The Crucifiction – the rather wobbly keystone
Published by Abdus-Samad under Christianity, Interfaith Dialogue
The crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the single most important
event in the Christian religion. The crucifix itself, an instrument of torture and death,
is the most common symbol associated with Christians. It is found in their churches,
in their houses and often hanging around their necks.
Without the crucifixion and resurrection, there is no Christianity. Paul wrote, “And if
Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we
are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up
Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not.” (I Corinthians
15:14-15, ‘King James Version’ translation)
The problem one has, is with the whole point of the crucifixion (assuming, for the
sake of argument, that it actually happened). What was it all for? What good did it do?
How does crucifixion kill you? According to the Bible, it seems you can just hang
there indefinitely until you feel like “giving up the ghost” (i.e. dying). In actual fact
you die of asphyxiation by drowning. Hanging by your arms makes it more and more
difficult to expand your chest until you can no longer draw air into your lungs; You
very slowly drown as the chest and abdominal muscles tire and fluid collects in the
lungs. One of the reasons that the Romans would break the legs of the crucified was
to speed up their death – they could not take any weight on their legs and the whole
body was hanging by the arms.
( It should also be noted that the Romans probably tied the wrists to the cross, and
nailed the hands on to make sure the victim could not pull his hands free. If nails were
used with no rope, the weight of the body would simply rip the nails through the
hands. It has been mentioned that the nails were usually placed between the Radius
and Ulna bones in the forearm, as they could support the weight. Presumably it was
both the combination of the ropes and nails that held the victim in place. Interesting
that you never see Christian stigmatics showing rope marks on the wrist and nail
marks on the fore-arms, and most images of Christ show him supported only by nails
through the hand… ).
The four gospels all give different accounts of (among many other things) Jesus’ final
words. Yet he would have hardly been able to suck in a lungful of air, let alone make
any sort of grand last words.
Christians often tell you things such as “The Lord sent his only son to die for me!
How much more personal can you get?” and “he died for our sins” and so on. It seems
that some people almost celebrate the awful death of Jesus. Was it really some great
selfless sacrifice, for the benefit of a world of sinners?
So the story goes, Jesus died and this somehow absolved all of humanity’s sins, past,
present and future. He then spent three days dead (some say he went to the
underworld or Hell), came back to his physical body and then floated up to Heaven.
How was this a selfless sacrifice? He was marched up the hill by a bunch of heavily
armed centurions. Was he really saying things like “No, it’s okay, I want to do this.
It’s part of The Plan, you see.”? (It has to be said that many human sacrifices do
willingly go to their deaths, sure in the belief that they are doing it for the good of
their people, and that their deity actually exists. They don’t usually magically
manipulate events to ensure that it happens, however…)
Maybe it somehow was a selfless sacrifice. In this case, why was it necessary for
Jesus to be killed by the state? Why not just say to his disciples “Well guys, it’s time
to say Goodbye.” and throw himself under the nearest chariot? Death is death. Did the
manner in which Christ died actually make any difference?
It has never been adequately explained how this death freed us all from sin. If the
death freed us from the consequences of sin (hell, or eternal oblivion), it is still
unclear as to why it had to happen in this particular way. Why didn’t God just sort it
all out during Creation?
If Jesus is God, then how do we know he really suffered? Is it possible to inflict
physical pain on an immortal, omnipotent entity? (see ‘Suffering’ below) Maybe he
was just faking it for the crowd…
If Jesus is God, then how was it a sacrifice? He only had to spend a few days “dead”,
then it was back home to Heaven (and he knew all this beforehand, being omniscient).
A few days in the underworld can hardly have been a big deal for an eternal,
omnipotent deity, can it? (And of course, being omnipresent as well, he would already
have been there all the time anyway).
What was he doing during those three days? (Some people say he was preaching to
the lost souls in Hell). Why three days anyway? Coming back to life after a couple of
weeks would have impressed the locals much more.
If Jesus willingly went to the cross, was it then a suicide? Isn’t suicide a Big Bad Sin?
There seems to be a very fine line between sacrificing yourself and committing
suicide… (Of course, in Jesus’ case, he sacrificed himself to himself without actually
dying, just to confuse matters further).
Why didn’t he stay dead? Not much of a sacrifice if you spring back to life a few days
later, is it (especially if that was your intention right from the start)?
If Jesus had it all planned from the start (if you believe Christians when they tell you
the Old Testament is full of prophecies about Jesus and his death), then it certainly
was not a sacrifice. He must have used his God-Magic to manipulate events and
ensure that the crucifixion occurred. This would include making Judas betray him.
Why is Judas so reviled? If he acted with Jesus’ blessing, or even under divine
coercion from Jesus, why is he portrayed as a bad person? Either way, he helped the
crucifixion take place, so surely Christians should admire him. Without Judas they
might not have been Saved, or Jesus might have lived a lot longer and they’d have a
much less impressive ornament to hang round their necks as a symbol of his death. A
runaway horse maybe, or a slippery banana-skin or perhaps a poorly cooked chicken
Why didn’t Jesus let the disciples in on the big secret beforehand?
If Judas had not given Jesus a kiss on the cheek, would nobody have known who he
was? Had he been preaching, healing and overturning tables with a mask on, so that
the only way in which the “great multitude” who came for him could recognise him
was through Judas’ kiss? Perhaps Jesus had a twin brother, and only Judas could
easily tell them apart? Perhaps the other disciples were all wearing “Jesus Masks” to
throw the crowd off the scent? Judas’ part in all this would seem to be quite redundant
if Jesus were at all recognisable to his enemies…
We are told that Jesus died for our sins, and his death on the cross saved us all from
Hell (or eternal death). So why do we still get all the sermons about sin, heaven and
hell? If we are all going to Heaven anyway, why do priests keep pestering us? If our
afterlife still depends on living a good christian life then what difference did Jesus’
death make? How did it change anything?
If Jesus has already “paid the price” for our sins, then surely we can now sin as much
as we like. If not, why not? Or, if he only paid for Original Sin, that still doesn’t
explain why God needed a blood sacrifice to sort out something that could easily have
been avoided in the first place. (Remember though, that the first murder in the Bible
occurred as a result of God preferring a sacrifice of flesh to a sacrifice of vegetables,
for some obscure reason).
If our getting into Heaven depends solely on accepting Christ as our personal Saviour,
what about all those people who died without even hearing about him (for whatever
reason)? If they get into heaven anyway, then Christ’s death is irrelevant. In which
case, why shouldn’t the same apply to everyone? If God had never sent Christ to
Earth, everyone would get into Heaven and there would be a few less violent wars in
the history books…
The idea of God sacrificing himself to himself, in order to prevent himself sending us
all to Hell for committing sins because of the way he made us, and which he knew we
were going to do is difficult to accept…
A big thing is made about how much Christ suffered on the cross. While certainly
quite nasty, there are much worse ways to die (and the followers of Christ have been
quite inventive in thinking up new ones over the last couple of thousand years). If
Christ’s suffering was somehow supposed to be for our benefit, wouldn’t we benefit
more if his suffering had been greater (e.g. he might have been hung, drawn and
quartered; or keelhauled; or water-boarded first)? Or, if he had suffered less (maybe
quickly stabbed) would it have made any difference? All the other people who were
crucified (and there were certainly plenty – the Romans were very big on
crucifixions) would have suffered to a similar degree, if not more. How was Christ’s
suffering any different to theirs?
Crucifixion is obviously a particularly horrific way to die. However, being God, Jesus
would have known not only the pain involved in crucifixion, but also the pain
involved in every other possible manner of dying. God would be perfectly aware of
tortures, diseases and injuries that make crucifixion seem like a picnic on a warm
summer day. When people go on about how terrible His death was, how much he
suffered, and that it allowed Him to experience human suffering, I think “But if he
was God, a few hours on the cross would have been utterly insignificant to Him and
He would already know exactly what all possible forms of human suffering are like.”
Some people argue that Christ suffered more than just physical pain – he suffered
spiritual pain because he was taking all of our sins on himself. Unfortunately, this
spiritual suffering didn’t seem to make enough of an impression on the writers of the
Gospels for them to note it down… This also begs the question – If He suffered
“spiritual pain”, why was it necessary for Him to also suffer physical pain? Couldn’t
He have atoned and suffered without being nailed to a stick first? At what point did
the spiritual pain begin and end, and why?
Presumably this atonement includes the sins of people in the past and future, as well
as at the time of the crucifixion. In that case, why did God have to come to earth at all
and be sacrificed (to himself)? Why not just sort it all out right at the time of
Creation? What happened to those who died before Christ did? Were they just sort of
floating around in limbo, waiting for the time of the Atonement?
So Christ suffered horribly and died (temporarily) for His beliefs? So what?
How many people suffer far, far worse deaths every single year for no good reason
whatsoever? (Ironically, sometimes at the hands of Christ’s “followers”). People who
are brutally murdered because of the colour of their skin, or their beliefs, or simply
because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
If it simply freed us from (or paid the price for) Original Sin (Adam and Eve bringing
sin into the world which was then somehow inherited), does that mean that all those
people who died before Jesus didn’t have a chance? Or did his death retro-actively
Save them as well? In which case, why did he have to die at all? Why not just remove
Original Sin right at the start?
In conclusion, the crucifixion which is the keystone of Christianity appears irrational
and hence is wobbly.