Does Communism Mention Forgiveness?

This is one of the few questions (received in our Ask Dr. Forgiveness section of this website) I had never considered until it was asked of us at the IFI this week. I am presuming that the question-asker is focusing on the concept of forgiving (not apologizing and seeking forgiveness). I spent some time “googling” forgiveness in communist literature, including excerpts from the writings Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, Leon Trotsky, and Mao Zedong. I further examined the work of Louis Althusser, an influential French Marxist philosopher. Finally, I consulted the literature on liberation theology, which has roots in the Marxist notion of freeing the poor from oppression though class struggle.

The short answer is that forgiveness is rarely mentioned in the above literature, whether it concerns political, philosophical, or theological writings. I found no mention of forgiveness in Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, Mao, or Althusser. Of course, this does not mean that the word is completely absent in their writings or in other authors’ works that I did not consult. It only means that I did not find it and that it appears not to be highly emphasized.

This is not surprising, given that the origins of the word “forgiveness,” at least in a focused and repeated sense, is in the monotheistic traditions of both Hebrew and Christian ancient writings. Marx, for example, decried religion as an excuse to remain oppressed: “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”

For Leon Trotsky, the moral virtues might be placed on the table, not as ends in and of themselves but as means to the end of victory: “There are no absolute rules of conduct in peace or war. Everything depends on circumstances.”

Mao Zadong’s writings are similar: “Classes struggle, some classes triumph, others are eliminated. Such is history. Such is the history of civilization for thousands of years.” The struggle for justice, or in this case the ascent to power, supersedes the mercy of forgiveness.

Even in liberation theology, emerging in a Christian context in Latin America as a strategy for reducing poverty and oppression, the emphasis is on justice rather than forgiveness. There is one central exception, that of Daniel Bell in his book, Liberation Theology After the End of History. New York: Routledge, 2001. Bell refers to the oppressed poor of Latin America as the “crucified people.” For him forgiveness was a political way of standing against oppressive government. Forgiveness for Bell is a kind of radical political move to remain alive in the face of severe stress. Yet, such an idea does not lead to a clear strategy of how forgiveness will liberate the poor from their material poverty and thus seems to be contrary to the major tenets of liberation theology.

In response to liberation theology in Latin America, there has been a more recent movement known as “the theology of reconciliation” (Edward Lynch, The retreat of liberation theology, Homiletic & Pastoral Review, 1994). To quote Lynch: “For the liberationists, unity will come when economic and social divisions are eliminated, and they are willing to use violence to achieve this end. For their opponents, the unity that matters is cultural, spiritual, and far removed from economics.” This new theology in Latin America centers on “the reality of the reconciliation of man with God, with himself, with others and with all that is created” (Paul Sigmund, Liberation Theology at the Crossroads: Democracy or Revolution? New York: Oxford University Press, 1990). This new theology as a response to liberation theology is not at all Marxist, but instead is orthodox in its Catholicism. I only mention it as counterpoint to the ideas underlying liberation theology.

As one quick point regarding apology and the seeking of forgiveness, there are statements in the news and other writings that communist rulers, such as Ho Chi Minh in North Vietnam, have used a political strategy of confessing “errors of thought.” This appears to be a political strategy of acquiescence (getting dissenters to agree to the party’s ideology) rather than the exercise of a moral virtue toward the goal of genuine reconciliation of persons. As one work for the general public, please see the Reader’s Digest, November, 1968 on the example used here. As a more scholarly work, focused on Stalin in the Soviet Union, please see Igal Halfin’s work, Stalinist Confessions: Messianism and Terror at the Leningrad Communist University. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2009.

In sum, if the concept of forgiveness in any legitimate sense is in communist literature, it is not obvious and not emphasized. The quest for justice reigns, and a philosophical examination of just what constitutes justice in this context would require another essay. As Aristotle reminded us over 3,500 years ago, we should never exercise any one moral virtue in isolation of the other moral virtues, for to do so is to invite distortion even of this one, prized virtue.

Dr. Bob

Widow of Killed Cyclist Offers Forgiveness to Errant Driver

KRQE News,??Albuquerque, NM– It was something you don’t expect to see at a sentencing — an emotional widow telling the woman who killed her husband that she forgives her and that the woman should forgive herself.

Sherri Anderson, whose husband Dave was killed as their family was on a bicycle ride two years ago, spoke to a packed courtroom prior to the sentencing of Miranda Pacheco who was driving the car that veered off the road and crashed into Dave Anderson on a bike path.

“Miranda, Miranda, I forgive you! I really forgive you,” Sherri Anderson said. “This doesn’t mean I excuse what you did but forgiveness is not foolishness, Miranda!”

Anderson said she hoped Pacheco would teach others the difficult lesson she learned from the tragedy. Then she showed a video of Dave Anderson through the years before playin a song about forgiveness for Pacheco.

Read the full story and watch the KRQE News video:??Family of Cyclist Killed Offers Forgiveness.

Can there be such a thing as too much forgiveness?

Forgiveness is a moral virtue as is justice, kindness, and love. So, let us ask the question in a different way: Can we ever have too much justice? The answer is no. How can someone be fair to an excessive degree? Can we have too much courage? Again, the answer is no. We can distort courage, or any other virtue, by engaging in one of the vices associated with a given virtue. One vice associated with courage is reckless bravado. In the name of courage, a person who is a non-swimmer, for example, might jump in a stormy sea to save a drowning dog. This is not courage, but instead is reckless bravado, an unwise exaggeration of courage.

So, as we cannot have too much of a genuine virtue, as we explained with our example of justice, it seems that we cannot have too much forgiveness, either. A lot of goodness is not a bad thing.

As we saw in the example of courage, what we have to guard against is one of the vices associated with a given virtue. One such vice connected to forgiveness is excessive submissiveness, as we let others take advantage of us. Yet, as we can see, this is not a problem of forgiveness itself, but of the distortion of forgiveness.

Bullied Teenage Girl Kills Herself, Leaves YouTube Video Behind

ABC News.go.com??- Bullying behavior has claimed yet another victim, Amanda Todd, age 15, who apparently killed herself after years of struggling with being bullied. She chronicled her struggle on a YouTube video. The IFI is doing its part to combat bullying by developing??a program that targets the anger within those who bullyso that they no longer displace their inner rage onto others.

Read the full story and watch the video:??Bullied Teen Leaves Behind Chilling YouTube Video.

Canadian Football Coach Asks Forgiveness After Devastating Loss

Chatham Daily News,??Chatham, Ontario,??Canada??-??The Canadian football (soccer) head coach, Stephen Hart, asked for forgiveness following a crushing 8-1 defeat from Honduras. As a result, the Canadian team is now out of the CONCACAF???s final round of World Cup qualifying for a fourth consecutive cycle.

In the guts of a dim and damp Estadio Olimpico Tuesday night, Canadian head coach Stephen Hart met with a small number of Canadian media after watching the Reds register one of the worst results in the history of Canadian sports.

Following an unthinkable 8-1 drubbing in Honduras, a result that put Canada out of CONCACAF???s final round of World Cup qualifying for a fourth consecutive cycle, Hart, at times, was poetic, acknowledging what was a Honduran ???lesson in football??? and using hard-hitting words like ???disturbing??? and ???crushing??? in describing 90 minutes of hell.

He was honest and regretful, asking for forgiveness on behalf of his players while announcing he didn???t expect Canadian supporters to forgive him for a result that will likely haunt him for the rest of his life.

Our question is this: Did the team play at least reasonably up to their ability level? Did they play honestly? If so, what is there to forgive?

Read the story –??“Canadian soccer team begs forgiveness”??- ??and then you decide if forgiveness is even an issue.

IFI Program Responds to Destructive Bullying Behavior

ABC News reports that bullying behavior has claimed yet another victim, Amanda Todd, age 15, who apparently killed herself after years of struggling with being bullied. She chronicled her struggle on a YouTube video.

“This kind of tragedy must end,” says Dr. Robert Enright, founder of the International Forgiveness Institute (IFI). “To address this critical issue, we just recently have produced an Anti-Bullying Forgiveness Program focused on helping those who bully to forgive.”

Those who bully usually have pent-up anger, according to Dr. Enright, and they displace their own wounds onto others.

“Our program is meant to take the anger out of the heart of those who bully so that they no longer bully others,” Dr. Enright added. “We hope the IFI Anti-Bullying Forgiveness Program gets into as many schools, internationally, as possible.”

The IFI program is for children in grade 4 (age 9) through grade 9 (age 14) and is intended for use with those who are showing bullying behavior. The purpose of this guide is to help such students to forgive those who have deeply hurt them. Bullying behavior does not occur in a vacuum, Dr. Enright believes, but can result from deep inner rage, not resulting from those who are bullied but often from others who have hurt them in their family, school, or neighborhood.

“We have scientifically demonstrated that forgiveness can be a powerful way of reducing pent-up anger,” Dr. Enright says, referring to his 25 years of forgiveness study and research. “We believe that the competent use of our new guide will not only reduce–but also play a part in eliminating–bullying behavior. It is our contention that bullying starts from within, as anger, and comes out as displaced anger onto the victim. Forgiveness targets this anger and then reduces it, thus reducing or eliminating the displaced anger which comes out as bullying.”

The eight-week Anti-Bullying Forgiveness Program is available in the Store section of this website.