An excerpt from Giles Fraser's piece in the Guardian a few years ago:
From his house in South Molton Street, William Blake could see processions of the condemned making their way up Oxford Street to the gallows at Tyburn. In what Blake took to be the ultimate betrayal of Christ, the church justified this slaughter by appealing to Christ's sufferings on the cross. Blake was characteristically fierce in his denunciation: "Every religion that preaches vengeance for sin is the religion of the enemy and avenger and not the forgiver of sin and their God is Satan."
Like many others before and since, Blake drew upon an alternative reading of Easter. Here the defining feature of Christ's moral teaching is an opposition to the retributive ethic encapsulated in the principle of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Rather, Christ offered an ethic based upon forgiveness - on a refusal to become a mirror image to the violent other. In doing this he threatened to put a great deal of established religion out of business. For this established religion, based as it was on the practice of cultic sacrifice, was a way for the community to launder its own proclivity for violent reciprocity. Religion provided a safe redirection of the violent impulse and its temporary catharsis in the bloody sacrifice of small animals.
Jesus, however, takes up an alternative tradition found in the psalms and the writings of the prophets: "I desire mercy and not sacrifice," Jesus repeats from the book of Hosea. He thus attacks the religious authorities and is murdered for so doing. Jesus does not oppose the brutality of his treatment by an equal and opposite show of force. And in not returning violence with violence he initiates a fragile and vulnerable community of non-retaliation known as the kingdom of God. "No future without forgiveness" is how Archbishop Desmond Tutu summed up the theology that decisively shaped the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as it sought to dismantle apartheid. The same spirit is just as necessary in taking forward the aptly named Good Friday agreement.
That's what I think too, and yet every time I think about this way of looking at atonement I also find the words of a Maya Angelou poem nipping at my heel: 'here then is my Christian lack, if I'm struck then I'll strike back'. The two exist within me for sure and I have to say I find it hard to know which I'd like to display for example to my daughter. I watch her at parent-toddler group sometimes when other kids come over and grab toys from out of her hand. She invariably lets them do it without fuss and I invariably think (loudly) take it back! .....