The Personalist Project

Accessed on February 25, 2020 - 1:48:31

The concept of unprincipled forgiveness

Katie van Schaijik, Jun 27, 2012

An ongoing topic of background meditation for me is the problem of forgiveness, and the way it is badly misunderstood, mis-preached, and mis-applied in Christian circles.  So, I perked up over an item in the Corner today, making a point I have often tried to make myself, though less successfully.  John O'Sullivan quotes a column by Kevin Myers in the Irish Independent, speaking of the bloody "Troubles" in Northern Ireland.

Now contrary to what those creepy moral apologists for the IRA insist, Christian teaching does not demand that one forgives one’s uncontrite assailant as one forgives the repentant ones. The entire sacrament of absolution depends on unconditional repentance and a “firm purpose of amendment”, namely, an intent never to repeat the sin. It is clearly absurd to treat the unrepentant and the repentant equally. To forgive all unconditionally is to indulge an unprincipled sanctimony that liberates offenders from whatever remains of their consciences. Such “forgiveness” — whatever that term may actually mean — thereby makes more murder more possible. Why would anyone cease to kill if the bereaved repeatedly exonerate those who bereave? 

Is this not plainly true?  And yet, I find that that "unprincipled sanctimony" is shockingly widespread among Christians, don't you?  

Myers says more.  He says that so far from helping end a standing wrong, this bogus notion of forgiveness helps perpetuate it.

The Troubles were thus largely an IRA confection, in which the very possibility of "forgiveness", either through corrupt IRA chaplains within the Catholic clergy, or amongst the victims, or by abject historians, must surely have been a vital psychological-enabler throughout.

This is my impression too.  Unprincipled forgiveness—forgiveness that sets aside questions of truth and right—"enables" wrong-doers, further injures victims, and deprives both of the great good of justice.  It mires them and the community around them in dyfunction and unreality.