When I got home yesterday, I found this palm-sized tract wedged against my doorjamb. It’s grotesque. This image to the right is the cover — you can click on the picture to read the text for yourself online. It doesn’t say anything particularly new or insightful, just the usual statements of Christian doctrine and Bible quotes about salvation. Really, I want to talk about the cover, because it struck me as bizarre, but at the same time actually representative of a significant aspect of Christianity.
The illustration shows a beaten and bloody Jesus, arms outstretched on the cross, thorny-crowned head hanging limp. Jesus wears a scrap of clothing at his waist, and it is drenched with the blood that is dripping down his abdomen. It looks like he has been rolling around in a pile of razorblades. The title of the tract captions the image: “All this I did for thee.”
I understand the Christian interpretation — Christ as the Lamb of God, sacrificed to atone for the sins of the world. It’s a blood sacrifice, so of course you show the blood to illustrate the sacrifice. (We’ll save our criticisms of the theology of penal substitution for another time.)
But as a non-Christian, and as the apparent target of this evangelizing effort, I’d hope that Christians would give some thought to how this looks to me. My first association when I pulled this tract from by door was that of a severely suicidally depressed person cutting his wrists so he could bleed to death, leaving a spiteful suicide note reading, “You made me do this. You have killed me. I hope you’re happy now.” Which, come to think of it, isn’t that different from the Christian angle after all. And I guess, like the one from the suicide victim to his grieving family, the message being sent to me is: This guy died a horrible, gruesome death because of you, so the least you could do is feel personally guilty about it for the rest of your life.
Maybe this kind of message works on people who have been primed with Christian beliefs already. Maybe the primary audience of this tract is made up of people who were raised at least nominally Christian and are now non-practicing, with the goal of shaming them into being more devout. There’s also a righteous self-congratulatory aspect to it, I think, exemplified by the orgy of suffering in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ or by those sects of Christianity that practice, or historically did practice, flagellation. Wallowing in the violence of the crucifixion story is literally a religious experience for them.
As for me, though, I don’t feel any personal moral responsibility for the apparent execution methods of some Roman provincial government nearly two thousand years ago, or what some individual Judaean might have decided to do that led to his being executed. (Going back to the suicide analogy: While I’m sure that reading an accusatory suicide note from a friend or loved one would yank on my heartstrings, I do at least know intellectually that I am not to blame for someone else’s clinical depression or their desire to self-harm.) I’m not going to become a Christian because you show me a really gross drawing of Jesus suffering to try to manipulate my feelings. It would require some kind of actual evidence or logical argument in favor of Christianity to get me to believe. This is nothing more than a blatantly fallacious appeal to emotion.