In almost any writings on spirituality there will be discussions of the unquestioned correctness of forgiveness. It seems to be a favorite topic of Buddhist, Hindu and Christian religious writing. Multiple quotes are available from each tradition extolling the virtues of forgiving one’s enemy, regardless of the level of atrocities they may have committed.
Actions that damage another in any way will automatically create two offended parties, God and man. Forgiveness can be requested and/or it can be offered spontaneously. Requesting forgiveness is by itself a spiritually enlightening act since it acknowledges a wrongdoing and seeks reconciliation and repair. Forgiveness, however, in the absence of the perpetrator’s acknowledgment offers particular spiritual challenges.
Christianity often associates requests for forgiveness with the act of confession. The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is the metaphor as well as the currency by which man can attain God’s forgiveness. The New Testament is filled with examples of Jesus and the apostles offering forgiveness in the face of their own suffering.
Buddhism and Hindu doctrines understand that forgiveness should be naturally and automatically offered since the law of karma [cause and effect] will deal with any misconduct on the part of the perpetrator of evil. There is a powerful understanding that until forgiveness is offered, the anger and desire to avenge a perceived wrongdoing will, itself, generate bad karma for the original victim. The pair, perpetrator and victim will remain locked in a vicious cycle which is spiritually damaging.
Even Islam seems to offer words from the Koran regarding the value of forgiveness. The exception, of course, is in the defense of the faith. It is not unusual in the history of any of the world’s religions to offer compassion, love, kindness and forgiveness for members of one’s own religion while offering contempt or worse to the nonbeliever. This is one of the greatest examples of rampant tribalism, one that modifies the Golden Rule to serve their purposes.
Judaism insists that forgiveness from wrongful acts committed can be requested from God during Yom Kippur. Forgiveness from others can only be obtained from the individual one has wronged. God does not absolve misconduct between human beings. Man remains responsible for his actions.
Some readers will recall the reaction Buddhist Richard Gere received when he spoke of forgiveness after 9/11. It was not a pretty sight. I, too, have a ‘problem’ with the terminology ‘forgiveness’ when applied to perpetrators of horrific acts of evil.
I, too, believe that we are ultimately all responsible for our actions. Karma will indeed reward or punish through our soul’s understanding of the suffering it inflicted on other beings. I also totally understand how anger and revenge can ensnare our minds and souls, trapping them in a vicious cycle of spiritual degradation.
Perhaps I would feel more comfortable with another term or word in place of forgiveness. To me it suggests a passive acceptance of any act of evil without a strong implication that this is an unacceptable mode of human behavior. It is not in the interest of anyone’s spiritual growth and development to quietly forgive any being who will purposefully and without justification attempt to destroy another being.
Perhaps I can live with the term ‘understanding’ as an alternative to forgiveness’. I can attempt to ‘understand’ the spiritual depravity of someone capable of perpetrating evil. Perhaps I can almost feel sorry for their terribly distorted and disturbed sense of moral behavior. Perhaps I can even feel compassion for the pathetic spiritual state, their debased and terrible misguided sense of right and wrong. But I don’t feel obligated to ‘forgive’ them. That is not my job here. Call me spiritually ‘incorrect’. Offer me some alternative language. I am open to revisit this topic.