November 22, 2006

Forgiveness is not permission

In a homily several years ago—in the wake of the abuse scandals and in response to them—I heard a priest give an excellent homily that he ended up summarising in nine words: "sin is in the will; forgiveness is not permission." It's an important message of reconciliation, and even if you're not religious and have no use for the concept of sin, that second part is something anyone can (and should) take to heart. We have this idea that if we forgive someone, it's like saying it was okay to do the thing in the first place. Not so. And that attitude is corrosive; it keeps divisions in place and holds wounds open to fester and burn. It encourages a tit-for-tat race to the bottom, where everybody loses.

I think a really important first step to reducing racial tensions (as well as sectarian tensions, ethnic tensions, social tensions...) is to recognise this basic idea: forgiveness is not permission. If we can forgive someone their past faults and let them try to start from a clean slate—knowing there may be more stumbles yet to come—then we can lead by example and help them to become more tolerant and loving and cosmopolitan, rather than inciting them to anger and to lash out again.

(I originally posted this as a comment to Eric Zorn's musings on the Michael Richards situation, but I liked it and decided to post it here too. :)

"Last time I preached the Word, in Galilee, I spoke in parables. MIS-take!" --Peter Barnes, The ruling class (Jack)

Posted by blahedo at 11:13am on 22 Nov 2006
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