Does “Atonement” Make Sense?

Does “Atonement“ Make Sense?

Donʼt Christians ever wonder why killing Godʼs son (whom they believe to have been “God the Son,” the second person of the “Trinity”) was not the greatest sin humans could ever commit? Humans killed God?! Isnʼt that the greatest sin anyone could possibly dream of ever committing? How could the humans who committed such a deed ever be forgiven except maybe by killing another divine savior to “atone” for killing the first one? And so on and so forth? At some point the cycle of “atonement” has to be broken by direct forgiveness. At some point direct forgiveness, not based on a bloody sacrifice, has to intervene to break the endless loop. Maybe thatʼs why Jesus himself did not believe that Godʼs forgiveness depended on a bloody sacrifice, but instead taught everyone to pray “in this way…Our Father…Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.” Simple. Direct forgiveness.

Has any theologian ever been able to demonstrate how “atonement” works, how physical pain unto death of an animal or person makes up for that time I talked back to my mother, or desired my neighborʼs wife or car? Sounds exactly like sympathetic magic. Or as comedian Doug Stanhope says, “‘Jesus died for your sins.’ How does one affect the other? I hit myself in the foot with a shovel for your mortgage. I donʼt get it.”

Or as my friend Tony Atkinson once asked, “How do ‘sins’ become something substantial in and of themselves? There are memories of being hurt, but ‘sins’ as substantial entities one can collect together and then place inside a body or soul? How do ‘sins’ become collected and where do they exist apart from being past acts? Are ‘sins’ the ‘bad’ memories of God? Do such memories ‘soil’ Godʼs mind? And he has to dispose of them? Is killing his own son a form of forgetfulness, a means of dissolving such memories? None of this makes sense.”

And is the Bible right about the life being “in the blood?” No, the life is in the brain and nervous system. We think nothing of blood transfusions, but cutting out part of oneʼs brain and replacing it with someone elseʼs is another more serious matter.

Also, Christianity comes along and suddenly all those bleeding animal sacrifices were for naught, because none of that animal blood did a thing, not if Christianity is true.

Also the scapegoat, the goat upon which the peopleʼs sins were placed, was NOT BLED, it “took the sins of the people” out into the desert. As for the Passover lamb in the Exodus story it did not die for anyoneʼs sins! It was so that the angel of death already saw death on the door posts of the Hebrews and didnʼt go in and kill their first born children. It was passing over those homes, but had nothing to do with any of the Jewish firstborn children inside those homes being sinners.

Though I admire Jesus for deploring the temptations of wealth, organized religion and its powerful sway, as well as hypocrisy, I no longer find the doctrines of either “original sin,” or “imputed righteousness” believable. I donʼt think the cosmos is the way it is simply because one human couple failed a test, nor do I believe that a man being executed 2000 years ago “paid the price” for the “worldʼs sins,” and we ought to “eat his flesh and drink his blood” for the forgiveness of sins, not even metaphorically. Sounds rather paganish, echoing vampirism or cannibalism, a theology taken right out of the ancient superstitious caldrons of blood sacrifice and appeasement. Sympathetic magic.

That being said, I saw the film, The Passion, and was moved when Jesusʼ mother ran toward him when he was being forced to carry the cross. As she struggled to reach out to her son who had just fallen carrying the cross she recalled the time Jesus fell as a child and she rushed to help him. My eyes teared up at that scene in the film. But the rest of the film was a blood orgy that did not move me any more than seeing any other human being unjustly tortured and murdered. I didnʼt feel ‘forgiven’ after watching the film, nor closer to God.

Though when I was young and raised Catholic I felt such a connection, and even cried after reading the Gospel stories of Jesusʼ death “for me, for me, for me.” (Ah, the self interest angle of Christianity, so prominent even in its hymns. Jesus loves me… This I know. Died for me. Me. Me. Me.) The Christian schema doesnʼt make sense to me anymore, neither intellectually nor emotionally. But direct forgiveness and people showing compassion to other people does.


Whenever I forgive someone Iʼm relatively straightforward and direct about it. But for God it takes a bloody miracle.


After the missionary explained the Bibleʼs superior civilized plan of salvation to several natives, one of them replied, “Like you, we love our gods and seek to love one another. What we do not understand is why your god tried to pin down sin by using His son as a voodoo doll.”


Christianity is merely paganism with a more successful advertising campaign.


Christianity teaches that Jesus had to die, or God couldnʼt forgive sins, not a single sin, not unless Jesus died first.

So why isnʼt Judas a “Saint?”


Conversation, A.D. 33

A: Have you heard the latest?

B: No, whatʼs happened?

A: The world has been redeemed!

B: You donʼt say!

A: Yes, the Dear Lord took on human form and had himself executed in Jerusalem; and with that the world has been redeemed and the devil hoodwinked.

B: Gosh, thatʼs simply lovely.

Arthur Shopenhauer


We relate to the suffering of a wide range of species not just human suffering. It was even discovered that deer react to the sound of a crying baby of almost any mammal species, not just the cry of a baby deer. But how does such empathy in nature provide evidence for the truth of any one religion in particular? It doesnʼt. Which reminds me of a poem…

Chipmunk Crucifixion

No chipmunk had to be crucified

on a tiny cross of twigs

To save all the other chippies,

Had to have nails pounded

through his little paws,

Had to take upon himself

all the sins of all the chippies

that ever were or would be

and die in agony

So that after they died

all the chippies

could live again forever,

But only if they believed

in all the sayings and doings

of the chipmunk crucified

on the tiny cross of twigs.

Antler, Last Words


Letʼs not forget that Jesus (after a few hours of pain) rose from the dead and ascended to a throne in heaven. So in essence, nobody really “killed” Jesus; it was more like a fraternity hazing, or an early version of the TV show, “Fear Factor,” where you endure all kinds of [fill in blank with favorite expletive] to win a valuable prize.

SOURCE: T-Shirt Hell Newsletter, 2/25/04


In the beginning God was perfect and whole, needing nothing.

Then he said, “I need an itch to scratch, Iʼll create humans. Of course I see that most of them will suffer, first on earth (where they shall be born into a world of pain, ignorance, swept up by hormonal waves of emotion, and experience uncertainty, dread, miscommunication), with eternal woes to follow for those who didnʼt ride the right waves of holy emotion by falling head over heels in love with Jesus of Nazareth and/or the writings of his disciples, nor interpret what was written with theological correctness.”

“Also, be it known that I cannot forgive anyone anything, not until Blood Is Shed. I know I had Jesus teach people that I would forgive those who forgave others—but I only truly forgive after BLOOD is shed. And a millennia of shedding animalʼs blood will be just for show, but ineffective. No genuine atonement will be achieved until Jesus of Nazareth bleeds to death. And even the blood of Jesus was shed in vain for the vast majority of doomed humanity who are going to wind up in hell anyway.”


For those who defend the idea of eternal wrath being meted out to people after mere decades spent in a “fallen,” confusing, painful and frustrating cosmos, one with fear, prejudice, cultural biases, mental blindness, ignorance, and demons running free (thank God for leaving Satan and his demons on earth), then I guess thereʼs not much in the way of reasonable conceptions of justice anyone can say to such a person. Because they believe it is perfectly just for God to arrange things such that people get born in a frying pan, only to be tossed into the fire, without reprieve, forever.

I say to such people, you can have your jealous God of wrath, who kills millions in the Bible while Satan kills a handful (and Satan even has to beg Godʼs permission to do so, so all the killings are ultimately Godʼs in the Bible).


Jews do not make material sacrifices on their holiest day of the year, the day of atonement. They offer a contrite heart on that holiest of days, based on teachings in the psalms and books of their prophets. The prophets in the Bible were at odds with the priests on the matter of the importance of material/animal sacrifices and the “shedding of blood.” Jesus himself taught people to pray, “Forgive us Father as we forgive others.”

Christians have differed in their understandings of what Jesusʼ death signified. Limited atonement or universal? Bloody or nonviolent (see the book listed at the end)? Theological brouhahas have continued throughout the history of Christian theology over the meaning and significance of Jesusʼ death. Some examples below:

  • 1500-1600s
    The Extent of the Atonement: A Dilemma for Reformed Theology from Calvin to the Consensus (1536-1675) (Studies in Christian History and Thought) by G. M. Thomas (2007)
  • 1600-1700s
    Atonement and Justification: English Evangelical Theology 1640-1790: An Evaluation by Alan C. Clifford (1990)
  • 1700s-1800s
    Atonement Controversy: In Welsh Theological Literature and Debate, 1707-1841 by Owen Thomas (2002)
  • 1800s
    Modern Anglican Theology: Chapters On Coleridge, Hare, Maurice, Kingsley And Jowett And On The Doctrine Of Sacrifice And Atonement (1859) by James H. Rigg (2008)
  • A Treatise on Atonement (1858) by Hosea Ballou. (Famed Universalist preacher from the Victorian era)
  • George MacDonaldʼs Challenging Theology of the Atonement, Suffering, and Death by Miho Yamaguchi (2007) MacDonald was a famous Victorian Universalist.
  • 1900-2000s
    Dostoevsky on Evil and Atonement: The Ontology of Personalism in His Major Fiction by Linda Kraeger and Joe Barnhart (1992) Dr. Barnhart is an ex-Christian. His testimony appears in Leaving The Fold: Testimonies Of Former Fundamentalists
  • The Atonement (Problems in Theology) by Michael M. Winter (1994)
  • Jesus and the Doctrine of the Atonement: Biblical Notes on a Controversial Topic by Gerd Lüdemann (1998) Gerd is an ex-Christian and former Lutheran theologian.
  • Cross Purposes: The Violent Grammar of Christian Atonement by Anthony W. Bartlett (2001)
  • Christus Victor: An Historical Study of the Three Main Types of the Idea of Atonement by Gustaf Aulen and A. G. Herbert (2003)
  • Problems With Atonement: The Origins Of, And Controversy About, The Atonement Doctrine by Stephen Finlan (2005)
  • The Promise of Peace: A Unified Theory of Atonement by Alan Spence (2006)
  • The Nature of the Atonement: Four Views by Thomas R. Schreiner, James Beilby, Paul R. Eddy, and Gregory A. Boyd (2006)
  • Atonement and Violence: A Theological Conversation by J. Denny Weaver, Thomas N. Finger, T. Scott Daniels, and Hans Boersma (2006)
  • Options on Atonement in Christian Thought by Stephen Finlan (2007)
  • What About the Cross?: Exploring Models of the Atonement by Waldron Byron Scott (2007)
  • The Atonement Debate: Papers from the London Symposium on the Theology of Atonement by Derek Tidball, David Hilborn, and Justin Thacker (2008)
  • Oxford Readings in Philosophical Theology: Volume 1: Trinity, Incarnation, and Atonement by Michael C. Rea (2009)
  • The Idea of Atonement in Christian Theology by Rashdall, Hastings (2009)
  • Historic Theories of Atonement by Robert Mackintosh (2009)
  • The Atonement and the Modern Mind by James Denney (2009)
  • The Atonement in modern religious thought : a theological symposium by Anonymous (2009)
  • Christus Victor: An Historical Study of the Three Main Types of the Idea of the Atonement (Spck Classics) by Gustav Aulen and A. G. Herbert (2010)
  • The Nonviolent Atonement (Paperback) Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company (2010) J. Denny Weaver “Sharp debates about the death of Jesus sparked by feminist and womanist theologians are the current cutting edge of discussions about Christology and atonement”
    From Publishers Weekly: Evangelical Christians sing hymns in which blood figures prominently; one in particular is called “Nothing But the Blood.” Such Christians may have to change their tune after reading J. Denny Weaverʼs The Non-Violent Atonement, which proposes that the idea of ‘satisfaction atonement’ must be jettisoned in favor of a nonviolent approach. Jesusʼ death, says Weaver, was not planned or sanctioned by God the Father; it was the inevitable result of sinful humans taking matters into their own hands. Perhaps the new hymn can be called “Everything But the Blood”?

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