Since I hadn't been to Mysterium Crucis before today, I hadn't realized he'd weighed in on the Atonement debate last month. He pointed out that however God did the atonement, somebody was gonna be unhappy:
God could have snapped his fingers, in a spiritual sense of course, and instantaneously saved us. But I imagine if he had done that, theologians would sit around, nursing their pipes, pondering the ineffable mystery of the boring anticlimactic way in which God saved the world. Couldn't He have done it with a bit of flair? A little drama? Or perhaps God could have created this mandatory, purgatorial state that not only cleanses us of venial, but mortal and original sin. Which would have theologians and laymen rather angry, and I don't think the religion would taken off very fast. What? He's going to make us pay for all the things we did? That's not fair!
This brings back to my mind the fact that one way I seem to differ from a lot of Christians is in my attitude toward punishment. I mentioned before that when I last talked to Telford we had a digression about St. Anselm, and it hit on this subject. (I'm gonna milk that visit for all it's worth, apparently!) St. Anselm, apparently, wrote that once sin entered the world, God had three choices: destroy it all; forgive everything, which would be unjust because there'd be no punishment for sin; or do what he did, a substitutional atonement.
I objected to the premise of the second option. When I think about people who've wronged me, they were often people who were close to me; so I knew, even if I got extremely angry, that they were not all evil. If I could have removed the evil from within them, leaving everything else intact and healing the relationship, I wouldn't give a flip if they hadn't been punished.
Maybe it's my liberal humanist upbringing, but I think of punishment in practical rather than cosmic terms. It is, to me, a tool for minimizing evil. It can prevent people from doing something again; it can deter others; if properly designed, it might even make the wrongdoer learn something. But it's a crude instrument and it often doesn't work very well anyway, so if there is another way to minimize evil, I'm all for it.
It's for this reason that no matter how people try to spin it to me, I can't accept the concept of hell. Purgatory I can understand. Annihilation, even, I can understand. But what's the point of eternal punishment? Why keep someone around forever just to make them suffer? I don't see how that reduces the evil in the universe; in fact it's hard to imagine how, once the End Times have concluded, good can be said to have "won" if there's a pile of souls eternally in painful separation from God. I'm with the Zoroastrians here: good hasn't won until the gates of hell are closed forever. Until not just punishment but the need for punishment is gone.