National Survey Results for Protestant, Catholic, and Nonreligious Experiences of Seeking Forgiveness and of Forgiveness of Self, of Others, and by God

By Toussaint, Loren L.; Williams, David R. | Journal of Psychology and Christianity, Summer 2008 | Go to article overview

National Survey Results for Protestant, Catholic, and Nonreligious Experiences of Seeking Forgiveness and of Forgiveness of Self, of Others, and by God


Toussaint, Loren L., Williams, David R., Journal of Psychology and Christianity


The purpose of the present study was to examine differences in levels of several dimensions of forgiveness in Protestant, Catholic, and nonreligious groups. The sample included 1,087 nationally representative and randomly selected adults from the United States population. Protestant and Catholic groups showed higher levels of forgiveness of others, feeling forgiven by God, and seeking forgiveness as compared to the nonreligious group. No differences were observed on forgiveness of self. Additionally, the extent to which socio-demographic and religiousness/spirituality variables accounted for the differences in ratings of forgiveness was also examined. In sum, forgiveness differs based on religious affiliation, and personal religiousness and spirituality explain some of these differences. The beginning nature of this work is discussed and a brief research agenda is provided.

A central hallmark of Christianity is forgiveness (Marty, 1998). Christian teaching and tradition promote the act of forgiveness (Hope, 1987; Pingleton, 1989) and numerous biblical exam ples of forgiveness exist (Rye et al., 2000). Christ's call to forgive sevenxy limes seven urnes, to be forgiven as one forgives, and to pray for and love our enemies are but a few examples from the New Testament. Despite the importance of forgiveness in Christianity and centuries of theological and philosophical attention (Enright & Fitzgibbons, 2000), psychologists have only recently recognized its importance. Hence, empirical knowledge about forgiveness, while growing rapidly, is still lacking (see Worthington, 2005, for reviews). One critical gap in our understanding is the Christian experience with forgiveness, as compared to other nonreligious groups. Some works have put forth a Jewish perspective (see books by Schimmel, 2002; Spring, 2004). Some have integrated psychology and Christianity (see Shults & Sandage, 2003; Worthington, 2003). But empirical research on forgiveness by Christians has lagged research on forgiveness in secular populations. Given the paucity of this type of work, the purpose of the present study was to investigate some religious affiliation differences in forgiveness (see McCullough & Worthington, 1999, for a review). Further, we sought to explain some of these differences using personal religiousness/spirituality variables.

Religiousness and Forgiveness

The concept of forgiveness is central to most world religions (Rye et al., 2000), but the tie between forgiveness and religious factors has been difficult to pinpoint. Some studies have shown that religious factors are associated with forgiving tendencies (Gorsuch & Hao, 1993; Poloma & Gallup, 1991; Mullet et al., 2003), but others have argued that the connection is much more complicated. For instance. Tsang, McCullough, and Hoyt (2005) have coined the term "religion-forgiveness discrepancy" (p. 780) to describe the phenomenon where the correlation between religiousness and forgiveness for specific events is unexpectedly low. Other examples also exist. Religiousness of Christian men has been found to be strongly correlated with receiving others' and God's forgiveness, but not with self and other forgiveness (Walker & Doverspike, 2001). Self-forgiveness has been found to be unrelated to religious involvement and religious orientation (Tangney. Boone, & Dearing. 2005). Personal religiousness has been associated with several dimensions of forgiveness, but especially those that involve aspects of God and religion (Gorsuch & Hao, 1993). The religion-forgiveness discrepancy is influenced by many factors, especially the dimension of forgiveness being considered and whether forgiveness is assessed as a state or trait.

Given this conflicting literature, it is important to consider additional aspects of religiousness, such as religious affiliation, that may be associated with forgiveness. Religious affiliation cannot possibly capture all of the rich variation in beliefs and values across the spectrum of Christianity, but it does offer a rudimentary means of identifying individuals with professed similar beliefs and comparing religious groups. …

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National Survey Results for Protestant, Catholic, and Nonreligious Experiences of Seeking Forgiveness and of Forgiveness of Self, of Others, and by God
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