Philosophy of Forgiveness
1. Write one page on forgiveness. If you are Simon, do you forgive the Nazi? Do you think he was right to remain silent and let the soldier die in agony without forgiveness? Are there limits to forgiveness? Or is it limitless? What do you suspect Jesus would do? How about Nietzsche?
For Simon Wiesenthal, “When history looks back, I want people to know the Nazis weren’t able to kill millions of people and get away with it” (Wiesenthal.com). Forgiveness is called by many names: benignity, condonation, exculpation, kindness, mercifulness and pardon. It is a willed change of heart and/or a subjective term. You can either forgive someone or not. As a personal volition, only the victim renders him qualified to make the decision (Wiesenthal 98). However, to forgive or not entails recurring “silence” for the sufferer who has not forgiven the evildoer. On the contrary, when one forgives someone, he may still remember the wrongs done to him (Pran 231).
The Nazi soldier blindly obeyed his leader and his own line of reasoning, but not (perhaps) the consequent dire murkiness of his personality. He has become a murderer who has no prior intention of becoming one, but became a murderer due to his murderous ideology (Wiesenthal 53). Undoubtedly because of that, he was partially or wholly blameworthy for his actions and repercussions.
Based on an excerpt by Wiesenthal, the SS soldier, within his conscience, performed the abominable acts against a particular family and against the other Jews. Killing innocent people, children and infants is indeed direly inhumane and horrifying (42). According to the Nazi’s confession to Simon, he will not do the same act again (Wiesenthal 51). Unfortunately, with the sudden turn of events, he got terribly wounded at an instance. The Nazi soldier is now in his imminent death at a hospital and asked Simon the Jew forgiveness (Wiesenthal 54).
Like what I mentioned above, forgiveness is a subjective subject matter dependent solely on the person who does (or not) or bestow forgiveness. If I were Simon, since the repentant Nazi SS man asked for forgiveness prior to his death, I would have whispered (or even have announced to the Nazis and the other Jews) that I have already forgiven the dying man. I will not, I think, lose anything for doing so except for two other reasons:
Do you know when you were telling us about your meeting with the SS man, I feared at first that you had really forgiven him. You would have no right to do this in the name of the people who had not authorized you to do so. What people have done to you yourself, you can, if you like forgive and forget. That is your own affair, but it would have been a terrible sin to burden your conscience with other people’s sufferings. (Wiesenthal 65)
First, whether I whispered or announced to the crowd in the hospital that I have already forgiven a Nazi, my fellow Jew may either get terribly angry at me or not. They would either think that I am a traitor and because of our belief in “eye for eye and tooth for tooth” (Exod 21:24; Lev 24:20; Deut 1:21). Thus, I can be tagged as a disgrace to my own Jewish community (race) or to the million Jews who suffered on the hands of the Nazis. Others will see it as a sign of strength, that is, despite the Nazis gross maltreatment of my race; compassion (not grudge, vengeance, or any suitable terms) still prevailed in my heart. (Note: I make not saying that that’s actually what Simon felt at those instances; of course, he wants justice). Yet, as stated in the New Testament: “ So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart” (English Standard Version, Matthew 18:35).
In case news have it that I condoned an SS, my fellow Jews will show great indignation to me. Nonetheless, it will not be the same for Jews with the same sentiments or decisions as me. For me, kindness toward an enemy is a noble deed – if not, nobler. “For, if you love the ones loving you, what reward do you have? ” (Analytical-Literal Translation, Matthew 5:38-39, 46).
Despite the monumental atrocity of the Nazi, possessing a forgiving heart in such monstrous plight is atypical. I would have freed myself from the pain Nazis caused me and my family (but like I said, it takes time and depends on the gravity of the ‘incidents’). Although, this is easier said than done – I believe I would have avoided consequences (e.g., Wiesenthal’s memory of walking away in silence haunted him whether he did the right thing) such as not forgiving someone who asked me for mercy.
Second, the Nazi people may or may not believe me. Perhaps, they would think that I have gone crazy even if I confer condonation to a Nazi even with tears in my heart. On the other hand, it may change the history of mankind or the fate of the Jews (whether hyperbole or not). It may have ended at an earlier time the mass murdering (genocide) of Jews or the Holocaust. Some would have defied the Fuhrer and their “Aryan” leaders who are against them. But we can no longer change history.
So, it is really up to Simon to forgive or not the SS Nazi. He has all the right, free will and sentiments to forgive or not. For my part, I cannot blame Simon (although I am not saying that he is either right or not) if he just walked away in silence and let the soldier die in agony without mercy. As Simon said: “[N]obody who has not had our experiences will be able to understand fully (Wiesenthal 75). Mainly because I am not Simon.
I think it better at any moment in my life here on earth that it will definitely come to an end. I would rather simply console my soul that, May God forgive me also – whether I acted in ignorance forgiving an enemy like this one or simply because I have also the same quality like my Creator.’ As Luke said: “But I tell you who hear: love your enemies, do good to those who hate you bless those who curse you, and pray for those who mistreat you” (Hebrew Names Version, 6:27).
For my part, there are either limits or not to forgiveness. If a person wronged you and verily asked or begged for forgiveness, who am I not to forgive him? I will forgive a human being as long as he asks for it if it is only me whom he wronged or done evil.
But I say to you, Love your enemies: do good to them that hate you: and pray for them that persecute and calumniate you: That you may be the children of your Father who is in heaven, who maketh his sun to rise upon the good, and bad, and raineth upon the just and the unjust. (Douay-Rheims Version, Matthew 5:44-45)
This is if the person does not perform those acts with intentionally or with malice (evil intentions) again. Any repentant soul is deserving of forgiveness: I should always open my heart for forgiveness so that, I may, too, if I were in Karl’s shoes (God forbids) – be forgiven (God permits). So, forgiveness can either be with limits or not as determined by the person who does the act or due to the intermingling of events. “And who ever shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever shall speak against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this age, nor in that to come” (Codex Sinaiticus in English Translation, Matthew 12:32).
Jesus, who is “the One Who is right with God” (New Life Version, I John 2:1), before He died on the crucifix forgave His enemies: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (English Standard Version, Luke 23:34). What the Nazi did is still “finite” compared to God’s mercy and power to bring dead people back to life by means of miracles.
Concerning Nietzsche (1844-1900), an influential German existentialist philosopher, who attacked the principles of Judaism (The Antichrist 44) and Christian hypochondriacs (Human, All Too Human 47, 113), and yet not the Jews (?) for he was an ardent fiend of anti-Semitism, power politics and nationalism (Britannica.com). Concerning forgiveness, either he will forgive the SS or not. Like I mentioned above, forgiveness is subjective and is dependent entirely on the person and unfolding of events.
Most restorative laws of men are enforced for punishment, reparation, determent and restitution depending on the gravity of the act done by an individual or group of people. I, for one, believe in the justice of God and law of men. I can forgive those who wronged me and it is still up to God whether He will forgive them. (Although I am not saying who am I to forgive and God will not? That’s beside my point!) God is a God of justice and He is our first, ‘overall’ and/or last resort.
2. Write about the hardest moment of forgiveness you faced. Tell the full story. How were you wronged and what was your response? Would you respond the same way if it happened to you today? Why? How does your action measure up to the philosophy of Gandhi? (Based on a friend’s betrayal). (One page).
The hardest moment of forgiveness that I faced so far is concerning some people whom I have not done wrong but despise me for irresponsible reasons (or simply because they believe in rumors). Sadly, they do not know my whole story on any particular event of my life, and yet they are better judges than to ‘myself.’ By word of mouth, they believe in a spread prevarication relayed to them by unreliable blabbermouths. Later on, a lie repeatedly said many times becomes a truth to them. Consequently, I can no longer defend myself as ‘rumors take wings and fly.’ Even if I have the chance to prove my case, not all people will appreciate my stance. So, it is really hard to counteract hearsays and sometimes no amount of counterargument would prevail.
The only and last resort for me is, as circumstances permit, prove to myself and to them (whether they believe me or not) that I am not that sort of person. So, I just keep doing good to people as much as I could. At the end of the day, they will realize that, indeed, I am just like any ordinary human beings. I do the right thing. And then, sometimes, although I did the right thing, because of my infirmities, I may still err unintentionally. But that does not mean that I am wholly that type of person whom they have branded me as such. Thus, because I am a human being with feelings just like anyone else, I am deeply hurt within.
As a consolation to myself, I simply keep telling myself in silent consolation words such as: ‘I have not wronged you. You do not know what you are talking and believing about. If that’s what you think about me, then, it’s entirely up to you. I cannot do anything anymore about my situation. On the other hand, you can confront me and ask me if I am really that kind of person based on my motives and the consequences of my actions.’ I the murmur deep within my soul: ‘I do forgive you even before you asked me. May God forgive me, too.’
In case I actually experienced what Simon has underwent during the Holocaust, or to answer directly the question: What if it also happened to you during your lifetime? My answer stands. I will forgive because it is the only way I will find consolation. Despite the brutality, hardship, evils and so forth, I know there is a caring God. “You have been put to no test but such as is common to man: and God is true, who will not let any test come on you which you are not able to undergo; but he will make with the test a way out of it, so that you may be able to go through it” (Bible in Basic English, I Corinthians 10:13). And that,
For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall have the power to divide us from the love of God, that I is in Messiah Yeshua our Lord. (Messianic Renewed Covenant, The Romans 8:38).
Regarding my action and how it measures up with the philosophy of Gandhi or betrayal (delivering up, denial or disowning) of a friend, I know it is similar to it. Friends are just like any ordinary people. However, because of their unfaithfulness and undependability, they are liable for the consequences of their actions. Under human laws, whatever sanction, penalty or punishment is fit for their actions, they should suffer from it. This is exactly what we call justice. However, other people will ask the question: How could someone whom you had forgiven still suffer from the consequences of his wrongdoings? That’s exactly what justice is, but if mercy is applied – it’s entirely another story. Still, at the very least, a repentant soul will make his punishment less heavy for him. Even the Lord God does that to us as well: “For whom [the] LORD loves He disciplines, and He scourges [fig. , punishes] every son whom He receives” (Analytical-Literal Translation, Hebrews 12:6; Proverbs 3: 11, 12).
However, in light of the philosophy of Gandhi, he has his own reasons and feelings to give benefits of the doubt to people whom he considered a friend and yet betrayed him. He is acting toward the true intent of forgiveness – that is, giving up his feeling of resentment to avenge himself by simply (instead) tightening the reigns (control) against the other party (ThinkQuest.org).
3. Simon lied to the Nazi soldier’s mother. Why? Would you have done the same? Or would you have told her the truth about her son? What is the right thing to do in this situation? Why? Should the mother’s false image of her son be destroyed? (One page).
I cannot blame Simon for having lied to the Nazi soldier’s mother for not telling the truth that her son murdered ‘countless’ Jews. He did it to keep the memory of the mother about his son being a good person (in former times). It was better to let things as they are instead of letting the mother languish since she already knows that her son was already dead.
Since I have a forgiving spirit and for mercy’s sake, in reiteration, I will let the mother live with his (former-time) memories about his son being a “good boy.” That is exactly how she had known him. I do it for the sake of compassion to the poor widow. Her mother, especially, was sad for his decision and because of that, ceased from reproaching him (which means, she already done her part and the burden already rested then to her son Karl). Even the father of Karl was against did not actually approve of Karl’s decision to join Hitler’s SS.
On the other side, there are people who disagree with me such that Simon should have told the truth to Karl’s mother for the sake of the Jewish victims. The burden rests on the mother whether she will then embrace the truth about his son’s crimes, and then tell the truth to the world what her son actually did (Wiesenthal 240). But, for my part, since the mother had done her part then in reproaching Karl, it is better to be silent instead. As an analogy from the Bible: “The fathers shall not be put to death for the sons, neither shall the sons be put to death for the fathers. Every man shall be put to death for his own sin” (Modern King JamesVersion, Deuteronomy 24:16).
Thus, using the above quote: Why should I let the mother live his life with sad memories about her son? Nonetheless, if that is my intention, I will let the mother live with the truth about her son and let her also battle with her own thoughts until she acknowledged the truth which will set her free. But, then again, why will I make her suffer for mercy’s sake?! I will just let her live with the fact that she has already lost her son – and keep my silence: “ There are many kinds of silence. Indeed it can be more eloquent than words and it can be interpreted many ways” (Wiesenthal 97).
So, what is really the right thing to do in this kind of situation? Because the mother was not the one who decided for her son’s action, he should be free from anguish. Then, due to my silence and mercy for Karl’s mother, are these parting words: “I was not born a murderer In my mother’s memory I am still a happy boy without a care in the world Full of high spirits. Oh, the jokes we used to play “ (Wiesenthal 31).
In recap, I know there is nothing wrong if I have not told Karl’s mother about the truth by reason of mercy and compassion. Likewise, there is nothing wrong if I told her the truth – simply because it is the truth.
4. Do you forgive white racists in 1960’s America for letting police dogs loose on blacks, physically blocking their entrance to schools even after the government ordered them to let black students in, refusing to grant them the right to vote, lynching many of them, spraying them with fire hoses, arresting them, and bombing their houses and churches (among many, many other crimes)? Why? Explain. What would Malcolm X do? (One page)
History teaches us to learn from it: moral lessons such as justice, forgiveness, care, love and so on. Hence, history is not simply a record of past events. Since the white racists in the 1960’s America letting police dogs loose on blacks, physically blocking them to have schooling, denying their suffrage, arresting them, killing some of them and so forth, I maintain that our fellow human beings who erred against us should still be forgiven. For my part, having learned the true power of forgiveness will make me healthy, whole and happy because I disentangled myself from a vindictive and vengeful attitude less I become a lifetime victim/sufferer of my oppressors.
For my part, I should never close my door to anyone who ask (or not) for forgiveness. When I forgive, I don’t only have the privilege to be forgiven by others when I done wrong sometimes in my life, but it only proves that I can also forgive myself. Self-forgiveness, in my opinion, is so potent ‘a soul machinery’ that you know exactly how to forgive others, and vice versa. Even if I am not the one who was wronged, if I forgave some, I am not betraying the one or people who done them heinous crimes; in my opinion, I believe I am ‘honoring’ them in case they were already dead.
Dalai Lama, for one, is political and religious Tibetan leader, personally and collectively forgave the Chinese despite assailing and killing many of his countrymen. According to him, human beings should forgive his fellowmen for having committed brutalities against him and against humanity. What Lama wants is restoration of love rather than losing compassion against wrongdoers (Wiesenthal, p. 129). Although Lama believes that a person must forgive but not necessarily forget, it can still be implied as in the latter case, that you are not better than your enemies if you know not to, at least, forgive them.
Another one is Nelson Mandela, first South African black president. His family was harassed. He was imprisoned under maximum security for 27 years for charges of overthrowing the oppressive white minority government. Yet, when released from prison, during his inauguration as South African President, he even invited his jailers.
There are other examples of atrocities done to mankind by fellow human beings. Included but not limited are during the Khmer Rouge, China’s Cultural Revolution and countless others. There are also individual (Harry Wu, Moshe Bejski, Primo Levi, Marietta Jaeger, et al) and case to case bases (e.g., abduction, torture, rape, murder, etc.) as determined by circumstances, culture, religion and life situations (e.g., age, gender, family status, marital status, socio-economic standing, etc.) concerning inhumane acts or violation of individual human rights.
So, combining all the evil deeds done to humanity, the sufferings or plight of the blacks is not an exception: it is not an exception to the annals of men’s violation of human rights. Concerning Malcolm X (1925-1965), an American Muslim civil rights leader, I think he would have forgiven his wrongdoers. In the words of Malcom himself, before his assassination:
I did many things as a [Black] Muslim that I’m sorry for now. I was a zombie then – like all [Black] Muslims – I was hypnotized, pointed in a certain direction and told to march. Well, I guess a man’s entitled to make a fool of himself if he’s ready to pay the cost. It cost me 12 years. That was a bad scene, brother. The sickness and madness of those days – I’m glad to be free of them. (qtd. in Parks 122).
“About Simon Wiesenthal” Wiesenthal.com. Web. 8 Dec. 2012.
Davis, Ossie. “Malcolm X’s Eulogy”. (February 27, 1965) The Official Website of Malcolm X. Web. 8 Dec. 2012.
“Friedrich Nietzsche”. Encyclopedia Britannica. Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica Inc., 2012. Web. 08 Dec. 2012.
“Malcolm X”. Encyclopedia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica Inc., 2012. Web. 08 Dec. 2012.
Nietzsche, Friedrich. Human, All Too Human: A Book for Free Spirits. Charles H. Kerr & Company, 1908. (Trans. Alexander Harvey). Web. 8 Dec. 2012
Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Antichrist. Charles H. Kerr & Company, 1908. (Trans. Alexander Harvey). Web. 08 Dec. 2012.
Parks, Gordon, “Malcolm X: The Minutes of Our Last Meeting”, Clarke. Web. 8 Dec. 2012.
Pran, D. “Response.” The Sunflower. New York: Schocken Books, 1998. Print.
Wiesenthal, S. “The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness.” Revised and Expanded Edition, Schocken Books New York, 1998. Print.