Self-forgiveness is a hoax

One of the ways to deal with lack of forgiveness, I have often heard, is to “forgive yourself”. It’s a popular saying. The problem is I found this idea being at odds with my own experience. In fact I have no concept of self-forgiveness. It never worked for me, and I really had to face the question why I was missing a concept which seems so widely accepted by others.


A while ago I saw self-forgiveness again being presented in an article: Do atheists need absolution? W. Hamby, atheist and ex-Christian so it seems, did a good job addressing basic issues on the subject of guilt and forgiveness. “When we’ve hurt someone, our guilt is a measure of our empathy” is obviously an adequate observation. Empathy does this to people, as opposed to apathy. Then the author goes on explaining how people will usually attempt to deal with their mistake by doing two things: (a) they express remorse and (b) they try to fix things by making amends. So far so good.

Then he says “It helps a ton if the person we’ve wronged also forgives us”. Right. But what if this doesn’t happen? The author suggests we then move on to the alternative plan: “we forgive ourselves”. And this is, so goes the suggestion, is what atheists do too, they bypass unnecessary theological detours. Wow. Is this…. is this really what’s behind forgiveness? The writer makes a leap from ‘divine’ forgiveness to ‘self’-forgiveness – is this just a wild guess or what is this?

As an ex-Christian, the author seems to have theological notions on the subject. But maybe those notions are part of his problem. He seems to believe that Christians usually asks for divine forgiveness: “they pray and feel better”, but what these Christians are essentially doing is “to forgive themselves” (like atheists do). Maybe it’s just me, but this sounds to me like Christian beliefs must be extremely naïve and very shallow.

Let’s look closer, just to make sure we understand what the author meant. Here is a good summary line I think: “There are pitfalls to the Christian model. … If the goal is divine forgiveness, earthly amends are not strictly necessary. Certainly not all Christians believe this, but if someone were looking for a way to feel better without the work, the loophole is there.” — Okay so this is about a certain danger of interpretation. I can see why an atheist wants to point out a potential loophole here. But why doesn’t the author see the potential loophole in self-forgiveness then? Sure there is no lack of people around who ‘self-forgive’ themselves all the time after they’ve hurt someone, without even thinking of making any amends. And I can assure you I’ve seen a ton of atheists on Myspace and Facebook (oh blessed environment for those who love slitting people’s throats from a safe distance) who were very good at self-forgiving themselves when their guns were empty and satisfied. Not to mention their equally armed adversaries.

But here is the point: whether we talk about “divine forgiveness” or self-forgiveness, it’s overwhelmingly clear that improper use of such ideas is possible. Forgiveness then becomes little more than a cheap mind-trick. You could just hurt someone, then simply believe that God – or you yourself – will forgives. But that would be very “creative theology” resp. “creative humanism” if you ask me. The problem here is not theology – at least not at this level.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying this self-forgiveness thing is typically an atheistic figment of sorts. I do believe that at some point it IS a reflection of an idea that lives within Christianity itself. And hasn’t atheism always been this kind of mirror? Atheism is, one could say, always wrong because there is always something wrong somewhere with Christian beliefs. Or, to put that in a shorter way: we are all human.


Indeed I do suspect that the concept of self-forgiveness came about in a context of self-protection, and it has been around in this self-centered shape for a long time. Also but not exclusively in religion.

It has always been clear that forgiveness doesn’t mean you won’t protect yourself. Certain people hurt you and you know they don’t even care about it. Or, you hurt them (unintentionally) and they hurt you by not forgiving you – but in all those cases you may not really be connected with those people. They are not your bothers or sisters or friends. When, under such conditions, you decide to “let go” (or self-forgive, if you really want to call it like that), we can all understand that. But when you dump a friend, there is another kind of dynamic going on. We can’t just say “I had to let it go” or “I had to protect myself”, because that’s just rephrasing things in a more passive, victimized language – it doesn’t change the fact that you had a connection with that person. If this person was a friend, then you have already agreed to cut each other some slack – this is the level of trust you accept from the very moment you have a friendship. But let us look into this more closely.

Making a mistake is not really difficult. Making amends is arguably more difficult, but for most people it isn’t that hard, especially if the mistake is not exactly disputable. To forgive may often be harder – but it would be interesting to pay more attention to the reason why it is harder. The point is, I think, that when the mistake has been made, the victim is next – it is his or her turn ‘to play’, and the other can do nothing but wait. And the victim is both hurt AND “in power” (whether consciously or subconsciously). It doesn’t mean the victim has the intent to be mean. You could compare the situation with two friends who stand close to each other, playing and having fun, and then one of them literally touches the other close to the eyes, by accident The reaction is reflex-driven: the ‘offender’ gets a smack in the face – which hurts more than the accidental touch. This is the kind of situation we are talking about – except we are now talking about the whole area of ‘mistakes’ – including a flood of mistakes where no physical damage is being done. We are talking about the domain of the human mind, where people ‘touch’ each other in many ways, smooth and sometimes (accidentally) rude, and everything that’s going on in our dealings with friends (or family).

With lifelong friends, the danger of calamities happening is limited. Between people who are friends since a short while, things may get very ugly. Likewise – and a big issue these days – people who know each other “online” and not so much in real life. There is probably more damage being done over the internet these days than ever in our “real life” neighborhood – but then what’s “real life”? Do you think there are no real people behind those avatars? Some people seem to think so. They are wrong, obviously.

However, the point I wanted to make is this: the more “remote” people are (at least according to the feelings of one of every couple of friends), the easier it may be for them (or: for one of them) to “cut off” a relationship just like that. But this is not really something new since social networking or so – there have always been those more “casual friends” around. And even in long term friendships there have been this one-sidedness of how one treats friendly relations. Some people are easy going when it comes to cutting off such connections, leaving the other to his or her own devices. In such a context it seems clear how we have made ourselves a concept of ‘self-forgiveness’.

I saw it on some motivational poster somewhere: “Forgiveness doesn’t mean what happened was okay, and it doesn’t mean that person should still be welcome in your life. It just means you have made peace with the pain, and are ready to let it go.” Wow. Really? At first sight this may sound good – depending on your situation: if someone really has been very mean to you, then yes, it’s clear that such a phrase may feel like a solution. But ONLY because you thought of forgiveness as something you always just HAVE to offer (the phrase “forgive your enemies” is very misleading here – because that is NOT really about forgiveness in the normal meaning of that word). I would say your mind is being set at ease with the wrong phrase because you had an erroneous idea about forgiveness to begin with.

And the “loophole” (see beginning of this post) is there to be misused by anyone who loves to run away with such one-liners, using it at will: if your friend has hurt you, you can just go away because you need to “make peace with the pain and let it go”. However, what really happens is: you are dumping a friend like a piece of trash. You don’t care about his or her amends, about his or her grief over the mistake. In essence, whether you ‘see’ it or not – in essence you are applying the principle of revenge.

This is forgiveness turned upside down. It is very self-centric. It deals with the self rather than with you AND the other. It essentially means the abolition of forgiveness.

Self-forgiveness has a tendency to nullify the original concept altogether. You can tell the difference when you are at the receiving end of this sort of abolition. Your mistake has become a crime, as it were. It is without any doubt the true friendship part that makes this so hard – and the different ways in which 2 people think about the value of friendship. And not just friendship, but the humane aspect of any relations. You feel like you were disposable. You were not supposed to be so much “let-it-go-able”. This has serious implications as to how you are going to feel about yourself, your self-respect, even your sense of identity.

And how could we have missed the point? Even the Sumerian Code of Hammurabi had the notion of forgiveness of depth. This was about real estate. As Tomas Sedlacek argues, in the context of economics (in his excellent book The Economics of Good and Evil), the price of real estate depended on how long there was before a “forgiveness year” (this was maximum 3 years). And Sedlaek also argues: “Forgiveness (of debts, sins) is the key feature of Christianity, which makes it unique among the major religions. Jesus’ role was to redeem men, purchase us at a price, buy us out of debt from the arms of sin, debt.” (p.134). There you have it.

Here is the whole point: Can you “justify yourself” when you did something wrong? No, you can’t. You may disagree with a punishment – but would you call that self-justice? No. neither should we invent things like self-forgiveness. Justice, mercy and forgiveness are hard to allot to yourself. We cannot be the inventors of our own values – otherwise we could always make a deal with ourselves, and never be responsible. Self-forgiveness is a hoax, a contradictio in terminis. And frankly, it can’t solve your problem anyway.

Don’t get me wrong: We certainly need a way to work with the hurt and the guilt, but we better look in a different direction.

I will write about solutions in other papers – this is not something I want to deal with in just a few strokes. This subject is too complex, there are too many issues. Let me just pay some more attention now to the whole context of our hurt and maybe a few hints as to where we may be going with this.


It seems that we can all ignore love, but we cannot ignore hurt – the hurt caused by love going wrong or love being taken away from us. But what gives this hurt its dramatic impact? And why does it seem to happen so often and easily?

From a more general point of view love and hurt are paradoxical. “Love hurts”, as we say. “We suffer because we love” (Rick Hathaway). This is no less true for friendship – which is one of the most accessible forms of love. So we must embrace the paradox. In a more philosophical formulation we could say that love-hurt (the hurt that we feel when things go wrong in friendship and love) IS actually love. And the reason for this becomes clear when we think of love as longing. Longing can be a fine feeling, or it can hurt – and it may even do both of these at the same time. There is a famous example of such a feeling which was mentioned by C.S. Lewis when he pointed out that the pain that we feel in our legs after a long walk may actually feel good as well, or something in-between a good feeling and pain. With love, something similar is going on so it seems.

The important, fundamental thing to keep in mind here is that we need to “deal with the pain” somehow, rather than trying to eliminate it (be that with self-made concepts like ‘self-forgiveness’ or anything else). But hurt is something we don’t deal with very well. And we will need to learn it – to accept pain and understand that this is an aspect of love.

How about the hurt caused to a friend by waiting too long to forgive? If you think of all the possibilities here, you may never wonder why we all suffer so much. It seems inevitable. There will be the emotional impact on you when you realize that maybe just one particular mistake of yours has been considered irreparable. Simple as it sounds, it may get you spiraling down, not knowing when you will ever stop falling. Some people seem to have no such problems – they have an elephant skin so it seems. But for others… for instance if you haven’t been loved that much in your life to begin with (sad to say, but this is what happens to a lot of people today), you may not be able to deal with this properly, because you feel like a kid that just broke an expensive piece of tableware, and because of this you have been sent away, out of the house. Isolation from the bond of friendship can be very hurtful and harmful.

And more chaos may already be in the making. The original mistake may have triggered a series of intuitive reactions, very comprehensible if you think of it as a reflex caused by the mistake (think again: accidentally hurting your friend when you were playing), but that doesn’t mean cutting off the other one from friendship is a justified action. Yet, this happens every day, all the time, everywhere. The mistake triggers and generates suspicion in the victim – but suspicion will often damage relationships and trust much more than the mistakes do. (We will tackle the subject of trust in another article).


One particular source of pain may be the fact of not having been believed when you apologized and explained your error. This may damage the friendship more than the mistake may ever have done. A mistake may be a friendship-test, but the ability to forgive is a friendship-test too. And it may hurt immensely when one of both has to discover that your friend treats you as if you are nothing more than your mistakes. The (Christian) band Fireflight has a song that says “I’m not what I have done, I’m what I’ve overcome“. This is fundamental wisdom. Love can see that kind of thing. Skillet sings it out this way: “Love can take a little, Love can give a little more” (in their beautiful song A Little More). Mistakes are not a sign of not loving. But denying someone access to forgiveness? A love that does not want to give that “little more”?

Skillet: A Little More

It isn’t just the (temporary) loss of your friend that hurts – but the loss of trust. Trust, of course, is not simply the trust that the other will make no mistakes! (If this were true, we would all be in very bad shape all the time – if every mistake would destroy trust, how would we ever have social lives, friends etc.?) – No, trust must be something much deeper. It’s a basis for comradeship to grow in spite of all sorts of troubles and mistakes. Without some reasonable amount of trust, mankind would never be able to operate as a ‘network’ of connected human beings.

But even so, you may keep hurting for other reasons. You have been sharing some very personal things with your friend. Your friend has been listening to you – you shared your heart with the other. Now the other is “walking away” with it, or rather from it, as it were. You will feel like your heart is being trampled. This is where you will feel worthless, ignorable. I’m not saying you have a license to indulge in self-complaint. Self-complaint is something you should always attempt to resist. But you will have a struggle with this feeling. The emotion will haunt you, and you need to recognize it.

But this still may not be the worst thing. When I went through something like this, I thought I began to comprehend these feelings but I still felt guilty not just for my mistake but also for the hurt – as if I was guilty of being focused on my own hurt all the time. It took me considerable time and effort before I finally began to realize that my deepest agony was not what I thought it was. It was not just that I felt bruised and abandoned. The most painful thing was the fact that my friend had been sharing HER heart with me, her fears and longings. She had accepted my empathy, my tenderness. In other words she had been tapping into my “giving love” – and even while I knew the essence of love is more in giving, not taking, I had not recognized this connection when it comes to my feelings of hurt (so far for all those “obvious” things – in hurt issues, I guess it’s always a little harder to rationalize things, even while I’ve been rationalizing stuff my whole life).

The greatest joy is not just in having fun, but in making it fun for someone you like. And suddenly, all of this was being closed down. That part was crushing me more than anything else. The pain of realizing that your “soul investment” in someone was not being appreciated, was being considered trivial, disposable. I suspect that human beings should know that they have some kind of duty at this point: we should always keep allowing a friend to love us, to offer us their friendship in one form or another. In fact I’ve always (as long as I remember) applied this role to others – including friends who hurt me or even attacked me at some point. I didn’t do this because I’m such a good person. I did it intuitively – probably because I’ve always felt like lacking love, therefore I’ve always felt empathy for people who make mistakes and then feel sorry. It doesn’t matter what they did wrong – from the amends I could see how they were in pains because of what they did. It seems so obvious that we need to forgive. But I do realize that I am someone who has leaned to deal with pain since I was a kid. I do realize this is not how other people experience things – including good people.

Yet we should learn this. Why isn’t this part of our general education? Do we all have to study psychology in order to learn the basics of human relations?

There will be other aspects I didn’t really pay much attention to. The hurt may differ a lot depending on specific conditions. E.g. the friend that I lost was several things to me – things that I had not really known in my earlier life, especially: she was like a sister to me, and also like a mother, in a way. I was being understood and appreciated in a personal way, something I wasn’t used to. A lot of trust goes into such a friendship, a lot of your soul is tapping into it. Of course, we are human beings: we may sometimes hardly realize the impact we have on someone else – but in many cases we do realize it very well, and perhaps we feel like we cannot handle it properly. In these and other cases the effect of ‘something’ that happens unexpectedly may trick us into a series of events that spin out of control quickly. Major grief and heartbreak follows. And it seems like there is nothing we can do about it. But there are always ways back to normal. We are often just lacking courage to walk back and undo the harm as much as possible.

And this is the paradox we are dealing with. Intellectually it would already be helpful if we would have an accepting attitude toward paradox. But in human interactions there is often hurt involved, and human beings often have no accepting attitude towards hurt – even while hurt is in fact simply one of those paradoxes of life.

We are not educated as it should. Maybe that’s the whole point – we are not adults when it comes to things like forgiveness. Or, another “silly” observation: 2000 years of Christianity and still we don’t know what forgiveness really means…

There is this time aspect to forgiveness, as we pointed out in the first paper on forgiveness. Time will rage through the heart and mind of the offender – and the victim should be, or become, aware of this as soon as possible. Otherwise we will be generating a chain of hurt upon hurt upon hurt, until nothing can be solved anymore because the hurt has destroyed trust in the system.

The complexity of the situation and these emotions, and the charges (if any), together with the pain of being removed from the sacred ground of trust/friendship, and the pain of shared things being taken away by the offended party, together with the feelings of intense guilt that may be present to some degree – all of this together have the potential to turn a friendship into a nightmare. The human mind is an abyss – an endless labyrinth, and it’s easy to feel total-loss in all this.

because love is kind of what we ARE rather than what we feel. Love has its wires connected to so many aspects of our lives – including our beliefs.

When I was in a situation where a mistake of mine destroyed friendship between me and a Christian soul mate, I was being told “there is no way for me to make this easier for you”, “I do not have an interest in pursuing the restoration” and “I am not the least bit sorry”. If you find yourselves in a situation like this, phrases like these will be echoing in our head time and again. Why is it, that at some point there is not enough love to love someone back into the realm of friendship – even while we remember clearly that such a love did exist between our friend and us, before the mistake? Does this mean that I am reducible to my mistakes? Those are very tough questions.


In my first paper on forgiveness I said we can make a decision to forgive. We can also do this with regard to someone who did not forgive us. But of course, it’s not that easy. We may decide to be brave like that, but we will somehow need to have a rational basis for such bravery, or it won’t last for long. At this point we need a reason – or simply: we need reason. (Compare a good old bible verse: “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord” – Isaiah 1:18).

What can we do when we are in a state of not being forgiven? You have no concept of “self-forgiveness” that really works for you. You can’t just ignore it either – because if you’re honest, the one who did not forgive was dear to you. It was your own brother or sister, parent or child, a close friend, a soul mate. You do not want this person to “fall off your memories” – you freaking-loved them too much. But deep inside it keeps stinging. For weeks, months, years. You are always in need of reviving your courage, hope, beliefs, good memories. But you have no access to updates – your friend or family member has gone. So how do you soften the pain?

Again, I will not even try to present ‘solutions’ in this paper. But, just a few hints. We certainly need to get back to both faith and reason. Faith needs reason to understand, reason needs faith to see where we may perhaps go with this (foresight, expectation).

At some point it occurred to me that while my soul mate did not forgive me, it also didn’t really feel like this was really her. I’ve known her as a very amiable person, mature, responsible, adult in her Christian faith. We loved making fun, the way adults do. So there was this unnatural divide between how I remember my friend before and after we run out of friendship so suddenly. We are, after all, an eye witness within the space of our own memories.

This I would call rationality of love. My mind clearly resisted giving up this picture of my friend as a true friend. This is the belief that my friend would, under normal conditions, have been willing to forgive and to offer restoration for my soul. From my memories I was regenerating this image of my best friend all the time, the way I have known her. I could see how she would, at some point, have to realize she had been extremely over-reacting in a number of ways.

So what we can do is to ‘believe’ in forgiveness as a principle – which is not the same as actually “forgiving yourself” (this you cannot do). But to believe in it means to believe you did deserve to be forgiven – even while it didn’t happen. It may not offer the relief that you feel you need at first sight – but then, just let it dawn on you for a while. Yes, you need some faith perhaps. But faith is a human faculty – we can all have faith in things.

Here is the general rule: forgiveness can never work out well if everyone loves getting it but not giving it. So even while we cannot force getting forgiveness, we can always try a little harder to provoke it in everyone – for instance by showing how it’s done. And to forgive those who did not forgive you belongs to this realm of “showing how it’s done”. Essentially the first one who gets this demonstration is you: while you cannot (technically speaking) self-forgive yourself, you may know you would have forgiven this if the other had made that kind of mistake. This means you are sort of requesting the forgiveness, time and time again – knowing that you deserved to be forgiven. This will be going better after a while – because of the time aspect. No one deserves not to be forgiven. You need to keep that in mind and work with this awareness. You need to chew on it, consciously. We are all in the same boat – even if we can’t see each other.


None of these considerations may make us stop grieving. They did not stop me from grieving – I still felt deep sorrow after more than 2 years and I wonder if it will ever go away completely. I’m not pretending anything at this point. If you thought you meant something to someone and then you are being treated as if you were just an annoying blip on their radar, it will hurt the hell out of you. BUT! Where a quick relief from this grief may not be possible, learning to live with it may still be achievable. I’m not sure yet – but it is my reasoned guess for now, that love can make us accustomed to grief. In love, no one could be more of a layman than I am. But I can observe how love feels more powerful in offering relief, even if it’s often just temporary relief which needs to be reinitiated regularly.

Love may certainly prevent us from going to hate those we once loved. I’m not saying you should never feel anger. Frankly there have been moments that I felt deeply angry for what my friend had done. But those are just the moments that you remember your loss, like it was yesterday. You realize you will never get back what was taken away – and it didn’t have to happen this way, but it happened, and you were not being given a say in it. But then you let this hurt teach you again – it tells you that from your point of view, your loving friendship was real and true. Love is your justification for finding joy in spite of not being forgiven. Your tears should not tell you how pitiful you are (that would be self-complaint, which you need to resist always) – they should tell you how much you have loved.

And you have to accept the hurt, realizing this IS your love. This may encourage you to go on and keep loving. It may sound cruel once you realize this could be a struggle for many years, if not for the rest of your life. You will be longing for a shorter road towards reducing pain. But the shortest road is the one you have to walk every time this thing creeps into your conscious mind again.

No doubt all of this may be too crude that we would get through this whirligig unchanged. There will be scars, open wounds. Forgiveness is one of the most powerful and beautiful endeavors – therefore, missing it will make you realize that someone did not offer you this beautiful gift. This is hard, but these are the things that happen in life. You have, however, ways to deal with the pain, and a responsibility to deal with it to the best of your abilities.

Maybe the God-idea is helpful too. I may not be the Christian that I used to be (I feel better now calling myself a trans-atheist: the only thing I know is that I don’t want to be atheist; I may be too stupid to be a Catholic but I’m not stupid enough to put an ‘a’ in front of someone else’s idea and put that label on my chest). Whatever there is to it, I have felt this need for God, and still today I am in a way aching for it. At the same time I have hated God for this… for this whole forgiveness thing simply not working as it should. I do sometimes talk to God in silence, often when I really feel like there’s no where else to go – and sometimes I curse God. But then I may also call God the ‘World Spirit’ or Manitou or anything like that – someone or something really all-pervading. I don’t know what to believe exactly – but I know in which direction my hope goes.

I’m not longing for God as much as before – “as the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God”… Once my favorite Bible verse – but not anymore (not since my best friend deleted it from her wall when she unfriended me – if you ever wonder how certain things can change our believes, here you have one, and I have hated God with my whole heart for this, as much as I thought I loved God. It’s not that I don’t long for God anymore – but I don’t long for a God who promises “streams of water” anymore. I just need a few droplets, maybe a glass of water every now and then. I’m not asking much. It hurts too much when you ask too much.

Sometimes I’m asking God: Am I really this asshole who You would want to dump and bruise and shatter? And somehow I know the answer is “No, you did not really deserve this”. It’s not that my sorrow and my feelings of guilt are gone when I think of this. It’s not THAT simple. But there is some appeasement in asking God what He’s thinking. Prayer is a concept of getting beyond our own Self. I use the concept to the best of my abilities.

And then I know I can go on, not choosing apathy and bitterness and self-complaint, but choosing love. I’ve been talking about those things with other friends (sometimes about this, often about other things – their own many worries and heartaches). We always need some friends. I have a bit of a tougher time trusting friends now, but in fact they make themselves trusted. And, maybe most of all, I make myself trusted. I am committed to forgiving them when they make mistakes. It really works like self-therapy: I’m proving to myself that love CAN indeed “always give a little more”. This gives me hope, in a world which doesn’t always look very hopeful.


15 thoughts on “Self-forgiveness is a hoax

  1. Your well developed concepts of forgiveness and self-forgiveness (as being a hoax) are not stand-alone concepts and that is why they confuse people so. What’s missing in your arguments is the concept of compassion and self-empowerment along with personal detachment. Working with these concepts makes forgiveness a totally rational given, even to the forgetting of past wrongs. They also make it obvious that self-forgiveness is the only valid form of forgiveness. Outwardly-directed forgiveness, like love, requires a receptive “container” in order to work, so it seldom works as it presumably is meant to. Hence why it’s so easy for the likes of a Hitler or a Milosevic to stir up people to irrational genocidal hatred!
    When I exchanged forgiveness and love for self-empowerment and compassion, everything became clear and much easier. Of course for people who have to have an external God figure to “do it” for them, self-empowerment is not possible, because having a God means reliance on faith, an impossible attachment and impediment as I have experienced it. Where there are attachments there is no self-empowerment; where there is no self-empowerment, there is no freedom. Incidentally, how come it’s so easy for animals who are the prey of others to “forgive” as soon as their predator has taken his prey and sated itself? Animals don’t seem to be troubled by the fact that sooner or later they are going to “get hurt” by their predator, or that one of their “loved one” was just violently killed and eaten, even in their own sight. There is no animosity between the species. Certainly one species would not think to join up and attack their predators to get rid of them. So one more point: if speaking of forgiveness then the predator-prey concept of necessity enters into the argument, man being the unchallenged number one predator on the planet. My take on it.

    1. Hi Shatara,

      I expected no comments here – in fact I forgot I ever made this WordPress test-blog. But now with your comment it would not be polite to delete it ;)

      I’m not even sure how well-written this post was but I do of course know the concept of what I wrote and believe. There may be other forms of forgiveness that make some sense to people – I won’t deny this (in this sense, the word “hoax” may have been too strong. But it certainly is the word that applies to me when I try to wrap my mind around the idea of self-forgiveness. Whatever that term captures, it is something I would not myself want to identify as self-forgiveness. When I did something wrong and the victim (who is supposed to forgive) has been fleeing, so there’s no one around to forgive, then what I will do is perhaps teaching myself some disregard. Or, more likely – or *more precisely* – I will be “serving my sentence”. Which, in practice, simply means I will hurt in the most obvious way – just like another person does who is in one way or another trying to “forgive himself”. In all cases it may boil down to something like slowly “letting go” – and it usually takes some time and effort before such things fade away into the background of our consciousness.

      I’m not in need of denying the fact that for many people this whole process may be perceived as “self-forgiveness” (even if only because someone ever started calling the whole process by this name). But for me this does not make much sense. The strength of the concept of self-forgiveness is in the fact that another one has to offer it – and to bypass the basic concept seems incorrect (or at least does not contribute anything to the concept of forgiveness). And in case one needs forgiveness but cannot get it, the process as I just described it works anyway (and does not make me think of it in terms of a variant of forgiveness).

      “self-forgiveness is the only valid form of forgiveness” certainly does not improve my understanding – on the contrary. A dependency on something the victim of our mistake has to offer, seems only fair – as many mistakes are not trivial, they do some harm. With a somewhat banal example: I cannot every week steal someone’s lawn mower for a week, then put it back silently and “forgive myself” every time. But I could try that and hope that most people would forgive me. The latter looks more like the way forgiveness works; the first method – not so much.

      Your words “When I exchanged forgiveness and love for self-empowerment and compassion, everything became clear and much easier” I don’t understand. To me, self-empowerment is one of those concepts from a New Age kind of understanding of the world, I could discuss pros and cons but let me not go there. I don’t need self-empowerment or anything self-convincing, I’m just me – which is (on the one hand) a tiny ant in the big universe, and (at the same time) nothing humiliating, it’s just knowing your place in life, you do what you can and you let go what you can’t do. There are no doubt many ways of self-motivation but they are all a mind-thing, they are beliefs of some kind anyway, and I somehow like the reality more without too much of these “tricks”. Yet, each has his own ways to deal with hardship.

      “Animals don’t seem to be troubled” is hardly an argument for me. No human being can fully compare his life and mind with any other species – we are still at the beginning of understanding certain animal cognition and affection, and we are still far away from a full understanding of our own emotional & affective life – let alone we would know how to compare us with the animal world properly. We can do that but the result can only be “slightly informed guesswork”. In any case, the life of the (human) mind is complex, and there are many ways to do things totally different from any “predator” concept. This is where I find it interesting to see the human mind and its own understanding grow, in the course of history, including (but not exclusively) in religions.

  2. Thanks for responding – I didn’t know it was a “test” blog: seemed quite well-thought up to me. I see a bit of semantics confusion in our exchange. Also, I see that we are not currently pushing our share of this life from the same platform. I gather you are a secularist humanist, if I may use those terms. From that viewpoint it’s very likely misunderstanding would result in discussion. For me, I don’t know if they’ve invented a label yet. For example, I don’t believe in God, or in any deity, yet I know that they exist. They are very real and wield much power in this world. Their reality is of the realm of spirit and is maintained by their believers, sycophants, adherents. They may have no power of their own, not being, in my understanding, self-empowered (debatable point) but they certainly have all the power their supporters give them. If idols, they’re powerful idols indeed. As for the “new agey” comment, it’s true I’ve engaged many NA teachings over the years, as I’ve engaged Catholic and evangelical protestant teachings and other philosophies. It takes manure to grow good vegetables and these concepts certainly make a lot of manure to pick from. I also am fully cognizant of many past lives, with a great deal of detail to them from which I draw wisdom. I have also been “blessed?” or “lucky?” enough to have non-Earth Teachers to help raise my awareness of the System on a cosmic level. They have been hard to listen to, and some of their suggestions for social interaction quite challenging. But they saved my life – that was how I recognized their legitimacy. So what can I tell you? I’m a non-believer, certainly, but I live a full spiritual life, quite distinct from the physical expression, and one that knows that an intelligent, sentient, self-aware life is infinite in scope. I have seen earth’s future, or I should say, the one most likely to be the collective choice of mankind (the choices are of course limitless). I have seen many worlds, and been introduced to many interesting concepts of life unknown to earth man.
    So my concept of “self-forgiveness” comes from my sense of self-empowerment. That’s a mind thing, likely beyond a mere brain’s capacity to compute. It’s OK for someone other than myself to forgive me for something s/he sees as a violation of the moral law on my part. But of what value is that if I do not accept it at face value; if I cannot? The “forgiveness” must come from my own mind which in turn makes the physical “me” aware of it and re-programs my brain accordingly. Also, there are many more “violations” of the moral law that take place in one’s own mind that no one else is aware of. This is where self-forgiveness is crucial for there is no freedom where the “monkey mind” continues to peddle the same unforgiven emotions. There has to be closure on a constant basis: that is how an ISSA being literally forces herself to change. Kind of a bootstrap argument, but not when one learns that a human being is actually a trinity: spirit, mind, and brain/body concept. It’s a very complex entity.
    ISSA: intelligent, sentient, self aware
    I invite you to visit my Word Press blog, ~burning woman~ I’ve only got a few posts on there now, but if you have questions, read those essays, perhaps they will help explain my perhaps unorthodox way of taking on life. Thank you again for your well-written response.

    1. Shatara46,

      This is all a little bit surprising. Let me first focus on the self-forgiveness topic.

      The motivation for your point of view seems somehow clarified, but let me address the outcome. Let’s assume the outcome of your vision of forgiveness fits perfectly with your way of life and what you believe in. It still doesn’t work under a different view such as mine.

      In my ‘world view’ (to use a big word) there is less ‘personal’ and more ‘social’. I mean social as a quality of life itself: we are social beings in the first place (this is my “belief” if you want). In your “belief system” it is clear that self-awareness and self-empowerment plays a much more significant role. (I’ll get back to the belief factor).

      It undermines the concept of forgiveness by eliminating dependency on someone else – as is required in my ‘social view’, where social responsibility is a key component for how mankind thrives. Mistakes, which tend to disrupt relations (whether they be intended or unintended), are not ideally solved through any such thing like self-forgiveness but through “other-forgiveness”.

      Think of it as follows: if every mistake creates some infringement (from just a little tension up to considerable mental and sometimes physical injury), then it is specific to this social view that all infringement generates a certain debt (or guilt – same root word in many languages) to pay by the ‘wrongdoer’. (The word wrongdoer to be considered a concept word – like the opposite of ‘victim’ – I simply consider “a situation” which has been created). The beauty of forgiveness in this model is the fact that both the creation of a social relation and its (disruption and) restoration are part of the ‘social way of things’.

      In this view I am also not acknowledging any economic or political systems associated with “debt” (most notably capitalism). Those systems might have come along in the slipstream of debt situations – which may be some kind of abuse of debt. So I feel free to separate them and only focus on the social factor behind debt (or guilt).

      In your view there could be suspicion that social relations are in fact something like a ‘play’ of sorts, or a modus operandus; and all disruption and ‘forgiveness’ are also part of this modus operandus – hence you can self-forgive yourself whenever needed – because in the end it’s all just “in the mind” and you can just “reprogram your brain accordingly” as you suggested. I will not attack this view now – let me just say this is not how I think the reality of our social relations is best understood. I won’t deny individuality any more than I would deny there’s truth to Ayn Rand’s enlightened self-interest. I think it is much like we look at Newton: he’s still right in many ways, even after Einstein. The point is that Newton’s view does not cover the complete picture.

      I am not pretending to understand the complexity of social relations in our world, like I and people of my kind would be the ‘Einsteins of social’ or any such nonsense (in fact I’m extremely weak in this domain). I’m just saying, from where I stand it doesn’t seem to me that Ayn Rand or New Age are telling us a complete story. Individualism is way too simple – yet, at the same time, all forms of collectivism are inevitable much more complex. But complexity, and paradoxes, that is to be expected from reality. The way ‘social’ has been on the rise with the social networks speaks volumes: we discovered a lot more that we didn’t know was possible. A lot more can be done when people all around the world can do things together (like in crowdfunded projects) with minimal governmental involvement. More altruist projects (like apps) have been created than ever before.

      Of course, this doesn’t deny the parts that fit within Ayn Rand’s view, or any other view which emphasizes the individual factor. But another part is much harder to define, let alone control. But somehow, things seem to work together – like ‘mankind’ is something bigger than its individual members. In a certain way the threads span the globe in a very Gaya-esque way (not the same as New Age although you can associate your views with Gaya of course).

      My point now is like this: forgiveness as an idea has developed (at least for a great deal) along the lines of ‘social’, more than as a form of individualism. If self-forgiveness is an exploit of our typical individualism, then forgiveness clearly doesn’t fit ‘wholesale’ into the individualist model. You may of course be able to make forgiveness fit within your framework of thought, I won’t dispute that. But it doesn’t fit within my communality-based view. In my view, the fact that receiving forgiveness depends on someone else is not a disadvantage. It is the way it’s supposed to be in a social world.

    2. Shatara46 (part 2 of my response)

      About the “belief” thing, an additional comment.

      It’s funny how this belief topic gets back (after our discussion on Valerie Tarico’s blog) but many of the things you mentioned are really beliefs. Remembering past lives, having non-Earth Teachers etc. – those are certainly beliefs that I don’t share. I would approach these in much the same way as I approach religions. All those stories make some sense to me – mankind was, in the past, and is, today, on a quest for meaning. Whether it is Confucianism, Judaism or New Age, we make our narratives because we need to. (I certainly do it too – no matter how much I seem to be unaware of it, but I do, or I wouldn’t be human at all).

      Another remark is this: I suggested something about the Gaya-esque nature of how mankind functions. One could easily hold this to be something New Age – but I consider the Gaya vision more in a Lynn Margulis way: the mysterious ways in which our planet seems to have a memory (e.g. the planet can solve certain catastrophes faster today than it did in the past – because its many organisms have the traces of the battles of the past in their ‘genes’ or whatever it is that keeps things in memory). This is not a mystic vision, no invisible “teachers” are involved, it is more of a scientific view. However, while you might expect from an atheist to defend some kind of “belief in science”, I hold no such belief. Science, after all, is just knowledge (and a particular way of knowledge-gathering). In the end, one can always question what exactly it is that keeps things going on our planet – supposed they keep going in a “meaningful way”. The answer to that is, that I don’t know. However, I suspect mankind to be crucial in it, and I also believe that we are kind of designed to act socially. In the past, the Founding Fathers said “In God We Trust”. Today, I think they would probably have said “In Togetherness We Trust”.

      That, too, is a belief. We all believe in something – and the most extreme exposition of belief is when an atheist claims to “believe in nothing”. That is the most unbelievable, and self-contradictory, belief one can cherish. Atheism doesn’t mean “believing in nothing”, it just means we eliminated the Abrahamic god (and his ilks) from the spectrum of reasonable explanations for how the world works.

      The last part was in reply to your suggestion that I might be a “secularist humanist”. Maybe I am, but only if humanist means “people lover”. Including believers of all kinds, as far as they are clearly attempting to live their lives gracefully.

  3. Just stopped by quickly as I have to run some errands but thanks for following me. As well, got at least a little skim of this post and I have a feeling I’ll be chewing on some of your stuff. Just the sort of content I’m looking to ponder. :)

    1. @chatterbox muse: well that’s kind of funny, as this blog was pretty much forgotten but it’s okay to have some comments or discussion here, even while it’s just 2 old blog posts, probably not very well written – BUT the thoughts are still reflecting the way I think anyway. So thank you. Then again feel free to also join me on, it’s my favorite place to bookmark interesting people (this also includes shatara46 above – who is also a “believer” of some kind even while she’d probably hate to admit it ;))

  4. I hear you Jcm…I too have had a couple of stale blogs sit in the blogosphere unattended so i can relate.

    That said, you have a huge amount of material in a couple of posts…so it’ll take some time to unravel the ideas, topics and concepts you were conveying. I look forward to it.

    The quest for personal meaning and purpose is a complex one. It is a rich and sorted tapestry with the tiniest and most intricate pieces of fabric. It is customary to toss a few scraps out as we stitch the little bits of good fabric together. I enjoy looking at other’s ‘quilts’ and sometimes adopting a swatch or two.

    In this sense, I think we really are logically connected, we’re just part of a much bigger quilt.

    1. Yeah, and even the quest for “meaning” is sometimes said to be imaginary – not necessarily in the sense of a mirage though, but a fabrication of the mind, and in this sense a fantasy. I tend to agree – even while just 3 or 4 years ago I could never imagine I would. But my “loss of spirituality” may perhaps be gain, as in a new discovery. Yet right now I don’t know.

      I see a difference between observing the moral behaviors that surround us and formulating a position in relation to our observations – and taking a courageous, willful decision to “do the right thing” (or to “do good”, whatever exactly that is, but it certainly is something). This attempt may fail or be a very incomplete and flawed implementation of “good” but at least we can try (because we can “will” it). Rationally speaking I may have lost any of my former hopes that such a thing objectively exists – but it still exists subjectively, as a concept I can understand (even if only partially). And the subjective is not something I can just throw away, because I recognize it as part of who I am. So, unless I feel ready to believe that “who I feel I am” is totally bunk, I better hope I might be real in this position of “me and my feelings / intuitions”. Imaginary or not, it seems like emotions make us feel alive – while rationality as such does not.

      In a way, this seems like a sign of hope even for a rational person. A “bigger quilt” perhaps, as you say. Maybe a new religion – “The Quilt” ;)

      1. A new religion – “The Quilt” and its adherents shall be known as Quilters. Of course, if this religion goes viral and spreads to Middle and Far East, it shall be known as Ikat… which would make its adhents… what? Ikaters? Thanks for that expose (imagine the “accent aigu” on that e) of your current “condition” jcm. Now I have a better idea who you are. Oh, and I have never done Twitter, though I’ve heard a lot about it. I don’t think I could write a “tweet” comment, it would fall off the edges and drown in ether. More on the rational thought, feelings and emotions coming soon at a blog near you… maybe even this one!

      2. Way back we had a discussion on self-forgiveness. You said, basically, not possible; I propose the opposite, not only possible, but necessary. Here’s an example. A person with a conscience does something wrong to another. The wrong is either not noticed by the other, or is let slide, and the perpetrator is aware that to bring it up would be counter-productive. Yet the sense of wrongness persists and causes issues with the perpetrator, like, “how I wish I hadn’t done that, and I knew better and now I feel terrible. How do I get rid of this feeling?” Assuming the perp is a non-believer (and certainly not Catholic or s/he’d have a confessor to confess to) then how indeed to get over the feeling of having harmed another? The only way I know of is, since there is nothing physical/material to make up for in this case, that leaves the perp with her/his conscience. It is an internal issue and is resolved internally. That’s self-forgiveness. I have no god to go to for “absolution” or forgiveness, and I don’t want to live in guilt, so I take care of that myself. That is also, IMO, self-empowerment. To me it’s not rocket science but common sense. I need my freedom to work with others and being human I will make mistakes. And if I’m the only one who’s aware of these infringements to, let’s call it, “the moral law” then I have to resolve it by myself. If there’s a flaw in my reasoning here, I can’t see it. If it is a dangerous flaw, then please help me to see that. The point of having a life, for me, means the endless betterment of my mind – that’s right: mind. Self-forgiveness ensures that I have the energy, the freedom, to work towards that self-betterment. I can’t afford to do either guilt or depression.
        Which brings up another point you make here re: rationality and feelings. The self-empowered (non-believing “in” type) will be a much more rational being than anyone with powerfully attached beliefs, therefore one must learn to “behave” differently. When one no longer believes “in” anything (in the idolatrous sense) then one becomes a mind being; a noetic. Feelings remain, of course, but what I call feeling exhaust, emotions, are no longer valid as part of my decision-making process. They are useless. Any interaction with others on the basis of emotions will certainly be self-centered and selfish, as well as short-lived, thus utterly unreliable. Living in one’s mind isn’t necessarily a feel-good thing. But choosing to “do good” unto all in a truly compassionate way eventually reveals itself as joy and that trumps all the “feel good” pleasure emotional experiences can give.

      3. Shatara,

        You made a good point, referring at a case where the victim doesn’t even know we made the mistake. And yes sometimes it’s not wise telling them. Our difference on this matter remains in place though – but ultimately we mean the same thing. My own reaction to this situation would be to ask myself whether my friend would forgive me if she (or he) knew about it. Ideally that would be the case – and in any case, when I do such a substitution in my mind I tend to see the best in my friend and of course I want to believe she would do the best thing. From this I then construct the comfort of her forgiveness, in anticipation. To my understanding this requires no “self-forgiveness” (although I will assume that somehow we talk about the same thing anyway).

        It is what I would also do if my friend died in the meantime. In fact, in my own story – with my Christian friend who could not forgive me – I really feel like this person, as I have known her, somehow died (and someone else came to take her place – someone who simply could not forgive). One of the exercises of the mind that I did was exactly that: I asked myself IF she would have forgiven me if she’d asked herself the question who that person is, who hurt her. Did he (being me) really do this in order to hurt her, or was it an accident by someone who did wrong without realizing it when it happened? The person I have once known would, by any account, have forgiven me, because she believed in such forgiveness. From this I construct an awareness of such forgiveness. At the same time, I somehow have to ‘cut out’ the picture of the unforgiving friend that she has become – which is: a person I did not recognize anymore, there was no comparison with the person I had once known.

        I will forgive you if you call this self-forgiveness ;)

      4. The trouble of the imagination isn’t what it is, but that it’s been so heavily maligned. Einstein himself mentioned how imperative it is. It is like a different sort of intelligence…an ‘outside the box’ kind of thinking experience and worthy of heavy examination and analysis in my opinion. Fantasy…that too, same idea.

        We have an innate morality for the most part. We seek to preserve the integrity of the herd. We look after each other. We’re a social creature and our survival depends on that interdependence. I think it loses its appeal when there is a distortion that occurs in the ego that tells us that we are set apart. The lone wold usually dies first even if it had cool adventures. Pick your wolf, I figure.

        It’s too easy to engage in acts of ‘mental masturbation’ in regards to matters such as these. I think it’s a good idea to remind ourselves always that we can’t possibly think outside the filter of our own experiences or observations. And that’s as it should be because that’s how it is. But the claim that one is more enlightened than another, whether supported by religion or not, is where…I think…we get into trouble. It is a statement of separation. And we don’t like separation. That’s why we’re always so bent on getting everyone to see things our way when we are self-afflicted ‘lone wolves’ in our packs.

        I know there is something divine in and around us. I’ve had two experiences that, for me, made it irrefutably real. I got lucky. Very lucky. But I was also aware that many don’t and haven’t had these experiences.

        But I can say this much…when you do, it doesn’t matter how well one can mentally masturbate that…it’s an undeniable fact of one’s experience.

        And the function of the ego is to maintain the integrity of what’s coming through our filter. Because there really is no other filter we can observe from.

      5. “Einstein himself mentioned how imperative it is.” — So “Einstein himself” is an argument? ;)

        The claim for being more enlightened is indeed not my cup of tea, I am pretty much against all forms of elitism (which doesn’t mean a preference for mediocre, but a re-evaluation of such terms and their merits would be appropriate anyway). But if you reject this you better not say “I know there is something divine in and around us” maybe – or at least express such a thought with a proviso, because “the divine” tends to run away from us and become an external agent which then allows others to claim the kind of enlightenment you had just rejected. There is something like the numinous I suppose (a rather vague term) but whatever is “around us” is hard to “know” – isn’t it more like an affective awareness and less of a cognitive thing after all?

      6. “But if you reject this you better not say “I know there is something divine in and around us” maybe – or at least express such a thought with a proviso, ”

        I began reading your comment and when I read this sentence, my hackles rose. Hmmm, the words of a forced rhetoric “you’d better not”…and that kind of language is tainted with heavy control tones. Uncomfortable…and cause resistance for me.

        The experience YOU are having are yours and yours alone. While, I admit it’s too easy to suppose that we are all on the same path of insight into matters such as these, I would caution anyone who seeks to ‘include’ others in their ideas of such matters. They are deeply personal and reflect only what the harbinger of such truths can convey honestly.

        It would seem, at least from my observation here, that you use the word argument to illustrate your disagreement with something I’ve written.

        The moment I sense an assertion of will in matters of this nature, I pretty much bow out of the discussion. Where there is control, there is a loss of dialogue for me. Something in me abhores the need in others to assert their estimations so firmly that they dare say, “you’d better not” in any circumstance.

        So, I will presume this–that you disagreed with my previous comment and that you wish to correct me where I am in error.

        The very idea is hilarious and impossible. I do not think it possible to be ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ in matters spiritual. It is merely a personal appraisal of one’s own experience. While it can be interesting and provocative to hear one express their journey’s messages, I have an automatic stop on anyone (man, woman or child) who insists I do anything in such matters, whether it be thinking differently or seeing it their way.

        My spiritual integrity remains my own. I respectfully agree that yours is yours too.

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