Selfish Forgiveness

Forgiveness was something I valued greatly when I was a Christian.   Forgiveness is a key principle in Christian theology and ethics.  And though I have left Christianity, I still look back with fondness for what I learned of forgiveness during my Christian days.   And even as an atheist,  I still value Forgiveness highly — although perhaps I only value a selfish forgiveness.

When wronged by someone, our almost immediate emotion is fear, anger or sadness.  Forgiveness allows me to slowly let go of these emotions.  However, my forgiveness is not the same as “trust”.  I “forgive” my transgressor by not nurturing the initial fear, anger or sadness, but I still hold a cautious attitude toward that person.  That is, I try to assure that the offender can no longer cause the same offense to me or ours (if I can help).   Mind you, depending on the offense and the person, I may also allow the person to come back into my trust realm too if and when I feel real change occurs in that person.  So I am not a person to unnecessarily hold long grudges — for it seems grudges are a poison to ourselves.

But the ideal pure forgiveness of turning the other cheek is not something I value without qualification.  In my Christian days, I valued the non-violence of the Mennonite tradition (having read John Yoder’s “The Politics of Jesus“-1972) and later the ahimsa of Gandhi.  But I no longer believe in unqualified non-violence.  I believe in violence only as a last resort, but that doesn’t say much unless you qualify my resorts!  However, if turning the other cheek makes me healthier and I can bear the strike, I may opt for that type of forgiveness also.  My selfish forgiveness may seem like cheap to idealists, but to me it is at least better than resentment.   I think forgiveness can allow evil to thrive.  I don’t believe that simply by “nonviolence” or “turning the other cheek” some god or karma-machine to make it all right in the end.  I use to try to believe this in my Christian day but I don’t any more.  If my forgiveness helps myself and the other person, all the better, but the other person is not the first on my list depending on the nature of the offense.

The “selfish forgiveness” which I value is for my sake.  It helps me not to burden my life with fear, anger or sadness.  If it helps the other person, great, but I am not at the level where I will necessarily sacrifice my health, property or happiness for another person’s neurosis or peversion while all along hoping that choice is honored by the divine.  And I am not always successful at selfish forgiveness, but it is a skill I value.

What do you feel about forgiveness?  Can you share a story of how your forgave?

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44 Comments

Filed under Philosophy & Religion

44 responses to “Selfish Forgiveness

  1. I once had a lengthy discussion with a Christian blogger on the topic of forgiveness.

    He wrote glowingly about Christian missionaries were urging converts in a village that had seen terrible ethnic violence to forgive the people who had murdered their children, who had raped them, and other terrible crimes.

    These people were struggling with horrible experience and, on top of it, being told that it was their duty to God to give sincere forgiveness to those who had committed these horrors.

    I pointed out that, while they certainly meant well, they may well be adding a burden of guilt to the already grave psychological strain these people are under by asking them to perform an act of forgiveness that may well be simply beyond their power to feel.

    In addition, I don’t see forgiveness as a moral obligation in many circumstances—especially ones of this sort.

    Anger and hatred are, I would argue, both fitting and healthy responses in at least some circumstances.

  2. “Anger and hatred are, I would argue, both fitting and healthy responses in at least some circumstances.”

    I have yet to observe a situation, in which hatred was healthy. It’s a self-inflicted aftershock to an earthquake and only causes more damage to the individual originally harmed.

    “I don’t believe that simply by ‘nonviolence’ or ‘turning the other cheek’ some god or karma-machine to make it all right in the end.”

    And you shouldn’t. One of the ironies of atheism is that one of the reasons many nontheists give for disbelieving in a god (especially the christian god) is the idea of the unfairness of divine punishment; however, nontheists hold an ideology that leads to the conclusion that Hitler and children that die from starvation, after living a life of pure hell, end up in the same state (i.e. nonexistence). Anyway, you’re right, there’s no hope of ultimate justice within the ideology of Atheistic naturalism.

  3. After having written four posts on forgiveness, I will pass on giving a full explanation here. But I will say that this post and the comment you left on mine remind of one my least favourite aspects of forgiveness: it means different things to different people.

    Forgiveness seems to have personal definitions, just as religion does. Most advocates of forgiveness, like you, have a friendly definition of it.

    Others, such as cult leaders and abusive parents–and Bible-god for that matter– think forgiveness applies to everyone else but themselves. Whoever offends them has to beg for forgiveness, but they feel free to offend anyone they like.

    Personally, I believe that emotional well-being has the utmost priority. So I a person should forgive when he or she is ready for it, and he or she should take it as far as it feels healthy and constructive.

    I believe that having a relationship with my abusive mother would be unhealthy for me. Many people think that I haven’t forgiven her. Because my actions don’t match their definition.

    I think I am doing what’s better for me and for her. So if that is being unforgiven, so be it. I know I am favouring the greater good, and that’s what matters to me.

  4. @ David :
    I agree that there are tons of ways to misuse forgiveness. I think this is what Lorena means when she rightly complains of the many meanings and uses/misuses associated with this word.

    But I think we have a choice — to aim toward nurturing positive emotions or just let our reflexes guide us. I personally think it is important to nurture a positive emotional culture when possible. But this takes discipline and insight — not traits encouraged by TV culture. We are taught to indulge our rightful anger.

    @ Nathan :
    Your last paragraph seems to imply that you believe your theology because you like the ending of the story. I think most believers agree with you, of course.

    @ Lorena :
    I agree with much of your comment. Yet I won’t let believers destroy a perfectly good word like “forgiveness”. I still feel it is an important principle — as I wrote to David.
    Perhaps what you are doing with your Mother is the best option — I am not sure. For me, “Forgiveness” is not a mandate, it is method to reduce pain and suffering. I can’t begin to imagining your particulars and what apply for you.

  5. @Sabio: The single reason I’ve heard (perhaps more than any other) from atheists explaining their rejection of Christianity is an inability to accept the ending of the Christian story. My intent was to point out the irony of rejecting Christianity based on this line of reasoning, not to state the basis for my beliefs.

  6. @ Nathan

    (1) Then you weren’t addressing anything I wrote, correct?

    (2) And I’d have to hear you clearly state what you think “THE SINGLE REASON” you hear from Atheists before we address it. But I must say, your sampling of Atheists may be small — for I hear many, various reasons people have for leaving Christianity or for never accepting it.

    Your statement seemed just a bit too tidy.

  7. @ Nathan

    I imagine you are saying:

    Atheist complaint: There can’t be a god who sends good non-believers to hell just because they don’t believe.

    Your felt inconsistency: Yet they are happy with Hitler and murdered babies sharing the same afterlife — non-existence.

    But you will note that in the Atheist’s complaint, there is unnecessary suffering for eternity. In Your felt inconsistency, there is no suffering — non-existence means no suffering. The atheist does states that justice would demand that the innocent not suffer, while they don’t in their view.

    But you must reply, we are all guilty and deserve suffering so there is no injustice. But Nathan is off the hook because he believes the story and Sabio deserves to burn in Hell not just his natural state but for refusing to admit it and for no longer believing.

    Am I misstating your case?


  8. I have yet to observe a situation, in which hatred was healthy.

    I have. And, to a far greater degree, so have those victims of ethnic violence I mentioned.

    We, in our society, often have this idea that forgiveness is always both healthy and morally good. I don’t buy it. If someone raped and murdered someone I loved I wouldn’t be struggling to forgive them. I’d happily watch them executed and I don’t see any reason whatsoever to believe this would be psychologically unhealthy. Coming to terms with a trauma does not necessarily require forgiving those who inflicted it. The ideal of forgiveness is a good thing when it comes to maintaining healthy and productive social relationships (where that’s possible) but when it comes to acts beyond the pale it is, to be blunt, just ideologically induced stupidity.

    I’d be interested in seeing hard evidence, rather than just personal opinion, why we should think it’s psychologically healthier to forgive rapists, child molesters and murderers.

  9. @Sabio: “Then you weren’t addressing anything I wrote, correct?”

    My comments were based on your assertion that there is no hope of ultimate justice.

    “. . .for I hear many, various reasons people have for leaving Christianity or for never accepting it.”

    I agree; however, one of the reasons that I’ve seen more than most others, is an aversion to the idea of eternal punishment.

    “But you will note that in the Atheist’s complaint, there is unnecessary suffering for eternity. In Your felt inconsistency, there is no suffering — non-existence means no suffering.”

    Let me preface this response by saying that I completely understand why many individuals find the idea of eternal suffering to be troubling. That said, I find the possibility of indiscriminate non-existance to be equally disconcerting.

    It’s true that non-existence would not involve eternal suffering; however, the entirety of existence for many people would still be defined by suffering. Within the christian paradigm there is the hope that the starving child will experience another, better existence.

    Atheism can’t get around the idea that some completely depraved individuals will experience an existence defined entirely by pleasure, and many innocent children will experience an existence defined entirely by suffering.

  10. @ Nathan
    (1) You did not answer my question:
    “But you must reply, we are all guilty and deserve suffering so there is no injustice. But Nathan is off the hook because he believes the story and Sabio deserves to burn in Hell not just his natural state but for refusing to admit it and for no longer believing.”
    Am I misstating your case?
    [for I think it is important that we talk to each other instead of try to talk to strawmen]

    (2) Does it bother you that dogs, horses, cats, squirrels and all their ancestors and descendants will ALL go “indiscriminately” into non-existence? How about bacteria, amoeba and viruses or cockroaches …?
    You see, I don’t find that possibility of indiscriminate non-existence to be disconcerting. Throw in humans, another animal, and it all keeps making sense. So I think you will find that it is your inconsistent position that is “disconcerting”.

    Don’t get me wrong: there could be a god just for humans that acts just like humans and saves only humans — in fact only saves the ones that believes this story, but Atheists find that a bit to remarkable without evidence. But I think THAT is reasonable.

    (3) If you were not Christian, there would be no reason to be loving, forgiving and kind, would there?

  11. @ David E

    Although your question is directed to Nathan. I would like to make a comment (but am looking forward to Nathan’s reply).

    I totally agree that “If someone murdered my child, I’d be glad to see the executed.” But I don’t agree when you said, “I don’t see any reason whatsoever to believe this would be psychologically unhealthy”. I think my long term hate and fruition through the murder’s death would not bring me happiness. Sadness would not disappear, but do I have to nurture hate as its long-term companion. I may not be able to avoid it, but in some cases it may help. I think we fear that if we drop the hate (ie, forgive) then we are saying the act was not so bad. But that is not the sort of forgiveness I support. I actually support disempowering hatred — “forgiveness” is my word for that. But I would hold “discernment” very high. And continue to hold that all murderers must be stopped — even if it means killing them.
    I guess it is like playing a game and not loosing your temper or feeling rage and yet still playing excellently.
    Mind you, I can’t do this stuff well, but it is an ideal.
    And I think ideals are useful.

    So it seems like we agree on the social cases, it is just a matter if long-term hate should be held as a healthy option. You are right, studies may help. So for right now, it is my faith. I fortunately have never had that extreme form of suffering yet.


  12. I think my long term hate and fruition through the murder’s death would not bring me happiness.

    Sadness would not disappear, but do I have to nurture hate as its long-term companion.

    You seem to imagine hate as a seething poison eating away at a person from the inside. This isn’t surprising since this view is so commonly expressed that it’s become an unquestioned assumption for many of us.

    The assumption, though, is simplistic and, in my experience, just plain not true. One can hate a person, one can not forgive a person wrongs done, and still be able to move on with one’s life and heal.

    This may contradict the prevailing folk psychology dogma but it’s also something quite a lot of us know from experience to be fact.


    So it seems like we agree on the social cases, it is just a matter if long-term hate should be held as a healthy option.

    You are misunderstanding my position. To be constantly filled with anger in the long-term is indeed unhealthy. But that’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying that anger is the appropriate response to having one’s child murdered or being raped and similarly atrocious crimes. But anger is not an emotion for the long term. It’s the short term response to a terrible event or to an encounter later with the person who committed the act. To hate a person does not require that one constantly seethe with anger. One can hate and despise a person without them crossing one’s mind the vast majority of the time.

    What I’m primarily trying to get across is that people counseling those who have been through serious traumas need to question their assumption that forgiveness is a necessary aspect of healing. I think they often do more harm than good pushing this perspective and I’m not even much inclined to think it’s the ideal, as you put it, toward which we should strive.

    Anyway, barring the presentation of hard evidence in the form of psychological studies on the subject I don’t think I have anything further to say on the subject without just repeating myself.


  13. I think my long term hate and fruition through the murder’s death would not bring me happiness.

    Sadness would not disappear, but do I have to nurture hate as its long-term companion.

    You seem to imagine hate as a seething poison eating away at a person from the inside. This isn’t surprising since this view is so commonly expressed that it’s become an unquestioned assumption for many of us.

    The assumption, though, is simplistic and, in my experience, just plain not true. One can hate a person, one can not forgive a person wrongs done, and still be able to move on with one’s life and heal.

    This may contradict the prevailing folk psychology dogma but it’s also something quite a lot of us know from experience to be fact.


    So it seems like we agree on the social cases, it is just a matter if long-term hate should be held as a healthy option.

    You are misunderstanding my position. To be constantly filled with anger in the long-term is indeed unhealthy. But that’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying that anger is the appropriate response to having one’s child murdered or being raped and similarly atrocious crimes. But anger is not an emotion for the long term. It’s the short term response to a terrible event or to an encounter later with the person who committed the act. To hate a person does not require that one constantly seethe with anger. One can hate and despise a person without them crossing one’s mind the vast majority of the time.

    What I’m primarily trying to get across is that people counseling those who have been through serious traumas need to question their assumption that forgiveness is a necessary aspect of healing. I think they often do more harm than good pushing this perspective and I’m not even much inclined to think it’s the ideal, as you put it, toward which we should strive.

    Anyway, barring the presentation of hard evidence in the form of psychological studies on the subject I don’t think I have anything further to say on the subject without repeating myself.


  14. Let me preface this response by saying that I completely understand why many individuals find the idea of eternal suffering to be troubling. That said, I find the possibility of indiscriminate non-existance to be equally disconcerting.

    What I (and a lot of other atheists) find disturbing is not so much that a fictional God sends people to a fictional hell. It’s that REAL human beings find the idea of torturing others for all of time morally acceptable—that they embrace one of the most monstrous conceivable acts as a moral good. Moral myopia of this sort can’t help but have real world consequences.


    It’s true that non-existence would not involve eternal suffering; however, the entirety of existence for many people would still be defined by suffering. Within the christian paradigm there is the hope that the starving child will experience another, better existence.

    No one disagrees that it would be better if there was a heaven where those who have suffered on earth could have eternal happiness…..but wishing doesn’t make it so.


    Atheism can’t get around the idea that some completely depraved individuals will experience an existence defined entirely by pleasure, and many innocent children will experience an existence defined entirely by suffering.

    Reality does not necessarily conform to either our preferences or even our needs. If it did there would be no children living a life defined by suffering in the first place.

  15. terri

    Good post, Sabio!

    I think most forgiveness is selfish…or better put…self-interested.

    We forgive for many reasons…because we love the person we are forgiving, because we no longer want to hold on to the anger and hurt that we feel, because we think it will achieve a better good in our own lives, or in the lives of those around us.

    Forgiveness is an act of subversion, removing the power that other people and their thoughtless actions hold over us, by refusing to bend to the anger they have instilled in us.

    @Nathan…I think you’re taking some cheap shots at Atheists. Suffering and the problem of evil is not mitigated for anybody, or any religion. The only difference is in how a particular worldview tries to get around it. Most religions devise ways of explaining suffering in terms of deserved consequences, or some sort of refining process for the soul….but the result isn’t any more appetizing than large-scale non-existence.

  16. David Said:
    He wrote glowingly about Christian missionaries were urging converts in a village that had seen terrible ethnic violence to forgive the people who had murdered their children, who had raped them, and other terrible crimes.

    Lorena responds:
    What an awesome example of the damaging effects of the Christian doctrine of forgiveness.

    Those missionaries were leading the people to guilt, because not having gone through the proper stages of grief, they were being compelled to forgive on the spot–typical cruelty from ignorant Christians.

    Having been wronged and bitterly abused in the past, I know that after a process of healing, we do reach the point where the offence is a thing of the past and we move on.

    But there is a process to be followed. It is OK to be angry for a while. It is OK to blame ourselves for a while. It is OK to hate the offender for a while. In the end, we realize that they’re freaks and that there was nothing we could do about it. That they own their own behaviour, and that we need to free ourselves from them and to get on with our lives.

    In other words, forgiveness is process, a long process. And I prefer to have smaller goals and call them what they are (grieving, feeling, owning), and to forget about the big F word, because too often it leads people to believe that it will happen instantaneously, at the snap of the fingers.

  17. Joel Wheeler

    In general agreement, and specifically in agreement with Lorena’s observation that Forgiveness suffers from being poorly defined.

    Forgiveness seems to me to be exclusively personal, something you do for your own well-being if you can. This is confusing, because it appears to always have an ‘object’, as in “I forgive my father.” But you can forgive you father long after he’s dead, and the net result will be the same: you feel a little better, or relieved of a burden.

    I also heartily agree with David E: the assumption that forgiveness is critical to successful living is false.

    Good post!

  18. @ David E :
    Sometimes when I read you it seems like we essentially agree. But, you seem to feel I have a simplistic view and am misunderstanding you. It might be just a matter of words, emphasis and imagined examples. I am not sure. But your position does not bother me. I won’t argue on the place of anger. Perhaps you have it well managed and in the right place in your life.
    I agree with many of your comments to Nathan.

    @ Terri:
    Thanx. Wheeew ! One person appreciated it. But I love the controversy. Fun conversations. I love your wording of “forgiveness”. I must admit — it is a word and idea I value but I see everyone else’s precautions.

    @ Lorena :
    “Forgiveness is a process, a long process.”
    I liked that. I understand your aversion to the word. I get your experience, I think.

    @ Joel:
    Thanks for visiting. My replies to others can go to you comment.

  19. Sabio,

    1. You regurgitate conservative, Evangelical theology regarding the subject of hell. I’m not sure what my beliefs (or the actual teachings of Christianity, when properly understood) are on this topic, but they aren’t the simplistic view that there’s an actual “lake of fire” where the heathen eternally burn. I’d probably agree more with the Orthodox understanding that hell is how an individual, who has rejected God, experiences the presence of God.

    2. Christian theology (as you know) places special value on humans (and humans are definitely different from other animals). I’m not sure if Christian theology specifically states that all animals (aside from humans) will enter a state of non-existence.

    3. See the response on my blog

  20. @ Nathan
    So by your logic: If you are not sure that good and bad animals go to similar places after death, then that your worry about the unfairness of the good and bad suffering the same fate does not appear to be your source of concerns, but instead, it is just anthropocentric.

    I just wanted to show that, agreeing with Terri above, I think your surprise with atheist turns on your views rather than atheists. IMHO

    I loved when you accused me of “regurgitating” ! I was seeking your opinion.

  21. @David E:

    First, you’re a great painter!

    Now, regarding the forgiveness/hate discussion, I agree with much of what Sabio said in his response. He stated: “I think my long term hate and fruition through the murder’s death would not bring me happiness.” I agree.

    In fact, when I originally made the statement that I have yet to see a situation in which hate is healing, I had one particular situation in mind. There’s a guy I know who was sexually abused as child and has been unable to discover forgiveness. He has redirected his hate toward gay individuals. You can’t be around him for more than ten minutes without hearing some homophobic remarks. Anybody who knows him can see how hate is preventing him from enjoying the truly good aspects of life.

    Maybe you misunderstood how I undertand forgiveness. I believe forgiveness begins with personal healing through channels where it can be found, such as friendships, spirituality, etc.
    When personal healing is attained, forgiveness is possible. Personal healing which forgiveness is the expression of (or maybe part of the process?) is the ultimate revenge.

    Forgiveness demonstrates that individuals have risen above the personal pain they have experienced; they have not given those responsible for their pain the satisfaction of destroying them by it.

    Of course, my understanding of forgiveness is also based on the belief that there will be some form of ultimate justice. It seems that it would be much more difficult for an individual to forgive/heal if he/she were without the hope of ultimate justice, because, in many cases, justice is unattainable within our current realm of existence.


  22. First, you’re a great painter!

    Thanks.


    In fact, when I originally made the statement that I have yet to see a situation in which hate is healing, I had one particular situation in mind. There’s a guy I know who was sexually abused as child and has been unable to discover forgiveness.

    Obviously, he’s in a psychologically unhealthy state—and directing his anger toward those undeserving of it. But I still question whether healing would require that he forgive the person who molested him—and nothing you’ve said indicates that there’s good reason to think that this is so.

    The best solution to our disagreement, I think, is hard scientific evidence. We can bring up anecdotes and discuss our personal intuitions all day long and get nowhere. Hard evidence, though, will persuade me should that evidence support the opposing position rather than mine.

    Anybody know of any studies that have been done on this topic? I’d think there’ve been a lot of them. Definitely something to look into when I have the chance. I hope others will do the same and come back and share what they find.

  23. In my first quick pass through the internet on the subject of forgiveness I saw this subsection on forgiveness “as a foundation for authoritarian control”(citing as it’s source The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power, a book I may want to get a copy of for further research):


    They survey a number of religions worldwide and conclude that the imperative of forgiveness is often used by leaders to perpetrate cycles of ongoing abuse. They state that “to forgive without requiring the other to change is not only self-destructive, but ensures a dysfunctional relationship will remain so by continually rewarding mistreatment.”

    For instance, one Christian sect, the Anabaptists, take Christian imperatives to forgive particularly seriously, interpret them literally and apply them rigorously inside their closed churches. As such, they are a case where one can assess the effects of applying religious-based forgiveness in all situations, ‘no matter what’. Not surprisingly, they have a well-deserved reputation for being gentle people but, inside their communities, rigorously obeying (Christian) religious imperatives to forgive, ‘no matter what’, has been reported to cause effects similar to what Kramer and Alstad theorize in their abstract analysis. Kramer and Alstad also point out similar dynamics operating in Eastern ‘Oneness’ religions in their wide-ranging analysis of the religious roots of authoritarian control.

  24. I think you nailed it with “The Imperative of Forgiveness” !
    Looking forward to more if you find it.

  25. terri

    David E.

    I know there have been studies on the benefits of forgiveness, and in particular a PBS show that delves into the issue of forgiveness, but I’ve been too lazy to hunt them down….but they are out there.

    Forgiveness is an interpersonal/relational “truth” so I’m not sure how much “scientific evidence” you are going to find for it because forgiveness works in the realm of human perception and emotion.

    While it’s always easier to debate in the extremes.. .Rwanda, murder, rape, the holocaust, etc…forgiveness in one’s daily life is what most people have trouble practicing and not being able to forgive is the source of many people’s trouble. Staying angry at the slights and offenses aimed at us usually hurts us more than it hurts the people we are mad at. In fact, many people are bitter and angry towards people who have no clue that they have even hurt others.

    I don’t think forgiveness is about letting people do whatever they want to you, or enabling abusers to continue to abuse you. While certainly forgiveness can be abused and manipulated to maintain power over others….It’s not the most effective tool in the box of manipulation….because to need forgiveness the person in power must admit that they have erred, or wronged someone.

  26. terri

    One more thought…

    Nathan’s comments about hope for justice reveal a very real problem that we face….the fact that there is no such thing as perfect justice.

    From a Christian standpoint, it simply isn’t true that people will ultimately get what they deserve. That’s the whole point of Jesus….that people are forgiven for the sins which they have committed without having to pay a price for their sins, personally. Now Catholicism tries to address this by postulating purgatory as a place where one can “work off” those sins…..but for most Protestants…Jesus is a “get out of jail free card”.

    This also explains why Protestants are so attached to the idea of Hell as a place of conscious eternal torment….because Protestants avoid the idea of purgatory, or having to pay for one’s own sins, by declaring that everyone deserves Hell and it is humanity’s default destination. “Justice” in this schema would be for everyone to pay for the crimes and sins they have committed by winding up in Hell…yet luckily we have Jesus to help us out here.

    It is impossible to have a world in which every wrong is righted and every hurt addressed adequately.

    Forgiveness becomes an act of surrender and acknowledgement to this fact….because some hurts can never fully be repaid or made right, no matter how sorry the offender may be. Forgiveness accepts that reality and tries to move past it.


  27. I know there have been studies on the benefits of forgiveness, and in particular a PBS show that delves into the issue of forgiveness, but I’ve been too lazy to hunt them down….but they are out there.

    The issue I’m questioning isn’t whether forgiveness can have psychological health benefits. I don’t think that’s reasonably disputable in a broad sense.

    What I’m questioning is whether it’s a NECESSARY component of psychological health and healing. Particularly in regard to heinous crimes. That seems far more debatable.


    Forgiveness is an interpersonal/relational “truth” so I’m not sure how much “scientific evidence” you are going to find for it because forgiveness works in the realm of human perception and emotion.

    Human perception and emotion are essential parts of what psychologists study.


    While it’s always easier to debate in the extremes.. .Rwanda, murder, rape, the holocaust, etc…forgiveness in one’s daily life is what most people have trouble practicing and not being able to forgive is the source of many people’s trouble.

    It’s those extremes where the disagreement primarily lies. No one’s disputing that forgiving people the relatively minor offenses of typical everyday life is healthy and sensible.


    Staying angry at the slights and offenses aimed at us usually hurts us more than it hurts the people we are mad at. In fact, many people are bitter and angry towards people who have no clue that they have even hurt others.

    Which is, again, not a point in dispute.


    While certainly forgiveness can be abused and manipulated to maintain power over others….It’s not the most effective tool in the box of manipulation….because to need forgiveness the person in power must admit that they have erred, or wronged someone.

    It can, in fact, be a very effective tool of control and manipulation. I’ve personally known more than a few “good Christian women” here in the Bible belt who stayed in terribly abusive relationships in which this sort of ideal of unconditional forgiveness had a decidedly unhealthy influence on their lives. Combined with their biblical belief that divorce is a sin (except in the case of adultery) and one has a recipe for misery.

  28. I love this dialogue – it is helping me think about this issue. Lorena is right about forgiveness having so many uses as illustrated by David, Nathan and Terri:

    A) Healthy forgiveness of choice use freely by a person to let go of unproductive hate and grudges to lessen their own suffering.

    B) Unhealthy forgiveness — especially that enforced from outside authorities or that used to ignore horrible violence or violation from persistent preditors and such.

    I think this word falls into the category of many words that have a double edged sword:
    Love, Responsibility, Forgiveness, Mercy, Trust …

    It reminds me of sayings (in all languages) that come with equal opposites like:
    a) Squeeky wheel gets the oil
    b) The nail that stands up, gets struck down

    Just goes to show the limits of simple phrases or words — the limits of language to match reality.

  29. Oh yes, another huge double edge sword:
    G O D

  30. @Sabio:

    “If you are not sure that good and bad animals go to similar places after death, then that your worry about the unfairness of the good and bad suffering the same fate does not appear to be your source of concerns, but instead, it is just anthropocentric.”

    What’s your definition of good and bad animals? Morality seems to be exclusive to human animals.

  31. “It can, in fact, be a very effective tool of control and manipulation.”

    I think there’s a slight misunderstanding of what forgiveness entails. It *doesn’t* mean that everything will go back to the way it was prior to the injury.

    Therefore, in the case of domestic abuse, forgiveness does NOT necessitate that the injured party remains in a position where abuse is likely.

    Nor is forgiveness required (according to Christian teachings) without repentance/reformation (if possible).

  32. Earnest

    Sabio it sounds like you are using the strategy “tit for tat with forgiveness”:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iterated_prisoner%27s_dilemma#The_iterated_prisoner.27s_dilemma

    I suggest we should all be nice, retaliating, forgiving and non-envious for maximal social success.

  33. @ Nathan :
    I think that folks who have dogs and cats (several in the house) realize that animals have behavior issues. We call them very good natured or very bad natured and everything in between. Sure, let’s not talk about consciousness and will but go into well-behaved people and poorly behaved people. I think the issue remains if you care to play, but you may not. I understand.

    I think the point on definition of forgiveness is that even different types of Christians use it different ways. So instead of fighting over words, let’s layout the versions and discuss them.

    @ Earnest :
    I am very familiar with the “Tit for Tat” program etc.
    Such a level of forgiveness is good depending on the growth of skills of an individual. At more secure, happier states, even higher levels of forgiveness may be possible — thus I say it is a good ideal.
    I too think it is good for society, but that is far down in my motivation list. Perhaps you have a personality trait that is more geared at listening to the drum of social compliance.

  34. I “forgive” my transgressor by not nurturing the initial fear, anger or sadness, but I still hold a cautious attitude toward that person.

    [rest deleted. Comment violation: D2. Commentor cut and pasted Luke 6:27-37. Warning #1, Michael. I am leaving your link (this time) so folks can see what I am avoiding.]


  35. I think there’s a slight misunderstanding of what forgiveness entails. It *doesn’t* mean that everything will go back to the way it was prior to the injury.

    No, it doesn’t necessitate that. I’m not saying it does. What I’m pointing out is that forgiveness can take decidedly unhealthy forms and is not necessarily and unreservedly a positive thing. The subject is far more complicated than that. How positive or negative a thing the act of forgiveness is often depends on (among other things) a very large set of associated beliefs and attitudes.


  36. Nor is forgiveness required (according to Christian teachings) without repentance/reformation (if possible).

    Many of your fellow Christians seem to disagree. But that’s of no concern to me and I’ll leave you Christians to debate and interpret Christian teachings. I’ve got no pony in that race.

  37. I will try to act as moderator.

    @ David E
    So, you agree, some uses of forgiveness can be good but many are bad, right?

    @ Nathan
    (1) Do you agree that some uses of forgiveness can be very good but some are bad?
    (2) Do you agree with David E and myself that there are Christians who use it the bad way, all the while feeling (like you) that they know the correct way and that it comes from God?


  38. So, you agree, some uses of forgiveness can be good but many are bad, right?

    Yes.

    What I’m saying can be summarized in 2 points:

    1. Forgiveness is not always morally obligatory.

    2. I am extremely doubtful about the proposition that forgiveness is always a necessary component of psychological health and healing—especially in regard to those affected by extreme violence and abuse.

  39. And I might add:

    3. The doubt being raised in point 2 is a scientific matter and should be resolved primarily as such—not by anecdotal evidence and personal intuition.

  40. @ David E
    I agree with #1
    I would soften #2 to say:
    Forgiveness can be very helpful, even in extreme situations but is harmful if obligatory or forced out of felt obligation and not springing from natural means.
    But I must say: I don’t need science to prove something before I believe it or embrace it. But if science shows something is not true and I think the evidence is strong, well then, I consider that strongly — thought (and I am in medicine), we know “science” can be wrong and loaded with political, religious and personal bias.

    Now I am curious how Nathan and Terri respond.

  41. At David E. I guess I never heard you say, “Yes, I think forgiveness can be very valuable and healing if used correctly.” Perhaps you so dislike the misuses, that you don’t even want to give in an inch on forgiveness. Do you feel that is part of the picture?

  42. At David E. I guess I never heard you say, “Yes, I think forgiveness can be very valuable and healing if used correctly.” Perhaps you so dislike the misuses, that you don’t even want to give in an inch on forgiveness.

    Here is what I said:


    The issue I’m questioning isn’t whether forgiveness can have psychological health benefits. I don’t think that’s reasonably disputable in a broad sense.

    What I’m questioning is whether it’s a NECESSARY component of psychological health and healing. Particularly in regard to heinous crimes. That seems far more debatable.

    And this:


    It’s those extremes where the disagreement primarily lies. No one’s disputing that forgiving people the relatively minor offenses of typical everyday life is healthy and sensible.

    The position I’ve stated has never been simplistically anti-forgiveness. If my focus has been on those areas where I think urging forgiveness is likely counterproductive it’s because that’s where the disagreement lies.

  43. societyvs

    “What do you feel about forgiveness? Can you share a story of how your forgave?” (Sabio)

    Forgiveness is not cheap and it is not easy – thats how I view it…but it is neccesary (even if just for the self interests mentioned).

    I seen someone bringing up we don’t need to forgive – we can hate and all that jazz and easily move on in life. I think he’s right, it’s not an ideal I would ever subscribe to, but he has a point.

    However, I had to go through forgiveness on a really deep scale through-out my life with my parents, an older brother, and last but not least, my wife. Had I chose not to forgive I would not be 1/2 the man I am today – I can guarantee that much.

    My parents left me in a state of desolation – in all honesty. I was physically abused by my father, abandoned by my mother, emotionally wrecked and left in a world without security. I hated these people as I grew up. But what good can hatred do? Hatred cannot change any of the past incidences…it can only make me more bitter and resentful, unto anger. Either way, I found a way to forgive them both and establish a working relationship (although my father died when I was 10).

    I have an older brother that committed some pretty crazy stuff when I was younger (maybe 13 or 14)…almost saw him kill his wife in front of me one time. Throughout the years I started to hate this man, because of stuff like the aformentioned. I ended up forgiving this person for his actions towards me in my late 20’s because my bitternesses were going nowhere and I sensed his lonliness as a family member who was ostracized.

    Not that long ago (maybe a year and a half back) my wife cheated on me, and this was the hardest thing to forgive. Love conquers all – and I love this woman – even after this garbage. I went through all the emotions of mate, anger, suffering, etc. But I still found the way to forgive her – although I had swore I never would forgive someone for this action.

    Point being, life is tough, I have seen my share and I will more of it. I don’t get the reason not to forgive if it can heal relationships, friendships, and make you an all around more kind person? For me, it has been more liberating than something I find ‘forced’…maybe because I see the sincerity in it (don’t know).

  44. Very well said, Society. Very well lived !

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