I’ve often argued that religion and faith in something mystical are not synonymous. Jeff Lily has written a nice series on the subject of religion, and written it very well. Start here and wend your way through all six arguments. While I was reading elsewhere on the internet this morning I came across an interview with Dallas Willard. I would like to contrast Lilly’s assessment of religion with Dallas Willard’s excellent explanation regarding atonement theories and Jesus Christ. Coming at it from the theological angle, Willard tries to explain the meaning of justification, atonement, and other Christian terms. While Lilly’s argument takes on Christianity in general, Christians still argue amongst themselves about what role Jesus played.
Surprisingly, after reading both of these, less is Jesus becoming the “sticking point” for me in my spirituality. I’ve long been suspicious of religions and their leaders, but Jesus seemed always to loom large in my world view. However, the whole idea of a necessary atonement implies that humanity is just basically “wrong” from the beginning. This is indeed how many religionists view life and the world, especially the Catholic and Protestant churches. I viewed it once thus myself. All of Christian doctrine hinges on what Jesus actually accomplished on the cross, if anything. However, let’s back up and say that no atonement theory explains to my satisfaction the thorny issue of such a God creating a world and then holding it accountable for the flaws this God created. Atonement then is extremely tautological. This doctrine would be like your parents berating you your entire life for having been born, when you are merely the product of their own lusts. They didn’t ask you to be born. You just were. Imagine if they then told you that you can be brought fully into the family if your sister died to make up for it! We are all shocked at such a suggestion. But yet, we are not shocked when the Christian God demands that only by the death of a “son” can said God forgive the world! And THEN we aren’t done! We must then still work and work for a “kingdom” that never arrives and be satisfied that our whole life was spent working for an ethereal idea, all because of the possibility of reward “after death” when there is no proof of life after death either, except Jesus, who was resurrected they say. The church as an institution was created specifically to be the “family” gatekeeper; ones who could say “You are in.” or “You are out.” And not as nicely as Heidi Klum either!
Jeff Lilly makes a good argument for questioning religious leaders and our assumptions about religion, but I think everyone should back up from atonement theories and even religion in general and ask the bigger question behind all of it: Who said there is such a thing as “sin” to begin with and why the automatic assumption that people are “wrong” or guilty from birth? Mary Daly, a radical feminist philosopher with two doctorates in sacred theology and philosophy from the University of Fribourg, Switzerland and a doctorate of religion from St. Mary’s College, writes that sin is “derived from the Indo-European root es- … meaning to be.” (Pure Lust, The Women’s Press, Ltd., London, page 151) She writes further, “clearly our ontological courage, our courage to be implies the courage to be wrong.” (152) In other words, according to men’s religions, we are simply “wrong” from the beginning, women especially so. Therefore to be fully alive, we must find the courage to sin, not avoid sin. We must fully come into be-ing, not try to avoid it, something I believe Eve was faulted for in the Garden of Eden myth and something for which women have been paying ever since.
It’s a lot to take on but Daly’s thinking has so radically jarred my own for the past 10 years, that I have never been able to ignore it and it’s all well worth exploring. Since my college days I’ve asked, “Who said so?” and “Why?” The answers to those questions are why I’m here.