Atheism maintains that all religion is debunked by the sheer fact that it lives outside any scientific measurement of authenticity. If we are to credit religion with anything, atheism says, it has to be the many wars, the hate, and the carnage, religion wages against any possibility for world peace. As arguable as these theories might be to atheism, christianity should get a second look even if we assume for argument’s sake that atheism is correct that there is no God and Calvary has no historical value. Christianity as a dogma of love, practiced or no, alone contains an element of interest that should gain the respectful ear of the most astute atheist: the message of forgiveness.
Consider the potential impact for peace of a religion whose alleged founder promoted a wide-spread and unconditional forgiveness at the moment of his death—a tortured and undeserved death. Consider the testimony of one of the followers of this religious thought whose final words while being stoned for that very religion were, “Lay not this sin to their charge” [Acts 7:60] ..forgive them. Atheists tend to get swallowed up in the word “sin” as if in a philosophical black hole and never see the record for what it really is. Here was a christian wanting his god, in keeping with his religion, to let go any retribution, any punishment, any vengeance, on the perpetrators of this vigilantism.
Modern day christians teach an eschatological forgiveness from a God who, in their understanding, promised to leave them out of it when He returns to judge the world. They see this “no condemnation,” this acquittal, [Romans 8:1] from heaven’s court as forgiveness …and understandably so; since, they maintain the historical accuracy of Calvary as documented in the Gospel record.
But what if Calvary didn’t happen for real? What if the record is, as atheism assumes, only a legend? The dogma of forgiveness still remains a real part of Christian thought. We might lose the idea of God forgiving us, but the message of peace and reconciliation, or man forgiving man, remains a major, if not the only, tenet of this religion. A brief over view of Judaism and Islam will betray an absence of this central christian theme for an obvious reason. In the historical development of religious thought, Judaism and Islam pulled up short of the Christian New Testament message of forgiveness, a message that deserves further study regardless if the student believes in God or no.
Being reconciled to a person or a people (in a national sense via treaty) has a Christian ring to it. Granted people feign reconciliation for other reasons, some political, but within the dogma of the Christian faith, forgiveness is based on the sole interest in parties seeking to return to a condition of peace between them. Christians couch this idea in—so called—soteriological terms but it is in its simplest definition an absolute and unconditional forgiveness.
Christians should practice this message more faithfully if they want a solid argument against atheistic thought. The message of Calvary is not simply being reconciled to God but being reconciled to one another. [I John 1:7] Christian fellowship should display a level of unity that has no racial, gender, or ethnic element. We should be one as Christ and His Father are one. [according to the doctrine: John 17:11 ] Gibbons in his work on the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire made singular note of Christian community and love as the reason for its growth in its beginnings. And I can easily see how this alone argues for its reality and distinction in this current time of religious skepticism.
It remains here to note that forgiveness is not employed as a therapy by professional counselors. They recommend disassociating from people who offend and hurt you. (And this tidbit of wisdom is worth following when reconciliation is not an option.) But what if the offender begs your forgiveness? And what if you are a christian—even in name only?
Forgiveness is our term! Forgiveness is our doctrine! Forgiveness is the central theme of our faith! We need to proclaim it in our actions. We need to recognize that christian love, [“deeply, from the heart” I Peter 1:22] is capable of stretching without breaking to cover a multitude of offenses. [I Peter 4:8]
I cordially invite atheism to argue against that.