Catching up on fun reading, tonight I read a brief Dec. 2 NYT mag interview of Ian McEwan about his novel and film “Atonement.” For him, an atheist, the impulse to atone is human rather than religious. I agree. He adds that atheists “have the same problem of how they reconcile themselves to a bad deed in the past. It’s a little easier if you’ve got a god to forgive you.”
But is it? Where, as in McEwan’s story, restitution is impossible, reconciling ourselves is terribly difficult. Yes, Mormon belief gives us hope and faith in the forgiveness of the atonement, but, it also puts a substantial burden on the sinner to repent and make restitution. Absent the opportunity for restitution and/or seeking the forgiveness of those we have wounded, perhaps the nagging pain and guilt are compounded rather than eased by the knowledge we must please not only ourselves, but also our God–and all at a handicap. The atheist may have as much or more conscience than the believer, but he need only worry about the effects of his deeds in this life.
Or perhaps McEwan is right and it is easier for us to reconcile ourselves to a bad deed. He has me pondering though, especially since a friend who has counseled many young people in the church has concluded we lose many of our youth because they do not understand the atonement and cannot bring themselves to stay active after committing a serious sin. Perhaps as truly as they do not understand the atonement, they also do not understand how to reconcile themselves, how to attempt to make right and how to forgive themselves when they cannot fully make right. If the promise of a god to forgive you makes atonement easier, why would a believer run from religion as a consequence of sin?
Loved McEwan’s film, partly because I think atonement is equally tough going for us all.