"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Monday, July 18, 2016

David Rieff and the Duty to Forget (III)

Let us turn, finally, to such brief considerations of forgiveness in conjunction with forgetting as we find in David Rieff's In Praise of Forgetting (part II here; and part I here).

As we recall, Rieff (and other recent authors, including Manuel Cruz) says that forgetting:

        • is more mature
        • is more likely to bring peace
        • is no more likely to ensure repetition of a traumatic, violent event than enforced remembrance is to prevent it

If all this is so, then it would seem that a fortiori forgiveness will do likewise, and perhaps do so with better results than forgetting alone. But Rieff does not attend to forgiveness as much as he does to forgetting. Nonetheless, he does end his important and stimulating book with a few lapidary suggestions.

As with his emphasis on forgetting, Rieff is a socio-political pragmatist with regard to forgiveness. Noting that few people are more uncontrollable or more dangerous than "a social group that believes itself to be a victim" (117), he argues that such "victims," whose collective memory has most likely been ginned up or exaggerated in key aspects, must learn to forget those episodes and, more important, the resentment that they engender. In this regard, Rieff's book could equally be titled "in praise of letting go of resentment" insofar as resentment often spurs victims to become perpetrators themselves. If they can let go of resentment and attempt something like forgiveness, then the cycle of vengeance can be broken--or, rather, quoting Borges, "'forgetting is the only vengeance and the only forgiveness'" (145).

That is, of course, rather weak tea. Christians would have a much stronger, more robust theology of forgiveness based on its divine example and dominical mandate.

As I continue to think with and through Rieff, Cruz, Ricoeur, Vivian, Volf, and others on these questions, I have in mind two test cases: the Union of Brest-Pseudosobor of Lviv trajectory in Russian-Catholic relations and imaginings; and then the Crusades. I shall have more to say about both later.

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