Tagged: “agape love”
If I cannot offer this “moral love” or agape to the one who hurt me, does this mean that I have not forgiven?
No, it does not mean that at all. Aristotle makes a distinction between Essence and Existence. Essence is the core meaning of any object or concept. The highest Essence of forgiveness is to offer this moral love or agape to the other person. Existence in terms of forgiveness is how you express now that forgiveness to the other person. You might be able to reduce some resentment right now. If you can do that as you commit to do no harm to the other, you have begun the process of forgiveness. You have not reached the highest Essence of forgiveness, but you are expressing it to the best of your ability now. Here is a sports analogy to try to make this clearer. Suppose you are playing basketball and you are shooting free-throws. You make 4 out of 10 shots. This is your Existence (how you behave now) at the free-throw line. The Essence of basketball is to successfully make 10 out of 10 shots. Even though you are not matching the perfect Essence of free-throw shooting, you are playing basketball. It is similar with forgiveness. Even if you cannot offer complete forgiveness in terms of agape love, you still are forgiving as you commit to do no harm to the other and as you work in reducing resentment toward that person.
You say that to forgive is to offer “moral love” to another person. What exactly is moral love? I don’t think I can reach that high with my partner at this point.
Moral love, or agape in the ancient Greek, is a deliberate caring for another person (or other persons) for that person’s own sake, for the good of the other. This sometimes can be difficult because it requires effort and persistence on your part. It is not doing something so that you get something in return, but done for the other person’s sake.
Aristotle said that the essence of humanity, that which separates us from the other primates, is our ability to think rationally. While this is true, I think the great Aristotle did not go far enough. I think our essence is to consciously and deliberately, through our free will, love others even when it is painful to do so, and to love in this way for the other’s benefit. The Greek word agape describes this kind of love.
A Reflection on the International Educational Conference on Agape Love and Forgiveness, Madison, Wisconsin, July 19-20, 2022
Main Point 1: Despite cross-cultural differences, forgiveness has a common meaning across historical time and across cultures.
Main Point 2: To my knowledge, there never has been a conference on agape and forgiveness before this one.
Main Point 3: It is time for modern culture to reawaken the ancient moral virtues of agape and forgiveness for the good of individuals, families, and communities.
After over a year of detailed preparation by Jacqueline Song and the dedicated team, the agape love and forgiveness conference is now history. That history is preserved in the videos which have captured each talk presented at the conference (the videos are available here: Agape Love and Forgiveness Conference Videos).
I have at least three take-away points as I reflect on this conference:
- The cultural diversity was strong, with presentations by people from Israel, Northern Ireland, the Philippines, Taiwan, and the United States. Despite the wide cultural differences, one thing was clear: The meaning of both agape and forgiveness do not change as we get on an airplane and visit cultures that are far away from one another. Instead, the core meaning of agape remains in that as a person loves in this way, it is for the other person(s) and the expression of this love can be challenging for the one who willingly offers it. The core meaning of forgiveness remains as a person, unjustly treated by others, a) makes the free will decision to be good to those who acted unfairly, b) sees the inherent worth in those others, c) feels some compassion for them, d) willingly bears the pain on those others’ behalf, and e) offers goodness of some kind toward them. Yes, those who forgive may not reach all five of these characteristics, but they remain the goal, that to which we want to strive if excellence in forgiveness is our end point. Yes, there are important cultural nuances as one Islamic educator introduced forgiveness to the students with quotations from the Qu’ran and as an educator from a Christian school opened the New Testament to the students. The rich diversity had a glue that bound all together—-the objective reality of what these two moral virtues mean across historical time and across cultures. Objective meaning met cultural nuance at the conference.
- Unless I missed something in my travels with forgiveness over the past 37 years, I do not think there ever was an international conference that focused specifically on the moral virtues of agape and forgiveness. If this is true, why is it the case? What has happened within humanity so that these two key moral virtues, so prominent for example in Medieval times, would be characteristically ignored in educational contexts with children and academic contexts in university settings? I think the transition from accepting objective truth about moral virtues (for example, justice is what it is no matter where we are in the world even when there are cultural nuances) has given way to an assumption that relativism is the new truth and so we all can choose the virtues we like and define them as we wish. Do you see the contradiction in such a statement? In the abandonment of objective reality that there is a truth, the new thinking is that relativism (in which there is no truth) is the new objective truth. It is time to reintroduce communities to the moral virtues, which we all share as part of our humanity. We need to know what these virtues are by definition and how we can give them away to others for their good, for our good, and for the good of communities.
- When I look across the globe at communities that have experienced conflict, that now carry the weight of the effects of decades and even centuries of conflict, I have come to the conclusion that a reawakening of the moral virtues of agape and forgiveness is vital if we are to heal from the effects of war and continued conflict with all of its mistrust and stereotyping of the human condition. Agape and forgiveness challenge us to see the personhood in everyone with whom we interact, even those who are cruel to us. This does not mean that we cave in to injustices because the moral virtue of justice requires fairness from all. The healing of hearts, families, communities, and nations will be better accomplished if people now can shake off the dust from agape and forgiveness, that have been so ignored in modernism, and find a new way with the old virtues. It seems to me that agape and forgiveness, as a team, is a powerful combination for the healing of trauma for individuals and relationships. I fear a continuation of the same old conflicts in hearts and in interactions if we do not go back and rediscover the life-giving virtues of agape love and forgiveness and bring them forward now in schools, families, houses of worship, and workplaces.
In your book, “The Forgiving Life,” you correlate forgiving with love (agape love). Can a person forgive and feel no love at all toward the one who acted unfairly?
We have to make a distinction between the essence of forgiveness (what it is in truth and on its highest level) and how we actually appropriate forgiveness at any given time. So, even though to forgive on its highest level is to love the one who was not loving toward the forgiver when the injustice occurred, a person can forgive, for example, by committing to do no harm to that other person. While this is not the highest form of forgiveness, it is part of the forgiveness process. So, if today the best a person can do is to commit to do no harm to the one who offended, this is forgiveness (with room to grow in this moral virtue).