For most of my life I felt deeply attached to the Christian teachings regarding sin, and the need for an atonement via Jesus Christ. “I Stand All Amazed” was my favorite hymn as a youth.
In one sense the atonement is an ok teaching – in that it acknowledges that we all make mistakes. For some, this can encourage humility and self-improvement.
But I realize now that the teaching of the Atonement also strikes at the core of much religious-based harm, in that it plants/spreads the idea that we are all inherently flawed/broken/bad/fallen/dirty/sinful, and are thus dependent on a set of beliefs and/or a man-led institution to become whole/fixed/good/saved/worthy/clean again. But always only temporarily…until the next mistake/screw up/sin/transgression (which is always just around the corner, since expectations are set so unreasonably high).
Sometimes goodness can emerge from this model, but often the atonement model can engender guilt/shame/sadness/self-loathing…that can become toxic for many….leading to anxiety, depression, and even suicidality.
For far too many, the atonement doctrine puts us on never-ending hamster wheel of shame and dependency.
What if we were all taught from infancy that we were/are whole, and that every mistake was/is nothing more than an opportunity to learn/improve?
What if we never felt shame for our mistakes? Sadness and guilt…maybe…but shame….never.
And what if we were taught that we can self-heal and grow without the need for church affiliation, intermediaries (divine OR human), confession (to a man), paying money, or ultimately any sort of a shame-based dependency cycle?
I love the teachings of Christ around kindness, charity/service, forgiveness, and love. The stuff around sin, atonement, and repentance, however…I no longer love….not because I don’t care about human goodness and flourishing…but because I DO care about human goodness and flourishing. I now believe that we will get further by teaching people from the outset that they are WHOLE, and that every choice is a wonderful opportunity to learn/grow….vs. telling them that they are broken/fallen, and thus require a lifelong shame-based dependency upon an institution of male leadership to help them feel temporarily better, but only until the next “transgression.”
It’s a shame/control trap.
I’ll take the framings of “wholeness” and “learning” over the framings of “broken,” “fallen,” “sinful,” and “transgression” every day of the week.