Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Revenge and forgiveness

Another Speaking of Faith inspired post I’m afraid. I’ve been suffering from insomnia the last couple of months, so I often lie in bed in the dark, wedged between a ginger cat and a sleeping husband listening to all manner of podcasts until I realise I haven’t heard the last few sentences and it’s time to turn off the ipod. Last night’s programme was about the place of revenge and forgiveness in the fundamental make up of human psychology and society. Examples given on the operation of revenge among Japanese Macaques and the role of revenge in natural selection. Examples of forgiveness against all odds were of the father who lost his daughter in the Oklahoma City bombings visiting the father of the bomber and finding release from the anger and bitterness through compassion for a man who had lost his son. Or of the rising voice of appeals for forgiveness and reconciliation in Uganda in relation to the atrocities carried out by rebel factions.

I do think that revenge is an inherent part of human nature, a natural reaction to any perceived deliberate (and sometimes even accidental) hurt inflicted on oneself or something one cares about. But it also generally doesn’t help anyone, and just perpetuates violence and distress – with the current events in Israel and Palestine being a case in point. All of the major world religions include within their central scriptures the capacity to promote forgiveness – even Islam and Judaism – and yet forgiveness is often seen as a particularly Christian thing, and therefore taboo.

Apparently in Uganda one of the factors behind the call for forgiveness is the sheer exhaustion from the impact of the conflict. Maybe this is also part of what has happened in Northern Ireland. It is hard to keep up the momentum required to sustain anger and revenge when you’re out of energy. So let’s hope the Palestinian and Israeli peoples start suffering from collective insomnia at the atrocities committed in their names, then maybe they’ll be tired enough to forgive.

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