Thursday, June 7, 2007

Bishop Spong on the Atonement

Bishop Spong in his essay this week on the death of Jesus as atonement unwittingly, apparently, makes the point that S. Mark Heim makes in his book, "Saved from Sacrifice: A Theology of the Cross." This point is that the Passion narratives, building on their sources in the Hebrew Bible, expose the scapegoating mechanism of the crucifixion, rather than hiding this mechanism, as is usual in most scapegoating myths. In these myths, the whole point is to hide the death deemed necessary to bring peace to the community, thus making scapegoating a good and necessary event without exposing the cost which is the death of the scapegoat. Another point of many such myths is that God demands the scapegoating, and God demands it over and over again.
The Hebrew Bible and the Passion narratives make scapegoating visible, as Bishop Spong does in his essay. That such exposure makes us uncomfortable is a major point of the Passion. We recoil from the violence and hatred scapegoating entails and say, “Surely, no good God would want or require this,” and we are correct. However, until we fully recognize our tendency to solve our problems by scapegoating, we continue to do it. We can only reverse this tendency when we bring it to consciousness and determine not to participate in sacrifice. As Heim writes, “ surmount a moment of crisis without turning to sacrifice is one of the true simple signs of the reign of God.”