There are three doctrinal issues that should trouble even the most fervent Christian. In the following discussion, I do not claim any special qualifications or insight except for that of a sentient human being. If you believe that this subject is the sole province of the theologian or the philosopher, then this diary is not for you.
I was brought up Roman Catholic, and I recognize that anything I might say about Christian belief might not apply to each and every Christian denomination. However, I think it's fair to assert that if a sect rejects the divinity of Jesus, that they have stepped outside the boundaries of Christianity, as defined by the council of Nicea in 325.
Without further ado, the three doctrines are: the Trinity, the Resurrection of Jesus, and the doctrine of redemption. (In the text, I have adhered to the Christian custom of capitalizing the personal pronouns referring to their deity.)
It is to be acknowledged that there are—even today—Christian denominations that do not subscribe to the doctrine of the Trinity. Examples include Mormons, Unitarians and Christian Scientists. But to the majority of Christians the doctrine is central to their faith. A Roman Catholic, for example, might reject the doctrine of purgatory without rejecting the core of the faith itself, but rejecting the Trinity would, I think, be grounds for excommunication. (Needless to say, I am not a cardinal, so this might not be doctrinally accurate.)
The doctrine of the Trinity suffers from the fatal defect that three does not equal one. This doctrine is generally passed off as a mystery of the faith, but the skeptic rightly says "Not so fast!" The transubstantiation might be passed off as a mystery of the faith, because it is merely physically impossible. But in the logical, i.e. the Boolean sense, three does not equal one. This doctrine implies that Christianity actually has three Gods despite the assertion that there is only one.
Much ink has been spilled in an effort to justify this doctrine. For example:
Saint Augustine, one of the greatest thinkers of the early church, described the Trinity as comparable to the three parts of an individual human being: mind, spirit, and will. They are three distinct aspects, yet they are inseparable and together constitute one unified human being.Augustine's analogy may sound vaguely convincing, but his three parts or aspects are not distinct, as are the three persons in the Trinity. Dividing the individual human into three aspects smacks of Freud's division of the psyche (rarely taken seriously these days) into the id, the ego and the superego. Augustine gives no hint why three is the magic number. If he had to justify a quadrinity instead, he could have added the aspect "identity" and the explanation would have sounded just as coherent.
According to Trinity doctrine, there are three 'Persons' that constitute God. All are coequal, and all are fully divine, with all the infinite attributes of God. But for some reason (unexplained), they are separate 'Persons'. If that is accurate, then it follows that there must be something that distinguishes one from the other. Let us now consider "God the Father". He is presumably infinitely perfect in all respects. If "God the Son" or "God the Holy Spirit" differ in any way from Him, then they are—by definition—imperfect in some respect. But this contradicts the original premise that they are fully divine, and therefore infinitely perfect.
Finally, how did the three-in-one idea come about in the first place? There is not a hint of the Trinity to be found in the Old Testament, and the books of the New Testament were written or selected or edited by the founders themselves. The very word Trinity was first used by Tertullian in the early third century. The history of the Trinity doctrine extends to the Council if Nicea in 325 CE, when it was formally adopted in roughly its present form.
Although the Holy Spirit is mentioned frequently in the New Testament, none of these mentions explicitly ascribe divinity to Him. Even the use of a masculine pronoun to refer to the Holy Spirit feels strange. It is also odd that the Holy Spirit has never spoken a single word that we know of. Many Christian denominations appear to put much more emphasis on the Holy Spirit than does Catholicism. In fact, I cannot remember a single prayer explicitly composed to the Holy Spirit, although I'm sure that such prayers exist. By contrast, the Hail Mary prayer is so well known that it has entered the lexicon of the fan of American football.
My point is that the Trinity doctrine is—historically speaking—an invention of the founders that did not coalesce for three centuries as established doctrine. Indeed, Christianity tells us to accept as brute fact that God is triune. There is very little in the way of revelation to support this view, and nothing in the way of logic. To put it bluntly, the founders of Christianity simply made it up as they went along.
The second fatal flaw is the doctrine of the Resurrection. I argue that Jesus was never resurrected because He was never dead, any more than the actor who, when shot, clutches his chest and sinks to the stage floor. That actor didn't experience pain when he was "shot". If Jesus was God, as implied by the doctrine of the Trinity, neither could Jesus have died. The perfect God of Christianity could no more experience actual pain or true death than he could experience greed or orgasm, or malice, and for roughly the same reason. To do so would require God to become, in fact, not just in appearance, an inferior being. If we consider Jesus to have merely taken on the appearance of a man, as a stage actor does, then His life and death was just a pious sham. On the other hand, the notion that He actually became a man is absurd. An eternal divine being cannot be a man; He cannot shed His perfection and His divinity as one sheds a suit of clothes.
I am reminded of the "Mr Deity" series, in which the title character occasionally talks about turning off his "all-knowingness". (The series is a hilarious parody; I recommend it highly.)
If the events of that first Easter weekend of long ago portray accurately what happened, then Jesus could not have been divine. God cannot be thought to "turn off" his divine characteristics in order to become a man and actually die. Ask yourself this: Was there a period from late afternoon on the first Good Friday to sunup on the following Sunday during which one of the three persons of the Trinity did not exist? This is absurd. But if His existence was continuous, as implied by the fact that He was God, then He was merely masquerading as a man, and the crucifixion was nothing less than a hoax.
This brings us to the third fatal flaw in Christian doctrine, that of redemption or atonement. The spectacle of the crucifixion, death, and resurrection is held to atone for the sins of all mankind, and especially for the original sin committed by Adam and Eve. To start with, why would a perfectly just God hold people yet unborn responsible for a seemingly minor sin committed by Adam and Eve? Well, yes, He is God and can do what He wishes, but even a child can see the injustice of punishing a person who had nothing to do with the offence.
The notion that a person can atone for the sin or crime of another is surely ridiculous on its face. Does God regard the punishment for guilt as a commodity that can be transferred, like mineral rights? If you are rich, can you hire a poor person to suffer the divine punishment that your sins properly deserve? The idea that God appeased Himself by dying on the cross, and thus atoned for the sins of all mankind just doesn't make sense. It contradicts the concept that the Trinity is actually one God. If Jesus was actually God, to whom did he offer the sacrifice?
In practice, it turns out that Christians don't actually take that idea seriously, because they still hold the individual responsible for his or her actions. Jesus' death didn't atone for Hitler's sins after all, did it? I suspect that very few modern Christians think so, and most of them are certain that Hitler is in hell (at least those who believe in hell).
So, maybe the sacrifice on the cross was only intended to atone for the original sin of Adam and Eve. But if God is truly all-merciful, why did He not simply forgive mankind for the original sin of eating the forbidden fruit? Surely, that would count as being all-merciful, wouldn't you think? In fact, why did He set up Adam and Eve in the first place? Being omniscient, He knew in advance down to the last detail what the outcome would be. The entire tale of the fall hints strongly at allegory, but Christianity has instead taken it literally. As I see it, this is an insult to God's presumed characteristic of being infinitely just.
It turns out that Jesus dying on the cross didn't really do any good for mankind. We still have to follow certain rituals, and perhaps refrain from certain sins in order to be saved. Fittingly, the sham crucifixion, death, and resurrection only enabled a sham atonement for a "sin" that would not exist if God were truly just.
The fact that Christianity is based on an intellectual fraud does not establish that God does not exist (although that is my personal conclusion). But it does establish that this particular iteration of theism is a theological blind alley. I think that the precepts Jesus preached were, in the main, worthy of a great moralist. As religions go, Christianity is—in theory—a wonderful expression of quintessentially human values. But the religion that sprang from the life and death of Jesus is logically inconsistent. It doesn't add up, both literally and figuratively.
Daiky Kos is a political blog, and I can't help but point out the political consequences of Christianity. The sorry fact is that the impact of Christianity on our political life is not very Christlike. Jesus commanded us to feed the poor; Republicans want to cut the food stamp program. Jesus healed the sick; Republicans are proud of sabotaging medical care. Jesus said "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." Evidently the deep red states of TX, FL, VA, OK, MO, AL, and GA are without sin, for these seven have accounted for more than 75% of the country's executions since 1976. (None of the executed were millionaires, by the way. Are you surprised by that?) And what did Jesus say about a rich man, a camel and a needle? It seems that the party who makes the loudest and most public protestations of Christian piety is the party that least carries out the actual teachings of Jesus.
Alas, hypocrisy and mendacity are the stock in trade of those who peddle political hate in the name of Christianity. They hate President Obama, the poor, women, and anybody whose sexual orientation is different from theirs. They hate Muslims, Latinos, and anybody whose skin is not white. They protest otherwise, but their actions betray them. And, worst of all, they justify this appalling hatred by their religion.
My personal bottom line: Christianity as a philosophical and ethical system has much to recommend it and I find no fault with those who follow it. It has imperfections, as the late Christopher Hitchens was always quick to point out, but the core message of love for one's fellow man is surely worthy of admiration even by non-believers. But as a logical construct, Christianity is just not credible. In my (not so) humble opinion, its fundamental doctrinal flaws are fatal.