"Redemption" Concept is Psychologically Harmful
I’d like to write about the deep-seeded need for Christians to be “redeemed” from their sins.
1. It is obvious that a vast number of theists are fooled into believing that they are bad people. The doctrine of “sin” basically claims that ALL humans are bad people, and unworthy of redemption, yet Jesus/God in his triune benevolence is able to forgive people through his “grace”. Christians are told to believe that they are all miserable sinners in need of saving.
2. I will argue that the doctrine of sin and redemption is both false and harmful to human psychology.
3. Theists often claim that ethics MUST be derived from God, that we would be bad people without religion, there would be anarchy, etc. This is simply false. I could write book about this, and some actually have. Michael Shermer and Kai Nielsen to name two. Nielsen’s “Ethics Without God,” is a challenging, but rewarding read. So I’m not going to waste my time arguing about why ethics don’t come from God. BUT, I would like to attack MODERATE or LIBERAL religious view that claim “there is no harm in belief” or that we need religion for pragmatic reasons (because religion is useful for society.) I will, in fact, argue the opposite -- that these beliefs are actually HARMFUL to both society AND individual human psychology.
4. While there are many theists who are essentially GOOD people who do nothing more than “lust in their hearts” or tell white lies, etc.; there are most certainly a minority of people who REALLY HAVE done “evil” things, that is, intentional causation of human suffering. Furthermore, there are also some who have not intentionally caused human suffering, but feel highly regretful of something bad that they have done for which they have no ultimate moral responsibility.
5. In the tradition of the chapter in Dawkins’ “God Delusion” titled “A Much Needed Gap,” I will seek to describe why atheism is actually more psychologically beneficial for humans. Theists claim that life is meaningless & empty without belief in God. They claim it is more comforting to believe in God. They believe that theism is helpful for depressed people and “hard times.” Without belief in God, liberal theists claim, our world would descend into chaos and misery. This is not true.
6A. It is evident that the belief in “sin” for essentially GOOD people is psychologically damaging and worthless. If you, as a good person, believe that you’re constantly in temptation and sinning constantly every day, your self esteem is damaged. But if God doesn’t exist, many of the supposed “sins” are no more than superstition which is equivalent to the childhood practice of avoiding cracks in the sidewalk so that one doesn’t break his mother’s back. It’s silly.
6B. SECONDLY, consider “locus of control.” This is EXTREMELY important. Consider this a fundamental difference in the “life philosophy” of theists and atheists. That is, theists have an EXTERNAL locus of control. Atheists have an INTERNAL locus of control. When things go bad, theists are always turning to God for help. They look for something EXTERNAL to help them out. When one is going through hard times both on a small individual basis and a large social basis, theists turn to God for help. Not only do they turn to God for “guidance” but they use theistic literature, ie Bible Koran… for justification of their actions. THIS IS HARMFUL.
As a part of twelve step programs, it is common knowledge that people are told to seek help from a “higher power” for help with their addictions. Is this really helpful?
I don’t think so. I think it far better to have an INTERNAL locus of control and rely completely on yourself. Granted, I agree that it is often helpful to seek guidance from other non-imaginary, physical human beings. BUT, the ultimate source for ANY improvement with life’s problems comes from you, and you alone. Other people can help you, but only you can truly change your life. I would assume that most psychologists or psychiatrists would aim towards self-sufficiency for their patients, and not lifelong dependence on treatment. OR, if one needs such treatment, it would be best to teach a patient how to deal with problems on one’s own rather than calling in for every dilemma that comes up. Reference: Bill Murray’s “What About Bob?” A great film.
SO, telling patients that GOD is of any use is simply A) False, and B) counterproductive to ultimate goals of self-sufficiency.
7. SO, let’s get to “A Much Needed Gap?” Theists claim that theism is necessary as a psychological tool to “feel better” about things. No.
I’m a student of Stoic philosophy. Although stoics WERE theistic, I have found nothing in their writings that require belief in God. The essential element of Stoic philosophy is very simple:
There are many things in life that we have no control over, whatsoever. For example, we have no control over our death. It is certain that every human being on this Earth will die some day. It’s a fact of life. People die. So it makes no rational sense to obsess over anyone’s death. Granted, that’s easy for me to say, and comforting a bereaved survivor with that tidbit is not going to make them feel better instantly. But, I would argue from personal experience, that rational Stoic thought on matters like these work their emotional “magic” gradually.
So let’s talk about sin and redemption next. I’ve addressed the essentially GOOD people who are FOOLED into believing that they are bad. This is psychologically damaging and worthless. But what about people who have done BAD things and people who have done things that result in BAD outcomes that they blame themselves for?
--> “BAD people.” If you believe in God, and you believe you’re damned to hell for doing bad stuff, that is psychologically damaging. It is psychologically damaging to thing that because you have done BAD ACTIONS, that you, yourself are bad. Christian belief, contrary to promises of salvation and redemption, could affect many people badly because they may believe that they NEED “spiritual redemption.” If you DO something bad, this doesn’t make you a bad person. You simply have done bad things. Believing that you are essentially a “bad person” leaves out room for rehabilitation. Believing that there are “bad people” means that there is something non-physical, like an evil “force” that infects someone. Thus, it is better to think that you have done bad things but there is something you can change in yourself. You are not fixed as a “bad person” who is damned to hell.
So what do I propose instead? I propose that people who have done bad things ALWAYS have a chance to “turn it all around.” Believing that you must be “redeemed” or do “penance” for your actions prevents one from faster rehabilitation.
This is not to say that people shouldn’t go to jail to be punished, think about bad things they’ve done, or even be incarcerated for MANY, MANY years. Secular “justice” is necessary both for the psychological welfare of victims and their families, DETERRENCE, rehabilitation, and preventing people from harming others when they show no signs of rehabilitation or you must prevent them from hurting others. I would actually claim that many criminals probably have emotional problems that require psychiatric treatment.
There are rational consequences for all “bad” criminal actions. One must take stock of those consequences, understand them, realize what he has done, and get over it. And by “get over it,” I mean change. To believe in a concept of “redemption” lets someone off too easy, and it’s irrational. I would argue that rehabilitation, REAL rehabilation, is hampered by the concept of redemption. If you believe that WHATEVER YOU DO can be forgiven by God so long as you’re sorry and you “accept Jesus as your personal savior,” this effectively gives you license to continue criminal activity.
CONSIDER THE ITALIAN MAFIA. Italian mobsters are HIGHLY religious Catholics. They go to confession, have their transgressions forgiven, and quickly go back to criminal activities.
Are you aware that the RATE per capita of atheists in jail vs. theists in jail is MUCH lower? Why is that?
Thus, when you do something really bad, you intend to do it, and you know it; it is far better to be remorseful with no concept of “spiritual redemption.” Calculate and understand the consequences of your actions. Know who you’ve hurt and what you’ve done. Then change. Don’t do bad things again. Do what you can to fix or do restitution for your victim. And get over it. You are not a bad person. You did a bad thing. Placing the onus of forgiveness on a divine power is useless and damaging. Forgive yourself, do what you can to pay for or fix what you’ve done, and move on. There is nothing else you can do.
This is the crucial element of Stoic philosophy. Consider what ACTIONS you can do to fix what is undesirable, create a plan of action, and DO WHAT YOU CAN. If there is NOTHING you can do, it is irrational to have any emotional angst about it.
So to reiterate, believing in spiritual redemption creates a concept in which you have to worry about ridiculous evil forces, spiritual punishments, etc. This takes your focus on what you can do in the real world. If you believe in eternal hellfire, you’re going to care a whole lot LESS than any problems on the Earth. You’re going to care much less about what you ACTIONS can do in this world. So the BEST and most RATIONAL way to overcome “bad deeds” is to focus on what you can do in the real world, not about eternal punishment or reward.
There is NO gap in atheist philosophy on the issue of morality, rehabilitation of criminals, or coping with personal actions that cause harm; intentionally or unintentionally.
REDUCTIO AD ABSURDUM.