“Forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” [Luke 23:34]

Both asking for forgiveness and offering it can be one of most difficult and humbling experiences. When asking it’s an admission that you were wrong. When offering forgiveness it’s an extension of grace (and sometimes animosity feels so good).

Atheism For Lent has not implicitly been about forgiveness, but as we reach into the depths of our soul, our tradition, and our upbringing we no doubt reveal some wounds that had not had time to heal. As we pull away the bandaid of religion we reveal the hurt we have received and experienced. And we likely point a finger at whoever is responsible for the scar we’ve discovered.

Forgiveness is not implicitly religious; it is implicitly human. It is to “give the before.” It’s not always easy, in fact it rarely is, but it reminds us of our common humanity, our sadly natural ability to bring someone with us when we’re falling, hoping they will catch our fall but knowing that they will likely fall with us. And when we fall (or are pushed and pulled down), we have the opportunity, obligation even, to request and extend forgiveness.

Atheism For Lent may have been space to finally stand up, to realize how much and how far religion or religious communities have pulled you down. But Atheism For Lent is also space to offer forgiveness, not out of some religious duty but because of our shared humanity.

Or Atheism For Lent may have revealed the way in which you use religion or secularism, faith or reason to pull and push others. If so, it is also an invitation to ask for forgiveness for those you have have hurt along the way.

Wherever you are, standing or falling, the invitation is the same: one person forgiving another.

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  1. Timothy March 27, 2013

    Wow! It is difficult looking at self and admitting you are a part of problem; I want to be part of the solution, and want to be certain of that.

    I grew up in a toxic Christian environment: strict dogma, literalist-fundamentalist theology, God is “over” me and only “with” me when I am “good”. I got out of that and still struggle with whether I have made the right choice. I am now a pastor in a mainline congregation that often wants to go conservatively against the denomination (Our denomination ordains women and gays/lesbians but does not yet bless homosexual unions – though I would not be against it). Now I must guard against power “over” in my leadership so as not to be duplicitous in my faith life.

    It is important for me to remain focused on exactly what you have focused on here – humanity and the commonalities we share. I would go one step further and add humanity’s need to see herself as part of whole creation. Increasingly it seems that without relationship with the whole, life has no meaning.

    Continuing on your thoughts about forgiveness as not a “religious concept”: while not inherently a religious concept, but more one about human survival, it seems to me that a religion that does not practice forgiveness would determine its demise. Without forgiveness, which for me is not directly about someone else, but about me taking a dominating power from someone who is controlling me, life cannot be lived. Recently, I saw the animated movie, The Croods; in the movie the main character makes an important statement, “living in fear is not living, it’s just not dying” (not exact quote, but the gist is there). It seems the same about forgiveness. When I choose to harbor hatred or malice, or allow someone to control me, or, worse, I choose to control someone else, I am not really living – I am just not dying. True living comes in relationship with the “other”. Maybe that’s why Jesus said to “love enemies” – in that way, the whole concept of separation and enemy is destroyed.

    I know I am an idealist, often tend toward pessimism as well, but I wonder what the world could really be like if hatred and violence were placed aside and humanity could forgive as well as be forgiven.


  2. Paul March 27, 2013

    Pushed or pulled me down?
    You know it would be really easy to blame religion or the “church” (which stifled my thinking, questions, maturation when I was younger), but I am unable to tease out our anthropology, constructed as it is through a religion, from our theology. In other words, what is it about human being that is prone to the “sacred canopy” offered by religion. I think Heidegger offers some perspective here when he talks about how we are the sort of beings for whom being matters, and as such, must act as the “shepards of being” because there is something inside of us (perhaps thousands of years of preconscious functioning in the world–without consciousness of self, death, cosmos, or our reason for being–) that yearns for sleep, which religion (and many other ideologies) is able to offer us in the form of propositional truths that equal security. Given that this sort of nature seems to be an onto-given thus far (until we evolve out of it, which in some ways would steal away the beauty from life), what do I do? I suppose to offer forgiveness, then, would mean practicing a form of radical acceptance of how my human being, according to the above presuppositions, seems to work. We are the sort of beings for whom being matters.

    Forgiveness if hard, but so is allowing proportionate hurt, anger, sadness at injustice–especially when it can be so easy to understand how we are the sort of creatures capable of wounding one another.

    Again, I have a hard time teasing out the “religious” from the “human” is some definitive way. I guess, forgiveness transcends religion and acts as a “spiritual surgery of the soul” regardless of one’s worldview, so long as one is capable of empathy. I think ideas about accepting the limits of self and others, and choosing when and where to experiment with being available to the world again is a good place to start.

  3. Thirst | Atheism for Lent March 27, 2013

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  5. Mahq March 29, 2013

    In what ways have religion or religious communities pulled or pushed you down? What would it mean to offer forgiveness?

    I was dragged along to an Anglican church as a child and often found it boring, although the liturgy certainly seeped into my psyche (ouch!) creating guilt for certain things and making me feel like I needed to conform for acceptance. New Atheist Richard Dawkins, rather harshly, calls this ‘child abuse’ – parents forcing their children to learn and adopt their parents’ outdated and damaging belief system. Really, though, people endure worse ‘abuse’ at their parents’ hands or in other ways. Working with homeless and vulnerable people through other churches has shown me how the church can really help these folk make a better life for themselves. Growing up in the church brought me into a loving community, helped shape my morals and worldview, as well as presenting opportunities I may not otherwise have had, so the idea of forgiving my parents for trying to bring me up in the way they thought best way seems odd. I can understand how certain churches abuse their members through the strict ideology, etc that Timothy mentions above.

    Any religious community requires conformity and I have struggled with this also in terms of using my skills for the good of a group but having to do it how the boss wants, which can be frustrating and also arrogant on my part in thinking I know best. Even if I actually do at times!

    I have had a period of running away from God but this only left me worse off so I came back to Christianity. OK, that makes God sound like a crutch that I need to survive in the scary real world (there are worse crutches) and sounds like I could not escape my childhood indoctrination (for want of a better word). Can one ever escape this? Well, many do but how? Dabbling in radical Christian ideas? Can intellectualising belief help one move on and improve holistically? It’s exciting and challenging but can one ever really escape how one was brought up? Probably not fully.

    In terms of forgiving others, the people who hurt me in life have usually been outside of Christian communities, although there have been Christians who have put me down but they are individuals and of course, I must forgive them but it is an ongoing process.

    Morrissey’s song ‘I Have Forgiven Jesus’ deals with the singer forgiving Jesus ‘for all this desire he placed in me’. Offensive in a way but basically saying that God created Moz along with his (possibly homo)sexual desires that, due to his Catholic upbringing, he felt he could not satisfy.

    How have you found yourself pulling or pushing others? Do you find it easy or difficult to ask for forgiveness? Why?

    It’s difficult to see and admit one’s own faults but I can’t think of when I have pulled or pushed others in terms of religion. Lord, show me where I have done this, cos I cannot see! I do find it easy to apologise and do it perhaps too often – guilty conscience, I guess! Borne of my upbringing? Well, I was not raised a Catholic but asking for God’s forgiveness (in a general way) was a regular thing in services, although I have not always been sincere in my repentance. It can become just a comforting formality to ask God’s forgiveness. It just made me feel better. Thinking about it, I have always struggled to fully accept the idea that Jesus’ act on the cross resulted in the forgiveness of everyone’s sin.

    In your own words, how is forgiveness foundationally a human concept rather than a religious one?

    “Give the before” sounds like the title of a David Blaine show, like “Above The Below”. Don’t get it. The Mac Dictionary defines it as to ‘stop feeling angry or resentful toward (someone) for an offense, flaw, or mistake’.

    Humanity has a fundamental instinct to believe in something Other, so religion and humanity are ‘foundationally’ bound – you cannot really separate the two. Forgiveness is a similar instinct. Humanity is about community, religious or otherwise, (even atheism or humanism could be described as a religion of sorts) and wherever one is in community, there’s the possibility one will hurt others and get hurt by them, making forgiveness an essential component to community – it could not exist without forgiveness, otherwise there would be even more hatred and misunderstanding in the world than there already is. Come to think of it, there is still misunderstanding and backbiting in the church, so forgiveness is not always as evident as it should be, even though it is a central tenet. Therefore, I think forgiveness has existed for as long as humans have needed religious belief. If religion is man-made, forgiveness could be seen to have been built into religion in order to demonstrate its fundamental importance. God is love and forgiveness is an extension of that love, which is the glue that binds us together. (Aaah!)

  6. Lilliana Sulit May 1, 2013

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