Sunday, July 3, 2011
Faith and Forgiveness, How Does It Work?
When speaking about religion and faith, one usually thinks of forgiveness being easier for believers. But there may be a much greater difficulty in reality. The difficulty in forgiveness itself exists either way, but it seems to be more difficult in terms of reconciling your own feelings with feelings towards a higher power that is involved with the world and its events, both happy and sad. When good things happen, you thank this power, but when bad things happen, one might lash out not at oneself or others, but at the original source of this suffering, God. Of course, Christians would eventually recover, understanding their own problems and overcoming them in time. When someone initially goes to God and finds God wanting, their anger only exacerbates the problem. If you instead concentrated on the real source of the problem and persevered through the inevitable suffering that results from the world that doesn’t always go how we expect, perhaps personal forgiveness would be easier. When you focus on forgiveness from others instead of forgiveness from yourself, you have your priorities reversed.
Some of the aspects of forgiveness and religion, in terms of theism especially, involves misotheism, or hatred of God, if only temporarily. When you are able to vent at some higher power, one might say you are able to get over the problem better. I’d argue the inverse, though. If you project your anger and frustration towards something that may not even exist or is so beyond human pleas to even care, then those feelings are wasted and misdirected towards what is essentially blameless or insensible. Of course, the contrary could be asserted with a deity that genuinely forgives and loves people even in their broken state. But even if this is the case, it fails to solve the original problem of confronting your own state of discontent.
To reference my Buddhist beliefs, when one has a problem in Buddhism, you don’t look outward first, if at all in some cases. Instead you look inwardly and see how your own thoughts and perspective have disposed you to behave or believe a certain way. With Christianity in particular, there is the sense of projection of your responsibility initially to God and realizing afterwards that you are the problem and God is not in any way affected by your petty mistakes beyond a general separation, what with being “holy” and such. Christianity therefore might be said to put an unnecessary first step into a more basic system that Buddhism presents.
First, do you go to a higher power to console yourself or do you meditate inwardly on the problem, considering both the possibility that you are the problem’s source or that some things just happen even if you did everything you could? If a person you love is hurt emotionally or even physically by your words or actions, there is a responsibility to take upon yourself that doesn’t require God belief in the slightest. The psychological sphere of guilt we all encounter at one point or another is especially pertinent. With guilt by virtue of believing in some original sin nature or even just the belief that you are inferior and imperfect before a sinless savior, Jesus, can make the forgiving process much longer and protracted than it needs to be. Of course forgiveness is difficult with such things as rape on the part of the one forgiving the one who hurt them or drunk driving on the part of the one who is seeking forgiveness as the driver who survived.
There is a strong theme of forgiveness in the Abrahamic tradition, no doubt, and it doesn’t even have to involve the God always in the background of the scriptures, especially in the Old Testament. There is the biblical wisdom to not let the sun go down on your anger, though some might take it too literally and not even sleep until they resolve their problems, which can cause more problems than it solves, if it does at all. Jesus also emphasized forgiving your enemies in the Gospels. Even the notion of God’s forgiveness might be said to have some comforting effect on people, though this creates a difficult standard to meet when you consider the perfection of God and in that way, we have the stereotypical guilt associated with Catholics and rituals of confession and contrition lumped together as creating a complex where you think you can do no right before the righteous judge known as God. With Jewish forgiveness, there seems to be less of a tendency to beg God for forgiveness and instead focus on reconciling oneself to your fellow human for wrongdoings. This is pertinent to my post “Jesus Doesn’t Solve Everything, Especially Sex Scandals” with Anthony Weiner’s Jewish faith in contrast to Albert Mohler Jr.’s Christian faith in terms of forgiveness of one sort or another.
I’m not saying religion is ineffective entirely in the business of forgiveness, but there is a decent argument to put forth that the psychological aspects of it are not so accessible in a religious context, since there is already a leap of sensibility in a person begging forgiveness first from outside themselves. Even if it does make sense to seek forgiveness, one should first seek to forgive oneself for wrongdoing instead of trying to blame and punish yourself as if it will cleanse you of the guilt. In reality, it only seems to reinforce the guilt because of the pain and regret you feel afterwards. You will feel pain and regret for a time; that is undeniable. Rape or drunk driving can both make forgiveness very difficult because of the nature of the parties involved. The first has a surviving party who was violated and feels they cannot trust anyone and the second has a party who has survivor’s guilt, wanting to die in the place of the person who they killed by their senseless decision. Either way, it is important to face up to the harshness of reality instead of facing away and finding consolation in something whose forgiveness is unconditional and thus has no challenge embedded in it at all. With God’s forgiveness, I daresay there is something too easy involved in the process, even if there might be difficulty on the part of the person to beg for forgiveness, but once you get over that hurdle, you’re stuck in a codependent relationship to an entity that is purely independent of you and is just taking your worship with the ease of walking. I could go on for a while longer, probably, but to conclude, forgiveness is a subject that has enough complexities already. Why would you want to involve God in this issue when God is already involved with the explanation for the world? Focus on the human area of forgiveness and you will become a more forgiving person with that practice over time. Until next time, Namaste and aloha.