I was thinking about the idea of forgiveness, and how it seems that there is often a great emphasis placed on having the victim forgive those who have wronged them. There seems to be the feeling that the only person that really gets hurt is the one who does not forgive; and that the anger over the crime, or the desire for recompensement that may not be forthcoming, is like a poison in that person’s mind.
While I believe that fair and reasonable forgiveness is good, when taken to an extreme, this insistency on forgiveness seems to be an unbalanced viewpoint to me. There seems to be a one-sidedness to all of this – it seems that all the pressure is put upon the victim to forgive the offender, thus allowing the offender to get away with everything they did.
This reminds me of how some people view all instances of abortion, even the abortion of a pregnancy caused by rape, to be wrong. In the case of a rape induced pregnancy, the pressure is put on the woman – the victim – to carry the pregnancy to term. Where’s the man, who is in this case the criminal, the offender? It seems that something has been taken from the victim, and now even more is to be taken from them, in the form of having to bear the offender’s child, or in the form of having to forgive the offender.
I cannot help but feel that this somehow seems to encourage the idea that one can do wrongful things to others, and then expect that their victims will be expected to, and even pressured to, forgive them. It seems that the offender has a very unfair advantage over the victim in this context – first, they hurt the victim, and then they get to be forgiven for it, even if they don’t repent of it and at least try to make it up to the ones whom they have wronged. So, in some ways, it seems to amount to letting the offender just get away with everything that they did, all at the expense of the victim.
Somehow, I feel that this stems from a certain perception of the relative worth of the victim and the offender, and also an accompanying complex of underlying values and moral tendencies. For example, some view abortion as being murder, even if the pregnancy was a consequence of rape. So the underlying principle of “thou shalt not kill” seems to take a greater preeminence than the rights, well being, and the pain and suffering of the victim – the woman who was victimized by the man. And all too often in the real world, women are not considered to be as worthy as men. But then again, this same “thou shalt not kill” principle seems to have less preeminence than the right to kill in self defense, or war.
And so it seems that the idea that the victim should unconditionally forgive the offender may show that there is a perception that some kind of societal peace which must be kept, even above the rights of the individual who was victimized. Now, the institutions of law do try to deal with the offenders that are caught, in a more formalized manner (which I tend to see as a form of “institutionalized revenge”). The convicted offender is often forced to recompense the victim, or made to suffer in turn, as punishment. But what about cases where the offender is not caught, and does not want to own up to what they have done, but rather, tries to get away with everything that they have done? Is it really right for the victim to have to forgive the offender? Is it really possible? Can a victim of a serious crime truly forgive the offender who does not repent and justly recompense?
Personally, I tend to think not.
In these extremely deep and complex psychological contexts, it is impossible to just shut off all of the anguish, emotion, and knowledge of having been violated as if one is turning off a light. The impact of the offense remains, often for life. One can try to let it go, and not dwell on it, but it is always there, even if mostly in the subconscious part of the victim’s psyche. Then sometimes something happens which serves to remind the person of the wrong that had been done against them, and the hurt wells back up again, often intensely for a while.
Is it right to expect the victim to have to deal with it, while the offender goes on their merry way, having been forgiven and no longer held responsible for the wrong that they had committed?
I cannot help but think that this is somewhat like forcing a woman who has been raped to bear the child of the offender, and then raise the child herself, all the while making little or no mention of the offender, who in effect would seem to be getting away with it. “Thou shalt not kill”, they say to the woman, while making no mention of the man who raped her. “You’re the one who got pregnant, so it’s your problem, and the man who raped you is out of sight, and therefore out of mind.” The victim, the woman, is thus forced against her will to serve as a vessel by which to propagate the offender’s genetics.
And so the victim is told that they should forgive, and somehow find a way to deal with the hurt and violation that will likely lie dormant in them, to be at times reawakened to haunt them, perhaps for the rest of their lives. In some ways it is like telling the victim, “You are simply going to have to find a way to deal with it, it’s your problem – after all, you are the one who got hurt, not the offender.” All the while the offender is little noted nor long remembered, and is freely getting away with what they did.
Where does the notion of the “relative worth” of the victim versus that of the offender enter this? In the case of rape, the victim is a woman, and, tragically, women are not always seen as being equal to, or “worth as much”, as men. So their rights may be weighed in the balance and found wanting, comparatively speaking. What if the biology of this was reversed, and it was the woman who raped the man, and the man became pregnant? If men are seen as being more valuable than women, would the victim in this case be more valuable, and would this be seen as being a greater overriding factor than the issues of “murder”, and “the life of the unborn”?
What about relative worth of the victim and the offender in the context of forgiveness? Is the victim somehow seen as having been made to be less valuable (and perhaps more of a liability) than the offender who got away with it? In a way, it’s as if something had been taken away from the victim, in effect making them a lesser being; and those around them may feel a burden in their presence, as if something is actually owed to the person that may never be paid. Even if others knew who the offender was, if the offender did not want to repent and recompense, it may be a burden to try to persuade the offender to do so; and the justice system is designed to try to force only those who are “officially caught” by proper authorities to do so.
But what if the victim were a person of very high status? Would there be as much pressure for them to forgive, or are they somehow seen as being “worth more”, and thus more worthy of sympathy and support?
Let’s take this to a higher level. Observe your own internal emotions as you read the following:
Suppose one group of people were attacked by a more powerful group of people, and perhaps even had much of their land taken from them. Then they are asked to forgive, and to find a way to heal from it. Is this fair and right? If they fought against the more powerful people, would it be called wrong? On the other hand, suppose that a powerful group of people were attacked by a less powerful group of people, and they were asked to forgive, and find a way to heal from it. Would this be fair and right? And suppose the more powerful people were to fight against the less powerful people, would you feel that it was wrong?
Is the more powerful group of people somehow more valuable than the less powerful group of people, with greater rights than them? And would they be expected to forgive the less powerful group of people who attacked them, or would they be justified in fighting them?
Would “Might” make “Right”? Who is more “valuable”?
Thus, I feel that forgiveness can be abused, if it is made to serve the offender by enabling them to get away with everything that they have done, and to oppress the victim by leaving them to pick up the broken pieces. And in some ways, while I feel that many of those who try to urge victims to practice forgiveness for their own good are sincere in what they say, there may be others who say this in order to assuage their own guilt over what they themselves may have done against someone…