©2015 By ILANA MERCER
Of New York Times columnist David Brooks it has been said that he is “the sort of conservative pundit that liberals like.” Not being a conservative or a liberal, I find him consistently wishy–washy and inane, without a controversial or interesting thought in that head of his.
Although it comes close, Brooks’ “Act of Rigorous Forgiving,” dealing with the antics of NBC’s Brian Williams, is not a complete dog’s breakfast of a column. The aspect of the Brooks column that piqued this scribe’s curiosity is that of forgiveness.
“Williams’ troubles,” you’ll recall—as chronicled by The Daily Beast—”began with his false account of a March 2003 helicopter ride during the U.S. invasion of Iraq, which he told, with dramatic variations, on David Letterman’s late-night talk show and Alec Baldwin’s radio show in March 2013, and repeated on his own Jan. 30 newscast—only to recant it and apologize five days later after Stars and Stripes blew it out of the sky. Now he’s also facing scrutiny for stories of possibly untrue exploits during his 2005 coverage of Hurricane Katrina, and even whether, as a volunteer teenage firefighter in Middletown, New Jersey, he saved one (or maybe it was two) puppies from a burning house.”
Brooks’ trouble is the breakneck speed in which he shifted into a discussion of forgiveness. Is this not premature? Brooks, moreover, is also plain wrong in claiming that transgressors are treated “barbarically” when they “violate a public trust.” In a culture steeped in moral relativism, this is simply untrue. Paris Hilton debuted her public life with a self-adoring pornographic video. It only increased her profile. Likewise Kim Kardashian, who has been bottoms-up ever since her maiden performance. Her sibling, as vulgar, has visited the White House. Barack Obama lied intentionally when he vowed, “You can keep your healthcare if you want to,” but all was forgiven and forgotten. The president’s latest lies are that ISIS is un-Islamic and that “Islam has been woven into the fabric of our country since its founding.” These fables are cut out of whole cloth. The same goes for the web of lies “W” wove on the matter of WMD in Iraq. On and on.
Still, boilerplate Brooks is tempered by some solid points about the need to perform penitence before being granted clemency:
… the offender has to get out in front of the process, being more self-critical than anyone else around him. He has to probe down to the root of his error, offer a confession more complete than expected. He has to put public reputation and career on the back burner and come up with a course that will move him toward his own emotional and spiritual recovery, to become strongest in the weakest places. …… It’s also an occasion to investigate each unique circumstance, the nature of each sin that was committed and the implied remedy to that sin. Some sins, like anger and lust, are like wild beasts. They have to be fought through habits of restraint. Some sins like bigotry are like stains. They can only be expunged by apology and cleansing. Some like stealing are like a debt. They can only be rectified by repaying. Some, like adultery, are more like treason than like crime; they can only be rectified by slowly reweaving relationships. …
Indeed, penitence, especially in the case of a sustained, prolonged pattern of abuse, can “only be [achieved] by slowly reweaving relationships.”
To simply demand forgiveness because one has said sorry without convincingly and consistently acting sorry, and to proceed further to conduct one’s self like a victim because the victim has failed to extend an instant pardon: This is unpardonable. To shift the guilt onto the injured party for not granting that minute-made (or is it “minute-maid”?) clemency: This too is beneath contempt.
Alas, flash forgiveness is not the province of Christians alone. Jews, too, it would appear, have moved into the realm of pop religion. “According to the Talmud,” I was recently lectured, “a person who repents is forgiven his past and stands in a place of righteousness.” No mention was made of the hard, lengthy work of “slowly reweaving relationships.” The demand was for forgiveness in a New York minute.
Also conspicuous by its absence was chapter-and-verse proof for the alleged Talmudic injunction to decouple easily expressed feelings from difficult-to-do deeds. (And even if the edict exists, unless just in natural law—it would amount to an argument from authority.)
My guess is that instant expiation flows more from the values of the 1960s than from any doctrinal Christian or Jewish values. Whichever is the case, the corollary of the current practice of no-effort forgiveness is that “it not only abolishes the necessity of repentance; it abolishes sin itself.”