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Thursday, June 19, 2014

Rethinking Forgiveness: The True Mission of Religion?

Are major world religions increasingly missing their core mission?

Mind you, this is not a point on doctrine. It is a point on the institutions, the human and thus altogether quite fallible institutions which are supposed to support worship.

From time to time there are new reports of investigations of abuse (especially of children) at the hands of various religious leaders or lay people within the setting of a religious institution. The various priests and other church officials now admitting they didn't report certain abuses (of all types) just totally lost sight of their mission and primary duty, which is to minister to followers and congregants. 

What are they concerned about when they consciously avoid making judgments and taking action?  Well, it's the institution.  That can be dressed up and rationalized -- e.g., by protecting the Church we are helping so many more people through our programs, etc. -- but even that act of rationalization is fatally flawed in its motive (it doubles down on depraved indifference) and by degrading the credibility of the institution successfully compromises its ability to perform any other aspect of its mission in either the spiritual or secular realms.

All institutions behind a faith have a mission. But protecting the "institution" is not part of that mission. What is central is the faith, the doctrine, and only by extension, those secular acts which help fulfill that faith. Treating the institution as a sentient being which warrants special treatment because it is an "instrument" of a divine being is, well, one creative rationalization. It may work in certain monastic closters and even in some courts of law, but it will also dissipate the moral high ground upon which religion depends.

The failure to report abuses within a religious setting may not necessarily be criminal (this is different from the underlying act), but it is such a severe failure in judgment that it cannot be "forgiven." 

And lest we forget, there is no obligation to forgive. That obligation deserves further examination. Let's explore the thought process behind the sense that we are obliged to forgive when people "apologize." Consider whether there is contrition. Consider whether the wrongdoer has done this before, whether the apology is genuine, and whether the apology is sincere or just done to avoid responsibility (or worse, to live for another day, a day to repeat the crime on another victim).

Such an obligation is a fiction voiced by the manipulative who seek future opportunities to repeat their sins. This impulse to forgive needs to be resisted fiercely and viewed for what it is: a moral weakness of its own kind that borders on narcissism. Resist it! 

Those of us being asked to forgive must -- it is a duty -- remember who we are responsible for defending, those to whom we and we alone owe a duty

We must resist the call to forgive, particularly when the forgiveness carries with it the risk, borne by the totally innocent, of future harm. To protect those we love, we must neither forgive nor forget, and be very willing to face the claims of moral judgment from even those who have forfeited any moral claim to judge anyone.

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