Freedom and Forgiveness

This banner appeared in the latest email from my parish, and it does not stimulate my dormant desire to drink from that fountain of fatuous cliches.  Forgiveness does not set you free.  It renews your commitment to the lying cheat whose lying and cheating you have forgiven.  The true act of freedom is to say “to hell with you.”

This is, incidentally, why we are grateful to God for his forgiveness.  We are grateful because he did not say “to hell with you,” but instead renewed his commitment to the lying cheats whose lying and cheating he had forgiven.

24 thoughts on “Freedom and Forgiveness

  1. Pingback: Freedom and Forgiveness | Reaction Times

  2. Forgiveness does not set you free. It renews your commitment to the lying cheat whose lying and cheating you have forgiven.

    I’m personally not a very good “forgive and forget Christian.” I mean to say I have a very hard time embracing one of the two prerequisites. Namely the “forget” part. My personal motto has been for a long time instead, “forgive but never forget.” I’ll stick by it until someone or other adequately or satisfactorily (to me) sets me straight.

    • Forgetting can mean losing the thirst for revenge or it can mean thinking the crook is no longer crooked. The first kind of forgetting is generally good, the second only foolish. Except in cases of profound repentance, a man who has done X can do X again. That should never be forgotten.

  3. Do they mean that forgiveness is a conscious choice (as opposed to an emotional response outside one’s control) or that forgiving is a liberating activity because it frees the soul from vice of vengefulness? In principle, since I agree with you and Saint Paul that compulsion to sin is a kind of slavery, I must agree with those philosophers and theologians who say that rationality and virtue are a kind of freedom. Sometimes they call it “true freedom” as contrasted with vulgar license, but I’d say both truly are freedom from some sort of compulsion, and the former is preferable not for its authenticity but because that which it is freedom from is genuinely bad. Still, talk about “true freedom” irritates me, because when one redefines “freedom” to mean “rationality” or “virtue”, the language is made a little bit poorer. The libertine’s definition of freedom at least expresses something distinct if not always desirable, and it’s useful to have words for those things. I have long called myself an enemy of freedom with that definition in mind.

  4. I am far from certain they mean anything in particular, but grant that “act of freedom” can be taken as the freedom of the act and the freedom that follows from the act. To answer the hermeneutic question, I look at the image of the woman in green, bounding over the field, and for some reason waving a sort of cape. I ask myself if she appears to running towards someone to grant forgiveness, or away from someone whose misdeeds she has decided to forgive and forget. I think the second interpretation fits the appearances.

    I agree with what you say about overrefined definitions of freedom, which often seen to come round to the claim that I am only free when I am slaving for someone else. I’ve been brooding over a possible post on the popular slogan “none of us are free until all of us are free.” If this proposition is true, I can think of no other property that has the same character. I am even inclined to think that freedom may be relative condition, meaning that I am free only insofar as I enjoy greater liberty than the schlub next door.

  5. I thought forgiveness was pretty foundational to Christianity:

    For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matthew 6:14-15)

    Now I’m not a Christian, just a human, so if you don’t agree with the plain words of Jesus it’s OK with me. I just don’t understand how the version of Christianity being promulgated here is supposed to work.

    It appears that the demands of Christianity are virtually impossible to meet for non-saints. So normal people who call themselves Christians are really following something else, although I’m not sure what it is.

    As a human though I can certainly appreciate what these urgings towards forgiveness are about. It is very difficult forgive, but nursing grudges and plotting revenge is not that great, it would be good to be free of that stuff — in some cases at least. Not that I’m so forgiving.

    • You are right. But if you read the post carefully, you will see that I do not eschew forgiveness. I deny that it sets you free. The corny banner represents forgiveness as “letting go” of anger, whereas I say forgiveness entails a commitment to remain tied to the person you have forgiven.

      • Hi JMSmith,
        When I actually think about forgiveness, I realize that I don’t really understand what it is. You say that forgiveness entails a commitment to remain tied to the person you have forgiven. Is that true? Suppose a friend continuously steals from me, or lies to me, or makes passes at my wife, or betrays me. I know, per Christ’s command, that I must forgive him. But do I have to remain his friend or “remain tied” to him? I wouldn’t think so.
        But then, what does forgiveness mean? Does it simply mean willing the good for the person who has sinned against you? That could be consistent with cutting ties with a person. Except we’re supposed to do that anyway, even for those who haven’t sinned against you, so I’m not sure what would distinguish forgiveness from general love of neighbor.
        So I’m not sure what forgiveness really means.

      • We might say that forgiveness is a resolution to forego revenge and restitution. Revenge and restitution can take a great many forms, but they often include termination of friendly relations. We are most often injured by our friends and family, and so most often seek revenge against, or restitution from, friends and family. I would say that forgiveness of friends and family entails a commitment to continue treating them as friends and family, and thus the risk that they will inflict a second injury.

        We should not think of forgiveness as a mental state, but as a course of action grounded in the will not to take revenge. In most cases this means that you go on as if the person forgiven had not done what he did, in fact, do.

  6. More important than forgiveness is why you forgive. If it’s just to tick a box or conform to an ideology or assume the mantle of personal virtue, it’s actually a bad thing which will curtail true spiritual freedom. If it’s because of a genuinely forgiving heart that also recognises right and wrong and will promote and defend the right, it can release the forgiver from what might otherwise be a self-enclosed state of hatred and anger.

    But clearly this banner is one of the many fatuous attempts to separate God’s mercy from his justice, and his love from his truth.

    • I think it is significant that the woman in the photograph appears to be running away from something. I’m not at all sure how I would express the idea in a photograph, but forgiveness means leaving the anger behind, but not the person who made you angry.

  7. I don’t see anything obviously Christian about that banner at all. It could hang outside a courthouse or a student council building and nobody would bat an eye.

    • The banner is therapeutic. Since the larger culture is therapeutic, the churches skew that way. They provide mass-market therapy for people who can’t afford therapists.

      • Right, I get what this banner is and why it’s there. What I’m objecting to is precisely that this is not Christian. It’s not, necessarily, on the face of it, anti-Christian either, though we can all tell that with what I’ll call an esoteric reading it obviously is. But anything you put up in a Church that isn’t just part of a bulletin board somewhere communicating specific communal concerns should be explicitly Christian.

        We have our own culture, our own art, our own aesthetic, and our own concerns which are not those of the world. We should promote them.

      • You’re right. Unfortunately most of those who haven’t forgotten our aesthetic are ashamed of it. I’m sympathetic to the view that the Puritans are to blame, since they feared beauty in religion as a Papist trick. At the same time, a lot of Catholic art appalls my austere northern sensibility. We must face the fact that most modern Christian art is kitsch. I have no artistic talent myself, and so should probably keep my mouth shut.

  8. I’m not wanting to be overly quibbleable – and I’m on record wanting to consign most notions of freedom to the dumpster fires. But I often – not always – leave confession with some sense of freedom I think. Freedom from the snares of the devil and freedom from the slavery of sin. It was described to me in RCIA that priestly words of absolution “snatch” my soul away from the devil – I’ve always found that comforting and awesome. FWIW I’m also consecrated as a slave to the Immaculate Heart of Mary so freedom isn’t exactly my goalpost!

    • I hadn’t considered that the woman galloping through the grass might be whooping it up because she had just been forgiven. Being forgiven certainly sets one free of guilt and the fear of revenge, but being forgiven isn’t really an act. I think we should all be forgiving, but deny that forgiving people sets us free.

  9. Hi, this is irrelevant to the topic you were posting, but I wanted to know what you are advocating for in relation to patriarchy. I would appreciate a response.

    Father custody
    Coverture
    Women not voting
    Illegal contraception
    Limiting women’s access to university and employment
    Illegal divorce
    Legalised forced sex in marriage and moderate physical chastisement
    Divorce-Adultery

    I think that you call this marriage 1.0, I would like to ask what advantage marriage 1.0 offers women? If women are able to financially support themselves then why would they sell themselves and give up their rights to their husbands for food, shelter and clothing? Did this arrangement not only make sense in an agrarian society rather than a post industrial society where women can financially support themselves? I don’t view matriarchy favourably but I’m not inclined to view this as favourable either.

    • I’m not sure why you expect me to answer admittedly irrelevant questions, or why you have singled me out to defend “marriage 1.0,” but I’ll try to be nicer to you than you are probably being to me. “Patriarchy” is a pejorative term that feminists use to conflate and vilify everything that is not feminism, very much like “capitalism” is a pejorative term that communists use to conflate and vilify everything that is not communism. Such terms are political slogans, and are therefore unsuited to calm and impartial debate.

      If I were to give “patriarchy” a formal definition, it would be that the husband is the “head” of the family. It is possible to advocate this principle and yet disapprove of any number of abuses of male primacy. The best defense of male headship that know has three parts: (1) A democracy of two has no way to break tied votes; (2) the male bond to his children is naturally weaker, but is strengthened by authority; (3) the female personality is, on average, less suited to just exercise of authority. None of this implies that the male is a tyrant or an autocrat.

      I won’t answer all of your questions, but will take a stab at a few of them. Contrary to what the feminists tell you, coverture existed for the protection of women, not their subjugation. Coverture states which male has the responsibility to protect a female when another male attacks her virtue or her assets. Since coverture is not clouded with a sentimental understanding of the female, it understands that protecting a female from attack by other males requires control over the behavior of that female. If I have a legal responsibility to protect you from rape, then I must have a legal right to forbid you to go joyriding with a bunch of boys.

      In my view, the aim of politics should be good policy. It should not be bad policy enacted by a system that is desirable for some other reason, such as fairness or equality. Thus I judge rules of franchise by their policy outcomes, not by the abstract principles with which they are justified. If women’s suffrage had not affected policy outcomes, it would have been superfluous. But it has affected policy outcomes, and I believe in increasingly negative ways. I don’t think female suffrage can be reversed, or that it could have been stopped. All democracies tend to universal franchise and collapse.

      Contraception, university and employment can be bundled into the phenomenon of the sterile spinster. There have always been sterile spinsters, and society has always provided a place for them, but our regime of contraception, university and employment is causing an overproduction of sterile spinsters. Many of these sterile spinsters are unhappy and spiteful, and society is in many cases poorer for want of the children they did not have.

      There is a great deal of territory between what you describe as “legalized forced sex” and what I daresay you might describe as “marital rape.” A decent person can say that there can be no such thing as marital rape, and yet deplore brutal “forced sex” in marriage. But this does raise important questions. The argument that there can be no such thing as marital rape rests on the principle that the marriage vow is a public attestation of permanent consent. Very few husbands take this to mean that their wives must strip down and service them on command. But what is a husband to do if his wife permanently withdraws consent, particularly if she does this early in the marriage?

      My personal philosophy is to stay out of other people’s marriages, and to comment on those marriages only reluctantly and when asked. I know of apparently successful marriages in which the woman “wears the pants,” and I have no inclination to interfere with these arrangements. I know of sterile spinsters who are happy and well-adjusted. I know of women who cast their votes more wisely than I do. But my general observation is that feminism leads to unhappiness and social disfunction, and that society should therefore uphold humane “patriarchy” as the norm.

  10. Pingback: CLXVIII – Anvil Attack of Forgiveness – Times-Dispatch of Vichy Earth

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