Salvation by faith in Jesus is a core concept of Paul’s theology, but it’s not so clear across the Bible. Needless to say that there is no mention in the Old Testament, the gospels are also quite unclear. Mark and Matthew only go as far as to say that Jesus’ death is a ransom for many, but don’t explain how. Luke doesn’t seem to talk about salvation at all, as it portrays the crucifixion as just a sign showing that Jesus is a martyr prophet.
But according to Christian religion, salvation is the process through which people have their sins forgiven, by believing in Jesus as savior and God, and become accepted into eternal life in the Kingdom of God (a.k.a. heaven). For fear of not being saved, many people, including liberal Christians, seek to believe in Jesus.
I, too, have always been taught to believe in the Christian salvation, I used to see it as a self-evident truth. But one day I started to question it too. I noticed that people who believe in salvation (including myself at the time) usually assume some presuppositions (none of which is supported by the biblical books as a whole). According to my thinking, there are five basic presuppositions:
1. ORIGINAL SIN/ TOTAL DEPRAVITY
Christianism assumes all men are born sinners (corrupted, evil, unwilling to obey God). That’s something I’d sort of agree with, as it seems to me that human nature has a natural inclination for selfishness. The assumption also says all men are unable to improve themselves unless they come to believe in Christ. This idea is taken to the extreme by Calvinists, with the doctrine of Total Depravity. And that’s something I find hard to accept, since it claims all non-christian persons are equally and completely wicked, whereas what I’ve seen in my life are people, either Christians or not, with a great variety of personalities. There doesn’t seem to be such a thing as someone inherently bad, everybody is just capable of doing both good and evil, though in different quantities. So this first assumption doesn’t seem that compatible with reality.
2. ETERNAL HELL
Even though the Bible ain’t clear about it, Christianism assumes the price of sin (evil deeds) is eternal death, interpreted as eternal suffering, the maximum sentence in the universe. The sentence, though, is regardless of the number or quality of the committed sins. As everybody is born with a sinful nature, having one small evil thought in one’s entire life, or living as a serial killer who tortures for pleasure makes no difference, all are given the same punishment. Hence the need to be saved.
What I have to say is that this idea is completely incompatible with a just God. As if it wasn’t enough to convict people simply for being born and unrelated to their decisions or actions, it entails God inflicts an eternal suffering on people who, even if the evilest ever, didn’t have an eternal time to do evil. It’s just not fair.
3. TRANSFERENCE OF SENTENCE
In Christianism, afterlife bears only two possibilities: heaven and hell. In order to enter heaven and be in God’s presence, one needs to be clean of sin, perfect in righteousness. But as men are totally corrupted, they are unable to become 100% clean and are sent to hell. There is only one escape: the transference of your sentence to Jesus.
Many think this logic makes sense, but we have to remember that there is no evidence that the world really works like that. Yes, we probably cannot achieve perfection in our human lifetime, but who said we are supposed to? Even if there really is a heaven where only perfect people can enter, God could pick those who tried their best in their lifetime and make them perfect, so they can enter it. It would be more fair.
Either way, the very idea that you can transfer the sentence of your sins doesn’t have much of a logical basis either. It seems to be derived from the ancient middle eastern belief that if you sin and make a god angry, you can satisfy the god’s thirst for blood by having an animal die in your place. Needless to say, making someone pay for the crime of someone else doesn’t sound fair at all. Especially because those who have their sentences absolved are not chosen in the basis of their actions or effort, but in the basis of faith. Why is faith unfair? This brings us to the next presupposition:
4. FAITH IN CHRIST AS CONDITION FOR SALVATION
All denominations agree that having faith in the divinity and atonement of Jesus is the primordial requirement for salvation. But there is no evidence to support belief in Jesus, there is no way we can know for sure if Jesus really was and did what the religion claims. Plus, there are many other religions and doctrines that preach different conditions for salvation, all lacking evidence. Would a just God require people to choose and believe something they have no means of verifying, as the condition for their salvation?
It’s like a teacher who gives a final exam to his students. The exam has one multiple-choice question with hundreds of alternatives and they need to choose the correct one in order to pass. But there is one detail: the teacher never taught the subject of that question to the students. They have no way of knowing the right answer, no matter how much effort they have put into studying. Still, the teacher will reprove all who choose a wrong answer. They have no choice but to guess what the right alternative is. In the end, only the few ones who were very lucky will pass, all the others will be reproved. Do you think this teacher is just?
5. PLAN OF SALVATION
Christians believe God has a plan of saving humanity from sin, by using Jesus. The story goes like this: God creates man as righteous, but man sins and corrupts himself and, consequentially, all of his descendants. God chooses one people from among humans, the Israelites, and tries several times to bring them back to righteousness, but they always fail. Tired, God decides to do it himself, so he sends Jesus to carry away the sins of men. Jesus sets in motion the Church, a group composed by those saved by him, regarded as righteous, that will grow until he comes back. When the Son of God returns he will throw away all those who didn’t enter the Church and humanity will have returned to its original form!
Sounds like a beautiful story, but what always bothered me is the fact that it sees humanity as if it were one single individual. It’s beautiful if you think that after a long process God manages to save Mr. Humanity and give him eternal life, but in the process 99.99% of all the cells he ever had died. These cells are the billions of human beings that ever existed and were just thrown away in the process of “saving humanity”, without even having a chance of being saved. What kind of plan of salvation is that?
The presuppositions of christian salvation seem very contradictory with the idea of a just God. Besides, there is no evidence that they are real, some of them seem actually very illogical. So.. does it mean we don’t need any salvation?
As I exposed, the christian salvation is a salvation from the spiritual sentence we all are supposedly condemned to, what modern Christians interpret as hell. But if there is no eternal hell, then there is no need for a salvation from it. If God is truly just, then what we will find in the afterlife is more likely a proportional consequence of our intentions in life, rather than an absolute and eternal state.
In fact, Paul doesn’t even talk about hell. Salvation according to him is from death itself, as he believed the believers of Jesus would resurrect, like Jesus did, and never die again. The non-believers would simply die and never come back. It was probably only after the composition of the Apocalypse of John that later Christians started to develop the idea of hell and a salvation from it. [see Theologian Paula Gooder’s opinions on hell]
In conclusion, I wouldn’t say what we need is to be saved, but rather to gradually “save” ourselves from the suffering we ourselves create, something we can do by changing our values and views, and doing our best to abandon our selfish attitudes.
Continues in Part 2