Occasionally I hear the accusation that, as an atheist, I probably just want an excuse to behave however I want. After all, religious folks assert, without a belief in a god I couldn’t possibly have any restrictions on my actions, any sense of right and wrong. This accusation is very misguided (if you disagree, stay tuned for my morality series starting this weekend), but even stranger is when the accusation comes from religious people whose beliefs actually have a built-in sort of Get Out of Jail Free card.
I realize that, with so many different denominations of Christianity, there are naturally some Christians out there who don’t agree with what I’m about to say. But there is a very large segment within Christianity that teaches that, no matter what wrongs a person has done, they are forgiven by the grace of God. All you have to do is believe and dedicate your life to Jesus, and it doesn’t matter how immoral and monstrous you’ve been. God’s got no beef with you, and you don’t have to feel bad about your actions, either. Hooray!
The Christian rock group Sanctus Real illustrates this point in their chart-topping single, “Forgiven.”
A snippet of the lyrics:
Well the past is playing with my head
And failure knocks me down again
I’m reminded of the wrong
That I have said and done
And that devil just won’t let me forget
In this life, I know what I’ve been
But here in your arms, I know what I am
I’m forgiven, I’m forgiven
And I don’t have to carry
The weight of who I’ve been
Cause I’m forgiven
Yep. It’s the devil’s influence that makes you reflect on your past actions and feel regret about the bad ones. If you believe in Jesus, you can be confident that you’re always “a treasure in the arms of Christ,” no matter what. Are you an addict who abuses your family in a drug-induced stupor? Jesus forgives you! Child molester? Jesus forgives you! Serial killer? Jesus forgives you, too. No worries!
I understand that there’s value in being able to move on from the past, instead of wallowing in sadness about things that can’t be changed. But I get stuck on lines like, “I don’t have to carry the weight of who I’ve been.” Sometimes people should have to carry that weight for a while! Sometimes, the regret we feel is what inspires us to make amends and improve ourselves in the future. If Christianity really works in this way, though, and believers face no moral judgment for even the most heinous acts, then that seems like the worldview which grants individuals license to behave as immorally they want.