New Ideas

Forgiveness, Free Will, and Materialist Theories of Personhood

Those who hold to materialist theories such as Democritus in ancient Greece, E. O. Wilson in biology, and B. F. Skinner in psychology would argue that free will is an illusion because we are formed not by our free-will choices, but instead by forces that are strictly composed of matter such as atoms colliding or natural selection, or by social forces outside the individual person such as economic structures or rewards and punishments. See Consilience, by E. O. Wilson, 1999, New York, NY: Vintage, and Beyond Freedom and Dignity, by B. F. Skinner, 1971, New York, NY: Bantam.

I acknowledge that matter and social forces influence us, but they alone do not or even primarily shape us. If there is no free will, then you cannot sayDNA made me do it whether one thing is morally right and another morally wrong. If you reflect on it, you cannot say someone did wrong, moral wrong, if he is not responsible for his behavior. The legal system, for example, implicitly rejects materialism every time it says, “The defendant is guilty.” The defendant is not guilty if his genes or the principles of operant conditioning made him behave as he did. Would any materialist continue to be a materialist if his or her daughter was raped and the defense attorney said, “Rape is not morally and legally wrong. Society reinforces men for being aggressive, and he was only responding to this conditioning. My client therefore is innocent of all charges, and I ask dismissal of them all”? Either you accept free will as legitimate (and morally condemn rape, for example) or you lose your moral voice in standing up against moral atrocities.

Footnote 3, Chapter 1, The Forgiving Life by Robert Enright (APA Books, 2012)

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A Future with Forgiveness Education in World Conflict Zones

Within world conflict zones, we would like to see at least two generations of students (a 24-year vision) introduced to forgiveness with an increase in the developmental challengesDove and Heart for the students each year. By the end of secondary school (post-primary, high school), the students should have a strong foundation in understanding the term forgiveness, know the nuances of forgiving and receiving forgiveness, and have insights into how to give back to the community.  It is our hope that they might consider giving back to the community by introducing others to the concept of forgiveness and its application within friendship, family, and community groups.

Might these students, once they are adults, begin to see that all people possess inherent worth? Might it be a contradiction to one’s own identity to disparage people from “the other side” just because of where they were born, what they believe, or the color of their skin?

Excerpt from the book, Forgiveness Therapy, by R. Enright & R. Fitzgibbons. American Psychological Association, 2015.

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Three Reasons Why “Quick Forgiveness” Is Not Phony

An observant reader asked me recently if our Forgiveness News section might be comprised of many stories in which people are “faking forgiveness” so that they get national and international recognition from the media. After all, the person reasoned, for a few moments their images, words, and actions are in front of thousands or even millions, depending on which media sources carry the story.

While quick pronouncements of forgiveness might lead some to doubt the sincerity of the act, we have three counter-arguments in the debate.

1) We must realize that some people are “forgivingly fit,” in that theywoman practice forgiveness regularly in the smaller injustices of life. Such practice readies them for when the tragic injustices come. In other words, years of practice accumulate and aid the forgiver now in the new, gargantuan challenge to forgive, say, the murderer of a loved one. As we watch the person forgive, we do not see the years of practice underlying the act and so we wonder about the sincerity, which is very real because of the practice.¹

2) Sometimes, our psychological defenses come to our aid when tragedy strikes. These defenses shield us from the intense anger which could emerge now. Yet, after a while, as the defenses begin to weaken, the anger arises afresh and so the initial pronouncement of forgiveness, when the angers subside, is not the final word on the matter. In other words, there still is forgiveness work to do, and this is not dishonorable. Forgiveness is hard work and requires re-visiting from time to time regarding situations we thought we had long-ago forgiven.

3) For reasons that are unclear to the social scientific community, some people, despite not having practiced forgiveness over and over, do forgive seemingly spontaneously. Their psychological defenses are not masking deep anger. They forgive in a thorough way on the first try. This seems rare, but it does happen.

Phony forgiveness?  No, not necessarily. What might appear on the surface as phony could be heroic forgiveness forged in the daily struggle to overcome the effects of injustice.

Robert

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Mercy on the Hurting

Suppose that each of us had a little red light on the top of our heads.  Further suppose that whenever we are feeling beaten down by the Red light 6injustice of another, that little red light started to blink.

What do you think?  Do you think there then would be mercy in the world as we, each of us, responded to the one whose light-of-pain was going off?

We all kind of hide behind a veneer of civility—well dressed, well mannered….and sometimes dying even a little bit inside.

No one sees the “dying even a little bit inside” because it is hidden.  Others really do not want to see it……It is an inconvenience to see it.

Yet, it is there…..for all of us at one time or another.

That little blinking red light would be a sign to us that we are all hurting.  It would be a concrete sign that mercy is necessary….even more so than civility.

That little red light would be our teacher….and perhaps soften our hearts…..and help us to learn that offering mercy should be our first response, not our last one after we all dress up in our finery, with our impeccable manners…..that keep the hurting invisible to us.

Try to see that little blinking red light on the top of each person’s head today even if it is not there.  Try to see it anyway.

Robert

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Love Never Dies

Think about the love that one person has given to you some time in your life. That love is eternal. Love never dies. If your mother gave you love 20 years ago, that love is still here and you can appropriate it, experience it, feel it.  If you think about it, the love that your deceased family members gave to you years ago is still right here with you.  Even though they passed on in a physical sense, they have left something of the eternal wTrue Loveith you, to draw upon whenever you wish.

Now think about the love you have given to others. That love is eternal. Your love never dies. Your actions have consequences for love that will be on this earth long after you are gone.  If you hug a child today, that love, expressed in that hug, can be with that child 50 years from now. Something of you remains here on earth, something good.

Children should be prepared for this kind of thinking through forgiveness education, where they learn that all people have built-in or inherent worth.  One expression of forgiveness, one of its highest expressions, is to love those who have not loved us.  If we educate children in this way, then they may take the idea more seriously that the love given and received can continue……and continue.  It may help them to take more seriously such giving and receiving of love.  We need forgiveness education……now.

Robert

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