Forgiveness versus Hate
For me the only ray of light to emerge from the travesty of the school shooting in Pennsylvania last week was the reaction of the Amish people. It was captured nicely in this article originating from the Christian Science Monitor.
Their faith in the power of forgiveness led them to invite the widow of the non-Amish killer, Charles Carl Roberts IV, to the funeral for four of the slain girls. One Amish woman told a reporter, "It's our Christian love to show to her we have not any grudges against her."
This isn't surprising. It is common for the Amish to invite car drivers who have killed one of their community members to the funeral. Such a compassionate response reveals a belief that each individual is responsible to counter violence by expressing comfort - a sort of prayer in action.
After Monday's killings, the grandfather of one of the slain girls went to the home of Roberts's father, consoling and hugging him, pouring forth a love and innocence of the kind remembered of the girls in the school. "He extended the hope of forgiveness that we all need these days," said a Roberts family spokesman, the Rev. Dwight Lefever of Living Faith Church of God. "God met us in that kitchen."
Here's a crucial point
Like everyone, the Amish also seek justice for a crime, even as they struggle to forgive. Even so, as Abraham Lincoln said, "I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice."
And what is one of the benefits of such thinking?
Such qualities are a corrective to the tendency to see evil as a real possibility and fear of it as necessary.
While Roberts is now gone, the Amish example of forgiveness is a reminder that real safety lies less in acting out of fear to prevent violence and more on qualities such as forgiveness that better connect people. Such compassion reduces fears and reaches those prone to violence.
Which brings us to the response to these events by conservative pundit Jeff Jacoby titled Undeserved forgiveness
How do civilized human beings react to such an atrocity? With horror? Anger? Hatred?
Not the Amish.
So the Amish are criticized for not exhibiting rage and hatred. Mr. Jacoby clearly demosnstrates his lack of understanding when he writes:
To voluntarily forgive those who have hurt you is beautiful and praiseworthy. That is what Jesus did on the cross, what Christians do when they say the Lord's Prayer, what observant Jews do when they recite the bedtime Kriat Sh'ma. But to forgive those who have hurt -- who have murdered -- someone else? I cannot see how the world is made a better place by assuring someone who would do terrible things to others that he will be readily forgiven afterward, even if he shows no remorse.
So clearly Mr. Jacoby prefers hate and rage and makes the case that others should not forgive. One shouldn't be too surprised since it seems to be a staple of the far right who see their view as the only view and use the hate of others to advanced thier political agendas.
But Mr. Jacoby, the far right, and others insistent on elevating their rage, anger, and self-rightousness to such a status that any Christian act of forgiveness is seen as an assault on their right to such rage and an infringement of their victimhood.
But the essential point they don't understand, but the Amish do, is that forgiveness is not the same as justice. One can forgive the acts of the perpetrator, yet insist that he recieve the appropriate punishment as specified by the law. There is no contradiction. One is still insisting on accountability. I think that the act of forgiveness is less about the perpetrator and more about oneself. It does not necessarily reduce the pain of the personal loss that is involved, but it acts a first step in the continuation of one's life. Importantly, it helps one maintain a more positive view of life. It also implicitly sees everyone as part of the same humanity.
Mr Jacoby's view would have us reveling in our hatred, never happy with the amount of punishement meted out, seeing "those people" as useless, evil beings who must be shunned and isolated forever from "us". There is no room for rehabilitation or redemption in his view. He and the rest of the "compassionate conservatives" see humanity as intrinsically evil. Such a nihilist view leads to never ending wars, racism, classism, and authoritarian governments. No wonder Mr. Jacoby is so offended by the Amish. They challange his dismal view of the world.