Out of all of the changes I went through when I left christianity, the thing that has affected me most was coming to the realization about how profoundly negative an impact the doctrine of grace has on self-image. Like most cases of hind-sight, it seems so silly that I didn’t see it before. Christians talk about grace as though it is this life-changing, hope-giving, confidence-boosting idea, when in reality it is oppression and emotional abuse at its finest. Sure, when you have done something wrong, and you know it to be so, grace can and does have an immensely positive effect on the recipient. However, that is not how christianity works.
I spent a number of years as a local missionary, going every weekend to downtown Vancouver, British Columbia, to evangelize on the street. Our group invested a lot of time into evangelism training. Nearly every evangelism style says the first and most important issue to address is the idea of “man’s fallen nature.” Essentially, for the doctrine of grace to have any impact whatsoever, one must first convince the other person that they are completely and utterly depraved. Only once that idea has been absorbed to the core of one’s being can grace have any impact or draw.
The people christians target, and have the easiest time converting, are those who already feel as though they have something wrong with them. Why do you think that ministries in prisons, addiction groups, and homeless shelters are so prevalent and successful? These people are often already convinced that they have something wrong with them. It isn’t too much of a stretch to simply call that thing sin and offer them the doctrine of grace.
However, grace is predicated on self-loathing. One must already have a negative self-image to get anything out of it. It is hidden behind terms like love, forgiveness, and compassion, but it still relies on seeing oneself as unworthy before it can have any affect. To someone is worthy because of grace is still saying they are unworthy. In fact, many christians will assert that someone can’t even receive grace until they are willing and able to admit that they wretched, vile, worthless or hopeless. Grace is a Trojan Horse for self-loathing.
I have made this parallel before, but I feel as though it is one well worth making repeatedly: “Battered Women Syndrome” deals with very similar issues; acceptance from the abuser based on the belief that the abused is worthless. That way, when punishment comes, the abused thinks that they deserve it and when punishment is withheld, they rejoice at the compassion and grace of their abuser. It is sick and depraved. On this topic, let me again share a video from The Thinking Atheist , one of my absolute favorite youtuber/podcaster.
We would think it strange if a person we never met threatened to harm us unless we owned up to something we didn’t do, or didn’t have any control over, apologized and groveled for forgiveness. Would their “grace” mean anything if they coerced us to do it? Would they be good? Loving? Compassionate? I think not! But the situation is even worse, because that person put us into the position to do the thing in the first place! Adam and Eve were supposedly made completely ignorant of good and evil, that was the whole point of the “Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.” It is horrendous enough that we have to suffer for something they supposedly did, but to suffer because of something they did out of ignorance does not sound like a good, just or compassionate action.
The other problem that I have with grace is that it trivializes success and reinforces failure. This was something that I was struggling with immensely in the months leading up to my deconversion. I was working a job that had a pretty steep learning curve and pretty dire consequences for error. Needless to say, I made a fair number of mistakes in my first few months and it killed me inside. Those failures were magnified by grace though. “It was my nature to fail”, I thought. On my own, I could do nothing else. So I asked for help. Any successes I had were absorbed by grace, because they were all god’s work, not my own. How can one rejoice in success when at the center of your being, you believe you cannot take credit for them? The only things you can take credit for are the failures. So when I ask for help and I still fail, it is devastating!
Eventually, I just came to expect failure. I began to see myself as tainted, infecting and destroying anything I touched. I sabotaged good relationships because of thinking this way. I lost people I dearly loved. I pushed people away, all because I bought into this lie that I was rotten at my very core. Christians say that it is inevitable that we fail, but they also say that failure is our fault. What better recipe for self-loathing is there?
It is nearly impossible to put into words the radical change that occurred when I pushed away the poisonous doctrine of grace. The confidence I gained was literally life-changing and hope-giving. My employers noticed, my family noticed, my friends noticed. To take control of one’s life. To believe, truly believe, that one is capable of success changes everything. The power of positive thought, not the vain hope that a fickle omni-dimentional being will deign to show you favor, will change you.
This, above nearly anything else, is why I will not, cannot, let go of my activism. This is why I blog. This is why I push back. This is why I argue. This is why I am not merely an atheist, but an anti-theist. Too long have people been held back because they believed that they were corrupt and worthless. Forget grace, it forces you to think that way. Instead, embrace yourself and your humanity and prepare to be amazed at what you can accomplish.