Monday, December 31, 2012


Whenever anything good gets trendy with public intellectuals I get worried. Lately forgiveness has become a big thing and, in their usual fashion, the sort of people who write "think pieces" for the press have made what seemed like a pretty straightforward good seem quite dubious. I haven't a lot of say about the subject just yet, except that it troubles me a whole lot that I keep reading about forgiveness being something good for the person forgiving as opposed to the one who needs to be forgiven.

For now, I only recommend a good piece on the subject by Theodore Dalrymple, a teaser follows:
One would not expect a person who talks so much of forgiving herself to have anything valuable to say about forgiveness. She does not consider the possibility that incontinent forgiveness, deemed good in itself regardless of the act to be forgiven or the attitude of the person to be forgiven, means that no human behavior is beyond the pale, that nothing is unforgivable. This is to turn forgiveness into a kind of inalienable human right of the wrongdoer (a profoundly un-Christian view, incidentally).


  1. The Virtue of Hate.

    As we can see from Samson's rage, Judaism believes that while forgiveness is often a virtue, hate can be virtuous when one is dealing with the frightfully wicked. Rather than forgive, we can wish ill; rather than hope for repentance, we can instead hope that our enemies experience the wrath of God.

    We ask God for mercy and for forgiveness, attributes of God that Judaism holds dear. But then our thoughts turn to the utterly evil and unrepentant. Towards the end of this prayer, one anguished, pain-filled sentence stands out: “Our Father, our King, avenge, before our eyes, the spilled blood of your servants.” After a day devoted to prayer, synagogues everywhere are filled with the cry of fasting, weary, exhausted Jews. They have spent the past twenty-five hours meditating upon their sins and asking for forgiveness. Now, they suddenly turn their attention to those who gave no thought to forgiveness, no thought to God, no thought to the dignity of the Jewish people. After focusing on their own actions, Jews turn to those of others, and their parched throats mouth this message: “Father, do not forgive them, for they know well what they do.”...

    The message is that hate allows us to keep our guard up, to protect us. When we are facing those who seek nothing but our destruction, our hate reminds us who we are dealing with. When hate is appropriate, then it is not only virtuous, but essential for Jewish well-being.

    Johnny Cash, God's Gonna Cut You Down

    1. I agree. One of the many glorious things about Jewish scriptural books is that they reflect every aspect of human life. It also seems quite reasonable to me to think that God may punish those he is not pleased with and could do so in ways that will inspire awe. At the same time, and paradoxically, I know that God is more merciful than any of us could ever be so he may also forgive things we never would.

  2. I have come to believe that when you sin and don't repent, you alienate yourself from the Transcendent, which is worse than any earthly punishment. When I really understood this on a visceral level, I forgave people I never thought I would forgive. But I think it's very wrong to force forgiveness.

    I have read that the Amish require everyone to forgive wrongdoers if they apologize. So child molesters get up in church and make a pro forma apology, the victims are required to forgive them, and no effort is made to protect future victims. If this is true, I think it is morally disordered in a way similar to the way pacifism is morally disordered.