The Personalist Project

Accessed on July 03, 2022 - 1:40:09

Response to “Forgiveness and Dysfunction”

Michael Healy, Jul 08, 2012

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.