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A major theme in modern evangelical Christianity is that humankind is completely depraved, that we are helpless to redeem ourselves by our own efforts and only by trusting in Jesus’ redemptive death on the cross can we be freed from sin. But, according to the Christians’ own holy text, this is not true. Scripture gives explicit instructions for how human beings can save themselves without God’s help, as we can see in the following little-known Bible verse.

Then answered the Lord unto Job out of the whirlwind, and said,
Gird up thy loins now like a man: I will demand of thee, and declare thou unto me.
Wilt thou also disannul my judgment? wilt thou condemn me, that thou mayest be righteous?
Hast thou an arm like God? or canst thou thunder with a voice like him?
Deck thyself now with majesty and excellency; and array thyself with glory and beauty.
Cast abroad the rage of thy wrath: and behold every one that is proud, and abase him.
Look on every one that is proud, and bring him low; and tread down the wicked in their place.
Hide them in the dust together; and bind their faces in secret.
Then will I also confess unto thee that thine own right hand can save thee.
—Job 40:6-14

As this verse states clearly, God will admit that human beings are capable of saving themselves when we find everyone who is proud and humble them, and find everyone who is wicked and punish them. These are conceptually quite simple tasks, and there is nothing about them that is intrinsically beyond human ability. Their implementation may be difficult, but it is by no means inconceivable. (I would note parenthetically that since God himself has not done this, one could make an argument that the Bible itself shows that belief in God will not and cannot bring about human salvation.)

Something else about these verses that I find laudable is that they describe salvation as an intrinsically communal effort. Under this view, a person cannot save themself by abandoning the rest of humanity and withdrawing from the world. Rather, the only way for any of us to be saved is for all of us to cooperate and work together to establish a community of justice where the arrogant and the wicked get what they deserve. This stands in stark contrast to the selfishly individualistic view that modern evangelical Christianity takes, which not just allows but encourages people to save themselves, even if all their friends and loved ones are lost, and assures them that they will be happy in Heaven while those friends and loved ones are burning in Hell. This passage from Job contradicts that gloomy theology. It teaches, instead, that so long as one innocent person suffers, our salvation cannot be achieved; and this I find to be a far more praiseworthy view.

I am certain that most Christians would say that this passage is not a way for us to save ourselves because the tasks it describes are impossible for humans to achieve. Such thinking is characteristic of the immoral consequences of religious doctrines of total depravity. By teaching the pessimistic, cynical view that human beings are irredeemably corrupt, Christianity encourages people to think that establishing justice is impossible, and therefore encourages us not to even try. In reality, although human beings are very far indeed from moral perfection, we have nevertheless made substantial progress toward that end, including widespread recognition of the immorality of slavery, the intrinsic equality of all human groups, the need to separate church from state, and the desirability of extending compassion toward all people everywhere. Had Christianity’s gloomy view of human nature dominated those debates, we might never have made the progress we have.

Can we so far make any legitimate claim to have punished the proud and the wicked as they deserve? Not by a long shot. But unless we prejudge the question, we will never know if it is possible until we try. Our efforts so far, though sadly incomplete, suggest that we as a species can indeed go a long way toward ensuring law and order. It remains to be seen how much farther we can go, but there is no reason to think that God’s challenge to Job is unanswerable. If we have the will and the courage, humanity may indeed be able to save itself without help from mythological beings.

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DAYLIGHT ATHEISM Adam Lee is an atheist author and speaker from New York City. His previously published books include "Daylight Atheism," "Meta: On God, the Big Questions, and the Just City," and most...