Is Forgiveness Against Our Nature?
I read a newspaper article recently in which the writer stated that forgiveness is against our nature. It was a small sentence with a profound implication. Is this true, that forgiveness, or at least the capacity to forgive, is not something that is part of us (built-in) as persons?
I read a different newspaper article recently in which the writer was taking a book author to task for suggesting that children forgive more easily than adults. The criticism was coming from one particular conservative Protestant Christian perspective, with the point that we are not born “good” and have to grow into goodness.
Two newspaper articles, at least two views of forgiveness: one that we are born with a tendency not to forgive and the other that we are born with such a tendency.
Of course, as will all large questions like the “nature of man,” which this question addresses, we will find differences of opinion based in part on one’s existing world view. Here are four world views that address this issue of forgiveness and our nature.
First, from the viewpoint of evolutionary biology, we can see where one person would make the claim that forgiveness is not in our best interest because it can make us vulnerable to another’s attack, his or her injustice perpetrated on us for the purpose of dominance. We are then less likely to pass our genes to the next generation as we make ourselves vulnerable to offending others through forgiveness.
Sociobiology, on the other hand, might make the claim that we need to be in community to survive (for the purpose of passing on our genes to the next generation) and so forgiveness aids in the recovery of social harmony following a rift.
From the viewpoint, not of biology, but of theology, as discussed in the above-mentioned newspaper article, there is a third perspective, that of original sin. We are born with a tendency for injustice, not justice and so forgiveness would be foreign to our basic nature as the adults in the community socialize the child for goodness.
A fourth perspective, also from theology, states that we are all made in the image and likeness of God and therefore, despite a tendency to offend (the original sin issue), we nonetheless have a certain divine spark that helps us, innately, to be good at least to a point. The combination of the tendency to offend and to be good exists in this viewpoint.
When we put the four perspectives side-by-side the most subtle conclusion is that we have within our very nature the capacity for perpetrating injustice and the capacity for good. The ultimate burden then, if this is the case, is on the adults in any community. It is so because the adults, in the family, in schools, in places of worship, and other venues where children are present, have the opportunity to bring forth the good every time they interact with a child. This is a strong rationale for forgiveness education, and that rationale is sound regardless of which of the four world views above someone holds.