Reason 3

Someone to forgive your sins

Another rather obvious piece of psychological manipulation, this time based on mainly on guilt, with a little dash of fear.

Firstly, in order to need forgiveness one has to realise and accept the concept of absolute wrong expressed as “sin”, and then acknowledge that one should seek forgiveness from someone for it.

On first glance, it doesn’t sound like a very dangerous concept or even illogical. If one believes in the concepts of right and wrong, and one believes that most (or all) of the actions listed as sins are wrong (in absolute terms), then it doesn’t seem unreasonable for a “sinner” to feel guilt and remorse for their actions and therefore want to be forgiven and relieved of this guilt.

The question is whether a silent and invisible God is the right avenue through which to assuage this guilt.

I put to you that according to the generally accepted secular morality (and often laws) of the societies of the developed world, it is expected that someone seeking forgiveness would do so directly from the person who was wronged, and/or their family. They could also be expected to make some sort of recompense and/or be punished. For example, remorse is expected to be demonstrated by criminal offenders before being granted parole.

The act of forgiveness is seen by most societies as a very honourable, but not compulsory, response from a victim.

However, a problem arises if someone has wronged an individual or group, but those wronged don’t want to forgive, or might not be able to (on account of being dead). The “sinner” might also be embarrassed or afraid to ask for forgiveness directly (e.g. in case they go to gaol).

A second problem exists when the “sin” committed isn’t against a human being, but only against God, via breaking of one of his/her ancient rules (like being born, in the case of Christianity’s original sin).

The second problem is easy to address without God, because it is only made possible via a belief in God in the first place. If you don’t believe in God you can’t have broken his rules, have nothing to feel remorseful for, and therefore do not need to seek the forgiveness of said God, who you don’t believe in.

The first problem requires a little more effort to address, and hence why the invisible and silent God solution appears quite attractive to some.

I’ll leave aside the very significant philosophical question of whether absolute right or wrong even exist, because a person feeling guilt must by definition believe they do.

The concepts of right and wrong and sin are intrinsically tied to morality. If it is a sin to kill a person, it is also immoral.

As mentioned previously the secular moral position of developed countries is that remorse and hence guilt is expected, but forgiveness is only preferable.

The somewhat confusing and contradictory Christian biblical position is that Jesus will forgive anything, but that his father (who is also himself) will not (as evidenced in the Old Testament), so Jesus had to assume physical form and be crucified, so that he could die, come back to life physically, then physically fly into heaven, so he could forgive all our sins up to that point and from then on (although there is still a “judgement day”).

I’m not familiar with the Koran or Talmud, so won’t comment on their God’s forgiveness positions.

The reasoning that God is necessary so that one’s guilt for committing wrongs can be assuaged appears to me an ethical dilemma somewhat akin to only believing in him/her so you can get into heaven.

Is it more important that you be guaranteed freedom of your psychological and metaphysical guilt, or that the victim(s) gets to make their own decision whether to forgive you?

Next is the question of whether a silent and invisible God has indeed forgiven you of the sin anyway. Clearly you can only “have faith” that he/she has, and therefore any absolution of guilt was entirely of your own mental construction. If you can mentally absolve yourself via a silent and invisible God, then you obviously have it in your mental capacity to do so without one (although this argument also applies to faith healing, so I’ll probably lose a few of you here).

Maybe it’s the act of confessing to a Priest (or other such person) that is the main psychological cleanser? There are plenty of secular psychologists who will listen to all your sins in complete confidentiality, for a fee.

Maybe the penance gives you a sense of atonement? As an alternative there’s plenty of men/women who you can hire to deliver various forms of punishment to you, or you can go it alone like the albino in The Davinci Code (might be a bit more brutal than a few “Hail Mary’s” though).

What if you killed someone, and therefore couldn’t seek their forgiveness? I put to you that if you can seek forgiveness of an invisible and silent God, then you can seek forgiveness of an invisible and silent dead person; or better still their living family, and even better still, do something for that family, or in the name of your victim, in atonement. If that doesn’t make you feel better, tough luck, you killed someone; I guarantee you feel better than they do (and their family).

I agree that confessing to an invisible and silent entity might be a quick, safe, painless way to assuage guilt. However it doesn’t make the victim’s life any better and robs them of the choice of forgiveness.

I also argue that seeking forgiveness of God only is not in accordance with modern society’s morality. For example, if you commit a crime, you should confess to the police, the victims, and the court, not anonymously to a priest.

God forgiving sins makes the sinner feel better. The victim gets nothing. Doesn’t seem like a system based on morality or justice to me.

For these reasons I don’t consider there is a logical, ethical or morally justifiable reason that God should be asked to forgive one’s sins, and therefore he/she should not be considered necessary for this purpose.