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Sunday, July 30, 2006

ATONEMENT 101 

This wonderful essay by Dennis Prager sets forth the gold standard for how to say you're sorry. Fittingly it’s all about Jewish insights into sin, forgiveness, and atonement. Definitely read the whole thing, but it lists seven essential criteria:

First, Judaism holds that God directly forgives only sins against God. For God to forgive our sins against our fellow human beings, we must first get the forgiveness of those who have been sinned against.

Second, Judaism holds that only the victim of a sin may forgive. If I steal from Jones, Smith is in no position to forgive me. Jones, and only Jones -- not Smith, not all of humanity, not (yet) God -- can forgive me the wrong I have done.

Third, to obtain forgiveness, I must repent -- that is, I must feel genuine regret for what I have done. This is axiomatic, but it must be stressed because of the current, bizarre trend toward forgiving people who have never even said "I'm sorry." God himself does not forgive us unless we repent, which is one reason why our own forgiving of those who have never repented is not allowed. Another is that doing so removes the incentive all of us need to face our wrongdoing honestly. If we are forgiven without repenting, why repent?

Fourth, also axiomatic, a sinner must acknowledge that he has sinned in the first place. Unfortunately, many people these days have rejected the concept of sin altogether. They prefer "mistake. . . ." But a mistake is unintentional; it is rarely the right word to describe wrongdoing. A second preferred term is "sickness." We have substituted psychological categories for moral ones. Yet "sickness" is entirely different from "sin." If I have sinned, then I am responsible for what I have done. But if I did something because I was sick, how can I be held responsible? My sickness (or "addiction") caused me to do it. And if I am not responsible for my sin, repentance is unnecessary.

Fifth, Judaism holds that a sin must be acknowledged precisely. To merely say "I have sinned" is mostly meaningless. We are all sinners, after all. Only by specifying the sin can the true penitent move on to the next step.

Sixth, the penitent must resolve not to commit the sin again. The third-century Babylonian teacher, Rabbi Judah, defined a true penitent as one who twice more encountered the object that caused his original transgression and yet managed to avoid committing the sin. He gave as an example, "the same woman, at the same time, in the same place."

Seventh, the person who wishes to make amends for wrongdoing -- to truly atone for what he has done to other human beings -- must acknowledge that he deserves punishment. Otherwise expressions of regret can be hollow. "I take full responsibility" is a meaningless phrase unless it is accompanied by a willingness to suffer consequences.

So, what do you think -- how does Mel Gibson's apology stack up?

1 Comments:

Um, I don't think Mel really goes for that Jew stuff.

By Blogger THE WARRIOR MONK, at 9:28 AM  

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