I've been thinking a lot about forgiveness and it all stemmed from one of Hitchen's most famous speeches/debates where he rails on the idea of vicarious redemption by saying the following and I'm paraphrasing:
If you're in debt, I made a lot of money from a God bashing book, I will pay your debts for you....if i really loved you and you were sentenced to prison and if I could serve your sentence for you I would do it. Or like in the Tale of Two Cities I would take your place on the scaffold. But I can't take away your responsibilities. I can't forgive what you did, I can't say you didn't do it, I can't make you washed clean.
(the full video is here with the portion I'm referring to starting at 2:08)
So as atheists, and assuming that we totally agree that the christian idea of forgiving sin is completely immoral, where do we, or you, stand in terms of forgiving someone? How far do you take this doctrine of non-forgiveness?
For example, someone lied to you about something and you find out. They say "please forgive me". Is that your place to say "it's ok", or is that the same as vicarious redemption? How far and how often do you invoke this idea of non-forgiveness? What about the idea that the only person who can forgive someone is that person? If I do something to harm another person, the only way I cannot live with the guilt is not through the forgiveness of another but in the forgiveness of myself. Is forgiving oneself the only instance when the idea of forgiveness will work?
Here's another scenario; A man has an affair and after much discussion the wife says if you ask my family to forgive you we may be able to work it out. Is this as immoral as vicarious redemption? How far do you take this idea of not forgiving people for missteps or mistakes?
I'm a pretty forgiving person too but mostly because things need to be kept in perspective. Much of the time when you forgive someone it really is to benefit yourself so that you are not using up your energy holding a grudge against someone who may or may not be sorry about what they did. However, forgiving someone is not the same as forgetting about the situation. You can forgive someone but still decide to keep your distance from them because their actions show that they really are not a person you want to be hanging around.
I never really thought about the whole Jesus forgiveness thing but the way Hitchens talks about it makes sense. While you can pay for a person's crime, it really is still up to the person to make amends for the offense. The only reason Jesus would need to forgive anyone is if they personally offended or did something to him. I guess you could make a case that hurting another person is the same as hurting Jesus but, since he is imaginary, it really makes no difference.
I don't think Hitchens was saying that we cannot forgive people who have done us wrong, but rather we cannot forgive a sin committed against another person as we are in no position to forgive it. He was bashing the notion that if I steal from you, that it's god from whom I must receive forgiveness. Obviously, as I did not wrong "god" he has nothing to forgive. Imagine if you cheated on your partner (wife or whatever) and I demanded that you beg my forgiveness! I don't even know you, but I feel that I'm owed an apology! It's absurd and arrogant and exactly what the christian god demands. That's what Hitchens was talking about.
Thank you all for your excellent and throughtful responses.
I guess I'm trying to explore is whether to take the idea that Hichtens was expressing and using it in a more "first person" situation. You are all saying we can personally forgive someone, but isn't that the same thing as taking away their responsibility to live with what they have done or deal with it.
If someone wrongs me and says "I'm sorry, please forgive me", to me these are two different requests. Yes of course I can accept someone's apology, but who am I to forgive them? The responsibility to deal with the consequences of ones actions both in the physical world as well as in the psychological world, is not mine to take away from someone. I cannot take away what you did to me. It is not my place to say to you, it's ok, I forgive what you did, now you can go on with your life, you are absolved. How is that any different from how things work in the theological world? Maybe I'm just trying to over analyze this but I do think about it a lot. Being a kind person means you accept people make mistakes and allow them to apologize for their mistakes but being a kind person doesn't mean I should take away their responsibility to deal with their mistakes.