Larry King interviewed Admiral General Aladeen of the Republic of Wadiya (a.k.a. Sasha Baron Cohen) a few days ago in advance of Baron Cohen’s forthcoming movie, “The Dictator.” (If Baron Cohen’s first film, “Borat,” is any indication, the film will no doubt prove to be simultaneously offensive and ridiculously funny.)
One part of the interview (which you can view in its entirety below) has me thinking about certain highly problematic theories of the “atonement” (which is just a fancy word theologians give to explain Jesus’ death on the cross and what it accomplishes):
King: Do you have favorite other oppressors?
Admiral General Aladeen: …My favorite unfortunately is dead. Kim Jong- KJ- I miss him a lot. He was a fun man. He died as he lived- in three inch heels.
King: But he was ruthless to his people.
Admiral General Aladeen: No, he was not ruthless to his people. He was a sweetie pie.
Theologians have tried through the centuries to give expression to the meaning of atonement. One especially popular theory goes by the name “penal substitution” or “satisfaction” theory. (The details of these theories may vary slightly depending on the theologian, but they tend to paint a similar, general picture of God.) According to this understanding of the cross, God in God’s perfect goodness could not allow human sin to go unpunished. For this reason, God sent God’s one and only Son to die in our place and receive the full penalty for sin that we really deserved. A wrathful God, in other words, had to be “satisfied” in order to be reconciled with sinful humanity, and only the death of God’s very own Son- how is that for twisted, fatherly love?- could pay the price. In Jesus, God in God’s great “love” spares us from getting our just desserts in the form of eternal torment in the flames of hell.
Within this framework, God comes out looking a whole lot like Admiral General Aladeen of the Republic of Wadiya. He functions as a “beloved oppressor” of sorts, for whom “love” equates with ruthless, unrelenting punishment, but whom, through some pretty poor theological acrobatics, we Christians have still managed to label a “sweetie pie.”
It’s no wonder so many people in the church don’t know how to evangelize when they’ve been spoon fed this kind of logic. It’s like having to tell a kid that their lima beans taste like ice cream. It’s also not surprising that so many “unchurched” people will stay this way. They’re right to wonder if this kind of theology is in fact “Good News.”