August 10, 2009 by J. Madson
I will be presenting this Friday at the Sunstone Symposium at the Sheraton in Salt Lake. You can get a program here. Anyone is of course welcome to come.
My topic of presentation is on the atonement. Specifically I will be looking at the common understandings of the atonement and how when unpacked of religious language, they describe a deity who tries to redeem the world through violence. I will show how these false understandings allow us to justify our own violence in the world and may be part of the reason American Christians including mormons are so prone to justify wars, a draconian penal system, economic forms of violence, and other violent acts in our history.
Violent Grammar of the Atonement
There is a saying that “bad theology leads to bad morality.” Most explanations of the atonement lead to a belief in a deity who supports or uses violence to redeem the world. These theories not only justify violence but argue for a God whose nature is at odds with the God manifest in the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. Such theories not only obfuscate the nature of God but reduce Jesus to an empty vessel whose purpose seems more in line with a sacrificial animal than an actual individual with a vocation or work to perform. It disconnects Jesus’ life, where we encounter his actual words, deeds, and his vision of God’s kingdom, and instead gives us an icon. This in turn allows us to justify our own violent actions in the world.
I will look at a number of scriptural passages arguing for a new interpretation not based upon the myth of redemptive violence. I will also show historical examples of how atonement theology interplays with conflicts of war and other acts of violence.