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In honor of Lent,

March 18th, 2011

let’s talk about forgiveness and reconciliation.

In my booklet, “101 Tips for a Happier Marriage,” I have a whole section called, “Forgiveness is More Important than Sex.”  Why is that? People forget a great sexual encounter five minutes after it is over. But they’ll remember their grudges for a lifetime.

So, I was reading Jesus of Nazareth, Part 2, by Benedict XVI. I came across this explication of the theological meaning of the death of Jesus on the cross.

Again and again people say: it must be a cruel God who demands infinite atonement Is this not a notion unworthy of God? Must we not give up the idea of atonement in order to maintain the purity of our image of God?… with reference to Jesus, it becomes evident that the real forgiveness accomplished on the Cross functions in exactly the opposite direction. The reality of evil and injustice that disfigures the world and at the same time distorts the image of God–this reality exists, through our sin. It cannot simply be ignored; it must be addressed. but here it is not a case of a cruel God demanding the infinite. It is exactly the opposite: God himself becomes the locus of reconciliation, and in the person of his Son takes the suffering upon himself. God himself grants his infinite purity to the world. God himself “drinks the cup” of every horror to the dregs and thereby restores justice through the greatness of his love, which, through suffering, transforms the darkness. (page 232)

So, what is the non-religious equivalent of forgiveness?  And could it be, that the willingness to forgive, at least partially inspired by religion, explains why regular religious practice is a protective factor against divorce?

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  1. Paul of Alexandria
    March 18th, 2011 at 12:40 | #1

    Absolutely. One of the essential teachings of Christianity, and of most religions (going back at least to the ancient Greeks, although I can only speak as a Christian) is that one must consider others in addition to one’s self. Among other things, religion is a society’s way of ensuring that people think of the society and the people besides themselves that make it up.

    Unfortunately, in modern western secular-humanist society our emphasis on ourselves we have forgotten how to “grease the gears” in society. We ignore the social conventions in favor of our own convenience, and we fail to set aside the small slights and hurts that occur in any human group over time.

  2. March 18th, 2011 at 20:44 | #2

    I think Scientific Determinism is the non-religious version of forgiveness. It is the realization that everything had to happen the way it happened, that every choice a person makes is a result of all the influences and circumstances they have been subjected to, so therefore when someone does something bad, it is not something they could have changed. Actually, it not all that different from Augustinian Calvinism and Luther’s Bondage of the Will and Jonathan Edwards’s Freedom of the Will (He didn’t disagree with Luther about God’s sovereignty over human will, but he saw it in a more favorable light), except those allow for God to intervene once in a while. But I think even they recognized that God never intervenes, it is just a part of our circumstances to believe He does and attribute unexpected things to His intervening.

  3. Ruth
    March 18th, 2011 at 23:43 | #3

    @John Howard
    Would you not call Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection an intervention?

  4. March 19th, 2011 at 08:25 | #4

    @John Howard While I agree with your assessment of Augustine, Calvin and Luther, I have to say you are indeed wrong about God never intervening. He intervene’s at his choosing for his purposes. I have seen the hand of God in my life many times over. One could call it circumstantial, but the odds of things I have witnessed happening at the particular times, etc happening by circumstance are almost as impossible as evolution.

  5. Sean
    March 19th, 2011 at 11:05 | #5

    “We ignore the social conventions in favor of our own convenience”

    And what about the legal conventions, such as treating all citizens equally? Don’t they merit some consideration?

  6. March 19th, 2011 at 12:52 | #6

    Ruth :
    @John Howard
    Would you not call Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection an intervention?

    No, it was destiny, it had to happen that way. I think Theologians agree that the Son was with God in the beginning and God knew all along that he would be born human as Jesus and live and die and be resurrected. Now, the place where Theologians argue is about the Fall: was that destined too? I think that yes, it must have been destined too.

    @Glenn E. Chatfield
    I knew you’d say that.

  7. March 19th, 2011 at 12:54 | #7

    “And what about the legal conventions, such as treating all citizens equally?”
    Yes, all citizens have a right to be created from natural human origins. No one has a right to create someone from modified gametes or with anonymous gametes or with a dead person’s gametes or a child’s gametes.

  8. Sean
    March 20th, 2011 at 07:06 | #8

    “Yes, all citizens have a right to be created from natural human origins.”

    Where can I read more about this supposed right? I’m sure there are statutes and case law that support your assertion, right?

  9. Leo
    March 20th, 2011 at 08:44 | #9

    I don’t believe that determinism, secular or religious, is the equivalent of forgiveness. If there is no moral agency, no ability to choose between good and evil, then good and evil lose their original meaning, immorality in its original sense is impossible, and forgiveness is meaningless, for there is nothing to forgive. Things just are. You might as well “forgive” the sun and moon for existing and going round in their orbits. From the standpoint of determinism, we live not only in the best of all possible worlds, but also in the only possible world. Resignation, whatever its virtues, is not the same as forgiveness.

  10. March 20th, 2011 at 09:56 | #10

    @Sean Sean, you sound like a broken record. You equate equality with the right to redefine marriage. That is not what equality is.

  11. March 20th, 2011 at 17:12 | #11

    I got that phrase from Margaret Somerville’s new paper “Children’s Rights”. You are right that it is not asserted in the founding documents, but that is because there was no other way to create people until now.

    There are no statutes or case law against me using my Reductio Ray Gun on you to make you 50% smaller, you have no stated right to remain your same mass, because no one has created, or is even talking about creating, a Reduction Ray Gun to reduce people to half their size. But rest assured that if people started touting such a ray gun as the solution to over-crowding, people would be quick to realize that they had a right to remain full sized, and oppose being reduced. Perhaps, to make the analogy more apt, it would only work on the next generation, the unborn future people. Society hopefully would also proactively protect future people by prohibiting using the ray gun on embryos. Being created half-sized might be good for the planet, but it might harm the people being created, and might limit their future or damage them psychologically. And it might use too much energy to do it. There just is no right to do it, is what it comes down to.

    Where do you find a right to create human beings however you feel like it? Can you show me a statute or case law that says that people can create a human being from unnatural origins?

  12. March 20th, 2011 at 17:27 | #12


    I didn’t say there was no moral agency, or no ability to choose between good and evil, Leo. Good and evil still have meaning. The point is that people choose, as their own moral agents, what they choose because of their circumstances and influences. That doesn’t make a bad choice acceptable or good, and it doesn’t mean they can’t be punished, but it makes it forgivable. Unless you see the big picture, it’s impossible to forgive. I do forgive the sun and the moon for going around in circles.

    Belief in Determinism doesn’t lead to resignation, just the opposite. It recognizes that the future is a result of the present, things have consequences, choices we make matter. Belief in Free Will absolves everyone of responsibility, we can blame other people for following in our footsteps and making bad choices, because they had their own Will and weren’t directly influenced by the examples we set, or the rewards and punishments we established. So that means we have to be very responsible and caring, because the whole future of the world is in our control. Say the wrong thing, and some child might become a lazy criminal when they grow up (the worst kind of criminal).

  13. Leo
    March 20th, 2011 at 19:39 | #13

    I agree that the past influences the present. I don’t believe it absolutely determines it. Perhaps we are just using the word “determinism” differently. I don’t believe feel will absolves anyone of responsibility, just the opposite. Our freedom, however, is limited by circumstance. We don’t have the whole future in our control, just a bit of it. Some things will happen quite beyond my control.

    I don’t forgive the sun and the moon because there is nothing they do that requires forgiveness. The sun and the moon have no moral dimension. They have no moral agency and no free will. Their motions are determined. I can, however, forgive (or not forgive) people, because they have a moral dimension that inanimate objects don’t possess.

  14. Ruth
    March 20th, 2011 at 22:19 | #14

    When we do not make the effort to forgive and receive healing for the sins of others against us, we will, in our reaction to them, perpetrate sins against others.
    Sometimes those other sins are even more grievous.
    Forgiveness also enables us to see others more clearly.
    Their motivations can be very different than we at first perceived them to be, but an unforgiving hardness of heart blinds us to the truth and keeps us captive to our hurts.

  15. March 21st, 2011 at 08:23 | #15

    @Sean There you go hijacking the discussion again. The discussion is about forgiveness and what the equivalence may be for unbelievers such as yourself.

  16. March 21st, 2011 at 10:54 | #16

    What else could influence the present besides the past? In my theology, the past is the Son, the Father is the future, and the Holy Spirit is the desire or energy to bring the Past into the Future and grow and glorify the Father, to continue existing and becoming. But I think the Father enforces a continuity and perfection to the continuity of the past becoming the future, in which the underlying rule, carried out by the Holy Spirit in all of our consciousnesses, is for things to do what they are expected to do, by God and by all the elements and nexuses of consciousness of Creation. Creation is expectation, or morality, and both words describe both what ought to be and what is, because that is the underlying rule of creation, expectation becomes reality. Expectation is also faith, belief that what is expected will be.

    I think God can never be surprised, though an individual nexus of spirit, a man, sees only a small part of creation and is not conscious of what other consciousnesses are, so we can be surprised and unaware of what is influencing us all the time. Or rather, we are often mistaken about what is influencing us, just because we try to pretend we know, we think we see but our vision is darkened by the Fall. But God sees the whole thing and for God, expectation is obviously infallible, everything God expects to happen happens. I don’t think God can, or has any reason to or desire to, suddenly decide He was wrong and start expecting something else to happen.

  17. Ruth
    March 21st, 2011 at 10:54 | #17

    In my experience, those who have truly experienced the forgiveness of God are the ones who can truly forgive, not just when it’s easy to do.
    And our forgiveness of others leads to a greater experience of the forgiveness of God.
    “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”

  18. March 21st, 2011 at 11:16 | #18

    “I don’t forgive the sun and the moon because there is nothing they do that requires forgiveness. The sun and the moon have no moral dimension. They have no moral agency and no free will.”

    Well, the Sun gave me a terrible sunburn a few years ago, and I was pretty mad at it for about a week, but then I realized it was just doing what it was expected to do, and it was my mistake, I was mistaken about what to expect. So I forgave it. The next few days, it did seem to brighten up a bit.

    I think the soon and the moon certainly do have a moral dimension, and if there were people as dependable as they are, that always did what they should, we would say they were moral people. Morality is doing what you should, what we expect most people would do. It is not always the best thing to do, just the expected thing. We can do better than what is moral, though we don’t call unexpected good or heroic acts immoral, well, because we are expected to call them moral and say that “anyone would have done the same thing” even if we know it not true.

  19. Ruth
    March 21st, 2011 at 12:55 | #19

    @John Howard
    You have an interesting outlook.
    I can’t say I always agree with you, but keep on using that fine noggin God gave you.
    If you use it with integrity, it will serve you and others well.
    God bless you, John Howard.

  20. Sean
    March 21st, 2011 at 15:25 | #20

    “I can’t say I always agree with you, but keep on using that fine noggin God gave you.”

    If only everyone engaged his or her brain!

  21. March 23rd, 2011 at 22:28 | #21

    Thanks Ruth. Don’t feel bad, I don’t always agree with me either.

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