As a semi religious person, in Lent I’m listening/reading lots of sermons about “forgiveness”.

Guilt and the failure to have mercy on others and oneself is a major problem in the world, one that is seen and treated by practitioners of both  psychiatry and religion.

Yet there are several ways to “forgive”:

One is to look at a person through the eyes of the deity and see them with love, and the motives behind their deeds with understanding, but not with approval.

The other is what too often passes for “forgiveness” today: A “get out of jail free” card for the one who did the deed.

For many sins of weakness, this gives the person a freedom to remake his or her life.

Alas, for those whose hearts are “hardened” and refuse to acknowledge what they have done is wrong, too often forgiveness is interpreted as approval or tolerance of their behavior, so they never reach the point of changing their life.

We doctors call such forgiveness as “co enablers”: the wife who forgives her drunken husband over and over again is an example we docs see all the time.

But “forgiveness” can also be manipulated by the truly evil, or by that ten percent of the population who are sociopaths, without the ability to recognize right and wrong, Here, “forgiveness” lets them off the hook.

Reality check.

Judge not and ye shall not be judged? Bah Humbug.

This mindset is why so many people use good organizations to get away with…fill in the blanks for your favorite sins.

The emphasis on forgiveness was the reason that so many Catholic priests got away with messing with altar boys: Because their pals in the bishop’s office felt sorry for them and covered up these incidents; because psychiatrists (following the Johns Hopkins approved method of “treating non violent sexual offenders”, advised outpatient treatment) too often recommended treatment and keeping offenders in the priesthood.

Nor was the “get out of jail free” card limited to priests:  As this “defense” of Joe Paterno shows, the harm of the child was not something anyone wanted to judge: Judge not a good guy who helps kids just because one person “saw” something suspicious in the shower.

The “get out of jail free” card has been given to banks who are “too big to fail”, to dictators who are good at heart and love the poor (while stealing billions for their Swiss bank accounts) and for big shots whose sexual picadillos are laughed at, without anyone noticing the connection between lying about sex and lying about money.

As a physician, I hear all sorts of things, and do not “judge” my patients, but I do have to judge them.  Some behavior that used to be called “bad” is now “normal”, but the health and societal problems continue, be it promiscuity, adultery, substance abuse, or abusing one’s spouse.

Oh, I only lost my temper and didn’t mean to hit her…Oh, I won’t press charges because I love him…oh, the baby was crying and I just shook her gently to keep her quiet…Oh, I needed to calm down, and grandmom didn’t really need her pain killer (or pension check) so I sort of borrowed it from her purse…Oh, my wife needs to understand I have needs and didn’t mean to infect her…yes, I’m HIV positive, but I don’t enjoy sex with condoms, and besides: it was with a stranger, not someone I like…

Here in the Philippines things are worse: The call to unity and “sweetness and light”, the fact that everyone has relatives who can sweep your crime under the rug, or knows who will take a bribe to do so, along with a strict libel law (and the knowledge that $200 will hire you a “drive by motorcycle hitman)  keeps the lid on what everyone knows: that corruption is widespread and ordinary folks can’t be successful unless they move to another country.
What ever Became of sin? Asked Dr. Menninger in a best seller thirty years ago.

Nowadays, if you believe in right and wrong, you are “rigid personality”,and if you dare to suggest sexual restraint is needed for stable families, you are either ignored or guilty of hate speech.Being judgemental is the big sin of today’s society.

When Confucius was confronted with a land full of civil war and strife, he made rules, not just for those in charge of the various states of what is now China, but for the family.

To put the world in order, we must first put the nation in order; to put the nation in order, we must put the family in order; to put the family in order, we must cultivate our personal life; and to cultivate our personal life, we must first set our hearts right.

And that, not a “get out of jail free card”, is what traditionally the season of Lent was about: Seeing our own sins and repenting, and then having mercy on those who harmed us.

Having mercy means seeing them through the eyes of the deity, with love.

It does not mean ignoring the evil in our midst, nor is keeping quiet about evil we see, nor is it a “get out of jail free” letting the perpetrators to go ahead and keep doing it.

We may be required to forgive our brothers ” 70 times 7 times”, but the same sardonic Jewish carpenter threw out the merchants who overcharged the poor while giving kickbacks to the temple bureaucracy.

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