The Disenchantment of Salvation: Part 4, Saving Yourself

In this series we've been focusing upon how disenchantment facilitated the rise of penal substitutionary atonement in the West. Today a final post to point out how this development really didn't end with forensic views of salvation. Penal substitutionary atonement itself gave way to the moral influence view of atonement.

Recall the very first post of this series, about the demise of Christus Victor atonement. In that post we observed how when beliefs about the role and power of the devil became harder and harder to believe in it paved the way for "satisfaction" views of the atonement, culminating in the modern popularity of penal substitutionary atonement. In these satisfaction views the only actor we needed was God, his wrath toward sin and his gracious provision of an atoning sacrifice. Unlike Christus Victor, no devil was necessary for any of the satisfaction theories to "work."

But what happens when disenchantment deepens, as it did in the West after the Enlightenment? What happens when God himself becomes an object of doubt and skepticism? 

Well, the satisfaction theories will falter and give way to the most disenchanted of the atonement theories: the moral influence view. You don't even need God in this view. All we need is goodness itself.

As we've observed, penal substitutionary atonement helped pave the way for this view by cashing out "goodness" within a consequentialist framework, as good versus bad behavior leading to either reward or punishment. The mystical union of the prior participatory metaphysics was traded for the moralism of Protestantism. 

In the West we underwent what I describe in Hunting Magic Eels as "the mystical to moral shift." We began to seek the good over God. Right moral action, and nowadays right political activism, became the entire aim of "following Jesus." 

This gave rise to what is called the moral influence view of the atonement. Jesus "saves" us by showing us how to live. Jesus teaches us the ways of justice, peace, and love. When we follow Jesus as "the Way" we experience healing, wholeness, and shalom. 

To be sure, this view can be infused with enchantment. We can speak of Jesus as a moral and spiritual guru, as an enlightened being who first exhibited a "Christ-consciousness," a plane of moral and spiritual insight that allows us to perceive and experience the unity and oneness of the cosmos. (Note: Psychedelics can help.)

But really, you don't need any New Age woo-woo. It's just not necessary. The key thing is being a good person. Love. Be a kind human. Speak the truth. Be Woke. Fight for justice. Care for the planet. Do these things. This is all you need. It's the last stop on the train ride to a disenchanted salvation, a salvation where you save yourself.

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