Here's a rush transcript of the theoretical account of atonement with which I am most sympathetic. It is a Girardean view, and I base my telling on the 1960s anti-war song "One Tin Soldier" which was recorded by "The Original Caste" and "Coven".
It was a heady time of civil unrest spurred on by a pie-in-the-sky idealism combined with a gritty realism as people came to terms with American atrocities in Southeast Asia. In the midst of it all the obscure group "The Original Caste" scored a modest hit on the charts with "One Tin Soldier." The song tells the story of two peoples, the mountain people who had a treasure "buried deep beneath the stone" and the valley people who "swore they'd have it for their very own."
The story is a story of the cycles of violence that are repeated throughout history. One people wants another people's treasure buried deep beneath the stone (or perhaps oil buried deep beneath the sand, or whatever).
As a result, they manufacture a reason to attack those people and take their treasure. So it unfolds in the song as the valley people send a message to the mountain people: relinquish your treasure or die.
Sadly, while the mountain people offer to share the treasure with the valley people, it was not enough: they wanted it all. And so they marshalled their forces to attack the mountain people:
Now the valley cried with anger,
"Mount your horses! Draw your sword!"
And they killed the mountain-people,
So they won their just reward.
And what was the reward, do you suppose? What was the "gold" the valley people found beneath the stone?
Now they stood beside the treasure,
On the mountain, dark and red.
Turned the stone and looked beneath it...
"Peace on Earth" was all it said.
Thus the song reveals that the treasure is nothing more than a plea to stop the endless cycles of division, objectification, vilification and destruction that characterize the human race. It is not a treasure that you can purchase on Rodeo Drive or at SAKS on Fifth Avenue, but it is of inestimably greater value than any material treasure.
Now here's a question: what is the place of the mountain people in this song? Are they mere victims? Or could one perhaps view their lives sacrificially? Not in the old sense of the blood being sacred and thus being spilled for the life of another. But in another sense? One could say that they sacrificed themselves by adopting a response of non-violence in which the valley people wreak their unjust destruction. They sacrificed themselves by allowing their lives to serve as a means to shame the valley people and thereby liberate them from perpetuating these cycles of violence.
Could it be that Jesus Christ enters history as the mountain people? Seeing human beings locked in their cycles of violence, he enters into history and submits himself to these same cycles of scapegoating violence. He does so willingly, recognizing that in the long shadow of history his submission to these unjust cycles of history would begin to break people out of these perennial cycles, inspiring a Gandhi to shame a Britsh Empire, a Martin Luther King Jr. (and Rosa Parks) to shame a Jim Crow south, and each one of us to stand up to evils in our midst with the militant stand of peace.
There won't be any trumpets blowing
Come the judgement day,
On the bloody morning after....
One tin soldier rides away.