Forgiveness and redemption might not be a natural human characteristic.
By natural I mean something that goes back to our ape ancestors and worked itself out through our becoming fully human and civilized. Or I could be talking completely out of my socks, since I haven’t done a study of ape behavior (which is the closest we can come to understanding our ancestors) in that respect. I’m fairly sure that if it has been done, it is a little known study. (Since I do read about ape behavior.)
I don’t remember a single instance of someone being cast out of the ape band, and coming back with apey apologies to be restored to his former position. Instead, if an outcast comes back it is to defeat the strong man and take over the band (and note that this is one of our oldest stories.) Of course, the earliest written or oral sagas of mankind proper often deal with redemption and forgiveness, though perhaps in a round about way. And often deny it. The Titans are imprisoned, Cronos is banished to the outer darkness, Prometheus is chained and has an eagle eat his liver, etc.
This makes perfect sense in a way, because primitive societies (and ape bands) cannot to get all Shakespearean afford to nurture serpents in their bosom. If you have a small band, of say, twenty people, and someone has already proven disruptive or even treasonous, to invite them back in and forgive them, would be foolhardy.
This is where we’re caught, to use the over-used analogy, between falling angel and rising ape.
Insert long digression on the duality of being human; between instinct and reason; between body and will. You probably have read enough on that — including from me — to write it yourself.
In the end, the problem of forgiveness and redemption in human society is the problem of our very long lifespans and our will power.
“But Sarah, in other circumstances, you’ve talked about how brief human life is.”
It is, when compared to that of the group entities we’ll call cultures (they can go on forever, like the energizer bunny) or to evolution (which is even slower, and really has been going on forever) or to the rise and fall of civilizations, or even the the repercussions of cultural trauma or triumph in the future. (Hence the whole seven generations thing.)
But it is very long when compared to the integrity of the human personality, something that worries both psychologists and theologians. Who are you, really? Who is that person behind the eyes? Are you the same person you were at 10? at 20? or ten years ago? Fifteen years ago? Twenty years ago? (if you’ve lived that long, of course.)
Of course you’re not. Some characteristics remain, including say your attention span, your general mood-tendencies (depressives rarely become naturally cheerful. People who are uncomfortable in public might be more comfortable as they get older, but it will never be a favorite thing, etc.), your general intelligence (barring disaster or a Flowers for Algernon experiment, and perhaps whether you’re naturally industrious or inclined to intellectual or manual work. (I’m more inclined to enjoy manual work for instance. Stop laughing. I approach writing very much as a carpenter or a potter.)
BUT who you are, that voice behind the eyes, including your fundamental beliefs can change drastically with your life experience. And I’m not talking Road to Damascus experiences, though heaven knows those happen too, sometimes with startling rapidity, often with a religious nature. (A lot of our books and stories are about that too.)
More often, though, you change with experience. And the most common one is the shedding of prejudice or fear. Metaphorically speaking, we all come from a small ape band. Your family. Your immediate community. And communities have prejudices, because they define us/not us by the things we do that those others don’t, the things we are, that those others aren’t.
For instance, my family had — for various reasons — on both sides a thing about CLEANLINESS and defining itself as opposed to the rest of the village, who didn’t clean themselves or their environment as often. My earliest “prejudices” were against the little kids next door who didn’t wash and played in mud, and were often infected with lice.
I can’t say I have changed markedly on that, but when I visit someone I no longer judge them on whether they spend their mornings dusting and polishing so the house is immaculate by 10, because frankly, I would have to ostracize myself. The level of cleanliness mom demanded is only possible if you have no inside pets and you’re a full time housekeeper or — as she did — have someone come in and clean every day. I’m going to register that if I could afford it, (society and costs for that are very different for me, now, than for mom 50 years ago) I’d totally do it, and it’s on my wish list to have someone come in once a week, instead of my spending the day scrubbing and cleaning like a thing possessed. But that’s neither here nor there. I no longer judge my tribe by “when they go to work in the morning the house is spotless, or on its way to being so.” I’m not precisely prejudiced against people with lice — particularly since those run rampant in our public schools — but I also won’t invite them home.
There’s other stuff. There’s the old racial prejudice. If you grew up racially prejudiced — I didn’t though I confess Scandinavian blonds were so weird that the first time I saw one I thought he was an animated doll and ran screaming, then had nightmares about it for years. In my defense I was six — and you later encounter those dirty Krasnovians and find you get along with them, you’ll of course change your mind and might even try a waffle. (Keep this example in mind. It’s relevant later.) This is perhaps, or was, when I was growing up, one of the most hackneyed stories.
But there’s other things, which is why I mentioned both our lifespan and our will power. You and I change, every day, insensibly. Little things. Your habits, or what you eat, or what you do for a hobby change over time. And that in turn changes you, because it changes how you react to things. Before I started compulsively reading history for fun, and some profit, for instance, I would react more excitably to everyday news. Or expect historical events to be even faster than they are in our current day and age.
And sometimes you change on purpose. Most of us here, probably, given the general …. inclination and demeanor of the group, had probably a need to learn to be sociable and not come across as impatient, haughty or as though we swallowed a book that morning, and all we want to do is regurgitate it at people. That’s where will power — and a decision to change — comes in. To be blunt, we figured out what behaviors lead to better results, and set about training ourselves.
The same could be said for my acculturating. There was absolutely no point living here while behaving as they did in Portugal. It only led to grief on both sides, and besides, my kids would pick up bad cultural habits from me. So I deliberately set about changing, including changing the language I think in. (The accent, alas, shall always be with me. Yes, a therapist could probably change it. I can’t, because it is complicated by mid-range hearing loss.)
That was quite deliberate and also profoundly transformative, to the point I keep forgetting that Portuguese do things a certain way, and being shocked when I go over (grin.)
But even if you don’t try to change, and don’t move around much, you change with more experience of life. Very few of us are the same we were half a life ago.
Which brings me to the whole concept of redemption and forgiveness. Just as the earliest sagas of mankind are all about the lack of forgiveness, and throwing out the outcast who committed the unbearable offense, it is also obvious that as civilization progressed (and let’s say, our life spans extended) the idea of forgiveness and redemption crept in.
It was a major part of the earliest religions. Offerings for sin and purification, as well as (if we’re not talking Judaism, which was rather more sophisticated than that) the purchasing of favors and good luck and the like from the Divine.
The idea that with divine help you could change your spots, so to put it, was part of religion. And the collaboration in doing so — in changing yourself so you’re better, so the divine forgiveness/intervention are granted — is a part of Judeo-Christian culture.
I will not here go on about whether Christian redemption is free or requires work, or whatever, because I’m not reenacting the 17th century wars of religion on my blog. Also, my own feelings about it are complicated and I have a book I’m unholy late on, and don’t feel like spending the rest of the morning — let alone the day — looking at my belly button lint.
What I do know, though, is that in our time, or at least when I was young, and outside the “high brow” literature that Agatha Christie accurately described as “Unpleasant people doing unpleasant things in unpleasant surroundings” there was usually redemption. Even in satisfactory murder mysteries — ie. ones in which the bad guy is thoroughly punished — there was redemption. Some of the minor suspects might come to realize how close they were to the unforgivable crime and turn around. One of my favorite Agatha Christie’s is “The Moving Finger” precisely because the … for lack of a better term… love interest realizes how close she has come to living her life FOR hatred and turns it around. Pride and Prejudice has the same team. Heck, even Romeo and Juliet. “All are punished,” sure, but the parents learn better at the expense of the tragedy.
Which brings us to mercy, forgiveness, etc.
It could be said to be THE distinguishing factor of civilization. We trust our disobedient children will learn better, and no longer stone them to death, for instance. (Though a good smack to the behind should not be out of the question.)
Which brings us to what is driving me insane currently. While indie books are now available (and even in those sometimes I growl and return the book halfway through) movies and series for TV are still by and large the product of an extremely leftist establishment. And over there, on that side of the fence, things are getting worse. I wish it were only that they are becoming infected with lice.
It’s more like having rejected the long civilizing influence of Western civilization, they are devolving to the ape band.
As those who read me probably know, one of the things that I like doing is watching British mysteries.
Lately I haven’t been able to find any of them I care to stay with. We started one recently, with great hopes, and then realized each episode boiled down to something like “This person is evil and therefore has done everything, and will never get better.”
And by that I don’t mean the criminal. For instance, one we watched recently and stopped halfway through with no intention of going back, is one in which this woman volunteers with immigrants of color. Not necessarily a formal thing. For instance, she has in all but name adopted the child of a drug addicted mother, and has shepherded him into a gifted program (we’re given to understand the child is brilliant. Also, I’m not up on ethnicity, but I THINK Jamaican, from certain speech patterns,) also SHE IS MARRIED TO A BLACK MAN and has been for the last 30 years or so. In fact, they lost (I assume through accident, I didn’t watch till it was explained. Could be racist incident) a teen son, which is part of why she is so devoted to this tween boy. (Her husband is a gym teacher, which is how she came to know the boy.)
In the course of the investigation, it is revealed she was once a member of a skin head gang, and arguably the worst of them. When this is revealed, instead of doing what human, normal, sane people would do, and have a conversation with her and figure out why, and what made her change her mind, her husband leaves, and the boy she’s been mentoring decides her support of him is all a lie and that he should give it all up because everyone is racist and he should just become drug addicted like his mother.
THINK ABOUT THIS FOR A MOMENT. This woman who is about fifty, is condemned for sins she committed when she was 15 or 16 (and a runaway from an abusive home, to whom the skinheads provided an ersatz family. ) She’s been married to a black man for at least 30 years. But you know, in her heart she’s still a racist, because she was an idiot borderline criminal as a confused, abused kid.
If this were the only episode of its kind, I’d have shrugged and gone on. But over and over and over I see this coming up. And you know, I could say “It’s just bad storytelling and they’re trying to force the tragedy” if it weren’t for other incidents in real life, like the thing over on the RWA side, with going through a twenty year old book in order to accuse someone of racism.
The accusations were blinkered and specious, at least the ones I saw, and mistook cliche and romantic bullshit for racism. But let’s suppose it were true, in fact. Let’s suppose this woman 20 years ago had some mild prejudice. How do you know she’d have it still? Or that it influenced her life in any way?
Or the way they turn on J. K. Rowling for saying something they don’t agree with, and cast her out into the outer darkness, because of course SECRETLY she must be everything they hate.
I see this come up a lot in indie books, btw, particularly by younger authors, as though they were indoctrinated in it and can’t break free. This is most obvious in Pride and Prejudice variations (Different ways for the story to develop. Don’t judge me. Yes, I read fanfic when I’m stressed. Deal.) More and more I’m coming across these where NO ONE IS CLEAN. I mean, I’m used to ones where Lady Catherine (Or Wickham or Mr Collins) are made outright criminal villains, because, well, that’s human. “She’s proud and a pain in the ass, so she’ll totally try to poison Lizzy.” (Rolls eyes.) It’s also a characteristic of very young humans.
But lately I’ve been running into “no one is clean.” Mr. Bennet is not just kind of detached and an unintentionally bad parent, but an evil man, selling his daughters into awful marriages. Because he lets himself be persuaded to leave Jane, Mr. Bingley is a mercenary villain, etc. etc. etc. And always, always, there is no redemption. No matter how young, how old, how tired, how ill you were when you made the bad decision, that bad decision is what defines you NOW AND FOREVER. And it must be hung around your neck again and again.
This is bizarre since Pride and Prejudice IS a story of the mutually redemptive qualities of love. Both are at fault, both get better through trying to love the other.
But apparently the young fans see only “You made a mistake and you must be punished forever.”
It’s kind of funny because as a kid I was taught by my lefty teachers of the horror of Victorian childhoods where the children were told of their childhood sins again and again and told how they were tainted and must therefore be ever vigilant and improve themselves.
But at least the possibility of improvement was there.
Now the left does not believe in improvement or redemption. Step out of line with their rigid dogma and you’re now a villain forever, of whom the worst might be believed and the most heinous things said, and to whom the most heinous things might/must be done, in “vengeance.” Hell, it’s not even needed for you to step out of line PERSONALLY. if you’re born to “not one of our protected groups” because of their binary world-system, you’re automatically a villain. Hence holding slavery in America and its evils against the sons of people who immigrated here well after the abolition and who, frankly, probably had ancestors who were treated worse. Or being told that your hard work that achieved you a comfortable life is “privilege” and therefore you must be punished.
I’m not going to get into how wrong (and ever mutable, for that matter) their principles are. I’m just going to say that dissent or even unintentional divergence is not allowed. There is no redemption. No one can change their mind. Your sins, or those of people who looked vaguely like you shall be hung around your neck forever.
This gives the left strength in the short run. It is what causes corporations to grovel.
BUT in the long run (and we’re seeing the beginning of it) it will destroy them.
Living in unforgiveness and hatred will destroy the individual who does so. We joke about the unhealthy appearance of those who oppose us, but honestly if you lived with as much hatred as they do, you’d try to “mutilate” yourself to look unpleasant, etc.
If you lived in a world where no one is clean and everyone hates everyone else, well…. what is the point of living? In the long run, it kills you, anyway. Even if your beliefs are completely crazy and wrong.
It leads you not only to commit crimes against others, but crimes against yourself. And that this is being propagated in every form of narrative from visual to literary to even history teaching in school, is one of the worst things happening to our civilization.
By itself, and alone, it can unmake civilization.
Be aware of it, and how it affects both you and the young ones you might be able to reach. Fight it every time you can. And if you are a creator of story, create stories that uplift and show the possibility of redemption.
The other is not just, ultimately, horrible art and forced tragedy. It is actively harmful to those who imbibe an unalloyed stream of it.
Some theological theory in the older religions hold that heaven and hell are the same place. Only in heaven everyone tries to make everyone else happy/comfortable/fulfilled. And in hell everyone tries to tear each other down.
Build heaven, not hell. Because hell is almost impossible to escape, once it is inside you. It takes an act of will and redemption. And if you’ve been taught those are impossible, the doors of hell are locked from the inside. Forever.