Out with Atonement; In with Accountability
by Christine Organ
When you hear the word “atonement,” what comes to mind? Do you see images of the forlorn, with their heads bowed in shame? Do you think of penance, punishments, and retribution? Do you hear voices begging for forgiveness, dependent on the mercy of God to grant an absolution?
Some sources define atonement as “reparation for an injury or harm,” or the “reconciliation of God and humankind through the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ.” Unfortunately, these traditional definitions and stereotypical images tend to convey a message of atonement as a penalty or sentence filled with disgrace, humiliation, and chastisement. All of which prevent us from gleaning any goodness and grace from our mistakes and blunders.
When a faith or philosophy focuses on atonement as a means of reconciling oneself with God and humankind, there is no mechanism from which we can garner constructive development and positive behavior from our very human faults.
But we are human. We err, we misstep, we go astray. We hurt ourselves and others. We disappoint and we sometimes fall short of what is expected of us.
But we are human. We learn, we grow, we mature. We right ourselves and correct our course of action. We satisfy and sometimes we even exceed expectations.
Instead of focusing on atonement for our wrongs, I would suggest that we focus on accountability. By holding ourselves and others to a higher standard, we focus on our potentials and capabilities, rather than focusing on our failures, flaws, and shortcomings.
Accountability requires confidence, loyalty, and faith. Accountability garners forgiveness and can strengthen relationships – with ourselves, others, and God – by demanding that we claim responsibility and resolve to do and be better. Accountability requires that we do not veil our flaws and mistakes with inauthentic atonement with displays of contrition or obscure confessions. Rather, accountability requires a genuine atonement with a swift, direct, and sincere apology without qualifiers, excuses, or justifications.
By choosing accountability, we can examine our motives and the possible reasons for our mistakes so that we can be better prepared to avoid them in the future. By choosing accountability, we can strengthen our relationships, instead of causing wedges to divide us. And in that, we can achieve the purest form of atonement after all.
Christine Organ is a wife, mother, writer, and Unitarian Universalist who lives in the Chicago area. She can be found online at Random Reflectionz.
What do you think?
In my never-ending quest to discover what it is we humans are meant to do, I come across people who seem to get it. Like accountability, responsibility for one's actions (just another way of saying it) is and always has been an important part of my life. If it's mine, I own up and go on. I have ingrained this into my children and continue to live it and talk about it with others. How can we possibly expect to become more than human if we can't embrace all of what we are? So, accountability is a good first step.