I ran across this post on the subject of evil and forgiveness by Dr. Bliss at Maggiesfarm. It was originally posted after the Amish schoolhouse shootings and reposted following the Virginia Tech shootings. In the final two paragraphs Dr. Bliss offers her thoughts on forgiveness:
Remarkable to me, in this story, is the speed with which the Amish speak of forgiveness. It comes too soon for it to be convincing to me, but I know what it is they seek. They seek to have God cleanse their souls of hatred because a soul burdened and contaminated by hate or chronic anger is alienated from God and from one's spiritual community. But at the same time, I suspect (but I don't know any Amish) that they would expect to see this guy executed.
Forgiveness is not a gift to a wrong-doer; it's a blessing which, with God's help, is conferred on ourselves to release us from the burden of hatred and vengefulness. It is difficult and it is not natural: it is supernatural soul-maintenance, like an oil change from above.
I agree with Dr. Bliss up to the point of regarding forgiveness only as a blessing for the wronged party. I believe that forgiveness is for the wrong-doer as much as it is for the wronged party, but the dynamics of the relationship between forgiver and forgiven are complex and do not lend themselves to simple formulations. If you're interested in more of my thoughts on this, I offered this comment in response to Dr. Bliss's post.
While I accept the challenges presented by my own understanding of forgiveness from both a psychoanalytic perspective and a Christian perspective, I was curious to look further at the notion of forgiveness from a non-Christian perspective. I must confess that I have no understanding of how Muslims might look at forgiveness and my awareness of the Jewish outlook is limited.
While looking for more on the subject, I found this piece on interfaith dialogue by Rabbi David Blumenthal. I presume that it was offered in response to attempts by the Roman church to seek the forgiveness of Jews for anti-Semitism and for persecution of Jews by Catholics and the Roman Catholic Church.
At the heart of Rabbi Blumenthal's explication of the Jewish tradition of forgiveness is teshuva, or repentance. He outlines the general rabbinic consensus that teshuva “requires five elements: recognition of one's sins as sins (hakarát ha-chét'), remorse (charatá), desisting from sin (azivát ha-chét'), restitution where possible (peira'ón), and confession (vidúi).” Each of these steps to teshuva is necessary. He goes on to say, with respect to forgiveness proper, “The most basic kind of forgiveness is ‘forgoing the other's indebtedness’ (mechilá). If the offender has done teshuva, and is sincere in his or her repentance, the offended person should offer mechila; that is, the offended person should forgo the debt of the offender, relinquish his or her claim against the offender.” There is, however, one indispensable condition for the granting of mechila: “the offended person is not obliged to offer mechila if the offender is not sincere in his or her repentance and has not taken concrete steps to correct the wrong done.” He adds, “The principle that mechila ought to be granted only if deserved is the great Jewish ‘No’ to easy forgiveness. It is core to the Jewish view of forgiveness, just as desisting from sin is core to the Jewish view of repentance. Without good grounds, the offended person should not forgo the indebtedness of the sinner; otherwise, the sinner may never truly repent and evil will be perpetuated.”
This treatise on the Jewish tradition of forgiveness leaves me thinking about the following statement widely attributed to David Ben-Gurion, who was instrumental in the founding of the modern state of Israel and who was also Israel's first prime minister:
"If I were an Arab leader, I would never sign an agreement with Israel. It is normal; we have taken their country. It is true God promised it to us, but how could that interest them? Our God is not theirs. There has been Anti-Semitism, the Nazis, Hitler, Auschwitz, but was that their fault? They see but one thing: we have come and we have stolen their country. Why would they accept that?"
I don't know anything about Islamic traditions of forgiveness or the Muslim conditions for forgiveness (if there are, indeed, conditions for forgiveness), but I do not see how Israelis and Palestinians could move forward with the tight conditions on forgiveness as outlined by Rabbi Blumenthal. How are Israelis to reconcile themselves to life with Palestinians and Arabs who supported and endorsed suicide bombers, without seeking Jewish forgiveness, experiencing remorse or offering compensation? And, how do Palestinians forgive Jews who do not acknowledge guilt or ask forgiveness for, as David Ben-Gurion is said to have put it, stealing their country?
According to Rabbi Blumenthal, it is for the injured party to decide when and if forgiveness will be granted, but when one does not even admit wrong-doing, how is reconciliation to occur? And when one regards forgiveness as optional as opposed to a moral imperative, on what basis can we hope for generosity on the part of the aggrieved parties, each with their lists of stringent conditions for forgiveness and no moral imperative to forgive?