Monday, March 7, 2011

On Forgiveness

That archetypical dysfunctional family, Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel, explains how evil and then murder came into the world. That myth covers the relationships between self-consciousness, the knowledge of good and evil, shame, humiliation, projection (scapegoating), envy, hate, the desire for revenge, and murder.

Yet it doesn’t cover forgiveness, which breaks what I call the Cycle of Murder and Revenge. That didn’t happen until the New Testament, in the sayings of Jesus. There’s very little forgiveness in that festival of hate, cruelty and slaughter known as the Old Testament.

The dynamic, as I see it, is this: feelings of humiliation/shame lead to the desire for revenge, leading to murder. It’s a cycle, one that societies try to break by the creation of justice systems, so that people don’t seek revenge themselves. Not that they don’t try anyway.

Forgiveness breaks that cycle, stops it in its tracks. If it’s not broken, people end up as Robin Casarjian wrote in her book, Forgiveness, “…[they] get lost in anger, resentment, guilt, and shame… [become] emotionally stuck and disempowered,”

One of the more unfortunate things about the New Testament (and any translation) is its mistranslation. There is an old saying, and it’s a true one: all translators are liars.

The phrase, “You must turn away from your sins” is misleading. It’s better translated, “You must change your heart and mind.” The word used is metanoia, a Greek word meaning a radical transformation of your heart and mind (maybe heart/mind is better).

For that matter, the word “sin” comes from the word hamartia, which comes from archery and means “to miss the mark.” The admonition, “You have sinned greatly” is better translated as “You have missed the mark,” and that translation exists in modern versions of the Bible.

In other words, to forgive actually requires a metanoia. And as we all know, it’s exceedingly difficult. Who can forgive someone who has committed a horrendous crime against your or your own? That’s the problem.

Forgiving something that happens to you personally, especially if it’s really bad, is the hardest, sometimes verging on impossible. The real problem, though, is the desire for revenge on a mass scale.

I use the example of 9-11. Contrary to the delusions of Bush et al the attack wasn’t because we are Good and our attackers were Evil. It was revenge against us for the United States supporting repressive regimes in the Middle East for the last 60 years.

Muslims in the Middle East felt humiliated by the United States and sought revenge on us. Now we’re seeking revenge on them, and we’re been in two wars for longer than we were in World War II. It’s the Cycle of Murder and Revenge.

I don’t exactly forgive our attackers for 9-11. If I had my way, I’d kick every Muslim out of the Western world. But I understand why they did it, which requires cultivating empathy -- which I believe requires imagination. There is no anger in me, just an understanding of why they did what they did - and understanding something is pretty close to forgiving it (“Forgive us out trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us”).

I certainly wouldn’t have attacked Afghanistan and Iraq, leading to the deaths and wounding of thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Afghanis and Iraqis. That’s a lot of dead people for seeking a revenge that won’t work.

Who do I blame these problems upon? More than anything else, the U.S. government, humiliating, abusing and exploiting the weaker countries of the world (try reading John Perkins Confessions of an Economic Hitman sometimes).

Do I hate the government? No. Why? “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Not knowing what they do…World War II was essentially caused by the Treaty of Versailles, and the crushing reparations against Germany (no more guilty in WWI than England) that lead to Germany’s humiliation and the desire for revenge against the victors.

I’ve read estimates that the number of people lost to wars in the 20th Century ranges from 177 million to 200 million. And it not almost all war about feelings of humiliation leading to revenge.

As bad as serial killers are, and rapists, and all the terrible things that people do to people (and it is oh-so-hard to forgive these things when they happen to you) they are but a drop in the ocean compared to the unending wars of mass murder and mass revenge that plague humanity.

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