On Forgiveness—Part IV

If I accept that the first person I must learn to forgive is myself, how do I do this? What if I have done something truly awful? What if I have abused children or committed genocide? I once told someone that you don’t know anything about forgiveness until you can forgive Hitler. I will start by saying that I cannot offer forgiveness on behalf of anyone else.

If I have hurt someone I cannot offer forgiveness for the hurt I have caused them. I am not God, and that absolution is not mine to give. I cannot forgive Hitler for the millions who were tortured and murdered as a consequence of his hatred and insanity, that absolution is not mine to give. Forgiveness is a cancellation of a debt. If I am owed nothing, there is no debt to forgive.

If I choose to forgive myself what I am doing is making the choice to no longer punish myself for what I have done, but that doesn’t free me from the consequences of actions where there is a debt to be payed to others.

2 thoughts on “On Forgiveness—Part IV

  1. for me, the dead are beyond forgiveness from us mere mortals. that solves that problem 🙂 Next!

    No? Drat. no easy copout there.

    ok. so, I’ll take genocide for 200, Alex–here goes: I can, in the same thought and without dissonance, contemplate putting a bullet in the brainstem of a leader who would continue to commit genocide should I not do so, and I could forgive their actions were I harmed by them (after ending their ability to commit said action. remember, I don’t see forgiveness and absolution as the same thing, and no single person is capable of action on that scale without complicity from a large portion of the population. I can forgive the dictator and his country both.

    But, the real question is, could I personally and actively choose to execute a genocidal action? That creates cognitive dissonance for me. Abusing children? likewise.

    I could not forgive myself either action because I cannot create a set of circumstances in which I could  executing either action–self destruction would come first–I could not live with either action.

    So, it looks like taking an action that exceeds my own moral compass’ range is indeed an action I would be unable to forgive of myself.

  2. https://www.cbc.ca/natureofthings/episodes/my-brain-made-me-do-it

    An absolutely brilliant episode of the Nature of Things.  One of the stories in it is the story of a man who suddenly developed an insatiable taste for child porn.  If I recall correctly he ended up being charged and convicted for child molestation.

    It turned out that he had a brain tumour, and when that tumour was removed, his paedophilia was cured.  He did again, regain his taste for child porn, but what happened is his tumour had regrown, and when that was removed, he was again, cured.

    It’s an open question, for me at least, as to how much truly despicable criminal behaviour is the result of some kind of illness.  Our punitive justice system does not serve those suffering with illness well, nor does an inability to forgive.

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