The evening started in small groups sharing our belief’s perspective on forgiveness. For humanists I suggested forgiveness was a very human quality and phenomenon, but I recognised the encouragement given to it within religious practice.
There was mention of the reminder to confess or reflect on the need for forgiveness in daily or weekly religious services. For Muslims reference to Allah being compassionate and forgiving were all over their prayers. Qaisra admired the automatic readiness of people in the UK to say sorry, something she felt was lacking in some more hierarchical societies.
Johnny and Warren explained that the current Jewish New Year was leading to the day of Attonement when the idea was to ask everyone you might have wronged for forgiveness and then be forgiven also by God. [Ed - Sounds like Alcoholics Anonymous.]
As a former Catholic I talked about RC confession, which felt like a clean slate but did not stop you sinning again, and that this seemed to be true in every tradition. I felt the reference to God forgiving and the need to include god in the process was somewhat of a distraction. I drew attention to the usefulness of being able to forgive for our mental health. Religious folk saw this in terms of it being good for the soul.
The Baha’is saw forgiveness as a divine quality which humans as having something of God in them were able to use. One Baha’i attendee (a black man called ‘Godwill’) looked towards a world where God’s law prevailed, which for me raised the sharia and inquisition spectres.
Some harder cases were discussed, along with the interaction of justice and forgiveness, and the issue whether you should forgive someone who has not asked for it. One person spoke of her father who had been shot by a criminal and had then forgiven him, meaning the man was not executed, but the perpetrator then went onto commit more crimes. Another spoke of a lady in his congregation who had suffered serial sexual abuse many years ago and was struggling with the question of forgiveness. She had broken down in a recent service when Jesus’ command to forgive 70 times 7 times was mentioned.
I felt the dialogue was useful and interesting. Do we lack something in humanism by not thinking about this kind of need more?