In a religious sense, "atonement" means "at-one-ment."
This is the state of being reconciled with God. 5
Their action created a massive gulf between God and humanity -- Adam, Eve, their children, and over 200 generations of their descendents. This gulf was seen as incapable of being bridged except by the torture death of Yeshua of Nazareth (Jesus Christ) on the cross.
An additional problem is that many systems of ethics, including those found in the Bible teaches that each individual is responsible for their own immoral, unethical, or illegal acts and other transgressions. Thus, for example, if a person robs a bank, the police do not arrest that person's daughter. In particular, these ethical system hold that no person can possibly be held responsible for the activities of others that were done before the person was born -- let alone those done sixty centuries before they existed. That is called scapegoating. Unfortunately, examples of this are found throughout the Bible.
For centuries, the Christian Church used scapegoating to blame all Jews who were alive between the first century CE until the mid 20th century for the judicial murder of Jesus. Modern Jews were referred to as "Christ Killers." Adolf Hitler built upon these millennia of anti-semitism to justify the Holocaust during World War II. That genocide would probably not have been possible without Christian scapegoating down through history. The church has generally abandoned the Christ Killer label, but it is still seen occasionally today.
Finally, a major part of Jesus' teaching involved people forgiving others for the latter's transgressions. If this is a loving and important deed for humans, it would presumably be so for Jesus, God, and the Holy Spirit. Thus, God presumably could have simply forgiven Adam and Eve for their sinful act, and not continued to condemn their billions of descendents.
Unfortunately, the Bible text does not provide a clear and unambiguous explanation on exactly by what mechanism the life -- and particularly the death -- of Yeshua was able to make it possible to reconcile God and humanity through the atonement. Christian theologians from the second century CE until today have developed five main theories, and many sub-variations, to explain how the atonement works. In recent centuries, no one theory has received a consensus. We describe various violent interpretations of the atonement, as well as non-violent and secular views of the atonement.
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