Here’s the thing. Folks be giving the S&M crowd the side eye while they’re surfing the porn sites, but in church on Sunday they don’t give a second thought about the concept of vicarious atonement [penile substitution 😘]. What is vicarious atonement you might ask?
It varies from theology to theology. Some have a somewhat more benign view but this is pretty much what it boils down to:
Vicarious atonement in the Christian system is made by the offended party. God is the party against whom sin is committed, and he is the party who atones for its commission. Vicarious atonement, consequently, is the highest conceivable exhibition of the attribute of mercy: “Herein is love, that God sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).
And what does “propitiation” involve? Well god has this whole thing about punishment for sin. Sin demands death and eternal punishment. Seems like there’s no other options available to a god who is also capable of doing anything. To be consistent in the logic and the story Jesus should have then died and then [don’t pass go, collect $200 have an easy weekend and a resurrection] been sent straight to the lake of fire for eternity. Now that’s a sacrifice. That’s commitment. That’s the punishment atheists are supposed to get. The thinking around this idea is a little fuzzy to me. I’m hoping someone will be able to help me out with it. Say someone owes me $100. As the aggrieved party I could simply forgive the debt. What the bible seems to suggest is that the debt can’t be forgiven until/unless someone else gives me $100. Now that may be good for my bottom line but is that really forgiving anything? Can I claim the moral high ground? A just merciful god who claims to have unconditional love for humanity wouldn’t demand death and unending punishment, he’d just forgive the debt because he’s a mensch. I’m pretty sure Republican Jesus doesn’t approve of that, though.
So where does this notion of punishment come from? Why do so many people think suffering has virtue? I can’t think of any society with cultural justice norms that doesn’t include punishment of some kind.
There’s Opus Dei of the Catholics:
Josemaria Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei,
stipulated that self-harm is mandatory if one wishes to live the “Spirit of Opus Dei” fully.
In his book The Way, he wrote: “Blessed be pain. Loved be pain. Sanctified be pain. . . glorified be pain!”
Aside from the metal cilice, some members of the Opus use a “discipline”, a whip that is used once a week on the back. They also take cold showers, remain silent or fast.
Then there’s this snake charmer Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu otherwise known as Mother Teresa.
She wasn’t the least bit interested in her own capacity for suffering, rather she preferred
to enjoy the misery of others.
“[Mother Teresa] was not a friend of the poor. She was a friend of poverty. She said that suffering was a gift from God. She spent her life opposing the only known cure for poverty, which is the empowerment of women and the emancipation of them from a livestock version of compulsory reproduction.” quote Hitchens
To Mayor Marion Barry during visit to Washington DC:
‘Mother Teresa, what do you hope to accomplish
‘The joy of loving and being loved.’
‘That takes a lot of money, doesn’t it?’
‘It takes a lot of sacrifice.’
‘Do you teach the poor to endure their lot?’
‘I think it is very beautiful for the poor to accept
their lot, to share it with the passion of Christ. 1 think
the world is being much helped by the suffering of
the poor people.’
quote Teresa in her own oft repeated words
Islam [Shia sect] has their version:
Like other monotheistic death cults, they practice routine mutilation of themselves and their children.
Judaism has chest beating during Yom Kippur, and some rather sketchy practices involving goats.
The high priest would hold a lottery among two goats. One was designated to the Lord, which meant it was promptly taken to the altar, slaughtered and its blood was splattered in the Holy of Holies. The other was designated for Azazel, a demon of the wilderness, who – according to Enoch 1 – taught men how to make weapons and women how to adorn themselves with makeup. [*now we know how Jezebel got her start]
A red band was tied to this unfortunate goat’s horns and he was taken by another man – usually a priest – to the Judaean Desert. Jerusalem notables accompanied the man and goat on their 12-kilometer trek. They ritualistically halted for refreshment at 10 huts specially erected for this purpose, where food and drink were ceremoniously offered the man, who would refuse it.
The goat’s preferences were apparently not considered.
After the 10th booth, the man and beast proceeded alone. When they arrived at the top of a cliff face, the man would hoist the goat into the air and toss him down the hill backwards. The goat would tumble down the hill and die, at which point a system of flag signals would inform the high priest that he could continue with the rest of the day’s rituals.
But religion isn’t the only bastion of torture on the way to “something”. The Matis tribe in Brazil have a bitter poison dumped in their eyes in order to “improve” their vision. After this, they are beaten and whipped. Finally they must endure the excruciating conclusion to the trial in which they inject themselves with the poison of the Giant Leaf Frog using wooden needles. Young Fula boys must undergo a whipping battle in which they trade blows with another boy from a different tribe in order to become a man. The sticks they use to whip each other have sharpened points and thorns all over them to maximize the pain they inflict. Both boys attempt to take the blows without wincing or showing any signs of weakness. The boy whom the observing crowd deems the winner is considered the bravest, and earns the right to be called a man. Enduring fire ants, ritual scarification, physical and mental privation, is common across many cultures. Wanna know what the number one ritual for rite of passage is? Guesses anyone? Yup. Genital mutilation, both male and female. I suspect that’s how it got so popular among the religious. It helps convince it’s practitioners it is necessary because “god” wants it.
Where am I going with all this? I’d like to meet the god who isn’t angry, or coming back angry, or about to wreak retribution on some massive scale. I’d like to think we can get along without unnecessary suffering. I’d like to think life is hard enough and the “rite of passage” where we’re all accepted as adults is to have done it with grace, dignity, help from our friends and family, and love.