A response to Richard Dawkins on the absurdity of the crucifixion

There’s a lot that I don’t agree with Richard Dawkins about. But he once said this in an interview:

“It’s a horrible idea that God, this paragon of wisdom and knowledge and power, couldn’t think of a better way to forgive us our sins than to come down to Earth in his alter ego as his son and have himself hideously tortured and executed so that he could forgive himself.”

This strikes a chord with me and seems to encapsulate something rather absurd about the Christian faith.  I think the central point here is one that I discuss often in my books and on this blog – the problem of free will.  Christians might argue that in the act of Jesus’ crucifixion God is not forgiving himself but sinful human beings.

When Dawkins talks about God ‘forgiving himself’, the implication is that God is in control of sin and therefore that we don’t have free will, which is also what I believe.  If we don’t have free will then the whole notion of forgiveness is absurd, because human beings can have done nothing freely that would need forgiving. In this light the story of the crucifixion is very strange indeed.

The reason why I don’t believe we have free will is because I believe in a God who is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent.  Everything that exists is a part of God, and this means that God must be in control of everything that happens, including what is referred to as ‘sin’.

The following quote from Epicurus is apposite here:

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able, and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God.

My response to Epicurus would be that God is able to prevent evil, but not willing.  But I disagree that this necessarily makes God malevolent.  It may be that God has very good reasons for creating evil in the world.  Perhaps, if God himself suffers terribly, then He creates evil to give us a taste of what ultimate reality is like for Him.  In what way does God suffer?  I have explored that question here.

In summary, then, Richard Dawkins has highlighted that if God is in control of our existence (as I believe He is), the story of human redemption through Jesus’ crucifixion makes very little sense.

What do you think about the quote from Richard Dawkins? Is God responsible for sin?

9 comments

  1. Hi Steven!

    It’s refreshing that you air the thoughts that many people have but refrain from expressing.

    Did you mean to write crucifiction? See first link below:

    http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Fun:Crucifiction

    Was it a play on words to imply that the account of the crucifixion of Christ was a work of fiction?

    Or, did you mean to write crucifixion? See second link below:

    http://www.csun.edu/~hbeng151/icc/studies/account.html

    The medical perspective detailed in the second link also describes how Christ is said to have been flogged. This was meant to be His one and only punishment but this did not satisfy the crowds, apparently, so Pilate had to agree to His crucifixion after they flogged Him, according to the account.

    The problem I have is with the concept of sin: I don’t believe in it. I think human nature is intrinsically good, as God configured it to be. If we act against our nature, bad consequences result. It’s like a corruption in a computer program and the elite (possibly the Illuminati) have conspired to increase the level of corruption that most of us experience in this life. We may not have Free Will, as you’ve often written, but we seem to have choices: otherwise, why do we pray? God will know our thoughts before we construct our prayers.

    Although much is written about how Christ died to atone for our sins, this idea could be a red herring. It’s possible that He died to give us our immortality! Christ’s torture and crucifixion could be an indication of how cruel we can be when we act against our intrinsically good nature.

    Another possibility is that God is inclined to be so creative, this is His priority: if we have continued and infinite existence after our worldly life, the suffering we had experienced here will fade into insignificance in the afterlife. I’m not trying to put limits on what God can do: merely I’m saying that He has the bigger picture and that we are likely to look back and wonder why we felt aggrieved.

    Enigmatically, as all things are possible with God, our human natures can remain intact despite us saying or doing things that we or others judge as evil, because I truly believe that He created us good: that’s what I think is meant by ‘in His image’.

    As for the story of Adam and Eve, why would God put the tree of knowledge in the garden if it was a sin to eat its fruit? Why would He tempt us so? Do we leave our valuables on show inside our cars or put them away in the boot? Why should it be a ‘sin’ to have knowledge? Why are we naturally curious and desirous of knowledge? Surely we didn’t acquire our curiosity as a result of Adam’s original sin?

    With or without Free Will, we have the ability to think and ask questions and God can be aware of all that happens, without directing it all, just as we are aware of our digestive processes without consciously directing our stomachs to produce acid to digest the food we eat.

    I think Richard Dawkins is too angry and aggressive to be taken as a serious atheist.

    I don’t consider God to be responsible for ‘sin’ because it’s a complex and flawed notion of why things happen that are not good.

    God’s blessing to all,

    Dinos Constantinou

    1. Hi Dinos!

      Oh dear, looks as though I made a blooper with my spelling of crucifixion. I genuinely thought that crucifiction was just an alternative spelling of crucifixion. Sorry about that! I have now updated the post with the correct spelling.

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment. Just one note on free will. You mention that if we don’t have free will, God would know our thoughts before we pray. But from my perspective God is acting in the present moment bringing our thoughts into our minds. So they may be planned or spontaneous. It’s a bit like a puppet show – you can plan what the puppets will do or you can improvise!

      Blessings back to you Dinos,

      Steven

      1. Hi Steven!

        Thanks for your response.

        I’m not sure that I understand your note on free will and perhaps I did not explain my point properly. Our understanding of our existence depends on our perception of linear time: past, present and future and without our memory, we would have no sense of identity. I would presume that God can comprehend time as a whole as well as perceiving an instant. If that is the case, then He would know in advance what thoughts He would be bringing to our minds and any sense of spontaneity would be an illusion.

        I’m philosophical about free will so I pose questions based from my viewpoint. It may or may not exist as a function of humanity so I ask, “…why do we pray?” If God brings our thoughts into our minds it’s like He is praying to Himself through us. I prefer to think that the gift of intelligent thought and our perception of choices is related to our identities and that we choose to pray to Him as a way of appreciation. I don’t think this is free will but a privilege God affords us to enable us to show our gratitude, if we want to.

        I presume that you have retained a Bible even though you are no longer a Christian? If so, you may find Psalm 50 of some relevance, if you are willing to read it, as this psalm is about the relationship of God to humanity. I will not be offended in any way if you choose not to read it, but i would be interested in your comments about it if you do.

        God’s blessing to all,

        Dinos Constantinou

  2. Hi Dinos,

    Yes, I think that when we pray it is essentially God praying to Himself. This may seem strange, but I believe God likes to give us the illusion of free will as part of the cosmic game He is playing.

    I still have a couple of Bibles! But I looked up Psalm 50 online. After reading it I don’t have any particular comments to add.

    Thanks again for sharing your thoughts, Dinos.

    Steven

  3. Have you read Kierkegaard? His contention is that the absurdity of Christianity is a sign of its truth. I didn’t realize until I looked it up just now, but in that, he actually falls in line with a much older tradition, see the following: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fideism . It’s not necessarily a contention that conflicts with your panentheism –I have sympathies towards both points of view.

    1. Hi Christopher,

      Thanks for visiting and leaving a comment. I’ve come across Kierkegaard and Fideism in my studies, but it was some time ago so I’m grateful for the Wikipedia link to refresh my memory.

      It’s interesting that Kierkegaard wrote about the ‘leap of faith’ as this is a subject that I have written about in my latest book. There’s also an article about it here.

      There are certain aspects of Christianity that I find very reasonable and believable, but others (such as the existence of the devil and the fall of man) that I can’t understand, as hard as I try.

      Best wishes,

      Steven

      1. I’m not so sure those are that hard to reconcile with panentheism as long as you’re not too literalist about it. The fall of man is just the moment of leaving the oneness of God –or conversely, the awareness of the oneness with God. The devil is whatever is in any of us that distances us for God (or distances ourselves from perceiving God).

        1. Many thanks for your comment Kitoba. My response would be simple – it’s impossible to leave the oneness of God because an attribute of God’s nature is omnipresence. God is all and is therefore in control of all. If we feel distanced from God then that is God making us feel distanced. This may sound strange (why would God make us feel distanced from him?) but I believe it’s all part of God’s plan and God has good reasons for acting in us in a way some might call ‘sin’. These reasons are explored elsewhere on this blog (e.g. here) and in my latest book Ultimate Truth (no plug intended!).

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