Got Compassion? A Critique of Blake Ostler’s Theory of Atonement

Deidre Green


In the second volume in his series on Mormon thought, Blake Ostler proposes a “compassion theory” of atonement. The dynamic of the atonement, he argues, effects intimacy and reconciliation by engendering compassion, which Ostler describes as “a life shared in union where we are moved by our love for each other.” Compassion is said to be mutual—humans share in Christ’s suffering and he in theirs “that we might share also in the unsurpassable joy of each other’s lives.” However, from the perspective of feminist theology, the central place of violence and suffering in his account raises important concerns. While the compassion theory resonates with feminist thought in its emphasis on mutuality and solidarity, it also magnifies themes long criticized by feminist theologians. It also renders problematic the positive adaptation of the atonement expressed in much of Mormon thought, which has tended away from themes of paternal violence. Ostler’s account, however, re-emphasizes suffering in divine-human relations in ways that fall back into traditional theological problems with atonement. This paper will examine these issues from both LDS and feminist theological perspectives.

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