This idea can have logic and great value even for an atheist.
Not that long ago I offered for some angry people to kick my head in, to prove a point about how men should treat women (i.e. don't bully them). (I guess they didn't have the heart to do it.)
Among the many interpretations which can be placed on the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus, we can say this:
Jesus went to his death willingly - in that he knew it was going to happen, and didn't run away, when he could have done - in order to prove and illustrate a point. That point was his life's work (well, the last 3 years'). One of his main lessons was that we can all be given the chance for our sins to be forgiven, provided we earn it and do the necessary real work involved. Provided we go to our Crucifixion willingly. If he can get himself crucified, we should be up to saying sorry and putting things right when we have to. We should be humble enough to suffer for what we have done. We should be humble enough to let something go instead of escalating to some kind of blood feud.
He also forgave the people who were crucifying him.
By dramatically illustrating the idea that God can forgive our sins, will always give us a second chance to make good: life became possible, life became good, life became fruitful. Instead of nasty, brutish and short. Hence the Resurrection.
@James - in a sense, that's what he did - got us off the hook, by really showing us what forgiveness is all about. So his message is very real and logical to me. Every time I think about forgiveness, it's Jesus' example I think of and no other. And I'm a lifelong confirmed atheist.
I guess I am of the 'personal responsibility' camp mostly. A word without 'forgiveness', could be a world that gets over nothing and is condemned to a war of all against all. Choosing what we remember or 'learn' might go a long ways to the building of a humane civilized culture. Else we condemn ourselves to a planetary armed camp....
So forgiveness is all about sacrificing oneself to forgive people for committing an imaginary crime that the person being sacrificed created in the first place?
Actual forgiveness could have been just 'I forgive you'. No need for a human sacrifice to sate the need for blood to be shed. Not to mention all the inherent problems with substitutionary punishment.
To take it a step further, Dave, Dostoevsky, in The Brothers Karamazov, had one of his characters say, "Without god, all is permitted." I would say that with the Yesua Forgiveness Policy, all is permitted WITH god - personal responsibility goes out the window when you can screw up and just do a Rick Perry, "Oops! I screwed up, forgive me - I'll try not to do it again, but if I do, I know you'll forgive me then too, so I really have no reason to change my behavior."
@James - I agree.
@Dave - but forgiveness was Jesus' "big thing", it was one of his main contributions to the culture. Can you name a single other person in history who emphasised it in anything like the same way?
RE: "Can you name a single other person in history who emphasised it in anything like the same way?" - don't you mean, "name another character in fictional literature?"
"Sydney Carton," from Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities, was a far more sympathetic character.
It was a main contribution and a bad one. being willing to forgive people for what they have done is good. Unconditional forgiveness, the whole 'turn the other cheek no matter what' attitude that has come out of the 'everything is forgiven, even if you keep doing the same thing, just so long as you say sorry' is a bad thing, both individually and as a society.
A thousand years earlier (than the alleged crucifiction, pun intended), the Jews kicked ass, slaughtering as many as they could in the area known as Palestine, or the Levant, to take possession of a land that had belonged to others for centuries, all because they believed the fables that told of a desert god promising that land to an early ancestor.
Then the Assyrians came along, kicked their butts, and scattered ten of their twelve tribes to the four winds, the Babylonians followed later, and took the majority of them into exile in Babylon for fifty or so years before the Persions conquered Babylon and allowed those who wanted to, to return.
Then Alexander and his Greeks conquered the Levant, followed by the Romans, after the Greek alliances fell apart. By this time, the Jews had learned the hard way that, as the Borg say, "resistance is futile," turning the other cheek became a societal survival technique, and the alternative to forgiveness is vengeance, which, in a society where you're the low man on the totem pole, is pretty much out of the question.
The principals that Yeshua (if he ever existed) taught were survival techniques. The quotation, "if a man asks you to go a mile with him, go with him two," for example, was based on a Roman occupation law, that a Roman soldier, tired from marching, had the legal right to conscript any Jewish civilian and make him carry the soldier's backpack for a mile - Yeshua suggested that in order to get along, make it two, you can hardly be condemned for being too nice.
@Dave - that's not how it really works - it has to be earned, but the chance is always on offer. That's how universal unconditional love plays out in reality, in my opinion. As Misty pointed out earlier, this is different to how we would treat someone we personally have a loving relationship with. Then, we are likely to forgive them anything, although we would probably want to talk about the issue.
Ah, but humanity didn't do anything to earn it. Jesus went and paid the price for everyone, free admission to forgiveness, no effort required.
If you are trying to promote the idea of being willing to forgive people if they earn it (a good idea in my opinion), using a case of substitutionary atonement as your prime example is a bad way to do so.
Perhaps you were not reared in the catholic world of guilt and low self esteem attributed to your hero, Jesus. All this forgiveness, yet hell awaits YOU Simon. You missed the fact that your atheistic butt will not be forgiven. James Cox was talking about accountability. I agree, that that makes for a better society than letting scoundrels repeat their crimes. But if god and his son somehow hold me accountable for Adam's lame original sin story, well screw them both.
And Simple Simon says:
And I'm a lifelong confirmed atheist.
It don't get much better then that, I think they call that some kind of cognitive disconnect. Thanks for the chuckle Simple.