New user? Register here:
Email Address:
Password:
Retype Password:
First Name:
Last Name:
Existing user? Login here:
 
 
Comment >

Dealing with the f-word

*

THE HIGHLIGHT of Greenbelt for me was the Forgiveness Project, an exhibition of photos, with testimony by people who have been forced by great suffering to think harder about the nature of forgiveness.

 

Eric Lomax meets the Japanese officer who tortured him during the war. Andrew Rice, whose brother died in the World Trade Center , has an encounter with the mother of one of the suicide bombers. “One day I’d like to meet Zacharias Moussaoui. I’d like to say to him: ‘You can hate me as much as you like, but I want you to know that I loved your mother, and I comforted her when she was crying.’”

 

In contrast, Marianne Pearl reflects on how much she continues to hate the murderers who killed her husband Daniel.

 

As secular culture has generally absorbed the concept of forgiveness within the language of therapy and counselling (the confessional being replaced by the psychiatrist’s couch, and all that), we commonly represent forgiveness as something private and internal: we speak of those who have found it “within themselves” to forgive.

 

This understanding of forgiveness begins to look like an impossible change in emotional chemistry. What the stories of the Forgiveness Project show is that forgiveness is not about magically replacing feelings of hatred with feelings of sympathy. Often forgiveness has little to do with how one feels.

 

We often sentimentalise forgiveness in such a way that it becomes something fantastical. This, in turn, provides the perfect alibi for those who want to reject it as impossible. It’s not that I won’t forgive, it’s that I can’t: so goes the thought process that dismisses forgiveness as something practised by people who are patronisingly admired as exceptional. Forgiveness is for the barely credible figures we used to call saints.

 

In contrast, those who practise forgiveness often speak of it as much more like self-interest: a practical strategy for survival. Forgiveness is about not retaliating in kind.

 

Too often, we respond to an offence by replicating it: “If she’s not speaking to me, then I’m not speaking to her.” Forgiveness is a refusal to copy — and thus become a copy of — the abusive other. This conception of forgiveness takes a detour around how one “feels”, and calls a halt

to the repetitive, self-propagating nature of violence, through an act of defiance against the culture of revenge. Forgiveness is a way of stopping a bloody past being endlessly replicated into a hopeless future.

 

The Revd Dr Giles Fraser is Team Rector of Putney, and lecturer in philosophy at Wadham College , Oxford .

Job of the week

Professor of Divinity

London and Home Counties

Gresham CollegeFounded 1597 Gresham Professor of Divinity Gresham College has provided free public lectures for over 400 years in the City of London and now operates worldwide via the internet. Fo...  Read More

Signup for job alerts
Top feature

Finding life over death

Finding life over death

Denise Inge, who died on Easter Day this year, discovered that her home was built over a charnel house. This prompted her to write a book exploring the challenge of living well in the face of mortality  Subscribe to read more

Question of the week
Are foodbanks an effective way of dealing with poverty?

To prevent multiple voting, we now ask readers to be logged in. This is free, quick and easy, honestly. Click here to login or register

Top comment

Fighting inequality and corruption in the world

Efforts are being made to combat corruption and sharp practice in global finance. Peter Selby has seen this at first hand  Subscribe to read more

Tue 25 Nov 14 @ 13:39
Pope Francis addresses Parliament of "aged and weary" Europe - @GavinDrake reports for us from Strasbourg http://t.co/KFpO66E1Ls

Tue 25 Nov 14 @ 10:42
The number of people attending midweek services at cathedrals has doubled in the past 10 years https://t.co/JeApjBGxgb