In his book, The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins has described the Atonement:
“I have described atonement, the central doctrine of Christianity, as vicious, sado-masochistic and repellent. We should also dismiss it as barking mad, but for its ubiquitous familiarity which has dulled our objectivity. If God wanted to forgive our sins, why not just forgive them, without having himself tortured and executed in payment…”
What can be said of this? Well, first of all, it seems that Dr. Dawkins has misunderstood the doctrine of Atonement. While it may be true that our sins can be forgiven outright, this doesn’t tell the whole story.
If God created everything that exists outside of himself (and he did), then he has a right to what he created. What he did was make mankind ruler over all he created—creation was to serve mankind. That was the ideal. God was to rule man’s heart—the place of God’s throne in his creation. The problem is that man rebelled—he didn’t just sin; sin can be forgiven, pardoned outright—not a problem. What man did was choose to know good and evil without God’s input, i.e. be the ruler of his own heart. We have no power over good and evil, but God does. He is able to cause good to come out of very horrible circumstances. We cannot! We need only consider World War I – “the war that was to end all wars.” Did it?
We (mankind) rebelled. Rebellion cannot be forthrightly forgiven. If God would simply forgive rebellion, he would have no place within his creation, because he already made mankind ruler over it. If Abe Lincoln forgave the South, the “United” States would have become the Northern States and the Confederate States. We’d be at least two nations and not necessarily friendly. Rebellion seeks independence, and mankind’s goal is to be independent of God. What Adam did in Eden has never been clearer than the direction we see the world to have taken today (especially in western civilization).
If rebellion cannot be forgiven, how is God able to save mankind from destroying what he has created (including the human race) and return to God—i.e. choose the Lord as ruler of our lives, which is the intent of eating from the Tree of Life? Long-story-short, redemption of mankind began with Abraham and culminates in Jesus (Abraham’s Seed). Eden ended in man’s lack of trust in God, but Abraham trusted God and thereby mankind’s return to God began with him. The problem is that man’s heart is rebellious. It’s not your fault or mine; it is what it is (Adam’s legacy to his children). On our own, we would never fully return to God. We are created to reflect something else. We do what we see done elsewhere. We love, because God first loved us.
God demonstrates his love for us in Jesus. How so? In the Old Testament God told Moses that he would destroy Israel and begin to make a new and better nation through Moses. Moses appealed to God’s good name. If the nations saw that, they would conclude that God was powerful enough to ‘save’ Israel from Egypt, but was powerless to ‘keep’ Israel saved. In effect Moses sacrificed the better nation through himself by asking God to forgive Israel, just as he had always done up to that point (Numbers 14).
This is what Jesus did in dying on the cross. Two things are seen in his crucifixion. First, it shows what we are capable of in our rebellion. If we could, we would kill our Creator, and if permitted to continue down this road, we would destroy our only way back to God and eternal life. Secondly, it shows what God is capable of in his love for us. He will not make a new and better race to replace us. He has committed himself to us and us alone. He loves us, not some better, super-race that he could have developed through Jesus, had Jesus married and produced children through a woman. Rather, Jesus reaches out to us to trust him who gave up everything else in order to have a loving relationship with us. Trust in Jesus and return to God. Trust in Jesus, and cease the rebellion, Trust in Jesus and God has a place within his creation—our hearts. We are his throne, and we bear him about wherever we go in all that he has created.
Man is on the road to death—oblivion, because he has chosen to live without God’s input. Nevertheless, Jesus died in our stead, but then rose again in order to offer us a way out of death (Adam’s race). From God’s point of view, Jesus, as man, is worthy of life, so he overruled the sentence of mankind and raised Jesus up. In him we have the new heart we need to return to God. In him God has the throne he needs to participate in his creation. Jesus is the only way out of death and into life, and he is the only way for God to regain access to his creation
 Richard Dawkins: The God Delusion; page 253.