A Critique of the Prologue to PBS’s New Film

In April, a new documentary will be shown on PBS television: “Forgiveness: A Time to Love and a Time to Hate.” This raises a central question: Is there ever a time to hate? Surely there are times when people hate, but should we set aside a time for hating? The subtitle of the film suggests an affirmative answer, but what good has hatred ever delivered to the world? Do those who crafted this title mean, instead, that there is a time to seek justice? This is self-evidently true because justice is a central virtue, perhaps the central virtue according to Plato. The subtitle, then, is muddled in its meaning if the writers confuse hatred and justice.

The film has a “prologue” for viewing. “Forgiveness is elusive,” the narrator says as the opening statement of this prologue, suggesting that we cannot find its core meaning.

“There is no consensus about what it is,” the narrator of the prologue proclaims with firm confidence. A Socratic dialogue would lead us to ask: “Does this imply that the “meaning” of forgiveness has no consensus?” Further, we need to clarify: “Does this mean that the actual differences are centered in the people, who possess ‘differences of opinion’ about what forgiveness is, or is the ‘meaning’ of forgiveness itself relative and ultimately lacking in any true consensus across the globe?”

“However you define forgiveness….” is yet another statement, bringing home the relativist assumption. There are many “opinions” brought forward in the brief prologue. None are examined. The impression, then, is that forgiveness itself is “elusive.”  An issue not even remotely assumed in the prologue is this: Might the problem of a lack of consensus exist in the people themselves, who may not have thought about and experienced forgiveness deeply and over a long period of time? If Socrates assumed his own ignorance at understanding the objective nature of justice, which he did in The Republic, why do not the speakers in the prologue to “Forgiveness: A Time to Love and a Time to Hate” do the same thing? We are in an age in which the individual speaker has the power. Socrates assumed just the opposite.

In our blog post of March 17, 2012 (scroll down to read), we made the point that there are cross-cultural and cross-time meanings of forgiveness that strongly suggest a core meaning to what the narrator calls an “elusive” concept.

In the movie, The Paper Chase, Professor Kingsfield proclaims to his first-year Harvard law students: You come in here with a head full of mush….and you come out thinking like a lawyer. If the prologue is prelude to the rest of this symphony of ideas on forgiveness, we predict this: The viewer who has thought little about forgiveness will come to the film with a head full of mush……and, if he or she absorbs the film’s message without strong rebuttals, will leave with a head full of mush. We shall see.

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