The New Criticism of Forgiving: It Places the Burden of Healing on the Victim
We are once again addressing a criticism of forgiveness that is showing up now more frequently than we would have predicted. The criticism might discourage some people from forgiving and so we need to address it because we think it does not hold up upon careful scrutiny.
A post on person-to-person forgiving appeared on the Salon.com website on Sunday, August 23, 2015. One commentator, with a lengthy response, had this (in part) to say:
“People are waking up to the cruelty of promoting forgiveness, just as they are waking up to the cruelty of promoting ‘prosperity consciousness’. In both cases, a burden is placed on the victims to fix themselves rather than fix the injustices of society. People are told they won’t ‘heal’ unless they forgive. That is a lie.”
Let us make four points regarding the above quotation:
1) Forgiveness is a choice and therefore it is not “promoted” by mental health professionals. We have to distinguish between the rhetoric of news media and genuine attempts to help.
2) Because forgiveness is not “promoted,” mental health professionals, who understand this, are not being cruel.
3) The notion of a “burden” to “fix” oneself is incorrect. To reiterate the same argument made on May 6, 2015, suppose a person hurts her knee while running. Is she now placing a “burden” on herself, or perhaps is the medical establishment placing one, as she undergoes surgery and rehab? She is hurt and now needs to do the work of healing. If someone is treated unjustly, doesn’t he have to accept the “burden” of striving for justice if this is his choice? Either way, forgiveness or justice, those injured have to do something. To blame forgiveness as an unfair move that is burdensome is incorrect. Instead, the effort to rehab a knee or to rehab a hurting heart through forgiveness can bring healing.
4) The commentator dichotomizes forgiveness and justice, claiming that either one forgives or seeks justice. It does not seem to dawn on many critics that people do and should let forgiveness and justice grow up together.
The new criticism does not stand up upon close examination. People who are injured by others should practice caution when hearing this criticism.