I recently read a blog post on Godless in Dixie regarding the supposed anti-human theology that is part of the Christian worldview. The gentleman writing makes the argument that Christianity inspires self-loathing and that Jesus of Nazareth engaged in what amounts to psychological torture. You can read the post for yourself.
First, I’m saddened by his story, because while the whole thing seems like a straw-man, I don’t think it is necessarily a straw-man of his own creation. The word Christian is rarely used in the Bible. We throw it around now in a way that means very little. It is often seen only as some sort of cultural heritage. As such, people calling themselves Christians, but failing to actually follow Christ in thought or action in any meaningful way can do great damage. Still, one cannot look to the worst representatives of an enterprise to build a case against the values of that enterprise. I fear people who have this perception that Christianity encourages self-hatred have had some very poor examples of people in their lives who call themselves Christians.
What does the Biblical narrative teach about people though? Are we fundamentally garbage? Should we regard ourselves with guilt and shame? Do we invent special types of crimes for ourselves? Can we do no good? Well, the only way to know what the Bible teaches about such a thing, is to actually look at the Bible in context.
This fellow seems to base his objection to Christianity on a false understanding of who people are, and what they’re relationship is to God according to Biblical teaching. He says, “Rather than affirming what is good within humanity, it begins with a condemnation of all that is bad”. This is patently false though. In the beginning, God created. The creation included people, who were designed in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). He blessed them, and saw EVERYTHING that had been made, and it was VERY good (Genesis 1:31). That is the fundamental teaching about people. Everything that follows (ie the history of the universe) must be understood in this context.
God did not create robots though. He created free moral agents. This sort of freedom is fundamentally necessary for the expression of love. It cannot be achieved through coercion. We can choose good, or we can reject it and choose otherwise. God has left this choice to us. What is good, really, though? Jesus said that only God is good (Mark 10:18). What did he mean by that? I think he meant a couple of things.
First, I think he meant to subtly suggest, as he did many other times, that he was, in fact, God. He was being addressed as good, so he pointed out that only God embodies the foundation of goodness.
Second, he meant that God alone is the foundation of all that is good. Without God, real good and evil simply just do not exist. We can try to base our understanding of good in ourselves, but the fact of the matter is that this sort of relativism only leaves us with no foundation at all. It leaves us with mere opinions and confusion. In the video embedded in this post, the fellow there says, emphatically, that “you are not a sinner!” He goes on to say though, that he hopes you make “good” decisions and you don’t have free license to be a jerk. Well, why not? He seems to think that there is some standard of “good” that I ought to be following. Who’s though? His? On one hand these confused ideas say there is nothing wrong with me, while on the other they seem to affirm there is a certain way the universe should be, and I shouldn’t violate that. Sounds familiar!
Sin is, simply put, the violation of this ordained state of affairs. It’s straying from Good. While Biblical teaching says we’re fundamentally God’s creation, it also teaches we have a selfish streak that seems to want to go it alone. If we deny God’s goodness, we end up following the desire to be our own god by defining “good” in any way we see fit. Allowing such a thing is, again, a necessary feature of free-will. God would prefer for us to return to the very good state of affairs in Genesis 1, but he doesn’t do it by asking us to despise ourselves. I’m not even quite sure how somebody calling themselves a follower of Christ would come to this conclusion, and worse, how they would teach it.
The most cited part of the Bible seems to be John 3:16. As important are John 3:17-18. It’s quite clear that Jesus didn’t come to condemn, but to pardon. It seems pretty clear to me (NIV):
16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.
Now, the fact is that there does seem to need to be some steps taken to right our course, but does that necessitate self-hatred? I’m not sure how you even come to that conclusion. If it does, and Godless is suggesting that I need to right my course and come to his way of thinking, then he also must be suggesting that I ought to hate myself for my mistaken thinking because there is something wrong with me. That’s a silly conclusion that does not follow. People can be well-aware of things about themselves they’d like to change, without hating themselves. People can even suggest things about other people that might need changing and have only the best of intentions.
You might be able to blame the teaching of your parents or your “Christian” community for your self-loathing, but if you want to build a case that the teaching by Jesus of Nazareth is to blame it will be quite flimsy, since he placed free grace on the table if you’d like it. The alternative is to willing drift away from true Good. It’s your choice.