One of the disturbing aspects of Christianity is that babies are born sinners and need forgiveness right out of the chute. In the eyes of God, the innocent child requires and receives the same forgiveness and pardons as the jailhouse convert. Yet there is no sense of justice if a newborn and murderer can both reach heaven through God’s unconditional absolution, if forgiveness is doled out like little uniform candies in a Pez dispenser, no matter the crime or offense.
It seems to me that the Christian God and his followers exercise poor judgment in forgiving people this way. Indeed I do not think our children should forgive everyone of everything because it encourages them to be doormats and victims. Preachers who counsel battered wives to forgive and endure abusive marriages are not magnanimous Christians but are perpetrators, too, just like the abusers.
Perhaps it is better to teach our children that, when people show us who they are with their words and actions, we should listen. They are telling us what makes them tick, and it’s not personal. If a person causes us harm or hurls insults (Donald Sterling), it stems from a flaw or an insecurity within him or her. If necessary, retribution for crimes or hurts are made through fines, confinement and estrangement.
This idea guides my life. When someone has treated me or others badly, when I see that a person is abusive or unkind, I choose not to have a relationship with him or her. This doesn’t mean that I’ve been reciprocally unkind. On the contrary, I believe in being cordial and keeping the peace. But I do not have to share my time or resources or foster a relationship with anyone—relative, stranger, coworker or neighbor—who would bring dysfunction or cause harm to me or my family.
I try to live so that I don’t need to give or receive forgiveness from myself or anyone else. There is peace this way. There is no anger, no sense of victimization, no need for revenge. It is simply making choices to do the right thing and to surround myself with people who bring no harm or deception. Sure, we all hurt each other sometimes, but small, occasional hurts can be tolerated and fixed.
What does forgiveness mean to you?