The Power of Forgiveness; Spiritual Idea May Also Apply Using Secular Approaches
Byline: Ann Geracimos, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Forgiveness has many faces and can take many forms. Ceremonial rituals of the Roman Catholic Church involve a penitent in the priest's confessional being forgiven for sins he committed.
More contemporary rituals make forgiveness an academic pursuit. Washington psychiatrist Dr. Carlotta Miles views forgiveness as an individual process best achieved over time in a therapeutic setting.
Many religions have forgiveness at the very heart of their belief system, while expressing its value in different ways. For Catholics, God does the forgiving with the priest as intermediary, says Father Thomas Reese, a senior fellow at Georgetown University's Woodstock Theological Center that, in the past, has sponsored a specially funded Forgiveness Project relating to international, rather than interpersonal, conflicts.
"You are supposed to confess your sins and ask for forgiveness and do penance and try to make reparations for the evil you have done," he explains. "I think that model works for society, also. To ask the victim of a rape to simply forgive her rapist, or ask a family to forgive the person who killed someone in their family - if they can do this, God bless them. They are better people than I am. It takes a special grace from God to be able to do that. For society at large, we need structures that help us get to that point."
People in olden times had to confess to the community-at-large, and penance could be wearing sackcloth and ashes, he adds.
"Unburdening oneself from a hurt experience is a kind of liberation," he says, expressing a view common among nearly all authorities on forgiveness modes. "If you can't forgive, the anger stays with you, and you continue to allow that person to have power over you."
The Catholic confessional ritual, he says, "calls the sinner to conversion because you confess, and you are sorry, but then you promise not to do it again. It is not a get-out-of-jail-free card." Likewise, he says, "we have to be very careful when we go to someone and say, 'You have to forgive the person who hurt you.' We don't want to victimize the victim."
Palo Alto, Calif., psychologist Fred Luskin, author of "Forgive for Good" and "Forgive for Love," acknowledges that scientific research shows how learning to forgive - like many other positive emotions - can make a person healthier by having a favorable impact on the cardiovascular system.
"But no research has been done yet on what it is to be forgiven because it is harder to research," he notes. "The one doing the forgiving has the latitude.
"Work we and a few other scientists have done," he continues in a telephone interview, "has shown through secular methodology that you can teach something that had been confined to the religious universe. …