Friday, October 06, 2006

What the forgiveness of the Amish is not

The novelist with Christian concerns will find in modern life distortions which are repugnant to him, and his problem will be to make them appear as distortions to an audience which is used to seeing them as natural; and he may be forced to take ever more violent means to get his vision across to this hostile audience. When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs you do, you can relax a little and use more normal ways of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock—to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the blind you draw large and startling figures.
-- Flannery O'Connor, 1957

For once, we were spared the too cheap exculpations of secular society, in which crime is simultaneously everybody's fault and no one's fault, and in which every criminal is innocent until proven crazy. No spineless non-judgementalism, no creepy grief counselors, outfitting survivors with prosthetic feelings. Instead, we had as shining an example of the Christian ideal of forgiveness as it was possible to produce.

Some people misunderstand the seemingly easy acceptance of the Amish in the face of this horror. The Amish do wrestle with hate and anger, the same as anyone else would. They are human beings, after all; and being robbed of their children's lives savages their hearts as much as anyone else's. However, they are not simply taking the stoic way out, simply switching off their emotions. So schooled are they in Christ's example of returning good for evil, that it doesn't take as much agonizing for them to offer that hand of reconciliation as it might for any of us.

The Amish have not only forgiven the killer, but forgiven the killer's family, and asked that some of the spontaneous outpouring of donations from around the country to the Amish be shared with them. (Contrast that with, say, the Columbine murders, which were almost immediately litigated by all against all.) How can they do this? A quick trawl through some online sermons on forgiveness comes up with this nugget:

When we go through an inexplicable trial, when we feel forsaken by those in whom we had placed our trust, we can be surprised to find a violent reaction welling up in us. Sometimes we feel the need to get some distance, to allow some time to pass. Then we realize that forgiveness is not a natural attitude for human beings. But in such moments of crisis we can also discover that living a life of forgiveness means first and foremost letting the Risen Christ forgive within us.

All who choose to let Christ pray in them "Father, forgive" remain free of violence and bitterness. Free of distances, of an indifference that gives the illusion of protecting them, like armour, against a suffering which has become too unbearable. The heart remains alive: it can begin to hope anew.

Here's hoping for renewal in their hearts, in the years to come.

Footnote: Mister Ghost is wondering where are the Iraqi Amish? The parallel is misdrawn, as I said at his blog. A surprise attack by a lone crazy is not the same as deep-rooted emnity between rival sects. If anything, the Iraqis have a much harder job of reconciliation than do the Amish, in that there is more to forgive, and less of a basis for forgiveness in the Islamic faith.

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