Atheist Grace and the Destruction of Personhood

“The secularist, in throwing off the coercion of the law, unwittingly is responding to this need for grace, only to take on a new coercion that completely destroys our very personhood.”

I was set to thinking about secular materialist ethics and Christian grace by reading a great post on one of my new favorite sites, In fact, radical grace implies an entirely new approach to apologetics that I am only now starting to think through.

Under the secular mindset, all behavior can be explained by genetic and biochemical influences, and the individual actually has no autonomy. The problem with the push for the acceptance of homosexuality in our culture is not simply that homosexuality is a sin, but that it places genetic proclivities above true human freedom to choose and to act, and it places all people of every sexual persuasion under that rubric. The notion is that people are helpless in the face of their sexual persuasion, they are born one way or another. Even their secret desire is not something outside the circle of genetic biological imperative. In effect, it destroys personhood; I am not defined by my unique individuality, but by my genetic makeup. To the secularist, we have no choice in the matter. We find the same problem with physiological explanations for addictions and psychoses. New branches of philosophy and ethics are increasingly based on the physiological structures and biochemical workings of the brain (for example, listen to Terry Eagleton’s interview on Philosophy Bites). It is ironic that in trying to throw off the constraints and strictures of religion, the secularist also destroys autonomy. We find many under the secularist and atheist tent backtracking to say, “no – we have morals too! We have the basis for deciding good and evil, and choosing the good. We can create and live under a law just like the religious people, but without God.”

Only under grace do we have the true autonomy to choose the good without coercion. If the sting of punishment is gone, the motivation for choosing good comes down to the real desire of the heart. The secularist, in throwing off the coercion of the law which appeals to our conscience and will, unwittingly is responding to this need for grace, only to take on a new coercion that completely destroys our very personhood by appealing to our genetics. Christianity doesn’t demand that we do good; it asks why we would want to do evil. It doesn’t seek to force us unwillingly to behave well – it seeks a change of the heart, to heal the wound inflicted in the garden where we would see the forbidden as desirable. When the sting of the forbidden is removed, we can see and truly choose the good from the heart. The question of autonomy is extremely important, and it is a point in which secularism truly fails as surely as hyper-calvinism. In fact, in contemporary circles philosophers are debating the problem of personal choice and human autonomy as hotly as calvinists and arminians 300 years ago (for example, listen to this podcast)! Grace restores us to our primary humanity, and honors our personal identity and autonomy.

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