I became aware yesterday of a site that parodies Christian theology and faith in general: mrdeity.com. It’s all great fun, I guess, if you have no fear of God. And the fact that I made that last statement qualifies me to be analyzed by the satirical folks at mrdeity.com (“Derek, I think we should explore what you are afraid of . . .”).
In part, mrdeity.com is representative of the junk media that pervades the internet. God knows, Christianity and Judaism both have plenty of websites filled with poorly thought out material. Why shouldn’t atheists have some of their own low-intelligence media as well? And mrdeity.com rises above much of the morass, with rather nice production quality and some rather funny material (if you can bring yourself to laugh at people joking about the meaninglessness of everything and the complete lack of hope for anything better than mere physical existence). And you get the idea that the creative minds behind mrdeity.com are actually pretty intelligent, but they feel compelled perhaps to address the shallower arguments of religion with mock seriousness.
I don’t begrudge the people at mrdeity.com their right to fun satirizing a philosophy they find null and void.
But I do equally reserve the right to call them on their silliness.
In the video I watched, one actor portrayed the Son (Jesus) and the other the Father (God). They engaged in a lampoon of the idea of a differentiated divine being (Trinity) the notion of a sacrificial atonement (the Cross).
Lampooning the Trinity is rather easy. Since we know of nothing else in our experience that compares to one being expressed in multiple persons, you can joke at will (if you have no fear of God) about the logical contradictions. Is the Son God but also not the Father and if so what does that mean? How can at the same time the Son be God and yet God is in him and he is in God? How can God send the Son, but the Son is God? And did God die for sins or only the Son? And you can go on and on.
Hmm, I wonder what Hume would say about assuming something is logically fallacious because we have never experienced it?
Meanwhile, the mrdeity.com people zero in on the Cross as an idea too laughable for bright people to believe.
So, God tortured Jesus, his Son, because of God’s great love for people? By torturing the Son, God has a way to escape the requirement of torturing every person he ever created? And this makes God lovable because he loves us enough to cancel his own demand that we all be tortured and does so by torturing his one and only Son instead?
We have to admit, it sounds ridiculous when put that way.
But I suggest that the mrdeity.com people, no doubt too busy studying science or some similar topic, make the same error as the religious people they are parodying. They speak with an appalling lack of knowledge of their subject. The object of their ridicule is not the Cross, actually, but a simplistic version of the meaning of the Cross which might be heard in some Christian preaching, but only the uninformed kind.
I noticed for example, that they also either filmed an episode, or planned to film one, mocking the infamous banana apologetic (Ray Comfort, in a much publicized and parodied video, claims that the banana proves God made the world for the convenience of humans).
It’s easy to make fun of the religious world’s banana videos. But what if mrdeity.com attempted to read the best theologians of the ages and really take on serious thought instead of popular drivel?
If you want to understand the Cross, I highly recommend a book which is a pretty easy read and makes some of the best information readily available to a non-expert: Scot McKnight’s A Community Called Atonement.
Meanwhile, let me in a number of bullet points point out the insufficiency of mrdeity.com’s understanding of the Cross:
(1) We’ve been ahead of you for many centuries, mrdeity.com, on our understanding of the Cross and atonement. The earliest Christian writers had theories of atonement that were far better than the version you were picking apart.
(2) C.S. Lewis referred to the insufficiency of a simplistic satisfaction theory of the atonement in Book II, Chapter 4 of Mere Christianity:
According to that theory God wanted to punish men for having deserted and joined the Great Rebel, but Christ volunteered to be punished instead, and so God let us off.”
(3) The view mrdeity.com is caricaturing has also been called the Divine Child Abuse theory. It is not a sufficient understanding of the Bible’s metaphors of atonement.
(4) If you think God was angry and ready to destroy the world until the loving Son of God intervened and appeased his wrath, you have not understood atonement.
(5) If you think God abused his Son, you have not understood atonement.
(6) If you believe that one part of God wants to kill you and the other part of God wants to rescue you, you have not understood atonement.
(7) The idea of God’s wrath is not about him being a Divine spoiler of fun. Rather, as McKnight says quoting Miroslav Volf, “God isn’t wrathful in spite of being love. God is wrathful because God is love.” That is, the things God is wrathful about are the things that hurt us, keeping us from realizing the perfect creation he intends, and the things that make this world a place of darkness and terror.
(8) The satisfaction achieved by the Cross does not change God’s mind, but expresses the mind of God as it was from the beginning. The Son did not need to satisfy the Father or change his mind in any way. We will have to think about the meaning of satisfaction as something else: demonstrating justice and holiness in their true sense.
(9) Satisfaction is only one of many metaphors of atonement. Mrdeity.com would be right to criticize a faith which has nothing more to offer at its core than an angry God satisfied by the painful death of his Son. Yet even the best understanding of satisfaction is incomplete without recapitulation, the victory over the powers of evil, ransom, reconciliation, justification, and representation. I will write more about atonement in a coming series to clear all this up..
(10) The story of the Cross sounds silly when you believe one version of our story, the version I assume the mrdeity.com people believe. In their story, our existence is purely accidental, we are here for no reason, we are destined for no purpose, and we are able to laugh at the meaninglessness of it all because laughing at least is a way to pass the days of our futile existence with some happiness. But there are other stories including the Judeo-Christian one. In this story, we are all children of the Creator, in a world of good and evil powers, in a time of fruitlessness looking for completion and redemption, and God is bringing all things to realization of a perfect world. It is in some ways a hard story to believe because of the silence of God which is the norm and our inability to see the past or the future with clarity. Yet there is plenty of evidence of a different kind for this story, evidence that is of the more intuitive sort, explaining our deepest fears and fondest dreams.
BOTTOM LINE: Mrdeity.com cleverly pokes fun at a faith that is only partial, a faith that is insufficient for people who seek out the meaning of our experience, and a faith that is sub-biblical. Those who struggle with the difficulties of shallow and troublesome understandings of the Cross should read McKnight’s book. I will also write more about this in a series on the meaning of atonement (perhaps to be followed by a series on the meaning of justification based on N.T. Wright’s recent book).