On remorse, forgiveness and Christians.
Conviction changes everything. It’s the red pill. The reality of the world changes immediately. It’s like the scene in the film They Live where the dark reality masked by an oblivious life is suddenly made visible.
Reality makes one cynical, distrusting, angry, as I’ve written elsewhere. Each and every time I read “showed no remorse” in a report on a trial I shrug, thinking that there’s something in the situation or in the mind that will have justified the act.
For my part I apologised for what I did that was wrong. It was a complicated situation but I apologised for my part in it, in a somewhat manic way. But that was easy for the prosecution – I was apologising for what was alleged, not what happened.
Indeed I wanted to plead guilty for what actually happened, but those words from my lawyer will haunt me forever: “you’ll be pleading guilty to what they say, not what actually happened.” It truncates remorse.
The problem is that an apology is a reciprocal relation. It’s not that an apology must be accepted, but it is an entry point to possible reconciliation, understanding and change. This is the power of initiatives like forgiveness projects.
For many convicts, though, as David Scott suggests in the film, over punishment can result in condemning of the condemners. This adds another dimension to forgiveness. I certainly don’t feel remorse any more. Many people did very well indeed out of my conviction. I didn’t. I have struggled but succeeded in understanding their motivations and accepting what they needed me to become.
For those outside, who know nothing other my case, I understand, having taken the red pill, how little people know, how easy it is to judge, and how hard it is to take the time to find things out.
Mostly I understand about judgement.
I’d love to believe in God. But I can’t. That’d allow me to be a Christian rather than an atheist. I’ve always held a good deal of respect for some Christian values, and in this murky world of condemnation and ostracisation, I’ve learned something about how those values work.
I was chatting to a prison reformer not so long ago about people who’ve been very supportive and have listened. I was rambling on about the hypocrisy and sanctimonious incoherence among those on the left: the New Puritans.
I went on to suggest a little theory, “it seems to me, most of those who are most supportive and coherent, and least judgemental seem to be Christians”.
I didn’t know this for sure but I think I’ve read it in the behaviour of so many in the prison reform movement, and among those who’ve supported the film.
The prison reformer turned to me with that look that only Christians give – a look of love flowing through the body only to hit upon the conscious mind, at which point the moral regulation kicks in: take no pride – “I am, but don’t make much of it, people judge…”
I interrupted, as I do, “you too….it’s ironic, isn’t it, that you keep it quiet, lest people judge you for being judgemental. The most non-judgemental people I’ve ever met have been Christians.”
I admire people like that. They are still persecuted in our largely secular society. Yet they uphold principles that few others are able to.
Matthew’s Gospel is of course a classic starting point – “Judge not, that ye not be judged”, and more forcefully “Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye”. Colossians 3:13 should be instructive: “bear with each other and forgive one another.”
Of course, the complexities of theology make claims contestable and open to interpretation. Much of the philosophy of forgiveness is not simple but based on: Luke 17:3-4 “if your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them, and if they repent, forgive them”. Confession and repentance is the key to forgiveness.
Now, these complexities necessitate Christianity be considered as a practical philosophy. We know that various incarnations seem to practice anything but forgiveness, with as many warped interpretations and practices as we are told deviate Islam into terrorism. However, I’ve yet to meet a Christian who is judgemental, unforgiving, or anything other than humble.
Yet there’s a key – and I’m afraid to say perhaps cliched – addendum…..Here I shed a tear or two….
Luke’s account in the bible suggests that after trial “they crucified him and the criminals there, one on his right, the other on his left. Then Jesus said, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
It is this latter I suppose to be the crux of the position of practical Christianity in respect of us criminal scum. Jesus was to be counted among the wicked. Learning this, Christians understand that those condemned are rarely what they are said to be. But more to the point, Jesus the revolutionary was crucified with the common criminals.
A phrase spins through my head to the point of dizzying and disorienting me: “they know not what they do”. I’ve written elsewhere in relation to neuroscience and philosophy of mind, our culpability for our actions is questionable on “scientific” grounds, but of course what I’ve tried to express in Injustice, on aetiological grounds too: we are mere links in a chain of causation.
This is not to deny individual responsibility. For sure in 2006 I made a relatively conscious decision to ruin my own life (yeah, I know), and I succeeded to no small degree. But there were reasons for that too, many beyond my comprehension at the time.
We are all flawed.
We are merely human, we are all sinners in one way or another.
Yet the first thing Christians are accused of is being judgemental of sinners, but the last thing they are compelled to do is to judge.
On being minded that the punishment for adultery is stoning, Jesus replied “He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone.” If I’ve learned nothing else, it’s the so-called liberal left, and the indignant right who are armed with handfuls of stones, and it is Christians who will hold your hand and stand with you when you’re being battered.
And here I end this, taking a deep breath through the tears: what do I do? Do I repent? Well I did that, and it was used to convict me. Do I regret repenting? Not at all. Do I forgive those who know not what they do? I’ve been sat here for 20 minutes with my fingers on the keyboard to write: “I will”, but I resolved when I was young never to lie. All I can say is that I will do my best.
I’m not so arrogant as to seek to advise others. Those wrongly convicted, those victims of heinous crimes, those guilty and languishing in cells, the families of loved ones being punished daily. All I can do is repeat the words of the illustration Max Hood kindly donated to me for the film. Hate breeds hate breeds hate breeds breeds hate breeds hate.