As a Christadelphian, I had to endure countless long-winded sermons about The Atonement and why it was such a big deal. The Christadelphian view of atonement is somewhat unique, but it's not too far different from other Christian views on the subject (despite what Christadelphians will tell you). After all, they all get it from the same book.
According to Christadelphians, the atonement is the whole basis of salvation and encapsulates the human condition, God's divine plan for us and the universe, and even the meaning of life. But buried therein are some of the most sick and immoral ideas ever invented. Hold the cries of blasphemy, for I do not claim that such ideas came from a god. The fact that many people think they did, just makes the ideas so much more perverse.
The atonement used to sound scary and complicated when I was young, and probably still does to many Christadelphians. It simply means the reconciliation of humans to God, via the sacrifice of Jesus. The basic idea is that we are all in some kind of fallen state and unacceptable before God. Thus we needed some way for God to forgive us so that we could be justified (made right) before God and thus we could be saved from our fallen state. Jesus's death is said to atone (make amends) for the sins of the world, which is why it is called "The Atonement". That's it really.
The meaning of life, according to Christadelphians
In a nutshell, Christadelphians teach that God made humans and gave them free will. However, they chose to disobey him by eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, which he had specifically told them not to do. After this, God punished them by sentencing them to death, and transforming the world into a fallen state, including all plants and animals as well. God then commanded Adam and Eve to multiply, and since their children also inherited this sin-prone nature they now bore, all of humanity thereafter became cursed with this nature and hence death, which is the punishment for sin. As the story goes, God (in his mercy) provided a way to escape this cursed state, by sending his son, Jesus, who did no sin but died on the cross. Because he had done no sin, God was able to raise him from the dead, and declared that anyone who believed in and identified with Jesus could also partake of that salvation and be raised from the dead at a future time.
It might sound appealing on the surface but if you examine these concepts critically, several significant issues arise. The rest of this article will be devoted to exposing these issues.
Sin - whose idea was that?
The Bible teaches that we die because we sin, and death is God's punishment for sin (Romans 6:23). So it might surprise you to learn that, according to the Bible, God was the one who invented sin in the first place. Think about it. God gave Adam a command, which he broke. Then we learn that it was God who punished Adam, by changing his nature. Adam couldn't change his own nature. He didn't have that capability. And after that, Adam couldn't help but sin. So who is responsible for this sin-prone nature? Adam may have eaten the fruit, but he didn't change his own nature. God did that. Thus, God was responsible for Adam's sin-prone nature. He could have given some other punishment, but he didn't. He chose to make humans inherently sinful. Then he punished them for it...
But wait, didn't Adam sin before God changed his nature? Well, the Bible says he did, but it also implies that Adam and Eve did not yet have knowledge of good and evil. So was it still "sin" if Adam didn't realise his action was evil? Well, technically sin is merely disobedience against God's law, regardless of whether or not the action was evil. So who invented sin then? Did Adam invent the ability to break God's law? Er, no. God did that too. And if we also factor in the claim that God is all-knowing, then God knew Adam would disobey, and yet he created him that way anyway. And planted the tree, and gave the law, all the while knowing what would happen.
Sin-prone nature - whose fault?
So as the story goes, Adam and Eve were cursed with mortality, including a nature that was prone to sin. But in addition to that, God also decided that rather than create all humans the same way he created Adam, thus giving each individual the same opportunities as Adam originally had, he would instead cause Eve to bear children, who would inherit this sin-prone nature for reasons no one has ever explained. Thus we, being descended from Adam (so Christadelphians teach), also inherit this same sin-prone nature, and that is why we sin. Lucky us.
But Christadelphians insist that we still deserve to die because we ourselves have sinned. And we die, not because of Adam's sins, but as punishment for our own sins. But wait a second. The reason we sin is said to be because we inherited a nature that is prone to sin. If so, that's hardly our fault! We were doomed from the start. By analogy we have been placed by God in a burning house and told that he will only remove us from the flames if we worship his son, whom he also burned to death...
At this point it is difficult to find strong enough words to denounce this disgusting concept. Any being that would create subordinate beings in such a persecuted state, especially a state that said being has never experienced, and could never experience, can only be described as pure evil. The idea of Jesus experiencing the human condition does nothing to improve matters. In fact, the idea of God requiring Jesus's blood as a sacrifice for the sins of humanity just makes God even more of a barbaric monster. God's solution to inventing death is to require even more death and bloodshed? Of a sinless man? Can there be an idea more evil? And don't get me started on the idea of punishing one person for the sins of another...
While we're here, consider that God didn't just invent death (something he is apparently not capable of experiencing himself, despite the claim he is all-powerful), God also invented sickness and pain as well, along with everything else we suffer. According to the Bible, these things did not exist before. While mainstream Christianity is at least able to pin these things on a supernatural devil (an idea with its own set of problems), Christadelphians must believe that God invented the whole lot. What sort of being would do this? What sort of person would worship such a being? How could anyone love such a being?
Free Will Defence? Not so fast!
At this point Christadelphians would likely be very quick to use the "Free Will Defence". That is, God did not create all these evil things (even though the Bible clearly says he did), but rather he gave us free will. He wants us to choose to worship him freely rather than be forced into it like robots. This, they say, also brings the possibility that we might choose otherwise, and so it is because of human free will that all these evils exist in the world.
But this defence comes with significant flaws. Firstly, does God have free will? If God has free will but is not evil, then evil is not a necessary consequence of free will. Likewise, do Christadelphians believe they will have free will in the afterlife (i.e. in "The Kingdom")? If yes, then once again here is an example of a world with free will but without death and suffering. If no, then why were we given free will to begin with? I thought God didn't want robots...
While we're speaking of free will, it's useful to investigate what God wanted us to do with it. 1 Peter 2 uses the term "slaves of God". Likewise Romans 6 repeatedly uses the metaphor of slavery to refer to one's submission to God. 2 Corinthians 10:5 talks about bringing thoughts into captivity and becoming obedient to Christ. Essentially God gave us free will just so that we can choose to give it up and submit to him as a slave. One wonders why free will is such a cherished concept in Christianity, when its end goal for humanity is enslavement and servitude.
Divine loopholes in a perfect plan
According to the Christadelphian narrative, God is pure and just, and is unable to look upon sin (Hab 1:13). This is strange for a god who invented the concept to begin with. It's doubly strange to talk about things a supposedly all-powerful god cannot do. But there it is. They say his laws are righteous, and death is the only just punishment for sin, because God's moral purity demands it.
So how does Jesus's death get around this? Well, apparently because Jesus didn't sin, he wasn't worthy of death. Thus God was able to raise him from the dead, because of a loophole whereby if a human didn't sin, the death penalty didn't apply. Except that it did still apply. Christadelphians have been divided over why Jesus still had to die, but the version I grew up with was that he shared our sin-prone nature and thus that nature needed to be put to death to declare God's righteousness, or something.
So somewhere between Jesus having to die and not having to stay dead, God effectively required a human sacrifice in order to get past a law he created, a law saying he could not accept sin, which he invented, despite the fact that humans, whom he created, couldn't help sinning, because of the change to their nature God himself had caused.
Makes perfect sense.
Apparently just being ok with the things he made (or making things he knew he would be ok with) was too difficult for God. Instead God chose to make things he knew he would not be ok with, and then got angry when all the things he knew would happen, happened.
And that's why we can't have nice things, or something.
I leave you with a couple of quotes that hit the nail on the head...
Do not hide behind the cowardly evasion that man is born with free will, but with a “tendency” to evil. A free will saddled with a tendency is like a game with loaded dice. It forces man to struggle through the effort of playing, to bear responsibility and pay for the game, but the decision is weighted in favor of a tendency that he had no power to escape. If the tendency is of his choice, he cannot possess it at birth; if it is not of his choice, his will is not free.
-- Ayn Rand
Once you assume a Creator and a plan, it makes us objects in a cruel experiment whereby we are created sick and then commanded to be well. And over us to supervise this is installed a celestial dictatorship, a kind of divine North Korea: greedy for uncritical praise from dawn till dusk, and swift to punish the original sins with which it so tenderly gifted us in the very first place.
However, let no one say there’s no cure. Salvation is offered; redemption, indeed, is promised … at the low price of the surrender of your critical faculties.
-- Christopher Hitchens