Christian apologists seem to ignore the problems with the atonement. They focus all of their efforts on the resurrection. I told Mike Licona, the Apologetics Coordinator at the North American Mission Board (Southern Baptist Convention), in April when we had lunch: "without the atonement, the resurrection is meaningless." He said he had not thought much about it. William Craig admits that there needs to be a lot of research done on this subject. He writes:
The doctrine of the atonement is one of those areas of Christian theology which is most in need of careful philosophical analysis. In fact, if any of you readers are contemplating graduate work in philosophy, here is a great dissertation topic! You can be almost guaranteed publication of your work, given how central and philosophically underdeveloped a doctrine the substitutionary atonement is. Unfortunately, my areas of research interest have not included the atonement, so my remarks here will be at best sketchy. My hope is that they will provoke others to tackle and think further about this important doctrine.
Meanwhile, evangelical Christians seem to just take it for granted that the death of Jesus pays the price for their sins, even though it is illogical, immoral, illegal, and unjust to punish an innocent person.
Marlene Winell writes:
The most serious demand for unquestioned belief is, of course, the atonement. First the believer is to suspend familiar notions of justice, such as punishment of the guilty as opposed to an innocent party. You are then expected to accept the necessity of blood sacrifice for sin; that wongdoing must be paid for, and not necessarily in proportion to the crime. A father's sacrifice of his innocent son is supposed to be not only just but generous and wonderful. Then the temporary three-day death [actually about 36 hours] of this one person is supposed to wipe out all the wrongdoing and ineptitude of the species. And finally, you should believe that all you need do to erase the responsibility for your actions and enter a haven of eternal reward is to believe. It's no wonder that once a convert has wrapped his or her mind around this story, anything can be accepted as truth (Leaving the Fold: A Guide for Former Fundamentalists and Others Leaving Their Religion, 1993, p. 75).
Paul himself admits in 1 Corinthians 1:18-29 that the "preaching of the cross" is "foolishness." The Greek word translated "foolishness" is μωρία (mōria) from which we get the English word, moronic. Paul acknowledges that it is foolish to believe that one's sins can be forgiven through the cross of Jesus but God planned it that way "to confound the wise." It seems that according to Paul, God wants man to sacrifice his intellect in order to be saved.
The church Father Tertullian said something similar in De Carne Christi:
The Son of God was crucified: I am not ashamed--because it is shameful.
The Son of God died: it is immediately credible--because it is silly.
He was buried, and rose again: it is certain--because it is impossible.
In the second line, the word translated "silly" is the Latin word ineptus. It means: unsuitable, impertinent, improper, tasteless, senseless, silly, pedantic, absurd, inept, without tact . For this reason, Tertullian is often quoted as having said: "I believe because it is absurd".
I agree with Tertullian and Paul. The atonement is "absurd" and "moronic." I used to believe it because it is what I was taught and it had a psychological appeal. I can no longer believe something so absurd. If there is a god and he condemns me to hell for not believing something that is so patently absurd, then he is unfair and unjust. Why would a god create man with the largest brain of any animal and then expect him not use it? Why would he expect me to believe something just because it is written in ancient book and his followers have never been able to agree among themselves exactly what that ancient book means and exactly what one must believe in it in order to be saved?