Journal Entry – Sat Dec 12

Even though I know I am not well, I can’t shake the feeling that my willpower (or lack of) is to blame for everything. My head hurts! Sometimes I feel like I have two brains.

Lecture 21: Forgiveness and Redemption

Forgiveness is a response to someone we continue to see as responsible for what they’ve done. Additionally, forgiveness is not necessarily a response to a request for forgiveness.

Perhaps forgiveness is primarily about how we react. This is the view of forgiveness that Jeffrie Murphy, a professor, has defended. Murphy argues that forgiveness is renouncing our resentment on broadly moral grounds.

We can forgive people even if we haven’t fully renounced our resentment toward them. One way of looking at resentment is as a feeling of ill will toward someone. In that case, it doesn’t look like we could forgive them and still resent them.

However, resentment might also be a moral protest that those we care about weren’t treated properly. If that’s what resentment is, then it seems we can forgive while continuing to resent.

Forgiveness is a matter of overcoming ill will. This is the view that we get from Eve Garrard and David McNaughton, who look at ill will as a matter of “wishing harm to someone, relishing the pain and discomfort that they suffer.”

Simply getting rid of ill will isn’t enough, Garrard and McNaughton argue. It also requires cultivating at least some measure of goodwill toward those we forgive. Being disdainful or indifferent to them isn’t ill will, but it would block forgiveness.

From the Buddhist perspective, when another person harms us, the goal is not to overcome ill will. The goal is never to have it in the first place.

Understanding the Dark Side of Human Nature

An important question related to forgiveness: If the wrongdoer demonstrates real contrition, are the people they affected obligated to forgive? 

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus provides an answer: “If your brother sins,” he tells us, “rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him; and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”

On a straightforward reading, it looks like Jesus thinks we must forgive anyone who repents. Additionally, the philosopher Laurence Thomas has defended victims’ idea of having an obligation to forgive wrongdoers who deserve it. This is easier for some people to accept when it comes to minor offenses than for grievous transgressions (like murder).

Professor Kathryn Norlock also notes that placing an obligation on victims to forgive their victimizers, no matter how righteously contrite they might be, runs into other problems associated with gender, race, and social expectation. Traditionally, men have expected women to be forgiving, for instance. For this reason alone, we should be cautious in affirming any obligation on the part of victims to forgive. (I don’t think there should be an obligation to forgive. I have read that forgiveness is more for the person doing the forgiving than the wrongdoer – forgiveness allows you to move on with your life).

Though there can be debate over whether we have an obligation to forgive people who have done such great harm that it qualifies as evil, Thomas’s argument points toward the connection between forgiveness and redemption. For an evildoer to be redeemed—to be morally transformed and brought back into the moral community—it looks like they might need victims to acknowledge their contrition through their forgiveness.

God, in the Christian tradition, forgives human sin and redeems human beings. On this way of thinking, God does not merely forgive us. This way of thinking is associated with the satisfaction theories of atonement. There are several important versions of this theory, but the basic idea behind any satisfaction theory is that through Jesus Christ, God is compensated for human sin.

The 11th-century Christian philosopher Anselm of Canterbury provides an influential satisfaction theory of atonement, often called the debt-cancellation theory. In our sinfulness, Anselm holds that humans have incurred a debt toward God because we owe God obedience and submission.

Until this debt is paid, Anselm contends, we not only deserve to be punished; justice demands that we be punished. Yet humans cannot repay their debt to God because repayment would require living the perfect life of obedience and submission owed to God. As a result, Anselm argues, only Christ, who deserves no punishment, can pay the debt and earn a reward that can then be transferred to human beings.

Anselm’s debt-cancellation theory doesn’t emphasize forgiveness or fully explain why Christ had to suffer and die for our sins. With that in mind, it’s worth considering another satisfaction theory – the penitential substitution theory. This theory goes back to 13th-century philosopher Thomas Aquinas, but the contemporary philosopher Richard Swinburne has recently developed it in interesting ways.

Swinburne points out that when we harm others and then seek forgiveness from them, we do four important things: 

  1. We apologize
  2. Express remorse
  3. Repair the damage we’ve done
  4. Offer penance (in the case of serious wrongs). 

Here, the idea of penance refers to suffering that one voluntarily undergoes or a sacrifice that one freely makes to repair a relationship with another person. Swinburne thinks that we must also apologize, express remorse, repair damage, and offer penance to reconcile ourselves with God. Unfortunately, we can only apologize and express remorse; we cannot repair the damage we’ve done, nor can we offer proper penance, because we owe God a life of perfect obedience. This is a type we all fail to live, given our fallen nature.

However, it would be unfitting for God not to offer us help. As a result, Swinburne argues, God sent Jesus Christ to offer his sinless life and death as willing reparation and penance for the sins of us all. Swineburn’s theory emphasizes the close link between forgiveness and redemption and redemption and penance. To be redeemed is more than just to be forgiven or to offer an apology or even to be righteously contrite; on this model, it requires making up for what we’ve done through a kind of sacrifice.

Moral Redemption: rather than the spiritual redemption that atonement theories deal with. Take, for example, the story of Ahimsaka, whose name means “harmless.”

He started as a good boy but eventually turned to evil deeds – the gathering of fingers, cut off from live people – to obey a teacher’s perverse instructions. Soon he earns the terrible nickname, Angulimala, or “garland of fingers.”

Eventually, the Buddha intervened, presenting himself as a target. Chasing the Buddha with his blade, Angulimala ran as fast as he could, murder flooding his mind, but he could not catch the Buddha, even though the Buddha was only walking. Frustrated and confused, Angulimala shouted at the Buddha to stop. At this, the Buddha turned to his would-be murderer and said, “I have stopped, Angulimala. Why don’t you stop, too?” Angulimala did stop, and he followed the Buddha from that day on.

The villagers did not forgive him. What he had done was too terrible. They hated him and would beat him when they could. The Buddha noted this and told Angulimala that all of this was the consequence of his violence. As such, he needed to endure their hatred and his pain with tranquillity. Angulimala’s story is a story of redemption without forgiveness. As an enlightened being with no ill will to move on from, the Buddha could not forgive Angulimala. The villagers, who were victims, were so outraged by what he had done that they continued to harbour ill will against Angulimala. They did not forgive him, either. Yet he was redeemed, despite his inhuman crimes.

We can read Angulimala’s story as a story about the Buddha’s miraculous powers to save those who seem beyond redemption. Alternatively, we can read it as a story about the power we all have, no matter what we’ve done, to transform ourselves so completely that we are no longer the monsters we once were. This second reading emphasizes our power to change ourselves – our personal power to repurchase ourselves through our own efforts.

Understanding the Dark Side of Human Nature

(Source: The Great Courses – Understanding the Dark SIde of Human Nature)

Three lectures to go then we are done! My rose looks like crap. I’ll show it to you tomorrow. The koalas were easier and more fun to draw!

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