First, a disclaimer: I am about as far from a bible scholar as one could be and still think about religious matters. It is only recently, and with great reluctance, that I downloaded the King James onto my iPhone. The closest I’ve got to reading the bible in the past was when I had it in one hand looking up bible verses referred to in the book occupying my other hand: The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail (and now I’m not sure which of them is the more fantastical or less worthy of belief).
That lack of biblical literacy was made quite plain to me in reading and thinking this week on the Christian myth of the Resurrection (Christopher Hitchens mentions it in God is Not Great – which book is most definitely great). All I knew or thought before was along the lines of: “Jesus really pissed off the Romans, so they crucified him, but then the bible says he rose from the dead so he must be the son of god. The end.” I had never read or thought about the deeper meanings or moral implications.
I didn’t realise that this myth was tied in with the bizarre and offensive notion that we are all, through no fault of our own, born stained by “Original Sin”; that god sent his son, who was really himself, to earth, in order that he be brutally tortured and murdered (sacrificed, though he of course didn’t really die, making it not much of a sacrifice), in order that we be granted absolution for our sins: he would take from us our responsibility for our misdeeds – and the supposed transgression of Adam, who surely was simply following his god-given nature. And bloody hell: we’re all born in sin because the first man yearned after knowledge? To my mind Christianity hit the [FAIL] button right there.
In any case, it’s worth quoting Hitchens’ summary paragraph:
“I am told of a human sacrifice that took place two thousand years ago, without my wishing it and in circumstances so ghastly that, had I been present and in possession of any influence, I would have been duty-bound to try and stop it. In consequence of this murder, my own manifold sins are forgiven me, and I may hope to enjoy everlasting life.”
Hitchens rightly asks how moral such a scenario can be. It is nothing but scapegoating, with Jesus as the goat, and us all as the “fear-ridden peasants of antiquity”. As he points out, a person can perhaps arrange to take the blame and even punishment for another’s misdeeds, but not the responsibility. My deeds are to the credit or debit of no-one’s moral ledger but my own. They can never be taken by another – whether human or godling.
For anyone, or any organisation, to offer to do so is simply immoral. Our deeds are our own, and to believe that a human sacrifice – that incidentally wasn’t a human, nor a sacrifice – millennia ago, in which we had no part, could possibly be seen to alter that is to me quite a revolting concept.
I do not hide from any of my “sins” (“sin” itself being I think a morally useless concept), nor seek to expiate them by thanking god for an ancient murder. Nor do I abase myself before my supposed creator praising or thanking him for the good that I do. I accept both. They are part of who I am and who I become. They are not things to be bought and sold by the blood of man or god.