Turn the Other Cheek?

E-mail Father Jonathan

July 25, 2006

For a very long time I have wanted to write about forgiveness. With the Middle East in the throes of war, now is the time.

I've got a hunch one blog — or even two — will not do the topic justice. So here's the plan, if it's OK with you:

• Today, Tuesday, I'll share with you some initial thoughts, pose some questions, and ask for your feedback.

• On both Thursday and Friday I will post some of your questions and comments, and answer them if I have something to add.

• On Sunday — on a plane from Rome to the United States — I will write a summary of what we have discussed and what we can learn. I hope to get it up on the web on Monday, or Tuesday at the latest.

My goal is twofold: to come to a better understanding of the concept of forgiveness in Judaism, Christianity, Islam and other world religions; and to give practical suggestions regarding the living of this virtue in our personal lives and as a society.

Let me tell you from the start about a theory I've got. It has three premises and a conclusion:


1) The conflict in the Middle East is more complicated than the sum of all of the political and social factors about which the pundits generally speak. The historic memory of the Israeli-Arab (and Jewish-Muslim) showdown weighs heavy on the minds and consciences of both sides. In other words, today's actions are also in part about rectifying the wrongs of yesterday, even if all are publicly pointing only toward tomorrow.

2) Forgiveness doesn't mean forgetting one's past, whitewashing history, or living naïvely unaware of the evil intentions of others. Nor is it always accompanied by good feelings. It has to do with detaching our will (heart) from an actual or perceived evil committed by someone else. The test of true forgiveness is my ability to treat with love a person who I know has done me wrong. Not easy.

3) It would be simplistic and wrong to suggest the solution to the present conflict will be found in a one-time act of giving and receiving forgiveness on the part of one party or the other. Nevertheless, lasting peace in the region is only conceivable, in my opinion, if large portions of both populations come to peace with leaving the past in the past, and work only for a safe future. Once again, not easy.


Not easy, but possible. There are enough precepts in the holy writings of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam for high percentages of peoples in all three religions to come to an appreciation of forgiveness as a path toward peace. Don't jump out of your seats! Today I would not call Islam as a whole a religion of peace, just as I would hesitate to call contemporary Christianity peaceful if its most outspoken mouthpieces were spewing forth the type of hatred we hear from many Muslim clerics and political leaders.

When I speak of precepts in the Koran that promote forgiveness, I am thinking of verses like these:

• “Let evil be rewarded with evil. But he that forgives and seeks reconciliation will be rewarded by God” Koran Sura: 42:40 (Counsel)

• "If any show patience and forgive, that truly would be an exercise of courageous will and resolution in the conduct of affairs." Koran : Sura 42:43 (Counsel)

Regular readers of this blog know well my deep concerns about Islam and my condemnation of the hypocrisy of some of its radical leaders in their abuse of the name of God. Nevertheless, we cannot close our eyes to the reality of the more than one billion Muslims in the world today, and the fact that their numbers are growing faster than Christians and Jews combined.

I believe long-term world peace is dependent on winning the ideological battle, including purifying religion from the filth of selfish lies. To do this we need to work from the inside out. Highlighting peaceful elements of Islam-especially forgiveness-and promoting the teachings of moderate clerics is a good place to start.

So these are a few thoughts for today. The Jewish and Christian understandings of forgiveness are equally as interesting and we will tap into these in our upcoming entries.

What do you think? I've listed below some questions for you to ponder. I would ask you keep your comments short and to the point-what you want to add to the discussion. It would help to know your religious background and where you reside.

Look out for interesting reader response on Thursday and Friday!

God bless, Father Jonathan

• What is forgiveness?

• Is forgiveness an emotion or is something we do?

• Does forgiving someone mean you must treat them the same as before?

• Does forgiveness mean saying that the offense was all right?

• Does it mean forgetting about the offense?

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