Vengeance Chic

In the post-9/11 world, is revenge becoming as spiritually accepted as forgiveness once was?

At the Republican convention in New York City earlier this month, nearly three years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, actor Ron Silver strode to the podium and delivered an emphatic statement of American resolve.

"We will never forgive. We will never forget. We will never excuse," he said to the cheering crowd at Madison Square Garden.

More than 600 miles to the south, an Episcopal priest was disturbed by the emphasis on vengeance he heard that night.

"Three years after the horrific events of Sept. 11, our nation is still breathing revenge and retribution,"

wrote the Rev. Brian Suntken

in a Charlotte Observer editorial. "When will the true process of healing begin? When will our national leaders, many of whom assert religious affiliation,lead our nation into healing and renewal?"

Three years after 9/11, it is this divide--between forgiveness and retribution, healing and getting even--that shapes our country's foreign policy, our political discussions, and our country's spiritual framework.


Religious scriptures advocate for both forgiveness and retaliation. "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth," say Exodus and Leviticus. "Turn the other cheek," says the Christian Gospel of Matthew. "You may kill those who wage war against you, and you may evict those who evict you," proclaims the Qur'an. But "I forgive those who do wrong to me," goes a hadith [saying of the Prophet].

Contemporary religious practice tends to emphasize forgiveness over retribution. "We should not seek revenge on those who have committed crimes against us, or reply to their crimes with other crimes," the Dalai Lama has said. Many other religious giants of the past century--Tolstoy, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr.--taught nonviolent resistance to evil.

Recent scientific research has demonstrated the healing effects of forgiveness. Everett Worthington, a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University,

found that people who won't forgive wrongs committed against them
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Jason White
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