“Jesus gave up his weekend for your sins.” (Or, How Memes Ruin Religious Dialogue)

“The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” – 1 Corinthians 1:18

We, the people of planet earth, disagree about many things and we spend a lot of our time trying to discover truth and to convince other people about a grand diversity of different subjects. I find this to be a rather noble quality of humanity but sometimes we do it poorly. We resort to methods and tactics that muddy discursive waters rather than clarify them and one of the worst examples of that is misrepresentation.

When we misrepresent an ideology, constructing a straw man of it, we can simply laugh at the misrepresentation without considering the potential merits of the real thing. Whether or not you agree with a position, I hope you at least agree that we ought not to misrepresent it.

To that end, I need to talk about one such misrepresentation of a position that has been floating around the internet lately that personally concerns me a great deal.

weekend

Haha, yes, laugh. Aren’t those Christians a bunch of backwards nutjobs? No. They aren’t. And whether or not you believe the gospel, you at least ought to understand what it is and what it isn’t. To that end, listen up.

1. The Incarnation

Before we address his death, let’s talk first about his life. Philippians 2:6-7 says that Jesus…

“Who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.”

That word ‘grasped’ can be understood as ‘taken advantage of’ or ‘selfishly exploited.’ Before the cross we have the incarnation in which an omnipotent God lays aside all the exploits of his divinity and becomes a lowly man. That is a profound act of humility. Jesus didn’t surrender a mere weekend. He forfeited his divine status for several years so that he could be born where animals poop and wash people’s smelly feet. That’s more than you or I would give up.

2. Crucifixion

Now about the death. So, Jesus died peacefully in his sleep and woke up three days later right? Wrong. Excruciatingly wrong. Jesus’ death was not a clean injection or a quick shot to the head. It was hours and hours of arduous excruciating torture. The Romans had perfected the art of pain to such an extreme that our word for the worst pain imaginable comes from their practice of crucifixion – Excruciating. Ex Crucis. Out of the cross.

Nabeel Qureshi, a Christian apologist and M.D., explains the details of crucifixion in several of his talks available online. Here’s the first one I came across. There are others. You can find them yourself.

“Gave up his weekend.”

3. The Resurrection

Then we come to the matter of the resurrection and ascension. Yes, Jesus did not stay dead. Why this is a subject of mockery and not admiration is a mystery to me. But it does seem that in the end Jesus was no lesser for his sacrifice and thus it may seem odd to call it a sacrifice when it doesn’t seem to have diminished him.

Except that’s the whole point! He could take it!

The message of the Christian faith is that we have all turned away from God (Isa 53:6) and the punishment for doing so is death (Rom 6:23) but God himself paid that price (Gen 22:8, Isa 53 again). Without Christ, we would all die and stay dead. If Christ died but did not rise, then big whoop – people do that every day. But if an infinite God pays the price of death for us and overcomes death by rising from the grave, that might just get someone’s attention! That might just be a cause for hope!

1 Corinthians 15 teaches us that in Christ’s resurrection we can also have life after death. Yes, Jesus was, in the end, not diminished by his humiliation and torture. We should be grateful that he could overcome where we would have perished, not mock him for being stronger than death. And if he hadn’t paid our price (he didn’t have to, I remind you) we would be forever dead.

So Jesus did not “give up his weekend for your sins.” Jesus was willing to set aside his divine status to enter the world, suffer and be humiliated, be tortured and crucified, paying the price that we could not, so that through his resurrection all human kind could be free from the debt of death and have eternal life. The fact that he didn’t stay dead does not trivialize the cross, rather it should make it seem all the more wonderful that we don’t have to stay dead either.

One more note. Some versions of this image attribute the quote to Michael Shermer. I haven’t confirmed that he is the original source of this quote, but in case he is I want to say something brief about him. I am familiar with his work. I listen to his debates and lectures and I read his articles. He is not terribly bright. He is an irresponsible thinker who suggests that it is epistemically impossible to differentiate a deity from a sufficiently advanced alien (“Shermer’s Last Law”, which makes it impossible to have any reasonable discussion about the possible existence of God) and whose flagrant lack of understanding on the doctrine of the Trinity reduces his interpretation of the cross and atonement to “it’s barking mad” (which it would be if we were unitarians and not trinitarians, but that’s a matter for another time.)

In conclusion, I want to reiterate this issue of misrepresentation. I understand that an atheist may look at the language of ‘sacrifice’ and then look at the resurrection and have some questions. Unfortunately I don’t hear questions. I hear mockery. An effective refutation of Christianity will have to refute what Christianity is, not what it isn’t, and the cross is plainly far more significant than that Jesus just took a weekend off. To the detractors of Christianity: you will be able to offer a much better refutation of Christianity the more you study and understand it, and understand it from christian theologians, not just lay people or, worse yet, non-christians.

You may feel better about yourself for joking about the crucifixion but for those of us who are trying to have serious conversations you just look childish.

P.S. Let me suggest, as a Christian, some more fruitful topics of conversation: the transmission and preservation of the New Testament text, the problem of the unevangelized, and the feasibility of secular morality. I’ve also heard some interesting dialogues on whether an un-designed universe could produce creatures capable of reason so maybe there’s something in there for you to use.

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Don’t “Sell Yourself”

Many of the artists I know are introverts and/or shy (and no, the two are not synonymous.) The irony is that the arts are a field in which one must often do extra work to make themselves heard. To cultivate an audience, one needs to call attention to their work. Performing artists like singers and actors have the added difficulty of not being able to just leave their work on an easel and walk away. Their product is inseparable from themselves and is to be seen by ideally as many people as possible.

So artists who are introverted and/or shy have to develop a set of skills diametrically opposite to their nature. Part of professionalism as an artist is being able to put that introversion or shyness aside for as long as it takes to advertise oneself or finish a performance. Many find doing so to be exhilarating and fun but eventually we have to come back down again.

Just as we don’t expect mechanics to always be fixing cars or professors to constantly be teaching literature, artists too are people. The secret is to know when to be on and when to be off. Sometimes you just have to be off. When I’m meeting new people for the first time I always try to make a good first impression but I only occasionally use my acting skills in doing so. Doing so would be exhausting and not entirely honest.

So when you’re stepping into a situation like that, you make a conscious choice and you choose to be okay with it afterwards. You may worry that you were received as being weird or awkward and maybe you were (not that that’s a problem) but part of professionalism is knowing the difference between your professional life and your personal life – the difference between what you do and who you are. I think most would agree with me in saying that the goal of life is not to get stuck doing the same thing all the time and loosing yourself in it.

If you’re in the habit of selling yourself, or if you’re learning how to sell yourself, here is my encouragement. Every now and then, don’t. Just be weird and shy and nervous. Your business as an artist will be business, but your personal relationships are between people, not businesses. Don’t lose yourself in your work, find yourself outside of it. In the end, it will actually make your art much better; your ability to apply criticism and handle rejection will be vastly improved.

Don’t sell yourself. Sell your product. Sell your skill. Sell your ability or brand. But you are you, not any one skill that you happen to have.

Nothing Under the Sun

All creatives I have known have run into the situation where they set out to do a project and then find that it has already been done before. Someone had the same idea and got there first. You’ve worked weeks or maybe months on something only to discover that it’s not as original as you imagined.

I personally find that this experience is sort of like the stages of grief. Not step for step identical but we still wrestle through reviewing the value of our work which tends to involve a lot of denial and bargaining. I try to come up with new justifications for my work. “Do I approach the subject matter from a different angle? Do I present it in a unique style? Can I add insights that this other person can’t? Can I do it better in general?”

The objective is to not scrap everything you’ve accomplished so far but giving up can be awfully tempting.

Sometimes you do find that different angle, unique style, insight, or means of improvement. Sometimes it’s obvious and easy to build on what has already been done. I think that’s the best case scenario. The worst case scenario is when you can’t rejustify your work to yourself and your standing there staring at your notebook, computer, canvas, or whatever and honestly can’t see anything in your own work that hasn’t already been accomplished. Then what?

The trash can is right there. You could just give up and move on but something in you is reluctant. Why? Because you’re doing this for yourself. You didn’t sit down in front of the canvas or word document just to have this or that impact on society. That may be a big part of it but you’re also doing it for yourself. You’re doing it because you were made to make things and have works to call your own. Who cares if it’s identical to something else? Let someone else be the judge of that. Chances are your perspective is too clouded to see something that would be obvious to an outside observer.

Throw that trash can in the trash can where it belongs and finish what you started. You will likely find a purpose to your work when it’s done that you couldn’t see before. If you can, forget the other thing exists.

Do the best you can, wrap it up, put a bow on it. To respect and finish your own work, in the spirit in which it began, is a gift you give yourself. And I guarantee that at least one other person in the world will be glad you did.