Sin and atonement [Part – 4]
December 27, 2010 2 Comments
Justice and Forgiveness
The Christian philosophy of Crime and Punishment is not only utterly confusing for simple unprejudiced human intellect but also raises many other relevant questions which are no less perplexing. The relationship between justice and forgiveness, as maintained by the Christian philosophy of Atonement, attempts to explain why God Himself could not forgive. It is dependant entirely on an erroneous and arbitrary concept of justice, which takes it for granted that justice and forgiveness can never go hand in hand. That being so, why does the New Testament place so much emphasis on forgiveness when the question of human relationships is discussed. I have never read in any divine scriptures of any world religion a teaching that leans more one sidedly upon, and overly emphasises the role of forgiveness. What a fantastic contrast with the traditional emphasis on justice found in Judaic teachings. An eye for eye; a tooth for tooth. That is justice, pure, simple and unattenuated. What a dramatic departure from this to the Christian teaching of turning the other cheek if slapped on one. Who gave the latter teaching that is against the earlier teachings of the Torah? Was the first teaching of Torah, one is left wondering, a teaching by God the Father as against the diametrically opposed teaching of the New Testament, a teaching by Christ the ‘Divine Son’? If so, why did the ‘Divine Son’ differ so drastically from his Father? Should such a conflict be taken as a genetical defect or an evolutionary change or was this Christian attitude of absolute forgiveness, as diametrically opposed to the Judaic emphasis on revenge, an example of volte-face change on the part of God the Father. He seems to have dearly repented of what He had taught Moses and the people of the Book and wanted very much to redress His own wrong.
As Muslims, we observe this fundamental shift in emphasis and see no contradiction because we believe in a God who combines in Him both the attributes of justice and forgiveness, without there being any inner conflict between the two attributes. We understand the transfer from Judaic teachings to that of Jesus Christ, not as a corrective measure of those teachings but of their misapplication by the Jews. With us, God is not only Just but is also Forgiving, Merciful and Beneficent. If He so desires, He does not stand in need of any outside help to forgive the sinful. But from the Christian point of view the problem acquires gigantic proportions. It appears that the God of the Torah was a God who knew only justice and had no sense of compassion or mercy. Apparently He was unable to forgive, however much he may have desired to do so. Lo, then came to His help ‘God the Son’ and extricated Him from His infernal dilemma. It seems that the ‘Son’ was ‘All-Compassion’ as against the ‘All-Vengefulness’ of his Father. It is not just the apparent absurdity of this vision of the ‘Son’ which disturbs the human conscience but it also raises the question once again of the contradiction in their characters. Jesus does not appear to be a true son of his Father. A genetic error again perhaps.
Another important area of inquiry is the attitude of other religions of the world towards sin and its consequences. Christianity is of course not the only religion to be a revealed religion. Numerically, non-Christians largely exceed Christians. Thousands of years of the known history of man, before Jesus Christ, saw many religions born and take root in different human soils in various parts of the world. Do these religions ever speak of a philosophy of forgiveness even remotely related to the Christian dogma of Atonement? What is their concept of God, or Gods if they have now begun to believe in many? What is their concept of God’s attitude towards sinful humanity?
Among the comity of religions, the nearest to Christianity is perhaps Hinduism in this regard, but only partially so. Hindus also believe in an Absolute Just God, whose sense of justice demands that He must punish somehow every perpetrator of sin. But the resemblance ends there. No mention of a ‘Divine Son’ taking the entire consequences of the whole world of sinners upon his shoulders is even remotely indicated. On the contrary, we are told of an endless chain of crime and punishment in an endless number of reincarnations of the soul into animal flesh. Atonement only becomes accessible after the many times reincarnated soul has incurred punishment exactly in accord with the sum total of the crimes it committed during all its fateful experiences of reincarnation. To some it may sound weird and bizarre indeed, but there is certainly some inherent justice in this philosophy. A balance and a symmetry which is in perfect harmony with the concept of absolute justice.
Leaving Hinduism and other religions who also believe in the philosophy of reincarnation with all its complexities of cause and effect aside, what is the role of forgiveness on the part of God in the remaining major or minor religions of the world? All such religions and over a billion adherents of religions such as Hinduism seem to be totally ignorant and uninformed of the myth of Atonement. This is very perplexing indeed. Who was in communion with mankind elsewhere in the history of religions? If it were not God the Father as in Christian doctrine, was the entire religious leadership of the world except Jesus Christ, pupil of the Devil himself? And where was God the father? Why did He not come to the rescue when the rest of mankind was being led astray by the Devil in His name? Or were they, the rest of the humanity, a creation of a being other than the so-called God the Father. Again, why were they treated in such a step-fatherly way and abandoned to the cruel sway of the Devil?
Let us now turn our attention to this issue with reference to common human experience. It can be shown that forgiveness and justice are balanced and can coexist and do not always contradict each other. Sometimes justice demands that forgiveness must be extended and sometimes it demands that forgiveness be withheld. If a child is forgiven and is encouraged to commit more crime, then forgiveness is itself bordering on a crime and is against the sense of justice. If a criminal is forgiven, only to perpetrate more acts of crime and creates suffering all around him because he is forgiven and encouraged, that would also be against the dictates of justice and will be tantamount to an act of cruelty to other innocent citizens. There are countless criminals of this type who are covered by the atonement of Jesus. That in itself is contrary to justice. But if a child repents, for instance, and the mother is convinced that the same crime will not be repeated, then to punish the child would be counter to the sense of justice. When a repentant person suffers, that in itself is a punishment which may in some cases far exceed a punishment imposed from outside. People with a living conscience always suffer after committing a sin. As a consequence, the cumulative effect of the repeated pangs of conscience reaches a point where it may result in God taking pity on such a weak, oft-faltering, oft-repenting servant of His. This is the lesson in the relationship of justice to forgiveness, which people of high intellect or even people of ordinary understanding draw alike from a universal human experience. It is high time that Christians woke up from their dormant state of accepting Christian dogma without ever questioning its wisdom.
If they re-examine the Christian doctrine in the light of common sense and reasoning, they may still remain good practising Christians but of a different and more realistic type. They would then believe even more and with greater love and dedication in the human reality of Christ as compared to the Christ who is a mere figment of their imagination and no more real than fiction. Jesus’ greatness lies not in his legend but in the supreme sacrifice of Jesus the man and messenger. A sacrifice which moves the heart far more powerfully and profoundly than the myth of his death upon a cross and his revival from the dead after spending a few ghastly hours in hell.
Jesus Cannot Possibly Atone
Last but not least, how could Jesus be born innocent when he had a human mother? If the sin of Adam and Eve had polluted the entire progeny of this unfortunate couple, then as a natural consequence, all male and female children must inherit the same genetic propensity to sin. Females were perhaps more likely to because it was Eve who as the instrument of Satan enticed Adam. Therefore, the responsibility of sin falls squarely on the shoulders of Eve rather than of Adam. In the case of the birth of Christ, obviously it was a daughter of Eve who contributed the major share. The question that very powerfully arises is whether Jesus inherited any gene bearing chromosomes from his human mother or not. If he did so, then it was impossible for him to escape the inevitable inherited sin. If he did not inherit any chromosomes from his mother either, then indeed that birth would be doubly miraculous. Only a miracle could produce a son who neither belongs to his father nor to his mother. What remains incomprehensible is why those chromosomes, provided by Eve, did not carry the innate tendency to sin to the child Jesus. Suppose it happened somehow, and Jesus had that innocence needed to carry the sins of mankind, on condition that they believed in him and not otherwise, another problem would arise: what happened, one may ask, to the progeny of Adam and Eve that died before the dawn of Christianity? How many billions of them might have got scattered throughout the world over five continents generation after generation. They must have lived and died without hope or even the possibility of ever hearing about the Christ their Saviour who was not yet born. In fact the entire humanity between Adam and Christ seemed certainly to be doomed for ever. Why were they never given even a remote chance to be forgiven? Would they be forgiven retrospectively, by Jesus Christ? If so, why?
In other parts of the world, much larger by comparison to the tiny land of Judea, where people had never heard of Christianity even during the life time of Jesus Christ, what happens to them? They never did, nor ever could, believe in the ‘Sonship’ of Jesus Christ. Will their sins go unpunished or will they be punished? If they go unpunished, for what reason? If they are punished, again by what logic? What chance did they have anyway? They were totally helpless. What a distorted sense of absolute justice!