Over on Godless Cranium’s blog, there’s a post that includes the following tale:
When someone asked why Christ had to die for our sins, rather than God just simply forgiving us, someone stopped in and left a link. When they were asked to use their own words or back the link up with their own rationale, they refused and said that if the original questioner wanted to test their understanding, they should have been a professor at their graduate school.
Turns out that I am the offending party being referred to here as one who had “shut down conversation” by offering a “quote or link [I] can’t defend.” While there’s a part of me that simply wants to let it drop, there’s a larger part that feels the need to respond to GC’s version of event by offering my perspective on what happened. The fact that I’m going to write an entire post clarifying what exactly I was attempting to communicate and how I think it went awry is the “Lesson” to which I refer in the title of this post. I became lax with regard to my own policies, commented and engaged haphazardly and too quickly on my phone and, as I ought to have anticipated, did indeed fail to be “instructive, interesting or productive.” That much I admit, mea culpa. I do not, however, concede the accuracy of the rest of the story. Here, then, is my apologia.
In the beginning…was a comment I’ll reproduce here [emphasis added to show what caught my eye]:
I am au fait with the ritual, and its (Christian) roots in Judaism but have yet to encounter a Christian who can fully explain why the necessity of the blood sacrifice of the character Jesus of Nazareth. Why would a god require his own death as a ”pay off” to himself. Why not simply say ”I forgive you”?
They do end to avoid the answer God requires blood, which would make Yahweh no better than Quetzalcoatl
(Of course he is actually worse.)
I don’t believe Christians can offer a rational answer anymore than they can offer one for the Trinity.
Reading this, my immediate reaction was, “Actually, there are very rational answers to these questions that have been articulated by Christians and, if one is interested in a rigorously logical form of that answer, Thomas Aquinas did a remarkably thorough job.” I did not, however, write all of that [as perhaps I ought]. I was distracted and not really that interested, so I dropped a link to a relevant section of the Summa Theologiae under the assumption that it was clear evidence of “a rational answer” (if not one the commenter would necessarily find personally compelling). My link/comment was met with the following:
This still does not explain the necessity of the need for blood.
As a member of the church that pretty much invented the religion could you explain it, please, in your own words.
That way it will assure me that you understand it as well. Thanks!
Here I ought to have clarified what I intended to communicate with the link in the first place. Instead, I engaged: “If you don’t understand how Aquinas responds to your question, then I seriously doubt my capacity to do better in a WordPress comment thread.” Which, I think, is fair. The question being asked is a complicated one and, at least from my perspective, one that it is absurd to be able to expect a brief answer to without first establishing a vast common conceptual ground. As I went on to say later in the same comment,
“You’re asking a decent question but it’s not at all clear to me that you’ve done the work necessary for us to have a casual-ish conversation about the answer. It is a complex and nuanced topic that requires much grounding in theology, christology, soteriology, and (for Aquinas’ version) Aristotelian logic”
Which, again, I think is fair. I did, however, err by stepping into snark by also stating, “If you want to test my understanding, then you should have been a professor at my graduate school.” This slipped out (in my haste and distraction) as a knee-jerk reaction to what I’d been offended by in the comment: “…assure me that you understand it as well…”. Seriously? I am working on my Christian behavior but at this my old habits reared up with a rather ugly, “Who the F#@K do you think you are?!?” that I watered down to, “If you want to test my understanding, then you should have been a professor at my graduate school.” Why? Because my professors had established and demonstrated their expertise on the topic and are, therefore, suitable judges of my understanding of the material. This random commenter, on the other hand, would presume to judge my understanding when he had already demonstrated that he did not understand the material in the first place since he did not see how the link I’d offered responded to the initial question.
It was downhill from there; I was accused of having had a “hissy fit” (which I don’t believe I had, though you can go see the thread for yourself — I was hungry and had a headache so you tell me if my mode of expression warranted the complaint), and I opted to disengage shortly thereafter (a decision I came to in part because the same commenter showed up on my blog to have a similarly uninteresting and unproductive exchange).
Sadly, there may actually have been an opportunity here, if not with the commenter (since, honestly, I do not believe the commenter has any interest whatsoever in a real conversation), then with other readers on the blog — and I blew it by being rushed, not giving respect to the forum or material by really thinking through my responses, and by being too quick to take offense and respond from a position of being offended.
Maybe you, dear reader, will learn the lesson from my mistakes… I hope that I do.