Do you think it’s important to forgive others?

I really hate it when people say you need to forgive others that have wronged you in order to move on. Do you believe that’s true?

Obviously, forgiveness is an important part of Christianity and Jesus — is that where these ideas stem from? I don’t even think I understand the whole notion of forgiveness.

I’m thinking about this right now because I was in an abusive situation with someone at my workplace for 11 months. They were finally kicked out of the program last summer and I’ve dealt with a lot of anxiety and anger ever since. My supervisor referred me to our EAP and I am now in treatment for PTSD. 

Could I ever forgive that person? Should I? Would it help anything?

Things have gotten a lot better for me since starting therapy last November, but occasionally those negative thoughts still invade my brain. Tonight seems to be one of those nights.

Christians put a lot of emphasis on this topic, but I don’t think I’ve ever really heard a perspective from a fellow atheist. 

Is forgiveness important?


  1. StonedRanger says

    I dont know what happened, so I dont feel qualified to give advice on this situation. I was abused physically and mentally by my father til I was 18 (as were my sibs). I am now 65 and my father has been dead more than 20 years. I cant forgive what he did. What I can do is understand that his abuse was not any fault of mine and would have happened no matter what I did. What counts is how I have lived my life since I got out from under his thumb until now. That is without the fear and self loathing he tried so hard to instill in me. I grew up without love as a child, a teen and a young adult. I am very lucky to have found someone who was able to love me for who I was and who was patient enough to teach me how to love back what she gave so freely.
    No, forgiveness is what we do for ourselves, not for others. You will get through this, and you dont need a fictional god to do it. Living through the pain others have given us is never easy. You just have to realize that some people hurt so bad that they feel they have to make others feel bad so they will feel better about themselves. Its not your fault, its theirs. Im glad you are working this out. I never had the benefit of actual therapy. I just had 38 years of being with my wife to help me through the hard times. I got lucky.

  2. Bruce says

    As we live in a country heavily influenced by various Christians, it is hard to escape that influence on everyone’s understanding of the concept of forgiveness.
    First, Christianity often implies that EVERYONE needs forgiveness because of Adam and Steve or whatever. The illogic of inherited guilt disguises the fact that meaningful forgiveness is associated with actual guilt. As Adam is a myth, universal guilt is also.
    Second, we are told that Jesus has engineered us getting forgiven for whatever. Again, this is inappropriate and illogical, because meaningful forgiveness can only come from the injured, not from a magic bystander.
    Third, in non-magical, non-religious contexts, forgiveness is only meaningful as a response to a sincere regret, not from mere words. You shouldn’t feel invited to forgive an abuser until it is clear that that abuser truly and honestly feels remorse. Real remorse may be reciprocated by forgiveness.
    Forced “forgiveness” without real remorse CHEAPENS any and all acts of true remorse by anyone else in society. You can show pity on some idiot if you choose, but I think one should not offer or provide real forgiveness without having received real remorse. Otherwise, one is inhibiting others from real remorse, and thereby would be hurting the fabric of society.
    You can give pity or mercy to the undeserving. But I think the offender should be given an incentive to reform, by offering them forgiveness only when it is merited through genuine remorse.
    In short, Christianity has infantilized many people’s understandings of ethics, so we need to be careful about accepting tropes imposed by others’ magical thinking.

  3. robert79 says

    I too, would find the cases of abuse described above hard to forgive, I can’t imagine what you could’ve gone through.

    However, for lighter infractions I tend to follow the rule: “Condemn the actions, not the person.” It is much easier for a person to change how they act than who they are, and once they’ve truly stopped behaving badly, do we really want to hold their previous mistakes against them forever?

  4. Katydid says

    Forgiveness is a tricky, tricky subject. Religious people–particularly the fundagelicals and the Amish–have a long history of tolerating abusers in their midst and demanding the victim forgive, publicly, their abuser. The abuse never stops, and the victim is obliged to keep on forgiving, and if they don’t, well, then, that’s a bad mark against the victim, not the abuser.

    TL:DR; forgiveness is often a tool wielded against the victim to get them to shut up about being victimzed.

  5. says

    Forgiveness can be psychologically beneficial. It’s not really a good idea to carry a honkin’ big ball of hatred around, you know? At the same time, it’s nobody’s business but the victim of abuse to determine whether that victim should forgive their abuser.

  6. John Morales says

    For me at least, any forgiving would be because I feel it’s deserved somehow, not because I think I “should”.

    There is no “should”.

    (And some things I would not forgive)

  7. says

    I used to say, “I forgive but I don’t forget.” Sometimes we can look past something someone does, but they’ve shown that they are capable of doing whatever-it-is, which means they are capable of doing it again.

  8. Jazzlet says

    For me forgiveness is conditional, you don’t get it just by saying sorry you have to demonstrate that you understand the behaviour that hurt others and change your future behaviour before you can be considered for forgiveness; even then it is up to the person hurt and no pressure should be put on them to absolve the guilt of the offender, giving/getting forgiveness is a gift, not a priviledge and there are some things that are unforgiveable.

  9. says

    “Forgiveness” is at best a luxury and more often than not a fiction. It contains the false, insulting and blame shifting implication that “if you don’t forgive, you’re just as bad as they are”.

    I’ve had ignorant people say, “you need to forgive your parents, that’s why you still talk about them!”

    Wrong. I talk about the mental and physical abuse to protect and inform others so they recognize the signs. Trying to protect the vulnerable is not “wallowing in self pity”.

  10. Pierce R. Butler says

    Christians have worked up a huge ritual of psychodrama around the whole concept of “forgiveness”, which seems to come in very handy every time one of their own gets caught harming others.

    Apparently it does not apply to, e.g., “sins” like voting for a Democrat, at least without noisy and showy expressions of self-loathing and surrender to doctrinal Authority.

    The complex ethical and psychological processes of dealing with those who have done serious damage to oneself or others seem best addressed by working through the individual details of the events at hand, without dragging in the formulaic processes of psychological models demonstrably wrong in basic premises and actual application.

  11. yannoupoika says

    While forgiveness not commanded by God, it is strongly encouraged by Jesus and Paul (Matthew 6:15-15, Mark 11: 25, Ephesians 4:2). Everyone IS offered forgiveness by God. It was your sin and mine that nailed Jesus to the cross. Jesus was totally innocent of all the charges brought against Him except for admitting that He was the Son of God. Yet, while hanging on the cross and taking all the punishment directed to Him, He offered forgiveness to those (all of us) who put him there. Yes, Jesus’ forgiveness was illogical because He was the one who was injured, but that is how God operates. It is a hard concept to put into practice but forgiveness is at the heart of Christian faith. It’s not myth and it’s not magic. Like Stoned Ranger said, you can withhold forgiveness and remain bitter and angry, or offer forgiveness and experience freedom. A fictional god will not help you at all, true, but the real, one true God will help and He leads by example. There are other amazing examples of forgiveness, Louis Zamperini (Unbroken) Corrie Ten Boom and Simon Wiesenthal (with Nazis), The members of Emmanuel African Methodist Church in Charleston, SC. “But the real wonder of the trial coverage is the forgiveness offered to Dylann Roof by the majority of the bereaved. “The hate you possess is beyond human comprehension,” Melvin Graham, a brother of one of the victims, Cynthia Hurd, told the young white supremacist seated across the courtroom. “You wanted people to kill each other. But instead of starting a race war, you started a love war.” One victim’s sister-in-law offered to come and pray with Roof before he went to prison if he wanted her to do so. In fact, five family members offered Mr. Roof a measure of public forgiveness at his bond hearing held just two days after the killings.(1)(Anguish, Rage and Mercy as Dylann Roof is Sentenced to Death,” The New York Times, January 11, 2017). Mr. Roof never responded to that offer, never repented and turned aside that marvelous offer. So who benefitted from the offer?

    • John Morales says

      Everyone IS offered forgiveness by God.

      Then there’s no point in actual people forgiving other people, is there?

      (I mean, hey, I could forgive anyone who transgresses against you; are they therefore forgiven? 😉 )

      It is a hard concept to put into practice but forgiveness is at the heart of Christian faith.

      In principle, maybe. In practice, not-so-much.
      Actually, in my lived experience, hypocrisy is the true heart of the Christian faith. Pretty much guaranteed.

      (Wrong a Christian, watch out for their wrath!)

      A fictional god will not help you at all, true, but the real, one true God will help and He leads by example.

      Yeah, like the Flood. That’s real forgiveness, right there.
      Or Sodom and Gomorrah.
      Or the plagues of Egypt.
      Or… well, plenty of examples in the Babble.

      (And what’s with all these goddists claiming various calamities are God’s punishment for various “sins”?)

      So who benefitted from the offer?

      Nobody; Roof is still on death row, the victims are still just as victimised or dead.

    • John Morales says

      [can’t help elaborating, so another aspect]

      Everyone IS offered forgiveness by God.

      Ever heard the adage “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission”?

      Basically, that attitude is a moral carte blanche to do whatever; as a Christian, you can do anything whatsoever and have guaranteed forgiveness afterwards.

      (Not much of a disincentive against transgression, is it?)

  12. says

    Echoing John Morales: forgiveness is only for those who have shown heart felt contrition. If the guilty party doesn’t freely admit to doing wrong, they deserve nothing in return.

  13. TGAP Dad says

    I am of two minds on this. One the one hand, I’m unhealthily addicted to stories of wrongful conviction and exonerations. In every one of the cases I’ve heard, despite grotesque levels of incompetence, malfeasance, and corruption by the criminal justice system, everyone who’s been exonerated expresses no bitterness, usually forgiveness to the perpetrators of their prosecution. They are, I suspect, better people than I would be in the same circumstances.
    The other side of me finds some things simply too abhorrent to forgive – gratuitous racism, organizational sociopathy, child and partner abuse, electing an obviously unfit, unhinged man to the highest office in the land. I’ll also include the bullies who ridiculed and belittled me through my school years. And while we’re at it, all the pro-coronavirus MAGA-head protesters, Alex Jones, James O’Keefe and his cabal, and Breitbart et al.

  14. yannoupoika says

    In response to Mr. Morales; point 1, true. There is a point to offering forgiveness, for the one who has been harmed, and for the one who perpetrated the harm, but not for a third party. Point 2, true. It is a hard both in principle and in practice. but as far as his second statement, totally false. Forgiveness IS at the true heart of Christian faith. Jesus who was innocent of all that was charged against Him (except for that He is the Son of God) was sentenced to beatings and death on the cross. Yet he offered a blanket statement of forgiveness to all who put him there (not only to the Romans and the Jewish leadership but all of us, yes my sins put him on that cross too and I find great comfort and solace in his offering forgiveness). Hypocrisy is totally against what the Christian faith is about. And it is unfortunate when you see it exhibited. Jesus has much to say against it in Matthew 6, 22 and 23. Hypocrites will be viewed as “goats” (Matthew 25:31-46). And anger should never be a part of the Christians response either (but that can be forgivable too). Point 3, True. A fictional god will not help you at all. The True God will! Consider Noah’s world (Genesis 6:5-6) and you may think these times are bad. Sodom and Gomorrah; you think sexual crimes, abuse and human trafficking is bad, consider Genesis 18:20-33. God was hoping to save the city if even a handful of righteous people lived there, but there was none except 3 and they were saved. Egypt during Moses time (see Exodus 1:8-22) was filled with power and wickedness. Part of God’s character is to be Judge. We have laws in our country (and every country) that people need to obey and judges to enforce those laws. Violate them, and you have consequences. Would you prefer a lawless culture? Violating God’s laws have consequences for ALL he has created. Ignorance of the Law is no excuse. It is no excuse in traffic court either. The good news of the Gospel is that, Jesus has paid the penalty for every violation of that law as a free gift. I did nothing to earn this. All I have to do is put my trust in the one who provided that gift. It is available to all (but you have to receive the gift). Point 4, In Charleston, those violated by their deaths are in heaven (assuming they were believers and received His gift (they were in a Bible study)). Their families are at better peace (“Anguish, Rage and Mercy as Dylann Roof is Sentenced to Death,” The New York Times, January 11, 2017). Only Roof is still without contrition and the forgiveness offered is meaningless. Point 5, God is very much against what is known as “cheap grace”. Paul states this strongly in Romans 6:1. We do not continue in sin, knowing forgiveness is always there. It defeats the purpose of the gospel. There are your hypocrites and you will see them often. However, back to Matthew 25, God will say to them that persist “I never knew you”.
    No anger here, just clearing the air. Thanks.

    • John Morales says

      Enough about your god, who forgives all transgressions but punishes all transgressions, too. This is not about your god. Or any of the others.

      The post is “Do you think it’s important to forgive others? I really hate it when people say you need to forgive others that have wronged you in order to move on. Do you believe that’s true?”

      Obviously, I don’t think that’s true. There is no such “need”.

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