Gospel Disproof #29: Negotiable guilt

One sure sign of the Gospel’s human and imperfect origins is its morality, and specifically its notion of negotiable guilt. By negotiable I don’t mean “we can work out a deal,” I mean negotiable in the financial sense of a deferred payment that exists independently of the bearer and that can be transferred from one bearer to another. Normally, guilt belongs to the person who is guilty. If you murder someone, the fact that you committed the murder is part of your history, and you can’t change that or make someone else the murderer. Christian morality, however, not only allows you to do that, but makes this sort of transfer the whole point of the Gospel.

In Christian terms, this is called “substitutionary atonement.” God thinks you’re so guilty that you deserve to burn in Hell forever, but through the magic of negotiable guilt you somehow transfer all of your guilt onto some innocent third party. Then God rightfully punishes the third party, since they have magically become guilty by receiving your negotiable guilt, leaving you free to go to heaven as an innocent person, since your guilt magically left you.

I would hope it would go without saying that this kind of moral system is deplorably corrupt, because it benefits the guilty at the expense of the innocent, through a subversion of the law. If you come back to your car and find a parking ticket on it, you can’t just take the ticket and put it on someone else’s car, and make them pay the ticket. That would be wrong. But the gospel is much worse than just making some innocent driver pay the fine you deserved. We’re talking violent torture and death here.

But suppose that the third party volunteers to pay your penalty for you. Does that change the truth about which of you is actually guilty? Of course not! History is history. If you’re a drunk driver, and your mom volunteers to give up her driver’s license and go to jail as your substitute, does that make you any less a drunk driver? Not only has your mom failed to change your history of drunk driving, but by paying your penalty she is enabling you to keep drinking and driving—her loving sacrifice is putting other people at risk by subverting a legal system designed to take you off the road.

When you subvert the law, you condemn the law. If the law is right to make the guilty suffer to protect the innocent, then it’s wrong of you to make the innocent suffer to benefit the guilty. And conversely if it were right to harm the innocent in order to benefit the guilty, then the law is wrong when it tries to punish the guilty and protect the innocent. You can’t have a law that’s good and just and perfect, as God’s Law is supposed to be, and then turn around and say it’s better to subvert that law by punishing the wrong person, even voluntarily. If it’s better not to conform to the Law’s demands then the Law is not as good as it could be.

To be fair, I don’t think the Gospel started out with such a horrible and unjust moral system. I think believers were trying to find some overriding purpose by which to rationalize the premature and unjust death of their beloved rabbi. The idea of a self-sacrificial atonement sounds like a noble reason to die, and so people adopted it to redeem their leader’s ignominious death and turn it into some kind of victory. They simply didn’t think things through, and consider the moral implications of what they were saying.

So like I said, a human and imperfect origin. A moral system that harms the innocent in order to benefit the guilty is about as corrupt and evil as any moral system can be. Yet you can’t have the Gospel without it. You might be able to have a different “gospel”—one that, say, allowed God to just forgive people without all the cruelty and bloodshed—but the Gospel of the Crucifixion cannot be divorced from a hopelessly flawed morality.


  1. SAWells says

    ” I think believers were trying to find some overriding purpose by which to rationalize the premature and unjust death of their beloved rabbi.”

    Were the followers of the Orphic mysteries trying to rationalise the death of Orpheus? Were the followers of the Eleusinian mysteries trying to rationalise the death of Hercules? A _completely fictional_ origin is the most parsimonious explanation for demigod-death-and-resurrection stories, especially as there’s no Roman record of any of the Jesus episodes. The whole thing is a fiction post-dating the revolt and suppression of 70 CE.

  2. Kevin says

    I live in the part of the country where there is an abundance of roadside crosses — maybe 15 to 20 feet in height, perhaps 6 to 7 feet across. Each of the four “arms” has some random word associated with this notion. Things like

    Blood — Salvation — Secured — Jesus

    It’s decidedly creepy. Because the focus is on the blood. If Jesus ever came back, these people would put him back on the cross again just to make sure salvation “took” the first time.

    They’re obsessed with the blood.

    • David Hart says

      It would be amusing to see one where the ‘blood’ was left in place, but the other three arms had been changed to read ‘phlegm’, ‘yellow bile’ and ‘black bile’.

  3. Tige Gibson says

    When I was a child I had a MAD Magazine board game where the objective was to become bankrupt and lose all your money (guilt).

  4. RabidDog says

    Well, I am afraid that the idea of negotiable guilt is just one aspect of the redemptive saviour narrative. The other is the idea of blood sacrifice. The idea of killing something in atonement for wrongdoing or to seek divine favour well predates xtianity. In the xtian myth the idea of blood sacrifice is conflated with negotiable guilt because the sacrificial object had some presumed volition in the matter, unlike the usual innocent lambs, goats, children etc. Either way this is batshit crazy.

  5. Zachary Smith says

    In my opinion this is the single most repellant feature of Christianity. The idea of blood sacrifice is barbaric & immoral, certainly not original to Christianity – and the guilty party is still guilty! So it’s also futile.

    Any god who would demand this kind of ritual is certainly a psychotic monster and unfit for human worship. If it does turn out that he exists, I will tell him so when I see him. Let him roast me – he shall not have the satisfaction of my “worship”.

    • Deacon Duncan says

      Not to mention how much the Judge so loved the mass murderer’s victims—past and future. Yeah, great judicial system there, Judge.

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