The Road to Forgiveness: A New Documentary Looks at How and When People Choose to Forgive

By Lloyd, Laura | National Catholic Reporter, February 22, 2008 | Go to article overview

The Road to Forgiveness: A New Documentary Looks at How and When People Choose to Forgive


Lloyd, Laura, National Catholic Reporter


Filmmaker Martin Doblemeier believes that forgiveness can transform the world. His new documentary, "The Power of Forgiveness," which will be shown on public television stations beginning in March, explores that idea through interviews with people who have forgiven those who injured them.

Being able to let go of the bitterness that follows being hurt isn't always easy, of course, whether for individuals or for nations. The difficulty in doing so is demonstrated powerfully on the film's Web site, where Mr. Doblemeier recently posed a question, "How do you feel about a Garden of Forgiveness at Ground Zero?" Such a garden has been suggested by a New York City Episcopal priest, Mr. Doblemeier said.

"In 10 days we had 6,000 hits," Mr. Doblemeier said. "Of the respondents, 97 percent said no to a Garden of Forgiveness and 3 percent said yes. Now, most of the people who go our Web site might be called progressive tree-huggers, faith-in-the-world types. Yet, they were not in favor of a Garden of Forgiveness."

Mr. Doblemeier said America is "an angry culture, angry on the highways, angry in the movies. We're a nation of people who are deeply hurt." Still, in making his Film he was able to find a wide array of people here and abroad who are making creative efforts to foster forgiveness.

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"Forgiveness is a decision," Mr. Doblemeier said. In other words, people don't have to wait until they feel like forgiving to do so.

A Roman Catholic, Mr. Doblemeier is a veteran maker of documentaries with spiritual themes. The 25 movies he's produced and directed include "Bonhoeffer," a documentary about the well-known German pastor who resisted the Nazis, and "Final Blessing," a film about the spiritual issues of the terminally ill. He decided to explore the topic of forgiveness in a variety of faith traditions and from a scientific perspective as well. He found out that almost all religions teach the importance of forgiveness, and some, like the Amish, make it a cornerstone of their faith. He also found that scientists are discovering that the ability to forgive can confer health benefits such as lower blood pressure and better cardiovascular health.

Forgiveness "is a wonderful virtue in itself and it's also good for our health," Mr. Doblemeier said.

He is happy that acts of forgiveness have health benefits, but he places greater value on the idea that corporate forgiveness can lead to a "transformation of the world." His film focuses on such transforming acts as a school program in Northern Ireland that nurtures nonjudgmental attitudes between Catholics and Protestants and efforts to foster reconciliation between Germans and Jews affected by the Holocaust. These acts, he thinks, have the most power.

"Jesus, when he was on the cross and said, 'Forgive them, they know not what they do,' wasn't forgiving because it was good for his health," Mr. …

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