Sunday, July 02, 2006

On the Nature of Atonement

This post is basically about human nature and whether it is good or evil, according to Judaism and Christianity. It started off as a writing on Christianity's view of human nature ("Notzriut" means "Christianity" in Hebrew), but eventually meshed into something else. Anyway, hope you enjoy, and please leave a comment.

Thoughts on Notzriut:

If G-d can forgive Christians without their having to do anything to receive that forgiveness, then G-d can surely forgive Jews as they do something to receive that forgiveness, even if it is not up to par with the way they originally atoned. The basis of G-d’s forgiveness of Jews is their recognition of G-d’s Law and at least a show of effort to improve, and if not, then at least a recognition that they need to improve. The basis of G-d’s forgiveness of Christians is that they cannot improve. The atonement that Christians believe G-d provided for them calls into question the way in which G-d made the entire universe and the nature of man, with free will to either sin or be obedient. The atonement of Christianity believes itself to have triumphed over that innate human tendency to sin, but not by steering the free will in the proper direction to avoid sin, but to provide a perpetual sin offering. To use an analogy, human nature is like water and sin is a contaminant in that water. The atonement of sin is the drain in the tub down which all of the contaminant goes. The concept of a perpetual sin offering is like expressing no concern over how much contaminant actually goes into the water because it is constantly going down the drain. The Jewish concept of sin is that the drain does not exist, but that each individual (and group) must reach into the water and remove the contents on their own. Therefore, they share in the process of atonement with G-d, for even though they have removed the transgression on their own, it is G-d Who has forgiven them for committing it. Every once in a while, as we see in the Torah, G-d forgives the Jews “randomly,” He is moved to mercy, for whatever reason, to forgive the Jews, and those instances can be likened do the drain down which G-d sends all the contamination. Sometimes it is their worthiness that motivates Him and sometimes it is their inability to be worthy, but in Christianity, it is always their inability to be worthy that has caused G-d to create that perpetual drain for their sin. In this view, the attempt to improve is futile because the human nature is a nature of sin, even though that is not the view expressed in Genesis and other parts of the Torah and Jewish thought. How can the nature of the human be a nature of sin when Adam was made in the image of G-d? It does not say that Adam was made in the image of Satan, but only that Satan tempts him. Therefore, ideally and theoretically, Man’s being made in the image of G-d triumphs over his being tempted by Satan; if Man meditates and concentrates on in Whose image he was created, he can at least move in the direction of avoiding sin. So often do Christians act as if humanity has been made in the image of Satan. If it is really no question of who is stronger, G-d or Satan, then being made in the image of the stronger should triumph over the temptations of the weaker. If G-d is stronger than Satan, then G-d’s urgings should be more influential and persuasive over the human being than Satan’s. Satan is powerful, there is no question there, but the relationship between Man and G-d is infinitely more intimate than the relationship between Man and Satan, ideally and theoretically, but essentially and literally. It is Christianity’s view which makes it a fatalistic religion, fearing human nature and accordingly shunning the most human of behaviors, associating them with the essence of evil (and therefore death, for evil brings death, if not physical then spiritual). Sex is the most potent example of this. If not sex itself, then it is the powerful drive for sex which a human possesses which is said to be evil, or to cause evil. It is for that reason that we see repeated associations between sex, sin, and Satan, and why in Christian thought, if culturally and not directly religious, sex is usually a vessel for evil, a tool of Satan. Mind you, Judaism too recognizes the powerful potential for sex to bring evil, but takes the stance that it is not sex that is inherently evil, but the desire for sex, which is designed to ideally lead one to union with one’s mate, which causes a human being to yearn for sex and to lose control. It is this yearning when acted upon out of control and without boundary and guidance which causes evil to occur, but is not sex itself that is evil. Remember, it was G-d that created sex, not Satan, and it was G-d that told Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply, not Satan. Therefore, it is not Satan whom gives one the desire to have sex, it is G-d. However, it is Satan that leads us to misuse sex, and misusing sex is evil. It was G-d that gave humanity the ability to procreate, not Satan, for if it was Satan, then humankind is the progeny of Satan, not G-d, for it is to Satan that we can attribute prolonged existence, not G-d. This is not true. We see in Christianity that the figure associated with the highest good is not just G-d but Jesus, and Jesus, in accordance with the theology of the evil nature of sex, is a virgin figure without children. The idea here is that sex corrupts, and since Jesus never had sex (which is evidenced by his not having children), he is purely good. In Catholicism his mother is considered to be a virgin, and in the Christian tradition the only one partaking in the act of “be fruitful and multiply” is G-d Himself, the giver of the commandment! At once this makes absolute sense and absolutely no sense. It makes sense because we should expect that G-d follows His own commandments, but it makes no sense because He holds the virgins higher than those who know and therefore, Himself knowing, debases Himself. Perhaps sex has such an evil effect on the mind of Man that only G-d can partake in it without becoming damaged. In other words, sex is for G-d and not for humanity. Every act in the Torah attributed to G-d, “He heard, He saw, He took the Jews out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm” is an example of anthropomorphism. The only corporeal act attributed to G-d is found in the New Testament, and it is that He quite literally impregnated a human being.