A Modified Theory of the Atonement: The Human Condition

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The Human Condition In One Sad Story

If the Atonement was the completion of a task necessary for man’s reconciliation with God and with his fellow man, then we need to first understand the nature of the breach that the Atonement was meant to heal. If the “good news” of the Gospel is salvation through Christ, we need to comprehend what he saves us from before we can speculate about what metaphor best expresses how he accomplished it. 

My cousin saw a young man from his high school walking on the side of the road, and he felt he should pull over. My cousin was a successful scholar, athlete, and member of the student government, well-liked and looked up to by many of his peers. This young man was at the opposite end of the popularity spectrum. He was occasionally bullied and constantly given reason to understand, through subtle exclusions and other signs familiar to most of the high school population, that he was not “cool” or “successful.” My cousin, for his part, had tried to be nice to this young man, as to everyone else, by such simple kindnesses as saying hi with a smile before class started. My cousin thought he seemed dejected and wanted to offer a ride, but then thought, “I hardly know this guy. It would be weird for me to offer him a ride. Besides, I will already be up late doing my homework.” So he ignored the generous impulse and kept on driving. He got to school the next day and found out that the young man had died the evening before by suicide. Continue reading

A Modified Theory Of The Atonement: Why Modify?

 

The apparent illogic of the notion of God suffering for man’s sin is captured nicely in “Life of Pi”:

Humanity sins but it’s God’s Son who pays the price? I tried to imagine my Father saying to me, “Piscine, a lion slipped into the llama pen today and killed two llamas. Yesterday another one killed a black buck. Last week two of them ate the camel. The week before it was painted storks and grey herons. And who’s to say for sure who snacked on our golden agouti? The situation has become intolerable. Something must be done. I have decided that the only way the lions can atone for their sins is if I feed you to them.”

“Yes, Father, that would be the right and logical thing to do. Give me a moment to wash up.”

“Hallelujah, my son.”

“Hallelujah, Father.”

While the character who finds the story of Christ’s Atonement so illogical does eventually find it meaningful and valuable, he does not resolve the illogic. And that is fine for a character who appreciates Christianity, in common with every other religion, as a set of beautiful stories that contain truth. But for a person like me, who considers Christ himself to be the Truth and Christianity to not only contain truth but to be true, the apparent illogic grates on the mind. Continue reading

We are Losing Precious Members

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People are leaving my church. Good people. People I know. People I like. In response to this modern exodus, I have heard three explanations from within my church community. The first two are rationalization narratives. They attempt to put the community at ease. First, there is the narrative that we are destined to be a small group of believers. The Bible never suggests “the believers” are going to be popular. In the Book of Mormon, Nephi has a vision of the modern-day church and he notes that “its numbers [are] few.” And so declining membership actually seems in line with revelation. Believers are supposed to be a small, peculiar group of persecuted faithful. This is problematic. Continue reading

Why Multiculturalism Fails As A Primary Lens For Viewing Culture

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There are several reasons that I am an attorney instead of an English professor (my original plan). A relatively minor reason that I don’t usually mention is the dominance of multiculturalism in the academy as a lens for talking about and judging literature and culture generally.

What I mean by “multiculturalism” is a particular kind of intense focus on race, gender, class, nationality, sexuality, and other categories that might make a person a minority, and the ways in which cultures construct and deploy these categories (generally in ways that disadvantage the minority). Anyone who has studied English literature at today’s universities should understand what I mean. But so should anybody familiar with the rhetoric of certain liberal politicians, some of whom (for instance) have recently assumed it unnecessary to make any substantial explanation of why they deem it deeply wrong for Joe Biden to have had collegial relationships with segregationist senators. Continue reading

Suffering Grace: in defense of a benevolent God

catholic-celestial-christ-37737Those who argue against the existence of a benevolent Christian deity will often site as a centerpiece of their belief the inexplicability of suffering in the world. This happened again recently in the New York Times. While there is some suffering caused by other people which can be explained by an appeal to human agency, there is also suffering (perhaps a far greater amount of suffering) caused by mindless, lifeless, natural forces. Hurricanes, volcanoes, tornadoes, tsunamis, famine, pestilence. Millions of people, in pain, just for living on the earth. These forces, they will say, since they cannot be assigned another agency, must be assigned to God, if there really is one.

To secure their position, they might add, while the devil could be a convenient scapegoat, what are we to do when a hurricane has brought rain to a farmer but killed another woman’s child? The farmer kneels in the darkened soil thanking God in the same moment the anguished woman stands at the end of the pier cursing the devil. We cannot say in one instance it is an act of the devil and in another it is the act of God. It must be one or the other. Continue reading

A Ninth Argument For Heteronormativity

You can tell when a news story is big, because even I will have heard about it–I who rarely spend more than ten minutes a day on news, and usually much less. But even I heard about the Catholic church’s publication, “Male and Female Created He Them,” which respectfully asserts the Catholic position on gender identify–that one’s biological sex should be the same as one’s gender identify, and that men and women were designed by God to complement each other, among other things. It also calls for dialogue about the issues while calling upon Catholic parents and educators to respectfully give their witness regarding these matters. Its publication during Pride Month predictably sparked a subdued outrage among the major news outlets, who (so far as I have seen) failed to report its arguments for why the notion of choosing your own gender is harmful for children and society, and dwelt instead on the supposed harm this non-revolutionary doctrinal statement will cause to Catholic persons dealing with gender identity issues.

I recently posted a blog article setting forth eight different non-religious arguments that honest people have found persuasive in favor of heteronormativity. My purpose was not to persuade anybody that traditional sexual mores are correct, but that there are valid arguments in favor of heteronormativity that good people might accept, and that those who (like me) stand by the traditional mores regarding homosexuality are therefore not necessarily bigotted. I explained that I used only non-religious arguments not because religious arguments are invalid, but because they are not publicly accessible.

The Catholic church’s publication reminded me that I missed one of the major non-religious arguments that people have found persuasive in favor of heteronormativity–namely, the complementarity of men and women. Continue reading

A Letter To Those Who Believe In God But Don’t Go To Church

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Dear Friend,

You have expressed, by your words and/or your actions, that you feel no need to go to church. You don’t see how it would benefit you and your family (as I believe it would). I appreciate the frankness with which you shared how you feel, and I will also be frank even though that will entail explaining why I think you should feel differently than you do. In explaining this, I want to be clear that I don’t think you are a bad person for thinking as you do. But I do think you are mistaken on this point, and I consider it a point of sufficient importance that I want to explain why I think so.

On my mission in Taiwan and since then, I have met many people who have said they don’t see the need for church even though they believe in God. Many of these have told me something to the effect of “I’m happy with where my relationship with God is right now.” And if this is what they sincerely think, rather than glibly saying it to brush aside the matter, then I think it is their first and greatest error. Continue reading

Why Liberals Should Find Heteronormativity Defensible Even If They Think It Wrong

To many modern minds, including the minds of most people my age (thirties) in the Western world, it is practically inconceivable that there might be any legitimate rationale for inculcating a preference for heterosexual marriage over any other expression of sexuality, including homosexual marriage. This preference is the historical status quo, but it has been so dramatically rejected in the last 75 years (and especially the last 15) that, for many today, the whole business of disapproving sex for any reason other than nonconsent is wholly alien, bizarre, and even evil–a thing to be dismissed with a word: “Victorian,” “repressive,” “culturally insensitive,” etc. But can it be so easily dismissed? Where did the tradition of disapproving expressions of homosexuality come from?

Is it, as many moderns imagine, entirely irrational, evil, and indefensible? Continue reading

Miracle

mary magdalen at the tomb of our saviour

In the Gospel of Matthew the often repeated words, “he is risen” are preceded by the statement, “he is not here.” Then as evidence of the risen Lord, the angel invites Mary to see the absence of the Lord’s body from the tomb. But the missing body only highlights the questions already burning in her heart. The very questions which caused her arrival in the garden tomb in the first place: where did he go and where is he now?

As is often the case with Christ’s miracles, the supernatural aspect underscore the common reality: people die. And while the body is usually left behind, we are left to wonder how it could be so entirely abandoned. How an object which had once been a man has ceased to present a human being. How the formaldehyde fails to preserve key aspects, even physical aspects, of the person we knew. And it is by this common, natural reality—the incongruity of death—that Christ’s missing body moves us, and not the other way around. The loss of a friend, a father, a lover, a son. Touching a corpse, holding an embalmed hand, kissing a dead man’s lips, nothing more profound than these are required for us to have asked the question: Where did she go? Where is he now? Continue reading