On Saturday I watched Notre Dame get beaten by Florida State University. I was on the edge of my seat the whole game. Both teams were undefeated going into the game. Notre Dame was the underdog playing the strongest opponent this season. If Notre Dame won they would be in a position to win a national championship (something they have not achieved since 1988). Notre Dame was ahead for most of the game. In the last quarter Florida State pulled ahead. In the last-minute of the game Notre Dame scored a touch down but a flag was thrown. Some supposed foul was committed by a Notre Dame player nullifying the touchdown and denying Notre Dame a win. I was very disappointed.
I did not go to Notre Dame. I really have not actively followed football until recently. I can claim some connection to Notre Dame because my cousin and other extended family members went there for undergraduate school. I am also Roman Catholic. I like the story of Notre Dame and all its traditions and historically prestigious football program. There is a little bit of a sense (in my mind) that I am not as entitled to root for Notre Dame as someone who actually went there to school but I realize this is mostly about me and not about anyone else.
But also, it is fun to care about something even if it ultimately does not matter. This is a life concept. We will all be dead in 100 years. The universe is infinitely (for all intents and purposes) large. There is nothing I or anyone can do in their lifetimes that really matters objectively when I think about it. So why should mattering matter when it comes to caring about anything? Ultimately, I care about the things I choose to care about. I can certainly be tricked into caring about things that ultimately do not serve my interests but caring is still a choice.
So I choose to care about whether Notre Dame wins. It is fun. I also choose to care about my family because I love them. I choose to care about my country because it is where I am from and connects me to something larger than myself. I choose to care about my religion because it connects me to the infinite, unknowable universe. I also care about all these things because I have been conditioned to do so by the society I live in and was indoctrinated by. In a sense it is easier to care about them than to not care about them but I could choose to not care about them if I was willing to endure the feelings of guilt, disconnection and disloyalty.
I guess the point I am making is that the things I care about are the things I choose to care about. It is these choices that define my sense of self and for that reason alone do they matter. They matter to myself subjectively. They do not matter, however, because they matter in some objective sense of the word.
People motivated by shame are not capable of truly forgiving other people even though they may outwardly appear to forgive wrongs committed against them.
I was taught to forgive because it is the Christian and moral thing to do. But forgiveness motivated by a sense obligation, that forgiveness is the right thing to do and withholding forgiveness would induce guilty feelings is not true forgiveness. It is shame.
In order to truly forgive I must first feel my anger for being wronged. When this happens I must also feel entitled to my anger. I must appreciate and acknowledge the wrong committed against me. If I do not do this any pretense at forgiveness is a farce.
If I am motivated by shame I will not allow myself to acknowledge the wrongs committed against me because I do not feel entitled to my anger. I will act like I forgive readily out of a false sense of morality. I will say I forgive because I want people to like me and think that I am moral and kind.
But when I do not allow myself to feel anger it stays inside and comes out in passive aggressive forms. When I do not allow myself to feel anger there is nothing to forgive really. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that if I do not feel my anger and feel entitled to it, I am not in a position to forgive. I have no standing.
Only when I properly feel my anger for being wronged am I in position to choose to forgive. It has to be a real choice and not one I feel obligated to make. If I forgive out a sense of obligation then I am not the one offering forgiveness. In that situation, whoever imposed the obligation upon me is the one responsible for forgiveness. But forgiveness is personal and cannot be given through proxy. So really, no forgiveness is given at all.
In Roman Catholicism, the sacrament of Reconciliation is performed by a priest acting in the name of God. This is forgiveness by proxy. I am tempted to say that because this is forgiveness by proxy it is therefore not authentic. But I believe something else is at work in this sacrament. Sometimes a feeling of shame is so intense that forgiveness for the sin requiring reconciliation is required. When a person seeks forgiveness of sins through Reconciliation I think he is really thinking of a way to forgive himself for whatever transgression he committed. The shame he has felt for the sins he committed is punishment enough. The anger he has vented on himself has been fully felt only there has been no release because it is directed towards himself. In this instance an outside entity may be required to release him.
Of course self-forgiveness is possible without the sacrament. Like all religious practices they are merely tools we use to relate with the grand, infinite, unknowable universe that exists both inside and outside ourselves.
Filed under Religion, Shame