Today, we Christians celebrate the holiest day of our calendar, Easter. It's when we observe our belief in Jesus' resurrection from the grave.
Christianity says Jesus was crucified before that resurrection to provide eternal salvation to the likes of you and me.
As the story goes, humans, through our habitual sins and general hubris, being intrinsically flawed, managed to separate ourselves from God.
And so Jesus, God's perfect son, allowed himself to be sacrificed on a cross in Jerusalem in our stead. He stood in for us, so to speak.
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The blood he shed during his gruesome execution atoned for our wrongs, cleansed us and made us acceptable.
Whether or not you're a Christian, you know the outline of this story; it's woven through the fabric of Western art and culture.
What brought it to my mind wasn't Easter, initially, but a recent special report on CNN, "Atheists: Inside the World of Non-Believers." It first aired on March 24.
The report looked at the increasing numbers of Americans generally, and Millennials especially, who have become skeptics.
One expert, David Kinnaman, president of The Barna Group, which conducts polling on religious trends, said 59 percent of people raised as Christians now either become actively "ex-Christians" or simply drift away from the church.
That number seems high, but I'd agree Christian influence, and religious influence of any kind, for that matter, is waning in America.
It seemed as I watched the show that part of this loss might be due to sloppy thinking and intellectual dishonesty within churches themselves about the nature of faith. For instance, a Christian minister using the pseudonym "Stan," his face hidden from the camera and his voice disguised, confessed to CNN reporter Kyra Phillips that he had become an atheist, although he remains a practicing pastor.
Among the reasons for his loss of faith, Stan said, was "that crazy atonement theory," which he'd decided makes no sense. The Easter story, in other words.
Sitting in my den, I looked on in discomfort.
"And your point is?" I thought.
I mean, there's no revelation there for anybody who's paid the slightest attention.
Of course the atonement story makes no sense. It never made sense. It never was intended to make sense.
St. Paul dealt with this front-and-center nearly 2,000 years ago. It's in the opening chapter of his letter of 1 Corinthians, which ranks among his more popular epistles, read by untold millions of believers and critics down through the ages. It's not a secret.
The crux of Christianity, Paul said, was "Christ crucified," which he then described as sheer "foolishness" to anyone seeking rational explanations. The story was irrational, apparently that one man's blood could pardon everybody, or that pardon was even needed.
"But God," Paul continued, "has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong ... that no man should boast before God."
In Paul's view, God promised to save those willing to simply abandon themselves to his divine, merciful intervention, probably due to their own helplessness and need.
It was all about that faith, so to speak. God only wanted people who were humble or desperate enough to grab onto something they knew to be intellectually indefensible. That was God's very intention: to appear foolish and in doing so to rescue us fools.
Sorry for my digression into Bible-quoting. My point is, in basic, historic, Christianity 101, the whole concept of the atonement — the Easter story — is that it always has been and always will be illogical.
There's no news there.
For a minister to say he's lost his faith because he's decided the atonement is crazy is about like saying he's junking his classic Camaro because he's realized it's a Chevrolet.
Uh, what did you think you were buying, pal? Did you not see that big logo?
I think that, intentionally or not, churches too often sell their members — and apparently, their pastor — a bill of goods about what faith is.
Seeing the illogic of the atonement doesn't mean you must forfeit, or have already forfeited, your Christianity.
Feeling confused or barren or frustrated doesn't mean that, either. Faith isn't a feeling. Or, better said, it isn't just a feeling.
Mainly, over the long term, faith is a gritty decision.
Faith looks at the evidence, both positive and negative, straight on. It acknowledges our emotions, good and bad. It meets all comers.
It says, "Yep, this blood atonement business is nuts, and besides, I feel like crap today. With God's help, I choose to believe anyway, as best I can, because I need the crucifixion and resurrection. I need someone to take my sins away and make me whole and give my heart peace. On the weeks I can't believe at all, I'm going to conduct myself as someone would if he did believe, until such time as my belief returns."
Sometimes faith is ecstatic. Sometimes it's dry as dust. Sometimes it's forlorn. But it keeps putting one foot in front of the other and trekking forward, toward eternity.