TREVOR: Good evening, everyone. My name is Trevor Waxman, and I am the host of this week’s installment of Religion Roundtable. Tonight, our subject is "Christ's Sacrifice and Salvation". Joining us are some of the foremost authors of Christian scripture, whose works in the New Testament have sold billions of copies worldwide. In our studio, we have the mystic writer John, author of Revelation, an eschatological masterpiece and favorite source for The National Enquirer; and another John, author of the Gospel that bears his name – for clarity’s sake, we will refer to the former John as “Rev”. Also in our studio tonight is the mysterious author of the Letter to Hebrews, a man so reclusive that we could only persuade him to appear on the show by protecting his identity with a clever disguise. And finally, joining us by satellite from our bureau in Damascus is the Apostle Paul, author of the wildly popular Epistle series. I welcome you all, gentlemen. Rev, let’s begin with you. Can you tell us who, in your view, is Jesus Christ?
REV: I'd love to, Trevor. (Meekly) Jesus Christ is a lamb with the marks of slaughter upon him… (More strongly) He is the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the avenger of wrongs! (Loudly, wagging index finger) He is the son of God, who will arrive one day upon the clouds and SWEEP MY EVIL ENEMIES INTO THE PITS OF HELL! (Contritely) Ahem, I mean "our” evil enemies.
JOHN and HEBREWS shift in their seats uncomfortably. PAUL bounces in his chair anxiously.
TREVOR: Paul, you seem want to respond to Rev’s definition of Christ. But first, let's hear from the others. John, Hebrews, what do you think?
HEBREWS: I think Rev has missed the point. Jesus Christ is not an avenger. He is the highest priest, delivering the Word of God. He is the sacrifice that alters the form of humanity. All of creation is a manifestation of his majesty and power.
JOHN: I suppose I agree with Hebrews, if I understand him correctly. I would say that all of creation is like a single human body, whereas Jesus Christ would be the mind of that body – the Word, which has existed as long as God has. It might be even clearer to say that Jesus Christ is God incarnate, period. Sure, Jesus was a man, but a purely divine man, unlike you and me.
PAUL shakes his head in bewilderment.
TREVOR: Paul, you clearly have something to say.
PAUL: (emphatically) Yes, Trevor, I do. I have to wonder where any of my esteemed colleagues obtained their information. I couldn't disagree with them more. Jesus Christ was no more -- and no less -- God than you or me (the other members of the panel gasp). Jesus Christ was a man who achieved the near impossible: he managed to transcend his relative self. He sacrificed his ego, and in so doing became the example we all must strive to emulate.
JOHN, REV, HEBREWS: Blasphemy! Disgrace! Sinful!
HEBREWS: Certainly it is the sacrifice of Jesus' blood that we must focus on. Prior to Jesus Christ, man consecrated his spirit through animal sacrifice. Christ was the human sacrifice that sacralized all humanity. I see Paul's perspective as dangerous, and sinful.
JOHN: Jesus did tell His disciples that the drinking of His blood is essential for eternal life.
PAUL: (shuddering) Yikes, you give me the willies with this nonsense. You missed out, John, on Jesus' talk at the Last Supper about His body and blood. He equated His body with bread, and His blood with wine. But His point was that, because God is all there is, there is no difference between body and bread, or blood and wine -- it is all God.
TREVOR: Well, this is the kind of passionate discussion we like to see here on Religion Roundtable. Paul, your colleagues have labeled your remarks on Jesus' sacrifice as "sinful" -- can you tell us the meaning of sin?
PAUL: Certainly. Sin is relative thinking, and egocentrism. It's as simple as that – seeing yourself as separate from, and superior to, others.
HEBREWS: I suppose I can relate to what Paul’s saying here. It is conceivable to me that egocentrism can be found at the root of people’s wicked actions.
PAUL: It isn’t just bad deeds that are wicked. Any kind of egocentrism is wicked – thinking of yourself as a righteous person, for example, automatically infers that others are not righteous.
REV: And they aren’t! Most people are terrible sinners that are going to be punished after death!
PAUL: (looking askance at REV) But even the righteous can be guilty of self-righteousness! For example, what good is it to give money to the poor, if you are doing it to serve your own pride? Don’t you see, Rev, that in viewing those people as sinners and yourself as righteous, you are denying God’s truth? In truth, you and I, as well as those terrible sinners, are all manifestations of the divine.
REV: You talk as if we are all equal. But we are not, because there are believers and unbelievers in the world. There is no way that Jesus Christ will welcome the sinner into the Kingdom of Heaven. The sinner will be cast into a lake of fire.
PAUL: You might be surprised to hear me say I can agree with you there -- at least in part. The sinner can never enter the Kingdom of Heaven, because, by the nature of his sin (which is egocentrism), he views himself relatively. There is nothing relative about the Kingdom of Heaven -- it is absolute, infinite and eternal. The sinner's "lake of fire" is the suffering and fear he endures by defining himself in temporal terms. But you view the Kingdom of Heaven as some place in the future, after death; what I am saying is that this Kingdom can be experienced right now.
TREVOR: And with that, we will pause for a word from our sponsor...
TREVOR: Welcome back to Religion Roundtable. We were discussing the Kingdom of Heaven. John, you had something to say?
JOHN: Just that Paul's idea of the Kingdom of Heaven as a state of mind doesn't sound too far-fetched to me. Although I would define the Kingdom as the knowledge of truth, whereas the lake of fire is ignorance.
REV: Balderdash on both counts! The lake of fire is a real place, and it's sinners like you two who are going to burn in it forever. This is what the Last Days are going to be about, when all of creation comes to an end and all the souls are finally judged based on the way they lived their lives, on how they followed the law.
HEBREWS: Rev, you seem a little hell-bent on the lake of fire idea, but I do agree that there will be a future judgment, and that people will be rewarded for obeying the law.
PAUL: Perhaps Rev’s apocalyptic thought should be viewed metaphorically. Because we are always striving to live in absolute consciousness, but are always failing, we are constantly judging ourselves. The judgment -- the Apocalypse -- is happening constantly.
JOHN: I really don't know where you are coming from with this talk about lakes of fire and Apocalypse and all. As for the law, it came from Moses, and foretold of the coming of Christ. Christ brought truth, which fulfills the law. I'm sure Paul would agree with me on this.
PAUL: Don't get me started on the law! The law is what makes us aware of our relative condition to begin with. We don't need the law!
HEBREWS: But we MUST obey the law. Even Jesus said He had not come to abolish the law. It is in obeying the law that we prove our faithfulness, how we find salvation. The law helps us differentiate between right and wrong.
PAUL: (sighing) Differentiating between right and wrong... don't you see that this is just abetting relative consciousness? Who is right and who is wrong? Look, you don't need the law in order to know what is right. What you need is the correct outlook. If you understand the truth of our existence, of reality, then you realize the interconnectedness of all life. You're very nature becomes changed, and you no longer need to make distinctions between right and wrong, because you instinctively live the right choice.
REV: Oh, come on. That's a wonderful sentiment, but who do you know that actually lives like that? People are incapable of total selflessness, which is why the world is full of sin. The law is necessary to provide guidelines for people to follow faithfully, regardless of personal desires. That is why those who manage to follow the law faithfully will be rewarded in heaven. That is their salvation.
TREVOR: It would seem that we have differences of opinion, gentlemen, when it comes to defining sin and the purpose of the law. Rev has brought up the concept of salvation. Can we talk a little about this?
JOHN: Salvation is freedom from death, and...
REV: (interrupting) No! Salvation is God's forgiveness for our sins. It is our entry into heaven after death. The only way we can make ourselves worthy of that forgiveness is through righteous living.
HEBREWS: I'm with Rev on this, although I would say that by believing in the existence of God, His forgiveness of our sins is granted prior to death. In fact, God's forgiveness transcends time -- it has always existed. We just need to believe in God in order to be forgiven.
TREVOR: Paul, I see you shaking your head. You have a different take on this?
PAUL: I hate to keep harping on the egocentric idea, but it really is at the heart of everything. Hebrews talked of transcendence -- my position is that salvation is attained when man transcends his relative self. Defining himself in relative terms insures his death, because relative terms are temporal, and will come to an end. Seeing himself in absolute terms reveals his eternal life, because the absolute is eternal. Ergo, absolute consciousness equals salvation. It is your attitude, and not your actions, that matter.
HEBREWS: But, Paul, your theology is devoid of faith.
PAUL: Not at all. Faith is living day to day in absolute reality.
REV: Alright, I think that perhaps we are using different vocabularies to explain the same understanding. Paul says that if you live your life in absolute terms, you will naturally do the right thing, and therein arrive at salvation. I say that if you live your life in obedience to God's law, you will be a good Christian, and be rewarded for that. What’s the difference?
HEBREWS: I agree with Rev when it comes to obedience to God's law, but I would add that you must also believe that God is a being who exists. Regardless of logic, science or anything else, you must simply believe that God exists. That is the faith that will bring you reward in heaven.
JOHN: Your ideas are compelling to me, Paul, but I find myself siding with Hebrews and Rev on the subject of faith. What is faith, but a belief in something? True faith, as I understand it, has to be belief in the divinity of Jesus. A person must believe this in order to be a Christian.
PAUL: All of you want to make faith about believing in something that cannot be proven -- like a child's wish. Why make things so difficult? Why not use the intelligence God has given you to think about the world, and try to comprehend its truth? Logic and science do not refute the existence of God.
TREVOR: So, how can we know God?
PAUL: Unfortunately, Trevor, God is unknowable -- we cannot fully understand the absolute transcendent or the absolute imminent. Because we are parts of both of them, we are unable to objectify them. But we can grasp the unknown through reason. We can see infinity in the finite.
TREVOR: Anyone else?
HEBREWS: Paul is an idiot. Faith belies reason. Noah believed in spite of what he saw as reality. Through faith we can see the invisible in the visible. Don't think, just accept.
PAUL: That theology should win a lot of converts -- they don't have to change a thing about their lives or their attitudes. It’s the lazy man’s way to heaven.
REV tosses the contents of his water glass in PAUL's direction, and in so doing knocks HEBREWS' disguise from his face. A melee ensues.
AUDIENCE: (primal chanting) Tre-vor! Tre-vor! Tre-vor!
TREVOR: It's clear that these arguments cannot be easily resolved. I'm afraid that's all the time we have for this evening. (A chair sails over his head.) Thank you for tuning in, and please remember to watch next week when Religion Roundtable will invite an Islamic militant cell to discuss righteousness with a group of Southern Baptists. I'm Trevor Waxman, and this is Religion Roundtable! (Cue music).