Freedom from Sin: An Atheist Perspective

“Through Jesus, I am free from the burden of sin.”
– a Christian

Since we Atheists don’t believe that Jesus was a god nor that he  “defeated death”, so we also obviously don’t believe that “Jesus saves us from sin.”  But this concept is very important to Christians and for a very good reason.  “Freedom from sin” is a powerful freedom and not to be scoffed at.  But to understand how this Atheist could say such a thing, I need to do a little generous translation of the phrase “freedom from sin”.

At a very deep level, it is important to understand that we do not have to be a slave to our habits nor do we need to be crippled by the guilt of past poor actions.  Instead, we can forgive ourselves and ready to break our habits with each moment.  Such insight definitely offers a person a kind of joyful “freedom”.  How does your worldview offer you that freedom?

I think that very different traditions, both religious and secular, have understood this insight and wrestled with various approaches to offer this freedom.   A Christian believes the solution is ontological: “the person of Christ, who defeated sin and death, lives in a Christian through his Holy Spirit and thus offering freedom from the guilt of sin” — or some variant of that.

Some Buddhists, for example, believe that the enlightened mind is here with us now and need not be clamored after but only awakened to (or some variant of that).  The enlightened mind offers us this freedom.

Are these extremely different traditions wrestling with shared psychological phenomena or do you think they are talking about different things?  Sure, Christians and Buddhists may be unhappy with the way I am expressing their doctrines and that is partly because there are so many varieties of each religion and partly because I am writing poorly. But I think some of you will understand what I am driving at.

Some Christians, my favorite sort, are transformation pluralists: a person who believes transformation, redemption, forgiveness and much more is available even to those outside their religion. In this way, as an Atheist, I am also a transformation pluralists: I believe religions can capture valuable techniques to improve their followers even if I don’t agree with their explanations of how their religion actually works.

Questions to Readers:  OK, go at it, correct my theology or tell me if you understand my point and help me come up with better examples.


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

21 responses to “Freedom from Sin: An Atheist Perspective

  1. Boz

    Sabio Lantz said: “I believe religions can capture valuable techniques to improve their followers ”

    This is a very ‘easy’ belief. Of the billions of religious followers, only one example (one improved person) needs to be shown to demonstrate this is true.

    Sabio, would you make any of these statements:

    “I believe religions have captured valuable techniques which have improved most of their followers ”

    “I believe most religions have captured valuable techniques which have improved most of their followers ”

    “I believe most religions have captured valuable techniques which have greatly improved most of their followers ”

    “I believe most religions have captured valuable techniques which have greatly improved the vast majority of their followers ”

    “I believe all religions have captured valuable techniques which have improved most of their followers ”

    “I believe all religions have captured valuable techniques which have improved all of their followers “

  2. @ Boz
    Good point, that is a weak claim. But for atheists who believe all religion is bad, it is very controversial.
    As for all your variants, no, I could claim any of them.
    Given the above, did you find anything of value in this post?

  3. Sabio,

    I am a Christian and I appreciate the tone of your post. I respectfully disagree with your analysis but don’t do so from an ontological perspective but from a logical perspective. First let me state that I have beliefs that may differ from yours, but I also understand that beliefs are just that–beliefs, and they are rendered from limited perspectives. And these beliefs, both yours and mine don’t affect the truth. If God exists, He exists independent of what I believe or what you believe. Conversely, if He doen’t exist, that too is independent of our beliefs. So then there is the matter of whether Jesus is who I believe He is. That too is independent of our beliefs.

    So then I come to the matter of sin. There is a difference between being “free from the burden of sin,” and being “free from sin.” Few Christians would ever claim to be free from sin (and those who do claim so are wrong), however most Christians would they are free from the “burden of sin.” From a logical perspective being free from sin is a binary issue. To be free from sin would require all knowledge of sin. We can have “knowledge of” sin, but we can’t know sin because knowledge requires all “knowledge of.” Without all, we are basing our sin “assessments” from the same limited, fallible perspectives that have divided and fractured our world.

    Many people, including both Christians and Atheists, believe they are moral. But how can we know what is moral? People on both sides can do both moral and immoral actions and yet they still believe they are moral. Christians carried out the Crusades and believe they were morally justified to do. They carried out the Inquisition and believed they were doing moral acts. Christians have committed horrible acts against people of other ethnicities, other lifestyles, and other beliefs and believed they were doing God’s work. But was it religion that caused these well meaning, very misguided people to commit these acts, or was it because of their fallibility, those limited perspectives that assigned lower values to others and their beliefs?

    While i have identified the acts Christians have done, they didn’t and don’t have a monopoly of doing wrong (sin.) We all commit wrongful acts. How many times do we wound with a word? How often do we assign others lower values because they look, act, or think differently than others?

    I know this response has rambled a bit but it’s hard to capture the depth of this in a single response. The answer I found comes back to issue of binary. I refer to it as states versus values. States either exist or they don’t. Values, on the other hand, are assigned by humans based on perceptions that are limited to what we perceive. As such, those values are arbitrary and not real. They are independent of us. If morality (right and wrong or sin) is a value, then it is arbitrary and not real. If on the other hand, it is a state, then because it can’t be determined by physical laws, then there would have to be metaphysical laws. Therein lies the problem. No theory that I know of has established the existence of metaphysical laws. With them, the only other possibility would be that morality would have to be a value state but determined by an entity whose perspective is not limited.

  4. @ theMath:
    Yes, that rambled. All I heard you say were these three points:
    (1) beliefs don’t make reality [obviously true]
    (2) being free of guilt is different from being free of wrong doing [obviously true]
    (3) Morality can only be determined by a perfect, unlimited god [not something I even care to discuss on this thread]

    None of those points address my post. My post talks about guilt, and not total freedom from wrong doing.

    As for gods determining sin — obviously I have no interest. I used the word “sin” generously in this post. It is packed with all your theistic notions of which I have none. I do not care to discuss that theology.
    If you comment again, please focus on the post and try to see what I am saying.

  5. @ Boz
    Thinking more about your implied objection:
    Let’s say a sense of relief or freedom can come from some religious ideation. That would be one of the benefits needed, no matter how transient, to allow the believer to further buy into the system with other benefits such a sense of belonging …

    All to say “freedom from sin” may just be one of the acts at the carnival.

  6. Serbio,

    My apology for not being clearer. I did attempt to effectively address your point but failed. In making those points, I was attempting to say that while we may forgive ourselves for the wrongs we have done, that does not release us from the accountability for those actions. So in essence we are providing ourselves with the perception of freedom, not freedom itself. Freedom can only be given by someone with the authority to do so, otherwise that freedom is only an illusion.

  7. @ theMath
    Yes, and Buddhists would say that just because we can forgive ourselves for wrong doings, does not mean they won’t have consequences. This too is common sense in many traditions — not just Christianity.

    But Christians “feel free” because they believe Jesus died for their sins, right? I contend that the “feeling” that Christians get is no different than the “feeling” that Buddhists (or others) get when they find a way not to wallow in guilt. You contend that the “feeling” for Christians is given by Yahweh, and for all the rest of humanity it is just fake (self-deceptive). Correct?

    I hope it is clear what my point is. And it is OK to disagree, but I am trying to make the disagreement points clear.

  8. I agree with much of what you say. Christians do feel free because they believe Jesus did what they cannot do. And Buddhists may experience that same feeling just as anyone does who forgives themselves. But feelings are subject to change as our perspectives shift.

    As for the statement that the rest of humanity is just fake, I don’t view it in that way although there are many Christians who do. For me there is a mathematical/logical foundation for what I believe and I want to keep a dialog open with others of contrary beliefs to understand the foundation of their system of beliefs.

  9. @ TMG
    Well, I think Christians are forgiving themselves just as Buddhists are. The difference is, you believe that a god is forgiving them.
    Yes feelings are subject for Christians, Buddhists and everyone else. No escaping that.
    As for you math/logic foundation — still not pertinent to subject at hand, I feel.

  10. I believe that people don’t stop sinning, because they (we) don’t want to.

    If we really wanted to stop sinning…then we would.

  11. If we really wanted to stop sinning…then we would.

    I am not even sure that is true.
    But whatever the situation, I am absolutely sure it is the same for both Christians and non-Christians. Don’t you agree, Steve?

  12. Mike aka MonolithTMA

    If I am to use the word sin, also coming from an atheist perspective, I have to say that I don’t believe in victimless sin. If I steal Sabio’s favorite teddy bear, I have “sinned” against him. However, if I covet his favorite teddy bear, breaking tenth commandment, I do not see this as sin.

    All that said, I have to agree that forgiving one’s self or thinking Jesus forgives you, results in the same feeling of relief. If I wrong someone, I seek to make amends, only then would I feel I could forgive myself, or when I was a Christian, would seek Jesus’ forgiveness.

  13. Papillon

    Hell is your fantasy just as heaven is… I feel great about my self ever since I left Christianity.

  14. Marcell

    Sin is a outdated concept created by religion dogma thousands of years ago for the sole purpose to scare simple humans into a position so they be controlled. Human Morality developed over millions of years of increasing intelligent human interaction. Many animals display moral behavior .. no religion attached

  15. @ Marcell,
    Well I see you have not reacted to the post at all but just jumped on your pulpit without listening. That was a very religious thing to do, ironically.

  16. CJ

    In a perfect world, people would be saved from atheism in general, given the fact that atheism is a fictional story that has led to more death, wars, destruction, and pseudoscience then any other belief system for thousands of years. However, I believe in freedom of religion, so if atheists want to keep deluding themselves with the fictitious nonsense known as atheism, they have every right to do so.

    In the meantime, the few sane atheists out there need to be saved from the nasty, hateful atheists in the media who try to convince the masses that hating and discriminating against theists is a good thing.

  17. Frank

    The idiots who believe there are more than two genders are atheists. Only atheists would be dumb enough to deny science, make stuff up to make them feel good about themselves, and try to pass their feelings off as facts.

  18. @ Frank: nice rant, but you are not addressing the OP. Care to interact in an intelligent way?

  19. Emery

    [deleted for ignoring comment policy]

  20. Hello
    Why I follow Jesus? It took me a while. Christians have created a religion , have introduced the religious words sin and salvation and have made Jesus as yet another idol, who pays for their sins. One doesn’t have to know the man Jesus, but if he or she knows what it means to be FREE and Loves unconditionally, that person is already following the Way, Jesus describes. 1 John says God is Love. Yes even if u are an atheist!
    Jesus stands for that ultimate freedom and love, not for a religion.

  21. @ “Love” — Yes , very sweet. But it is not how the vast majority of the world think. But choosing the fictionalized Jesus as your flag for the abstraction of “Love” is also a bit bizarre, I think.

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