The Selling of Salvation
In my last post The Pascal Wager, I may have left you hanging a little bit (intentionally). I said that Christianity does not have its roots in the Old Testament. To understand this, you have to go back to the beginning – of the Old Testament, that is.
However, first let’s digress and spend a minute discussing the core teachings of Christianity. Since Christianity comes in many different forms and flavors (denominations, that is), there is a difference in beliefs between some of these denominations. Despite their differences, they mostly (most, but not all) believe in the concepts of the Trinity, Original Sin and salvation through Jesus.
The problem is that none of these concepts can be found in the Old Testament, notwithstanding later reinterpretation by the Church. The Old Testament was written by Jews, about Jews and for Jews. It was never even intended to be read by gentiles. If you want to adopt the Old Testament, that’s one thing but adopting only certain parts is intellectually dishonest. Otherwise, Christianity should also have adopted (among other things) Jewish law, which is based on the Torah. The fact is that Jesus and the disciples led their lives according to the Torah and if people are to be followers of Jesus they need to follow in his footsteps. Don’t you think? After all, Jesus said that he had come to fulfill the law (Matthew 5:17).
Back to the beginning
The concept of Original Sin is linked to the story of Adam and Eve which is sometimes referred to as “The Fall of Man.” Unfortunately for those who want to hang their hat on that story, it’s wholly allegorical in nature. Anyway, who believes in talking snakes? The allegorical nature of Genesis was confirmed by early Christian theologian Origen of Alexandria who had this to say about the Genesis story, “For who that has understanding will suppose that the first, and second, and third day, and the evening and the morning, existed without a sun, and moon, and stars? And that the first day was, as it were, also without a sky? And who is so foolish as to suppose that God, after the manner of a husbandman, planted a paradise in Eden, towards the east, and placed in it a tree of life, visible and palpable, so that one tasting of the fruit by the bodily teeth obtained life? And again, that one was a partaker of good and evil by masticating what was taken from the tree? And if God is said to walk in the paradise in the evening, and Adam to hide himself under a tree, I do not suppose that anyone doubts that these things figuratively indicate certain mysteries, the history having taken place in appearance, and not literally.”
So, exactly why does Christianity have a need to have a concept like Original Sin as a central tenet of their faith? Why, indeed? If Jesus didn’t teach it, how is it possible that it ever became such a big part of Christian theology? The answer is that without Original Sin there is no logic as to why Jesus had to die on the cross. He had come to save us (as the story goes) from the consequences of our sins. However, Jesus would have never had to make the sacrifice if we never had to be saved in the first place.
The reality is that Original Sin is a byproduct of Church dogma. As for the Bible, it actually refutes the concept of Original Sin. For example, in Deuteronomy 24:16, it clearly states that: “The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin.” Even the god of Genesis denied the possibility of Original Sin. He stated that man is inclined towards evil but is not sinful by nature (see Genesis 8:21). Of course, the whole issue is moot because Judaism doesn’t believe in Original Sin and they wrote the Old Testament – it’s their bible.
Aside: Even Jesus didn’t believe in Original Sin as can be clearly seen in John 9:2-3, as follows: “And His disciples asked Him, saying, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.'”
A question of moral authority
Above all, what’s required in any religion is moral authority. Anybody can stand on the street corner and pontificate about the Creation. However, who would believe him? Even more to the point, who would put some money in his hat because he supposedly imparted some divine wisdom? However, what if you put the fear of eternal damnation in people? Would they put some money in the hat (read: church coffers) if you offered them salvation from their sins? Many would, of course, has history has clearly demonstrated.
So did man really have to be saved? One could argue, I suppose, that if man violated God’s laws that he should be punished. However, who is to say what those laws are or if, in fact, any person violated them? This all presupposes, of course, that there is a God and that he has laws and that he would want to punish his creation with eternal damnation for any violations.
So, there remains the question of man’s violation of God’s laws because without any violation, salvation would not be necessary. Remember, religion requires moral authority. Therefore, it needs to be proven that a violation did happen, and that God, in fact, condemned man. Enter Adam and Eve.
Now, the Genesis story does provide some elements of moral authority. For example, God tells man not to eat from the tree, man disobeys and God punishes him. Of course, there are a number of things wrong with the story, not the least of which is that it was allegorical. Further, the story was written by an unknown author(s). Like the person on the street corner (see above), why should anyone believe him?
Then there’s the “damnation conundrum.” By that, I mean that salvation is only relevant if man was originally condemned to eternal damnation. In Genesis, we find that God did punish man but it’s not exactly what you might think. According to the Bible, this was God’s punishment:
“To the woman he said, ‘I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful
labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will
rule over you.’ To Adam he said, ‘Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from
the tree about which I commanded you, You must not eat from it, Cursed is the ground
because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It
will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the
sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it
you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.’”
– Genesis 3:16-19
Therefore, according to the Bible itself, man never was condemned to hell. How’s that for a lack of moral authority?
At this point the logic becomes rather irrefutable. Since there was no eternal damnation, salvation is not required. No salvation means that a savior is not necessary. No savior means that a religion is not needed. On a more practical note, no religion means that tithing is no longer mandatory. Hallelujah! Now that’s something that I can truly sing praises about.
Religions are all different, but they generally have one thing in one common. They provide their believers with the hope of an afterlife. I refer to it as the selling of salvation. When someone says “come to my tent”, you have no reason to go unless they offer you something; especially since you will no doubt be contributing to their coffers. So religions must convince you that God talks to them, and to them alone, and that he has revealed what the afterlife is like and what you have to do to receive eternal salvation. After all, without the promise of an afterlife, who needs religion?
“One of the problems is that the average Christian in the average church who listens to the average Christian broadcasting has such an oversimplified understanding of both the Bible and of church history – it would be deeply disturbing for them to really learn church history.”
– Brian McLaren, Christian pastor and writer