In thinking about Christianity, one of the issues that has consistently bothered me is what I call the “Aura Salve” problem. What I mean is that I think in some ways that Christianity, or at least some approaches to Christianity, offer what feels like a made-up solution to a made-up problem.
It’s like you’re walking along the street, minding your own business and getting along okay, when some stranger approaches you in the park and flags you down with something important to tell you.
“Oh man,” he says, “You can’t see it, but you have holes in your aura! That means you have Aura Rot, which is a horrible cosmic disease! If you don’t do something about it, your aura will totally rot away and you’ll have no aura left, which could have Big Ramifications.”
You are shocked, of course. You can’t see your own aura or anyone else’s, and you never really felt like you had holes in your aura or anything.
“It’s a good thing I saw you,” the man says, “because I have exactly what you need. It just so happens that I deal in Aura Salve, an invisible, intangible ointment that you need to spread all over your aura every day. Every day. You have to trust me.”
So here this guy is, offering a wonderful solution to a problem you didn’t even know you had. In fact, he has to convince you that you even have a problem. Even if this guy really sincerely beieves you have Aura Rot, you didn’t feel like you had it before, and you had no independent reason to believe you have it now. All you have to go on is the testimony of him and all other Aura Salve salesmen like him. They’re offering a made-up solution to what is essentially a made-up problem.
In a like manner I feel like some approaches to Christianity offer made-up solutions to a made-up problem. These approaches tell you that God is mad at you for the bad things you have done, and that he is going to punish you with an eternity in Hell because it’s what you deserve.
Leave for a moment that logical problem with this, which is that a “just” God is going to dish out infinite punishment for a finite quantity of sin. I’ll get to that in a future post. Theproblem for me is that when I do something wrong, I feel bad because I feel like I did something wrong, not because I fear God’s punishment. The guilt I feel is a lot of torment on it’s own, and what’s more, most things that are sins are somehow violations of the two great commandments- love God and love your neighbor. In other words, committing sins carries its own punishments in terms of fractured relationships, inner guilt, and ultimately a spiritual hardening. I’m not worried about going to a Hell that may or may not exist anyway, I’m worried about the stuff that happens now.
And to that “stuff,” add all the other pain and suffering that are inherent to human (or at least my) existence: depression, alienation, anger, insecurity, cynicism, despondence over the state of the world, feelings of powerlessness, etcetera.
On the other hand, there are plenty of things that many would consider sins that don’t seem like they’re honestly very bad. For these things I feel no real guilt or trouble in the here and now anyway.
So along comes the Aura Salve salesman who tells me that my actual problem is not the pain that I really am in right now, but the Hell that angry God is going to condemn me to for doing wrong things, making bad choices, and making mistakes, many of which the Aura Salve salesman has to convince me are even mistakes in the first place. Nevertheless, the Aura Salve salesman is ready to tell me how lucky I am that he has done such a wonderful thing to save me from my Aura Rot problem. In fact, I am so lucky that I should dedicate my life to thanking him and using and promoting Aura Salve myself.
It boils down to this: I don’t necessarily buy off on the idea of “sin” as a list of misdeeds we’ve done and therefore need saving from. It just doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.