Both Saint and Sinner; Both Oppressed and Oppressor–My Guest Post on No Religion Required


I used to be a Lutheran, and one Lutheran doctrine that always fascinated me was that Christians are both sinners and saints simultaneously. According to Kathryn Kleinhans of Living Lutheran, the saint part isn’t because of the good we do, but because of God’s grace. She writes, “We are called saints not because we change into something different but because our relationship with God changes as a result of God’s grace.” This always cheered me up whenever I would beat myself up over my imperfections.

Of course it wasn’t until after I became an atheist that I realized how constantly reminding myself that I was a wretched sinner who didn’t deserve God’s love really damaged me. As Hemant Mehta once said in a video, “No one should repent for just being human.” However I still believe in this non-dichotomous way of viewing humankind. We think there are only two kinds of people in the world—good people and bad people, smart people and ignorant people—but the truth is people are way too complex to fit into just two boxes. In my few short years in the atheist community, I’ve seen really smart people believe in bullshit ideas, and I’ve seen good people act like jerks. So even from a secular point of view, we’re both saints and sinners simultaneously. Or as my friend Shiri Eisner wrote in her book Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution, “We are all oppressors and we are all oppressed—and we must all deal both with our oppression and our privileges” (p. 88).

Anyone involved with social justice activism can tell you this is a hard pill to swallow. I used to think that because I’m bisexual and genderqueer, being an ally to other groups would come naturally to me. However, when you live in a society that says, “All people are equal, but some are more equal than others,” you’re going to internalize a lot of racist, sexist, homophobic, biphobic, transphobic, acephobic, ableist, and classist messages, and eventually those messages will slip out of your mouth. You probably didn’t mean any harm, but intentions don’t negate the fact you fucked up. You have to own up to it, say you’re sorry, and learn from your mistake.

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