Saturday, November 24, 2007

Jesus' sacrifice (II)

I am very pleased we are getting some Christians responding to these posts. I’d very much welcome more – not much point engaging only with the converted. Remember, I am not belittling Jesus' supposed sacrifice - just refusing to allow it to be inflated.

Let me deal with some of your comments.

Garyvdh makes two interesting points:

(i) according to some, Jesus did not die for everyone, just the chosen ones. (I hope these people will avoid promoting their religion by saying to all and sundry, “Jesus died for your sins!”, then, for, according to them, he didn’t.)

(ii) atheists cannot do what Jesus/God did.

These points are both true (and I was, in fact aware of them). But they are irrelevant, aren’t they?

My point is, atheist have willingly made at least as admirable sacrifices (if not an identical sacrifice). And many would be willing to make such a sacrifice if they could. That they cannot do precisely what Jesus did is irrelevant, surely.

Anonymous says:

"Perhaps a better analogy would be this: Would your hypothetical atheist be prepared to die an excruciating and humiliating death at the hands of his enemies, in order to save the very people who were killing him? Who are the most offensive people imaginable? Would you die to save them, regardless of whether you believed in a resurrection or not?"

Well, Garyvdh has just provided me with a response to this point: Jesus did NOT die for everyone, so he may well not have died for those who killed him!

But (putting that Calvinist stuff to one side), actually, an atheist might allow himself to be killed by his own morally depraved family, if, he loved them deeply, and if he was convinced that, by doing so, he could save them (both their lives and their moral characters).

Actually, I suspect I’d do this for my family (er, not that they're morally depraved - but if they were...). And I’d do it knowing I wouldn’t be resurrected. See? – that’s a more admirable sacrifice than Jesus’.

I nearly included Sam’s “Jesus didn’t fully know what was going on” response in my original post. Actually, Jesus clearly knows his death is not the end of him. He is explicit that he’s going to the Kingdom of God, will sit with God, etc., see e.g. Mark 14.25.

But in any case, even if he didn’t know his death would not be the end of him, Jesus’ ignorance of the fact that his death would not be final only then brings his sacrifice up on a level with sacrifices made by atheists (in terms of admirableness). His sacrifice still isn’t more admirable than theirs.

[P.S. Incidentally, bear in mind I am focussing on what is the most admirable sacrifice, not which is the “greater”, as on some conceptions of “greater”, Jesus’ sacrifice can’t help but be the greatest as he sacrifices God (i.e. himself).]

[P.P.S. Further point to anonymous - in any case your analogy isn't right as of course Jesus died to save all of us (or at least Garyvdh's "chosen ones"), not just the handful of individuals who killed him. Yes, I might allow myself to be killed by nasty evil Bert, if, by so doing, I can save the life of not just Bert, but a million others.)

24 comments:

Bob said...

I agree with this idea that an atheist's sacrifice is of great consequence to them and therefore highly admirable, more so that that of a Jesus who knew he would be resurrected or even intervened upon before death anyway.

However I also think that an atheist has the odds on for his sacrifice being "greater" as well as equally or more "admirable". You say "Jesus’ sacrifice can’t help but be the greatest as he sacrifices God (i.e. himself)". But... what a martyr!

No one would think much of a corrupt corporate manager who, having driven his company into the ground, laboriously emphasised his own resignation as if it was a great sacrifice for which he should receive praise. We would jeer at him and consider him egotistical and hypocritical. A God who descends to earth to sacrifice himself seems to be in the same sycophantic position.

I dispute that there is anything great and noble about the messianic sacrifice at the center of such a confused and fruitless theology.

Paul said...

Much as I appreciated the comments defending the Christian position, I was struck by how much they tried to avoid the question rather than answer it. The one point that I thought was valid was this:

"Would your hypothetical atheist be prepared to die an excruciating and humiliating death at the hands of his enemies, in order to save the very people who were killing him? Who are the most offensive people imaginable? Would you die to save them, regardless of whether you believed in a resurrection or not?"

Of course, that "regardless of whether you believed in a resurrection or not" is telling. The entire point of your thought experiment is that, if you are expecting the resurrection, you could probably put up with pretty much anything. In fact, if you were expecting resurrection into eternal life at God's right hand, you could probably put up with being crucified even if your sacrifice wasn't going to save anybody except yourself.

Sam Norton said...

I was tempted to not comment any further, because I don't dispute your main point, viz that Jesus' sacrifice - qua sacrifice - is equalled or surpassed elsewhere, eg amongst atheists. But your reference to Mark 14.25 reminded me of Guess Who's comment in that other post that secular atheists and fundamentalists read the bible in the same way. There are different ways of interpreting that text (consider what "the Kingdom of God is within you" might imply about reading it).

More fundamentally is the issue about context or tone - or, dare I say, the depth grammar of the remarks. I think it perfectly plausible that Jesus is speaking out of faith in that context, in just the same way as martyrs might say to their fellow believers 'see you in the next world'. That doesn't undermine the bravery of it.

Stephen Law said...

Interesting comments, Bob and Paul.

Hi Sam - yours too. But here's another seemingly pretty unambiguous quote, e.g. (Matt 17:9):

As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Do not tell anyone about the vision until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.”

And there are various other passages, too. E.g. Luke 23:42: Jesus to the criminal with whom he is about to be crucified:

"I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise."

Yep, this could all be metaphorical talk. But you must admit, prima facie, it does look as if The Bible comfirms Jesus knew he would be resurrected, or at least be going to paradise. And let's not forget Jesus himself raised people from the dead. So he knows it can be done.

However, as I say, even if he didn't know he'd be resurrected, that still doesn't make his sacrifice any more admirable than that of many atheists.

Tea said...

I'm perfectly willing to grant the most "charitable" interpretation I can think of: Jesus was a guy whose death, for all he knew, would only ensure that a group of the most corrupted, evil, and perverted people imaginable would end up in heaven instead of in hell. Let's say Jesus didn't even know whether he himself was going to end up in heaven because of this deed - all he knew was that his dying a horrible death would save the souls of that particular group of hateful, bloodlusting people.

What's admirable about that?

This is not so much a rhetorical question - I'm not really convinced one way or the other, and I really want to hear your answers.

(Stephen, I know that this strays from your original query about "Jesus dies for your sins!!", but given the answers you received in the previous post, I'd really like to find out whether intuitions behind them make sense.)

Stephen Law said...

Oh yes Matt 20:19

Jesus predicts:

"Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn Him to death,and will hand Him over to the Gentiles to mock and scourge and crucify Him, and on the third day He will be raised up."

Sam Norton said...

As it's getting away from the point of your post, I've responded on my own blog about whether Jesus knew he was going to be resurrected.

K. Szklenski said...

If an atheist sacrifices herself, then she is making not only the more admirable, but I would also say the greater sacrifice. Some might debate this, but consider this:

The atheist knows full well that she may be wrong and that there may in fact be a god. She knows that if there is some kind of god, it probably doesn't look favorably upon people who did not believe in it. Hence, the atheist sacrifices herself knowing that there is a possibility that she will be not only dying, but also going to hell. As if just dying weren't bad enough!

Mike N said...

I think there's an easy way to settle this from a number of points that have already been made ...

Either:

1. Jesus died to save everybody/the chosen few, knowing that he would be resurrected.

or

2. Jesus dies to save everybody/the chosen few with no knowledge of his resurrection.

I think most people would agree that the greater sacrifice occurs in option 2, when he doesn't know what's going on.

An atheist sacrificing himself is at least as great a sacrifice as 2 as an atheist would certainly have no knowledge of impending resurrection.

Now, although Jesus may not have known he would be resurrected he knew resurrection was possible. He also knew he was the son of god and he knew about the existence of heaven. Taking these factors together it would seem that his inside information would make him considerably less worries about death than your run of the mill atheist.

Meaning the atheist's sacrifice is greater than option 2 as all (s)he would have to look forward to would be oblivion.

Cheers

Mike

Anonymous said...

May I make one point regarding your comment that Jesus did not die for all of us?

He did. Because we all have the choice of being one of those who believe in him and the faith he personifies. While ultimately, those who choose to believe will not be all of us, we all have the choice.

Mike N said...

Anonymous, what has what we choose to believe got to do with whether Jesus died for us or not?

For me the question is more of a thought experiment as I most certainly do not believe in any kind of divine entity but it really is irrelevant to the issue.

How about an alternative question:

A deluded person in a mental institution who believes himself to be Jesus hangs himself, believing that by doing so he will be saving the souls of all the sinners on the planet and ushering in a new age of peace.

Is his sacrifice on a par with that of Jesus?

Anonymous said...

-Anonymous, what has what we choose to believe got to do with whether Jesus died for us or not?-

It has to do with exactly what I stated. It was in reply to the earlier statement that Jesus did not die for us all, but only for those who believe.

That is not so. Because we all have the opportunity to believe, it is our choice. That means he did die for us all, not just those that choose to believe in him.

-Is his sacrifice on a par with that of Jesus?-

No, it is not, because it does not have the effect of what Jesus did, in allowing himself to be put to death he gave man the gift of redemption and allowed us to attain Heaven. The sacrifice of a deluded mortal does not do so.

Mike N said...

"It has to do with exactly what I stated. It was in reply to the earlier statement that Jesus did not die for us all, but only for those who believe."

No offence, but so what? Either he died for us all or he died for the believers. My point was not to argue one way or the other but to say that it was irrelevant to the discussion at hand.

"No, it is not, because it does not have the effect of what Jesus did, in allowing himself to be put to death he gave man the gift of redemption and allowed us to attain Heaven. The sacrifice of a deluded mortal does not do so."

So you are saying that for a sacrifice to be noble it has to actually have an effect? I just don't see that. I could sacrifice to try and save my family from a burning wreck and we might all die. That does not diminish the sacrifice. In the same way somebody who honestly believes they are sacrificing themselves for mankind is making an equally noble gesture. Futile, but noble and admirable nonetheless, and no different from Jesus, who sacrificed himself because he believed it would save mankind (or the chosen few, whichever).

Cheers

Mike

Anonymous said...

-No offence, but so what? Either he died for us all or he died for the believers. My point was not to argue one way or the other but to say that it was irrelevant to the discussion at hand.-

No offense taken, since you are quite wrong. If you read what Mr. Law had to say, you would find that was a focal point of his argument, that he did not die for everyone.

=So you are saying that for a sacrifice to be noble it has to actually have an effect?=

Not at all, and I will thank you not to put words in my mouth. I am saying the sacrifice of a delusional person based on their delusions is not the same, no. But to answer your question, yes, the outcome of the sacrifice has an effect as well.

MIke N said...

"No offense taken, since you are quite wrong. If you read what Mr. Law had to say, you would find that was a focal point of his argument, that he did not die for everyone."

I was formulating my own argument, not necessarily agreeing point by point with Stephen's. In my argument it is irrelevant how many people Christ died for.

"Not at all, and I will thank you not to put words in my mouth. I am saying the sacrifice of a delusional person based on their delusions is not the same, no. But to answer your question, yes, the outcome of the sacrifice has an effect as well."

My apologies - it was certainly not my intention to put words in your mouth. However ... You agree that the outcome of an act has a bearing on how much sacrifice was involved (perhaps it was my use of the word noble here that confused matters, so I'll just stick to "level of sacrifice")

Now if a person truly believes that they are dying to save another (or several others, or the whole of mankind - in this case it doesn't matter) then I can see no obstacle to describing their death as a sacrifice, even if it is based on a delusion.

By your reasoning my sacrifice to save my family from a burning wreck would be meaningless since they died anyway.

Then there is the more subtle distinction between an outright delusion and misinformation. If you are assured that your death can prevent a number of other deaths and you sacrifice yourself but it turns out to be a lie and they die anyway then I would still say that was a genuine sacrifice.

My point here is that the outcome of a sacrifice is not relevant to the actual sacrifice itself whereas the perceived reasons of the person sacrificing themself are everything.

Of course there are many circumstances in which the sacrifice would be ultimately futile, but let's not confuse that with not doing it for the "right" reasons in the first place.

Stephen Law said...

Hi

Just so we are clear, I have no view about whether Jesus died for everyone of just a few (i.e. the true believers, those predestined, or whatever). My point was, IF he died only for a few, as was suggested, then that would deal with the "but would you, like Jesus, die to save the bastards that kill you?" objection.

Stephen Law said...

I see the confusion:

When I said, "These points are both true", I meant the point that some people believe Jesus died only for a few. I wasn't claiming that what these people believe is true.

Anonymous said...

Mike, since you seem to believe the motive is what equates the two acts, may I then ask you this:

If a person killed an individual who was attempting to rape and murder your loved one, I would assume you would applaud that as a noble act.

Would you do the same for a deranged man who thought your father was attempting to rape and murder your mother, and slew him? You would have to, given your logic thus far. After all, it is the motive that makes the act noble, is it not?

Do you also hold the terrorists who flew those planes into the WTC on 9/11 in the same heroic standard you would hold an American soldier who flew his plane into an enemy gun battery, thus saving the lives of his compatriots? Remember, the outcome is immaterial in your argument, only the motives. The motives were equal here, so you would have to say what the terrorists did was a noble sacrifice as well. Do you do so?

Paul said...

I worry a little bit that anonymous might have missed the point completely.

If a person killed an individual who was attempting to rape and murder your loved one, I would assume you would applaud that as a noble act.

Perhaps you can explain to us how this act involves any sacrifice on the part of the killer?

Mike N said...

OK, let me try and deal with these - and I think they are good questions.

"If a person killed an individual who was attempting to rape and murder your loved one, I would assume you would applaud that as a noble act."

- As Paul has pointed out, this killing requires no sacrifice on my part. If I allowed myself to be murdered so that my loved ones could escape then that would be noble.

For the record, I probably would kill to protect my loved ones in this case, but I wouldn't regard it as noble and I would prefer to use less lethal force.

"Would you do the same for a deranged man who thought your father was attempting to rape and murder your mother, and slew him? You would have to, given your logic thus far. After all, it is the motive that makes the act noble, is it not?"

Again, that involves no sacrifice and so isn't really comparable, but I do think that, yes, I would have no choice but to have some sympathy for the killer in this instance, despite massive personal loss.

"Do you also hold the terrorists who flew those planes into the WTC on 9/11 in the same heroic standard you would hold an American soldier who flew his plane into an enemy gun battery, thus saving the lives of his compatriots? Remember, the outcome is immaterial in your argument, only the motives. The motives were equal here, so you would have to say what the terrorists did was a noble sacrifice as well. Do you do so?"

This one is far more relevant. I suspect Stephen is addressing it in the next post which I've just noticed in the RSS feed, but as I haven't read it yet I'll answer here ...

Yes, I do think that their acts involved sacrifice - misguided, but there nonetheless. However, you should bear the following in mind:

1. The terrorists believed there were 72 virgins waiting for them in heaven - this to me puts their acts on a par with Jesus, not somebody who believes there is no hope of an aferlife or resurrection.

2. The US soldiers are, for the most part, sent out to fight and do not get a say in it. Yes, they have joined up voluntarily but after that they are obliged to follow orders. Of course individual acts of courage and sacrifice are going to happen, and are probably very common.

In your instance the terrorists themselves are not the evil - it is the religion that has indoctrinated them that you should be worried about.

//Mike

Paul said...

I refrained from commenting on the terrorist question, because I think it's something of a red herring. However, following Mike's post, I wanted to pick up on this comment:

The motives were equal here, so you would have to say what the terrorists did was a noble sacrifice as well.

In what way were the motives equal? As far as we know, the motives of the 9/11 bombers were to kill as many people as possible (with expectation of a reward afterwards - but the reward was compensation, not motivation); the motives of the hypothetical US soldier was to save the lives of his friends.

However this takes us further away from the point which Stephen was trying to make, I think. Let's imagine two American soldiers, one Christian and one atheist, both of whom sacrifice themselves to save the lives of their colleagues. As Stephen rightfully pointed out in his first post, given that their motives are identical, the latter sacrifice is rather more admirable than the first.

Interestingly, you could do the same thought experiment for suicide bombers and come up with the same conclusion - irrelevant of whether you agree with their motives or not.

r.b.m said...

I think this a genuinely interesting & significant debate in and of itself, but can I come back for a moment to what I think was Stephen's starting point - the issue of whether Xns are reasonable in calling the sacrifice / death of Christ 'the most admirable sacrifice'? Is it really that common for 'informed' Christians to claim that Jesus' sacrifice was the most admirable? Isn't it more that this is just a 'popular' misunderstanding of the idea that Stephen rightly makes discrete, namely that (according to Xnty) Jesus's is the ultimate / greatest / most significant sacrifice. Surely they mean to make an ontological assertion rather than some quasi-moral comparison? Can you cite some references of the claim that the sacrifice is uniquely admirable?

Joel said...

I think, in general, this topic, or question in specific, is wrong-headed. I would like to make a few points:

1.It would be hard to compare the death of Christ with the generic atheist you are speaking of since Christ, as God, laid aside his divine rights to become human (phil 2), and, not only lived the perfect life, died for his enemies (which seems to be where the bulk of the comparison lies), but also bore the wrath of God for the sins of the world. If you accept the terms of the Bible, then it seems fair to say that there are ontological and metaphysical 'sacrifices' that Jesus made that no one else has the opportunity to make, nor could understand prior to making if it was still possible. His unique status eliminates him from being compared. One can, as you are doing, analogously compare- 'christ died for people', 'I can die for people'- but this seems to fall quite short of the Bible's claims. Unless you dismiss the weight of 'the wrath of God' and 'the sins of the world' you can't even ask the question you are asking.

2.Where in the Bible does it say that Jesus' sacrifice is to be most admired or is the most admirable of all sacrifices? Don't misunderstand me, I think that it is, but the message of the Bible isn't that our response to the cross is supposed to be one of admiration, but one of repentance. That is, turning from your sin and toward God since he sacrificed his son in order to make peace with man.

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