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By Carl S ~

Findings of a recent academic study from the University of Oregon and University of British Columbia show that believers are just as likely to cheat on academic tests as non-believers (as reported in Secular Humanist Bulletin, summer 2011). The article further reports: "What matters more than whether you believe in a God is what kind of a God you believe in. There is a relationship: believing in a mean God, a punishing one, does contribute to non-cheating behavior. Believing in a loving, forgiving God seems to have the opposite effect." The article concludes with words from Azim F. Shariff, co-author of the study, warning that “…the results are preliminary and cannot necessarily be applied to other types of moral behavior."

I must say I disagree with the "cannot necessarily" part of Mr. Shariff’s statement. For starters, some believers I have known had no trouble or qualms of conscience about cheating on tests and/or spouses, and I'm sure many of you can attest to that yourselves. This study threw a spotlight on a problem that has concerned me for decades: How can believers who call themselves Christians, who supposedly follow the teachings of Jesus, of non-violence, peacemaking, forgiveness of others, and charity to the most needy, applied personally, be Mafia members, drug lords, assassins, and violent gang members? How do they kill without conscience, and beat, torture, rip off their fellow humans, and steal? How do some members of the clergy rape children while continuing to preach the gospel on Sundays?

Forgiveness is of prime emphasis in Christianity. The major lesson of the New Testament “good news” pertains to the Redemption License; i.e., one can be forgiven no matter how heinous the former or future "sins,” in spite of how many one injures or kills, for Father - God - is infinitely forgiving. The dogma stating Christ's death atones for all the evil done or to be done by humans gives one carte blanch to sin all he desires to - redemption is prepaid. I'm sure Christians will argue that this is not what is taught, but remind them of "deathbed conversions" of criminals, or of confession and penitence with forgiveness as an assured result (leading to heavenly reward), no matter what evil one does.

The messages of Jesus, and John the Baptist before him, involved repenting and forgiveness emphasized through parables and examples. The prodigal son who wastes his inheritance on wanton living is rewarded, while his virtuous brother is ignored and put down, is a strong example. Jesus was "sent" not to the already morally upright, but to sinners, and prefers their company, as his God, according to him, does likewise.

The forgiveness game has been grabbed by clergy with the enthusiasm of a gambler busting a Las Vegas casino. They love to be the agents of forgiveness for their god; prison ministries, conversions, seeking out the terminally ill . . .

One goes to heaven or hell based on his belief; all results are based on faith. Strictly speaking, being a rotten person, but forgiven, will get you eternal bliss, for God loves to forgive. Strictly speaking, according to St. Paul, the founder of Christianity who wrote its attitude-scriptures, forgiveness applies only among members of the faith and their relationships to each other, not to the "others." Anyone who leaves the fold of the forgiven, the "redeemed," must be treated, in Paul's own words, as "anathema."

Clearly, the New Testament forgiveness message undermines true morality, and I’ll never be forgiven by Christians for saying this.