Atonement (also atoning, to atone) is the concept of a person taking action to correct previous wrongdoing on their part, either through direct action to undo the consequences of that act, equivalent action to do good for others, or some other expression of feelings of remorse. From the Middle English attone or atoon (“agreed”, literally “at one”), now meaning to be "at one", in harmony, with someone. Atonement "is closely associated to forgiveness, reconciliation, sorrow, remorse, repentance, reparation and guilt". It can be seen as a necessary step on a path to redemption.
In law and society
In the legal systems, the concept of atonement plays an important role with respect to criminal justice, where it is considered one of the primary goals of criminal rehabilitation. Philosopher Linda Radzik has proposed that there should be an "ethics of atonement", and that atonement is an underrepresented area of study in philosophy and a topic given absurd treatment in the arts.
In religion, atonement is "a spiritual concept which has been studied since time immemorial in Biblical and Kabbalistic texts", while "[s]tories of atonement are ubiquitous in religious discourse and the language of atonement fundamentally reveals a redemptive turn".
Concepts in religion include:
- Atonement in Judaism is the process of causing a transgression to be forgiven or pardoned. In Rabbinic Judaism, atonement is achieved through repentance, which can be followed by some combination of confession, restitution, tribulations (unpleasant life experiences), the experience of dying, or other factors.
- Another aspect of atonement is the occurrence of Yom Kippur (the day itself, as distinct from the Temple service performed on it), also known as the Day of Atonement, which is a biblical/Jewish observance.
- Atonement in Christianity, in western Christian theology, describes beliefs that human beings can be reconciled to God through Christ's sacrificial suffering and death. Atonement refers to the forgiving or pardoning of sin in general and original sin in particular through the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus, Throughout the centuries, Christians have used different metaphors and given differing explanations of the atonement to express how the atonement might work. Churches and denominations may vary in which metaphor or explanation they consider most accurately fits into their theological perspective; however all Christians emphasize that Jesus is the Saviour of the world and through his death the sins of humanity have been forgiven. enabling the reconciliation between God and his creation. Within Christianity there are, historically, three or four main theories for how such atonement might work:
- Ransom theory/Christus Victor (which are different, but generally considered together as Patristic or "classical", to use Gustaf Aulén's nomenclature, theories, it being argued that these were the traditional understandings of the early Church Fathers);
- Satisfaction theory developed by Anselm of Canterbury (called by Aulén the "scholastic" view);
- Moral influence theory, developed by the Enlightenment, which Aulén called the "subjective" or "humanistic" view and considered to have been anticipated—as a critique of the satisfaction view—by Peter Abelard.
- Other theories include recapitulation theory, the "shared atonement" theory and scapegoat theory.
- Additional views include the governmental view, penal substitution view, and substitutionary atonement
- In Mormonism, blood atonement was a controversial doctrine that taught that some crimes are so heinous that the atonement of Jesus does not apply. Instead, to atone for these sins the perpetrators should be killed in a way that would allow their blood to be shed upon the ground as a sacrificial offering. Although it was significantly promoted during the Mormon Reformation, when Brigham Young governed the Utah Territory as a near-theocracy, the doctrine is no longer accepted by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church).
- The Nation of Islam celebrates a Day of Atonement which was established during the Million Man March in Washington, DC, on October 16, 1995 by the Nation of Islam. It is described as a day on which American black men would refrain from crime, drug addiction, and family abuse.
Concepts of atonement also exist in other religious views. For example, in Native American and Mestizo cultures of the Americas, "[s]ince sin and guilt are among the principal causes of illness and maladjustment... confession, atonement, and absolution are frequent rituals used in treatment. In some cases, atonement is accomplished through prayer or penance; in others, it may involve cleansing the body, accomplished by brushing the body with branches of rosemary or by sprinkling it with holy water".
Concepts of universal atonement can transcend all religions, as in unlimited atonement, the doctrine that the atonement is unlimited in extent, and universal reconciliation, the doctrine that all will eventually come to salvation.
- Niels-erik A. Andreasen, 'Atonement/Expiation in the Old Testament' in W. E. Mills (ed.), Mercer dictionary of the Bible (Mercer University Press, 1990)
- Ruth Williams, "Atonement", in David A. Leeming, Kathryn Madden, Stanton Marlan, Encyclopedia of Psychology and Religion: L-Z (2009), p. 83.
- Linda Radzik, Making Amends: Atonement in Morality, Law, and Politics (2009).
- Theodore Millon, Melvin J. Lerner, Irving B. Weiner, Handbook of Psychology, Personality and Social Psychology (2003), p. 552.
- Paul Wink, Jonathan M. Adler, and Michelle Dillon, "Developmental and narrative perspectives on religious and spiritual identity for clinicians", in Jamie Aten, Kari O'Grady, Everett Worthington, Jr., eds., The Psychology of Religion and Spirituality for Clinicians (2013), Ch. 3, p. 51.
- "Atonement." Cross, F. L., ed. The Oxford dictionary of the Christian church. New York: Oxford University Press. 2005
- atonement. CollinsDictionary.com. Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 11th Edition. Retrieved October 03, 2012: '2. (often capital) Christian theol a. the reconciliation of man with God through the life, sufferings, and sacrificial death of Christ b. the sufferings and death of Christ'.
- Matthew George Easton, 'Atonement' in Illustrated Bible Dictionary (T. Nelson & Sons, 1897).
- Ward, K. (2007) Christianity – a guide for the perplexed. SPCK, London, p. 48- 51
- Christus Victor: An Historical Study of the Three Main Types of the Idea of Atonement, Gustaf Aulen, 1931
- Vincent Taylor, The Cross of Christ (London: Macmillan & Co, 1956), p. 71-2
- In which the atonement is spoken of as shared by all. To wit, God sustains the Universe. Therefore if Jesus was God in human form, when he died, we all died with him, and when he rose from the dead, we all rose with him. See Jeremiah, David. 2009. Living With Confidence in a Chaotic World, pp. 96 & 124. Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.; Massengale, Jamey. 2013.Renegade Gospel, The Jesus Manifold. Amazon, Kindle.
- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (2010-06-17). "Mormon church statement on blood atonement". Deseret News. Retrieved 2010-09-25.
- Manuel Ramirez III, Multicultural/Multiracial Psychology: Mestizo Perspectives in Personality and Mental Health (1998), p. 174.