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Forgiveness actually reduces wrongdoing?

  1. Feb 3, 2007 #1
    Is there evidence to support the contention that evil can be overcome by grace and amnesty?
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 4, 2007 #2
    Before we can answer this, we need to agree exactly what is meant by the word "evil" in this context..... could you elaborate?

    Best Regards

    Moving Finger
  4. Feb 4, 2007 #3
    Here by "evil" I mean not in the supernatural sense, but as deeds of malevolence.
  5. Feb 4, 2007 #4


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    Well, I'm not sure.
    But I do believe it eases the unhappiness of the victim in overcoming the stage of a hard knot of fear and hatred in the belly and "let go", so to speak.
  6. Feb 4, 2007 #5
    Then it depends on the underlying causes or reasons for malevolent behaviour, and the attitude of the malevolent agent towards his/her own behaviour.

    For any particular instance of malevolence, we must ask "why is this agent acting in a malevolent manner"? It may be the case that the agent in question feels genuine remorse for his/her malevolent behaviour and will respond positively to an act of forgiveness.

    The ultimate purpose of any remedial course action in the case of malevolent or criminal behaviour must be not revenge nor retribution, but simply to prevent similar further behaviour. If this can be accomplished through reason and rational behaviour, avoiding punishment or incarceration, then so much the better.

    Best Regards

    Moving Finger
  7. Feb 4, 2007 #6


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    I think there is anecdotal evidence, because people typically resent being shown to be wrong. Having been shown to be wrong, they would likely avoid that person in the future or be more cautious about expressing their opinion.

    However, I don't imagine sociopaths or serial killers (among others) can be turned.
  8. Feb 4, 2007 #7


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    An interesting thought. Probably there is something to it, since the fact that hatred's main fuel is hatred itself is a well known fact.
  9. Feb 4, 2007 #8


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    The idea of teaching by example and its results constitutes the evidence that evil can be overcome by grace and amnesty.

    Teaching by example of barbaric acts (death sentence, hanging, whipping, be-heading, keel-hauling) leads to more of those kinds of actions in the society that is governed by these viceral decrees.

    edit, but the example of a few well meaning, graceful and forgiving law makers takes more than a generation to take hold and influence a larger population.
    Last edited: Feb 4, 2007
  10. Feb 5, 2007 #9
    I'm not convinced that there is a clear case of cause and effect here - are these severe punishments in place because of the barbaric and lawless nature of some elements of society - or are some elements of society barbaric and lawless in nature because of the severe punishments which are in place? It's not that simple......

    Take the gun law in the USA for example. Do people in the US feel they need to have the right to own firearms because US society is dangerous - or is US society dangerous because people feel the need to have the right to own firearms? This is undoubtedly a two-way process/relationship, each feeds on the other in a vicious circle. There is no simple one-way cause and effect relationship, but one certainly cannot break this vicious circle by clinging to ideas of punishment, retribution and revenge and denying the efficacy of forgiveness.

    Best Regards

    Moving Finger
    Last edited: Feb 5, 2007
  11. Feb 5, 2007 #10


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    If we look at the physiological and psychological causes of learned traits you'll see that the cause and effect are clearly defined. A society teaches the individual how to behave. In rare instances an individual will have influence on society. In the microcosim, the family authority teaches the subordinates (by example) how to behave, regardless of what the content of idealized written and verbal decrees are, the examples set are the behaviors that are mimiced.

    Gun laws stem from a chaotic and violent past. Pioneering a vast continent required the use of guns. There were competing civilizations and individuals to wipe out, and "ferocious" animals to kill. This was the cause of the right to bear arms. Today the evolution of that past approach to colonization is evident on macro and mico scales. Gangs, militants and self-professed vigilanties have their root in this past. Political and covert international influences are governed by the mechanisms taught by the forefathers of colonization. It seems clear to me that leading by example is by far the most effective teaching method.

    edit, what seems odd is that the consequences of using violence as a method of punishment and/or colonization are useless as a foundation for a progressive and harmonic society. As you say, forgiveness, tolerance and compassion create the type of foundation upon which progress and harmony thrive. Its interesting to note that America's "welcome arms" to the world's refugees and immigrants are the same arms that are covered in the blood of the American Natives, African Slaves and exploited foreign nationals. This dicotomy shows up as an even divide among voters and as a schizophrenic approach to foreign policies.
    Last edited: Feb 5, 2007
  12. Feb 5, 2007 #11
    Well put, until the misuse of the word "schizophrenic," which actually describes sufferers who even nowadays are shackled, abused, abandoned and humiliated due their no-fault illness. Here in the U.S. they are given the "freedom to be psychotic."
  13. Feb 5, 2007 #12


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    My apologies to those who might be suffering due to a diagnosis or an actual condition of schizophrenia. I could simply use a word like dicotomy or "two faced" or dual purposed but when you see "peace" enforced with "force" I guess it would be more like a dissonant practise or simply put, deceptive.

    (sticking with my hypothesis) the actions of today's leaders are the result of the examples set by yesterday's icons of authority.
  14. Mar 17, 2007 #13
    I humbly suggest it's not as clearly "one-way" as you would perhaps like to think. Society is nothing more nor less than a collection of individuals, to suggest that society "causes" individuals to act in a certain way, and at the same time deny that individuals can have any effect on that society, would be erroneous.

    And such a method is efficacious if and only if individuals can affect society, in addition to society affecting individuals - precisely my point. There is no simple "one-way" cause and effect relationship, there are causes and effects both ways.

    Returning to the OP - forgiveness is effective only when there is remorse and a willingness and ability to act correctly in future. If a wrong-doer is genuinely remorseful (ie recognises that what he/she did was wrong), and is willing and able to act correctly in future, then forgiveness is an efficacious course of action. However, if there is no remorse, or if the wrong-doer has no intention of acting (or is unable to act) correctly in future, then forgiveness alone would be misguided.

  15. Apr 28, 2007 #14
    "evil can be overcome by grace and amnesty?"

    The word "overcoming" sounds like there is a war going on.

    But, evil can be met with grace and amnesty.
    This will tend to minimize further evil.

    And to moving finger: "forgiveness is effective only when there is remorse and a willingness and ability to act correctly in future."

    In one sense, maybe.
    The way I view forgiveness is: I don't want to keep holding on to a Grudge.
    If someone injures me (or my feelings), I will sit with that injury, until I forgive him.
    My hating him ONLY affects me. He feels nothing, yet I sit there filled with hatred.
    I am losing, and he is STILL winning, and still hurting me.

    There's a story I heard: Two men were Prisoners of War. They were tortured often.
    They met 20 years later at a reunion. The first guy asked: "Do you STILL hate our captors?"
    The other guy growled: "Yes, I will hate them forever."
    The first guy said: "Well, then they've still got you imprisoned, don't they?"

    I forgive myself for allowing myself to put up with the crap that the other person did to me.
    I could have avoided it (or handled it better) . . . but I didn't.
    So, being a kind guy, I will forgive myself for being upset by the event.
  16. May 19, 2007 #15
    I believe this illustrates the notion that the course of "not forgiving" someone whilst at the same time "not taking any action about it" is a useless and possibly self-harming course. If I am to take the course of "not forgiving" some person for an act in the past, then my course is useful if and only if it leads to some action or behaviour of mine which is in line with such non-forgiveness. Such an action or behaviour could be (for example) acting to punish that person, to incarcerate that person, or to change that person's behaviour.

    Combining "non-forgiveness" with an act which is compatible with that non-forgiveness is therefore often completely efficacious.

    On the other, simply forgiving someone who has committed a wrongful act, knowing that that person shows no remorse and has no intention of acting differently in future, would be inefficacious and therefore a mistake.
  17. May 19, 2007 #16


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    Deeds of malevolence can only continue with a certain amount of forgiveness occuring amongst those perpetrating the malevolence.

    If the perps were to practise malevolence on each other the malevolence would end in a short period of time because the source would be extinquished. So, in this light, the malevolence is dependent upon a system of tolerance and forgiveness.

    This shows the power of tolerance and balance. The malevolence is dependent upon ethical behavior within its ranks but does not practise it beyond a defined boundary.

    According to an unwritten law, at some point when the unethical behavior reaches an unbalanced proportion within a social system, the malevolence will be arrested by a turn of the tide. The mechanism that arrests it may be forgiveness and may be the malevolent role model that has been modeled by the perps.

    edit. I think its a case of which role model demostrates the most likelyhood of offering a survival model. If the role of forgiveness and tolerance demostrates an ability to create an enjoyable and long lived survivability, then it will attract the majority of people. If malevolence offers a similar survivability mechanism, it will be used as a role model.

    But, as I pointed out, it is by the power of tolerance within the ranks of malevolent perpetrators that they are able to survive as a unit. This bodes well for the status of forgiveness and tolerance.
    Last edited: May 19, 2007
  18. May 20, 2007 #17
    This however does not apply in a system where the perpetrators of malevolence are in the minority and most of the victoms of that malevolence are the innocent majority (as is the case in most real societies). In this case, malevolence is not "dependent upon a system of tolerance and forgiveness".
  19. May 20, 2007 #18


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    The Nazi SS showed forgiveness and tolerance toward their leader's (Hitler's) jewish anscestry, his diminutive stature and his unreasonable and unstrategic commands that were highly influenced by the syphilis he had contracted. Without that sense of forgiving and tolerance within the ranks of this malevolent political party there would probably have been a different outcome and perhaps no Nazi party to speak of.

    The same can be said of the attitudes between SS officers. There had to be a degree of tolerance and forgiving of individual differences shown there to facilitate the malevolent method of reaching the 3rd Reicht's goals of totalitarianism.

    Forgiveness and tolerance appear to hold an essential role in any social system. Without them the systems breakdown rapidly.

    Therefore I would recommend that tolerance be used as a component that will not only quell malevolence but serve as a mechanism of behavior modification in the case of reforming the malevolent personality. It acts as a strong role model that is, if not consciously familiar, unconsciously accepted as an essential part of survival.
    Last edited: May 20, 2007
  20. May 21, 2007 #19
    It seems there is some confusion in this example about what exactly is being "forgiven". The topic of this thread is whether forgiveness of malevolent behaviour is effectual or not - in the example you give the Nazi party members were not forgiving Hitler for his malevolence, they were (according to you) forgiving him for his ancestry, stature and medical condition - which is not really relevant to the topic.

    Agreed the social system itself might break down, but it does not follow from this that any malevolence which is present within such a social system (especially if that malevolence is prevalent amongst a small minority of the members of that system) is in any way directly dependent on such forgiveness or tolerance.

    I don't see how your "therefore" follows - you seem to be arguing on the one hand that malevolence feeds off forgiveness and tolerance, and on the other that forgiveness and tolerance quells malevolence?

    I'll return to my earlier conclusion that forgiveness in the face of malevolence is effective if and only if there is remorse and/or willingness to alter future behaviour on the part of the perpetrator of that malevolence. Otherwise it's ineffective.
    Last edited: May 21, 2007
  21. May 21, 2007 #20


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    The main point of what I've written, using the Nazis as example, is that tolerance and forgiving are inherent in every social system. Without them a system breaks down. The same is true in structural engineering, no tolerance - no structure. It was with that demonstration that I was able to conclude that when forgiveness and tolerance are applied toward modifying the behavior of a malevolent individual, forgiveness and tolerance has a 100% chance of being effective ("reaching" the individual) because it will be recognized (consciously or unconsciously) as a mechanism that leads toward the survival of that malevolent individual. And most individuals want to survive. When the individual is malevolent in a suicidal manner a different approach will probably be required.

    edit: forgiveness (and the tolerance it requires) provides a universal role model that works toward the behavior modification of a malevolent individual. It is 100 percent recognizable as a means of survival (and if the perp doesn't survive, they can't change their behavior). Yet, as moving finger says, willingness plays a certain part in the modification of the malevolent behavior of an individual.
    However, there is no better role model than forgiveness because any other role model will simply support the malevolent individual's earlier attitudes of indifference, violence, non-compassion and so on and so forth.
    Last edited: May 21, 2007
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