence at the hands of others or ourselves if God had created us as robots without free will. But God gave us the gift of free will, and having free will necessarily entails the risk of suffering violence at the hands of either others or ourselves. Suffering violence is redemptive insofar as it is linked to and compensated or rewarded by a greater good.

 

The logic of all of this thinking is that violence saves. Whether it is a matter of inflicting violence on others to protect, preserve or restore the good and the right or of encouraging others to suffer violence for the sake of some redemptive benefit, the message that violence redeems is pervasive. But is it correct?

If you've been skimming the article up to this point, here's where it gets good:
Maybe there is nothing wrong with believing that violence saves. After all, at the center of the Christian faith stands a profound act of violence--the cross. Wasn't this the supreme act of redemptive violence? Isn't it the case that in spite of our visceral reaction against blood sacrifice, Christ was the ultimate blood sacrifice? Isn't it true that, as an acquaintance remarked upon seeing Gibson's movie, Jesus saves because he suffered more violence than anyone?

 

The message of Gibson's movie, with its graphic display of the violence connected with Christ's work of redemption or atonement on the cross, is taught and preached in countless churches. I heard it growing up and have heard it repeated many times since then. The account is frequently called the satisfaction or substitutionary theory of atonement, and it is attributed to the medieval theologian Anselm. Its argument goes something like this: In the face of human sin, which is an offense against God's honor, God, as One who must uphold justice, cannot simply forgive sin but must enforce a strict rendering of what is due. Because sinful humanity cannot fulfill its debt, the God-man Christ steps forward and fulfills justice through his substitutionary death on the cross. Redemption is a result of the payment of a debt incurred through sin by means of a death that satisfies divine justice.

 

A slightly different theory, the governmental, replaces the notion of God's honor with the concept of the moral order of the universe. Here, sin is a rupture of that moral order. If God were merely to pardon or overlook that breach, then the moral order--right and wrong--would collapse. There would be no consequences for sin, and subsequently no incentive for people to live a moral life. Social life would be undermined as murder and other crimes would go unchecked. Hence, Christ suffers the violence of the cross and dies in order to uphold the integrity of moral order in the universe.

 

In the face of wrong, these theories tell us that only blood can set things right. Christ diverts the arrow of an angry deity's wrath by stepping in front of it and letting it plunge into his own body. Only the blood of the Lamb saves us from the fiery hell we so richly deserve.

 

One way to make the case that God does not demand blood is simply to reject the cross. Some reject out of hand any sense in which the cross of Christ is redemptive or central to the story of how God redeems in this world. Some appeal to love and argue that a God of love would not demand blood, and that therefore the traditional focus on sacrifice and the cross of Christ is in error. Some believe that the traditional account of Christ's atoning work is analogous to child abuse and say it has been used to sanction and legitimate all sorts of terrible practices down through history.

I'll concede that my posts up to this point have taken this path somewhat. But go on, professor.
I believe any effort to make the case that God does not demand blood cannot simply skip over the cross but instead must pass right through it. This is the case not just because efforts to circumvent the cross jettison significant portions of scripture, but because discarding the cross and atonement undercuts the laudable goals of those who reject blood sacrifice.

 

Consider the temptation of Jesus in Luke 4. Because the devil is involved, we know that the proper thing for Jesus to do is to stand fast against the temptations. Unfortunately, our reflection typically stops there as we conclude that "because Jesus resisted temptation, so can and should we," or that Jesus is our buddy because he is like us, subject to temptation. We rarely go on to probe what is wrong with the devil's challenges.

 

The problem is this: while the path that the devil offers Jesus leads to good things--feeding the world, ruling the world, worship--it circumvents the cross. The Lukan passage suggests that it is the devil who wants a Jesus without a cross (see Nikos Kazantzakis's novel The Last Temptation of Christ). Why is the devil trying to get Jesus to take a short cut? After all, brutality and violence are the devil's thing. The devil should want Jesus to die on the cross instead of trying to get him to set it aside. What is it about Christ's work that would be fatally flawed, to the point that he would be worshiping the devil, if he were to take the shortcut and skip Golgotha?

 

Consider Martin Luther King's advocacy of redemptive suffering. At first glance, King seems to encourage suffering and declares that it can be redemptive. Isn't this a perfect example of blood sacrifice? But if King and his followers had not proceeded to risk and then endure suffering, and had heeded the calls to set aside the cross, how much tighter might be the bonds of white supremacy today?

 

What these two cases suggest is that circumventing the cross may not lead to the desired results--the end of bloodshed, suffering and violence. If Luke 4 is anything to go by, we should be suspicious of claims that the desired end can be attained by avoiding the cross. As King realized, rejecting suffering may cut the nerve of the faithful engagement needed to overcome suffering and blood sacrifice.

That still may be a bit to cosmological for me, but if I had stopped reading there, I would've missed the really good part:
I believe that Christ's work of atonement, when rightly understood, demands the rejection of blood sacrifice and the logic of redemptive violence. Christ's work on the cross is not about satisfying a divine demand for blood, but about showing us that God does not demand blood. Christ's work on the cross is the divine refusal of blood sacrifice, as well as any notion that suffering violence is or can be redemptive. I am suggesting not that either Anselm or Paul was wrong, but that the dominant understanding of Christ's work as a blood sacrifice is a distortion of both Anselm and Paul. Read rightly, Anselm's account of how humanity is redeemed is not about diverting the arrows and appeasing the wrath of a bloodthirsty, angry god. Instead it is a story about the depths and lengths to which God goes so that we might share in the triune life of God (John 3:16).

 

According to Anselm, God became human not so that there might be a suitable object on which to vent the divine wrath, and not to meet the demands of an implacable moral order before which even God must bow, but so that humanity might be restored to the place of honor that God had intended for it from the beginning (2 Pet. 1:4). The atonement and Christ's work on the cross displays the fullness of divine charity, the lengths to which God will go to renew and restore communion with us even in the face of our bloody rebellion.

 

Christ is our substitute not in the sense that he takes our place in the execution chamber and suffers our punishment for us, but in the sense that he offers God the fidelity, devotion and obedience that we should have but did not, and subsequently could not [emphasis Greg's]. Paul holds a similar vision of Christ's work on the cross, although he too is often misread. It is commonplace to read the early chapters of his epistle to the Romans in terms of a blood sacrifice, as if Christ died because an angry god demanded blood as payment and punishment for human transgressions (cf. Rom. 3:25, 5:9). Such a reading profoundly distorts the good news that he preached and staked his life upon.

 

Consider a passage from another of Paul's letters: "Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself.... And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death--even death on a cross" (Phil. 2:5-8). Because we live in a world where the logic of blood sacrifice prevails, it is perhaps understandable that when we look at the cross, and even when we read scripture, it's the violence that catches our eye. But as Paul points out, it is not a blood sacrifice that saves us, but Jesus' obedience and fidelity.

 

In Romans 6, Paul responds to the congregation's question: Why should we trust God? Paul's answer is that God is just, and by this Paul means that God is faithful to God's promises. No one ever deserved the promise; it was always a matter of faith, with Jesus as the embodiment of God's faithfulness to the divine desire for communion and reconciliation. Jesus was obedient to this divine mission even when he faced human resistance and rejection in the form of the cross.

 

This love of God expressed in Jesus saves us. It is the love that would rather die on the cross than give up on us. We reject God, so God sends Jesus with the offer of life again and we reject it again; Jesus could have abandoned us, or called down tire from heaven to destroy us. But he did not. He remained faithful to his mission, reaching out to us until the end: "Father, forgive them ..."

 

As we are joined to Christ and made part of his body, we are not somehow submitting to the logic of blood sacrifice. We are not simply being let off the hook for our sin by deflecting the punishment for that sin onto someone else. We are not satisfying an angry god by throwing that god a piece of innocent red meat. We are not offering a bloody sacrifice for the sake of reinforcing how important the moral law and order are.

 

Rather, as we are joined to Christ we become transformed (sanctified) and live our lives according to another logic. As Paul wrote, "Let the same mind be in you that was in Jesus Christ." The point is that in Christ we are not just pardoned but are also healed of our sin and made a different kind of people, a new creation, who live by a different logic. We love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. We forgive, as we have been forgiven. We renounce violence as a means of defending or securing or saving ourselves or those we love. To the extent that our savior is Christ, our defense, security and salvation depend on Christ and the love that overcomes enemies. We live out the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:17-20).

 

This way of life may entail enduring suffering--not because suffering is in some way good or redemptive, not because this is what God wants or because it is punishment for our sin. Rather, it is because suffering is the cost that humans in their sinful rebellion impose on other humans. Moreover, being prepared to suffer does not mean that we must seek out suffering or passively endure it. The logic of our new way of life does not reject justice, accountability or discipline; this way of life is disciplined and accountable and seeks justice. It may include practices such as incarceration or even just war. But justice and discipline shaped by the charity and mercy of God are significantly different from the so-called justice and discipline that belong to the law and order of blood sacrifice.

 

All around, the children of Cain are spilling blood and spreading suffering, planting fields of crosses. All the while, they insist that this is what God demands--bloody retribution for sin. But in the midst of their frenetic warring and cross making, they do not notice God, battered and broken, who is hanging on one of those crosses. God hangs there not because that is what he demands, but because he desires life even for those who crucify him. "I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord God. Turn, then, and live" (Ezek. 18:32).

I think it's fair to say that Professor Bell does a much better job of making this argument than I can.

 

A hat tip to my friend Sarah Jane Otey is in order for linking me to the article. You can find it here: http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1058/is_3_126/ai_n31557608/

Edited by TheGreatInstigator

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Thanks for this thread, Greg, and particularly for the article.

 

I do not pretend to scholarship on this issue, but one metaphor I find helpful is Christ as advocate. By willingly taking upon himself our sins, he has the right to plead for the penitent before the bar of justice.

 

I also think of the atonement as extending far beyond the forgiveness of sin. Christ has suffered on our behalf, not just sin, but every manner of pain, injury, oppression, privation and embarrassment. In a way I do not understand, his suffering can salve our feelings, not just of guilt, but of illness, inadequacy and the pain of abuse.

 

Edit:

 

You must spread some Reputation around before giving it to TheGreatInstigator again.

Edited by birdwing7
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This complements what I've already presented from Professor Bell.

 

Professor Bart D. Ehrman, the noted New Testament scholar who chairs the religious studies department at UNC-Chapel Hill, notes a theological difference in the rationale for Jesus' death presented in the gospels of Mark and Luke:

 

In Luke's Gospel the curtain is torn in half, not after Jesus breathes his last, but earlier, when darkness comes upon the land as the light of the sun fails (due to an eclipse? 23:45). Scholars have long debated the significance of this difference, but most think that for Luke the tearing of the curtain does not show that Jesus' death brings access to God, since here, it is torn before he dies, but rather that God has entered into judgment with his people as symbolized by this destruction within the Temple. In this Gospel, Jesus himself proclaims to his enemies among the Jewish authorities that "this is your hour and the power of darkness" (22:53). The torn curtain accompanies the eerie darkness over the land as a sign of God's judgment upon his people, who have rejected his gift of "light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death" (1:79).

 

Moreover, in Luke the centurion does not make a profession of faith in the Son of God who had to die ("Truly this man was God's Son," Mark 15:39); here his words coincide with Luke's own understanding of Jesus' death: "Certainly this man was innocent" (Luke 23:47). For Luke, Jesus dies the death of a righteous martyr who has suffered from miscarried justice; his death will be vindicated by God at the resurrection. What both of these differences suggest is that Luke does not share Mark's view that Jesus' death brought about atonement for sin. An earlier statement in Mark corroborates his perspective; Jesus' own comment that "the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (10:45). It is striking and significant that this saying is not found in Luke.

 

Jesus, then, must die because he is a prophet who comes to be rejected by God's people. His death does not appear to bring salvation in and of itself, and yet the death of Jesus must relate to salvation for Luke. But how? This is a puzzle we will take up further when we study the second volume of his work, the Acts of the Apostles. For now I can point out that the salvation that Jesus preaches in Luke is similar to the salvation preached by the prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures. The people of God need to repent of their sins and return to God. When they do so, he will forgive them and grant them salvation. For Luke, the biggest sin of all was killing God's prophet. As we will see in our study of Acts, when people realize what they have done in this grotesque miscarriage of justice, they are driven to their needs in repentance. And when they turn to God in recognition of their guilt, he responds by forgiving their sins. Thus, what brings a right relationship with God for Luke is not Jesus' death per se but the repentance that his death prompts.

I'm sure proponents of atonement theology will note that Luke's Gospel postdates Mark's, and that the author of Luke may have been attempting to thrust his interpretation of the significance of the crucifixion on his unsuspecting readers. Conceded. Of course, the author of Mark's Gospel does the same by egging his readers toward atonement theology. As has already been noted in this thread, Mark was able to persuade some early Christians, including the author of Matthew's Gospel.

 

My point is that even if the basis of atonement theology dates almost to the time of Jesus, the basis for its rejection is just as old. Scruples about accepting a vision of a God that demands blood sacrifice did not arise with Christians of the contemporary era, like Professor Bell and myself.

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I read bottom up, so my thoughts are rather disjointed. I am already willing to concede that this is, obviously, likening Jesus to the Hebrew prophets because, well I'm going to be quoting Isaiah, who is a Hebrew prophet. However if we are going to assume that the Hebrew prophecies were actually indeed about Jesus then I think this becomes extremely relevant.

 

Isaiah 53:5-6 (NKJV, pardon that it might be off, from memory is easier for me than looking it up, but may be off): But He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities and the chastisement of our peace was upon him. All we like sheep have gone astray, every man to his own way, and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

 

I realize that there is a lot of "ifs" involved in believing that this applies to Jesus, but if it does (which I believe is a necessary belief for Christianity) then I think it's close to clear that atonement theology has a very deep rooted belief from a prophet. Reminder: Prophecy being defined as speaking truth provided by God giving you insight, not necessarily future-telling.

 

NOW: For the real substance of the matter - the relevance of atonement theology to our every day lives as Christians. I agree that taking atonement theology to its maximum is rather detrimental to society, and I think that in order to do so we must forget a good deal of what Christ did during His time on earth. For example, the story of the adultress. That was a story of forgiveness, not atonement. I think that both are true. God is a God of love and a God of justice, as humans we cannot be judges but we can love (this is also pretty clearly outlined in the Bible. "Judge lest not you be judged" "Man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart" "Do not presume to judge one another..."). Socially Jesus was (obivously) right. What is the greatest commandment? "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and the second is like it: love your neighbor as yourself." In idiomatic terms: Love God, Love People.

Edited by Studley Dudley
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(2) The God I believe in, who is a paragon of goodness, would not demand a blood sacrifice in retribution for sinfulness. So I don't think that Jesus was put on this Earth to die, and I think that Christians who believe that are missing the point of the most exciting and most important story of their religion. Jesus was not put here to die, he was put here to live and to teach us how to live in a Christian fashion. Death, of course, is a part of life, as is living at the whims of one's society. Jesus had to do all of these things - experience birth, death, and life at the hands of a people. That is the basis of my theology, which generally goes by the moniker of "Incarnation Theology."

 

I think you are under-implicating the role of death in the literature (esp. gospels).

 

In doing so, it gives support to your thesis re: redemption. If your thesis is to stand up to scrutiny, you should provide literary support for the claim jesus' life is more important to christian ethics than his function in death. (Not just here are things jesus says about living, or while living, but here are ways the story of jesus escapes being overdetermined by his condemnation).

 

Or, assume that you might be misreading this point (as many have come to opposite conclusions). If Jesus was born with a death sentence, how do your arguments against redemptive theology hold up? Wouldn't the mythology of sacrifice and fate suggest a redemptive reading? That his death, not his miracles, gave passage to Savior status?

 

Just playin devil's advocate. (And i think the ill-fated hero makes for better literature in an otherwise dull story.)

Edited by retired

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Its funny, I'm actually reading this as "I'm afraid of discussing the earlier accusation cause its true."

 

But that might just be me.

 

No, it's just silly to answer logical/empirical fallacies. It's a fairly obvious (they encourage it nowadays) strategy by secularists to otherize believers. This is a problem first, as there is nothing inherently more intelligent about being a nonbeliever over a believer (just look at you), and two, for such an apparently intelligent group, it's funny how prominent secularists are so frequently and so thoroughly defeated by apologetics in secular university settings. Dawkins understands that if he can't control the material, he sounds as unintelligent as he actually is, and hence why he constantly refuses to debate William Lane Craig.

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I think you are under-implicating the role of death in the literature (esp. gospels).
I don't think I am. If you go back and read the paragraphs I quote from Ehrman, you'll note that while Jesus' death is certainly a major plot point in Luke's gospel, the author of that text goes out of his way to avoid discussing Jesus' death as an activity that brings salvation. Ehrman's reading of Luke (and again, Ehrman is an expert on this stuff) indicates that the author of Luke's gospel believes that our repentance from our own sin and forgiveness of the sin of others is the means by which we are saved. In Jesus' death, we learn to appreciate his life (and, for Luke, his innocence) and experience guilt at his martyrdom through our sin.

 

Incarnation theology is somewhat different but gives even greater importance to Jesus' death. In incarnation theology, Jesus' death is extremely important because it is an ultimate manifestation of his life as a human experience. As I stated above, Jesus' death is the highest indication of his humanity; his resurrection is the highest indication of his godliness.

In doing so, it gives support to your thesis re: redemption. If your thesis is to stand up to scrutiny, you should provide literary support for the claim jesus' life is more important to christian ethics than his function in death.
I think you're drawing a line where one doesn't exist. You seem to separate each gospel's passion narrative from the rest of its contents as a book. Jesus' death (and, more importantly, his resurrection) vindicate the activities of his life by demonstrating his godliness. As for Christian ethics, how is it possible, using the New Testament literature alone, to derive an ethics from Jesus' death? Jesus' life was marked by a series of relatively clear ethical teachings - I think Christian ethics is far easier to discover and far more commonly synthesized through those teachings than from the story of his passion and death.
Or, assume that you might be misreading this point (as many have come to opposite conclusions). If Jesus was born with a death sentence, how do your arguments against redemptive theology hold up? Wouldn't the mythology of sacrifice and fate suggest a redemptive reading? That his death, not his miracles, gave passage to Savior status?
I don't think so. For my reasons why, read the rest of the thread. You might particularly enjoy the article I quote from Professor Bell. If you take issue with one of my points individually (as opposed to my thesis as a whole), you're going to have to point it out individually. I don't really have the time to write my whole argument again.
Just playin devil's advocate.
Which you're welcome to do. I have no idea what Enterprise's deal is.

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Matthew 7:20-2(3ish? Again from Memory. NKJV): "Not everyone says to me 'Lord, Lord' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he that does the will of My Father. Many will come to me in that day and they will say 'Lord, Lord. Did we not preach in your name, prophesy in your name, and in your name perform many miracles?' and I will respond 'Depart from me you who practice lawlessness, I never knew you.' "

 

I think this is a rather important verse to keep in mind when it comes to how much we take Redemption Theology to be truth. No gospel believes that "belief" alone is enough. (I put that in quotations because in fact all of them [sans Luke] do. They just don't believe that "saying it" counts as belief.) See: James 2:10-12

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Logical, natural tangents are fine, but don't force them and don't begin sniping wars. Discussions of atheism are always somewhat germane during religious discussions, including this one, but this thread is on a relatively narrow topic, so keep the conversation to that subject or the natural tangents. That is all.

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No, it's just silly to answer logical/empirical fallacies. It's a fairly obvious (they encourage it nowadays) strategy by secularists to otherize believers. This is a problem first, as there is nothing inherently more intelligent about being a nonbeliever over a believer (just look at you), and two, for such an apparently intelligent group, it's funny how prominent secularists are so frequently and so thoroughly defeated by apologetics in secular university settings. Dawkins understands that if he can't control the material, he sounds as unintelligent as he actually is, and hence why he constantly refuses to debate William Lane Craig.

Lulz. 1/3 of the world's population and you're the "other"? Give me a break.

 

And there's no reason to even debate people like you. I'm reminded of a Zizekian principle-- debating Nazis give them a way to spread their message of hate. Similarly, giving religious people more of a place to spread religion, does what is to be expected: it spreads religion. Sniping attacks and making fun of you are not only more worthwhile from my perspective, they are also more effective.

 

This is gonna be my last post in this thread(hopefully)

 

EDIT: Also, most people are idiots-- being more reasonable on the subject of God has nothing to do with intelligence level.

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No, it's just silly to answer logical/empirical fallacies. It's a fairly obvious (they encourage it nowadays) strategy by secularists to otherize believers. This is a problem first, as there is nothing inherently more intelligent about being a nonbeliever over a believer (just look at you), and two, for such an apparently intelligent group, it's funny how prominent secularists are so frequently and so thoroughly defeated by apologetics in secular university settings. Dawkins understands that if he can't control the material, he sounds as unintelligent as he actually is, and hence why he constantly refuses to debate William Lane Craig.

 

wait, dawkins wont debate some faggot in california?

 

also, im sure dan barker will take him on wherever, whenever.

Edited by retired

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