An atheist's take on the virtue of forgiveness (2023)


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  • Vol 28 No 15
  • An atheist's take on the virtue of forgiveness


  • Ben Pobjie
  • 03 August 2018


I am not a fan of Christianity. For many years I have been what some might call a 'militant atheist': the type who is far more likely to catalogue the pitfalls of faith than to highlight the benefits. But more and more I am enamoured of one element of Christianity that I consider its most striking, and most laudable, feature: forgiveness.

An atheist's take on the virtue of forgiveness (2)Forgiveness stands out among religious virtues because it one of the most difficult to put into practice, particularly in the terms that Christ put it: love your enemies; turn the other cheek; forgive those who have wronged you. It's also one of the most unfashionable virtues going around, at least in the public discourse, as it's rare to see either Christians or non-Christians urging forgiveness.

This is understandable. In a world full of pain and suffering inflicted by human beings upon other human beings, extending forgiveness to anyone who is seen to have harmed others is hardly a high priority for most people. Compassion for those who have been wronged is more important than compassion for those doing the wronging.

And we are indeed exhorted regularly to show compassion— for refugees, for the poor, for the disabled, for victims of violence and oppression. This is no bad thing — the more compassion the better, and if we can make caring for our fellow humans the rule, we will create a better world.

Compassion is easy. There is no great challenge in opening your heart to those who are suffering, or to anyone you see as an 'ally'. What is difficult, though, is showing compassion for people who aren't on our side. Forgiving our enemies, or doers of horrendous deeds. Who can forgive a murderer? Who can feel compassion for a brute?

It's hard, but many would say that's no problem, as there's no point in trying it anyway. According to one strand of thought — and an eternally popular one — forgiving wrongdoers is a bad idea and will lead to a worse society. If we forgive, goes this thinking, we excuse, and we fail to send the message that what that person has done is wrong.

Why should we forgive? Because Jesus said so — but I don't believe that, of course. The reason I believe we should forgive is that it makes us better. For me, forgiving doesn't mean letting anyone off the hook: criminals can still be punished, people can still be held accountable for words and deeds that hurt other people. But we can punish and inflict consequences, while still leaving open the possibility of forgiveness.

"When we say, I forgive you, we do not say, I don't care what you have done. We say, What you have done is wrong, but that does not mean you are lost forever."

Because I don't believe forgiveness is about making excuses. Rather it is about looking at a person who has done wrong — even reprehensible acts — and saying, this wrong is not the totality of their being. It is about recognising that in every human, no matter how low they sink, humanity remains.

It is about believing that redemption is always possible, that a person never loses the capacity to be better than their worst self. When we say, 'I forgive you', we do not say, 'I don't care what you have done'. We say, 'What you have done is wrong, but that does not mean you are lost forever. I am willing to let you try to do better.'

When we forgive, we relinquish a little of the hate and anger that we all sometimes feel, and we improve our own lives through the affirmation that the world is not irredeemable. We see that world, effectively, through more hopeful, happier eyes.

We also benefit the person we are forgiving: not everyone we forgive will repay us by striving to be a better person, but our forgiveness tells them that at least someone believes they can be. To condemn someone is to tell them there is no point trying: to forgive them is to tell them to not stop trying. All of us have been forgiven for something at some time. We know the good it does us.

But it's still hard. I know it is. I know I fail to live up to my own standards frequently. There are people I struggle to forgive. There are people I still haven't managed to. And there are people, I know, who have been so badly hurt by another that they have sworn never to forgive. I would never demand they forgive the one who hurt them — I would never say they have failed by not extending sympathy to one who extended only pain to them.

All I want is for us, collectively, as a species, to come back to seeing forgiveness as a virtue. I just want us to try. I want us to at least see the benefits of forgiveness, and remain open to the idea that a human, no matter how monstrously they act, remains a human. Whether you hear it from Jesus or a militant atheist, I believe that's worth taking to heart.

An atheist's take on the virtue of forgiveness (3)Ben Pobjie is a writer from Melbourne, whose work has appeared in the Age, Crikey, Meanjin, ABC, SBS and others. He is the author of the books Error Australis and Aussie Aussie Aussie.

Topic tags: Ben Pobjie, atheism, foriveness


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Noble and sentiments, Ben. Is there a better yardstick for forgiveness than Romans 5:8?

John | 03 August 2018

I've read many words about forgiveness, thank you for these thoughtful words Ben. Forgiveness is very much a virtue and, I think, the highest virtue. When we are exhorted to 'love our enemies' it means wanting good for them not necessarily having warm feelings for them. When we attempt to extend forgiveness there's always a hurt, sometimes a hurt so deep that we can't get past that hurt in a conscious way. We can hope to reach a point where the pain is not so raw and the hurt not so present. That's when forgiveness has a chance.

Pam | 03 August 2018

Forgiveness is a gift we give to ourselves when we forgive othersGreat article

James | 03 August 2018

Great piece, Ben. Even from the point of view of mental health it is better to drop resentment than let it gnaw at us. And the alternative of an eye for an eye is a hiding to nowhere. Your article left me wondering about the power a 'morally superior' person can exercise by playing God. My mother believed n a very obedient God who would mete out punishment on her behalf. And wondering about the notion of perfection among Catholics... Had we had the enjoyed the naughty gods and goddesses of Greece and Rome we might have less gibbets on which to hang those who need our forgiveness.

Michael D. Breen | 04 August 2018

thanks, Benis it forgiveness or acceptance (human flaws...etc... that WE also share)?forgiveness feels paternalistichave you read anything on restorative justice/practices? your words touch a lot on the principlesthanks again

phil smith | 06 August 2018

Thanks for raising this question Ben. I have found forgiveness to be the most difficult of Christs teachings, yet. My father in law to be said one night, I wish you were dead. I carried this statement every day for 20 years after my marriage to his daughter. After 20 years of thinking of this daily and my resentment towards him I decided to overcome this preoccupation and went to his grave, I stood there and said out loud, I forgive you Tom for what you said to me so long ago. From that day the preoccupation with his comment has disappeared from my mind and returns only when the subject of forgiveness occurs, such as now. Forgiving for me has provided me with peace.

Kevin | 06 August 2018

Thank you Eureka Street for publishing this story of forgiveness from atheist's perspective - refreshing!

Patricia Langan | 06 August 2018

Gold!This would never have been said two years ago (or published). Times are a changing

Daniel Dominguez | 06 August 2018

Wonderful piece. Such an important topic - for people of all faiths and none. True forgiveness is so hard. For the paedophile? For the paedophile priest? For the priest who did not report forty years ago? As a Christian, I must say 'Yes. Yes. Yes.' Shakespeare writes of ...'the quality of mercy'. Mercy - as I've heard it described 'where love and misery meet' - humanises profoundly both the forgiver and the forgiven. In contemporary film I think of the 2014 film 'Calvary' and the life and - spoiler alert! - death of the priest. And in literature perhaps a more confronting and open-ended exploration of the subject in Cormac McCarthy's difficult book 'Child of God'. Week by week most places of Christian worship offer a 'word of forgiveness'. It is one of the radical, important and potentially life changing moments enacted in public worship.

Fiona Winn | 06 August 2018

There is no greater demonstration of forgiveness than what I have witnessed here in Timor L’Este. Here are a people who were abandoned by the Portuguese, who lost at least one quarter of their population to Indonesian aggression over a period of twenty years with Australia and the US if not actually condoning Indonesia’s takeover and slaughter of civilians in Timor L’Este certainly turning a blind eye to it. Yet the Timorese have a great sense of forgiveness. Much to be admired.

Vince | 06 August 2018

An atheist with Christian anthropology. Reading your article Ben, I found your understanding of the human condition very Christian: we are all capable of evil as well as good; forgiveness does not mean excusing the evil; the evil doer is capable of redemption - he or she has a better self to live up to; forgiveness is difficult but is good for the mental health of the one who forgives too. You might not proclaim Jesus as a faith filled Christian but you have echoed here at least four aspects of Jesus’ teachings in the gospel accounts. As for me as a Christian - I’ll continue to pray the words of the Lord’s Prayer with fervour “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

Ern Azzopardi | 06 August 2018

A most interesting collection of reflections on the complexities of forgiveness is Simon Wiesenthal's The Sunflower, fruit of his experience in a concentration camp when he was begged for forgiveness by a dying Nazi soldier. He walked out without replying, but was haunted by the experience and over years asked 50 or so religious leaders what they would have done, forgive? or not?

Paul | 06 August 2018

Jacques Derrida's essay "On Forgiveness" is worth reading in this context. Derrida says: "There is only forgiveness, if there is any, where there is the unforgivable."

Stephen Torre | 06 August 2018

Atheists are mistakenly always regarded by theists as men and women who are ungodly. A professed atheist, on the other hand, is rather someone whose reasons are reasonable. His/her reasons are not reasonable because God, Moses, Jesus, Mohammed say so, as would be the usual response of most theists. For the atheist, what is good is good because that in itself is good. Perhaps atheists should borrow a leaf from atheists. If they do, Christianity, Judaism, Islam would have a brighter day.

FRANCIS UGHANZE | 06 August 2018

It seems to me that the most forgiving people in our midst are indigenous people. We non-indigenous people have done such awful things to them over the past 250 or so years and, despite a deep sadness, indigenous people are far less bitter than most of us would be in similar situations.

Ady | 06 August 2018

Thank you for your thoughtful article, Ben Pobjie. I agree with your encouragement and I would like to add more weight to your last sentence and give you a reference you might enjoy: Heal Your Heart a little book with 'simple words of wisdom' from Gyuto Monks of Tibet. The emphasis is on understanding that forgiveness is not to do with the other person, but with us releasing our own misery: anger, and attachment to pain and hurt. Now this is difficult to grasp, but once experienced you feel the difference: you are on the path to healing and recovery.

Antonina Bivona | 06 August 2018

Forgiveness or Mercy does not and should not preclude justice ,,one cannot exist without the other. Too much unbalanced mercy or passivity (compassion) is a tyranny just the same as too much severity (justice). The path between them is a tightrope we all must walk, it imvolves the parable of Daniel in the Lions Den. Sometimes we must exercise the scale of forgiveness by using the sword, albeit with a tear in our eye.

Harlot Montague | 06 August 2018

When Jesus spoke about forgiveness we need to remember that he was a Jew under the brutal Roman occupation of Palestine. Traditionally Jewish Law had seen Justice as being in the 'eye for an eye' mode still so prevalent in the Middle East today. The Romans were amongst the most brutal of conquerors: they committed genocide against the Carthaginians and wiped them off the map. This was Jesus' world. He himself was judicially murdered by the Romans in collusion with the local religious authorities. Those responsible probably thought 'Well, that's that'. Jesus actually asked his Father to forgive those who were responsible for his death because they had no idea what they were doing. Jesus' death was not the end of the matter: far from it. Christianity later actually took over and changed the Roman Empire irretrievably. We should probably see this great act of Forgiveness on the Cross as the supreme act of practicing what you preach. Jesus did not call upon his Father to destroy the Romans, the Jewish religious authorities or anyone else. He broke the cycle of revenge and retribution. I guess, if you don't see this supreme act of Forgiveness in its religious and historical context, you miss something.

Edward Fido | 06 August 2018

Excellent point Fido , he effectively demolished an entire Empire over a huge time frame by sacrificing himself without hate . Ferocious stuff.

Harlot Montague | 07 August 2018

Great piece, thanks.

David | 07 August 2018

Harlot Montague's Maileresque remarks seem so cloaked in erudition and pseudonymity that some here may miss their mark. And as if to round off his/her point, s/he finally disgorges a remark that is so profound that it disdains the need to 'earn' redemption altogether. This is surely the point of Christ's forgiveness at the point of death by crucifixion. We are forced therein to abandon the side-taking that is so much part and parcel of conventional morality and instead to become accountable to our own conscience and autonomy and nobody else's dictates. That surely is the point of expiation that forgiveness entails.

Michael Furtado | 07 August 2018

That seems a very solipsistic notion of morality and conscience you're expecting others to subscribe to, Michael.

John | 08 August 2018

Re Furtado , Perhaps the destruction of Empire was a peripheral to JCs ultimate sacrifice, for i suppose an Empire can only exist if it contains enough humans who know nothing of the sort. In our objectivist cult sacrifice is virtually unknown, and the reiified matrix of experience is a thing to be manipulated solely for ones own benefit. To put it bluntly, when was the last time you saw a public leader someone sacrifice themselves for anything or anyone ? Think Barnaby J , Rudd or James Hird.Sacrifice as Sacrament seems an unlikely occurrence in the postmodern sphere, because “it” is all relative to how “I” see it.

Harlot Montague | 08 August 2018

John, I am no champion of possessive individualism, as you well know, so the question of solipsism cannot apply. JC took no one with him to his terrible yet magnificent death and was followed by a handful of stragglers, mainly female and whited-out from the Scriptures for the most part. In the end, each one of us faces death on our own, whether we like it or not, and despite the sentimentality and pathos that surrounds it all. I like well Harlot's use of example, but in their own clumsy ways Barnaby J, Kevin R & Hirdie have paid a noble price for their narcissism. After all, any reading of the Gospels must leave room for interpretations that portray Jesus as so revolutionary as to verge on insanely brave positions, even to the point of being regarded as deranged (Dostoevsky's 'The Brothers Karamazov', for example). Ergo, and despite his eloquent denials, Pobjie is the true believer here!

Michael Furtado | 09 August 2018

Many years ago a religious teacher in discussing compassion said , “ remember every person is doing the best they can”. This has helped me see the person as well as the act. It is a challenge at times, but to date I have not been able to disagree with the statement.

Tom Mutton | 10 August 2018

I spent 8 years in Bougainville 94- 91working with teams conducting restorative justice courses in the villages. These people arranged reconciliation with others who had tortured or murdered relatives and friends during the civil war. Sometimes I asked them how they could do this. A common answer was,"We have to do it to get on with our lives." After I left in '2001 some of the people I worked with in Buin carried a Cross through the villages (followed by hundreds of people) They stopped at each village long enough to call on all unreconciled people to come forward for reconciliation. For Bougainvillians this is a necessary part of their culture.

Pat Howley | 10 August 2018

Well said Ben and I might add that from my perspective you are doing better than many professing Christians. Everything Jesus asks us to do has a reason. You have articulated the reason he asks us to forgive perfectly and you are not alone in finding that difficult so dont stop trying. You are a great example of why I listen to my atheist friends as much as my Christian ones and often question what those definitions really mean in the big picture

geoff Duke | 10 August 2018

Stephen Torre, the atheist Derrida's position is very revealing. Ultimately Derrida is compelled to reduce forgiveness to a form of madness - albeit a madness of which he, a decent human being and an incisive and sincere thinker (though I disagree with him on many points), is obviously in favour. What Derrida qua atheist misses, yet unerringly if unknowingly points to in his resort to madness as an explanation for forgiveness, is the triangular structure of that act. Forgiveness is not merely a linear matter between victim and perpetrator. If that were the case, then forgiveness easily collapses into a utilitarian, or at least (alleged) Aristotelian sentiment: "If I forgive you, I will be a better person for it, and so might you be. So I'll forgive you." That would grossly understate the mercy shown by, say, St Maria Goretti, toward her murderer and would-be rapist Alessandro, in her final seconds of life. Moreover, it fails to explain adequately the oft-observed reality of victims forgiving their perpetrators even after they, the perpetrators, have died. Absolute madness indeed!... unless, contra the atheist contention, there is a God, there is an afterlife, we on earth can with our prayers and offerings mitigate the just punishments due to the dead, and, ultimately, that forgiveness is a triangular (reflecting the Trinity?) interaction, between God who is Love Itself and the victim, on behalf of the perpetrator. Derrida was right: for the atheist, forgiveness–properly conceived–is a form of madness. But for the theist, forgiveness, incredible as it is to behold, is perfectly explicable. Join the dots. (Thanks, Ben P for raising this intriguing issue.)

HH | 14 August 2018

HH illustrates a definitional problem with atheism in Pobjie which he exaggerates by contrasting the forgiveness of Christ and the counter-intuitive 'madness' required to forgive heinous injustice. Religion means a lot more than belief in a Deity. A quintessential aspect of faith is to deal with problems of human life that are significant, persistent, and intolerable. Derrida is accordingly a deconstructionist of Judaic law in order to recover its spirit, especially in regard to acting justly. For him, it is only by adopting such a deconstructive stance that a genuine eschatology is possible. Derridean eschatology implies the awareness of a God that is to come, of a God that is not yet here and that is awaited ardently by His followers. Therein his God, by definition, exceeds our present assumptions and limitations of Him. The Derridean God to come ('a-venir') is an unknown God because He is beyond our present or revealed knowledge of things. Any other God remains entrenched in our present understanding as well as atrophied within Graeco-Roman immanentism. Jesus himself pointed this out in the parable of the thief (Matt 24:42-44). Religion is much more than belief in a Deity, otherwise our faith would lapse into God-Talk.

Dr Michael Furtado | 14 August 2018

Dr F, thanks. I admire your bravery for undertaking a defence of Derridian ideas within the confines of a blog comment. Alas, in a replication of my experience of reading Derrida himself, you lost me after your opening sentence, which I think rather mischaracterises my comment - but what the heck, who am I to say what you or I meant? The next two, truisms, should have triggered me as to the deconstructionist quicksand ahead, but in my foolishness I soldiered on. I reached the end no wiser. I had thought Derrida (and by extension, Mr Pobjie) was saying something quite reasonable and even insightful about forgiveness from his position as an atheist, and merely wished to comment on it as a Christian theist. For all his abstruseness, he’s occasionally said things I find thoughtful. “Flowering in a lonely word” as it were, albeit not often. Apparently I’m hopelessly out of whack, and a pathological exhibit. So there are three things I’ll never understand: your comments, Derrida, and scrum penalties in rugby. But life is short, eh?

HH | 16 August 2018

I must confess I think Ben was trying to make a simple but profound point which we are in danger of collectively missing, because most of us are trying to be too clever. That point was the fact that the Christian virtue of forgiveness can help us individually and collectively towards psychological wholeness. Christians sometimes forget that Jesus was the archetypally whole person. 'Whole' in his case did not mean some artificial church-window-style beaming 'holiness'. He was profoundly real. Many ordinary people have had serious life traumas which they cannot forget and go on reliving. It is not a question of just artificially 'forgiving' the perpetrators. I have seen this happen too often and it just doesn't work. The Christian answer is, I think, to realise that Almighty God forgave the world the terrible enormity of the death of Jesus and restored it. Being forgiven your unwitting part in this crime - which is not something you can just 'do' intellectually - can, ultimately, I believe, lead you to forgive yourself the injury done to you, and, ultimately, perhaps, with God's Grace, the perpetrator. It is a profoundly difficult and not primarily an intellectual journey.

Edward Fido | 16 August 2018

HH, your sleight of hand exculpates you. Indeed, your prior post, distinguishing Derrida's complex work on forgiveness and madness from Jesus's own experience of the same suggests a forced intrusion of a false dichotomy between a forgiveness that is authentically Christian and another that is Derridean. In this regard, Mark's Gospel account portrays Jesus in such heroic terms as to suggest his descent into madness. The eminent Australian Christologist, Gerard O'Collins SJ, appears to take the same view ('Jesus the Martyr', New Blackfriars, August 1975, Vol 56, No. 66, pp 373-375). I hope O'Collins's work is clearer than my own, even if it doesn't disentangle the complexities of scrum penalties for someone who regards Christianity as so special as to deny any possibility of new insights into its ongoing study and continuing eschatology.

Michael Furtado | 16 August 2018

Dr Furtado, I think Derrida must have confused the Christian view of eschatology with Beckett's wishfully conceived one in "Waiting for Godot". I have to say I prefer the Joannine vision of "already-not yet" personified and announced in the incarnation of the Eternal Word, who has a human name and whose liberating entry into history provides us with grounds for real hope in the life to come.

John | 17 August 2018

John, I cannot disagree, though why you should 'read' Derrida and Beckett as any more than modernist (Beckett) and postmodern (Derrida) speculations on the vast and time-honoured Jewish theme of the eschaton beats me. Most Johannine scholars, like Raymond Brown, are quite happy to incorporate both of their ideas in their exegesis, given that the alternative would be to hand over St John's eschatological work to scriptural fundamentalists with necks as narrow as a proverbial vinegar cruet. Isn't it far better to have a difficult Gospel (with St John's other attributed work) kept alive by modern literature and postmodern scholarship, than cede it to those whose depiction of the End Times is the very antithesis of what Catholics teach and believe?

Michael Furtado | 17 August 2018

“forgiving doesn't mean letting anyone off the hook:….we can punish and inflict consequences, while still leaving open the possibility of forgiveness.” A quandary occurs when the offence is extremely grievous. Forgiveness is meant to rehabilitate but how is life imprisonment rehabilitation? To rehabilitate is to trust the offender with living life according to norms which he is free to disregard, which can only occur when the offender is given his freedom. Statements of forgiveness are meaningless when someone remains incarcerated because forgiveness is meant to cost the forgiver. ‘Forgiving’ someone while retaining them in prison doesn’t cost the forgiver: dead skin is sloughed, abandoned, ignored. What if we reframe the philosophy by reversing the process? The purpose of the penal system in major crimes for which penalty is lifelong exile from society becomes, purely and simply, to wreak vengeance, rehabilitation becoming an optional extra. It’s up to the criminal to forgive the platitudinous forgiveness from the victim or his representative. If he doesn’t, who cares? It’s only for his own composure. We care if he cares. If he doesn’t, let him be anathema, turned over, in his isolated purgatory, by his own hand, to the sole care of God.

Roy Chen Yee | 18 August 2018

It is interesting, John, in your last post, with your attempt to get Michael Furtado to reengage in philosophic-theological jousting, you mention Samuel Beckett's superb play 'Waiting for Godot'. Beckett was not a theist, and, even though he had a short academic career at TCD, he would not have thought of himself as an academic type but a writer. Perhaps 'Waiting for Godot' can best be compared with that sadly undervalued play of Graham Greene's 'The Potting Shed', where, unlike in Beckett's work, salvation does come. Whilst Vladimir and Estragon wait on James Callifer is enabled to resurrect his life and move on. I think that is the Christian message in a nutshell. The superb Yorkshire Television production of 1981 starring the late, great Paul Scofield, the tape of which was sadly lost, brought this message home very clearly.

Edward Fido | 19 August 2018

MIchael Furtado. While neither Derrida nor Beckett is a professional theologian, nonetheless their writings do contain theological themes and allusions, one of which is eschatology; in relation to this, the idea of "waiting" is common to the two. Each author is agnostic as to the nature of the awaited one, and neither affirms a manifestation of God in history: a threadbare account of a critical aspect of human experience and potential in comparison with Christ's understanding and testimony.

John | 20 August 2018

John, were it not for the world of writers and philosophers, even those with agnostic or non-Catholic Christian proclivities, e.g. CS Lewis, we would learn less about the Christ we proclaim. After Vatican II I was privileged and delighted to hear Cardinal Agagianian, then Prefect of Propaganda Fidei, addressing Orthodox dignitaries, employ Dostoevsky' allegory of The Grand Inquisitor to emphasise the spiritual renewal inherent in ecumenism. Throughout Dostoevsky’s masterpiece are two faith narratives that battle for the consciousness of Christians, Agagianian observed. The Grand Inquisitor takes the authoritarian view, while Jesus does not speak a word. At the end, Jesus, banished by the Grand Inquisitor, kisses him. While the Grand Inquisitor remains unbudging, in the immortal words of Dostoevsky: "The kiss burns in his heart, but the old man adheres to his idea". Cardinal Agagianian then reflected that Christ's gesture was the kiss of unconditional love and symbolised the Council's pastoral emphasis on the priority of love over authority. Speaking to a rapturous audience, including the celebrated Orthodox Archbishop and theologian, Kallistos Ware, Agagianian proclaimed: "With a single kiss, Jesus Christ shows that his faith is the greatest of all: faith in mankind, and faith in the power of love".

Michael Furtado | 20 August 2018

MF, Our Lord wasn’t the only holy person to be deemed mad or “possessed”. Joan of Arc, John Vianney &c were likewise diagnosed. Our Lord wasn’t mad, or possessed, despite what onlookers and the scribes who came from Jerusalem said of Him. To us sinners or unbelievers, in our darkness, a genuinely holy man might appear mad, as might his acts of forgiveness. In fact Our Lord is the model of total sanity that saints themselves (pre-eminently His Immaculate Mother), to the degree of their sanctity, approach.

HH | 21 August 2018

Michael Furtado, how could I disagree? Writers, philosophers and artists can and often do play a vital role in deepening our appreciation Christ. However, Christ's silence, both before Pilate and in Dostoevsky's brilliant narrative, only makes sense in the context of the words that accompany the actions of his public ministry: he would not have been accused or hauled before secular and religious authorities had his mission been that of a quietist. And when I read the words affirming Jesus's "faith in mankind, and faith in the power of love", I think they require, especially in a secularizing age, the fuller contextuality of a fallen humanity's need for a love that transcends its own unaided capacity for healing, forgiveness and wholeness; namely, the love Christ uniquely effects and enables.

John | 21 August 2018

Beautifully put and unreservedly applauded, HH! Might I respond in the same post to Roy Chen Yee's insightful remarks about those found guilty of heinous crime? One reason for the existence of prison ministry, among whom Peter Norden's exemplary character and witness shines out like a beacon in the wilderness, is the Gospel injunction to counter the 'eye for an eye', 'tooth for a tooth' aspects of retaliatory, 'rot in hell' sentences. Norden, like his eminent Jesuit predecessor at Pentridge, Fr Brosnan, was keenly conscious of the need for prison reform, which once bayed for blood, especially in the case of those found guilty of murder. Perchance, where spirituality intersects with this isn't to abandon the miscreant to the mercy of a wrathful god, but to try and engage with an understanding of amendation, thereby to more insightfully trigger in the miscreant the process of self-forgiveness. This would involve opening him up to restorative justice as well as to trigger in the loved ones of the murdered victim the capacity to forgive. Accounts of such remarkable conversions, leading to reconciliation and forgiveness, are not unknown and constitute an equivalence to the compassion, mercy and forgiveness shown to Maria Goretti's assailant.

Michael Furtado | 21 August 2018

What if your not an athiest but you find forgiveness hard and people think you are atheist because you don’t forgive

Anonymous | 30 August 2019

I liked what you wrote here. For the most part I agree with everything spoken. However, how much humanity an individual still has deep down for me, is debatable. For example pedophiles that are genetically born that way. Psychopaths. Etc....some people cannot be redeemed and are too mentally ill. It’s hard to want to forgive a pedophile because the illness in itself is inhuman. Otherwise I agree 100%.

Draven | 11 February 2020

I’ve been doing a personal philosophical study of forgiveness. I believe when someone doesn’t forgive another, they are perpetually “sinning” against their fellow human; whereas the person who committed the original perceived or real “sin,” however serious it may be, has moved on in some form. In the case whereby the original sinner (and I’m using this term out of convenience) is still open to the unforgiving party— perhaps even willing to try and do better, it is clear that the offended has a serious character flaw. It’s not that the offended has to be a doormat or even hangout with the person against whom they’ve had a grudge; but at they can communicate hope and good will. Additionally, the person who won’t forgive isn’t perfect. But, it is surely the case that they desire forgiveness they themselves would desire the fore given eyes they are unwilling to provide. This once more adds to their character flaws. Thus all in all, no matter what “crime” was committed, the grudge holder is in serous trouble. Of course this is about all I can write in this small space! Gertie

Gertie | 25 April 2020

Hi, I quit being Christian ten years ago. Currently I find that I hate most people. At first I limited my hate to those who had hurt me, but then the hate becomes hard to control and focus, and I end up hating everyone. So now I find it impossible to hold down a job. I have no choice now but to try to stuff the genie of hate back into the bottle, but I can't do it. It occurred to me that the only way I could see myself forgiving people is if I were to go back to believing in God again. If God tells you to do something, you're going to do it. But if I were to go back to being a theist I'd just be back under the thumb of religion again. Besides, I can't make myself believe something that isn't true. I think people invented religion because without it, there's no way to convince people to forgive.

Porgy | 09 December 2020

Humanity can never be forgiven. I see that as a fact. I notice no one ever talks about the topic of children being slaughtered in war. People avoid this topic when talking about forgiveness. That's because forgiveness is ultimately a selfish idea. The damage has already been done, and humanity has no redeeming virtues, for the killing of innocence continues and most people do not care. The crime against children is so heinous, it can never be forgiven and don't think you're off the hook when you knowingly pay taxes for the military. Maybe people need to stop forgiving themselves and live with the fact that they suck. I don't debate what I've said. It is a stance I will go to the grave with.

Jeffriana Cascone | 13 February 2021

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