Saturday, January 12, 2008

Resentment and Forgiveness

Two by two, often there are pairs of words that share a deep relationship, opposites perhaps. Kenya is currently in a political crisis causing widespread social disruption. As an outsider I don't know the contours of the many resentments among Kenyans. As a person, I dread further violence and destruction and long for repair and reconciliation.

Recently I read a review by Roger Scruton of a book called Forgiveness: A Philosophical Inquiry by Charles Griswold. I think forgiveness an important and difficult subject, so the review was thought provoking.

One of the criticism of the Internet is that people filter information sources so that they essential get only information from the perspective of people like themselves. I'm relatively new to the World Wide Web, coming online in the late 1990's. Almost immediately I encountered views not only opposite mine, but views seeming quite offensive. Since then RSS and other methods for filtering sources have come along. In the nine years I've been online, I've developed haunts where I gather news and views, so of course I filter.

My political tendencies lean left. Scruton is unabashedly conservative. I surely do filter political commentary towards left-leaning sources, but it doesn't seem possible to filter out conservative-leaning voices, nor does it seem desirable to me.

Likewise I'm not religious; I'm not a believer. The other evening I was through the posts answering the Edge Annual Question. The question Edge asked was: "WHAT HAVE YOU CHANGED YOUR MIND ABOUT?" After reading a half dozen entries or so, I thought to myself: "God, I love these atheists!" Easily amused I chuckled at my inconsistency. Allan Alda's piece is entitled So far, I've changed my mind twice about God. As a young man Alda decided that the idea of God didn't really make sense to him, so he considered himself an atheist. He was quiet about this belief, knowing how touchy people so often are. But after eleven year interviewing hundreds of scientists for Scientific American Frontiers, he's reconsidered his atheist identity and settled on letting the uncertainty about God be. He's changed his mind and is now agnostic about God. His post and all the post are worth reading.

It's fascinating to hear what really smart people have changed their minds about and why. It's nice too that they aren't trying to change other minds in these essays, simply how their minds have been changed. 2007 saw quiet a lot of discussion about Atheism a a number of Edge essays were about changing from believers to atheists, Alda's uncertainty stands apart. Perhaps because I'm not a scientist his position resonates with me, certainly that uncertainty is unlikely to convince anyone to change their beliefs about God.

Scruton points out that Griswold observes that forgiveness can't be achieved alone:
Forgiveness is not achieved unilaterally: it is the result of a dialogue, which may be tacit, but which involves reciprocal communication of an extended and delicate kind. The one who forgives goes out to the one who has injured him, and his gesture involves a changed state of mind, a reorientation towards the other, and a setting aside of resentment.
Often, with a straight arrow between resentment and hatred are coupled. But the possibility of forgiveness after resentment is hopeful, if not as straightforward.

On January 1st I started a thread on the Kenyan elections at a social network I attend. And I've been following many blog posts about the Kenyan situation. There are lots of opinions! While many bloggers have been actively moderating out hate speech, it's easy to find such and passion is everywhere.

Ethan Zuckerman is in the Netherlands speaking at an event, Fill the Gap, which focuses on IT in developing nations. Zuckerman in a recent post tells about Fairous Manji from Fahamu and Pambazuka News who reported on the situation in Kenya at the event. Manji's analysis is quite incisive and Zuckerman's post is essential reading for those wanting to learn more about the situation.

Manji couples the words justice and peace. Like the coupling of resentment and hatred there's a straight arrow of cause between them. With resentment and forgiveness there is no such arrow. What comes between must be a wrestling together in dialog. Scruton's review of Griswold mentions Archbishop Desmond Tutu "the brains behind the path-breaking Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa."

On Bill Moyers Journal recently Moyers ran an excerpt from a 1991 Interview. In the excerpt there was a brief scene of Tutu crying early in the first days of the Commissions work. Moyers asked Tutu:
How did you manage to sit there day after day and hear these stories of terrible things that people had been doing to other people?
I thought of that question when reading testimony of Alex Tamba Tieh given at Charles Taylor's trial for charges of crimes against humanity at Howard French's blog. I'm not sure I could take hearing a trial such as that. So Tutu's answer to Moyers came to mind:
It was terrible, and I cry easily. I broke down on the very first day. But I then said it wasn't fair, 'God, you couldn't allow this to happen,' because the media then concentrated on me instead of on the people who were the rightful subjects, the victims. And if I wanted to cry, then I would cry at home or in church. But I was sustained by prayer, yes
He had such wisdom of where the attention needed to be.

I'm gravely concerned about further violence in Kenya. But I'm also hopeful because of the narratives I'm hearing told by Kenyans. On the thread at the social network I started, a Kenyan chided me for mentioning and linking to blogs, calling my links "opinionists." But that same person has been engaged by others in the thread. Minds may not be changed, but the ways people are talking is changing, at least from the perspective of an outsider.

Resentments are being made known. The remarkable site is up and running so people can not only report acts of violence, but also efforts for peace. Kenyan writers are writing at places like Kwani. The situation in Kenya is very grave and dangerous, but already people from many walks of life are beginning dialogs to wrestle together resentment with forgiveness.

Beliefs about God have been fought over endlessly. Clearly the Kenyan crisis in not a religious war! Griswold book on forgiveness is an entirely secular approach, but Scruton points out how central forgiveness is to Christianity. While my politics certainly aren't like Scruton's I liked his review. It's surely putting unlike things together to bring up religion and politics and my views of them. I suppose I have to try to make the point that narratives can be shaped by talking, even across strongly and passionately held beliefs. Resentment does not always have to be coupled with hatred, there is always the possibility of forgiveness. Forgiveness can only be made in dialog.

1 comment:

Afriboy said...

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