It feels like it’s been ages since I wrote any meditations on faith. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about why that is, and the answer I continue to come back to is that I’ve laid out most of my thoughts on my relationship with Christianity in other blog posts, and there’s not been much change there that needs to be addressed. The internet’s forever and all that, so I can just refer back to my older posts which I think do a pretty solid job of documenting my thoughts for the past two years.
This past week, I’ve been enjoying my Spring Break. It’s the last gasp of respite that my coworkers and I get before we launch into the last term of the school year, which is filled with testing stresses and a pack of anxious students who are only dimly aware of how much we want to get to summer break too. It’s been a generally good week, with lots of down time that I’ve happily spent reading, gaming, writing, and blogging (the best part of any extended time off like this is that I inevitably fill the extra time up doing productive things like writing extra blog posts or getting some much-needed chores done). Then on Friday I received some bad news.
It seems coy to say it like that and then proceed to explain that I’m not going to give any details here, but that’s what I’m doing. Maybe in a few days I’ll explain more, but for now it’ll have to suffice that something happened and it’s put me in a very meditative mood, especially with the coinciding Easter weekend.
I’ve been thinking about the purpose of celebrating Easter, and the accompanying mystery of the Crucifixion. It’s no great secret that I dislike the theory of penal substitutionary atonement. There are too many parallels with abusive relationships: God is so angry at us that ey needs to punish us for something we can’t control, we’re undeserving of eir love, it’s our own fault that ey hurts us. I’ve felt for a long time that much of white evangelical Christianity normalizes abuse, beginning with the most common rationalizations that pop up in evangelical theology. Penal substitution catches humanity in an impossible position of deserving damnation but having no method of restitution, all before we’re even born because of the pervasive doctrine of original sin. The system induces an endemic level of self loathing that draws adherents into a relationship with God which casts them as a burden that God is only bearing because Jesus intercedes on our behalf.
I don’t like this system.
I don’t like the suggestion that God is angry with us and actively wants to destroy us.
I don’t like the implication that God allowed eir son to be tortured and executed in our place.
I don’t like any plan for redemption that has at its center unmitigated violence carried out in God’s name.
This weekend I’ve been listening to Jars of Clay’s album of covers of traditional Protestant hymns Redemption Songs. It’s a pretty good album, and much of it holds up (their cover of “It Is Well With My Soul” notwithstanding), but one thing that’s begun to creep me out as I’ve been listening is how many of the songs focus on the image of Jesus’ blood as the source of salvation. It’s fetishistic how the lyrics emphasize we’re washed in his blood, and I can’t help wondering what happened that so much of our worship tradition focuses Jesus’ violent death. It’s undeniable that violence is an important part of the Passion story, but why do we not spend more time pondering the message of Jesus’ ministry and the symbolism of his resurrection?
The Crucifixion strikes me as that point in the story where Jesus is overcome by the evil that we’re always doing to one another. It is a human punishment, carried out in unjust terms because Jesus’ message spoke counter to the powers that we submit ourselves to every day. God didn’t need that fate, or even want it for Jesus. It happened because it was the logical conclusion of love meeting forces of violence. It’s in the moment of resurrection where we see what God was after. Our sins begin in violence and end in violence, but in Christ we cease to be victims of that cycle.