Past is behind and therefore unchangeable, we can only look over our proverbial shoulders and look at it, like a movie, be it good or bad. The future is the unknown, the monster in the closet that no matter how many times we open the door it just isn’t there, but we know it will be (bad analogy, I know). The present is now… in theory it should be changeable, but if we stop and think about what the present is made up of we have to realize that it is simply a product of the past, which we can’t change, and the future, which we can’t know. Yet we are human beings… we can ‘decide’ to change our own actions. All human beings, even the one born 30 seconds ago, is a product (see the mathematical definition) of their past experiences. The more experiences we have the more ability we have to ‘decide’ our actions in the present. If I had never learned to walk, I couldn’t ‘decide’ to walk. That is true of EVERYTHING we do, know, think and each of those things add together to make us ‘who’ we are.
I understand that for most people this concept is very hard to wrap their minds around. I think a part of me hopes that if I keep explaining the idea over and over, that eventually I will facilitate at least one and maybe two tiny little light bulbs to pop on in a brain here or there. Today I have miles of this to keep talking about, yet I am going to do my damnedest to refrain from rewording the argument, yet again. So instead I am going to post a three year old article, not as bad as yesterday’s four year old one, but still fairly archaic. Just kidding. Well, enjoy.
Forgiveness is Divine?
by Wendi Porter
“Some people say forgive and forget, I say forget forgive and accept.”
– Debbie Newberry, Gross Point Blank.
In case some of you didn’t know I am a big fan of the movie Gross Point Blank. It seems to me to be a very interesting Allegory about American existence. It is chalk full of interesting philosophical one liners like the one above. The lead female character also says the line, “I know people are coming back to take stock of their lives, but I say, leave your livestock alone.” That is for another article, however.
I am sure your wondering why I bring this up in today’s article. The fact that I like the movie is nothing more than a clue into my psychosis. The opening line however is actually what my article is about.
I am currently enrolled in a class called restorative justice taught by a law / philosophy Professor named Brian Buckley. Brian is a great guy, very profound and very much a passionate philosopher. He is having us read a book entitled Forgiveness and Mercy by Jeffrie G. Murphy and Jean Hampton. Murphy is a Law Philosopher and Hampton a Political Philosopher. The book is a very interesting argument between the two on the topics of forgiveness, compassion, resentment, hatred, mercy etc… There are many excellent points in the book that I would love to address, but for today I am going to kind of stick to the idea of forgiveness and try to keep it brief as possible.
I would like to preface this article with a few key points. Please to remember that my personal definition of Philosophy is the “constant” attempt to define words or ideas by multiple people. I would also like to say that all of the topics talked about by Murphy and Hampton are in “MY OPINION” internal words. By internal words I mean that they are not a word or an idea that can be defined externally. No matter what the dictionaries around the world say about these words they will never mean the same thing to each person. They are not “hard” words such as inch, or meter. They do not, nor can they possibly, have one single definition that each person can agree on.
With that said, I would like to say that it is my opinion that forgiveness is a divine thing. I personally do not believe in god, however I do believe that individuals can reach a state of perfect balance and therefore find themselves in a state of divinity. Jesus and Buddha were “divine” by this definition of the word. So when they say they forgive absolutely, I would like to think that, for them, it is possible. For us “mundane” people however I think absolute forgiveness is impossible. There are people who claim that they “forgive,” whether they do or not is not for me to say, but for the rest of us I find that forgiveness is simply multiple levels of acceptance.
Hampton is a hard core Christian and claims that everyone should be like Jesus and turn the cheek, forgiving “all transgressions against them.” I say that such a theory is not only impossible but incredibly dangerous to not only the forgiver, but also those that would be the next victim. Murphy agrees in part with my personal beliefs, or I believe, in part, with his, however you want to calculate that. He says,
“Hampton reminds us that Jesus set an example that it is possible to [not have resentment / to forgive], but Jesus – being divine – perhaps had certain advantages that mere mortals lack. It may not be too difficult to ignore insult and injuries from mere human beings if one, being the Son of God, has a rather more impressive reference class from which to draw one’s self-esteem.”
Murphy talks about how the self-esteem and the ability or right to forgive are tied together. He says that a person who has a hasty readiness to forgive or does not initially resent a wrongdoer is a person who has no self-esteem. He also comments that the Nietzschean view is that forgiveness is not needed because the person is not so weak as to think that other people matter. Therefore to forgive, one has to not only have enough self-esteem to want to repair it by forgiving, but they can’t have so much that they are not offended by the wrongdoing at all.
Hampton argues that a person, be they victim or wrongdoer, are decent people despite their actions, therefore they deserve forgiveness. She insists that the victim should forgive and renew their relationship with the wrongdoer. This leads to so many questions, the least of which is, how does a person “renew a relationship” with their murder? Or even how or why should a person renew a relationship with an abuser?
In either case I have to ask how anyone can be expected to forgive EVERYONE that wrongs them? I mean it is a good theory, but most of the things found on the “Island of Theory” work in that fantasy realm only. Not only is it an impractical idea but it goes against the very nature of human beings.
Human beings need a focus of some kind for everything they do. Emotions need the strongest type of foci. Crucifixes, crystals, rosary beads, dream catchers, and a huge myriad of other foci are used throughout the world to obtain this emotional or spiritual focus. I personally have a necklace that was bought to protect me from other people’s negative energy (spirits) that I have not taken of except for surgery in five years and will likely die with it on. Foci are so important to human existence that they are literally found in every aspect of human society. They have even been found throughout human history, buried alongside bodies or intermingled through temples, architecture and tools.
Humans will do almost anything that allows them to hold on to the emotional high that strong emotions tend to give them. Sometimes these emotions are held even after the foci is destroyed. Being a victim can give a sense of power which causes a type of emotional high. When all power is ripped away from you by a wrongdoer often the only thing left is the power of being the victim. This type of intense emotions will almost always require a foci of some sort either a religious item or even the person who caused the wrong.
Love and Hate have also been referred to as the strongest of all human emotions. They are the same emotion in many spiritual theories (careful, there is that island again), they are simply thought of as polar opposites. Both are known to have the same intensity level in human brain wave testing and have been reported to cure or cause cancer in human beings.
I would like to take this moment to ponder the difference and the reasoning behind this particular phenomenon. When a human being uses an inanimate focus they use it by passing energy or thoughts through the item. Prayer, spells, meditation etc… So, what happens when we use a person as the foci? How much and what kind of energy are we forcing through their bodies? And if that energy has been proven to cure or cause cancer, what does that amount of energy do to our living foci mentally? (I think Hampton would leap on this argument gladly.)
Remember WAY back in the beginning when I talked about forgiveness among us “mortals” as just being various levels of acceptance? I have come to accept that certain people act in certain ways. Should I condemn them forever because of their actions? Absolutely not. A mother can be extremely abusive to their child as they grow, but that does not make them any less a mother. Everyone makes certain decisions based on information at the time or emotional considerations. People can easily do wrong to another in those circumstances, the actions are wrong, but the people themselves are not as Hampton suggests.
Where Hampton and I come to an impasse is when she goes to the absolute extreme (most of my readers know how I feel about absolutes or extremes) saying that we should forgive every wrongdoing. Murphy and I agree that certain wrongs can’t be forgiven without damaging our own sense of self-worth or self-esteem. Such as the case of abuse or other attempts at lessening the “worth” of the victim.
Some Islamic extremists will do what their religious leaders tell them to do because they have been taught that reading the Koran is sacrilegious and that it is the duties of the religious leaders only. This does not make them horrible people, it makes them passionate people. People willing to strap bombs to themselves to prove a point by killing other innocent people show incredible levels of passion. Their actions may be flawed, but in the eyes of the people that matter most to them, their messages are not.
Parents can beat and abuse their children, constantly enforcing the lesson that the child is less intelligent than the parents. Husband or wives may do the same, constantly belittling the spouse, but this does not make them bad people, it simply makes them misguided. Depending on the upbringing of a witness to the abuse, it can be perfectly reasonable and even deserved. Fifty years ago beating children or spouses were perfectly acceptable and in many countries removing the clitoris of daughter between ten and twelve-years of age is still expected of the fathers. These people have culturally learned these lessons someplace, they act out of either their own educational standing, fear or ignorance.
Should these people be forgiven? Not really, their actions are not really forgivable, especially in the case of permanent physical or emotional damage, but they are also not changeable, they are in the past nothing can be done to truly rectify the damage already inflicted or the lives already lost. At some point the victims have to simply accept that those who wronged them simply are who they are. Individuals made up of their experiences.
I know this particular article seemed to ramble on, but I think the point was worth while. What was my point? Same as usual, nothing really. I am simply expressing my opinions on forgiveness. Do I forgive? Not really, I simply accept and move on. Do I expect people to forgive me? Of course not, I am who I am and I was made that way by not only my good choices, but my bad ones as well. I would change nothing, nor should I expect others to want to change what they have done in their past.
Accept who we are and move on, if we are lucky we will simply try to learn and become better people with each day.