Hendrik Hertzberg gets emails. He responds to them, too. Here is a bit of a response to an email Rick got about his post about the CHRIST-mas tree:
...But to get back to today, i.e., Christmas. And the cross. What I am objecting to in the Jesus story is something I object to in certain other religious traditions: human sacrifice. Indeed, the human sacrifice of the crucifixion seems to me to be more objectionable, conceptually at least, than the human sacrifices practiced by, say, the Aztecs (or, for that matter, by tribal Hebrews like Abraham). The Aztecs were people trying to propitiate angry, nasty, bloodthirsty gods. (Abraham, by being willing to cut Isaac’s throat, was doing the same for testy old Yahweh.) But who sacrifices Jesus? Not the Romans—they were just enforcing the law as they saw it. Not the Jews—when they made sacrifices, post-Abraham, they offered up goats and lambs and the like. No, in the story of Jesus, the sacrificer seems to be God himself. He kills his “only begotten” son. And why? In order to propitiate himself, apparently. Somehow, by killing his own son, he causes himself to refrain from condemning or killing everybody else. Well, not everybody else—just those who show the proper appreciation and gratitude for his sacrifice.
But is it really a sacrifice? Doesn’t Jesus turn up rather quickly at the right hand of God? Isn’t he said to be part of God, in some special way that the rest of us are not? He (Jesus) goes through the experience of dying, as every human being must do, but he doesn’t end up dead. So how great is the sacrifice, really? And what is the connection between the sacrifice (the crown of thorns, death on the cross) and the benefit it purchases for believers (the crown of righteousness, eternal life)? If God wants to forgive us our sins, can’t he just forgive us our sins? Does he have to torture and murder his own son first—and then take it back by resurrecting the son and making him an object of worship for millions? For the sacrifice to be real, wouldn’t Jesus have to stay dead? The resurrection is a powerful story, but (if you analyze it logically) doesn’t it make the crucifixion a bit of a sham?..[emphasis mine]