Monday, May 4, 2009

Is Christianity a religion of blood sacrifice?

So I thought; but it seems I was misinformed.

I listened to an RTÉ radio discussion, originally broadcast at Easter. A truly fascinating piece of radio, both because of the twists and turns of the discussion and because it revealed that the Christian religion is understood only by theologians (according to theologians).

RTÉ presenter Gay Byrne
The presenter, Gay Byrne, assumed the role of the Catholic layman interviewing three Catholic academics. These were

* Mark Patrick Hederman, the Abbot of Glenstal
* Prof Sean Freyne of Trinity College Dublin (TCD), Visiting Professor of Early Christian History and Literature at Harvard
* Margaret Daly-Denton, a New Testament specialist who holds a PhD in Biblical Studies from TCD.

Gay Byrne put it to them that Christianity is a religion of blood sacrifice.

“I have problem for you all – I have read Mr Dawkins [background “huh!”] – and he sets out the Christian belief thus: God always was and always will be, He created the world, created Adam and Eve, who in the Garden did something wrong. God became so angry, He condemned us all to hellfire and damnation forever, unless he was soothed in some way. Then this omnipotent, omniscient God sends down this man Jesus who is put to death in the most horrific way, and this was the only way this God could be appeased. Dawkins says this is bizarre and anyone who believes it is mad. And I have to agree with Dawkins! Help me with that!”

The Abbot of Glenstal, Mark Patrick Hederman, came in first with the bumper book of British birds gag (Dawkins on theology is about as convincing as a tract on evolution by someone whose only knowledge of the subject is from The Bumper Book of British Birds.)

Having delivered himself of this second-hand witticism, he continues, that what Gay has outlined “is one theory, which existed certainly, of why the world was sinful and how it was reconstructed. But I don’t think there is any theologian today who actually believes that caricature.”

You're telling me this now?!

Gay Byrne is taken aback. “Well now you're telling me ‼” he expostulates. “It’s what we have believed ! … there are billions of Christians around the world who do believe what I just said.” At this point the whole radio audience including me is shouting out “here here”.

Abbot Mark Patrick Hederman
Fine, replies the Abbot, but there were people who believed the world is flat! Gay resisted the temptation to lob one into this open goal.

But I haven't told you what the Abbot’s initial reaction to Gay’s question was. His first words were: “I was taught the same thing, as a child I was taught that every time I committed a sin it drove another nail into Jesus’ hand and I remember thinking, I wish he hadn’t bothered!”

Prof Freyne admits he too was taught this. “But gradually over time, I've had the time to study and think more about it.”

Gay now sums up the discussion so far : Dawkins is not misrepresenting the teaching of the Catholic faith, and what you, the theologians, are saying to me now is, that the Catholic (Christian) faith has been abominably badly taught down through the ages.

Prof Freyne’s lame defence to this is that “there is a lot out there in the public arena going back to Vatican II and the Dutch catechism … the whole issue of evil in the world”

And Margaret Daly-Denton – listen to this one – has the gall to agree that the Christian faith has been abominably taught “and Dawkins is an example of it”.

You can see that the theologians were struggling a bit. I daresay that by bringing Dawkins into it, Gay Byrne put them off their stroke.

Did the Resurrection happen?

Regarding the rest I'll be brief. In answer to the question “Why then did Jesus come, what did he do, and what was his mission?”, we are told that He came to give us divine life, to offer us the possibility of being members of the blessed Trinity, and to live for ever with Him as divine beings.

A comment about the resurrection. A cousin of mine gave me a book purporting to give conclusive evidence from the gospels for this event. As it turns out however, these three Catholic theologians consider that the gospels contain no evidence for a bodily resurrection, nor do they claim that anyone witnessed it. Luke’s gospel goes out of its way not to be misunderstood on this point, by relating the road to Emaus story.[1] Two disciples, joined by a stranger, recognised him as Jesus only when he broke bread. The point of this carefully constructed episode and the fact that the two disciples didn’t recognise the stranger immediately, is to get across the point that “this is not a revivified historical Jesus; that this is the Risen Lord”.

I highly recommend this entertaining and informative programme which was one of a 4-part series. You can download it the from the RTE website. It's called Passion Players Pgm 4: Jesus of Nazareth.

Church handout supports sacrifice theory

A thought : Is a religion what the theologians say it is; or what its adherents popularly believe it to be?

And a postscript, proving that that Gay Byrne has described church teaching accurately. On one of my infrequent visits to a Catholic church I recently picked up a mass leaflet from which the following are extracts.

*   Under the heading “Word of God”, we have: “Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came to this world to save the whole of humanity from sin. He died on the cross for everyone without exception”.
*   To a reading from Isaiah 53: 10-11, the suffering servant passage, the leaflet adds this commentary: “This is a mysterious sinless person who suffers for the sins of the people and who will be rewarded for his suffering.”
*   A reading from Acts 13: 46-49 appears under a rubric which reads : “the Son of Man came to give his life as a ransom for many”.  And the reading itself contains the words: “For the Son of Man himself did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many”. 
*   Eucharistic prayer III contains the words “Through his cross and resurrection he freed us from sin and death”.

It would be pointless to go on. The three theologians seem to me to have invented a new religion. A better one no doubt, if it’s purged of the dreadful blood sacrifice elements.  But new for all that.

[1] Luke 24:13-35