No one is obligated to forgive

I’m a “mutually assured destruction” kind of gal. Christians had whole centuries in Europe to put their “turn the other cheek” philosophy into practice… we now call that period the Dark Ages for a reason. It don’t work. Convincing your many enemies that it costs more to hurt you than they’ll get out of it, however, appeals to even the ethically bankrupt, because it appeals to that unceasing selfishness they possess. Given that it is often the unceasingly selfish who gain power, this seems to me a smarter strategy than blanket forgiveness, which tells the abuser that they have permission to abuse again.

When my brothers and I fought, growing up, we were immediately halted and told to apologize.

“Say you’re sorry,” my dad would command, towering over us, brows furrowed.

I’d purse my lips and ball my fists before hissing a “sorry” between clenched teeth.

“Now, hug. Say ‘I forgive you,’ and tell each other ‘I love you,’” my dad would say next.

We did — and then stormed off to other rooms to avoid getting ourselves grounded in a moment of untempered rage.

The same scenario played out in my religious teachings for years. After all, my family and my preachers told me, Christianity itself exists because Jesus forgave our sin-riddled selves, so much that he died for us.

The sacrificial lamb metaphor was never one I completely grasped growing up, though. It never quite made sense to me that some oppressive leaders slaughtered the human embodiment of my religion’s deity because I was going to someday be born, bully my little brother, and go to hell for it. And every time I asked how that sacrifice worked logistically, I was given dismissive answers or elusive explanations with too many contemporary Christian buzzwords like “covenant” and “unconditional.” An English degree later, and I still don’t quite get it.

It’s with this same convoluted understanding that, as an adult atheist who must respect her family’s religious views in order to maintain healthy relationships with them, I’ve been forced to ask a question that Junior Asparagus never posed: If Christians are supposed to forgive every enemy, every single time, does that still apply when forgiveness could cause more harm than good?

I ain’t buyin’ it.




  1. Pierce R. Butler says

    Christians had whole centuries in Europe to put their “turn the other cheek” philosophy into practice… we now call that period the Dark Ages for a reason.

    * The Church had much greater control over European society in the “Medieval Period” (very roughly 800-1400, or from Charlemagne to Renaissance) than in the “Dark Ages” – and indeed abused its power horrifically.

    * The “Dark Ages” label refers not to sociopolitical conditions but to lack of surviving documentation (compared to the periods before and after) that would give historians some metaphorical light on the situation. This applies especially to Britain, so the term is most popular in the English-speaking world.

    I have no quibbles with your larger points – Please forgive my well-meaning pedantic nitpicking!

  2. says

    It’s rather odd how many of the “turn the other cheek” religion prefer “an eye for an eye”
    Me, I’m with Joe Strummer: I get aggression I give it two times back.