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Easter Thoughts

Easter is the main Christian festival and a central part of the Christian religion, so, feeling inquisitive after spotting a poster at the railway station I checked out a local church web site. They said that God sent his “son” as a sacrifice to forgive us our sins so we could have eternal life. There are some problems with that statement; it seems far removed from what I would accept as just or acceptable. I’m going to develop my thoughts without opposing any of their doctrines, rather I’ll accept what they say as true and explore a few consequences to see if there are any inconsistencies. It’s a sort of JuJitsu: you use your opponent’s arguments against them by moving to the side and giving a small push in a direction they don’t expect rather than meeting them head on.

Let’s consider the “son of God” part. What does the word “son” mean here? Does it have the normal biological meaning? Does God have a wife? There’s no mention of any Mrs. God, and God can’t be restricted to sexual reproduction, (if he couldn’t reproduce without another person, he wouldn’t be all-mighty, so he wouldn’t be God), so “son” can’t mean what we usually think it does. Would it be wrong to say Jesus was the “nephew of god” rather than the son? How could we decide if he was the son rather than the nephew? Is the word “son” meaningless or can we understand what they were getting at when they wrote the word? Perhaps it’s symbolic or the best way of describing their relationship due to the limitations of language to express divine relationships. It certainly doesn’t mean “son” in the way we usually mean it. Perhaps they ought to offer a definition rather than leaving us to figure it out for ourselves, but when a Priest called Arius tried to sort it out in 325 CE he was excommunicated and forced to hide in Yugoslavia.

God made everything, has infinite power and knows the future. How hard would it for him be to make a son? Pretty easy, really, he’s done the create-people-from-dust bit before. If God’s all-powerful, it couldn’t be hard for him to do it, because if it was hard he might fail, and if he failed he wouldn’t be God. God would also know that he would succeed in creating a son, so would just look to the future to see how he did it. He also knows everything, including how to make a son. So it couldn’t have been hard. God could have sent a thousand copies of Jesus an hour, every hour, each one as good as (or better than) the first. To claim he couldn’t do that would mean he wasn’t God. So God sends us something we haven’t asked for, something he can make easily (otherwise he isn’t God) then wants it back as a sacrifice to himself for the wrongs he claims we (and our ancestors) did.

We will be left standing there wondering what on earth that was about. First he’s accused us of something our ancestors did (“Original Sin”), then given us something (Jesus) we haven’t asked for. Jesus is then sacrificed to God who gave him to us in the first place. Couldn’t he just have kept Jesus for himself and not involved us in it at all? Why does he want something back that he’s given us? Can he not make up his mind?

They claim that Jesus died for our sins. This is contrary to any notion of justice we presently hold. If a man killed someone, we wouldn’t arrest a different person and sentence them knowing that they were innocent. We would demand that the killer be brought to justice and the innocent go free. We would not think that justice had been done if we deliberately punished someone else, yet this is the message they were offering. It is wrong to believe that someone can be punished for the crimes of others.

The web site I visited claimed that God was like a King. To me, this isn’t a good image. Do they have any particular king in mind? Do they mean a particular type of kingship? Perhaps a King like Charles I who was beheaded for being arrogant and imperious, or perhaps one like George III who was quite mad, or like George IV and Charles II who spent more time in bed with other men’s wives than was really acceptable? What kingly qualities does God have? Why is this considered good? Does the religious mindset have to include political monarchism? If I’m democratic and oppose kingship, does this mean I’m unsuited to be a Christian? If they can’t be bothered to say why God is like a king, I will have to supply my own interpretation. Perhaps our most famous king is Henry VIII, so God has a tendency to overeat, execute troublesome wives and order the burning of people who translate the Bible into English? They also claimed God is like a President, presumably for our more democratic American friends. Presidents are elected and serve fixed terms. Does this mean that we can depose God? This is what happened with King Charles I, James II, and Edward VIII. We’ve only had two presidents in England, Oliver and Richard Cromwell, and we went back to having a king limited by parliament afterwards.

Jesus gets punished as any other criminal in the Roman Empire but then gets up after three days. This is the main claim about Easter. Let’s think about what the word “dead” actually means. If you’re dead, it’s final. If there’s any possibility of you getting back up again, you’re not really dead. There’s no going back from the dead under normal circumstances. However, if you’re God, you can do anything. So raising someone from the dead is no big deal if you can create the universe in a week. Why should we be impressed? Jesus wanders about a bit, does some more magic and then disappears. Surely this would have been a good time to go and have a chat with that nice Mr. Pilate and the Pharisees? This would have done more to convince people than the famous fish-sandwich miracle or raising the (assumed) dead? I’m sure the news would have reached Rome pretty quickly. They missed a chance to get the Roman establishment convinced. Instead you have lots of persecution, (martyrs are no use if they outnumber the believers), the church divided between Arian Christians and the Catholic types (who gained power and got rid of the others), and finally divisions between Catholics and the Greek Orthodox, and between Catholics and Protestants. Did God not see this coming? Was this his intention all along?

The web site talks about “the promise (or hope) of eternal life.” A promise is nothing until it’s kept, and autocratic rulers (like kings and Gods) cannot be prevented from breaking their promises. A promise is the word of one person to another. The promiser must have something to lose if they break their word, perhaps their reputation or the confidence of their friends and associates. What could God possibly lose by breaking his word? Could God make people forget that he had given his word? He must be able to (otherwise he’s not God).

Was God ever capricious? Well, he ruined Job’s life just to prove a point. That doesn’t sound like someone with a good character. What did he do to Sodom and Gomorrah? We know he can selectively kill persons, as he killed the first born Egyptians if they didn’t smear blood on their doors, yet he chose to destroy both cities. Why not selectively kill those you don’t approve of and leave the rest to spread the word, rather than killing all and sundry? Do you really want to accept the word of such a person?

Perhaps we shouldn’t judge God? However, if we have notions of justice and right, and if God appears to do wrong things, it must either mean that our idea of justice is wrong, or God isn’t just and right in his actions. The question has to be answered, “does God do things that we would consider wrong?” Pretending it’s all part of some divine plan isn’t an acceptable answer. God seems to have a lot of odd ideas about how to best run creation. What is the divine purpose in Bubonic Plague, appendicitis, and toothache? God deliberately created them as he presumably thought they were something worthwhile. The first two kill people, apparently at random. Before anyone suggests that our characters become stronger when we have to face adversity, let me just remind them that that’s also a justification for oppressive slavery; slaves become better people by facing adversity, seeing their loved ones abused and killed, don’t they? I’m sure the plantation owners had high moral purposes in mistreating their slaves and only wished them to have fine characters as a result. Toothache used to give decades of pain before proper dentistry was invented. No one could do much for a sufferer. What is the divine reason for toothache?

Why should anyone trust God? Powerful entities do not accept restrictions. The Bible says God made man in his own image. That could mean that mankind has some of the characteristics of God and vice versa. Powerful (human) people who prefer to be obeyed rather than questioned are not to be trusted. They don’t easily submit to compelling arguments, (if you are God, you can always come up with a better reason, otherwise you’d not be God), and don’t like to be opposed. If God wanted to flood the world (again) do you think he’d force himself to keep his promise to Noah that he’d not do that again? Or could God break his word? What would the consequences be for God if he decided to flood the world again? Could we do anything to make him keep his word? If we could, God would not be all-powerful (and therefore not God).

The “everlasting life” part needs discussion. When you are dead, all of your processes (including thinking and having a sense of continuing identity) have stopped. Unless God has recorded these processes (i.e., souls exist), there won’t be any person to enjoy everlasting life. If there is a soul, it must have some qualities that can be measured. If its quality is that it can’t be measured, it doesn’t exist. Anything that can’t be measured (even in theory) doesn’t exist. If someone says that there is a strange land called Australia with huge hopping creatures and a surfeit of spiders, I’d ask for some proof. The claimant could show me documentaries, travel programs, books and, if I remained unconvinced, could arrange a visit. Although the existence of Australia is an extraordinary claim, there is sufficient evidence to convince most people that the place does exist. If I was told that one of Australia’s qualities was that it hid from people who thought it might not exist, I’d have to ask why it would do such a thing? I’d conclude that a place that depends on belief does not have the usual qualities we ascribe to places (i.e., they exist whether we know about them or not). So, the soul has some odd qualities. It can’t be detected is the main quality that gives us problems. If I ask for evidence of the soul, I only have someone else’s word for it. If I ask “how does the soul interact with living thoughts and personality?” there’s no answer. The Michelson-Morley experiment in 1887 tested the notion of a luminiferous aether which was, it was claimed, needed to transmit light (in the same way as air transmits sounds). They thought that you ought to be able to detect it. Michelson and Morley’s experiment showed that if it didn’t register in their apparatus, they had either faulty logic (but no one could say why), faulty apparatus (but it did work), or the aether didn’t have any measurable properties. If it didn’t interact with matter it belonged in the realm of fantasy, rather than reality. There’s nothing apart from other people’s opinions to say that souls exist.

What would everlasting life be like? Would you have something to do, such as a job? If you didn’t, wouldn’t you get bored and depressed? Everlasting life sounds good, but if all you are doing is telling God how great he is, that’s going to get a bit tedious after an hour or two, unless you are changed in some way so that you enjoy it or don’t get bored. But, if God changes you, are you still you? Unless someone can tell me what I’m supposed to do with eternal life, I don’t think I want it. I won’t be me anymore, so why should I want something for a person who is so different from me that he’s someone else? What about babies who get saved? They don’t really have much of a personality, so there’s going to be a lot of baptized infants who died before they were mature enough to develop. Are they going to mature? What about the people who have Alzheimer’s disease? Will they enter heaven unable to remember what they are doing? Is God going to make them resurrect at a particular age? The infants who died young are going to have to learn a language and find a culture that suits them. How about the severely mentally handicapped? Will they be in paradise? if so, will they be cured and develop a new personality? Will the new personality be a different person (like the version of me that isn’t bored telling God that he’s great). If someone went mad when they were thirty, will they be resurrected as they were before they went mad? What about someone who had a life changing experience (perhaps escaping an earthquake or a road crash) at age sixty. Will they be the character before the experience or as they were after it? I never understood why God bothers offering eternal life after we die. Wouldn’t it be better to have it now?

The Church web site offered a few nice ideas but, on reflection, their statements posed more questions than they answered. Churches don’t seem to do much in the way of theology, it’s more about telling you that ignoring God is wrong. However, they persist in accepting wrong ideas, such as accepting punishment of the innocent for crimes that they have not done, so I’m not sure if their idea of right and wrong is actually very accurate. As such, I found them unconvincing and doubt I’d investigate further.