Why I Don’t Believe In Forgiveness

[I wasn't going to publish this since I thought it was inappropriate. But I'm being thrown out today despite making arrangements to move out well before the original deadline. So screw appropriateness.]

I’ve stated before that I don’t believe in the Christian notion of forgiveness. That is not to say that I don’t believe in forgiveness at all, but that I find this Western concept of it as articulated by Christianity, which is pervasive even in Pagan culture, to be immoral and wrong. Somewhere forgiveness became a weapon for the perpetrator of wrongs to use against their victim. I don’t know where this first appeared, but it is evident that Christianity latched onto this hard and fast, and have preached it for at least a millennium.

William Blake: “To annihilate the Self-hood of Deceit and False Forgiveness”

Not so long ago I got an e-mail from a Christian blogger who had done me a wrong. The e-mail was filled with excuses, justifications, explanations of why I was wrong to even consider myself wronged, and how this e-mail was an unnecessary act of generosity on their part. It ended with an “I’m sorry if I offended you.” That notorious IF. As though offense at being wronged was not the emotion I felt at all. I was perhaps mistaken, and instead of being angry at having a private conversation quoted of of context for the “lulz,” I was really just jonesing for nice crisp BLT. It’s easy to confuse those experiences.

I didn’t forgive this person. Still haven’t. All I need from them is a simple “I did something wrong, I won’t do it again, and I am sorry.” That hasn’t happened, and I doubt it ever will. What has happened is that when I didn’t wave the magic wand of forgiveness which allows all asshats to get off scot-free, the person who had wronged me claimed victim status and began heaping insults on me, both privately and in public forums. Merciless, cruel Star, who is too cold and unfeeling to recognize asshats are owed my forgiveness. The Christian notion of forgiveness transforms you from someone who has been significantly wronged, to an emotional miser who refuses to give their wrongdoer all the attention, love, kindness and mercy they feel they deserve. To me this notion is sinister, abusive, and malevolent.

Like any other human being, I sometimes wrong people. I do my best to recognize that wrong and to apologize for it, and make reparations where appropriate. I try not to make excuses for it, but sometimes I fail in that. Self-accountability was the thing that drew me rushing headlong into the arms of Pagan religions, and it still is a foundational principle for me. The things you do have consequences, and I love that. Intent may be everything in magic, but intent has no currency in the real world. If you run over someone’s cat in your car, you have done them a wrong, and you are responsible for the consequences, regardless of whether you were rushing to the hospital or heading to the mall. Your responsibility is your own actions, and maybe the person will forgive you outright, but even if they don’t you still have to give an apology and offer to make reparations.

Recently I was told to move out of someone’s house because I was angry that after I had cooked steak, they ordered pizza. First told to “get your ass out” in a fit of anger, and then soberly several hours later with a deadline attached. In my situation, that could result in homelessness. I can’t assume I’m being given an “empty threat” and risk finding myself on the street. It’s certainly not healthy for me to live where expressing human anger gets me threatened with homelessness. I have been blessed though. I took the instruction to “get out of this house” seriously, good friends offered help, and far quicker than I anticipated I find myself not in a dire circumstance at all. A scary, expensive and heartbreaking one, but not a situation where I have to sleep in a women’s shelter or on the streets. I have the kindness of my friends, and my readers, to thank for that.

Now I am trying to get rid of my belongings, and that hurts. Things I have had since I was a teenager. Religious art prints, statues of my gods, the sofa that made me feel rich, and the tables my mother bought me, which remain the only thing of lasting usefulness I have ever received from her. I am literally shedding all the small comforts I have managed to create for myself, and flying to a strange city to build my life from scratch. And as I am trying to figure this out, while keeping my emotions and anxiety in check, I am expected to create space in which to hold and soothe the feelings of my evictor.

Maybe they didn’t think their actions would have consequences. Maybe they have gotten away with puffing up, bullying, threatening, issuing ultimatums, and making unreasonable demands on a whim before without having any consequences. Maybe they didn’t mean it when they were beating on my bedroom door and yelling at me. I have been reminded that I only have my side of the story. Perhaps the other side that door had someone being compelled at knife point to yell at me. Maybe there is some excuse or explanation I am unaware of. I only have my side of the story, which involves a terrified sobbing woman praying the door doesn’t break down as memories of abuse long past resurface.

I don’t know the other side of the story. I haven’t been given an explanation or an apology. No one has asked to speak to me about it. No one has asked me to stay. A mutual friend, meaning well, has counseled me to kiss and make up. There seems to be some idea that just because I’m being kicked out there is no reason why I shouldn’t still be good friends. That I should join the dinner table and as people talk about their day I should join in and cheerfully recount how I’m begging people to take my furniture. That I should forgive and forget, even though no one seems to think I have anything to forgive, and that I should somehow be apologizing for taking my eviction notice seriously. Very quickly I have gone from someone who paid their share of rent/utilities, who spent close to half her income on communal food in the past month, and who has done her share of cleaning and cooking, to a cold, unfeeling, ungrateful, and unreasonable person whose victim is the person who has evicted her on a whim.

It’s like living with my mother again. Feeling like I should apologize to her for the heat getting shut off in February. Assuming I’m a bad person because there are no groceries this month. At 17 I should know better than to make her angry enough to chase me with a baseball bat. I’m 30 years old, and I’m being evicted because I was angry the food I bought and cooked wasn’t respected, and now I’m again being asked to accept the role of villain.

No, I don’t believe in the Christian concept of forgiveness. I don’t think I owe people who wrong me my time, emotions and good will. Forgiveness starts with an apology and acknowledgement of wrongdoing, and reparations if necessary or possible. I take people at the face value of their actions and words. I don’t spend a lot of time holding hands and talking about feelings. There are a lot of people who take issue with me over that. If I recognize I have wronged you, I do my best to make apologies and reparations without excuses. I don’t ask for forgiveness, because if I have truly wronged you I have no right to ask it, and you have no obligation to give it.

I am Pagan, and I refuse to be judged, bound or compelled to participate in the Christian notion of forgiveness, which is victim-shaming in pretty wrapping.

About Star Foster

Polytheistic Wiccan initiated into the Ravenwood tradition, she has many opinions. Some of them are actually useful.

  • Stephn972

    A Christian woman I got involved with told me it takes her doing a daily act of forgiveness to forgive the wrongs I’ve done to her. What I don’t understand is when do they actually let it go?

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=674870487 Leslie Fish

       IIRC, the original Catholic church insisted that to gain forgiveness a person had to *sincerely* repent their “sin” and perform some *act* of contrition or restitution — in other words, prove their sincerity by taking some action to make things right.  Once the contrition/restitution was done, the incident was over and both sinner and sinned-against could get on with their lives.  Somewhere along the line, forgiveness became a ritual in itself — or even a weapon of moral superiority, which is why they don’t let go.  This corrupts and cheapens the original concept.

      –Leslie < Fish 

      • http://www.humblewonderful.com/ Tony C.

         Indeed,  atonement is a forgotten concept. Yet you can’t obtain forgiveness without atonement.

        It would be crazy to even consider that a Christian slave owner can realise they were wrong to own slaves – sell their slaves and then ask for forgiveness. Yet this is the state that forgiveness has become.

  • Christine

    I loved this as I have been feeling the same way about some situations I have found myself in lately!!!  Others will tell you to let it go, don’t give them your energy.  Well I don’t have to forgive them to not give them my energy.  And I am tired of “doing the right thing” for the people who didn’t bother to “do the right thing” by me.
    Good for you for saying it!

  • Jason.

    Star,

    I agree with you whole heatedly here. You do not owe people your forgiveness if they have done nothing to earn it. Forgiving people with out any sign of them acknowledging their bad behavior just reinforces it, and is no good to anyone. I don’t personally think you need to be difficult about it. They have wronged you, you don’t have to be all nicey nice. I would think it worth while to live up to what ever remains of your past agreements, maintain what is left of the relationship. Even if that relationship is purely business. As much as it is painful this may be an importunity for you to lead by example, be the change you want to see it the world and all that.

    I wish you luck in your great adventure,

    Jason.

  • Robert Mathiesen

    A good post.  You’re quite right about forgiveness and how those who wrong you are not always owed forgiveness.  You were wronged, or so it seems to me, and then wronged again.

  • http://blog.dianarajchel.com Diana Rajchel

    This speaks to me because I have been where you are. The abuse I survived was more subtle, insidious, and cult-like, but the end result was very similar. I can’t count the number of times when I’ve been obviously wronged – and the person who did it refused to apologize. It just happens very regularly. Nothing is more insulting to me than to be told to “forgive and forget” because of that. Yet people feel the need to apologize to me for things I just don’t give a shit about and never will. It’s a bizarre, bizarre thing.

  • http://enondragonart.com/ Kelly NicDruegan

     This is something I have been saying for years… and it’s amazing how
    much effort it can be to explain my views on this to people. 
    Forgiveness is a gift we give to those who have truly earned it.  It is
    NOT an obligation to be demanded of us by those who have screwed us
    over.

    I do NOT need to forgive in order to “move on” with my
    life.  All I need to do is decide the person who wronged me is no longer
    worthy of my time or my energies and walk away. 

    Good luck to you and Morrigan Bless!

    • allauque

      Yes, yes, yes…forgiveness does not go hand-in-hand with moving on! You can let go. Detachment without forgiveness IS possible.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-Carron/100001353268347 David Carron

    The community can judge it’s own.  The process (in Asatru) is called Weregeld.  Basically it’s a civil settlement in making parties whole, so that folks can move on with their lives. 

    Emotional aside: *hugs*  It sounds like you got completely screwed.  Not many Courts would give you less then a month to get out and certainly this sounded less then above board. 

    Best of Luck. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/chrisalgoo Chris Algoo

    At least you got to know for sure that these aren’t people you want to live with, but damn, they picked a really terrible way to go about things. Fuck them. I’m glad your network came through for you.

    Incidentally, another blog I read discussed forgiveness a little while ago and came to the same conclusion – you might find it a good read. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/slacktivist/2012/08/28/perverting-and-inverting-forgiveness/

  • Anon

    “If I recognize I have wronged you, I do my best to make apologies and reparations without excuses. I don’t ask for forgiveness, because if I have truly wronged you I have no right to ask it, and you have no obligation to give it.”

    This is one of the best, most succinct personal statements regarding responsibility I’ve ever read. Well done, and good luck…

  • http://mamadar.wordpress.com/ Mam Adar

    I am very sorry that you find yourself in this insane situation. I hope your move goes well. This post reminded me of a recent post from evangelical blogger Fred Clark, the Slacktivist: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/slacktivist/2012/08/28/perverting-and-inverting-forgiveness/  He has interesting things to say about how forgiveness no longer means the oppressed go free.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1244605457 Robin Lee Horne

    I don’t know where you live, but if you’re anywhere near the Panhandle of West Virginia, I have an extra room in my garage where you could stay.  Olatahe@yahoo.com

  • Tim Dalrymple

    Sorry to hear about the hard times, Star.  That’s terrible.

    On the content, though, I don’t really see anything that differs here from the Christian concept of forgiveness.  Refusing to take responsibility and apologizing “if I offended you” isn’t being Christian, it’s just being an ass.

  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

    Bravo!

    Obviously, I only have one side of the story to go on, but I can’t say I blame you. Their reaction seems excruciatingly ‘overboard’. I’d say that it is a good thing you are out of there. They have shown their ‘true’ self to you. Not a good thing to be around.

    Do not forgive them but, when you get some distance (both in time and in space) forget them. They are obviously not worthy of you, so do not waste the energy on them.

  • Kristen inDallas

    Interesting… a simple “I did something wrong, I won’t do it again, and I am sorry” is actually pretty close to the Catholic understanding of an apology. The “I’m sorry IF you got your feelings hurt” truck doesn’t hold much weight in my cirlces either. I think the basic Christian understanding about forgiveness being essential even if the wrongdoer doesn’t apologize (or offers a lame non-apology) isn’t to let the wrongdoer off the hook. It’s got nothing to do with the wrongdoer at all, in fact I’ve had Christian-themed grief/trauma counciling that encouraged the fogiveness portion to be written down on a paper and then discarded (rather than reconnecting with an abusive person). It’s not about making THEM feel better, it’s about making ME feel better. Forgiveness allows me to stop feeling like a victim and puts me in control of my feelings over a bad situation. It doesn’t have to be said, sometimes it’s appropriate to tell someone you have forgiven them, but a lot of the time it’s not. Sometimes it’s good enough just to tell myself or a close friend – “I forgive that person that hurt me. I don’t think what they did was right, but I see that they are damaged, I see that their actions are more about their own damage than they are about me. I’m letting it go and I’m moving on. I’m going to continue on being the awesome person I know I can be and I’m not going to allow their damage to stay with me or serve as an excuse to inflict my damage onto others”

    Anyway, that’s just my own understanding of it from a Catholic perspective. I don’t know how much of that translates to the protestant understanding of things. I’m sure there are Catholics, and Protestants and Pagans and Atheists, etc that will try to manipulate the idea of forgiveness to get want they want from people (a free pass on their own jerky behavior). I’m not sure that’s an entirely Christian phenomenon though. Some people are just manipulative jerks. I’m sorry (I feel sorrow that) you have to deal with jerks. I hope things get better, and I hope you get a real apology, but in the meantime, I hope you get to live a happy fulfilled life without having to *wait* for one…

    • http://www.themonthebard.org/ Themon the Bard

      I was going to say much the same, Kristen. Forgiveness is not for the person being forgiven. They can go to Hell. Forgiveness is for the person forgiving.

      To “forgive” is similar to “forego” — it is to let go.

      My mother had her mental issues, and one of them was an inability to let go. She still obsessed over the money she believed her first husband had stolen from her, fifty or sixty years before. When she died, I had the responsibility of going through her papers, and I found a letter in her pile of Most Important Documents, where I discovered that the amount he had “stolen” was $600. Over the sixty years she obsessed over that money, that comes to $10/year. 

      THAT is a failure to forgive.

      For some, it becomes a multi-generational thing, full-blown tribal feud.

      Star, you obviously ARE going to forgive the person who did you wrong: it seems clear you’re going to write their name into your Book of Non-Persons, then burn the page and let it blow away in the wind. You won’t be clinging to his event forty years from now, stewing over how they “ruined your life.” At least, I certainly hope you won’t.

      That’s forgiveness. It’s like forgiving a debt. They’ve done you wrong, and THEY owe YOU. But you aren’t going to ruin your life trying to collect the apology they will never give, the money they will never pay, the compensation you will never receive.

      The beneficiary of that forgiveness is you.

      As for the asshats, they can go to any Hell of their own choosing.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Rau.Milmoe Andrew Milmoe

    I’m glad that you did decide to post this after all. If I do something wrong, and I’m *actually* sorry – the _last_ thing I’d ever ask for is forgiveness.  Asking for forgiveness is just trying to get off the hook for consequences you don’t like – but I think that most people have been conditioned to think that’s an actual apology.

  • Esthamarelda

    I have gone through a similar social upheaval and believe me the flames reveal true family and community and burn away the parasites! I agree with your assessment of the Christian notion of forgiveness, which I can only to equate to the ubiquitously patronizing southernisism “bless their heart!”

  • kenneth

    Christian forgiveness does tend to reduce the concept to a sick sort of entitlement program wherein the wronged party is obligated to extend forgiveness in order to appear more Christ-like than thou. This public posturing often runs in tandem with Christianity’s Calvinist instincts, which celebrates retribution and revenge as vigorously as any Satanist. 

    I think there can be a place for forgiveness in a pagan context. If there is a sincere apology and acknowledgment of fault and some real attempt at atonement, I’m usually inclined to forgive. I also consider the overall pattern of behavior of the person and their relation to me. I’ll let a lot of things ride for people who have proven themselves real friends over the long haul. Casual associates or people with some monetary or political angle, not so much. They’re on thinner ice, and they’re going to have to work a bit harder to demonstrate that they’re sorry, not just sorry for getting caught. Of course the bottom rung of the food chain is the corporate non-apology “I’m sorry you were offended.” Those people can shove that up their backside until they choke on it. 

    I know it doesn’t look like it now, but I think this move will be good for you. At the risk of peddling unsolicited advice, I would also urge everyone to avoid at all cost living at someone else’s mercy and sufferance, even “friends.” I know that’s a hell of a lot easier said than done in this economy, but the second you can possibly afford it, you’re always better off living somewhere with a real, enforceable lease or some other contract. 

    Even if it’s the most wretched tiny basement studio apartment or a cot in a boiler room, if it’s under contract, you have a place and rights, including a reasonable notice to vacate. If you’re a house guest or unofficial roommate, you got nothing. You might be doing and paying your fair share or far more, but almost no one in our society feels bound by honor, and certainly not our legal system. You might be paying 50% or 90% of the rent, buying and cooking all the food, serving as the owner’s babysitter, driver, IT person and concubine, but unless you have some agreement in writing, chances are, it’s legal for them to turn you out in a snowstorm for any reason or no reason at all. 

  • MonicaBilongame

    This isn’t the Christian notion of forgiveness at all.  This is someone who is ashamed and knows they have done something they should not have done (if they are indeed christian), and has had their actions shown up, and they don’t like it, so they are projecting their faults onto you so they don’t have to own them.  You know what?  Neither do you!

    The true Christian concept of forgiveness involves responsibility and accountability for oneself; it is humility and recognition of the paucity of one’s ability to live up to the high ideals set by the founder of the religion, not the smug, arrogant, self-righteousness so often seen. And it NEVER blames the victim for the wrongs of the perpetrator.

    This isn’t really about forgiveness though, not really; it’s about how someone can trigger emotions and reactions in you that have their roots in the past, in past relationships.  Get those sorted out and you will be a stronger person and in a better place to withstand the assholes of this world.

    • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

      Whether what you’ve explained is the “true” notion of “Christian forgiveness” or not, I think your dismissal of Star’s very valid concerns, particularly in a time of difficulty, is really inappropriate, and your giving your advice to her (which she hasn’t asked for) based on what you perceive to be the “real” root of her “problems” here in this situation (which is probably not accurate at all) is about as patronizing and uncalled for as telling a drowning person that they should have learned to swim rather than throwing them a lifeline.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=514264967 Bianca Bradley

    Christian forgiveness is about letting the anger go.  Frankly, it’s not a nutty concept.   You can choose to let this eat you inside and get an ulcer, OR, you can let go and let God.  Sometimes the latter is wiser.  Then again, the Christian friend was probably tactfully trying to say, I’m sorry, no idea what your mad at, but I’m sorry for whatever it is.  Human interaction and communication and what makes us tick, being so confounding as it were.

    Not quite sure about the issue your having with your soon to be former roommate.  I really don’t get why, a fight over pizza vs steak even occurred.  Mind you, banging on your door, after said fight is way beyond the pale.  A blessing, hopefully in disguise. 

    Personally I think forgiveness is necessary in lasting relationships.  We are ALL going to do something that is going to make each other mad.  Some of it, may be ridiculous.  None of us are immune from the psycho crazy, that human relationships(lovers, friends, family etc) can have moments of.  However, does the relationship have more good then bad?  Is it worth fighting for?  Is it worth letting go the anger, no matter how justified you feel in being mad?

    Because forgiveness is about being an adult, and letting go.  Yes it can be used as emotional baggage and tools against you.  So can what your writing.  So can the whole self reliance and consequences that your writing.  So can anger, and hurt, which seems to be the key of what you are writing today.  It also sounds like your angry, the mutual friends aren’t choosing.  Should they?  Why or why not?

    • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

      Star has just reported, in the midst of a difficult situation, that she finds a particular ethical concept as articulated by another religion to be inapplicable and unappealing to her own situation.  Rather than having any compassion for her situation, you’re not only telling her she’s wrong about the concept in question (which I don’t think she is, personally), but you’re also shoving it down her throat in explicitly religious terms–”letting go and letting God” is not in the Pagan vocabulary, for the simple reason that you’ve named something that doesn’t exist within Paganism–a singular “God” who lets people off the hook and doesn’t hold them responsible for their wrongs, and who is more mad at someone being mad about a situation than about the actual wrongs done.

      “Being an adult” doesn’t mean letting things go.  If your loved ones were all killed by a murderer, who was caught and said “Gosh, I don’t know what happened,” would you take very well to the advice of “be a grown-up and just let this go” right about then?  I seriously doubt it.

  • Witcherygrove

    Good post Star and if you’ve been wronged and it seems you have, with no apology or reparation then there is no need to forgive if you don’t want. Forgiveness is a gift in the hands of those who have been done wrong and it’s not an automatic right of the perpetrator.  

    I’m sorry but I’ve never brought into the smug christian nonsense of having to forgive a person in order to move on yourself and find peace.  It always surprises me how many pagans carry this notion over with them from other religions when they change spiritual paths as well.

    We all forgive people little things each day, things where insults or transgressions matter less than the person we care about. There are some things though that are harder. A true apology from the perpetrator and trying to recompense for the wrong may facilitate forgiveness but it’s still not a right they can expect.  If neither an apology or reparation is made then no, sorry, I just cut them dead out of my life. I don’t need to forgive them to move on myself, they no longer cease to exist, I leave them for the universe to sort out. 

    It is true that these people then start to feel sorry for themselves as though they are the wronged party and the christians always seem to side with them, saying they should have forgiveness and how it is needed for those wronged as much as those who did the wrong.  Sorry but I stopped being part of a flock of sheep years ago. It’s about taking self responsibility if you do someone wrong, and trying to put it right, not expecting some big father figure in the sky to forgive you your sins as thought you couldn’t help yourself.

  • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

    I’m so sorry to hear of your difficulties, Star, and I wish there were something I could do to help.  I’ve been in similar circumstances, certainly…

    I think you’re completely right, and this kind of nonsense and the expectation of not being held accountable for one’s wrongs (and the fact that some things are just wrong, and not merely another person “feeling offended”) is a bullshit notion that needs to be challenged whenever it arises.

    I hope things aren’t too difficult or stressful in the meantime (I know, tall order…), and that everything goes as well as possible in removing yourself from this horrible situation.

  • Dr Giggles.

    Oh fuck this ass kissing.  You made a steak and got thrown out of a home?  I’m feeling you left something out. Maybe you are a shitty cook…did that ever come up?  Maybe they needed the space you took up for two small roommates…or a quartet of singing midgets.  

    I’m sorry for every ungreased door you had to walk throughI also feel sorry you represent any part of the pagan community, we’re so much more than a self-diagnosed autistic drama-queen with a fetish for bacon and pink.

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

       Interesting spin you have, there.

      The ‘Pagan community’ is more than one person, yes. Doesn’t mean that she isn’t representative of at least part of it, though.

    • Soliwo

       Gods. What the hell is this? This response exhumes more drama than anything.

  • Surfgurl123

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AEOpX8tmiUI   All I hear when reading this….

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Lamyka-L/649965363 Lamyka L.

    It’s good that Star left in the asshat comments as well so people can actually get a tiny taste of what she has to sift through every single day just to do what she does here.

    Putting amazing content and writers together for all of us in the community to enjoy doesn’t just magically appear. IT’S HARD WORK. Maybe if more people read this post and the open comments here they’d realize how much work and just plain sh*t gets put at the feet of any Pagan who wants to be a leader.

  • DonnaB

    I have noticed that when people talk about forgiveness, they are talking about two separate things and calling them both “forgiveness”.

    First is the obvious.  One person wrongs another, and they can not continue to have a reciprocal, functioning relationship unless the wrong is addressed.  The wrongdoer literally owes their victim a social debt, and the account must be brought back to good standing before any future social transactions can take place.  If the person who committed the offence appropriately apologizes and makes amends, the person who has been wronged can choose to accept the apology and clear the slate, the debt of the offence has been paid and the relationship can continue in a functional way.  This is the very basic level of Justice, and every human relationship has gone through this process to some degree.

    The other I don’t think is really “forgiveness” at all, but we’re so used to calling it so that people are not always able to separate it from real forgiveness.    One person wrongs another, and the victim is dealing with the emotional trauma of the wrong done to them.  They are justifiably angry, hurt, perhaps even afraid, irrespective of whether the social customs of forgiveness have been observed.  Emotions are not accounts that can be tallied and balanced.  Emotions have to be processed and dealt with and healed, and it is a messy, difficult, even irrational (in the sense that it has little to do with left-brain logic and reasoning) process.  Emotional wounds can be compared to physical wounds; they bleed, scab over, they can become infected or scar, and the healing process will take time.  If someone physically wounds you, those wounds will or will not heal, and whether or not the attacker is sorry has little to do with it.  Yet we don’t seem to be able to treat emotional wounds the same way.  When people confuse emotional healing with forgiveness they compound the injury by blaming the victim for not healing quickly enough.  “Letting go” is not the same as being healed, and while we would never say to someone who has a broken leg or gaping knife wound to “let it go” and “move on”, we seem to have no trouble telling someone that their emotional wounds are a burden to the person who inflicted them.

    If no apologies have been offered, then the social debt is not paid and forgiveness cannot be granted.  Your wounds will heal, hopefully, with time.  And the two processes have little to do with each other.  

    Star, all the best to you, I hope this new chapter in your life will be a great one.

    • MortalCrow

      Thank you, that is exactly what I was talking about in my comment but you articulated much better. (In my defense, I am at work)

    • http://www.themonthebard.org/ Themon the Bard

      An excellent clarification.

      I don’t use the word “forgive” much, myself, because it’s so freighted with this kind of thing. So for my own clarity, I go back to the use of the word as it would be used in a financial sense, as in “to forgive a debt.”

      The balance (justice) you describe simply involves paying back the debt. There is no forgiveness involved, only haggling over the interest and penalties owed (e.g. has there been enough groveling in the apology?) In the financial sense, the interest and penalties are generally laid out up-front, while in the emotional sense, the offended party generally gets to make up the terms after the fact, which can often turn into an offense in its own right, requiring an endless regress of offenses and apologies. That can die down over time, or it can escalate, but at no point is anyone “forgiving” anything at all. Everyone is demanding their due.

      To “forgive a debt” is unilateral. The owed party simply relinquishes the claim. The other party is free to pay it back, or not pay it back, but the obligation is gone. Whether that breaks an ongoing relationship is an entirely independent matter. How anyone feels about it is also a different matter. When you declare bankruptcy, your credit card debt is forgiven. That doesn’t mean the bank is going to turn around and give you a new card like nothing ever happened. It doesn’t mean they’re going to like you. It only means that you don’t owe them any more money.

      In Star’s situation, I was viewing it in this sense — she can seek justice, possibly by legal action (if she thinks she has a case,) all the way through personal vendetta. Or she can move on. 

      How she feels about it is, indeed, a different matter. That’s the common, messed-up meaning of “forgiveness,” and I’m not sure I believe in that any more than Star does. I don’t like living with churned feelings, so I work at letting go of emotional offenses, but it’s a lot of work. I don’t do it to be nice to the other person — in many cases, they’re already dead to me. I do it for me.

      When I got specifically set up to fail by an employer — it was a twisted situation — it took me about six years to “get over it.” In the first two or three years, you could not say the CEO’s name in my presence without eliciting a stream of profanity from me. Now — meh. You can’t rush that — every person heals at their own rate. Like a broken leg. And it leaves scars.

      But I “forgave” the CEO the day I handed in two copies of my letter of resignation, one to the CEO, one to the head of HR, and walked out the door, so angry that I called HR to meet on a Saturday so that I did not have to face the CEO — I didn’t trust my capacity for restraint. Did I have a legal case against the CEO and the company? I don’t know. Could I have done the company some real dirt? Absolutely. I never pursued either course. I “let go.” 

  • Katie

     This is a topic that I’ve been very much struggling with for the last month or so. I was told that I was in the wrong because the other party was ‘hurting’ and therefore apparently completely incapable of controlling their actions- the consequences of which I’m now looking at dealing with for months, if not years. I was told that I would be a more ‘mature’ person if I just let it go and move on. I was told that I lacked ‘perspective’.

    What I finally decided was that it’s my right to do none of those things. That a person’s story doesn’t give them a right to destroy me and mine, and that I have a right to draw a line in the sand and say no, what you did is beyond the scope of my ability to forgive. It was actually one of the hardest thought processes that I’ve ever had to make; the idea of forgiving almost everything and letting go was pretty soidly in the center of my ethics. I certainly don’t dwell on the situation and I very much much want to keep moving forward- but that’s a whole different situation from saying that I forgive the person.

    For what it’s worth, if you end up in Buffalo ever I can at least feed you.

  • MortalCrow

    I am glad to see others who feel like I do about this. I am a very easy-going person but if someone does me wrong, intentionally or not, I do not feel that I should forgive them unless they make some effort to either appoligize or make it right. It is not that I hold onto anger over it, that is something different. A lot of people confuse that. You do not have the right to demand forgiveness. You can ask. And if it is sincere, I will forgive.
    I think you have every right to be angry and not forgive. I’m sure that the anger will fade at some point but that does not mean forgiving bad behavior.
    I hope that you new home will be better than the last and you prosper there. Good luck. From one Star to another,
    Star (aka. Mortal Crow)

  • Josh

    As a longtime reader of your blog, I’m sorry to hear of the difficulties that you’re going through – but glad to know that you have both an escape plan and the assistance of close friends!  I’m curious if there are any doctrines/teachings/maxims/guidelines within the various Paganisms that address how to respond in such situations?  Sometimes, negative circumstances such as these can provide powerful opportunities for spiritual practice….

  • aidanakelly

    Star, I’m so sorry. But, yes, clearly it’s better to have those people out of your life. “The Gods draw sraight with crooked lines.” I know lots of good people in the Twin Cities.

    Maybe I have or haven’t mentioned I have many years of sobriety. In the Steps, after you become willing to make amends to all whom you have harmed, you do so, if possible. The harmed person does not have to accept your apology or amends. But if you don’t try, you cannot straighten out the stinkin’ thinkin’ that is alcoholism, and you will probably die drunk or commit some other form of long drawn-out suicide. So that’s what those asses are facing. 

  • PegAloi

    I am so sorry you have gone through this. I also appreciate your very thoughtful statements on forgiveness and why it is such a problematic concept. You’re handling everything with grace and courage. It’s hard to believe this all occurred as a result of on argument over a dinner but obviously there are some other issues this person has with you and they’re using this one event as an excuse to f*ck you over. It sucks when others have this kind of financial/territorial power over us, as it sounds like you are at a disadvantage in the situation.

    I’ve been through similar difficulty over the last few months in terms of people who have really f*cked me over, and then somehow find it appropriate to make me the “bad guy” for not “forgiving” them. Meanwhile, they have never bothered to apologize for their bad behavior. They don’t get why we aren’t “friends” anymore. Because friends don’t f*ck their friends over and fail to apologize for it.


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