Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Interfaith Event #5: Forgiveness

Here is the next installment of the monthly interfaith event! Jon, from Jesusfollowers Journal, will be writing from a Protestant Christian perspective, and Mike from Unknowing Mind, will be writing from a Mahayana Buddhist perspective. And I will be writting from a Pagan perspective. This month, our question comes from Jon.

The topic we'll be discussing today is the following:

What role does the concept and application of interpersonal forgiveness play in your spiritual tradition?

[Jon's Essay] [Mike's Essay]

The concept of forgiveness is usually tied into many spiritual and religious paths. Within Christianity, the concept of forgiveness comes through Jesus’ sacrifice. In Buddhism, to show forgiveness to another is to lessen the suffering of everyone involved. Within Hinduism, the concept of karma is related to forgiving.

What about Paganism? Doing a quick search on the internet, I find that there are not many discussions on the concept of forgiveness within Paganism. I think it has something to do with the idea that Pagans don’t follow a set dogma and do not discuss it in terms of their relationship with the divine. Yet, it is a concept that is mentioned, just not as directly as it is in other religions and faiths.

It is difficult for a Pagan to discuss the concept of forgiveness within their religion because, in a traditional religious sense, it is tends to be tied to sin. And many Pagans don’t acknowledge the idea of sin. While forgiveness isn’t central to the beliefs of Paganism, I would say that forgiveness is an important concept in life that Pagans do embrace. Pagans are not necessarily looking for forgiveness from the Gods, but from the ones that they have wronged.

When it comes to wrongdoing, Pagans believe that one’s actions need to be dealt with in the here and now. To ignore the fact that you have done wrong against someone else and to ignore that there are consequences in this life, seems like a cop out to me when it comes to the idea of sin. I’ve seen too many people use the concept of sin as a way to forgive themselves of their actions. That has nothing to do with forgiveness.

If I know that I have done something wrong, I try to go to that person right away and deal with the fact that, yes, I am human, and yes, I have hurt people with some of the things that I have done. Humility is a big part of asking for forgiveness. Everyone has difficulty in showing humility and admitting that they have done something wrong.

While asking for forgiveness requires humility, forgiveness also requires showing humility. It is difficult to forgive someone. It is almost as if to forgive someone else, you need to realize that you yourself are not perfect. That is hard to admit. But when you forgive someone else you are showing them that you except them in all their imperfection and are willing to take them for who they are. When you forgive someone, you are releasing your fears, your resentments, and your anger about the situations. And you are reconnecting to the person that is asking for forgiveness.


Angela-Eloise said...

Dianne Sylvan has some interesting things to say about forgiveness in her book The Circle Within. She considers forgiveness to be one of the Wiccan Graces that we must embrace in order to truly "live" our faith.

She too says that since forgiveness is often tied to the concept of sin, Wiccans (and by extension I'm including other Pagans) don't have the same avenues for forgiveness that Christians do. In her opinion this is a good thing, but I'll admit that I'm inclined to lean the direction you are going in the sin department, Sojourner.

But Dianne's main position on forgiveness is that since we hold ourselves accountable for our actions, and not necessarily to a higher power who will absolve us of our wrongdoings, the biggest obstacle we have to forgiveness is forgiving ourselves. By exercising compassion for ourselves as we do for others, we create a space for forgiveness. Once we forgive ourselves its much easier to forgive others.

Jaspenelle said...

This was a very interesting read (I must go and read the other essays now!)

On a personal level (and Pagan one I suppose) I think forgiveness is vital. When people don't forgive (themselves or others) they tend to attract negative energy which is counterproductive to spiritual growth.

If we want to live with more peace in our souls, we need to invite the energy of wholeness rather then lack. I think forgiveness is one facet of wholeness.

Sojourner said...


I have not read Sylvan's book yet (although it has been on my list for awhile). It is great to know that she talks about forgiveness in her book.

While I have yet to read it, I would say that (based on what you have told me here) that I agree with Sylvan's view that we have to learn to forgive ourselves, in the sense of not be overtaken with a sense of guilt.

I hope that Pagans can continue to talk about forgiveness (and other spiritual and religious concepts) as it will help to continue the process of personal growth.

Sojourner said...


I would agree that it is an important part of personal spiritual growth. I think it would be great if more Pagans started talking about forgiveness, as well as other similar concepts, as it will help people to relate their spiritual side and their daily life. We need to start talking more about these kinds of things (IMHO).

Mike said...

Hi Sojourner,
I think there are many commonalities between the Buddhist and Pagan views of forgiveness. Since neither of us are bound to a Creator god in the same way as Christians, we require a different fundamental basis for forgiveness, if we are to give it any importance at all. And I think it is easy to observe that its practice is wholeheartedly healing and positive.

I think your reference to humility is one that I neglected to mention directly in my essay. The fact that TRUE forgiveness (it's easy to say the words; it's much much harder to forgive in your heart) requires a great degree of humility is of prime importance in Buddhism, and is the main way in which forgiveness helps us overcome what we call "delusion," or the seemingly inherent attachment we have to our own Egos. To truly forgive, we have to acknowledge the pain and hurt we have caused another (or ourselves, in the case of self-forgiveness of which Angela-Eloise so aptly mentioned the importance). And not only do we have to acknowledge it internally, we have to admit our failing to the world-at-large.

Great essay exploring these issues, and I think you and I hold very similar views on this topic, with a slight philosophical difference underpinning the whole process.