The Personalist Project

The discussion of the problem of "unprincipled forgiveness" being on my mind, everything I read seems to refer back to it, and highlight new aspects of it. Yesterday's Mass readings are an example.

In the First Reading, from Isaiah: "Make justice your aim."

And from the Gospel according to St. Matthew, a passage that member Joan referenced the other day, in response to my post on forgiveness and dysfunction:

Jesus said to his Apostles: "Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth.  I have come to bring not peace but the sword.  For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother...

It reminds me of another passage, from Jeremiah:

They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. 'Peace, peace,' they say, when there is no peace.

Clearly, there is a way of achieving or maintaining peace that is not in accord with the teachings of our faith.  There is a way of "dressing wounds" that makes them fester, rather than heal.

Then, in the Crosby article posted for this month's reading circle, "Karol Wojtyla on Treating Patients as Persons," (Jules' audio intro. coming soon!) I find this passage quoted at the outset:

This problem of the transformation of the individual into a thing occurs everywhere in the realm of social relations.  According to John Paul II it is one of the biggest problems of philosophy—and one of the most serious problems in the modern world.

It is, likewise, the central problem for the Personalist Project.

I claim that "unprincipled forgiveness" is one instance of it.  It is a "social relation" in which the rights and dignity of one are subordinated to the interests of the other, in the name of peace or reconciliation.

Elsewhere, and throughout his body of personalist work, Wojtyla/JP II, makes clear that the post-eden master/slave tension that afflicts all our relations is alleviated by truth.  Josef Pieper, in his classic Leisure the Basis of Culture, as well as his Abuse of Language; Abuse of Power, elaborates the same principle.  Personal subjectivity unfolds in free relation to the objective world.  So do interpersonal relations.  Right relations between persons come from right relation to Reality.

The dysfunctional approach to "forgiveness" sets aside Reality.  "It doesn't matter what happened."  It doesn't matter whether something happened.  It doesn't matter who was responsible.  The thing is to "forgive" and "move on".

There's a great scene (one of many great scenes!) in The Winslow Boy.  After pressing for justice for their son and brother, at great cost of time and money, the father and Kate learn that a committee of authorities has looked into the case and resolved that "in future" parents will notified in advance...

The father says to Kate (I'm paraphrasing from memory): "But what about our case?  Aren't they going to do anything about that?"

Kate: "Apparently not."

Father: "But that's iniquitous!"

Promising to handle things better in future does nothing to address the injustice done in their case.  They decide to keep pressing.

Jules and I were talking about all this over lunch.

We were recalling the story of the two women who came before Solomon, each claiming the baby was hers.  Onlookers had no way of knowing who was telling the truth and who was lying.  How did Solomon find out?  In his great wisdom he recognized: The one who was more interested in the baby was obviously the real mother.  The one who was wanted an "equitable solution" was the fraud.

Let the baby stand for truth.  A person who "makes justice their aim" wants the truth.  A person who pushes for reconciliation apart from truth and justice is "dressing a wound as if it were not serious."

Comments (7)

Tim Cronin

#1, Jul 18, 2012 8:57am

Hi Katie,

In the Constitution article 1 section 9 it states "No Bill of Attainder or ex post facto Law shall be passed." It sounds like in order to avoid the injustice of someone making up a law just to put someone else in jail this article also prevents justice where laws are not already established. Although I haven't seen the Winslow Boy, your post reminded me of this article in the Constitution.


Tim Cronin

#2, Jul 18, 2012 9:07am

It also reminds me, and I'm guilty of this, is looking for a solution for the future but not empathizing in the moment. For instance making a statement like "You can try for another child" when someone just had a miscarriage instead of entering into their pain. I tend to think guys are more likely to fail to empathize and instead seek theoretical solutions...I went to a talk years ago by Phillip Mango about the neurology and pyschology of gender that made some similar points.

Teresa Manidis

#3, Jul 18, 2012 10:27am

I am on a mobile device and must, perforce, be brief.  But I will, yet again, encourage you, Katie, in the strongest sense possible, to keep at this.  Just as great Art and Music transcends us, connecting us to something higher, you have stumbled across an ultimate reality - in fact, Truth - and a truth many (especially in the Christian world) may not yet be comfortable hearing.  To that I say, 'Too bad.'  The 'post-Eden master/slave tension' is ubiquitous, and a Christ-like forgiveness (to which we are all called) is incompatible with it; the latter (virtue) should never be 'forced' to try and perpetuate the former (vice).  I am busting with pride that you've stayed in the ring three, no, four whole rounds with this one, Katie; now, go back to your corner, grab a drink, spit out some teeth as need be, and come back into the ring, swinging

Katie van Schaijik

#4, Jul 18, 2012 10:51am

Teresa, you are tempting me to photoshop--a picture of my face blended with Rocky Balboa's. :)

Truthfully, though, I don't feel battered.  I am glad all this is coming out, and grateful to those who are challenging me and my ideas.  Like Alice von Hildebrand says of herself, "I'm a dialogue person."  I choke on treatises, while "live debate" draws me out.

I agree with you that there is lots to be said that needs saying, and lots more work to be done on the subject.

Jules van Schaijik

#5, Jul 18, 2012 12:14pm

Katie van Schaijik, Jul. 18 at 9:51am

Teresa, you are tempting me to photoshop--a picture of my face blended with Rocky Balboa's. :)

Please remember that if you give in to that temptation, I might end up in jail. And then who is going to pick up your teeth?

Tim Cronin

#6, Jul 18, 2012 1:58pm

By pressuring someone into dropping the quest for justice we are failing to empathize with the victim. By the way I came across this paper on phenomenology and radical empathy. It doesn't tie directly into this thread but I thought others might find it interesting.

Katie van Schaijik

#7, Jul 18, 2012 2:13pm

Tim Cronin, Jul. 18 at 12:58pm

By pressuring someone into dropping the quest for justice we are failing to empathize with the victim. 

Even worse, we can be "siding" with the wrongdoer and adding to the injuries of the victims.

The victims of clerical sexual abuse speak of how the very fact that they were not listened to, not believed, and then pressured to remain silent on the subject added to their victimization.

These are "extreme" cases, but the same pattern can be clearly seen even in cases where the wrong in question is objectively much less serious. 

In the case of the Winslow Boy, he was falsely accused of stealing and expelled from the naval school.  When his family sought a fair trial, in the interests of clearing his name, they were accused of smearing the reputation of the British Navy and "wasting the government's time."  They were not helped, but despised and vilified by many in the wider community.

In the case of the Covenant Communities, and the Legionaires of Christ, critics calling for reform because they had experienced abusive practices found themselves maligned as "bitter", "vindictive", or worse.

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