I want to thank all of you who have been recommending to me (and to all who read this blog) to read the work of James Alison. You were right. He's an amazing thinker. I've finished Raising Abel and am now in the middle of On Being Liked.
Here's a passage I read this morning about atonement theory from On Being Liked:
My second problem with atonement theory is the perception of God which it enjoins as normative. I mean this in two senses, one obvious, and one less obvious. The obvious sense is that it involves God and his Son in some sort of consensual form of S&M--one needing the abasement of the other in order to be satisfied, and the other loving the cruel will of his father. Or another way of saying the same thing, perhaps slightly less provocatively: there is no way that the theory could work without some element of retribution, which presupposes vengeance. Well, I wonder whether this could be shown, but I suspect that over the long haul this element of necessary retaliation, stubbornly held to by many who profess our faith, has done more to contribute to atheism among ordinary people than any number of clerical scandals, and that if being a believer means believing this, then it is better to be among the non-believers...
But it is the less obvious sense in which the perception of God that the theory enjoins is a problem, which I consider more important. I suggest that what the theory does is make a process of revelation impossible. For if we follow it, it makes out that Jesus' resurrection didn't reveal anything new at all. It merely accomplished a deal whereby someone who was remote and angry remained remote and angry, but created an exception for those lucky enough to be covered with the blood of his Son. Before, God was a hurricane, and now God is still a hurricane, but Jesus has revealed that there is an eye to the hurricane, and so long as you hang in there, in the eye, you won't be destroyed. But, I want to suggest, this is not the case: Jesus' resurrection did reveal something which was new--not new to God, but new to us. Jesus revealed that God had and has nothing at all to do with violence, or death, or the order of this world. These are our problems and mask our conceptions of God, of law and order and so forth. In fact, God loved us so much that God longs for us to be free from these things so as to live for ever, with God and each other, starting now.