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What we get wrong about forgiveness (Rebroadcast)

Some relatives of the victims of the Charleston church shooting publicly forgave the murderer.
Some relatives of the victims of the Charleston church shooting publicly forgave the murderer.

In June 2015, nine people died at Charleston’s Emanuel A.M.E. Church, victims of a racist shooter’s rampage.

Some of the victims’ relatives publicly forgave the murderer, including Chris Singleton, whose mother, Sharonda Coleman Singleton, was killed. Singleton talked to WBUR:

“I believe so many people view forgiveness as letting the other person off the hook,” he says. “We think that we’re letting the other person off the hook by forgiving when in actuality we’re just freeing ourself from that constant feeling of revenge.”

Philosopher Myisha Cherry was struck by the story and its response. Some, she says, paid more attention to the inspirational story of forgiveness than the racial hatred behind the shooting.

In her new book, Professor Cherry seeks to understand what forgiveness means and why we venerate it. Sometimes, she argues, forgiveness can do more harm than good, especially if it lets the perpetrator of wrongdoing off the hook – whether that be a person, system or anything else.

What is forgiveness? When do we forgive and why? What effect does that forgiveness have?

Copyright 2023 WAMU 88.5

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Avery Jessa Chapnick
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