Even when I was a Christian I had a funny feeling about the Crucifixion story. Something never seemed quite right about it. I don't mean evidence for it actually occuring or not, but rather the narrative itself.
Years later as I was moving away from Christianity I had to examine it again. I was giving up most things in my religion because when I tried to study them closer they no longer made sense to me, but the doctrine of salvation through the blood of Christ meant that it was dangerous to turn my back on it all. Giving up on the Bible meant trading my eternity in heaven for an eternity in hell.
As you can imagine this made it not just frustrating, but frightening, that the more I read and studied the Christian Bible, the less sense it all made.
Imagine you're learning something in school, and you think you understand what the teacher is lecturing about. But then when you go home and read the textbook closely, you find that you no longer understand it. In some places the textbook contradicts your teacher, in others it contradicts itself. It has lessons devoted to things that are irrelevant to the course, and it has lessons that are so outdated you would be horrified if anyone you knew tried to follow them. Worst of all, there seems to be no way out. You need to pass, you need to understand your teacher, the textbook, know it fully and believe in the often contradictory lessons it holds. Getting it wrong or worse, dropping out, will haunt you forever.
That's about how I felt when in college I actually sat down and started reading, not the passages I was directed to, but the Christian Bible in its entirity.
That is, until after a lot of time and worry I realized how unheroic the Christian Gospels' depiction of Jesus' sacrifice actually was.
Before the hate mail starts flooding in, please read my whole explanation.
According to Christians, Jesus lived as a human for thirty some years, was a kind and loving teacher, allowed himself to be tortured and killed over one afternoon, and then suffered unimaginable torment in hell for three days.
But after those three days he rose from the dead, he ascended to heaven, and for the rest of eternity Jesus gets to be the King of Kings, the Supreme Ruler of the Universe. And he knew it would happen this way too.
If I was given a choice to go through that instead of him, I would do it in a heartbeat. Four days of suffering for eternity of ruling the universe and being worshiped as the one true god? Sounds like a good deal. Once he'd risen the crucifixion was but a bee sting, the three days in hell just an uncomfortable inconvenience on his path to the throne.
Add the Trinity Doctrine into the mix, and the story gets even stranger. According to Christians that ascribe to the Trinity Doctrine (which is the vast majority of the world's 2 billion Christians) God the Father and Jesus the Son are one and the same. Which then means that Jesus created original sin for Man, made the rule that a human sacrifice was the only path towards redemption, and then chose to sacrifice himself to a few days of suffering before returning to his original place of godhood.
Compare this to a secular interpretation of the history of Yeshua (the Hebrew name that the figure we call Jesus Christ would have actually gone by). In the Second Temple period Yeshua may have been a rebellious priest (which would have given him formal authority and position within religious heirarchy) but more likely he would have been considered a prophet (one who "bubbles forth" the will of god, essentially an informal title for anyone who speaks publicly about religious concerns). He railed against percieved corruptions of the church, encouraged peaceful resistence against an occupying nation, and helped spread ethical principles equal to any culture of the period.*
As a Jewish man Yeshua would have held no belief in heaven or hell, so he would have been living his life thinking that it was the only one he would ever get. And yet he bravely risked the wrath of what he viewed to be corrupt religious authorities, as well as the often brutal Roman Empire. Ultimately his courage and reforms would come at the cost of his only life.
When I compare Jesus to Yeshua there is no doubt in my mind that Yeshua made the greater sacrifice for his people. By making the man Yeshua into the man-god Jesus Christ, Christians have actually robbed him of the heroism and bravery that his sacrifice required. After all, a man can not be courageous if they are not experiencing fear, and how can one fear death and torture when they know that they shall rise again as a god?
And when I realized this, the premise of God's great sacrifice for love evaporates. It no longer feels dangerous to not believe in salvation through Christ's blood, because an almighty god could have made a text that stands up to the critical examination of a believer, and a god's sacrifice could have been so much more than a few days of self-inflicted discomfort. It is a liberating revelation, that I don't need to hold my life to an anthology of myths that become less clear as you read them closer.
In search of reason,
*Many of the more popular moral lessons that are attributed to Jesus were new to Palestine in that period, but had existed in other cultures for long periods of time. The Golden Rule, for example, is a core idea of Karma Doctrine in Hinduism, and it had existed in India since 2000 BCE. However while he was extremely liberal for his day, he did not take positions that were unheard of. For example, not once did he speak out against the immorality of owning another human being, in fact he encouraged the practice by defining "proper" behaviors for both master and slave.