Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Atonement, sacrifice, reconciliation, salvation

Immediate thoughts on 'atonement'.  Why put 'atonement' in scare quotes? To recognize that every word we use, especially loaded words, is interpreted by us in our own inference engine - brain, culture, and language processed together in ways we are largely unconscious of. The stimuli for this post is Christian Brady's recent post and his sermon (referenced in the post).

Brady asks: Was the Passover sacrifice an atoning sacrifice? and answers No.

The one word answer has a short explanation and a few comments so far. His sermon is an important read. In it he notes several specific roles for a sacrifice, and implies we ought to know more about the Hebrew sacrificial system - in order to 'understand' where they are coming from.  Can we only understand from a position of 'having been reconciled'? Do all of us have some example of reconciliation with another / others from which we can see?  If we do not (Oligarchs, kleptocrats, and rulers who abuse their people), is there any 'salvation' for such?

O dear - what a complex set of questions! Another thought in the back of my head is the excellent lecture series by John Searle on how language works. I listened to these in random order on  my drive across the country from Victoria to Winnipeg. It kept me awake and laughing. And yet another important piece of evidence for who we are and how we think is this short series by AKMA. Here's a quote:
Absent a subsistent “meaning” that provides a polestar for interpretive validity, we reckon the soundness of our interpretive activity by more proximate criteria. A tremendous proportion of interpretive legitimacy is not itself reasoned out, but “caught”, assimilated, from the interpreters whom one regards as authorities. - See more here
If we did 'understand' would it do us any good? Yes, I think so, to the extent that our understanding is a germ that works within us to change who we are and how we act. Understanding sacrifice, atonement, salvation, reconciliation... where does one start?

Start with the inference (from the buzz around us) that there is such a thing. We do not need to behave as thugs or robbers to get our way. (All who came before me were thieves and robbers, John the Evangelist records this parable of Jesus - from the Good Shepherd, John 10:1 ff.)

It is clear that some people do behave this way. The international scene is rife with examples.

If there is such a thing - is it desirable to know it?  Self-interest is at the root of this question. When I was a young believer (in what? you say), in what I then perceived to be the message of the Christian church in Toronto, I (we) came home, one evening, wondering who would baby sit our children. A young woman said hello to us, one whose situation had not been appealing in the past. The words came to us from the ether: if you believe, why do you not trust her to sit for you?

And she did - reconciliation was effected without a word, but with an action, and I recall that there we no specific negatives. (Yes there are negatives and positives - measured with respect to what? A relative and somewhat unconscious measurement of again self-interest beginning to border on respect and care for others. I.e. reconciliation - in this case a reconciliation of an attitude that was within us!)

That is a sufficient beginning.