The Personalist Project

I figured there was no way this response would fit in the 200 word Comment section, so I may as well just do a new post.

(That does not mean I intend to be extra wordy.  Tomorrow I start three intensive summer courses, so I’ll actually have to cut back on my PP responses.  Hopefully, a few will miss me; others no doubt will rejoice!  C’est la vie!) 

First, of course, Katie elaborates on many “good” examples of dysfunctional “forgiveness”—the Penn State mess, the priestly abuse scandals, some approaches of Covenant Communities in the past, the priest’s book (which has been mentioned before), and Nora in A Doll’s House.  I too in both my comments and my posts have agreed with her examples and added more of my own.  Then I keep coming back to the saints and their attitudes growing out of their presence at the foot of the cross.  Now it is quite true that immediate imitation of the saints' heroic behavior is often not to be attempted (and may even be presumptuous), especially by a neophyte (such as Nora). 

Nonetheless, the fundamental vision of reality, the source of the saintly actions, the motivating reasons for their behavior are always to be sought and imitated.  So my first question is, was this treatise written at the foot of the cross?  I still do not sense first going through Christ to get to the other.  Of course, Katie is certainly right that I cannot make final judgments about such things “addressed to his or her unique subjectivity,” but I would be remiss in not sharing my concerns or reservations for her to ponder. 

So consider the core of her argument, stated in the opening 4 paragraphs after her introduction: 

When it comes to the social act of reconciliation (which is the natural aim and consummation of forgiveness), to treat an unrepentant assailant the same way we treat someone who has 1) ceased offending, 2) sincerely repented, and 3) made amends, is not Christlike, but dysfunctional.

To equate a call for justice with a desire for revenge is not Christlike, but dysfunctional.

To disregard the objective reality of a serious wrong done, in the name of restoring peace between persons, is not Christlike, but dysfunctional.

For third parties in a given conflict to exert moral pressure to "forgive" on the one who has (objectively) been wronged without also (and even more fundamentally) calling on the offender to repent his wrong and make amends—in other words showing concern that justice be done—is not Christlike, but dysfunctional, even abusive.

This is quoted in toto, so I’m not quoting out of context.  I also think she reveals her mind later in analyzing some of her examples and I will quote only a few lines here and there, but I do not think unfairly so.  She says, in various contexts: 

I have had "unforgiveness", "hypocrisy", "bitterness", "fascism", “viciousness” and "sickness" imputed to me because I asked for justice and insisted on truth, … 

When I stood up for myself and defended what is mine, I was charged with "causing scandal," of "attacking," and even of "inviting Satan into the neighborhood."

[The] effect is that evil is not taken seriously.  Persons are not taken seriously.  Objective reality is not taken seriously.  Justice is neglected. 

Now my problem with her opening statements and the subsequent quotes is that—I note with chagrin—they all could have been written by either Mr. Hatfield or Mr. McCoy, in defense of their actions against one another.  Go back and read them again and see if it isn’t so.  Neither family started out or saw themselves as guilty of  “unforgiveness, hypocrisy, bitterness, fascism, viciousness, and sickness” (to use Katie’s list), rather they wanted justice and truth—and they were convinced they couldn’t get justice and truth on the other side of the state line.  The killing didn’t end until one side allowed the other to try 9 of their fellows (sending 8 to life imprisonment and hanging the 9th—a half-idiot who was least guilty of them all).  Mr. Hatfield finally seemed to realize what the feud was doing to him and his family and said, “Enough.”  [I don’t claim great expertise as a historian here, but I have read enough articles on the feud to notice the deficiencies in the recent History channel miniseries.  If anyone wants to correct me on the history, fine; but the point remains.]  

After reading “Forgiveness and Dysfunction,” I must confess that my main reaction is fear of you Katie.  Is that what you want? 

A couple of related points: 1) To say that “seeking justice means…establishing the terms and conditions in which real love and real communion can flourish” seems to reverse the priorities, when the Christian gospel is unique in its teaching and emphasis on undeserved mercy.  2) Granted that forgiveness is not merely an act of the will—it should encompass the mind and the heart in a joyful fullness.  Nonetheless, it can certainly begin as an act of the will, can be acted on as a decision of the will—though the heart may only be able to follow along later.  And even the intellect as well: sometimes we don’t begin to understand until we do the right thing (e.g., refusing to use artificial birth control).  So in light of God’s forgiveness of us (undeserved), we can imitate, even if our hearts and minds are going in the opposite direction.  Our feelings and our understanding may only limp home after our will has spoken.  Sometimes we may first just have to take undeserved mercy on faith.

Comments (7)

Teresa Manidis

#1, Jul 8, 2012 11:41pm

Anyone who frequents the Personalist Project knows how often Katie and I are in agreement on topics of importance to us both, and her posts on Forgiveness and Dysfunction are no exception.  I find her insights brilliant.  That being said, I also know your reputation, and have had the honor of hearing you speak in person - you have a clear, yet very creative mind, and your thoughts expressed are never pat.  However, I take exception to - no, rather, I am merely perplexed - by your reaction of fear towards Katie's latest post; I do not see how it follows.  'The world hates an independent woman,' is a phrase that often crosses my lips; and I myself have been called, by others, 'The most dangerous woman I know, in the best possible sense' - both statements meant to imply a rational, thinking woman is (to many) both an anomoly and a powerful force to be reckoned with; but I fail to see how, in this case, it applies to Katie?  Unless you think her theories too radical?  I find them utterly true to life - both mine, and the lives of those around me.  This much Truth cannot be false

Michael Healy

#2, Jul 9, 2012 8:26am

I thought it was pretty clear that my fear was of what happened to the Hatfields and the McCoys under the banner of justice.  It is the "pound of flesh" kind of fear.

Given that Alice von Hildebrand and Ronda Chervin (my undergraduate professor and mentor who got me into philosophy) have been two of the greatest positive inspirations and formative influences in my life, I don't think my problem here is with an "independent woman." I don't think it is on that level.

Katie van Schaijik

#3, Jul 9, 2012 11:47am

Michael, this is bad.

I say that I have experienced in my own life that a call for justice is treated as viciousness and irreligion, and you prove my point by suggesting that I am no different from the murderous Hatfields and McCoys—driven by revenge and returning evil for evil.

You agree that I'm right when I say there is a dyfunctional notion of forgiveness abroad, and grant that my examples of it are true examples.  You agree, too, that we can't know what's going on in another's subjectivity.  But you feel confident enough about what's going on in mine to announce publicly that you fear for my soul.

Here's something I note (with chagrin!):

Everything you press on my attention about the saints and being at the foot of the cross, not only "could have been", but was pressed on Maciel's critics and accusers by the Legion leadership and its defenders.

His victims were telling the truth and asking for justice.

Legionaires expressed their "deep sorrow" and "fraternal concern" over the lamentable state of their critics'souls, insinutating that they were motivated by resentment, while gathering credit to themselves for Christlike suffering in the face of persecution.  Read the letters.

Katie van Schaijik

#4, Jul 9, 2012 12:21pm

Teresa,  I don't suspect Michael of being motivated by fear of independent women.

But still, maybe the issue of gender isn't entirely irrelevant here.  It may be that women are naturally more alive to the particular problem under discussion, which is, at bottom, a problem of domination.

I remember in the case the Covenant communities, it was (not always, but often) the women who "felt first" that something was off.  They raised concerns and alarms, only to find themselves accused of "rebelliosness."  

In his beautiful Letter to Women, John Paul II said this:

I cannot fail to express my admiration for those women of good will who have devoted their lives to defending the dignity of womanhood by fighting for their basic social, economic and political rights, demonstrating courageous initiative at a time when this was considered extremely inappropriate, the sign of a lack of femininity, a manifestation of exhibitionism, and even a sin!

It's not a sin to stand for justice--even justice for ourselves. Depending on circumstances, inward and outward, it may even be a sacred duty.  Women are called to do it in a particular way, because of a post Eden tendency to let ourselves be dominated.

Michael Healy

#5, Jul 9, 2012 1:13pm

Katie, again I agree with many of your points and examples, but on the question of fundamental orientation, I suppose we will just have to agree to disagree.

The Hatfields and the McCoys now are known for revenge and returning evil-for-evil; in hindsight, that's what it appears to be.  I was just pointing out that at the time they were seeking justice.

Appeals to mercy can be part of a false and manipulative cover-up, yes; but there is no more radical call in the Christian universe than the appeal to true mercy.

I apologize if my last response went too far and I will respond no more on the topic.  We have probably beaten it to death anyway!  God bless!

Katie van Schaijik

#6, Jul 9, 2012 1:52pm

God bless you too, Michael.  

There is a truer and more radical sense of justice than the one the Hatfields and McCoys pursued.

I am very grateful for your lively and sincere participation in this debate.  Please don't worry that I take offense.  I know you only mean me good, even if I think you're all wet in your interpretation of my subjectivity. :)

Katie van Schaijik

#7, Jul 9, 2012 2:10pm

Another point:

The Hatfields and McCoys didn't simply call for justice or stand for justice; they appointed themselves to mete it out.

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