February 14, 2010
The traditional understanding of Jesus is given by Paul and it was that he should pay for the sins of humanity and give everyone a fresh start and a guarantee to defeat the sin that dwells in all of us naturally.
[Reflection. Kant agrees with Paul in this, although he does not ascribe it to any sort of sin that passed down from parent to child. Rather it is the inevitable penchant of the human to be willing to break the moral law when it is found inconvenient or imprudent.]
I don’t care much for this understanding now that I have read Hans Küng. I don’t like the idea of a loving God who will not forgive a sin except that blood be shed. It would seem that he were afraid of losing face in the presence of the angels. Perhaps it could serve to comfort people who are aware of their sin and cannot believe that it could be forgiven without some payment, some sacrifice, some pain. “Believe that Jesus died to pay for your sins, and rise and sin no more.”
I like better this newer notion of mine (and inspired by Küng). Jesus by his own authority forgives sin and gives people a new start, and he tells them how to live. People (Jew and gentile) reject him and destroy him for his presumption and audacity. God raises him from the dead, thereby vindicating all that he had said, namely his forgiveness of sin and how to live the good life, the true life. And those who believe this will most certainly do as he says.
Now since all people (including his own) have rejected him he returns free of any obligation to the Jews and speaks then universally and calls all people to believe in him and to trust him. “Your sins are forgiven. So rise and live totally in accordance with the Law of Love (neighbor, fellow Christian and God).”
Perhaps the shame of the Jews will be that other people are made totally free of all ritualistic sham and can seek the truth from scratch with pure expediency in the development of human personality.
Kant has an interesting moral take on the notion of atonement for sins. He looks upon sin not as an act as rather a predisposition. As a result it is morally infinite. For if the disposition is evil then the actual evil acts that will ensue will be simply a function of opportunity. So the evil of the human is infinite. Now when a person has the good predisposition then his goodness is also infinite and the actual good acts are entirely a function of opportunity. But we cannot let these two infinities cancel each other out, the infinite good of myself as a transformed person cannot be used to pay for the infinite evil of myself in my natural state. And the reason is that the good that is to ensue from the good principle is an obligation, i.e., that is what people are required to do by the moral law in the first place.
The way Kant handles the atonement is in this wise. When I leave the evil state and enter the realm of the good principle I am taking on additional ills due to the evil character of the world. For example by not being able to lie to others I open myself up to their abuse. Since this can be expected to continue as long as there is evil in the world, I can expect infinite ills as a result of my conversion, and it is my willingness to accept these ills without complaint (although not deserving them in my now transformed and good state) that pays the debt of the old man.
According to Kant Jesus was doing essentially this taking on the ills of the world in his suffering and death, but since he was sinless, he can be considered as having shown his followers what they must also do, namely die to sin in order to live for virtue. He did what he did not have to do for his on account in order to lead the way that all people must do because they deserve it. It’s Jesus saying: “follow me and you will die to sin and live to love. I don’t deserve this but I do it for you that you might know that you will be successful and will live.”