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.
What if we never felt shame for our mistakes? Perhaps something of the initial intent of the NT was lost in translation. There is a beautiful word in the Greek language – μετάνοια – that I believe was used by the Savior. Metanoia. I have seen a couple of different translations for the preposition “meta” – you could think of words such as meta-stable, or metabolism – it is a combination of the ideas change – changing from one state to another, as well as “with, after, behind”. The suffix – noia or nous … also found in words such as paranoia – has do with your mind, your conscience, how you perceive reality – a verb, to exercise the mind (observe), to comprehend, heed:—consider, perceive, think, to understand. Metanoia – to change your mind – to arrive at a new condition, to perceive the world differently – this is perhaps the most important message that was taught by the Savior in the New Testament. Unfortunately, metanoia was a concept lost in translation… it was translated as “repent”. It is the opposite of shame – it is an awakening to a new way of being. … Looking forward to meeting you at the Houston retreat next week John 🙂