Does Sacrifice Imply a Net Loss?

Yesterday I had a discussion about the logic of Jesus. Like I do.

One of my friends, who is an atheist, texted me to question my use of the word “sacrifice.” For context, I’d posted this online: “When love is demonstrated in sacrifice, it cannot ever again be synonymous with control, guilt, and expectations.”

“Proposal: you can’t be a humanist and believe in the concept of sacrifice in any way. I don’t think you actually believe in sacrifice, because you don’t live like someone who does.”

I consider this girl to be a very good friend and I trust her, and we both know it’s okay to be antagonistic when we hash out a disagreement. It’s not an attack, it’s honest questioning. We demand logic from each other. So I asked her, “What is sacrifice?”

She said it was basically net loss.

I had to talk to myself for a few minutes, wondering if I was wrong to use this word. Then I went to an online dictionary, and it said sacrifice is “the act of giving up something that you want to keep, especially in order to get or do something else, or to help someone.” (Oxford commas mine.) The second definition was more traditional – giving up something to please a god or gods. In other words, sacrifices are always made with the belief in net gain.

It’s used as a business or investment term on MarketWatch and in The Wall Street Journal to indicate costs now for later benefits. I asked her why, then, she thought of sacrifice as a net loss. I love how she phrased this problem we were both raised with in the Christian world:

“God sacrificed his son for you and shouldn’t you be grateful because he gave his spotless son for your filthy worthless self and it wasn’t worth it but he did it for some reason and now you need to spend your entire life groveling in revisitation of that sacrifice. He shouldn’t have done it, your net worth is zero and his is infinite, but he did. So be grateful.”

I can’t even deny that this is exactly what some people teach children. I’d like to quickly note, I wouldn’t say the following to an atheist unless she started the conversation and asked for my opinion. I’m not a fan of proselytizing, and that’s not what I was doing. I was explaining for the purpose of reasonable analysis, not to convince her to become a Christian.

“That comes from the mentality of religious power,” I said. “Of keeping people in line. What do you do to keep people from questioning? Make them doubt themselves, their own worth, their ability to ask questions. What that teaching totally fails at is even considering why God would bother with net loss. If it’s a net loss, Jesus was stupid, whether or not he was God. If it’s a net gain…that means humans are worth it. Power-hungry people had to hurry up and get that out of religion ASAP if they wanted to keep their power. Of course it’s not in mainstream Christian rhetoric. If God does things pragmatically, then humans are worth a payment of God, at least to God, because according to economic/spending theory, we don’t pay for things unless it’s worth it to us.”

I continued, ” ‘Shut up and be grateful’ allows for overlooking gaping holes in logic like, ‘Hey, maybe God isn’t dumb enough to go through hell for something that he doesn’t think is worth it.’ ”

She said my use of the word “sacrifice” might communicate what I don’t mean – as if I’m promoting net loss, or people-pleasing, or even Stockholm syndrome, in the name of so-called love.

I think God thinks we’re worth whatever the sacrifice was – and he thinks of us as a net gain.

I’ll be linking back to this post for clarity whenever I use the word “sacrifice,” because yeah, it’s safe to look for logical reasoning in what God does. If it’s not logical, stop believing it. Don’t believe people who say you have to “have faith” or that you’re incapable of understanding God’s “infinite wisdom.”

Those people have sacrificed their own intellectual honesty for cognitive comfort. Is it a net gain for them? Only if they have followers, so you and I have the power to make their sacrifice futile with our questions.

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  • jim

    1 Corinthians 1:22-25 22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God

    My father was an atheist with impeccable logic, I esteemed him because he was reliable and he loved me as I wanted to be loved in my 7 year old mind. Why? He gave me what I wanted! My mother became a a born again Christian soon after I arrived in this world. She loved me much, but her love was a little less tangible as a child. I didn’t appreciate her sacrificial love, nor esteem her much though I loved her too.: She cared for me when she was sick and when I was sick. She spent her evenings preparing delicious meals and then cleaning up pots, pans and dishes after she worked outside of the home all day. etc…. My dad’s kind of love looked like hanging out with me at a baseball game, or buying me Captain Crunch for breakfast, and explaining how the Milky Way Galaxy was finite. Now that made a lot of sense to me as a boy. As a result, I esteemed Mr. Spock, and tolerated Captain Kirk as I watched the episodic conflict on T.V. and in my parent’s relationship back in the early 70s. I wanted to be Mr. Spock. I wanted to be logical. I did not want Truth to be tainted with emotions, signs and other non-sense. Later in life, as I studied theology, my faith became more and more measured by logic. I judged those who comfortably showed up with “intuitive faith”. I could not understand how any genuine Christian could just believe and follow Jesus. I could not understand how one could not reflect and struggle with their faith using logic as a basis for validity. .After some years of being married, I recognized that my wife, who hates Mr. Spock and logic, would often look for a sign to interpret data and I realized that I had substituted Logic for Love in 1 Cor 13:13.
    I realized that I am Greek, and that my Logic had become my stumbling block to the Wisdom of God. God has created tools like logic, polarity, gravitational force etc. to govern our existence, but God did not intend any one of them to become our “conduit” for Truth. Needless to say, I am a recovering Greek attempting to value God’s gift of Jesus’ “Victory of Resurrection”!

    • cynthiajeub

      Thank you so much for sharing that background. I agree on finding logical backup for what you choose to believe. I also think it’s interesting that Spock’s Vulcan race was, before they embraced a highly logical approach to life, a very emotional and even empathically telepathic people. They chose logic because trusting their feelings was so detrimental from past experience, and by the time Spock’s generation came around, every Vulcan was trained in logic. I’m glad you’ve identified the need for logic through the Greek distinction.