So for me, living in sin doesn’t mean that actually doing evil things. Most people aren’t really that evil. Some are, but by that standard, maybe only 10 percent of people actually live in sin. The real issue is feeling bad. It’s as if someone or something watches over me, judging me NOT WORTHY.
For example, I need to be saved from feeling bad about writing badly. I’m pretty sure someone else could have written these essays better than I am doing it. But Jesus died, apparently, so that I could write what I’m writing badly, and still feel good about it. The shame of self-reflection is lifted by his death and resurrection.
The current writing wasn’t meant to be a 4-part series. Originally I wrote the following article, and while I’ve covered some of these subjects already, I don’t know how to make the original better at this point. So here it is:
I live in sin. Have I committed any crimes? No. Do people think badly of me? Maybe — ask them. But I live in sin because I am constantly burdened by a conscience that wonders whether I’m as good a human as I could be. When I’m feeling pain — and maybe this pain comes from shame — I ask myself, “Could I do better? Is this pain my fault?” Maybe it’s the outer world – the universe – that is the fundamental source of the pain. But a shred of doubt follows me everywhere I go. I suppose that makes me a good person, in the sense that a good person wonders whether they are doing the best they can. A bad person might not be bothered by the question. A bad person doesn’t live in sin, in this sense, because they are simply not bothered by the possibility of being bad. That’s what makes them bad, is not being bothered. But I’m not a bad person, I’m a good one, and therefore I worry about how good my behavior is. In my case, it is not what I do wrong, but rather my ignorance of how I’m doing, in the ethical sense – that sends me into despair. It is my ignorance from which I need to be redeemed.
In the legend of Genesis, Adam and Eve eat from the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, which precedes their fall into sin. This correlates with my experience. Precisely because we have become aware that it is possible to be evil, Adam, Eve, and I feel a corresponding anxiety whether any given action we take is a sin. “Am I being evil now?” I don’t know, and my doubt puts me into a hellish state. I require redemption.
But from where?
Maybe I can “think” my way through the problem. People who don’t need a traditional solution find ways to get by through personal experience and thought. “I’m not a bad person,” they think. And in a cosmic sense, who knows? Maybe there’s no such thing as a bad person. A desirable condition, never to doubt one’s goodness!
The Christian tradition, of course, entirely rejects this possibility. As St. Paul says,
“As it is written:
‘None is righteous, no, not one;
no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.’” — Romans 3:10-12
With regard to the possibilities for why some people feel the burden of sin and others do not: The first is the objective amount of evil within any given person. Someone who is actually highly evil ought to feel a proportionately large amount of the burden of sin, while someone low in evil ought not to. But if Paul is right, and everyone is essentially evil, then the more important difference is not how much evil resides within any given person, so much as how much any given person feels the presence of evil. Paul is preaching to those who feel the burden of sin more than others, and his words reassure them — perhaps falsely, but maybe not — that the problem is not their sensitivity to evil, but others’ lack of such sensitivity.
It is strange to imagine that this ONE emotion — the burden of shame felt by the awareness of the possibility that people can be evil, and that one might oneself be such a person — could spawn a major world religion. But a part of me is very glad that it did. I myself am often debilitated by this particular shame, and I need redeeming from it no less than the average feeling Christian. Certainly there are those who are not debilitated by such shame, and find it difficult to see the attraction of the solution Christianity provides for what they see as a non-problem.
But Christianity still leaves a lot to be desired, and I’ve never met a Christian who has my particular take on it. Standard Christianity holds that it is enough for God to have incarnated himself as a human being exactly one time. Jesus’s death on the cross and subsequent resurrection are thought to have permanently provided humans the opportunity to redeem themselves from sin. An act of free will, and nothing more, is involved — let us leave the question of the nature of “free will” aside for now. The point is that apparently God only needs to appear on earth one time, and presto! All feelings of shame and sin due to the awareness of the possibility of being evil are, for those who believe, converted into positive emotions, such as love and compassion.
Tradition holds that God gives eternal life to those who believe. But who wants eternal life, really? I prefer to interpret “eternal life” as a more mundane blessing, i.e. simply to be free of the anxiety provoked by the knowledge of good and evil, especially with regard to my own status as either good or evil.
Yet the story of Jesus isn’t enough. It is too particular and too obscure to convince me that God loves me so much as to want to save me. I’ve been told by many believing Christians, “God loves you.” And I wanted it to be true.
I just think God is kind of lazy if he thinks he can incarnate only ONE time and expect people to feel saved. I mean, there’s a lot of people out here, Lord! Not sure if you noticed. Just saying.
So I get a little angry, and I think that if God really loved me, he would need to do a little bit more than that. The lyrics from Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” are suitable here: “At first I was afraid, I was petrified!” But now, if you want to prove you love me, Lord, give more than just a single incarnation, two thousand years ago. That Jesus is a dry corpse by now.
A did a little calculation. People of that era were generally poor and smaller compared to ours. But let’s say Jesus was a large man for his time: 80 kilograms (176 pounds). Divide that mass by the say 4 billion Christians over the years that he has to save, and you only get about 0.00002 grams — 20 micrograms — of Jesus per sinner. That much of any ordinary substance taken internally would not affect anyone. But I did some further calculations. What is the biggest thing that 20 micrograms of the deadliest snake venom could kill? Would it be enough to kill a person? No. Black mamba venom is rated 0.30 mg/kg on the LD50 scale — it takes .30 milligrams of venom, per kilogram of host, to have a 50% chance of killing it. It would therefore take 900 micrograms to stand a 50% chance of killing a 3 kilogram baby. You could kill 3 adult mice with that, however, at 50-50 odds each.
So it’s not nothing.
But it’s definitely not enough. One Jesus is simply not enough. With that little Jesus to go around, my feeling is that God not only doesn’t love me — he doesn’t even like me.
So I need to think outside the box. What would it take for me to feel like God really did love me? Say, for example, God sent one Jesus per year to earth to suffer and die for all our sins. This would not be too bad. Instead of one Jesus having to absorb 2000+ years of sins, each Jesus would only have to absorb one year’s total. In this scenario, God is definitely showing up, and I’d give him credit for that.
But it’s still not enough. If God sent one Jesus per year, I could no longer say he hated us. While no longer a massive deadbeat, I would say that at that point, he “showed concern.” But in order for me to really think he liked us, I go so far as to say he’d have to sent at least one Jesus per person. If each and every person received his very own incarnation of the Lord to suffer and die painfully just to relieve that person of the burden of doubt cast upon him by sin, then I could no longer complain that God didn’t care about us.
Bear in mind that as people bound to our physical bodies, we find ourselves stuck in an almost totally lifeless universe, unable to expand meaningfully beyond the nurturing confines of the protective earth. We are composed of the same physical particles as dust, and from the cosmic point of view, there seems to be no purpose to our existence. It would take a lot to convince me that the creator of the universe loves me — not likes… loves. And even my very own Jesus — while much appreciated —would not convince me that God loved me. I would still be walking around and every so often get a pang of shame and agony, wondering, “Am I the best person I can be?”
I realize that so many Jesuses showing up on earth would pose a problem for the ordinary functioning of civilization. For example, people could become jealous of each other’s Jesuses. What if I liked your Jesus better than mine? But more importantly, the sheer number of Jesuses would entirely dilute the social significance of each one, such that insofar as “love” is a feeling of having been singled out to an elite status from among the masses, all these Jesuses would directly cancel out that type of love, due to their sheer ubiquity.
So I decided to think not in terms only of our own planet and our own universe, but of the “Multiverse,” in which there are infinite parallel dimensions. If a Jesus were sacrificed somewhere else in the Multiverse for my sake, it wouldn’t inhibit the ordinary flow of civilization and life here. So it solves that problem. But again, there is something disappointing about even having my very own Jesus live and die in brutal agony somewhere in the multiverse just for me. For God to really love, me, I would have to be truly impressed by what he’s willing to do for me. Consider, for example, that he was wiling to have 10s of millions of people killed in the names of the very worst people we have known here on this planet: Stalin, Mao, Hitler, and Mongols, etc. If God is willing to kill that many people for these totally-evil people’s sakes, and here I am, basically not that bad of a person, getting only ONE Jesus for my sake, and not even in this universe? It seems incongruent.
30,000. That number made me feel better. I got a jolt of actually feeling truly loved. But not long after, it seemed boring again, like God still wasn’t really there, and he didn’t truly love me. So I decided that God kills 30,000 Jesuses, from all across the Multiverse, for each and every time I find myself in a state of sin. Finally, some genuine relief! Remember, this isn’t about God liking me — I’d probably think he liked me if he killed, say, one Jesus per day just for my sake. But 30,000 per sin? He really does love me… and I know it, because the very fact that I was able to think that thought gave me pleasure and continues to give me pleasure.
How do I know that God murders 30,000 Christs in the Multiverse for each time I find myself doubting my goodness as a person? I don’t. But so long as that thought continues to make me happy, I can’t really say that God doesn’t love me, now can I?