Thursday, March 16, 2006

Is Forgiveness always the Answer?

I made the mistake of catching the last few minutes of the Dr. Phil Show today. Normally, I would have turned the channel, but Dr. Phil was in a prison talking with a girl, Brandi, about why she ran down and killed her boyfriend. The psychologist (and voyeur) in me stayed glued to the set to see what this killer had to say. The synopis of the show was as follows:

Brandi was just 17 years old when she hit and killed her estranged high school boyfriend Daniel. She did it with her parents' car that she snuck out earlier that night. She says it was an accident, but Daniel's family disagrees. They say she purposely ran their son down in a fit of rage.

The victim's mother says the following:

"Let me tell you some things that she said to us,” says Dr. Phil. “She said, ‘There is no way Brandi could not have known that she hit him. She said that he jumped in front of the car, but Daniel would have known better than that. There is no doubt in my mind that this was intentional. There is nothing you could ever say to bring my son back. You don't realize the pain that you have caused our family. And I could never ever forgive her. She got a break in court, a slap on the wrist.'

"'We were told that it was going to be first degree murder with no chance of parole. And then she only got 12 years. Every time we entered the courtroom, we were ridiculed. Brandi said, “He got what he deserved.” I will never have any grandchildren from Daniel. I will never see my son graduate from high school. I will never see him get married. I think her mother is a piss-poor mother. I don't care how much I love my child, I would never lie for him. She has ruined our lives.’ What do you say to that?”

Well, Dr. Phil says the family of the victim should forgive the killer--and her family. This is the only way they will make peace with themselves. The victim's sister gives Dr. Phil a look of disgust and says, "We will never forgive Brandi." Dr.Phil insists that forgiveness is the only solution that will make the pain go away. It's no wonder that people think psychologists are a bunch of self-righteous ninnies who are one brick short of a load when it comes to common sense. It seems to me forgiveness in this case is just another name for a "get this girl out of jail free card." Especially since the conversation from the killer's parents then turned to "how would Brandi serving all this time really help the situation, after all, the victim is already dead." I have heard this over and over from attorneys, social workers and family members in the course of when I am doing an evaluation with a defendant who has been charged with murder. Forget about the victim--he/she is long gone and there is no reason the perpetrator should have to be put out too much by spending all that nasty time in prison.

Perhaps Dr. Phil should take some advice from Jeane Safer, PhD, who is the author of Forgiving and Not Forgiving: : Why Sometimes It's Better Not to Forgive. Safer argues in this book that genuine forgiveness is neither easy nor is it always necessary. Carefully choosing not to forgive can also be therapeutic. When this grieving family told Dr. Phil that they chose not to forgive the killer of their son, perhaps he should have kept the therapeutic hype to a minimum--one size does not fit all--and maybe respected their choice, which they've had a lot more time to think about than he has. You would think with all the expertise Dr. Phil purports to have, he would know that.


Blogger Helen said...


I agree--but the point of the post is that forgiveness is not always the therapeutic tool that "experts" and others would have us believe. Sometimes, it is used for manipulation, to gain sympathy, and for other reasons. I was really just interested in the topic of forgiveness and why our culture seems so prepared to let killers off the hook so easily and encourages others to do so by "forgiving and moving on."

7:25 PM, March 16, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's a great deal of truth in the old adage "To err is human, to forgive is Divine." I'm not capable of forgiving some things. I am capable of learning to live with them, but I know as a mom that I couldn't forgive someone for killing one of my kids. Heck, I still haven't forgiven the girl who falsely accused my brother of rape when I was in high school. I still think she deserves to be punished for what she put our family through and she never was. We've moved on and remain grateful to the jury that acquitted my brother after 20 minutes of deliberation because the girl told so many different versions of her story under cross-examination, but I've never forgiven her and never will. It's not something I think of every day, but it came immediately to mind when you mentioned choosing not to forgive someone.

7:46 PM, March 16, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Forgiveness has always been very difficult for me, and that includes forgiving myself when I have seriously violated my own belief system, ethics, integrity, however you want to label it. But I know that I have been forgiven, and I do believe in forgiveness.

But I do not confuse forgiveness with "letting the person off the hook." *Sometimes* that may be appropriate, but more often, the person owes such a debt to society that letting him or her off would, itself, be a crime.

IMO, of course.

8:00 PM, March 16, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's a twisting of Juedo-Christian teaching on forgivnesss. They're exploiting it so the guilty can "get-out-of-jail-free", that's exactly the point.

They deliberatly ignore that forgivness first requires repentance on the part of the offender. This, of course, requires that the offender faces up to the fact that they have given offense. Then they have to regret it. That is repentance. Then the offender can ask for forgivness. Only then is forgivness appropriate.

8:08 PM, March 16, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From a different anonymous:

Yes, it seems like so much of lefty thought is just a sort of denatured Christianity, with the uncomfortable God parts left out.

8:30 PM, March 16, 2006  
Blogger BobH said...

Why does "society" often want the "injured" to "forgive" the injurer(s)? Because this very often benefits society in doing so! By definition, most of society has suffered no loss, only the injured has suffered loss. But what if the injured decides to retaliate against the injurer(s)? There is the possibility that others in society will become collateral damage. If the two parties, the injurer(s) and injurered enter into a tit-for-tat recrimination spiral where the major goal is to hurt the others, then there is a very high probability that non-combatants in society will suffer as well.

And if society can convince/force the injured to not retaliate, the original injurer must recipricate to society (not to the injurered) in order to continue this protection. Consequently, society will gain, the injured will lose and the injurer will come out even.

Does this make sense??

8:37 PM, March 16, 2006  
Blogger Assistant Village Idiot said...

C.S.Lewis covers this in many places, and is the wisest thinker on it that I know. The Great Divorce and The Screwtape Letters may be the best places to start.

Forgiveness is not trying to talk yourself into believing "It's okay," or "It was an understandable mistake, really." That's just denial. The commenters above who speak about resolving to get on with their lives, and not letting the hatred rule you, are closer to the real meaning. It is much more a series of actions than a feeling of warm regard.

To forgive is to no longer hold the sin against the perpetrator -- not to excuse it, but to not seek revenge, even secretly, and to no longer speak ill of them -- which often means saying nothing at all.

You might not ever be completely free of the bad feeling -- your gorge may rise at the mention of their name for the rest of your life. But what they have done to you is no longer a part of your life. The "forgetting" part is not forgetting in memory, but a sort of official forgetting.

I am a grudge-holder, and none of this comes easy for me, so please, let none feel accused.

10:46 PM, March 16, 2006  
Blogger Ed Brenegar said...

Two things ...
First, Helen, the cover of a book in Barnes & Noble caught my eye the other day. It was about the growing violence in young women. Are you familiar with this book or this idea? What do you think? Is it similar to the stuff that violence in boys material?

Second, I understand forgiveness as a means of reconciling the relationship. It assumes that there is a relationship, and that there is the potential for mutual accountability between the persons. The accountability aspects is where the justice side of the relationship gets worked out. I can wish for justice, that she be held accountable for her actions, and still forgive her, desiring a reconciled relationship. Forgiveness doesn't absolve a person of guilt. It just opens up the possibility for reconciliation.

10:51 PM, March 16, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What "relationship" needs to be reconciled in this situation, ed?

11:03 PM, March 16, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dave, the housewives in Peoria would kick your ass if they take a grudge against you and, if you began not to hurt, kick it again. You've never been to Peoria, have you. Like Lincoln and the South, if you were really lucky, they'd think about maybe letting you off officially after they were thoroughly convinced you were going to do it their way. From the Civil War to Caterpillar, Peoria has tried to take care of business.

12:02 AM, March 17, 2006  
Blogger Helen said...


Perhaps the book you saw at B & N was "See Jane Hit : Why Girls Are Growing More Violent and What We Can Do About It" by James Garbarino? Yes, there are more studies going on looking at girl's aggression. I wrote about this in another post. Girls make up a higher and higher number of assaults in this country and the book looks at why--I think part of it is this whole, "go girl attitude," we teach girls without also teaching them about boundaries. Aggression can be okay when used in the right circumstances but acting out in rages like we see with "lovely" Brandi here needs to be taken as seriously as we would take a boy murdering a girl.


My version of Dr. Phil would not attract much of an audience. Think about it--While Oprah and Dr. Phil harp on self esteem etc, I would just shrug and say "Self esteem, bah, humbug, why is self-esteem important? Maybe you need less self-esteem, you little twit." Yeah, that would attract an audience of one!

6:33 AM, March 17, 2006  
Blogger michael farris said...

I think the point is that mass media is a poor vehicle for any kind of serious counselling. Dr Phil (whoever he is, I don't live in the US) like any media personality has to dumb down his message and stay on point so almost everybody and their unique problems are going to be fed through the meat grinder of any mass media therapist's market niche.

True forgiveness needs to be paired with true repentance (admiting to yourself what you've done and taking responsibility for it) which is really hard, so hard that very few people can do it.
There might be cases when a relationship is at stake where forgiveness can or should come without full repentance but that certainly doesn't seem to be the case here. I'd say in this case plenty of hate, sweet, soul-cleansing hate directed toward this horrible young woman is called for.

That said, nursing a grudge and vengeance fantasies and the like might be of temporary use to the survivors but they do no honor to the victim and can turn on the survivors if they're carried on too long (I'm not going to try to define 'too long'). But getting the hate out in the open for awhile is the often the best way to get it out of your own system. Preachy preemptive calls for forgiveness will just keep the hate bottled up inside.

7:54 AM, March 17, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I dunno, Helen. It seems to work for "Dr." Laura. =)

8:00 AM, March 17, 2006  
Blogger BobH said...


A few years ago, Roy Baumeister (a social psychologist) did an article for Scientific American in which he argued strongly against the obsession with high self-esteem. He said that low self-esteem doesn't correlate well with violence. Instead, it correlates with social passivity and yielding responses. Also, somebody studied the self-esteem of a prison population and found that it was higher than the self-esteem of the population at large.

It sounds as if you agree with Baumeister.

8:24 AM, March 17, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dr. Helen: "Self esteem, bah, humbug, why is self-esteem important? Maybe you need less self-esteem, you little twit." Yeah, that would attract an audience of one!"

Are you kidding, that kind of honesty would require me to be the FIRST one to sign up for your show on a paying basis, and I believe in healthy self esteem (as opposed to the psycho-babble type).

8:52 AM, March 17, 2006  
Blogger Helen said...


Yes, I do agree with Baumeister--in my own research on those who are violent--I found that for certain types of violence (school violence, mass shooters, etc), the problem was high self-esteem, not low. Traits of narcissism and loving oneself too much can cause violence, not reduce it. Case in point: In a study cited in the Harvard Mental Health Letter, narcissistic persons were found to be more aggressive towards people they thought were judging them. Translated, this means that a person with high (but usually unstable) self-esteem might act aggressively towards someone they felt "dissed them." For this reason, I do not think promoting self-esteem the way Oprah does with troublesome people is helpful--in fact, it can be harmful and lead to more violence and acting out, not less. I cringe when I see this type of hype on tv.


Thanks--maybe I underestimate honesty and directness--I could be Dr. Laura without the preachy tone.

9:01 AM, March 17, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dr. Helen, when I look up "forgive" in my Merriam-Webster, definition 1A is: 'to cease to feel resentment against on account of wrong committed.' A search for "resentment" yields : 'a feeling of indignant displeasure because of something regarded as a wrong, insult, or other injury'.

It seems to me that Dr. Phil is failing to distinguish between *rational* resentment and *irrational* resentment. It is perfectly normal for the victim's family members to feel anger whenever they think of the murderess--this is rational resentment (as well as treating her as she deserves). If the family were to spend every waking moment of the rest of their lives obsessing over the murderess, this would be irrational resentment, as well as clearly damaging to their own psyches.

I'm not a mental health professional, but I would guess that most folks do not make the error of irrational resentment: they resent rationally, and they move on. No forgiveness is required.

And even for the few who do resent in an irrational manner, the answer for them is not forgiveness, but rather working on their own psychologies.

What do you think?

11:08 AM, March 17, 2006  
Blogger John Doe said...

First, a digression: one does not forgive evil, one fights it. The first problem with evil is to identify it. One of the indicators is an attempt to slither away through some twist of logic which has everyone thinking upside down. You provide an archetypal example: "Forget about the victim--he/she is long gone and there is no reason the perpetrator should have to be put out too much by spending all that nasty time in prison." Reduced to this, the argument becomes obvious for what it really is and betrays what is really going on.

Now, the point: one forgives remorse. Remorse does not try to hide from what it has done nor offer twisted excuses. Remorse is facing up to what has been done wrong and accepting responsibility for it. To not forgive genuine remorse, you have to look for excuses, you have to find ways to justify why you will not forgive. The more you have to look, the more you should be considering forgiveness.

More subtly, it is twisted logic to suggest that "forgiveness" is all about helping yourself, i.e. forgive and allow yourself to move on. Bulls**t. Life goes on, we'll move on regardless, or we don't survive. There is a difference, too, between forgiving and dealing with anger, wanting revenge, and not allowing yourself to be eaten up by the crimes of others. A beautiful illustration of this can be found in the movie "Primary Colors" when Kathy Bates tells Emma Thomson "It's never the cheater who goes to hell. It's always the one who he cheated on". Recognizing how the crimes of others affect us is an important first step in recovering from the damage, insofar as it is possible, but to suggest that simple forgiveness will cure you is fatuous. It is indicative of a culture with an insignificant attention span (and one that wants to be easily forgiven for significant crimes). "Simple forgiveness" itself is an oxymoron, true forgiveness is not simple at all, often very difficult and requires committment from both sides.

Reading this, it ought to be obvious that I have my own forgiveness issues to deal with. I have spoken to a variety of psychologists and heard a number of theories about both why bad things happen in the first place and how to cope with them. Most of the time, it is all so much fluff in the face of raw experience. Psychologists offering facile advice are covering for helplessness, ignorance or cynicism, take your pick.

Some analysis of what forgiveness actually is might also be in order, but writing this has exhausted me.

Jeez, talk about "preachy".


11:19 AM, March 17, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


My question to you would be, isn't Phil McGraw in some way an example of everything that's wrong with psychology today? Although I've never watched one of his shows in its entirety, my impression is he's a cross between a snake oil salesman and a faith healer--a true modern day tele-huckster. (His branding of psychology as a TV friendly, fix-it-in-fifteen-minutes spectator sport makes a joke of the profession of counseling in my estimation--although I am already biased).

The forgiveness McGraw promotes is milk and cookies for a myocardial infarction. Is common sense dead today? Some hurt you just have to live with, and some anger can be good.

I'm reading Destructive Trends in Mental Health on your recommendation--that's some pretty scary stuff going on with the APA. In the introduction they talk about grief counseling actually doing damage to people; that's what McGraw's advice seems like at first blush--damaging.

11:24 AM, March 17, 2006  
Blogger Soccer Dad said...

In an review of "The Victim's Song" in Commentary, Rachel Abrams went off after the "forgiveness" cult. As, I suppose, so did Alice Kaminsky, the author of the book.

11:30 AM, March 17, 2006  
Blogger LissaKay said...

Dr Phil is an idiot. I've bitched about him before because of what he said about bipolar kids are not really sick, they just have lousy parents. FU Doc!

When my brother was murdered 10 years ago, my ultra-fundie Christian parents were quick to "forgive" his killer. Not me, especially when the KNoxville police and DA office decided that getting the guy on a felony cocaine charge was more important than second degree murder, and let the bastard plead to manslaughter. Dude was sentenced to 8 years on the coke, 4 years on the manslaughter. They then gave him one year behind bars with the rest on probation, with credit for time served, so after court he went back in for 8 months. When he got out, he bragged all over town that he, a black dude, got away with killing a cracker.
I cannot forgive that, not in the Christian sense, nor in the "letting go" of my anger and hatred sense. I can't even forgive my parents for forgiving the guy. I am very resentful of that towards them. I guess I am just a steaming hunk of anger and hatred, eh?

Now my ex-husband ... I chose to "forgive" him. AVI above touched on this kind of forgiveness. I chose to let go of all emotion and feeling towards him ... no hate, no anger, no resentment or anything in regards to our marriage and its aftermath. I cannot think of anything more insulting that to say to someone like this than, "I feel nothing for you" ... it takes away ALL their power to hurt and control. That was possibly the most empowering and self-affirming thing I could ever do for myself. This is not to say, though, that he doesn't piss me off when he tries to use the children as a weapon against me ... but that's a whole different discussion.

11:34 AM, March 17, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's important here not to confuse forgiveness and forgetting. Offender requests for leniency and statements that locking them up won't bring back the victim have nothing to do with forgiveness - they are asking us to forgive AND FORGET their crimes. Such issues are irrelevant to a discussion of whether forgiveness facilitates the healing of the offended party.

Forgiveness does not rule out consequences. Look at Carla Faye Tucker. She became a Christian in prison, completely reformed, but, although she counted herself as forgiven, refused to appeal her death sentence. She demonstrated the difference between forgiveness and forgetting - she believed she had the former, but disdained the latter, She understood that her repentance did not erase the consequences of her actions.

Forgiveness and forgetting are two different concepts. Discuss forgiveness on its own, because we all know forgetting is lawlessness.

12:10 PM, March 17, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Today, you are not considered to have completely forgiven someone until you have turned around, bent over, and asked for more.
"Forgiveness" means, first, no longer being wary of the person who harmed you in the first place.

12:58 PM, March 17, 2006  
Blogger Helen said...


I am so sorry to hear about your brother and you are not a "steaming hunk of anger and hatred." Frankly, you seem fairly composed given the trauma it would be to lose your brother in this manner--and to have the man who killed him out bragging about "killing a cracker" is unbelievable. Isn't that a hate crime?

As for forgiving in interpersonal relationships, I think that it can be helpful at times--as you say, feeling nothing can negate any power the relationship had for you and may be a signal that you are healing from that relationship. You can heal from a skinned knee--it's harder to heal when you have your leg cut off.

1:04 PM, March 17, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Forgiveness is an emotionally loaded word. People like Dr. Phil probably use it because they've always believed it's "good," but they don't really think about the implications for the forgiver and forgivee. (Are those words?)

Is being emotionally or spiritually let off the hook by the victim or survivors really the best thing for an offender? Even one who takes responsibility for his actions and experiences remorse? How, exactly, does being forgiven help this person? Does it make him feel better? Does it make him a more thoughtful, better person? Does it decrease the probability of his committing further crimes? Does it make him behave better while serving his sentence?

Is forgiving an offender really the best thing for a victim? Does it make the victim feel better? Does it make him a better person? Does it decrease the probability of his seeking revenge against the offender?

What's the difference between being forgiven and having paid one's debt to society? Should we expect a victim to forgive an offender who has been properly punished by the state? Is it more civilized to forgive or to demand justice? Does forgiveness subvert the law?

Does someone like Dr. Phil encourage forgiveness because he wants to help the victim, or because he believes the offender is, in fact, a victim of society and therefore deserves to be let off the hook?

Why forgive when you can sublimate?

Discussions of forgiveness almost always proceed from a spiritual - in fact, Christian - perspective. What if the victim isn't Christian? Are there different Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, secular humanist version of forgiveness?

If a victim somehow manages to take revenge against the offender, are they square or does somebody still "owe" somebody else forgiveness? Who's the victim in this case?

Forgiveness is a private matter. Should someone who forgives an offender also refuse to press charges? As citizens, why should we care whether Bubba's parents forgive Bobbi for running him down? We may disagree with her sentence, but that's a technical problem.

Got lots of stupid questions. Anybody got any smart answers?

1:57 PM, March 17, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, look on the bright side. At least the calculating, cold-blooded murderess in this case GOT some jail time, not like what seems to be happening in Australia...

2:20 PM, March 17, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another point: Having Brandi serve time won't bring back the dead ex-boyfriend, but it does enforce the idea that if you kill someone, you WILL serve time. To hand out "get out of jail free cards" eliminates the deterrent effect of criminal punishment.

2:37 PM, March 17, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmmm. I have forgiven, when there was no remorse. It's not the same as saying, "go free, you are not responsible, you deserve happiness in spite of your crime". It's letting go of rage and bitterness and aggression in yourself, not rescuing the perpetrator from consequences, or watining till the end of time bitterly for the universe to provide perfect justice.

It helped me, and it helped me return to the place where I could live life and take care of my family and try to have some happiness in life.

3:12 PM, March 17, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can't help wondering, after Brandi gets out of prison - then what? What about up coming boyfriends (or husband(s)), what about future children? If she doesn't think she's done anything wrong in the first place, it seems she will be a time bomb - ready to go off and murder again.

As for forgiveness - sorry - but if it were my son she would get no forgiveness from me, I don't care what definition of forgiveness is used. I would certainly try to go on with my life and I would never again want to hear about her... but I would never ever forgive her.

Jonathan said: "Certainly the victim's family was hurt, but their injury is minor compared to what the victim suffered."

I've got to wonder what you consider "minor". I also have to wonder if you have an kids. There is nothing at all minor about losing a child - no matter the circumstances and least of all when someone deliberately sets out to kill them.

3:50 PM, March 17, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Right on. Some of these people who commit crimes by false accusation, or justify their cowardly crimes with false accusations, need to face some consequences for their crimes.

And part of forgiveness is restitution. If there is no restitution, there is no forgiveness.

4:03 PM, March 17, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Television is for the shut-ins, invalids, elderly and unmotivated of the world. And a brain-numbing tot minder. It's sole purpose is to provide advertisers with viewers. Dr. Phil attracts a gullible audience with disposable income. Quality demographics. He presents this audience with people to feel superior to, to vent hate and anger on, and he has a message that his viewers like to hear: All your problems are someone elses fault. Performing a useful service, maybe, as a nonprescription narcotic. Side-effect: many confuse TV with real life, and the make-believe seems more real than reality.

5:17 PM, March 17, 2006  
Blogger DADvocate said...

Just the other day I had a conversation with my 9 year old daughter discussing some conflict that had occurred in her mother's family. My daughter said, "Well, you just have to forgive and forget." My response was that it's good to forgive but don't forget. If your forget you're just setting yourself up for someone to do the same thing to you again.

I don't see how you can fully forgive someone who has no remorse which seems to be all too common. A sociopathic epidemic perhaps. But what can you expect in a world where no one's at fault.

But, please, Helen, why would you waste a moment of your life watching Dr. Phil? Life is to precious for such foolery. Jerry Springer can give better advice.

9:50 PM, March 17, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Kumar:

Here is something else Biblical you might consider: Luke 6:41.

Did you actually read what Dr. Helen wrote? You seem to think that she doesn't believe in forgiveness. She simply wrote that it isn't always the answer...and---interestingly, given your own seeming interpretation of her words---that different people have the right to deal with their grief in different ways.

Don't troll in response. Think about it, please.

7:21 PM, March 18, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Kumar:

I appreciate your politeness. It is something I see quite a bit here on this blog, and is nice (compared to say, Kossack-ian histrionics).

My comment about "trolling" was because in fact I do not know you, and there have been several people quite angrily and personally attacking Dr. Smith when they disagree with her. I am pleased you are not one of them.

My point was that I hoped that you were as judgemental of yourself as you are of Dr. Smith, hence the Matthew/Luke quotation. I applaud and respect your faith, but Dr. Smith is not a Christian. And even if she were a Christian, many Christians do not choose to (or are not able to) follow every Biblical edict.

After all, redemption is in God's hands, not ours. I don't mean to go all Calvinist on you, never fear.

Dr. Smith in no way said that forgiveness was a bad thing all the time, something that I believe could be assumed from your criticism of her. Her post is quite clear, in fact, that different people have different standards...and the worst thing to do to a person in grief is to insist that another person's set of criteria and strategies is the best way to deal with that grief. Tortured syntax, but you see what I mean, I'm sure.

It is cruel to tell a person with such pain and suffering in their heart that they "need" to forgive the person who did them wrong. At the same time, there is nothing wrong with a person of faith like yourself praying that the suffering person could eventually put away all the pain and hatred.

There are many Biblical edicts that are difficult for people---even committed Christians---to meet. That is why they call it "redemption," I suspect.

I don't mean to indulge in sophistry. I respect your point of view. I just believe that few people can live it.

Of course, the person on your website to whom you refer could manage it. Jesus Christ could do many things regular folk could and can not.

Religion is always a difficult topic, and is intensely personal. I may not agree with your world view, but I respect it. What we are discussing is pain and loss among fallable humans. In a way, perhaps you could forgive those sufferers who cannot forgive their tormentors the way you feel that they should?

Thanks again for your respectful and polite words.

12:57 PM, March 19, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Kumar:

One more point. Remember Dr. Smith's profession. She deals primarily with teens who committ violent acts. Thus, she sees families devastated by violence very regularly.

This will certainly lead to a world view that differs from, for example, mine---where I have never lost a person I know to violence.

Again, I do not know you. Perhaps you have been put to the test the parents Dr. Smith describes in her post faced---losing a loved one and watching the murderer walk away free to breathe the air and watch the sunshine.

Though I cannot know the level of anger and pain those family face, I do respect them, and I honor their losses by allowing them to find their way---and I do not assume that I know the best path.

You and I can pray for their peace, of course.

Again, thanks for the polite posting.

1:05 PM, March 19, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I appreciate your politeness. It is something I see quite a bit here on this blog, and is nice (compared to say, Kossack-ian histrionics).

That sounds sort of racist. But that's OK, since it's reverse-racism against a racial/ethnic group that generally isn't on the list of groups "officially protected against racism". That whole pehnomenon is interesting - why do people that think they're "compassionate" or "minority group members" not think what they're doing is racist, even when it is? Some "liberals" do this. Some "minority" members do this. Some "christians" do this.

Here's a clue: Being a "liberal", a "minority group member", "devoutly religious", etc. doesn't automatically prevent your behavior from being hateful, racist, neo-nazi, totalitarian, and/or criminal. Oh, and don't forget ethno-supremicist and religio-supremacist.

4:06 PM, March 19, 2006  
Blogger Helen said...

Anonymous 4:06:

I thought Daily Kos's blog was open to all races. What are you talking about?

4:36 PM, March 19, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Anonymous 4:06:

If you cruise the Kos comments site, you will find a great deal of nasty invective, up to and including statements wishing the death of political opponents. Yes, yes, yes, Ann Coulter said something similiar. Let's stick to the point, please. Many Kos commenters are quite rabid and imtemperate in language.

It was that nastiness and mean-spiritedness to which I was referring.

Calling my comment "racist" is bomb-throwing, pure and simple. It is not only inaccurate, but it helps dilute the evil of racism by using the descriptor inappropriately...just as calling GW Bush "Hitlerian" is an insult to any person of Jewish descent who lost a family member in the death camps.

I suspect that when you say "racist" you mean "bad person with whom I disagree." That is your right.

But "racist" carries a nasty societal aftertaste. Please only use that term when it is appropriate, rather than "wasting" it on a trollish insult.

I wouldn't call YOU racist for disagreeing with me. Why not do me the same favor?

4:53 PM, March 19, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

On the other hand, perhaps the poster means "judgemental" instead of "racist."

If he calls me "judgemental" I plead nolo contendre. Of course, I would counteraccuse the poster on the same charge!

We should never use terms like "racist," "Nazi," "evil, "fascist," and so on trivially.

4:57 PM, March 19, 2006  
Blogger Mark K. Sprengel said...

Why can't there be forgiveness while still upholding the law?

"Only one rabbi dared to expect of us such a perfect balance that we could preserve the law and still forgive the deviation. So, of course, we killed him." Speaker for the Dead

8:12 AM, March 20, 2006  
Blogger Freeman Hunt said...

I think that you can forgive someone and still expect and want him to be punished to the full extent of the law.

Forgiveness does not = the withholding of consequences for bad actions.

10:08 AM, March 20, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have trouble with forgiveness myself, but I've always valued what Eric Butterworth wrote about forgiving your enemies: "It's not that they deserve it--it's that you do."

10:11 AM, March 20, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jonathan said:

"...forgiveness is not possible, because the victim can't speak for himself and no one can legitimately speak for him."

I guess my point is - that when someone commits a murder - the victim being murdered is (of course) the direct recipient of harm - but the family is also a recipient of harm, very direct harm. Sometimes even leading to the ruin of the family involved. So, yes, although the rest of the family members continue to live - they are just as much victims of her violence.

Therefore, by your definition, if someone were to murder my son, I should be able to forgive them for the portion of the harm that has fallen on me.

Under the circumstances that Helen sites in Dr. Phil's scenario - there would be no forgiveness from me. (then again I'd never ever talk to Dr. Phil).

3:09 PM, March 20, 2006  
Blogger Melissa Clouthier said...

What sins are unforgivable?

There are many wrongs that are undoable. Living with the results poses the challenge.

Victims of sexual molestation who never receive justice either due to statute of limitations or lack of evidence must live with the molestor in his/her community living a normal life while the the victim must manage the trauma and the injustice.

At the time of the trauma, the victim is held captive. The memories of the trauma can keep the person captive.

I've grappled with this and had patients grapple with this, too. At a certain point we continue the trauma and must somehow resolve it or else never go on living a happy life. We are trapped. And we are the only ones who can untrap ourselves since the likelihood that the wrong-doer will confess and ask forgiveness is slim.

Finding a way to move on, some frame in the terms of forgiveness. A letting go of the burden of being so wronged.

So many people suffer pain, sickness and disease, not to mention mental illness because they could never let go of being wronged.

Who is really paying the price at that point? Without forgiveness, the victim pays twice.

Perhaps the problem with Dr. Phil is timing. The people angry with the murder of their son and brother deserve the confirmation of their rage at injustice.

For everything there is a time and season. The season for for forgiveness may not be now, but eventually they will tire of the burden they carry.

4:13 PM, March 20, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear fellow commenters...

I guess I allowed the conversation with Kumar to get waaay too religious, and I do apologize for that. Kumar is a nice person, and I salute his or her faith.

I only meant---and I continue to believe---the we should be very nonjudgemental toward those who have lost loved ones to violence.

Some people are trained in religious dogma that claims that *all* people *must* forgive *every* slight. That is their point of view, and peace be upon them---because I do not believe that any human being can accomplish such a goal.

I don't care to argue about it. Everyone is entitled to whatever belief system they choose. I could comment that some folks seem to selectively follow "every" precept from Holy Writ, but that is an invitation to more verbiage about religion.

My point remains, and always was, that we need to be very kind to people who have experienced such pain and loss. If they choose to not forgive the people who harmed them so, that is between them and their God, frankly. It is decidely NOT up to US to judge them.

It's not up to any of us.

That was the point I have tried to make.

4:23 PM, March 20, 2006  
Blogger Helen said...

Eric Blair,

I am with you--to have a child murdered is one of the worst things I can imagine happening to a person. When I work with parents or relatives of those who have been hurt or killed, the pain they feel is too deep to describe--it is unbearable to me--I can only imagine what it is like for the griever. I would not think of asking them to forgive the perpretrator as a way to make myself or others feel better.

What is happening today is a watered down version of Christianity that mental health professionals and liberals use as a substitute for religion. They would be horrified if anyone told them to preach Christianity but that's where they get a lot of their ideas without realizing it. An adversion to money and telling everyone to forgive each other no matter what the atrocity and passing this off as "mental health" is not really fooling anyone.

5:24 PM, March 20, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am glad that a person with your empathy and "horse sense" can talk with such families, Dr. Helen.

You are stronger than I am. It would not be possible for me to leave that kind of pain at home at the end of work.

It is interesting how folks have looked for replacements for the local pastor and congregation in our Brave New World. A psychologist or psychiatrist should never be a priest or minister to people.

That too is a job I cannot imagine.

6:04 PM, March 20, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"eric blair"-

I am anonymous 4:06 from yesterday.

When you made the "Kossack" comment yesterday I thought you were mispelling a slur against "Cossacks". I was unaware that Kossack was a proper name that was affiliated with the DailyKos blog, which I have heard of but never read. So I apologize for calling you racist in this instance, it was due to my misunderstanding of what you were saying.

7:16 PM, March 20, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And of course in all this the person blamed has to be guilty. I know if someone accused me of being responsible for someone's death I had nothing to do with they would be in deep, deep trouble. Especially if they committed crimes or torts against me using their false claims as a justification. Deep trouble indeed.

7:28 PM, March 20, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Allow me to arbitrate a little? I just read a new study that says conservative men offer unsolicited advice [cough] so I guess I'm to be excused :) I just noticed a couple missing legos up there.

On the Christian angle, a devout Christian takes forgiveness seriously, forgiveness being more or less the very core of the Christian religion, and as a devout Christian I understand some of the passion I've read above. For anyone thinking it's simplistic and fundamental, please understand the context of the basic idea: Christians believe Jesus when he is recorded as saying that to be forgiven (which they believe is tantamount to being restored to a loving, living god), they must forgive, period. To ask God to forgive them, accept them as they are, warts and all, and then to refuse to forgive others is simple hypocrisy, and it divides them from God, which is an unbearable, terrifying idea.

But that forgiveness isn't a feeling. It's a decision. Imagine a court of law, and a defendent being led out in front of a gallery. An official calls to the gallery the defendent's name, and asks if anyone has anything against this person--or more accurately, if this person owes anyone anything. (The word "sin," and the word "debt," are married ideas in Christian thought.) A Christian works toward being able to truly release any debt the defendent owes them, to let it go. They owe me nothing. All debts are settled between us. Another important point sometimes lost is that the devout Christian does this in reverent fear of God.

There is something that happens when a person pulls this off: they get "bigger." I've learned this rarely discussed weirdness through experience: one forgives, does the work to truly place the judgement of the person that harmed oneself into God's hands, and one gets bigger. The person, what they did, the loss, the debt, it all gets smaller. It's an odd thing, but it's as if you stop being inside the insanity you had to go through, and start standing outside it, and it seems almost childish, small, vulgar.

I wanted to mention this, for anyone interested in such things. It speaks to some of what I saw above. I don't want to try Helen's patience with this ridiculously long post, but I wanted to make one more point--to my own Christian compatriots--apologies in advance :)

I don't think Dr. Helen meant this post to be an assault of the core principles of Christianity. She wasn't saying "forgiveness is optional" in any Christian sense. The point that one doesn't heal a grief-stricken person with "forgive em and move on" shouldn't be lost on us. If I were counseling a man who had a loss, in a Christian counseling setting, I would ask him about the person missing, and I would listen, even to blasphemy, quietly. At no time would I tell someone with deep grief to "buck up" or try to "make them feel better" by quoting truisms. Depending upon where they were, I might ask if they had a chance to ever talk about spiritual things with the missing person. If I reached for my Bible, I would read comforting things, about love, about God's loyalty (they haven't been abandoned, or kicked to the curb)--and if they questioned his love or loyalty, I'd smile and put the book down, and just listen. [shrug] You just can't treat grief by telling a joke. The poster, this blog, is written by someone that is worried about treating people.

Quick aside: None of these Christian ideas of forgiveness implies no judgment, no accountability, or no anger, or even no sincere desire to have just grievences redressed. A person can let a debt go, and still desire a just universe.

(never do silly long post again doc--its just so damned interesting, and straight up my alley)

3:10 AM, March 23, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

caveat: I didn't mean to imply the loss gets smaller (if we're talking about loss), childish, or vulgar; I meant the madness of a universe that would allow such things to happen gets smaller ... don't dare expound :)

3:29 AM, March 23, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with Dr Phil. Forgiveness is the only way to not be in bondage to your hate. It does not mean you will never think of it again, but it is healing.
I read a book about forgiving being a way of healing. To hate or not forgive keeps you in torment the rest of your life.

8:02 PM, March 23, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I very much enjoyed "Axe"'s post. But at the risk of being simplistic, The Christ wasn't saying that EVERYONE should forgive. He was telling people about how to deal with their own inner psyche. Not other people.

The Christ, amusingly, was NOT telling people to not forgive people who aren't forgiving!

No human being has the right to judge the salvation of another. That is in the hands of God.

So a good Christian can place forgiveness at the center of his or her religious philosophy, and there is good support for that. They can suggest that other people take the same route. What there isn't support for is for fallible and sinful man to state that another person cannot find grace or redemption without taking the same path.

It's isn't in the hands of man. It is wholly the purvue of God.

12:43 AM, March 24, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post. I linked:

12:18 PM, March 28, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm the last person who would ever defend Dr. Phil - pompous blowhard - but I think he's explained his take on forgiveness many times: it's not for the sake of the killer, it's for the sake of the victim's family. Plus, there are degrees of forgiveness: one is the conventional version - I absolve you from what you did, another is for the benefit of the forgiver: I'm not going to let what you did control and contaminate my life any longer... I'm moving on without you.

I think that's what he was referring to.

4:48 PM, April 11, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You seems to have little fate in your correction facilities.

In Denmark, we have just handed out the most harsh and severe sentence related to a traffic accident.

A young male did drive more than 150 kilometres where 80 kilometres were allowed and ultimative did kill a man and his infant child, which were walking along the road.

His sentence was 2,5 years.

A drug-user also killed a young girl driving under influence and without drivers license and got 2 years.

We believe that those sentenses are hard and severe and in fact they both would have got only half the time some years ago.

We do put a lot of effort into re-programming our prisoners. Recently a middle age woman and former doctor, which drugged a mother and burned her house down killing her and her two children were freed after 12 years. She had planed her crime well leaving the house without clothes and taking two different roads by to her town.

That puts Brandi's situation into perspective. In Denmark, we are able to rehabilitate a cold blooded triple killer in just 12 years, where your country can not even do it to a young woman in the same time.

I don't see that Brandi planned to kill Danny. Perhaps she at some point did kill him as result of them fighting, but it is not like she some days in advance had put gas on the car just for that job.

In Denmark, we would regard it as a total waste of tax-payers money to have her in jail for more than a year.

4:18 AM, September 28, 2006  
Blogger Ymarsakar said...

Forget about the victim--he/she is long gone and there is no reason the perpetrator should have to be put out too much by spending all that nasty time in prison.

Once a killer, always a killer. We kill or permanently disable the killer so that he will never get a chance to kill again.

It is not society's place to replace your soul with something better. A threat is a threat, and whatever your actions have done, was your choice. And there is no guarantee that once a human being attempts to break the rules that bind us, that they won't do it again.

Redemption is nice, but it doesn't come from us, it comes from the person that did the deed. If he or she doesn't want to redeem themselves, it is not society and the law's place to redeem them for them. It will not work, it should not work.

12:36 AM, July 16, 2007  
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