Australian Lefty on Politics, Governance, Science and Info Management

Christianity’s Core Non-Sequitur

Posted by Dave Bath on 2007-02-22

There is a central problem with Christian theology not found in the other Abrahamic religions. It may have been raised elsewhere, but I figured it out independently, and it has left theologically-trained people flummoxed and disturbed.

First, a thought experiment: Imagine a person faced with the problem of pushing a child (or pregnant woman, person of high value to the community, whatever) out of the way of a bus, and inevitably sacrificing themself in the process. That person decides to take action, and dies. Who makes the greater sacrifice: someone who believes in continued existence in an afterlife or someone who believes that he|she will cease to exist?

The answer is fairly obvious: the one who believes that there is one life and that’s it. The believer in an eternal afterlife is not giving up that much, merely a few (miserable) earthly years, and may by the "sacrificial" act end up in heaven rather than hell.

According to the bible, Jesus was convinced not only of a continued existence after the death of his body, but even his continued corporeal existence on the Earth. Therefore his “sacrifice” was, in his own estimation, fairly low-impact. Where is the redemptive power in in that?

So, either Jesus was mortal, in which case his death was no big deal, or he wasn’t giving up much, in which case the “sacrifice” can’t have redemptive power.

As for the pain: if you know you’ll get through something, it is bearable, like undergoing torture and keeping silent in a good cause. Again, the afterlife-deniers who don’t believe an act will help earn them an eternity of happy harp-playing are suffering more than a believer who thinks the act might help avoid an eternity of brimstone and pitchforks.

This line of thought does not invalidate the existence of a deity, even a benevolent one, or even the details of the Abrahamist deity, but it does pull apart the central thesis of Christianity, the thing making it different from all other religions.

The more sophisticated the theological training (or self-education), the more troubling this is for a believing Christian. Not only was there a problem coming back with a way of answering me, but by their looks, they were struggling to come up with an answer that satisfied themselves.

Enjoy this one next time you have Christian missionaries knocking at the door. They do not like dealing with theological sophisticates, and are not equipped to work in that space.


28 Responses to “Christianity’s Core Non-Sequitur”

  1. […] Christians, who mistakenly think that Jesus made a significant sacrifice (he believed his continued existence was guaranteed, so it wasn’t that big a deal), who consider biased sightings after a certified death are any more reliable than post-mortem […]

  2. Dave said

    The sacrifice of Jesus Christ definitely holds some mystery, as does His existence as fully man and fully God. My understanding of what happened at the cross was not merely a physical offering. If the penalty for sin is eternal condemnation, then Jesus must, to pay the penalty adequately, suffer the equivalent of that condemnation. I say the “equivalent” because as fully God, He cannot cease to exist, nor continue in a state of separation from Himself (which is the to core of what “Hell” is). But because He is outside of time (for He created all things, including time) He can suffer the equivalent of eternal condemnation in, what seems to us, a moment of time. The physical torture was simply a horrible, but temporary, partner in His sacrifice.
    I, too, have pondered the mystery of this and have not solidified all conclusions, but the mystery does not make it unbelievable for me. There are plenty of things in my experience that I do not understand, yet still believe.

  3. Dave Bath said

    In response to Dave (first non-pingback comment to this post), I liked my response so much it I promoted it to a standalone post: Hier Stehe Ich.

  4. […] Bath at Balneus believes he has come up with a contradiction within Christianity. To be fair, many people have pondered this question since year zero as it the core of the faith: […]

  5. bob said

    you people need to study christian theology a lot before you pose these questions because the answers are simple and yes have been answered- in theology anyway- this is not deep thought by any means it is BASIC theology. but to address the issue, the sacriface of Christ began at his birth if he is God then the fact that he became a man was the first of an etirnity of self sacrifice it would be simmilar to you-or me- becoming a crap eating magget so you-or me- could “save” them i would call that alone a sacriface and that would be just the beggining. Honestly if you study christian theology they have already addressed almost all of the issues you seem to raise. I’m not saying their right but they have thought things trough and sometimes “created” a doctrine to deal with real problems also because some of you seem to the attacking type I will remain anomouse that is all good bye and have a nice day

  6. Dave Bath said

    (1) Unless the maggots you mention are fully sapient and aware of their limited existence, the maggots aren’t overly troubled, so your analogy is flawed.
    (2) If mere existence as a human is such a sacrifice, combined with the view of many religions that mere humans are aware of "something higher", then we must consider that the Abrahamic deity is breaking the Golden Rule, condemning us all to a miserable place.  Of course, we could always return to the Gnostic/Manichean dualism that this world was created by the evil twin of the Abrahamic deity. It’s a proposition much easier to credit from evidence.
    (3) Nothing you’ve said invalidates the thought experiment that a non-believer, sacrificing their life without hope of a reward, is making a much greater sacrifice than an entity that believes such an act does not affect individual existence, or helps guarantee bliss for the rest of eternity.

  7. Katie Parrott said

    The question is why would someone who believes this life is all there is choose to push someone else out of the way? According to the laws of evolution, survival and self-preservation is all that matters – it is a force that is built into us and should dictate all our actions. So what force is compelling the individual to transgress the laws of evolution and sacrifice him or herself? And even more importantly, where does this compelling force come from? If we are all products of evolution, it certainly does not come to us naturally, by biological processes.

  8. Dave Bath said

    Katie asks “why would someone who believes this life is all there is choose to push someone else out of the way?”

    She said: “According to the laws of evolution, survival and self-preservation is all that matters”
    Wrong! Group fitness/selection is an important concept in evolutionary theory. Consider doting maiden aunts, or even more pointedly, the ant or the bee.

    She asked: “Where does this compelling force come from?”
    A mix of empathy and logic, capacities demonstrated among all anthropoid apes (apart from sociopaths who have defective neural circuits, particularly in the amygdala), capabilities promoted by group fitness. With an ability to put yourself in someone elses shoes, and logic/aesthetic causing rejection of hypocrisy, as well as sociological conditioning, self-sacrifice can be a rational, and sometimes compelling choice. Besides, self-sacrifice by atheists is not only possible, but repeatedly observed.

    A Jesuit once told me “For most people, love for the anonymous other comes from the heart. For a few, that love comes from the head, it is the only logical choice, and the heart is unnecessary.”

  9. An interesting contemporary Hayekian — and one of my undergraduate lecturers — made this argument at a UQ law school function a few years ago. His name is Professor Suri Ratnapala, and he’s one of the best teachers I’ve ever had. He may have got the argument from somewhere in Hayek (it’s the kind of argument Hayek would make), but if so I haven’t read it — then again, there’s a great deal of Hayek I haven’t read.

    It came up in the context of who was most courageous — the believing sacrificer or the non-believer. Of course, the person who thinks this life is final is more courageous; someone who thinks there’s a good place to go to afterwards less so. It applies to all religions with a ‘salvationist’ bent, but not Buddhism or Hinduism, where you just get on the merry-go-round again.

  10. Dave Bath said

    SL: Actually, the good karma of self-sacrifice might actually help you to get OFF the merry-go-round, reaching nirvana sooner rather than later. The “salvationist” bit in Buddhism (which is godless) and Hinduism (which properly classifies as a religion)comes if you choose to maintain individuality by deciding to return to the wheel of suffering hoping to teach others.

  11. Dave Bath said

    Forgot to say: “Oh noes!” to lefty me being associated with an argument of Hayek!! That’s MUCH worse than being labelled a centrist by Club Troppo! (I’m off now to do not a few “Hail Mary”s but a few “Viva Fidel”s.)

  12. […] "Christianity’s core non-sequitur" (2007-02-22) demonstrates the kind of attack on Christianity that is most likely to unsettle Christians because of it’s use of theological arguments. […]

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