Thursday, January 20, 2011

Hating Grace

I keep a lot of religious blogs in my list of blogs posted in the sidebar for so many reasons. It’s the fair thing to do, and quite often I find that religious people have very interesting things to say about religion and even non-religious topics. But secretly, the main reason is to provide me with material.

You see, reading a post by a Christian does something to me. If you’re a Christian and reading this, you can’t really compare it to you reading something written by an atheist. I know this, because I used to be religious.

No, for me, reading a Christian perspective piece can never get personal. It’s not enough to actually make me angry, but it’s enough to make me want to at least present a correction, after which I can be on my merry way knowing I at least provided an alternative view.

If you want to know what I mean, read this:

I love the Wizard of Oz. Sometimes I feel like Dorothy, having her house picked up by a hurricane and flung from her home in Iowa to the far off land of Oz.
See, it’s not enough to make you angry, but it’s enough to make you say, “Wow, this person is really dumb… maybe they just made an honest mistake or they wrote this early in the morning. I’ll leave a comment pointing out Dorothy was carried not by a hurricane, but by a tornado, and she lived in Kansas, not Iowa.”

I suppose most people would just laugh and move on, but that just isn’t my personality. It’s not that I’m rude and nosey in general. I won’t correct the grammar of the person standing in front of me in line at the grocery store, but if you’re posting your ideas publicly for all to see… I can assume you won’t mind some feedback.

The other day, I saw a title to a post on my sidebar that said, “Do You Know How To Get To Heaven?” I thought to myself, “Well, this might be interesting.”

It starts off with a single line of what I can only describe as pure Zen.

“There is nothing to DO.”

She then simply writes five bible verses, which are horribly out of context, and I assume she thinks they justify belief in what most theologians call the concept of “saving grace.”

Saving grace is not only bullshit (I would use stronger language, but there may be Mormons reading, and I apologize, but “poppycock” just won’t cover it) from a Biblical standpoint, but it’s also complete bullshit from the standpoint of logic, morality, ethics, reason, or however you choose to define it.

The verses themselves are as follows:

Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. - Romans 3:20

Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified. - Galatians 2:16

Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost. - Titus 3:5

Who hath saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began, - 2 Timothy 1:9

Therefore we conclude that man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. - Romans 3:28
These are all taken out of context to be interpreted as, “It doesn’t matter what you do, if you believe in Jesus and ask for forgiveness, you will be admitted to Heaven.”

The basis behind this relates to other passages which do in fact clearly state that all people are sinners and imperfect, and I believe it does, in fact, include people who have done things like murder who are truly sorry and beg for forgiveness.

But there is a major flaw here. These passages are actually saying, “Not by good deeds alone will you get into Heaven.” The implication here being, you may be a saint, but if you do not put YHWH first, you’re going to hell.

This is not only implied throughout the Bible, it is the running thesis of the New Testament. It is clearly seen in what Jesus calls the most important commandments. He states first and foremost, love the Lord thy God with all your heart, and second: love your neighbor as you love thyself.

Jesus didn’t stop with “Love God.” Jesus calls people again and again throughout the New Testament to take strong, active steps towards improving the lives of others. He is a healer, and he heals not on condition of belief in him, but out of love for all people. He lets his actions speak volumes about how he loves others, he doesn’t gather people together in a dark room apart from the world and preach from a stuffy book.

For example, the passage from Titus that she listed, in full, reads:

Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; what being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men. - Titues 3:5-8
You see, Christians aren’t like me. They never sat down and read the Bible, cover to cover. They don’t comprehend the idea of “context.” Rather than read the stories and digest the overall message, they have chosen instead to read what they have been told to read, in tiny, easily misconstrued snippets. Think of them as the original sound-bytes or slogans. It’s bumper-sticker theology, and it’s about as Philistine as you can get.

Not thinking that this person would be interested in a dialogue with an atheist, I decided to just leave a single line of sarcasm. When that was met with nothing but a question mark, I tried to spelled it out more clearly… sarcastic. When she left a comment on my blog asking if I was calling her an intolerable person (I wasn’t; I don’t know her and I don’t know if I could tolerate her, I just said she’s encouraging Christians to be intolerable, which she is), I decided she deserved a real answer.

So, I found some bible passages, I made my case to this blogger (in what I thought was pitch-perfect Christianese) and then waited for her reply. I don’t know if she’s offended, confused or if she can’t believe someone would go to the effort of making the kind of comment I made (I have hundreds of bible verses indexed in case of emergency, so it’s no trouble to just cross-reference “good deeds/works”), but she replied with basically gibberish, and I tried to join in to lighten the mood.

More or less, another failed attempt (at what, I don’t even know… having that planned out ahead of time may increase the success rate). I doubt she’s going to abandon that concept from her own views, but she should. Even if Christianity turns out to be right, she’s going to hell for a belief that dumb. They never mention that in Pascal’s wager… I think the biggest losers aren’t atheists, but Christians who practice it wrong and go to hell anyway. And yet, every Christian will openly admit there are people who claim to be Christian but who are not going to heaven because they aren’t “saved” or baptized correctly or a member of the right church… it varies.

Which leads me to the idea of “saving grace.” I think it’s a great concept for rehabilitating people, but it’s not a good method for preventing immoral behavior. This could be why Christians are over represented in the prison system, or why the cross is the most popular prison tattoo.

Maybe if you’re a Christian, it’s a good thing to think “Is this going to send me to hell?” before doing something really bad. Maybe that would prevent some bad things from happening, and religion could actually perform some small role in society, as a stopgap morality buffer for incredibly stupid people.

Now, I say “incredibly stupid people” with all due respect. There’s nothing stupid about believing to be true a story that includes a talking donkey (I, too, loved Shrek). There are plenty of really smart people who are Christian, I just haven’t met any of them.

So, until someone finds me the Bible verse of Jesus approaching some fishermen and saying, “Hey guys, believe in me, and just keep fishing. Don’t change a thing, just believe,” I think I’ll continue criticizing those who advocate for the disgraceful and morally bankrupt ideology of “saving grace.” Not only will it make them a better Christian, it will (most importantly) make them a more tolerable person to be around.


  1. That is the great irony of cristianity - most christians don't follow their master's teachings.

    Do you think it's a coincidence that a lot of atheists know more about the Bible than most christians? Or maybe, just maybe, upon learning what it had to say, we just found it lacking???

  2. Religions are like hot dogs: the more you know about what's in them, the less appealing they are.

  3. I would, honestly, enjoy reading your thoughts on some of my own blog posts. I don't agree with everything you said here, (I do agree with some of it though) but I can at least see why you would feel that way and it is interesting to read.


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