Many humanists and atheists like to point out that we are good without God. While this is certainly true, I think it goes further than that. I think we are way better without God especially when it comes to morality. I recently had an interesting exchange with a well-meaning Christian that I think illustrates at least one aspect of this point.
This Christian made a comment that she was, “not a good person.” She then continued by stating that she was “not striving to be because no one is good because of sin.” We all know the argument. The Bible says that no one is righteous, not even one and that we are all evil sinners in need of a savior… oh look, low and behold here comes Jesus. Just in time.
Here we have the perfect con. Christianity creates a problem (i.e. we are all evil sinners) and then presents to us the only solution (i.e. only Jesus can save). But with this particular Christian and I suspect many, many other Christians, the problem is even deeper than that. Not only does she believe that she is an evil sinner and that everyone else is an evil sinner, but she doesn’t even want to strive to be better. She doesn’t think she can be a good person. She has become morally apathetic.
Let’s say there is a situation in which her self-interest is pitted against being compassionate to another person. Sometimes it takes work to think about other person’s situation and to choose to put someone else’s interests ahead of your own. This is why so many fundamentalists seem to be so quick to judge others instead of trying to understand others. Trying to understand others, feel empathy for them, and work with them to find a compassionate solution takes work. But more than that, it takes a belief that we are all heroes in our own story and that we are not just evil sinners trying to get away with shit.
The belief that we are all evil sinners prevents us from giving people the benefit of the doubt. It prevents us from trying to understand why someone has made the choices that they have made. It prevents us from trying to teach them a better way.
It is far too easy to look at things in a vacuum. Joe did X because he is an evil sinner. Because Joe is an evil sinner, there is no hope for him. Put him to death of throw away the key! But the reality is that Joe did X because he believed it would help him, his situation, or someone he cares about in some way. Joe is just someone who was shaped by his nature and nurture but there is still hope for Joe. We can shape his nurture in a way that may actually get Joe to become a force for change in his community.
It’s funny, I was never really a big fan of the television show Xena, but I remember watching a few episodes here and there and yet it is my fallback example of this particular hero’s journey.
According to the story (and I may have some details wrong since I wasn’t a loyal watcher), Xena was a warrior princess who was not a nice person. She would frequently pillage villages, hurt, and kill people. Then she met Hercules and he somehow convinced her to change her evil ways. At the start of the series, she would ride into town and the town’s people would yell, “oh no, it’s Xena! Everyone run and hide.” Then she would solve the town’s problem (which often involved some bully) and would ride off. After a while, she would start riding into a village and they would say, “Here comes Xena; we’re saved!”
The question is; do any of her good deeds erase any of her bad deeds? Does the fact that she saved people’s lives in the show’s present bring back any of the innocent lives she took? Can she ever really atone for her past crimes? These are weighty issues and I don’t know if there is really an answer to them. Xena certainly didn’t think that her good deeds made up for her past crimes.
My point is that a thief believes that everyone steals and if someone believes that everyone is an evil sinner, it gives them license to be a sinner too. This is especially the case if someone believes that God will forgive them for their sins, but you are just an evil, unrepentant scumbag who deserves death or to be locked up forever.
That’s the case of Sarah Palin anyway. In a recent interview she was asked about her daughter having multiple children out of wedlock and Palin responded by saying that her God is a god of second chances, and third chances, and fourth and fifth chances. And yet, she is also one of the first people to decry low income women who have multiple kids out of wedlock. Where are all their chances?
Palin doesn’t need to strive to be better. Her daughter has no interest in learning to be less of a hypocrite on abstinence issues. They are both evil sinners and God will forgive them no matter what they do. So why bother striving to be better people? By bother trying to be less judgmental of others? Why bother trying to understand where other people are coming from. “God said thou shall not commit adultery and these poor people had kids out of wedlock. That’s adultery… stone them! Oh, my daughter also committed adultery? That’s okay, my God is a god of second, third, fourth, and fifth chances.”
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