Sunday, January 18, 2009

Why forgive George?

Stephen Giem and I made as an experiment in encouraging thought and discussion about forgiveness and its role in moving us forward.

We live in Portland, Oregon, so there's a lot of visible anger about Bush. Like most people, I've experienced a lot of righteous anger in my life. It's never felt good, and I have always felt better when I have forgiven.

In the God-centered culture of the American South, where I grew up and lived for many years, this is not a particularly radical concept, the idea of forgiveness. Most southerners are familiar with this exchange from the Gospel of Matthew:

Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?”

“No!” Jesus replied, “seventy times seven!”

In Portland it has the opposite effect to use the Bible as basis of support for a concept, so instead I'd point to Barack Obama. As he said yesterday in Baltimore, on his whistle-stop trip to his inauguration:

What's required is a new declaration of independence, not just in our nation, but in our own lives, our own hearts - from ideology and small thinking, prejudice and bigotry and narrow interests - an appeal not to our easy instincts but to our better angels.

...if we could just recognize ourselves in one another and bring everyone together - Democrats, Republicans, and Independents, north, south, east and west, black, white, Latino, Asian, and Native American, gay, straight, disabled, not - then not only would we restore opportunity in places that yearned for both, but maybe, just maybe, we might perfect our union in the process.

I'm just so tired of hating the other side, whatever side that happens to be. I know we will only make progress as a country when we come together and reach a shared consensus on what's important to us.

Before the string-music begins, let me tell you that Stephen and I found ample evidence that we have a ways to go before we are all together on this. We launched the site during Christmas week, thinking it would be a good time for reflection on these issues. The site spread quickly, with thousands of visitors from all over the world. In addition to many thoughtful acts of forgiveness, there was a constant stream of unrepentant anger.

And, as the posts on this blog show, many people felt that forgiveness implied letting President Bush off the hook for all that he's done. Others felt too victimized or raw to be able to forgive yet. Perhaps we need something like a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, like they had in South Africa to deal with the crimes perpetrated under the Apartheid regime?

Thanks for your participation and interest in this project. Stephen and I welcome your comments, either on this blog or by email.


From the archive

Hundreds more to click through here.

Katie says:

I can't do it, dude.

I want to. He found himself in a situation greater than that which he was equipped to deal with, and that's not necessarily his fault. I can empathize.


Forgiving someone who doesn't have the self-awareness to ask for forgiveness, to know he's screwed up (and screwed us up), sounds a lot like being taken advantage of, and I gave that up for lent in 2003.

Maybe I'm just not ready. Give me time.

Glenda says:


I am wondering what it would be like to ask forgiveness of the Iraqis or from prisoners tortured.
Maybe forgiveness comes after a time for truth and reconciliation.

David says:

I have to confess I am not ready to forgive GB yet. While I am quite ready to move on, there is something about keeping his crimes in the public consciousness that will serve us all well as a reminder of what’s up in our fair land (even if he never ‘gets’ it).

As Oregon’s own William Stafford once wrote,

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give — yes or no, or maybe —
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

Anyway, a provocative and important query.

John says:

Still working on forgiving George - enormous damage done to so many people by his war.

Kathleen says:

I love this idea. Not sure I genuinely feel ready to forgive Mr. Bush, but maybe it’s like the bit about “smile and happiness will follow”?

P says:

I have been thinking about this for several days and it brought to mind something that happened a few years ago. A relative who went to some rehab meetings wrote to friends and family asking for forgiveness of past deeds (really small transgressions). I remember feeling uncomfortable in that role because, even though I didn't like the things she did, I didn't want to have the power of absolution. That is for a higher power, if there is one.. I did write her an encouraging letter and our relationship has moved ahead in a better way.

In Bush's and Cheney's case and also many others in their administration, there has been no recognition of the destruction they have wrought - and the effect on people who are the most vulnerable around the world. I am pretty sure they are not looking for forgiveness since they are still proud of the accomplishments of their time in office and have in fact been on a "legacy campaign" to promote it.

Forgiveness is not going to come from me but I would hope that accountability in the form of a criminal trial will show the world that we recognize what this country has done.

Good job on promoting the dialogue!

Eric says:

Love this idea.

Jim says:

I don't forgive George Bush.

When I think about the illegal Iraq war, my thoughts
seem to always bring up images of innocent
Iraqi children being killed and maimed by the thousands.
I can clearly visualize a TV newscast I saw several
years ago showing a terrified little Israeli boy crouching
down behind his father who was peering around the
corner of a building (with one arm behind him holding
onto his boy) during a fire fight with members of a PLO faction.
The look of horror on the little boy's face was unforgettable. The number
of Iraqi children and adults killed number over a hundred thousand
by some accounts. And then you need to add the number of people
wounded physically and emotionally, and those displaced
and ruined financially. And .... add to this our own deaths and casualties.
This is enough for me not to forgive George
Bush. Bush and his cohorts "cooked the books" to
wage the first ever U.S. pre-emptive war, not even caring whether
or not Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction.
Bush and his team should be prosecuted for war crimes.
You and I and most Americans are well aware of the rest of
the "accomplishments" - to cite just a few: arresting and detaining
terrorist suspects (most of whom are innocent); torture; wrecking the
environment; wrecking the economy; awarding government positions
based upon party loyalty instead of competence; not being able to
handle a crisis (Katrina); incurring record budget deficits;selling out to
special interests; harming our relationships with other countries.