Secular grace is a proactive acceptance, love and caring for our fellow human beings person to person.
Secular humanism has a ways to go to catch up to religious organizations in regards to building community and facilitating deep human connection. Religion has had centuries and sometimes millennia to fine-tune their strategies. Some of their strategies have been manipulative and others have been genuine. One of the manipulative strategies is easy to induce guilt in the guise of sin against a deity. One of the more effective and genuine strategies is simply loving acceptance sometimes called grace.
When I was a Christian I was a grace junkie. I became a Christian because of grace and I stayed a Christian much longer than I would have without my understanding of grace. I understood on a deep level my need for acceptance. I saw it as equally important to give grace to other people. I still do.
Many atheists hate the term grace for a number of reasons. For one, the implications of both substitutionary punishment and substitutionary atonement are offensive. The idea that someone can be punished for another’s crimes is heinous as are the implications of human sacrifice. Atheists also don’t like the term because it implies people are broken in some way and are in need of fixing. The very idea of sinfulness has dark implications about how one feels about oneself. Lastly, atheist balk at the idea that people can do anything immoral and then just repent/confess and all is forgiven. Is that really moral?
Christians will argue atheists are reacting to the “offense of the cross,” without really thinking through the implications because to them atheists are actively rebelling against God. They cannot begin to comprehend how someone would reject such a wonderful offer sometimes while simultaneously condemning atheists to hell.
So let’s remove the theological implications of grace for a moment. At its best, grace is about being accepted and loved for who you are as you are. I believe there is a deep human need for this kind of acceptance and love. One of the great draws to religion is becoming a part of a community that cares for you. Our need for human connection does not go away when we discard belief. In fact, that may be the time of our greatest need.
So is grace about being forgiven by an omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent god? Or is it at its heart people caring for people? I realized after deconverting that it is very much about the latter. And since then I have noticed more and more that religious organizations are leveraging their communities to bring people into their doors. It is the people and not a deity that provide meaning and connection.
Humanism is the idea of being good and ethical without the need for a god. I propose an addition to humanism: secular grace. Secular grace is a proactive acceptance, love and caring for our fellow human beings person to person. Humanists being human to other humans.
The concept of Secular Grace acknowledges that there is nothing more valuable, moral or ethical than people loving and accepting one another.
It is summed up succinctly in the South African term, ubuntu:
“I am because you are.”
Secular grace does not assume people are broken. It does not assume punishment is required substitutionary or otherwise. Neither does it necessarily condone peoples’ poor decisions. It does attempt to understand them. But most of all Secular Grace attempts to empathize with people without requiring them to conform to an ideal. This simple act of human kindness is quite powerful.
You do not have to look far for the opposite of secular grace. Many atheists and theist online see it as their personal mission to disabuse each other of their respective positions. I’ll admit debate and argument are a lot of fun. But it rarely actually changes someone’s mind.
I am much more interested in interacting with people who are questioning, deconstructing, on their way to deconverting or have recently deconverted. It is clear to me that this is the group of people who could benefit most from secular grace. People in these positions are in the greatest need of human connection and community.
When a person is considering giving up their belief structure, it is not just their beliefs they are losing. They may be risking relationships with family, careers and their concept of meaning. That is a fragile place to be. They need a listening ear more than cold hard logic.
We need each other and each other is all we need.