Abelard fell on the loving side of God’s nature, saying Jesus showed God’s benevolence which doesn’t come across so clearly from Judaism, given the latter’s emphasis on purity and obedience to God’s commandments. Pelagius was basically a humanist somewhat like Confucius who said we don’t need divine intervention to choose well and to please God, which is likewise what Jews thought and which is why Judaism because largely pragmatic and secular humanistic.

Clearly, the main problem with these theories of atonement is that they undermine the authority of Christian institutions, just as did the so-called Gnostics’ emphasis on individual visionary experience and intellectual illumination. Protestantism went in the direction of individualism and splintered into ten thousand sects and denominations.

For me, the key distinction here is the elitist, Straussian one between the exoteric and the esoteric. Esoteric (insider, often hidden) wisdom has to be condemned by the majority who aren’t fit to go beyond superficial platitudes and comforting delusions, because the ultimate philosophical truth is subversive and even horrific. Secular humanism is far closer to the truth than is a literalistic or crypto-autocratic reading of Christian theodicy, so Christian humanism had to be condemned as heretical for the Church to survive as the head of a theocratic, totalitarian empire (given the conversion of the Roman Empire from pagan to Judaized polytheism).

Subjective, metaphorical interpretations of Christian theology are intellectually responsible, but they don’t exactly serve the interests of religious faith. We don’t live on bread or on reason alone. Ultimately, then, the evaluation of Christian stories has to be aesthetic or otherwise nonrational. We need to put our trust in the stories that move us the most and that have the best chance of shifting our mundane perspective into an existentially noble one. All theistic religions are dubious and anachronistic on those grounds, although some kinds of Christianity, for example, are less embarrassing than others. Is that praise too faint?

Knowledge condemns. Art redeems. I learned that as an artistic writer who did a doctorate in philosophy. We should try to see the dark comedy in all things.

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