Resisting the Cult of Forgiveness

Though I had read about it yesterday, actually hearing Esaw Garner’s response to her husband’s murderer’s “condolences” this morning was downright inspiring. You can hear it (or read it) for yourself. It included choice phrases like “Hell no!” and “No, I don’t accept his apology.”

The top search result for the story:

the top Google search results for Esaw Garner's response  to the "apology" she was given as of 12/4, 10:48AM PST

Thanks to the cult of forgiveness, murdering an unarmed man on camera doesn’t count as “lashing out” or “fury”, but not accepting a lukewarm fauxpology does. Between the ostensibly secular self-help industry and the influence of Christianity, Americans have a society-wide obsession with forgiveness and total disregard for actual atonement.

Back when I was a Muslim, I used to joke that Christianity seemed like an incredibly sweet deal. Now that I’m an atheist, it seems even more appalling. You could be the worst person in the world as long as you started believing in Jesus-as-savior at some point in your life and didn’t go on to renounce the belief. You could even take up the belief at the very last nanosecond of your life and according to many versions of Christianity, you’d still be “saved”. The harm that you did to others somehow wouldn’t matter. Meanwhile, a selfless humanitarian of another faith wouldn’t stand a chance of getting into heaven. Heck, the victim of a “saved” person who isn’t a Christian would go to hell while the person who harmed them would go to heaven.

There are secular, god-excluding iterations of the cult of forgiveness, too. Pop pseudo-“psychology” books urge people to kiss the very hands that have throttled them by forgiving even the unremorseful perpetrators of harm. They take their cues from Protestant Christianity, where faith is cherished as superior to and superseding actions.

Specific examples of the harm caused by forgiveness-pushing abound. Remember Steubenville, where the fates of the rapists were lamented on national television without any care for the victim, despite the fact that the rapists didn’t show remorse until after they had been convicted?

Personally speaking, when I speak of trauma and pain, I hear that I ought to forgive people rather than any expressions of empathy towards me for having been wronged. I have found that not accepting the penitence of the perpetrator of even the most abhorrent actions is an incredible taboo in society. You’re supposed to demonstrate that you are “the bigger person” by saying that you have forgiven everyone for everything bad that they’ve ever done to you.

I’m with Esaw Garner on this. Preventing harm ought to be our priority rather than accepting the too-little-too-late expressions of sad feelz on the part of those who inflict harm.

Resisting the Cult of Forgiveness

12 thoughts on “Resisting the Cult of Forgiveness

  1. 1

    Nothing wrong with forgiveness itself, but too many people use forgiveness as a way to silence victims. My friend Sarah Moon has blogged about the cult of forgiveness used to silence her when she tells her story of abuse.

  2. 2

    Back when I was a Muslim, I used to joke that Christianity seemed like an incredibly sweet deal. Now that I’m an atheist, it seems even more appalling.

    This. Forgiveness must be earned, not demanded. Earning it involves taking responsibility for one’s actions. That includes not avoiding any legal sanctions for one’s crime. Also interesting to note that the same folks who whine about forgiveness are the first to demand merciless, eye-for-eye revenge when one of their own becomes the victim of a crime.

  3. 3

    I have been told that (my) anger is bad, forgiveness is good, and that being angry only hurts me. I didn’t believe it then and I don’t now. Forgiveness is good when someone is honestly remorseful and has done everything they can to make up for the harm. Empty forgiveness, like an empty apology, makes other people feel better without helping me or hurting the one who hurt me.

  4. 4

    Forgiveness is one of the most toxic of Christian teachings. If you do something bad enough, no free pass, no forgiveness, and yes, it will follow you either the rest of your life or until the people you wronged make amends.

    And some things, if you actually were a decent person you just don’t do. The evidence in this case is clear – another pea-brained thug of a cop obviously enjoying some macho posturing while not at risk at all.

  5. 5

    Alice Miller and others in the field of psychology/psychotherapy have longsince pointed out that forgiveness can actually be harmful and subvert a person’s recovery,especially if it is postulated as a precondition for healing, which is is a very authoritarian notion.
    The way Mrs. Garner is treated by the media is similar to how many patients are treated by authoritarian therapists : Her entirely justified pain and rage are treated as flaws or wrongs. She is asked to submit to racism and white supremacy.
    It’s revolting.

  6. 7

    Of course it’s a slightly different topic, but a society overly obsessed with forgiveness would not have capital punishment or prison sentences that technically go way beyond a human life span or an incarceration rate approaching one percent of the population. Any of these is an overt expression of love for the idea of deterrence by punishment or possibly even punishment for revenge.

    Also forgiveness is arguably not a Christian thing in any way. Forgiveness coupled with proportional response is the cornerstone of a range of strategies in the Iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma which are known to be successful in a wide variety of environments. It is plausible that forgiveness (with reasonable self-defense) may be a rational response in many real-life situations that are in some broad sense analogous to the IPD.

    Finally, I do not agree with the notion raised in the article that the media response cited does anything to show that American culture would expect of the killed man’s wife to forgive the policeman. Lashing out at such a request might be viewed as entirely reasonable, even in cases where no criminal charges can be possibly applied (such as after losing a loved one to a car-against-pedestrian accident). In a case like this, it might be a perfectly objective description of an entirely reasonable reaction.

    1. 7.1

      We’re obsessed with forgiveness for awful people who do awful things, but not mercy for the most oppressed by society. The evidence is in this very case: the “justice” system thinks that it was okay that Garner died because he was suspected of a crime and also that it was okay for the cop to kill him over that. As for forgiveness and Christianity, the link is very obvious to me as a never-Christian; non-Christians aren’t as fixated on it. Oh, and yes, people expected her to accept his condolences. Scroll down to the comments section of any of the articles to see for yourself.

  7. 8

    “We’re obsessed with forgiveness for awful people who do awful things”

    Are we, as a society? I think at a minimum this would depend on the type of crime someone committs or is accused of. For some crimes, the emotional reaction of a lot of people in western societies (as well as pretty much everywhere else, of course) is such that I think given a vote many would vote that the perpetrator be locked up for life without ever a possibility of parole, or worse.

    “the “justice” system thinks that it was okay that Garner died because he was suspected of a crime and also that it was okay for the cop to kill him over that.”

    I do not know why the New York grand jury decided not to bring charges against the policeman primarily responsible for the death of Garner. But I do not think it is likely a fair description of their thought processes to say that they thought it was okay for the cop to kill him. It seems more likely to me that they thought that trying to arrest Garner was still possibly reasonable and that they felt that some use of force was also reasonable in the context of executing an arrest against a non-cooperating subject and that the officer could not have foreseen that his actions would cause the victim to die. Why they did not find probable cause to bring charges for excessive use of force, I do not know given the small bits of the relevant video footage that I have seen.

    For wider context, I would also guess that he probably used similar methods in previous arrests hundreds of times before without fatalities. He may therefore have wrongly assumed – not unlike a habitual drunk driver, maybe, who has not yet run over a man – that the risk of causing permanent injury or death to a prisoner when using his methods of making an arrest was essentially nil, when in fact it may have been in the single percent range, for all we know.

    And that, of course, is a much wider problem. It seems questionable to me that a reasonable person would even have arrested Garner for the petty crimes he was accused of instead of just taking evidence and personal information and trying to prosecute him with that. And it seems highly likely that the same kind of excessive use of force has played out hundreds of times before for every case that rises to public attention because someone dies. In terms of consequences, it should be obvious to anyone that the state, given the virtual monopoly it enjoys on the use of force in any civilised society, must be strictly prohibited from using force excessively. In addition and somewhat independently of that issue, everyone must be able to have confidence in being treated equally before the law. Both goals are admittedly hard to fully achieve, but a goal being hard should not stop us from making the best effort possible to achieve it.

    Hence, less than a Cult of Forgiveness the problem that is highlighted by the death of Eric Garner is quite possibly the lacking of a Culture of Proportional Response in place of a Practice of Using Maximum Force.

    “Scroll down to the comments section of any of the articles to see for yourself.”

    I looked at a sample of comments in a sample of articles and I didn’t see many who appeared to be of such inclination.

  8. 9

    The whole forgiveness thing is a scam: it’s social control designed to protect the elites being abusive by convincing the peasants that if they are forgiving in this life they’ll get cookies, milk, and a lexus in the next life. Meanwhile, the elites go to the bank.

  9. 11

    Many Internet Trolls here like Oudeis and Trav Mamone who have totally poo-pooed everything the Author had to say and her point of view, in order to viciously reinforce their own Agenda. It makes one really question your intentions. “Nothing wrong with forgiveness itself”. Everything is wrong with it. Malicious creatures like you just prove it. There is a nefarious agenda sweeping the western world, that involves forcing people to accept utter horse-shit as philosophy. That’s what this article is talking about.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *