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.

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About Star Foster

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


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