FAST FOOD (2014): Fifteenth Helping

Again, “We adore God Who is love, who in Jesus Christ gave Himself for us, Who offered Himself on the Cross to expiate our sins, and through the power of this love, rose from the dead and lives in His Church. We have no God other than Him

(Pope Francis, 6/21/14).

In the mid-1970s the most popular weekly sitcom on U.S. TV was All in the Family. Its main character was Archie Bunker, a white, Christian, middle age, middle class, poorly educated, politically and religiously conservative father of the family. In one episode Archie is told that his daughter Gloria, and son in law, Mike, are getting a divorce. Instantly he begins reviling his son in law, a political liberal whom he never really liked, blaming the divorce on him and his liberal friends with their “Godless atheism” and their ideas. Hanging around with them is the cause of it, Archie lashes out and God will make Mike pay for this.

As the show progresses, however, it is revealed that his daughter’s adultery is the reason for the divorce. Archie, God fearing Christian man that he is, immediately turns on his daughter in fury and begins to castigate her, telling her that he wants nothing more to do with her and she is no better than her liberal atheist husband. As the show moves forward a bit further, it becomes apparent that Mike’s behavior toward Gloria for a long time before the adultery was extremely destructive.

The conclusion of the show has Archie raging on towards both Mike and Gloria, getting more and more bewildered as he speaks about who is responsible. Finally he burst out in confusion, “Who is going to be punished here? Someone needs to be punished here! This is wrong!” His wife, Edith, a kind, serving and insightful woman responds, “Archie, why does anyone have to be punished? Hasn’t everyone been punished enough already?” On those words the show ends.

As noted in the prior FAST FOOD Helping,”The image of God that a person has is critical to what he or she becomes and what thet do and don’t do. His or her God image is intimately tied into his or her self image. What flows from this is that people’s meaning system and their value system, their sense of purpose and their sense of right and wrong are organically related to their God image.” It make no difference whether the person is educated or uneducated, his or her God image and self image are inseparable. So, if the image of God that one has is that He was so infinitely offended by sin that He could not even be mollified by the expiatory destruction of, say, a billion human beings being handed to the tortures and murderers, because the sin was an infinite offense against Him and He required the bloody sacrifice of an infinite victim to re-open the gates of heaven, gates that He shut in punishment for the sin of Adam and Eve, then Archie Bunker is theologically, morally and pastorally on target. And, the terrible truth is that most Christians at all levels of most Churches over the last thousand years have been taught some version of this atonement theory of divine satisfaction and retribution.They then, in imitation of God and with God on their side, put it into practice in their lives and in the structures of their Churches and communities as the way to respond to evil and the person caught in sin.

I say the last thousand years, because it was not so from the beginning. This Satisfaction Atonement Theory, as it commonly called and exists today, was authored by St. Anselm about 1094-1098 in a work titled Cur Deus Homo? (Why the God-Man?). It may be important to note that in that writing Aselm makes no reference to the Way of Jesus as made visible in Jesus’ words and deeds in the Gospels. His only reference is to the Nicaea Creed (325), which as we saw in yesterday’s FAST FOOD Helping omits any mention of the Way of Jesus. “Born of the Virgin Mary, crucified under Pontius Pilate, suffered, died and was buried,” is all that Constantine and the bishops at the Council decided was needed for the spiirtual health and welfare of the institutional Church and the Christians in it.

So, Archie Bunker and hundreds of millions of Christian like him, who never heard of St. Anselm but who have been nurtured, without their knowing it, are from infancy fed Anselm’s spiritual diet of a punishing God capable of great cruelty and violence, demanding the infliction of punishment and pain, even capital punishment, in order to make satisfaction to Him for what they had done.So, Archie and all those other Christians so nurtured that when they in their lives demand retribution, an eye for an eye, the beating down and shaming of another person or group of persons who have offended them are functioning in harmony with the God they were given to adore, imitate and love by their institutional Churches.

A more contemporary expression of God in the image of St. Anselm’s theory of atonement having its incarnational affect is what I personally heard a Catholic bishop say at a gathering regarding what was once called the Sacrament of Penance. His exact words were “We go to confession to protect ourselves against God.” He in his life was as much enslaved to Anselm’s theological image of a violent, punishing, retributive God, as Archie Bunke was in his.

In 1946 in my grammer school’s Baltimore Catechism, the question was asked on page one,”Why did God make us?” The answer given was, “God made us to know Him, to love Him and to serve Him in this world and to be happy with Him in the next.” The answer still sound correct to me. But,attention must be paid to the order of the words. “Know” comes before “love” and “love” comes before “serve.” One cannot love whom he or she does not know. If God as revealed by Jesus is not brought before the consciousness of people as love, agape, as the God made visible in the Noviolent Jesus, but instead as a God capable of justified violence and cruelty, in the name of a “just cause,” then people will not know the true God as revealed by Jesus and by that fact will be unable to love Him or serve Him.

When Jesus says that the very first commandment is ” Love the Lord your God with your whole soul, whole heart, whole mind and whole strength,” He means His Father and the Father of all as He makes Him visible to us. He knows quite well that if a person or a group loves whole heart, soul, mind and strength an idol, a god in an image contrary to the image of Jesus, such a commitment would be catastrophic for all concerned, and many more. Jesus makes the God known, who is to be wholeheartedly loved. When any Christians replaces the image of the invisible God made visible in Jesus with his or her own mental concoction of an image of God, they then create–because a person’s God image and self image are permanently intertwined–Archie Bunker Christians, maybe just one, or maybe millions, who if they think their cause is “just.” will be cruel and lethal, and believe they are doing God’s will and work.

The Church has never infallibly declare any one theory of atonement as dogma. Anselm’s theory did not exist in the first thousand years of the Church. At the time of its publication and for centuries after major Catholic and later Protestant theologians objected vigorously to it. Yet, it has become the theory of atonement which the Western Church has taught, fostered and propagated relentlessly for the last four hundred years through it institutional resources. The Church had and has other options, but it persist in this violent and cruel image of God. Go figure!

Emmanuel Charles McCarthy
(To be continued)

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