This blog contains material I wrote and posted on multiply.com between the years 2005 and 2011 only. It does not contain any new material. For newer writing, please check my main blog (Bill the Butcher).
Monday, 26 November 2012
First: to those who believe, greetings on Good Friday.
All right, now that I’ve greeted you, I need to talk about some doubts I keep having about this.
Before I go there, though, I’d like to say that I don’t want this post to get distracted into a theist-versus-atheist argument. For the purposes of this thread, let me assume that the Christian version of God really exists, that It sent a part of Itself to earth some two thousand years ago, and said part, in the name of a man we call Christ today, was betrayed, arrested, and executed by crucifixion – precisely as the deity Itself had intended – in order to save the True Believers from their sins.
Also, in this particular post, I am not going to address the Resurrection. I’ll leave that one for later; for Easter, maybe.
I don’t know if there’s anything good about whipping a man, tying him naked to a cross (yes, they usually tied ‘em; nailing caused the crucified person to pass out from shock and loss of blood and hastened death, and the Romans had no interest in hastening death) and hoisting him up in public view until he strangled to death on his own respiratory tract secretions and blood. That’s my first problem. Call me squeamish or overly sensitive, but I can’t but suffer in sympathetic agony at the idea of some person going through that kind of pain (or, truth to tell, of any kind of pain). No.
And this brings me to the other main problem. Supposedly the point of the exercise is that Jesus died for the sins of the people. Certainly, as I pointed out three years ago , I don’t understand the concept of taking anyone’s sins on oneself, but for the moment let me grant that. Let’s say someone decided to take my sins on himself, and suffered and died for it. How is that supposed to make me feel?
I’ll tell you how the idea makes me feel: it makes me feel like the lowest of the low, the scum of the earth. I couldn’t bear the guilt of it. I’m sure most other normal people, if they actually think about it, will be in the same position, because I certainly am not any more empathetic or tender hearted than any other person. If someone proposed taking my sins on themselves, even if it had no direct repercussions on that individual, do you think I’d agree? Would you?
The ancient Jews had a strange custom. Every year, 
(t)he high priest would then lay hands on the second goat which was allowed to live, and he would confess the sins of the people putting them on the head of the goat. The goat would then bear the blame for all the transgressions of the people and would be set free into the wilderness, where God would remember their sins no more. The goat became known as the scapegoat.
The scapegoat was allowed to live, though. There’s that.
As for Christ, if you want to know what crucifixion really entailed, here’s  a description, in some detail. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
It’s pretty clear that Christ himself was less than enthusiastic about the whole affair; the night before his arrest he asked the deity (of which he was a part) to take the bitter cup from his lips, and on the cross he asked It why It had forsaken him (Eli, eli, lama sabachthani) . That alone would mean that any reasoning person would rather let the poor man live. And yet they flogged him raw, hung him up, and then stabbed him in the side.
Well, let’s see what this occasion is supposed to commemorate.
You have a man who is beyond sin, the veritable son of a deity, and this blameless man is executed in order to forgive your sins.
From any viewpoint that says one should take responsibility for one’s actions, this is not a good thing.
Then, how do you kill this blameless man? You whip him, you jam a circlet of thorns over his head, you strip him completely naked (no loincloths in real life crucifixions – they were meant to be as humiliating to the victim as possible) and you tie him to an upright T shaped piece of wood. You tie him because, you see, you don’t want him to pass out from the pain and shock of hammering spikes through his wrists. You want him to last, you want him to suffer.
Then you leave him in the sun and wait for him to die. If he looks like he’s about to die of thirst, you give him a sponge soaked in vinegar to suck. You want him to suffer.
Just how does he suffer?
According to this site, which refers to spikes, not ropes, and uses American “units” of measurement:
Crucifixion sometimes began with a scourging or flogging of the victim’s back. The Romans used a whip called a flagrum, which consisted of small pieces of bone and metal attached to a number of leather strands. The number of blows given to Jesus is not recorded; however, the number of blows in Jewish law was 39 (one less than the 40 called for in the Torah, to prevent a counting error). During the scourging, the skin was ripped from the back, exposing a bloody mass of tissue and bone. Extreme blood loss occurred, often causing death, or at least unconsciousness. In addition to the flogging, Jesus faced severe beating and torment by the Roman soldiers, including the plucking of His beard and the piercing of His scalp with a crown of thorns.
After the flogging, the victim was often forced to carry his own crossbar, or patibulum, to the execution site. The patibulum could easily weigh 100 pounds. In the case of Jesus, the record shows that He may have carried His patibulum the distance of over two football fields. In a weak and tormented state, it’s no wonder the record establishes that Jesus needed a great deal of assistance. Once the victim arrived at the execution site, the patibulum was put on the ground and the victim was forced to lie upon it. Spikes about 7 inches long and 3/8 of an inch in diameter were driven into the wrists. The spikes would hit the area of the median nerve, causing shocks of pain up the arms to the shoulders and neck. Already standing at the crucifixion site would be the 7-foot-tall post, called a stipes. In the centre of the stipes was a crude seat to “support” for the victim. The patibulum was then lifted on to the stipes, and the victim’s body was awkwardly turned on the seat so that the feet could be nailed to the stipes. At this point, there was tremendous strain put on the wrists, arms and shoulders, resulting in a dislocation of the shoulder and elbow joints. The position of the nailed body held the victim’s rib cage in a fixed position, which made it extremely difficult to exhale, and impossible to take a full breath. Having suffered from the scourging, the beatings and the walk with the patibulum, Jesus was described as extremely weak and dehydrated. He was probably losing significant amounts of blood. As time passed, the loss of blood and lack of oxygen would cause severe cramps, spasmodic contractions and probably unconsciousness.
Ultimately, the mechanism of death in crucifixion was suffocation. To breathe, the victim was forced to push up on his feet to allow for inflation of the lungs. As the body weakened and pain in the feet and legs became unbearable, the victim was forced to trade breathing for pain and exhaustion. Eventually, the victim would succumb in this way, becoming utterly exhausted or lapsing into unconsciousness so that he could no longer lift his body off the stipes and inflate his lungs. Due to the shallow breathing, the victim’s lungs would begin to collapse in areas, probably causing hypoxia. Due to the loss of blood from the scourging, the victim probably formed a respiratory acidosis, resulting in an increased strain on the heart, which beats faster to compensate. Fluid would also build up in the lungs. Under the stress of hypoxia and acidosis, the heart would eventually fail.
So, this is the way the blameless man, the son of the Deity, suffered to “cleanse the believers of their sins.” And this is supposed to be Good Friday.
Another reason I’m happy to be an atheist. I couldn’t bear the guilt of it.