William James

William James
We must get by on what truth we have today, and be willing to call it error tomorrow.

Monday, November 22, 2010

On The Claim That We Sinners Crucified Jesus

The comment was made (October 2008):

"Who really Crucified Jesus?
A lot say the Jews, others say the Romans. In my view we all played a part in the Crucifixion. That until we can admit that on a personal level I do not believe we can fully understand the atonement.
A good example would be Peter denying Jesus three times as Jesus was taken to be crucified. Or when I tell a small lie or when I accept praise that is only Gods.
I do have some strong opinions on this just to be up front. I am willing to listen to your views on this as well. And of course discuss this and dig as deep as we can into it. I am Catholic, raised Mormon as a child, just to be honest up front."

To which I responded:

Although the question is framed/worded in a literal sense, you have answered it in a metaphorical sense. In essence, you seem to be taking the position that we as sinners are at "fault" for the fact that Jesus was crucified, although we were not at the scene and had not been placed on the Earth until nearly two thousand years later. I completely disagree with your position, although I am sure you have good intentions.

In a literal sense, the Romans and Jews ordered/goaded on/carried out the physical crucifixion.

In your metaphor, you imply that each time we sin, we are no less guilty/culpable than those who physically administered the crucifixion. There are a few points which should be made. First of all, at least according to LDS doctrine as I understand it, it was not the crucifixion, but rather the suffering in Gethsemane in which Jesus took on and atoned for the sins of the world. Sure, he had to die in order to be resurrected and conquer death, but I do not believe his death was required to be a violent one in order for Jesus to accomplish his mission.

Secondly, one cannot properly analogize our sins (which we commit for various selfish reasons, including laziness) as being aimed at hurting Jesus. In criminal law, there is a thing called "mens rea" which refers to a person's state of mind when an act is committed. The more culpable the state of mind which led to the act, the more culpable the act. For example, a couple of teenagers who are acting like idiots when they aimlessly shoot a pistol in the air for fun, without any intent to harm anyone, are less culpable for the resulting death of someone killed by the bullet half a mile away, than if those same teenagers had aimed the gun at their victim and pulled the trigger with no justification. In my opinion, the overwhelming majority of sins are committed without a specific intent to harm someone, and are committed because our laziness and selfishness and weaknesses cloud our judgment.

Third, there is no need to make us feel extra-guilty for our sins by the use of an inaccurate and overly-dramatic metaphor. It should be enough for us to realize that we are hurting ourselves and others when we sin, and that God is displeased.

Fourth, I think we need to understand that Jesus' atonement and sacrifice were, at least according to most Christian teachings, planned from the beginning. Given that, it is hard to say that they were forced upon Jesus against his will, and he would gladly have given his life for each and every one of us because he loves us so much. To transform that into us being "responsible" for his crucifixion is nonsensical.

As for Peter denying Jesus, the historical record is not consistent in its interpretation of that event. Peter may have had legitimate reason to deny Jesus (i.e., because he had a mission to carry on Jesus' work and therefore had to stay alive), and may even have been commanded by Jesus to do so. Of course, I think this story anyway is irrelevant to the issue of whether we should be deemed responsible for Jesus' crucifixion.

Another point: As I understand, there is no blanket commandment against lying. While that is very unpopular for me to say, one need only contemplate the matter deeper to come to the conclusion that lying is often justified and not sinful. But that, perhaps, is a topic for another day.

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