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.
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.
@Gregg - why do I bother you so much? You said nothing there. Thanks for the flattery.
@Simon the Atheist (sorta):
@Gregg - why do I bother you so much?
Answer: You don't. I enjoy it when smart intelligent people (like yourself) can't think their way out of their own ideological box.
Here's a question you asked Dave:
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 emphasized it in anything like the same way?
Answer: Gandhi. But of course Gandhi was an actual person with a historical record while Jessy the C is a mythical story person who never existed in the historical record, exactly like all the other non-existent mythical deities.
But, hell yeah, he was all about perfecting the human "soul" as well - perfecting the human being.
Sin is nothing more than man's way to control behavior of those he wishes to subdue. Jesus knew this and was put to death for it. The original sin was not that first man failed not to eat an apple in the Garden, but that he chose not to live in harmony with the creation he was given and that separated us from God. The devil so many wish to blame for failures and faults is not outside ourselves but within. If we can overcome it, then we overcome sin and in doing so attain salvation/enlightenment. After all, Jesus showed us that sin can be forgiven, and what is the hardest sin to forgive, but that in which we struggle to forgive ourselves. We can only save ourselves - Jesus just showed us the way.
**Don't ask me how I came up with that - I was speaking from the right brain.**
You mean the fiction writers who created the story, "showed us the way" --
No, I don't believe Jesus is imaginary. However, there are plenty of stories in the Bible that are not to be taken literally - namely the creation story in Genesis and the like of it. Anyone who reads the Bible and believes in a literal story only is only skimming the surface of the text, and so it is no wonder why problems occur.
Like I said, you're almost one of us - give it a few more years, a little more life experience and a tad more wisdom, and you'll get there.