Over the past decade, maybe more, the back of my mind has been contemplating a thorny religious question. In Christianity, Jesus, in the Garden of Gethsemane, suffered for the sins of all mankind; including all those that had lived and will live. I have been wondering how could His Atonement be Eternal and Infinite.
Yesterday, I had an epiphany, maybe even an insight. As I pondered this new understanding I realized it applies to just about every situation and can be summed up with:
“If a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound?”
To try to explaing let me share a couple of concepts which need to be kept in mind.
In my book “Rules for a Meaningful Life”, I talk about how humans are insular and separate. We only share a minimum of our thoughts and feelings. These can only be interpreted through the filter of the recipient. We have not choice. Regardless of how close we might be to the other person or how much we may want, we cannot experience the world in the same way as another. In order to bring some order to the world in which we live we develop rules. When larger groups congregate patterns of expectation and behavior develop. We call these patterns traditions, customs, or laws. Those who live in these societies have expectations, understand acceptable behavior and may experience censure when these are violated. At this point you’re probably thinking of them. However, them is also you. This concept applies to all groups.
A thing, situation, event, or happening has no inherent value. There is no “absolute value” that can be ascribed. An extreme example might be the work of Jonas Salk and the polio vaccine. The act of development and the vaccine itself has no concept of its own worth. It is not until society ascribes value to the outcome of the vaccine that the vaccine takes on importance. Another perspective, what if the vaccine was developed and no one understood what it was so that it was never used. The vaccines ability to protect against polio is not diminished but the societal importance it could have would not be realized.
Another extreme example might be the treatement of Australian Aborigines or American Natives or Africans. From the time settlers arrived in these places until reasonably recently. The various harm experienced by these groups went largely unknown and uncared about until sufficient communications capability was in place to bring these damaging situations to the attention of a much wider audience.
Mother Teresa worked in the slums of India for decades. Only in the latter part of her services did her work become widely known. To those who don’t know about her she is a non-entity with no bearing on their existence or experience.
Gould’s Rule 3 states: The level of concern for my problem is inversely proportional to the square of the distance of the person who needs to solve my problem. It means the farther away someone is in space and time the less they care. Think of someone you know in a distant country. If you have an emotional context you’d be will to help them. The stronger that emotional context the less you care. Think of a generic person sitting on the side of the road to Pondicherry, India. I have been there, there are thousands. But even though you know they are there only a vague sense of humanity can be conjured, unless I give you a name and tell you a story about them, make them real.
This idea, that a thing or event only has the importance that humans ascribe, is universal. It is why the laws of England, or any country, don’t matter much to us in America. We aren’t in that country. Of course the laws of America don’t matter to the British either.
The idea that human consideration gives the thing, event or idea power is the central concept.
This is true in religions as well, including atheism. The Wailing Wall is a significant place to Jews. Mecca is holy to Muslims. The Sacred Grove in Palmyra, NY, is revered by Mormons. These are ideas and places that are given weight and importance because humans, and pretty much everything else, agree that they are important.
This brings me back to the insight concerning the Eternal and Infinite Atonement. If Jesus’ suffering and punishment had gone unnoticed and unremarked it would have been just another event. But, of course, it was noticed, looked forward to and regarded as the single greatest event to ever occur by all beings of any intelligence throughout the universe. It is this universal regard and agreement that Jesus’ suffering, his sacrifice was sufficient for all sins for everyone for all time, that makes the Atonement Eternal and Infinite.
Please feel free to comment of course.