Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Steampunk Forgiveness

Few things are closer to the core of steampunk than thanking otherwise than the way things are.  Usually, this involves re-imagining the past.  So -- wouldn't forgiveness be steampunk?  Is it a lost art or an impossible past?  When we pray the Lord's Prayer we ask God to forgive us our sin as we forgive those who sin against us.  Kierkegaard went to the limit:  forgiveness is impossible for any human to achieve.  The philosopher Jacques Derrida can be paraphrased in this way:

Forgiveness is for those in need of it; it is not a loan given to those who show good faith and will shape up and no longer be in need of forgiveness. Therefore, forgiveness is for the hypocrite mired in self-contradiction, for the dangerous individual, and for the unrepentant. Therefore, forgiveness is impossible and all the various shades of forgiveness that we practice are but facsimiles and a stammering after metanoia.

The political philosopher and writer Hannah Arendt as well as the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr held that one thing Christianity can always provide to politics is forgiveness.  The hard-nosed realists need a fresh start; and forgiveness can provide that, it seems.  Paul Ricoeur wrote a book on forgiveness haunted and inspired by West German Prime Minster Willi Brandt's falling to his knees at a memorial of the Warsaw Ghetto in Poland.

I urge on you no finer exploration of forgiveness than this old NPR Talk of the Nation interview from 2010 about Michael Vick.  Present in this transcript and in the interaction with the callers are present most of the views of forgiveness that people hold.

For example:
Jennifer's calling from Hartford, Connecticut.
JENNIFER (Caller): Yeah. We were driving back from a - kind of a Philadelphia household after the big game last week. And Michael Vick's name was mentioned a lot. And then they heard the NPR - kind of blurb for the story today, and my kids asked what dog fighting was, and they were horrified. And then we also mentioned that Vick wants a dog. And as a dog family, they thought about it, this 7-year-old and 10-year-old. And they said, I bet you he'll be the best dog owner there is. He sounds like he's become a good guy. And I kind of agree with them. I wasn't sure that I would when we first started the conversation.

The callers try to make sense of Vick and President Obama's statement about forgiving Vick and giving him a second chance.  Though Kierkegaard would remind us that forgiveness is only theologically significant if it is God offering forgiveness in the cross, this is a good starting point to think about steampunk forgiveness.  Can Vick undo what has been done?  Several times the question of memory and the past come up in the segment.  Can the past itself be changed?  This is why steampunk and forgiveness go together.

Addendum:  Washington Post story on President Obama's discussion of Vick.

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