Should You Forgive The People Who Abused You?

Forgiveness of wrongs done to oneself- even if there is no apology, no remorse, no repentance- is a big thing in various religions and in self-help psychology. Forgiveness is said to be the morally correct thing to do and a basic requirement of psychological healing.

Louise Hay, spiritual guru of multiple murderer George Sodini, is a big advocate of forgiveness. One one recording (which I got off LimeWire, I wouldn’t pay for that garbage) she talks about visualizing all the people who hurt you, and then realizing they were hurt themselves, and that’s why you have to let it go.

Forgiveness of child abuse, sexual abuse and peer abuse is taken as a given by many Christians. However I found this, which analyzes the scriptures and says that’s not actually the case-

“Forgiveness” in this reading is something the powerful do for those in their power- debtors or prisoners, and in the social system of the Roman and Judaic world simply not possible for the weak to the powerful. As the author notes, Jesus did not forgive those crucifying him; it wasn’t possible for him to do so. He asked God to forgive them.

In any case the widespread demand for forgiveness is a matter of social control. It won’t do to have a lot of pissed-off people, but because the hierarchical organization of most of human society is relatively powerless and won’t get justice, satisfaction, or revenge.

But justice is a basic human need. As the sociobiological proponents of game must agree, humans evolved to live in small, extended family groups and need to live with the people around them on some kind of elemental respect. Furthermore anybody directly dominating you would be your parents or older relatives, who had some kind of vested interest in your well-being. You might be attacked and harmed by other groups but you wouldn’t have to live with these people, they would immediately go back to their own territory after an attack, or you would run away from them.

The first obvious exception to this is if your were kidnapped and forced to live with and work for the enemy tribe, in other terms made a slave. In primitive times this might have been only temporary- there might be a ransom, or a hostage exchange, or you might escape. Permanent slavery, which became more common as human society grew more sophisticated, would have been a fate worse than death. The second obvious exception, similar to the first, would have been for women kidnapped and forced to mate and bear children with their kidnappers. They were in the position of dying or making the best of it for themselves and their children. This is said to be one reason why women submit to aggression and authority.

As humans moved from extended families of hunters and gatherers to large agriculturally based societies, far more people- up to half the population or more- had the actual status of slave, and many more had relatively low status and the inability to assert many or any rights. In the eastern religions, your status was looked on as reward or punishment for behavior in past lives; in the western pagan religions your status was a matter of fate decided by the gods. Vast numbers of people led brutal and short lives as slaves. The Hebrews made it a temporary status, at least for members of the tribe.

So ancient societies had various ways of justifying the low status and poor treatment of many members. The western pagan way was the most honest- “Shit happens. The shit happening to you is you’re a slave. Deal with it.” Greek culture also had the mystery religions, in which anyone, even a slave, could be initiated into the mysteries and have equal status in the afterlife. This seems to me to be sort of a precursor to Christianity.

If you have a society in which everybody is theoretically equal, then there should be some mechanism of justice. This is of course very inconvenient to the people in power. As Ms. Kennedy says we then get the idea that people on the bottom should forgive people on the top who abuse them, and idea which made no sense in ancient society.

My answer is no, you have no obligation to forgive people who have abused you, because human beings have the right to some kind of justice, and because if you have no power to punish someone, the idea of releasing them from responsibility or accountability doesn’t compute. Everybody is responsible for how they behave and how they treat other people, and if the only place they will ever be held accountable is in your head then so be it.


5 Responses to Should You Forgive The People Who Abused You?

  1. WD says:
    i quit going to church when i was 10 but still remember jesus saying “Forgive them for they know not what they do”.
    do i think everyone should be forgiven.. no. there are monsters in this world that don’t deserve it. however, the biblical argument of this post is invalid.

    a quick google for bible quotes concerning forgiveness would have helped too.

  2. Eumaios says:

    Biblical injunctions to forgive are rooted in a shame-honor culture prone to feuding. Our mileage may vary.

  3. […] Omega Man – “Should You Forgive the People Who Abused You?” […]

  4. Walter Simons says:

    Forgiveness is what the powerful demand from the powerless.

    Demands for forgiveness are just an extension of abuse.

  5. Haley says:

    You should forgive the people who abuse. Jesus says to forgive everyone. Child abuse is wrong. i know people who were abused but you should forgive the person who abused you and and make your life better. you learned from all of that. And WD, go back to chuch. it will be worth it. trust me.

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