Ellen Feig

Professor, Bergen Community College


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Can one ever truly atone?

Today I taught my World Lit class The Book of Ruth. This story is in both the Old and New Testament. In the Old Testament, the word for atonement in Hebrew actually translates as "to placate." The word for atonement in the New Testament translates as "payment." So if we only placate people when we atone and we must make payment for our sins, can we ever truly atone?

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    Feb 28 2013: Could you offer one more level of translation of your question?

    Looking in my dictionary under "atone", I find the first definition "to make amends , as for a sin or fault."

    I find the second definition: "In the Hebrew Scriptures, man's reconciliation with God after having transgressed the covenant."

    So is your question whether people can make amends to those they have hurt in such a way as to make them no longer angry? Or whether they can compensate fully for the hurt they caused? Or does your question relate to whether there can be a reconciliation with God?

    I think whether someone can reduce or eliminate someone's anger or compensate a person for what one did depends on what it is that one did and what the other person is like.

    How the reconciliation with God works is probably understood differently depending on a person's religious belief and tradition.
  • Mar 4 2013: Does placating require that the target be placated? Does payment have to be accepted? What is the purpose of atonement? Given that humans generally act in their own self interest, I suggest that atonement is essentially an effort to rid oneself or guilt. If this moves the questions towards "is it possible to remove guilt" then I think the answer is yes, although it's often more difficult for me to forgive myself and remove the guilt than it is to be forgiven by others.
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    Gail .

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    Feb 28 2013: "IF" you must make payment for your sins, and IF that which one wants to be at-one or as-one with does not recognize sin, then to atone, one must let of one's notions of the legitimacy of sin in order to be at-one with that which does not recognize it.

    Example: IF God exists, and it is love, and you want to be one-with God, then you must be loving with ALL your heart, ALL your soul, and ALL your mind. This would leave NO (zero) room for fear - which is the mother of anger, guilt, jealosy, hate, moral judgment, violence, etc.

    when a person transitions from a fear-based worldview into a love-based worldview, that person walks through his/her fears to the other side, where fear has no meaning - and neither does sin. There is no payment required, other than effort and courage. Repentance and acknowledgement of sin or evil within us takes us away from atonement.

    If atonement is to placate - meaning to ease the anger or agitation of - then to placate is to erase the divisions that appear to divide or disrupt that which is without divisions or disruptions.

    Jesus didn't use the word "sin". The earliest known texts show him using the koine Greek word Hamartia - which means acting in (spiritual) ignorance causing harm (to self/others). Jesus didn't use the term "repent". Again, in koine Greek, he used the words "metanoeo" and "metamellamai", which mean - change your way of thinking and change your way of emoting - respectively. Jesus actually didn't speak of Hell. He spoke of Gehenna - which was the garbage dump outside of Jerusalem's city gates, where those with wretched lives eek out a horrible existence.

    So, according to Jesus, if you have a wretched life (which you do if you see sin in you), then to change that, you merely need to change your way of thinking and emoting. In this way, you will walk away from the consequences of the mistakes that your current way of thinking and emoting (hamartia) has created.

    Love =/= fear and can't be at-one with it.
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    Feb 28 2013: The only atonement that counts are transgressions against ourselves.
    Anything otherwise is an apparency.
  • Feb 28 2013: The question is;
    if there is a god, can it ever atone for abandoning humans?
    The answer is no.
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    Feb 28 2013: It is two fold - can one ever truly make a wrong right, i.e. could a criminal ever make a victim whole? And then can one ever reconcile with the higher power they believe in?
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    Feb 27 2013: Atone for any wrong deed, whether it be against one's family, against society, against nature. Leo - there are many critics who actually argue that the Old Testament sees atonement as to placate; so I like the idea of soothing one's soul while attempting to atone for sin or a bad deed. One of my students brought up the concept that one can't truly atone until one gains forgiveness from the wronged party but I am not sure that's what is meant by the Story of Ruth.
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    Feb 27 2013: hmmm. I can see two sides to this. Payment to the person (or their equivalent eg heirs) in a manner that they deem fit to forgive. I would consider that payment and atonement. But, you raise an interesting point about placate. Placate can mean to appease or pacify. To soothe and calm down. Is it possible this is referring to ourselves. Atonement is coming to peace with your past sins. So, while we may settle a debt with the offended party, we must still soothe our soul.

    Not an easy task. Please give me your opinion as it has been decades since I have read the book of Ruth. I could break it out, but at the moment the soothing the soul idea occurred to me and I figured I would run with it.
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    Feb 27 2013: Atone for what?