I am going to muck around a bit in the theological sandbox.
For the purpose of this thought experiment, I shall make the following assumptions, so as to expedite the process:
1. There is a Creator God, who did indeed create the universe. For our purposes, he can at least be Good, All-Powerful ([omnipotent] within the Universe), All-Knowing ([omniscient] Within the Universe, that which is logically possible for him to know), and Omni-Present.
2. He revealed himself on Earth to Humanity as Jesus, the Son of God, and his Holy Spirit, or unseen presence.
3. His agents wrote the Bible at His behest -inspired (composed of selected books from the Jewish Holy Books, and Letters written by Jesus’ Followers and their Followers. This Holy Book can be taken as true enough in matters of historical fact, in so far as much as any other historical book, recording events, myths, legends, etc.
4. God Can be known, through specific revelation, general revelation, tradition, corporate/individual prayer and worship and of course through his son Jesus.
Ok. With that out of the way, let us begin.
The Trinity is simply an inane and absurd bit of sophistry. Defining the Trinity, God is One, but that three distinct “persons” constitute the one God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Also, a sub-belief is that Jesus is both God and Man. This is known as the doctrine of the Hypostatic Union where in the one person of Christ, there are two natures: God and man.
Nowhere in the Bible is the word Trinity used. In fact, it was coined by a Theologian, Tertullian in the early 200’s. 100 years later, an ecumenical council (Nicea) debated the idea when they decided to define the relationship of Jesus to God, in response to the controversial teachings of Arius. Led by bishop Athanasius, the council established the doctrine of the Trinity as orthodoxy and condemned Arius’ teaching that Christ was the first creation of God. Arius also asserted that the Son of God was a subordinate entity to God the Father. The creed adopted by the council described Christ as “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance (homoousios) with the Father.” This of course spawned hundreds (and really Thousands) of years of debate. St. Augustine espoused what sounds like a “partialist” position and described the Trinity as comparable to the three parts of an individual human being: mind, spirit, and will. They are three distinct aspects, yet they are inseparable and together constitute one unified human being.
However, most Orthodox and Catholics will simply shrug their shoulders and chalk the Trinity up to one of those things that is too complicated for our feeble human minds to understand. They also claim that it is indirectly taught in the Bible (though not explicitly). It also bridges the gap between Monotheism, and explains the Holy Spirit and Jesus. However, This is ridiculous.
Many of the problems inherent in the doctrine of the trinity stem from Christological controversies. So, we might as well dive deep. Hold your breath. Hell, grab some scuba gear and a diving bell.
Here are some of the “Heresies” rejected by the Universal Church at various Ecumenical Councils:
1. Adoptionism – God granted Jesus powers and then adopted him as a Son.it denied the preexistence of Christ and, therefore, His deity. Adoptionists taught that Jesus was tested by God and after passing this test and upon His baptism, He was granted supernatural powers by God and adopted as the Son. As a reward for His great accomplishments and perfect character Jesus was raised from the dead and adopted into the Godhead. This error arose out of an attempt to understand the two purported natures of Jesus.
2. Apollinarianism – Jesus divine will overshadowed and replaced the human. The Logos of God, which became the divine nature of Christ, took the place of the rational human soul of Jesus and that the body of Christ was a glorified form of human nature. In other words, though Jesus was a man, He did not have a human mind but that the mind of Christ was solely divine. Apollinaris taught that the two natures of Christ could not coexist within one person. His solution was to lessen the human nature of Christ. The church rejected this solution for they felt that it jeopardized the value of the atonement since Jesus needs to be both God and man to atone for the sins of the world, building off of the idea that the World is a fallen evil place, and must be cleansed. The doctrine of atonement is based off of the Jewish traditions surrounding Yom Kippur: Evil is a debt against God, and debts must be collected (so that God can remain Just) but for man to pay that debt, man would need to be killed, because another central tenet of that idea is that blood is the only way to forgive sins. This is based on the animal sacrifices enacted by Abraham and Moses. All of mankind is individually responsible for their sins, and the individuals death is the only way to atone for their lifetime of sins. Jesus needed to be God to offer a pure and holy sacrifice of sufficient value for all humanity, and He needed to be a man in order to die for men.
Hang On. It only gets deeper from here.
3. Arianism – Jesus was a lesser, created being. We have mentioned this briefly already. Based out of the Plato’s Theory of Forms, which subsequent gnostic schools of thought latched on to, Arius taught that only God the Father was eternal and too pure and infinite to appear on the earth. Therefore, God produced Christ the Son out of nothing as the first and greatest creation. The Son is then the one who created the universe. Because the Son relationship of the Son to the Father is not one of nature, it is, therefore, adoptive. Though Christ was a creation, because of his great position and authority, he was to be worshipped and even looked upon as God. Some Arians even held that the Holy Spirit was the first and greatest creation of the Son. At Jesus’ incarnation, the Arians asserted that the divine quality of the Son, the Logos, took the place of the human and spiritual aspect of Jesus, thereby denying the full and complete incarnation of God the Son, second person of the Trinity.
In asserting that Christ the Son, as a created thing, was to be worshipped, the Arians were advocating idolatry. Also, denies the whole Homostasis thing, and destroys the atonement doctrine. So this is a no go.
4. Docetism – Jesus was divine, but only seemed to be human. Generally, it taught that Jesus only appeared to have a body. This error developed out of the (Zoroastrian and Platonic) dualistic philosophy which viewed matter as inherently evil, that God could not be associated with matter, and that God, being perfect and infinite, could not suffer. Same logic as Arianism. Condemned. Refuted… blah blah blah.
5. Kenosis – Jesus gave up some divine attributes while on earth. These attributes were omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence. It states that Christ did this voluntarily so that He could function as a man in order to fulfill the work of redemption. Instead, Orthodoxy claims that Jesus cooperated with the limitations of humanity and voluntarily did not exercise His attribute of omniscience. He still was divine but was moving and living completely as a man. The Kenosis theory would mean that Jesus was not fully divine. If Jesus was not fully divine, then His atoning work would not be sufficient to atone for the sins of the world.
6. Modalism – God is one person in three modes. Modalism is probably the most common heresy concerning the trinity. Modalism states that God is a single person who, throughout biblical history, has revealed Himself in three modes, or forms. Thus, God is a single person who first manifested himself in the mode of the Father in Old Testament times. At the incarnation, the mode was the Son and after Jesus’ ascension, the mode is the Holy Spirit. These modes are consecutive and never simultaneous. In other words, this view states that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit never all exist at the same time, only one after another.
7. Monarchianism – God is one person (The Father). It arose as an attempt to maintain Monotheism and refute tritheism. Monarchians were divided into two main groups, the dynamic monarchians and the modal monarchians. Dynamic Monarchianism teaches that God is the Father, that Jesus is only a man, and that the Holy Spirit was a force or presence of God the Father. Modal monarchianism teaches that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are just modes of the single person who is God. In other words, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not simultaneous and separate persons, but consecutive modes of one person. This destroys the nature of atonement.
8. Monophysitism – Jesus had only one nature: divine. It teaches that Jesus was wholly God, and not Man at all. This, of course, is contrary to the notion of atonement. Monophysitism arose out of a reaction against Nestorianism which taught Jesus was two distinct persons instead of one. Its roots can even be traced back to Apollinarianism which taught that the divine nature of Christ overtook and replaced the human one.
9. Nestorianism – Jesus was two persons. Nestorius was a monk who became the Patriarch of Constantinople and he repudiated the Marian title “Mother of God.” He held that Mary was the mother of Christ only in respect to His humanity. If Jesus is two persons, then which one died on the cross? If it was the “human person” then the atonement is not of divine quality and thereby insufficient.
10. Pelagianism – Man is unaffected by the fall and can keep all of God’s laws.people had the ability to fulfill the commands of God by exercising the freedom of human will apart from the grace of God. In other words, a person’s free will is totally capable of choosing God and/or to do good or bad without the aid of Divine intervention. Pelagianism teaches that man’s nature is basically good. Thus it denies original sin, the doctrine that we have inherited a sinful nature from Adam. He said that Adam only hurt himself when he fell and all of his descendents were not affected by Adam’s sin. Pelagius taught that a person is born with the same purity and moral abilities as Adam was when he was first made by God. He taught that people can choose God by the exercise of their free will and rational thought. God’s grace, then, is merely an aid to help individuals come to Him. This negates the need for atonement, and thereby negates the need for the homeostasis and ergo the trinity. It also fits in nicely with John Locke’s Tabula Rasa though it predates Locke by 1300 years, and some of Kant’s theories on the nature of man.
11. Semi-Pelagianism – Man and God cooperate to achieve man’s salvation. Semi-Pelagianism did not deny original sin and its effects upon the human soul and will. But, it taught that God and man cooperate to achieve man’s salvation. This cooperation is not by human effort as in keeping the law, but rather in the ability of a person to make a free will choice. The semi-Pelagian teaches that man can make the first move toward God by seeking God out of his own free will and that man can cooperate with God’s grace even to the keeping of his faith through human effort. This would mean that God responds to the initial effort of person and that God’s grace is not absolutely necessary to maintain faith. The Churches problem with this compromise is that this is no longer grace. The doctrine of Grace states that it is the completely unmerited and freely given favor of God upon the sinner. But, if man is the one who first seeks God, then God is responding to the good effort of seeking him. This would mean that God is offering a proper response to the initial effort of man. This is not grace, but what is due the person who chooses to believe in God apart from God’s initial effort. Also, this negates the atonement.
12. Socinianism – Denial of the Trinity. Jesus is a deified man. Socinianism denies the doctrine of the Trinity claiming it denies the simplicity of God’s unity. Instead, God is a single person with the Holy Spirit as the power of God. Since it emphasizes the unity of God, there could be no divine and human union in a single person as Christ. Therefore, Socinianism denies the incarnation and deity of Christ as well as Christ’s pre-existence. It teaches that Jesus was only a man. it taught that Jesus was a deified man and was to be adored as such. Nevertheless, since Jesus is not divine by nature, His sacrifice was not efficacious; that is, it did not result in the redemption of people who would trust in it. Instead it was an example of self sacrifice. Again. Denies Atonement.
13. Subordinationism – The Son is lesser than the Father in essence and or attributes. Subordinationism (Jesus is different in nature than the Father) should not be confused with subordination (the Son submitting to the Father). the Son is not eternal and divine (Arian Subordinationism), and is, therefore, not equal to the Father in being and attributes. Another form of Subordinationism states that though the Son is divine, he is not equal to the Father in being, attributes, and rank.
14. Tritheism – the Trinity is really three separate gods. In the late 11th century a Catholic monk of Compiègne in France, Roscelin considered the three Divine Persons as three independent beings and that it could be said they were three gods. He maintained that God the Father and God the Holy Ghost would have become incarnate with God the Son unless there were three gods.
Ok, the beauty of sloughing through the various so-called heresies is that they represent a rather exhaustive and exhausting summary of most possible logical deviances. Effectively, the reason that the doctrine of the Trinity doesn’t make sense is that it is trying to fill an illogical hole: it is akin to having jig saw puzzle with a couple of extra pieces thrown in. The primary problem is one of logic:
The Earth has Fallen and requires Redemption. Due to the Jewish Code of Atonement, Sin requires Blood Sacrifice. Traditionally this was done with pure animals. Because we are all so fallen and evil, we each deserve to die and fulfill our own sacrifice. God’s Grace and Love counter his Justice, so that in order to satisfy his Just Nature, and defend his love for us, He decides that the price must be paid and that he must pay it himself. Thus Jesus must be God in order to be pure and great enough to Atone for everyone, and he must be a Man in order to take our place. This is the logic of the millennia: this is what Theologians have come up with for the necessity of Christ’s death.
The Church’s problem with the various heresies are that they negate Christ’s dual nature which negates his grace and ability to atone for sin. At first glance, If Christ doesn’t have a dual Nature, then the Trinity doctrine falls apart. However, by stripping away Christ’s Humanity, the doctrine of the trinity becomes much easier. Monophysitism simplifies the whole thing.
Sub-note, the idea of the Trinity is not found nor supported by Judaism. Obviously, Muslims also reject it.
Ok. Now, let us try to imagine a scenario in which the Trinity does make sense and fits the requirements placed upon it.
Assuming that God exists, and assuming that God visited earth, and assuming that people have experienced him as his “Holy Spirit”, I see one very easy way out of this: If we have no need of “atonement” because we never “fell.” What if Man Kind and the Earth are as we have always been. The human condition is as we have created it. Of course, this puts God in an awkward position: Would a perfect God create something less than perfect? Can perfection be a process of increasing perfection, like the expanding Universe? What if, like the Pelagians and Semi-Pelagians believe, we each fall, and there is no universal fall? What if we each start with a blank slate, and are only victim to our own actions? What if the only Grace we require is God’s willingness to forgive our sins? Then the death on the cross need only be symbolic, and Christ would only need to be God, and not Man. If the Atonement is nothing more than a ritual, and not some deep-seated blood-lust-filled command, demanded by an angry war god for transgressions against his will, then God’s Triune Nature is easily explained by a combination of Modalism, Monarchianism, and Monophysitism. Of course, denying the “Sin Nature” also negates a need for a literal hell. Assuming that there is an afterlife, hell would simply be existence after death without God’s Presence: something akin to being isolated in the darkness for all eternity, effectively “outside the Universe.”
The classic Trinity is more like an Aspen tree: Genetically identical aspen trees (Populus tremuloides) grow in large stands throughout cooler regions of North America. The individual trees within these stands are interconnected by a shared root system and it is that root system that ranks as the largest on the planet. New aspen trees grow as root sprouts that grow off of a parent tree. The largest known aspen grove, nicknamed Pando, is located in Utah and covers 106 acres and is estimated to weigh 6000 tones.
God The Father is the great Aspen tree. Jesus and the Holy Spirit stances. grow out of the same root system, but come up out of the ground in different places. They are three separate trees, and yet they are one, connected by a shared root system. We experience each tree separately, yet there is no difference. They are the same. They can act independently, and communicate directly with each other. They can also act as one. It is a bit Schizophrenic.
Ok, so let us address the Resurrection. In classical Theology, the Resurrection is what proves Jesus’ claims of divinity. It is what proves his power to forgive sins, and proves his right to die for those sins in the first place. It proves his power over death, and instills hope in an afterlife. The Resurrection also assures those victims of Zoroastrian style Cosmic Dualism, that God won, and Satan lost.
Without the need of atonement, and without the need of a fall, there is no need for a Satan figure to accompany the lack of need for a hell.
So, let’s just assume that Christ went ahead and died on the cross and even rose again: this is fine, and fits with the rest of my postulation.
Effectively, by creating an ontology that makes logical sense, and building a systematic theology from there, we actually create a version of Christianity that is much closer to traditional Judaism, and makes much more solid logical sense within the Christian Universe of Axioms.
To recap: We toss Original Sin, Satan, Hell, Atonement, Dual Nature of Christ, and we actually have a Christianity that reflects our basic human experience much better: Toss in a little Pelagianism and semi-pelagianism and we are set!
We can thus redefine sin as a conscious decision to violate the relationship of a person to God.