New Ideas

Forgiveness Is an Illusion: Or Is This Statement the Illusion?

The International Forgiveness Institute, Inc. exists for the purpose of helping you to understanding forgiveness and, once it is understood, to practice it if you wish and then to give it away to others. We want you to know that there is a movement that has been building some steam in getting its message out and that message is ultimately irrational and dangerous for those who accept it without deep scrutiny.

The gist of the message is this:

Forgiveness as you think you know it is an illusion because when you try to deal with offenses against you, you will come to see that there are no such things as offenses. What is “out there” is subject to your inner subjective judgement and when you look deeply enough into these offenses outside of you, then you come to realize that there are no offenses, only illusions of offense. There are no sins. There are no offenses. There are no injustices. The Abrahamic religions had it wrong all along. The laws of any land have had it wrong all along. Law Schools are living an illusion that there are offenses to be tried. There are no criminals in the final analysis, only perceptions that what a mass murderer has done is “wrong.” The woman who was brutally raped, beaten, and left for dead in Central Park did not have an offense committed against her. The trial lawyer who sits by her side in court is being duped. The lawyer’s job should be to convince her to cultivate inner peace, to see the rabid attackers as mistaken, as uninformed, but not as sinners or offenders or perpetrators of injustice.

We at the IFI consider these ideas to be the illusion because, based on this view, there is no reality apart from one’s inner world to make sense out of that world. As the late Mortimer Adler challenged all of us, think of the cultures which think this way. What major advances in science have they made? You will see that the advancements in  cultures which do not accommodate to the fact that there is a reality suffer the  consequence of falling far behind in the sciences, which are based in the fact that there is a reality to be studied, measured, and understood with a common knowledge.

If forgiveness is the ultimate conclusion that there are no offenses to forgive and so the “usual” way of approaching forgiveness is wrong, then let us take this to its logical conclusion. Forgiveness as traditionally understood is a moral virtue. If  forgiveness does not exist, then neither does justice or patience or kindness or any other moral virtue. Morality exists only “in here” and not as a commonly held reaction to what is real in the world. Do you wish upon the world this level of moral chaos because you and others have decided that forgiveness in its traditional sense is an illusion?

Be on the lookout for this challenge to the traditional view of forgiveness as grounded in the reality that there are objective wrongs done against us. And if a rape and torture victim ever comes to you and says, “Is it all in my head that there has been a grave offense against me?” what will you say? Rationality, moral order, and a psychologically healthy response to injustice are at stake here. Which path will you choose to help the one who asks the question?

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Forgiving a Person vs. Being a Forgiving Person

There is a difference between forgiving a person and being a forgiving person. To forgive someone usually means to engage in a particular process that will lead to forgiving a person for a particular injustice. To be a forgiving person means that you: a) forgive particular people with a particular process for particular injustices; b) learn to practice this process frequently, whenever there is a need to forgive; c) learn to love this process of forgiving others; d) make forgiveness a part of your very identity, so that to not forgive is to seem discordant with who you are as a person; and e) realize that one purpose of your life is to give forgiveness away to others so that they, too, can begin forgiving those who have hurt them.

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