I hate the word forgive. Or rather, I hate the way it is commonly used in America–as a bludgeon to beat about the head of victims while firmly keeping the systems of abuse in place. Oh, and it’s deeply rooted in the Christian background of our young country. I am reminded of this every time there’s a discussion about forgiveness and I’ve been gratified to see over the years more and more people willing to vocalize feelings similar to mine.
Let’s start with the first problem–the loose definition of the word forgive. Now, it’s true that most words mean different things to different people. It’s both the beauty and the frustration of language. So when we talk about the word forgive, we have to first tackle what we actually mean when we say forgive.
First up is, sigh, what seems to be the current Christian definition. Fair warning, this is interpreted by me, someone who has a complicated history with Christianity. I was raised evangelical Christian. Through many years of therapy, I came to realize that the particular brand of Christianity I imbibed was fundamentalist in nature, which gives me extra reason to be pissy about Christianity in general. I never truly believed the tenets of Christianity while I was a kid/teenager, for which I felt terribly guilty. I’ve told this story many times before, but it was when I first had sex that I completely lost my faith. I was told repeatedly that sex was a big sin, perhaps the biggest of all. It was evil and terrible, until you got married and then it was beautiful and holy with angels descending from heaven to sing as you orgasmed.
When I first had sex, I actually thought, “This is what’s sending me to hell? This?” Once the scales fell from my eyes it was impossible for me to trust anything else my church had told me. Let’s face it. When the floorboards are rotten, the whole house collapses. For several years after this moment, I was furious with Christianity for being a big, fat lie. It was at this same time that my mother was at her most religious. Not spiritual. Not thoughtful about her region. Just flat-out strident. There was the ‘can we lay hands on you as we pray at you in tongues’, but I don’t want to get into that right now. Oh, and my mom kicked me out of the car when I said I didn’t care about her fucking god after she would not shut up.*
Then, sometime in my thirties, I just…didn’t care any longer. Most of my rage had mellowed out and I could see the benefits to Christianity for people. I didn’t want anything to do with it, but I didn’t feel the need to fight everyone about it, either. I still have to remind my mom from time to time that I don’t pray, but I can live with that.