here’s a very popular Christian hymn titled, “Are You Washed in the Blood?” It’s catchy enough to be stuck in my head now that I’m writing about it. Here, have a listen:
I used to love this hymn and now I really can’t stand it. The thing I hate about this hymn is that it trivializes the brutal concept of vicarious redemption via the slaughter of an innocent. When I was a Christian I thought it was a great song (and even better when my uncle would sing it because instead of “washed” he would say “warshed”) but when I was a Christian I also didn’t think too much about the concepts being presented. To me, Jesus’ death was simply a gift from my creator because he loved me and wanted me to be with him forever, avoiding the punishment and suffering I deserved, just for having been born. This made perfect sense at the time. Here’s what I missed:
The Bible is arguably one of the bloodiest, most violent books ever written. The Old Testament god is one of the most cruel, selfish, petty and unjust creatures ever to “exist.” He constantly demands death in order to atone for the mistakes of himself and his creations. This death takes the form of sheep, goats, cattle, oxen, birds, and at times even humans. He repeatedly reminds everyone how perfect he is and how he never changes, yet when we get to the New Testament there’s a shift in his attitude, methods, and means. He decides that instead of having people slaughter livestock forever he’ll provide a final, all-encompassing blood sacrifice to atone for every sin for as long as the Earth stands, never to require dead livestock again. This is his plan:
God will take a third of himself and plant it in a young woman’s womb to grow as a human child who will tell a select group of men about the secret of Heaven and god’s forgiveness until such time as he fulfills his destiny by bearing the sins of the world — past, present, and future — through being brutalized and murdered on a cross but then coming back to life after three days to hang out for a bit before going back to Heaven to sit with god and wait until it’s time for him to return and destroy the entire Earth and send all of the unrepentant sinners to Hell.
Sounds reasonable, right? Well, to a believer, it does. I didn’t see this as a problem when I was a Christian — it just was what it was. God is three people in one and even though Jesus was god, he was also human. Jesus died to save us from sin. Yes, it was entirely possible for sin — an intangible, ill-defined concept — to be heaped on a man’s shoulders and be paid in full, even though the people said to benefit from this payment will still sin and have to repent in order to stay in god’s good graces. Your debt is paid in full but you still have to pay the debt in other ways. If this sounds ineffective to you, rest assured you’re not alone.
The imagery of Jesus’ death is portrayed in a number of different ways. It can be an expression of love where not so much emphasis is placed on the act of crucifixion but the symbolism of Jesus’ generosity to sinners. It can be a grisly horror story of flesh-ripping whips and thorns and buckets upon buckets of blood. In fact, some preachers design stomach-churning orations on the horrible murder of Jesus specifically to evoke guilt and shame responses from the congregation. Classy.
That guilt and shame was something that stuck with me throughout my childhood and took a long time to outgrow when I began to distance myself from Christianity. It’s emotionally scarring and that’s exactly on what the religion counts in order to keep the sheep in the fold. Sheep, by the way, are exactly the type of animal that would be led to the slaughter so that the aroma of blood could fill god’s nostrils and make him feel loved.
There’s nothing moral about blood and gore to please a jealous deity. I see this now and wish I could have avoided wasting all of those years groveling at the feet of a monster, only to feel like I’d never actually be good enough anyway.