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?




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This issue I do grapple with personally. To me it seems to depend on the relationship of the parties involved-family, friends, neighbors and strangers. Then the degree of the mistake or misdeed and whether both parties have learned something from it. Will trust be rekindled or will it hindered. Being a parent this will get tested many times. I have to not let it become an obsession (grudge) because that tends to clouds ones reasoning. To forget completely is not possible...but one can control to some extent of how it affects them...and chose to grant trust or not again. As for me there are few things in my life that have left a scar in my mind...so finding true peace of mind may never come to me but at least I will try to not let it dampen the highlights I have yet to live.
Hitchens wasn't talking about one person forgiving another person, he was talking about 3rd party forgiveness.  You can forgive someone who has wronged you, but you can't forgive somebody who has wronged another person.  The central tenant of xtian doctrine is that if some guy comes into your house and murders your family, JESUS can forgive him.  Hitchens was saying that no, Jesus can NOT and it's immoral to think that he CAN.
@ Joseph - that is a sign of strength not weakness. Also when we take responsibiltiy for or own actions we become more mature than those who think they can "pass the buck" and blame (say) temptation by the devil. And if that sounds to haughty to any theist reading this - please forgive me.
You can forgive someone for an injury done to yourself. You cannot forgive someone for an injury that was done to someone else. That is the point of Christianity here. Jesus can forgive my sin of stealing a wallet from someone else. How is that fair? It's not. How can Jesus forgive me if I decided that I wanted to murder someone else?

As far as forgiveness where I'm concerned. It depends. Forgiveness only runs as far as the injury. Right now I'm dealing with someone who, even though I have done nothing but right by him (driven him to rehearsals, edited his video projects for free (I charge $50 an hour), allowed him to come over to my sets and let him show his video projects for feedback, cast him in my stuff), has decided that I am a threat to him and has been increasingly rude to everyone in our circle of friends, talked ill of me behind my back, lied straight to my face regarding projects for which he bullied my participation, and has used my name in his projects without permission. At this point, I've completely written him off. Even if he apologizes, I don't see how I can reconcile his recent behavior. The sad thing is that we were friends. There are too many people in this world who want to be good people to deal with ones that treat you like shit.
We forgive just like anyone else forgives. We forgive for the goodness of forgiving. These innate qualities come from who we are as humans.

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.

Never forgive, never forget!
I'd say I'm pretty forgiving. We're all human, and we all make mistakes. I would say that there are situations that could be unforgivable. But that will differ from person to person. Some may be able to forgive an affair, while others may not. I don't see varying degrees of forgiveness as a problem. I do see the doctrine that anything can be forgiven as highly immoral... especially 3rd party forgiveness. I find it very unlikely that aby of us would consider cold-blooded murder to be forgivable. But if it were to be forgiven, I feel that the correct channel for forgiveness would be from the family of the deceased... not some deity that is some distant spectator with no personal attachment to the event.

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.

I agree with people needed to deal with there mistakes. The line for me is I can and often do, forgive people. But do I trust them again, or anymore? Not so much.


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