Forgiveness (written April 24th, 2013)

I’ve been very caught up in the idea of forgiveness lately as a result of the Boston bombing.  As everybody knows I am an atheist so when I see the many “prayers” go out to victims and their families I try to simply see it as people wishing good things for people.

What one never sees however is prayers for the person who committed the horrific act.  In many ways you can sympathize with this.  As human we feel anger, outrage, hurt.  There are many reasons not to forgive.  However, what’s interesting to me is that if you believe in the power of prayer, then the perpetrator is just as worthy of prayer as any of the victims if not more so.  The victims likely have support of friends and loved ones, whereas the perpetrator is likely quite alone.  Again, I’m not saying that perhaps we can be morally okay with feeling that way, I’m simply saying that, especially as Christians, if you believe in prayer, you believe in miracles, and you believe in redemption then there is no one who needs redemption more than the person guilty of great crimes against his or her fellow man.  If what MLK said is true, that only light can drive out the darkness, then there is nobody with more darkness in their soul than someone who could try to murder a large group of people.  Does not the divine light drive out darkness even better?

It brings up the more important question.  Can any of us be saved?  Many Christians talking about how they felt saved by giving their heart to Jesus, but can we ever truly believe in someone like the Boston Marathon bomber’s true repentance or any other person who commits a horrible crime for that matter?  Most people call for the person’s death, the hate is strong as you watch comments on social media.  Is there a certain level of violence that we can tolerate and still believe that person can be redeemed and do good in this world?  Is it the nature of a crime?  What I thought was interesting was thinking about the question, “Well what if it was someone who was dealing drugs?”  I have in fact heard testimony (in the Christian sense) from drug dealers who turned their life around by becoming Christian.  Everybody feels inspired.  However it may be quite likely that drug dealer was responsible for many more deaths from people who overdosed on drugs he or she sold.  How inspired would anybody be by the Boston bomber if he said he found Jesus, cried, and got down on his knees and prayed?  Even if he was completely repentanthow many people would buy it?  Christian or non-Christian?

I was watching the news yesterday and they addressed this topic to a certain degree and had two pastors on the news (as if pastors know the most about forgiveness) and asked them what do you do to comfort people in these times?  How do you get them not to abandon God when these things happen?  Not surprisingly they said well you have to make peace of the situation by becoming closer to God because that is where your loved ones who were killed are now.  With God.  (Of course they could be in hell but ignore that).  But he also said that forgiveness was important.  When the news anchor asked “How do you forgive in a situation like this, because I struggle with this”?  Both pastors responded that by forgiving you let go of the anger, and that you should forgive for your own benefit not for anybody else.

This struck me as odd.  In the Christian doctrine forgiveness is big.  Forgiveness represents compassion as well, which is also big.  If they are going to argue that getting closer to God is the answer in these times because your deceased loved ones are with God, then shouldn’t another way of getting closer to God be by being merciful and forgiving as God (or Jesus does…well they are one in the same…I think).  But more than that forgiveness is not supposed to be just for you.  When you say “I forgive you”…YOU are forgiving someone else.  Thus the act of forgiving must truly benefit both.  Someone has caused you harm and you let go of your anger and they have the benefit of your compassion.  And it’s possible by your compassion they are shown the true beauty of humanity (and if you’re religious… God’s grace) and will mend their ways.  That is the hope, and a hope that does happen even if it is rare.

If you want to know what this atheist believes, then it is that we can change, we can learn and grow.  It may take a long time, but you are more likely to make the world a more peaceful place with forgiveness and compassion to all creatures that walk upon it than you are through violence and hate.  As I’ve stated before, this is the only existence we can be sure of, and to erase somebody from existence is a very serious measure, especially when it is our hate and anger that has ruled our hearts.

To quote a Genesis song we “kill what we fear, and we fear what we don’t understand”.  This is human nature perhaps.  When these things happen it is so hard to understand, we feel fearful, and so killing is what many people feel is the best way to deal with it.  I think there are other solutions however than killing, even when people would try to kill us.  Finding compassion in the darkest of moments is one of the hardest things in life, but I think it is a worthy goal.

Peace all.

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15 thoughts on “Forgiveness (written April 24th, 2013)

  1. Helen Khan

    This is one of the best written pieces I have seen on forgiveness. Forgiveness is not just so we can feel good about ourselves, forgiveness means releasing that person from your anger, your desire for revenge. Forgiveness gives way for love to take its rightful place in our lives so we can love the perpetrator. Forgiveness is leaving revenge for God to deal with that person in His mercy and justice. How that takes shape, we don’t know. To add to this Jesus commanded us to pray for our enemies, that means both victims and the instigator. Sounds tough to do, but if I say I am a Christian then I should have compassion for all, not just for those for whom I choose to have compassion.

    No matter what our creed, there is something here for all of us to reflect on and take to heart.

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  2. I really like your mind Swarn.
    I can’t help but smile as I say this – I believe (strongly suspect that is) that I believe in God, yet I see eye-to-eye with you, an atheist 😀 doesn’t that say a lot about categorizing?

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    1. Well, what can I say, the Gautama Buddha and the Dalai Lama provide guidance to those sincerely seeking guidance – what better than approaching the matter with compassion and simple kindness?
      I appreciate the catch-22 situation we face with categorisation, but therein is the test itself! If we are kind and compassionate to ourselves it becomes almost second nature to extend the same to others through empathy. If we can have the right mindfulness to realize that even as we don’t fit squarely under any label, so too with others…

      Even as all believers in God are not rabid and blind, all atheists are not rabid and blind either. Nothing is black or white. I find the most active area to be the illusory grey tones in-between – what you’ve termed gradient, if I remember right, in your other post.

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  3. Pingback: Love Child | Cloak Unfurled

  4. I seldom comment, but i did a few searching and wound
    up here Forgiveness (written April 24th, 2013) | Cloak Unfurled.
    And I actually do have 2 questions for you if you usually do
    not mind. Could it be only me or does it appear like some of the responses appear like they are written by brain dead
    visitors? 😛 And, if you are posting at other online sites, I’d like
    to follow everything fresh you have to post. Would you list of the complete urls of all your communal
    sites like your linkedin profile, Facebook page or twitter
    feed?

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    1. Thank you for your comment. Unfortunately I do not post anywhere regularly enough to share with you, and do not comment very often anymore on news articles as I find it is not very productive. I prefer to practice my writing on blogs and follow other blogs where people are talking about subjects that interest me.

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  5. I know from experience that to forgive someone of a trespass or grievance is the best way to be able to move on with ones life. This comes from a guy that can hold a grudge as long as anyone. Letting it go is freedom. Hanging on to these hard feelings is too easy to do, but once you truly let it go you grow from the experience.

    That said, I would not any time soon forgive a terrorist of any stripe. There is something beyond criminal about anyone that would stoop so low as to harm/kill/maim innocents for shock value. I do not feel the need for forgiveness for terrorists, nor do I feel the need for growth in that area.

    @ wireless system, anyone that would come here and state that the responses were by the brain dead is a flippin moron. The posts and comments here are some of the best I have seen. If you don’t get it, that might be an area in your life that you may need to investigate.

    For the record I am an atheist myself, but I can sometimes see the wisdom in the posts by self proclaimed x-ians, regardelss of whether or not they share my world view. I cannot say that for all of them I encounter unfortunately. I certainly see nothing here to get worked up about.

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    1. I guess we will agree to disagree on the point of forgiving terrorists. A blog I follow, which I think you might enjoy reading talks about the ethics of terrorism. Moreover I think it’s important to remember how brainwashed and indoctrinated many of the recruits are, while only a few educated and wealthy men sit in positions of power. I suppose I have less sympathy for those people, but even the educated can still be brainwashed into a certain ideology. Perhaps not even so much brainwashed towards religion, but brainwashed towards wealth and power. The Boston Marathon bomber was a couple of youths and very confused ones. My point in this was simply that if you truly believe in the reclamation of one’s own soul than one must believe as fervently in the reclamation of the bomber’s soul as much as your own. Because if we are all sinners and we need to be saved and following Jesus is the path to that salvation then anybody should be able to walk the path. At least according to a Christian.

      From a biological point of view a mind that is capable of evil acts is a sick one. Something is broken in the brain. How does one repair such a sick mind? Is it possible? Well perhaps it’s not, but it does seem that compassion has a better chance to cause healing than vehemence, revenge, and anger. Death is simply not a deterrent to evil acts, so if we truly want to eliminate evil we need to look for solutions that actually reduce the risk of someone committing such acts. Imagine growing up with hopelessness, growing up with anger at seeing loved ones bombed by others (whether their reasons be just or not), not having a school to go to, and if you do, there is no separation of church and state. What kind of person would you be? I think older minds, have all too well forged neural pathways to do much about that doesn’t involve some sort of medical procedure which we don’t have the knowledge for yet…but younger minds can be helped.

      http://theethicsof.com/2013/12/12/the-ethics-of-terrorism/

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      1. 🙂 I have no religious shackles that would hold me to any concern for a terrorists redemption.

        While I get your perspective, I fear that forgiveness for those that have been indoctrinated into the terrorist system would only be judged as a weakness to be exploited. In my view these people are as as equally vile, perhaps even more so, as the KKK, or the Nazi party etc.

        They have probably reached a point of no return as far as becoming redeemable souls religiously or otherwise. I concede that some have the potential to see the err of their ways, and become better people, even speaking out against their former ways. Most however, will die with a gun in their hands, or by a drone strike.

        I certainly do not have any answers that would alleviate this situation, but forgiveness towards people that already see you as a contemptable fool that deserves to die in a way most gruesome will only strengthen that perception.

        I grew up with a bully next door. I was pushed, and punched, and as he was bigger and older I had little I could do about it. When I got older, and grew into a strong young man, I learned the best way to deal with bullies is to punch em in the nose, if that doesn’t stop them, then knock them out cold.

        Terrorists are bullies. Bullies with a religious justification to murder at will anyone who does not share their world view. Punch them in the nose. This is the only response that they will will respect. You, me, and the rest of civilized society is what they would replace with their own.

        If you can reach that young mind, before it has a chance to become entrenched in the terrorist mindset, then by all means let us try to accomplish that. For those that have already crossed the line, I see little hope for, and certainly have little compassion for.

        My situation growing up, has quite likely formed my opinions in this matter. I would suspect the same for you, or anyone else. I came from nothing, with very little hope for a future, but managed to scratch, claw, and occaisionally fight my way to where I am now, whatever the hell that is 🙂 My experiences have become the basis for who I am. As much can be said for all of us.

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        1. Nor do I have any religious shackles either…I was more commenting on how little compassion there is from the Christian which tends to be very Old Testament and not new testament.

          I do not think that violence is the only way to deal with a bully, Gandhi proved that quite effectively. I am talking about big picture changes here and not necessarily one particular individual example. Because there are some bullies who are not alone…they have organizations, money, and power behind them. Meeting them with violence is just a wound that regenerates with 5 more people who hate you now because of the one that you killed.

          The fact that you were able to claw and scrape your way out of hopelessness is impressive, and there are many stories like yours. The world is a big place…but there are many many many more stories like yours that are not like yours. On average, poverty, hopelessness, seeing bloodshed around you, and a lack of education is statistically more likely to lead one into a life of crime, violence, and religious zealotry. That’s a fact.

          I am not saying one should go out and bake a terrorist cookies. But until I have walked the entire path in another man’s shoes I refuse to condemn or judge him. For all you know the only difference between you and someone who grows up as a terrorist is a genetic difference which made you see things one way, and them another and from there nurture compounded the difference into two very different people. All I am saying it is at least fair to get to know a man and understand his path before condemning him to death. The people that pass on death and judgment far too often in this country are the ones, who according to their very own dogma, should know better.

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          1. Ah yes, I see. It is true that many x-ians fail on the basis of their own religions expectations.

            You are correct that there are more ways than viloence to respond to bullies, and Ghandi is a great example.

            I totally get were you are coming from. I see your intent here, and it is good. I realise that there are other ways of dealing with the terrorism problem, and I agree that education, compassion, and the building of bridges is key to working our way out of this situation.

            My attitude is for those that have already made the transition from Joe citizen to full blown, card carrying terrorist. The irredeemable jihadist with no desires other than fulfilling some murderous rampage on unarmed, unwitting, innocents. This is the guy I am talking about. I understand there are many people between this guy that is unreachable and the multitudes that are. I would not lump them all as a cultural group in the same basket.

            I will wager it is a long and bumpy road to get from where we are, to where we would all like to be. 🙂

            …and yes, the very people that claim that supposed high ground (the overtly religious) often fail to demonstrate a fair understanding of their own scriptures.

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            1. I agree with you for sure. The full blown jihadist is usually too far gone and there are regrettably situations where if there was a more non-violent solution for those types of terrorists, then we don’t have it yet. I guess in general I feel like we focus on these short term solutions, but I think we also have to work on wholesale changes in our thinking and attitude towards other people so that over the course of longer periods of time we can take away the motivation and the environment for extremism.

              I do think moral consistency is important and in some ways I feel like this has not been our country’s strong suit when it comes to foreign affairs and I do think it generates a lot of enemies. I think about morality a lot and what makes us think an action is immoral in one circumstance and then not in another. Religion is just the best place to find those people. And holy books like the bible and Koran are full of inconsistencies within the text. Maybe this is why the people who follow them can convince themselves that they are moral even when their behavior suggests otherwise.

              Thank you for this discussion. You are an enjoyable conversationalist. 🙂

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            2. “I think we also have to work on wholesale changes in our thinking and attitude towards other people so that over the course of longer periods of time we can take away the motivation and the environment for extremism.”

              I agree 100% Sadly our world image is one despised by many, and we have a long row to hoe to achieve that goal.

              “an action is immoral in one circumstance and then not in another. Religion is just the best place to find those people.”

              You are preaching to the choir brother. 🙂

              “the bible and Koran are full of inconsistencies within the text. Maybe this is why the people who follow them can convince themselves that they are moral even when their behavior suggests otherwise.”

              Yes, I see that as well. The louder they proclaim their holiness, their morality, the bigger the hypocrite. So much so it is somewhat amusing when we find out that they are philanderers, gay, embezzlers, tax frauds, wife beaters and used car salesmen who roll back the odometers.

              …and thank you for the enlightening conversation.

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