Friday, February 24, 2012

Hannah Arendt on Forgiveness

In her book The Human Condition, social theorist Hannah Arendt describes forgiveness and promise-making as faculties without which persons could not act hopefully in society. As a Jewish thinker who reflects on the teaching and example of Jesus in this regard she gives us plenty to think and ask about. (What does she mean by forgiveness? Is it a human faculty? and so on.) But I'm going to leave those question for another venue (namely, thesis footnotes) and drop an intriguing quote below instead (since that's kind of what I'm doing with the old blog now, it seems).

Having described the essential act of forgiveness (along with promise-making) as a power by which we interrupt the course of things and begin something new, she warns that
"it is very dangerous to use this faculty in any but the realm of human affairs. Modern natural science and technology, which no longer observe or take material from or imitate processes of nature but seem actually to act into it, seem, by the same token, to have carried irreversibility and human unpredictability into the natural realm, where no remedy can be found to undo what has been done."
- Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition (1958), p. 238
This reminds me of an encyclopedia entry I read not long ago on the topic of forgiveness, which wondered whether it was something one could ask of the earth. Seemed to me at first kind of absurd, but it did raise some interesting thoughts. Say you did not believe in a Creator who was committed to creation: What hope would you have for the earth, let alone for humanity? Even if you could find some grounds or purpose for inter-human forgiveness (whatever that would mean apart from belief in Christ), what would give you any reason to expect "forgiveness" from nature if you transgress it? Even within the Christian faith, what reason do we have to expect creation to be "forgiving" if we transgress the laws by which we were intended to live in it? I'm sure there are answers. Just thought I'd share the thoughts and questions.

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