Home » Eastern Orthodoxy » Mormon Atonement and Violence

Mormon Atonement and Violence

atonementI don’t have time to treat this subject with the rigor it really deserves, but the Mormon view of Jesus’ Atonement always puzzled me.

I think it always came down to the fact that, on Mormonism, the universe is inherently violent.  There is this idea that there is some kind of legalistic 1:1 correlation between each sin we commit and some corresponding unit of physical pain that I always found troubling.  It simply never clicked with me to think that justice somehow works like that.  And the idea that Jesus somehow stepped in and took that pain instead of us also seems strange.  God was just so intent on inflicting pain on somebody – anybody – that he was willing to inflict violence on His Son instead of us.

The Orthodox view of the Atonement really attracted me because it sidesteps these issues completely.  First of all, when I was younger I didn’t even know that there were other ways of looking at Jesus’ suffering besides a kind of legalistic penal violence.  Now I know that penal substitution really developed in the western tradition, and the western view was intertwined with the Augustinian roots of Original Sin doctrines.  Mormonism takes this tradition even further – not only did Jesus suffer and die at the hands of Roman soldiers and a violent mob – God himself was bound to inflict an even further, infinite amount of physical and emotional pain on Jesus in Gethsemane, causing Jesus to suffer so badly that blood hemorrhaged from his skin.

I see so much suffering and violence in the world that it just causes an emotional revulsion to think that the universe is so eye-for-an-eye. Furthermore it seems to me to project anthropomorphic qualities onto God.  It just doesn’t “click” for me to see God as this being who requires blood and pain and violence with every little lie I tell or sin I commit.

Instead, a view that the Atonement heals our infirmities and saves us from a self-separation from God – and that Jesus’ suffering was necessary to show us the way to shoulder the burden of violence and to free us from our fear of death – seems to me to be a more reasonable and emotionally satisfying view.  There was simply an emotional catharsis when I found that perhaps God isn’t by nature violent.

Now I admitted at the beginning that I wouldn’t really be able to delve into this view, and now I realize I would really need to talk about different Atonement theories, human psychology, the logic of sinfulness, violence, and how Orthodox theology is better at these subjects in order to really persuade anyone.  All I am saying here is that the Orthodox view of the Atonement clicked with me in a way that the Mormon view never did.

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2 thoughts on “Mormon Atonement and Violence

  1. I was raised LDS, six generations on both sides, mission, temple marriage, callings, etc. Moroni’s promise was never fulfilled for me. Severe spiritual crisis, research, and a long bout of atheism ensued. Christ our God and Eastern Orthodoxy saved me spiritually, emotionally, and mentally. I had to unlearn much of what I had learned, especially what you discuss in this posting. As you note so aptly, the Western, Augustinian view of an angry, juridical God permeates Mormonism and is taken to an extreme. Our God is love and it is his self-giving, his kenosis, that heals us and saves us. He continues to give himself to us in the Eucharist at every Divine Liturgy, to heal our self-imposed isolation and alienation. God is not angry and violent. He did not punish his Son in our place. God the Son became one of us, the Prodigal Sons (and daughters), entered the mire to lift us up and lead us to our true home – to restore us to our original nature. That is the true meaning of the Atonement, as you have said.

  2. I am very glad that you have commented on this blog. One of my hopes in starting it was to perhaps attract some of those who are also journeying between Mormonism and Eastern Orthodoxy (in either direction). Please come back and comment often! I would really appreciate any insights you have as I write.

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