Of all the concepts in Christianity, the concept of God’s grace is arguably the most harmful, destructive, insulting, and psychologically crippling. The tragedy here is the number of people who would probably be surprised by that statement; most seem to laud grace as the best thing about Christianity. But the moment you examine it, the moment you take an outsider’s view of what grace is and think carefully about its implications for the lives and value of individuals, the more dangerous and diabolical the concept seems.
“Grace,” in popular Christian theology, is the term for God’s act of giving you something (like “forgiveness of sins” or “eternal life”) you don’t deserve. The concept here, in many cases, is that we have offended God or broken His moral code. And although we supposedly deserve hell as a result, God has decided not to punish us with hell (or let us go to hell, depending on your theology) and has given us “eternal life” instead.
And for this, the story goes, you should praise God for this great gift of grace that He has given to you and all of humankind who will accept it, a gift He gave because He loves you so much that He was willing to have His One and Only Son to give up His life for you. How humbling. How exhilarating.
Except…not really. For three reasons.
1. If God is our Father, His Grace makes Him a terrible parent.
It’s pretty nice to buy a three year old ice cream. It’s terrible to tell the child that he deserves poison and then give him ice cream. Especially if the child does not deserve poison. I mean, it seems that the reason grace is so wonderful, in much of Christian theology, is that we don’t deserve it, supposedly. But the best “grace,” it seems, is the kind that isn’t grace, the kind you receive simply because the person has your and society’s best interests at heart. To be sure, that viewpoint is not grace, which is why it’s awesome. I mean, think about it. When an infant is born, it doesn’t deserve anything. There’s nothing anyone automatically deserves. Deserving things isn’t the point — the point is trying to build a decent society filled with decent people. So we don’t help our kids because they deserve it or in spite of the fact that they don’t deserve it — or, at least, we shouldn’t. It seems that a good parent helps us because they want us to enrich ourselves and society; obsession with what we do and don’t deserve can distract us from that and give the child guilt trips that impede its social development.
The infuriating thing about this whole deal is that there is no God. So when someone is told they deserve eternity in hellfire — they’re not remotely telling the truth. That’s a completely made up guilt trip, there to instill fear and shame in other people, to control them and to maintain power by twisting their psychology and convincing them to believe fantastic stories that force them to behave in disturbing ways. Indeed, the only thing that makes grace beautiful, it seems, is fear of hell, a fear that depends on a conviction that hell is what people deserve hell. The fact that people don’t deserve hell makes grace a horrific concept, because it makes people apologetic for being in a world they belong in without any apology.
2. The Christian concept of God’s grace encourages psychopathic tendencies in those who believe in it.
In Christian theology, grace is based mostly on what you believe, not what you do, as everyone has sinned and supposedly deserves eternity in hell. But there are a couple major problems with this. Some “sins,” such as same-sex marriage, are taboos in the Bible and in much of Christian interpretation of it, and yet there is no logical social reason as to why we should have the taboo outside of a supposed God’s say-so. This is an example of how the concept of sin encourages us to ignore very real circumstances people are in, ignore the love people may have for each other, and simply believe that people are immoral in spite of evidence to the contrary. In other words, the arbitrary labels of “sin” — or, in this case, “sins” made up by bigots six thousand years ago — force people to see people as sinful where no sin exist, often leading to maltreatment of these misunderstood, “sinful” people. And this is maltreatment that Christians don’t have to feel that bad about because, after all, these people are sinners.
Second, to be grateful for the concept of grace you have to think that everyone who doesn’t have it is going to hell, and be OK with that. No matter what the person does, they deserve hell and will get it if they don’t follow arbitrary rules God supposedly set up, and/or don’t believe a fairly fantastical story that has very little evidence backing it up. This mentality dehumanizes the person who is not a Christian. No matter how much we tell our Christian friends and family members that we’re human and that we don’t deserve nor are going to hell, the Christian has to think we are sinners headed for hellfire if we don’t believe their fantastic story. So no matter what we say (outside of stating we believe in outrageous 2000 year old stories), we are forced into the stereotype of an unsaved sinner, trapped in pity and low moral standing that we can’t escape from. And these stereotypes have and do affect the way we are treated on a personal and societal level in extremely disturbing ways that are ignored because of reason 3.
3. Its major function is to allow the church to abuse without culpability.
“Grace” is often used to say we shouldn’t take the past actions of those who have it into account, as much — if God has forgiven people, who are we not to? Although sometimes people insist that grace doesn’t dismiss actions — in point of fact, it often seems to.
For example, when I was a Christian, I used to see unsavory parts of church history and present action as proof FOR a God because, I thought, if things were so terrible, grace had to exist to make things less terrible. The fact that the church was abusive was proof that people in general could be abusive, which meant we all needed grace, which came from God, which brought me back to the church, no matter how dark its past or present deeds were. No matter what the church does, the concept of grace eventually launders its reputation so that it comes out with squeaky-clean moral currency that’s often proof, among those dedicated to the church (and often those outside of it), of God’s supposed blessings.
So when the atrocities — past and present — of the church are discussed, the answer comes back that yes, the church is terrible, but God has forgiven it. If any other organization stated it had an imaginary friend who similarly gave it grace, and was at the same time engaging in all the control the church has on people’s lives, everyone would be in uproar. The reason why everyone is not, it seems, is that the church is a major source of power that gives it great power in protecting and enriching its good reputation.
Thus, throughout history, the church has been able to enslave, colonize, and abuse individuals both physically and psychologically because 1) it has the moral authority to state that those it puts through this deserve it and much worse, so it can treat people in terrible ways without moral censure in cultures whose moral system it infiltrates and controls, and 2) it controls the concept of grace so that it can give it to itself and to those it needs to maximize its power and control over others — and thus uses the concept of grace to force less powerful individuals in the church to excuse, ignore, or justify its abuses, no matter how horrific they may be. Grace is truly the worst concept in Christianity, and as long as it stands, Christianity will perpetuate itself, controlling societies and lives without having anyone to answer to but a God of its own making who is — oddly enough — in the habit of giving it blank checks for grace.