The Crucifixion of Jesus: History, Myth, Faith

By Gerard S. Sloyan | Go to book overview

CHAPTER EIGHT
A Variety or Responses to
a Crucified Redeemer

There are Christians in the late twentieth century to whom the mystery of Christ’s death on a cross does not speak in any positive way. Quite the opposite: it repels them, saying to them only mindless violence. The message they derive from it is that the shedding of innocent blood is a perverted expression of the human spirit. Jesus’ violent death should be expunged from memory rather than recalled forever, let alone, as they would put it, glorified. For these Christians (and former Christians) there is no parallel between the crucifixion and the eternal remembrance of an ancient wrong like the destruction of one’s people by another people. In a case such as genocide the act has nothing good about it; no one praises it. All that is being recalled is the innocence of the victims and the horror visited on a people that lives on in its children. By contrast, some maintain that in the crucifixion thanks and praise are being devoted to the deed itself. It is even believed in as a deed of God, as genocide certainly is not. In this understanding of the crucifixion, God is supposed to have willed the death of Jesus, then accepted his blood in sacrifice and reckoned it satisfactory for the sins of the world. The death and its attendant violence are thus themselves counted as a good.

The outlook described above holds that one outcome of Christianity’s concentration on this violent act as universally salutary is that its positive sanction of violence has multiplied violent behavior. Revenge, blood feuds, and wars have all received acceptance in a religion that has its roots in a death that evens the score, as it were, satisfying for the moral evil that preceded it and indeed all sins that would ever follow.

Not all who find themselves repelled or, less drastically, not attracted by the death of Jesus on the cross have arrived at a rationale like the above. For many it is not religiously symbolic in any sense. Their response to the crucifixes they encounter or verbal references to the event is simple: this death says nothing whatever, good, bad, or indifferent. Most people do not think of any death except when it is unavoidably thrust on them, as in the death of a relative or a work associate. It is a nonreality in their life experience.

-186-

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