While eating my lunch today, I was reading the LA Times, and saw an article about how Donald Trump had purchased another golf course. This got me thinking about Donald Trump pulling a Donald Sterling, and how Sterling was banned for life from the NBA. This, in turn, got me thinking about our punative culture. For as much lip service as we give to religion, our attitude in the US seems to be: make a mistake once, and you’re branded for life.
Consider: Sterling clearly made racist remarks — wrong, misguided, and every kind of stupid. But the actions that were taken in response provide no ability to Sterling to ever recover — even if he was to sincerely learn from his mistake and change his ways, there’s no undoing the ban. Similarly, for those that commit any level of sex crimes — even if they were very young — there is no opportunity with the way our society brands and ostracizes such offenders that they could ever change their ways and be trusted. I’m sure you can find numerous additional examples: politicians are still held accountable for stupid statements and behaviors in their youth. We put many people in jail, and then brand them as “once-in-jail” for life. You can’t escape the permanent record.
All this from a society that is actually one of the most religious ones around. I know that both Judaism and Christianity teach — in fact, they emphasize — the ability to sincerely repent from one’s wicked ways. They teach that one can move from leading a life of sin, and be reborn on a good and spiritual path. I believe the teachings are that if one is on that path sincerely, the past is the past. Yet for all the religious talk, we’re not doing that.
Was society always this way? I think not. Look at George Wallace. Once he was an ardant racist and segregationist. Later in his life, he recanted those early beliefs, and changed his ways (and was viewed differently).
I want to be clear that I’m not defending the behavior of Sterling or sex offenders. Rather, I’m raising the question of repentance: can one truly repent in front of society (and, if one believes, in front of God), what is the motivation for repentance if society refuses to accept it, and whether we can be as religion-centered as we claim if we eschew the notion of repentance in practice?
One Reply to “Repent, and Ye Shall Be Saved”
You are failing to distinguish between forgiveness and giving another chance. I have forgiven the people who abused me, but that doesn’t mean they get another shot at me: they have to find someone else to give them a chance to prove they have sincerely repented. And that chance is predicated on our ability to discover whether the repentance is sincere. When I give second chances, it’s on the basis of “trust, but verify.” The chance is a chance to prove yourself; it only takes one mistake to lose that chance.
I think sexual predators create a unique situation because the damage they perpetrate is extreme for too many of their victims. It can be lifelong; it can even end a life. Dare we as a society, on behalf of potential future victims, take a chance on the sincerity of a sexual predator’s repentance?
A good friend of mine is a former prison guard who now trains and writes about surviving violence. He tells a story in one of his books about a horrible thing a man did to a baby. His story convinced me that there really are evil people. And most studies that I’ve read about criminals seem to throw up their hands and give up on the idea of reforming some types of criminals: we don’t know if it’s even possible, let alone how to do it. Sexual predators are in that category, as are most criminal sociopaths. (Not all sociopaths turn criminal.)
So forgiveness is possible. Repentance is possible. But it is also possible that a person’s past choices and actions preclude allowing them the chance to victimize again. After all, a person who truly repents understands this necessity, along with the necessity of taking responsibility for the consequences of their actions.
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