Can We Talk about The Atonement?

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hawkgrrrl
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Can We Talk about The Atonement?

Post by hawkgrrrl » 12 Aug 2019, 10:59

Yesterday, one of our topics in the Sacrament Meeting talks was the atonement. It's a central tenet of Christian belief, and it's certainly an appropriate topic for Church (a whole lot better than most of the topics, TBH). But I have always had some nagging questions in my mind about why an atonement was necessary or why that's the way we are to be "saved." I know the Church answers. I even know that other faiths have slight variations on how they view the atonement, and that Buddhism even has a belief that someone can become a bodhisattva (or savior) by sacrificing for others. These are appealing ideas, obviously, because they are also the basis for all our Superhero movies. We love the idea of someone making the ultimate sacrifice for other, less perfect, less capable people. This is a post I did about the ways the atonement was understood throughout history, and some of these views are interesting: https://www.mormonmatters.org/understan ... atonement/

So here are the questions that I keep coming up against:
- Why is atonement required? We are sent to earth as a test that we are ALL going to fail, and the only way for us to become exalted is through the sacrifice of a perfect Man. Huh? How is that required exactly? Why is that a thing? This legalistic view just doesn't work for me. Who says it's required? Why?
- If two plans were presented, why were they both so . . . weird? The problem is "how to save mankind," and mankind is incapable of saving itself, but the sacrifice of another Person will allow us to squeak by anyway. But how does that do what we say it does? And the other plan where we are forced to obey--that implies that by obeying we are saved, but if we are compelled to obey, we aren't actually becoming a better Person like God, right? So Satan's plan doesn't work, but how does Jesus' plan of atonement do any better? We are still the crap humans who screw up in this system. Wasn't there some other option where we develop over time? I don't hold my kids accountable for mistakes they've made that they learn from, so why does God?

I guess where it falls apart for me is how people talk about the atonement. I am not consumed by guilt and shame for my past mistakes. I'm not perfect, clearly, but I am no worse than other people. I'm just human like everyone else, and I do the best I can. I try to be humble about my shortcomings, but I'm not a perfectionist either. I think the atonement as we talk about it really only works for people who are consumed by feelings of inadequacy, which IMO isn't a very healthy way to live anyway.

What do you think I'm missing here?

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SilentDawning
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Re: Can We Talk about The Atonement?

Post by SilentDawning » 12 Aug 2019, 11:41

The law of justice and mercy. If we were allowed to go through life screwing up, with no eventual consequences, then the world is not a just place and God isn't a just God. That's the party line.

So, we must have the atonement to satisfy justice and mercy at the same time.

I also think there is a practical reason for it -- it creates a debt upon which organized leadership can draw to make us behave in certain ways. King Benjamin's discourse is a case in point -- that we are eternally indebted to God. Nothing enslaves like debt! (pardon my use of the word "enslave", how about "obligates"?).

The part I don't get is why it's all based on this life. Our eternal salvation is dependent on whether we take advantage of the atonement in this life. I know, I know, we can justify forgiveness after this life from the D&C about eternal punishment simply meaning God's punishment, but that interpretation is not widely held in our church. It's all about doing it now, before you die.

That doesn't seem fair, or practical to me. People get born into this life with a deficit to start with -- physical abberations, mental aberrations, environmental disadvantages that interact with their nature to produce bad people....but if you have eternity after death, why doesn't the atonement expand to the eternities? Is it really that way but God is too smart to tell us that lest we procrastinate?

And if someone wakes up and smells the postum in the next life, and makes a sincere, permanent character change wouldn't you, as a loving God, want that person to enjoy the blessings, even if late to the party? What about the prodigal son? Can't you be prodigal in this life and then repentant in the next and get the full blessings?

If I can draw on my experience as a teacher -- I want all my students to arrive at exceptional critical thinking abilities at some point in the future. It often doesn't happen in the course -- but I see them after they finish their Bacheleor's degree in Master's Level courses and I see the growth. Some things just take time -- fatigue from old ways of thinking, bad habits, etcetera -- time tends to wear these away. I am happy they made it even if they were not the quickest bunny in the hutch in their undergrad (my analogy for this life). As long as they get there in their Master's degree I'm happy to give the grades!
"It doesn't have to be about the Church (church) all the time!" -- SD

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A man asked Jesus "do all roads lead to you?" Jesus responds,”most roads don’t lead anywhere, but I will travel any road to find you.” Adapted from The Shack, William Young

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felixfabulous
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Re: Can We Talk about The Atonement?

Post by felixfabulous » 12 Aug 2019, 13:51

The atonement has never made sense to me either. The point was really driven home in a recent stake youth fireside when they showed the classic movie the mediator https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/med ... r?lang=eng. The hard-nosed businessman who needs the contract upheld, no matter what, is supposed to represent our kind and loving heavenly father?

I just finished and absolutely loved the new Richard Rohr book, The Universal Christ. He spends a whole chapter on the atonement and the evolution into what he calls the substitutionary penal model. Here is a synopsis https://cac.org/substitutionary-atonement-2017-07-23/. This model started in 1098 with St. Anslem who changed it from a previous model where the sacrifice of Jesus was to appease the devil.

One major flaw I see with our teachings on the atonement (along with the ones you pointed out) is that it diminishes God's power, if he is all powerful, but can't let his children make mistakes, how does that work and why did it require the sacrifice of his son? Another flaw: if there is a huge price to be paid for each sin, why is the definition of sin pretty wishy washy? In Joseph F. Smith's time using birth control was a serious sin, now it's not. Would someone in the 1910s need a price to be paid for the sin of using birth control but someone in 2010 didn't need to pay that price?

If you view our atonement model through a lens of a medieval power structure, it makes total sense. The monarch has laws that need to be obeyed to keep his power in tact and prevent neighboring states from seeing him as weak and taking his power. His laws must be obeyed, that is a key not only to his survival, but to protecting the peace of his subjects (law of justice). If someone takes the punishment for the violation of the law, the law is fulfilled and justice is appeased, but it's a workaround to allow mercy. It makes sense that medieval people would view God in these terms and it would make sense as a workaround for mercy. Not sure it makes a lot of sense to people now.

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felixfabulous
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Re: Can We Talk about The Atonement?

Post by felixfabulous » 12 Aug 2019, 14:14

Also, I delved into this a few years ago and found answers that I thought helped me understand it in a way that worked for me in Richard Rohr and a book called Meeting Jesus Again for the Very First Time by Marcus Borg (he has a great chapter on the atonement as well that points to some of the flaws we discussed and offers alternative models). I made the mistake of sharing my questions, study and conclusions at a family party to very orthodox family members when the topic of doctrinal questions came up (asking a family member who had left the Church what they now believed). I'm not sure if I could have planned something that would have offended so many people. One person was crying and left the room, said the spirit had gone and I was mocking Christ. I'm glad we can have this discussion here and would advise folks that this topic is a non-starter for a lot of people and to know your audience.

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Re: Can We Talk about The Atonement?

Post by Roy » 12 Aug 2019, 14:17

I think we as humans start with the way things are and then move backwards from there. I believe that this tendency is bigger than religion but that religion is a major manifestation of this tendency.
The snake has no legs and slithers on its belly. Why? It was cursed by God for its role in deceiving Eve.
Why is life hard and farming difficult? Because the earth/Adam was cursed for eating of the fruit. Now sustaining food for life is hard work.
Why is childbirth so painful? Why are women historically subservient to men? Because of Eve's was cursed for being the first one to eat the fruit and convincing her husband to eat it.
For those that believed in Jesus while he was alive, his death was a major blow. What did that mean for the movement? Is it all over? The death of Jesus was actually a victory in disguise. Through his execution, all mankind can be saved from the grasps of the devil.
Examples from our own LDS history include:
Why did Zion's camp fail to restore the saints to Missouri? It was successful in proving the commitment of the new potential pool of church leadership.
Why did God allow the Saints to be driven from their "Land of Promise"? The Saints were not righteous enough.

Remember Boyd K. Packer's analogy comparing the plan of Salvation to a three act play? The first act is pre-mortal life, the second is mortal life, and the third is post mortal life. President Packer felt that the scriptures detailed the plotlines and story arcs that cover all three acts. All we know for certain is what happens here in mortality. Can we create a backstory prequel and fast forward to a "happy ever after" to give our current reality a sense of deeper meaning and purpose? Yes we can.
hawkgrrrl wrote:
12 Aug 2019, 10:59
So here are the questions that I keep coming up against:
- Why is atonement required? We are sent to earth as a test that we are ALL going to fail, and the only way for us to become exalted is through the sacrifice of a perfect Man. Huh? How is that required exactly? Why is that a thing? This legalistic view just doesn't work for me. Who says it's required? Why?
- If two plans were presented, why were they both so . . . weird? The problem is "how to save mankind," and mankind is incapable of saving itself, but the sacrifice of another Person will allow us to squeak by anyway. But how does that do what we say it does? And the other plan where we are forced to obey--that implies that by obeying we are saved, but if we are compelled to obey, we aren't actually becoming a better Person like God, right? So Satan's plan doesn't work, but how does Jesus' plan of atonement do any better? We are still the crap humans who screw up in this system. Wasn't there some other option where we develop over time? I don't hold my kids accountable for mistakes they've made that they learn from, so why does God?
Here, in the quoted portion, you seem to be going to the backstory prequel that we made of the premortal realm and picking apart our plot points. You seem to be saying "Why is the death of Jesus necessary? Can we not, beginning in the premortal realm, craft a theology where Jesus doesn't die?"
I suggest that the death of Jesus must fit into our theology because that is what happened. That is our reality. Our theology must adapt through retroactive continuity. You cannot change the story so that farming life is not hard or that childbirth is not painful. Those parts of the story are fixed. Now craft a narrative explaining why it must be that way and what purpose it will eventually serve.
"It is not so much the pain and suffering of life which crushes the individual as it is its meaninglessness and hopelessness." C. A. Elwood

“It is not the function of religion to answer all the questions about God’s moral government of the universe, but to give one courage, through faith, to go on in the face of questions he never finds the answer to in his present status.” TPC: Harold B. Lee 223

"I struggle now with establishing my faith that God may always be there, but may not always need to intervene" Heber13

Roadrunner
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Re: Can We Talk about The Atonement?

Post by Roadrunner » 12 Aug 2019, 14:18

I've heard this explanation verbally and it may come from Cleon Skousen, but I'm not sure where it originated. It raises as many questions as it answers:

Justice isn't demanded by God, but rather by entities that we don't normally think of acting for themselves. The elements for example, and mountains, and rivers, and the weather. Jesus commanded the elements and they obeyed immediately and without question. The natural universe always obeys the laws of physics, yet humans are not required to obey our commandments. Therefore, a mediator is required to satisfy justice and fairness for those things that are perfectly obedient.

This seems bizarre to me, but I wanted to throw it out there, and I know at least a few of my own family believe this.

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Re: Can We Talk about The Atonement?

Post by Roy » 12 Aug 2019, 14:46

Roadrunner, Yes - I followed that explanation for many years myself. It has a particular Mormon flavor to it. I believe if Bro. Skousen was an apostle or church president this would be the dominant LDS interpretation.
However, because he did not hold these church positions his opinions are more suspect and get less traction in LDS circles. What authority does he have to teach things or expound doctrine beyond what the scriptures and the living prophets have done? He also has some racism and I believe sexism embedded in his writings (Dialogue magazine calls it "perilously close" to Nazism).

According to wikepedia:
Skousen had support among many LDS people in the 1960s and early 1970s. However, by 1979, the First Presidency issued a letter against promoting Skousen in LDS wards and stakes by stating, "This instruction is not intended to express any disapproval of the right of the Freemen Institute and its lecturers to conduct such meetings or of the contents of the lectures. The only purpose is to make certain that neither Church facilities nor Church meetings are used to advertise such events and to avoid any implication that the Church endorses what is said during such lectures.
The church at the time appears to have tried to keep the balance by neither endorsing nor disapproving of the "lectures". It did however want to keep its distance lest individuals get the erroneous impression that Bro. Skousen was speaking for the church.
"It is not so much the pain and suffering of life which crushes the individual as it is its meaninglessness and hopelessness." C. A. Elwood

“It is not the function of religion to answer all the questions about God’s moral government of the universe, but to give one courage, through faith, to go on in the face of questions he never finds the answer to in his present status.” TPC: Harold B. Lee 223

"I struggle now with establishing my faith that God may always be there, but may not always need to intervene" Heber13

Curt Sunshine
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Re: Can We Talk about The Atonement?

Post by Curt Sunshine » 12 Aug 2019, 15:14

This is a cop-out in a way, but there are 90 posts on my personal blog tagged as dealing in some way with the Atonement. Here is the link:

https://thingsofmysoul.blogspot.com/sea ... /Atonement

Here is a link to a post about how our hymns teach the Atonement in various ways:

https://thingsofmysoul.blogspot.com/201 ... nt-as.html

Here is a link to a Sunday School lesson on multiple Atonement theories. It is long. I think it is worth considering, since we have elements of every, single theory in our LDS culture. It isn't one thing within our culture and theology; like so many other things, it is an amalgamation - a combination - a mosaic.

https://thingsofmysoul.blogspot.com/201 ... assic.html
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Even if people view many things differently, the core Gospel principles (LOVE; belief in the unseen but hoped; self-reflective change; symbolic cleansing; striving to recognize the will of the divine; never giving up) are universal.

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DarkJedi
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Re: Can We Talk about The Atonement?

Post by DarkJedi » 13 Aug 2019, 06:07

I'm glad you brought this up, Hawk. I read the thread last evening but I wanted to wait until I had time to fully answer before doing so. What better time than goofing off at work?

The beginning of the end of my faith crisis (and thus the beginning of my faith transition) was when I realized I do believe in at least a Creator God. That is still the basis of my belief in God and I'm not especially sure I believe much of the other theology (including LDS theology) on the topic. I like to think there is some kind of loving parent relationship, but that is really nothing more than a hope that it would be nice were it true. That kind of doubt really doesn't leave room for a Savior, and like you Hawk I wonder why a thing like the atonement is even needed. Complicating matters is that I don't believe we're here to be tested or see if we'll keep commandments and I don't believe we can buy our way to heaven or hell (if they even exist). Through the Christian (and LDS) lens we see the Jewish atonement rites as only symbolic of the Messiah who was to come - but that's not the only way to look at those rites which have great meaning to the Jews. I got into a mildly heated discussion one time with a very orthodox member as I argued that the Jews most definitely believe in atonement.

My current belief/hope is universalist in nature - all will be forgiven because that's what truly loving Heavenly Parents would do. I don't know how it will work, but I believe/hope it will work. And I'm not totally sure it will work based solely on the narrative regarding Jesus, although that could be part of it for at least some people. Perhaps Jews atone with their rites and Christians atone with theirs (which might make the sacrament more important than we think). I am likewise not consumed by guilt/fear and honestly I think that's the message of Fiona and Terryl Givens in The Christ Who Heals.

I have also had similar thoughts about the two plans. I likewise see little difference, especially in light of things John recorded about Jesus (see the intercessory prayer for instance). That's a very difficult conversation to have with most members because most can't seem to think outside their boxes.
In the absence of knowledge or faith there is always hope.

Once there was a gentile...who came before Hillel. He said "Convert me on the condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot." Hillel converted him, saying: That which is despicable to you, do not do to your fellow, this is the whole Torah, and the rest is commentary, go and learn it."

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Arrakeen
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Re: Can We Talk about The Atonement?

Post by Arrakeen » 13 Aug 2019, 09:42

Personally, I view the atonement as a demonstration of God's true character. Rather than being a distant, harsh, lawgiver God, he was one who became a vulnerable human to meet us at our level, allowing himself to suffer and die rather than exempting himself from these mortal trials. He met with sinners and outcasts, showing that God isn't about withdrawing from and punishing sinners, but about helping and healing.

I view the justice and mercy thing in terms of natural consequences. If you touch the hot stove and get burned, that's justice. Nobody's punishing you, that's just the natural consequence. Mercy is someone coming and treating your wounds, helping you heal. It doesn't get rid of the natural consequence--you still got burned--but it makes it better in the end. Because the world is a cruel place sometimes, we often get hurt through no fault of our own, but it's all still part of the natural consequences. Physical processes and the actions of others have consequences that affect us, that's all still part of the natural universe, following the laws of physics. Life just isn't fair. For me I would still call this "justice" since it is natural laws having natural results (though quite different from the usual moral definition of justice). My hope is that a merciful God, who has himself experienced living as a human in a cruel, unfair world, will one day heal us and bind up our wounds.

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