There was a sad time in my life when I would frequently antagonize religious individuals. During my teen years and for most of my 20’s, I was on a self-imposed mission to separate people from their faith. I scoured the internet for information on the rhetoric of apologists (and the counterarguments to their claims). I studied philosophy and the components of “proper logical reasoning.” During debates with theists, I spouted the word “fallacy!” so many times that I wouldn’t be surprised if some people thought it was the only word I could say — and mistook me for a Pokémon.
However, I eventually realized that my actions weren’t healthy or productive. I didn’t stop being non-religious, but I did start to consider the beauty and hope that other people could find in religion and various holy texts. When I started to think about how happy a person’s faith could make them and the joy it could bring to their families, I stopped trying to convince people to let go of something they hold so dear.
But a question kept lingering in the back of my mind: How could these religious institutions and their literature have survived for so long and still be beloved by billions of people?
Through a discovery process, I learned nothing is more compelling than the conviction that an all-powerful entity loves you. The belief that the grandest Being in the universe is guiding your actions and that He has paved a magnificent path for your life can make even the most pessimistic person believe in the grandiose. It can convince anybody the impossible is possible.
There is one significant component of the Abrahamic religions, in particular, that makes so many people gravitate toward them. It’s the beautiful concept of forgiveness. A large chunk of the Bible is narrative of God criticizing — or even outright condemning — the Israelites and the other nations of the world. The Israelites, according to the Bible, were constantly turning away from God and forsaking Him. But God never held an eternal grudge against them, and He was always willing to forgive. And this compassion wasn’t just exclusive to the Israelites, but His grace also extended to outside nations.
For example, in the book of Jonah, God sent Jonah to prophesize over the people of the Assyrian capital, Nineveh. The Assyrians were wicked and brutal people who decorated their city walls with the impaled heads of their unfortunate victims. God, according to the Bible, was going to destroy the city for their evil and depraved ways, but He wanted to make one last plea for them to turn away from their sins. Jonah himself couldn’t understand why God would be willing to forgive such a terrible nation, and he initially ran away from his assignment.
God, through a series of dramatic actions, got Jonah to complete his task. Jonah went to Nineveh and told them to turn away from their sins. Nineveh repents, and God forgives them. But Jonah wasn’t happy that God forgave the people of Nineveh. When Jonah starts to pout, God says to him, “…And should I not spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also their cattle?”
The story abruptly ends, but the message is clear: God is willing to forgive anybody for their transgressions. The theme of forgiveness is so powerful that Jonah is read every year on the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur — the Day of Atonement.
We’ve all made mistakes and have held beliefs that, when we look back, make us cringe at how stupid we were. There are some horrible things I’ve done and views I used to hold that I’m now absolutely ashamed of. I hope the people I’ve offended with my past bad actions would be willing to forgive me, just as I would be willing to forgive anybody else for their mistakes.
The main reason I felt compelled to write this is because, a few years ago, there was an incident with a political group called the Justice Democrats where the situation could’ve been handled much better if forgiveness was shown. For those of you unfamiliar with them, the Justice Democrats are a division of the Democratic Party who advocate for progressive values. I initially hated them, but as my political views changed, I started to embrace the causes they’re fighting for. However, there was one huge event that never sat right with me — when Cenk Uygur, co-founder of the Justice Democrats, was unfairly kicked out of the group.
In late 2017, some old blogs of Cenk Uygur were dug up. In these blogs, Uygur wrote detrimental remarks that disparaged women. When these blogs came into public view, many staff members of the Justice Democrats were furious with Uygur, and they demanded his resignation. Uygur responded by saying that he was deeply ashamed of the blogs.
Unfortunately, some Justice Democrats staff members didn’t accept his apology, and Uygur, not wanting to cause a civil war within the group, stepped down. But then, after he bowed to their wishes, the Justice Democrats released some statements where they heavily implied that Uygur was a “sexist.”
The Justice Democrats acted very irrationally. Uygur showed deep remorse, and his work over the last two decades advocating for women’s rights, the advancement of women and overall progressive values thoroughly proves he is not a sexist. The Justice Democrats should’ve accepted his apology and moved on, but they instead acted in the most shameful way possible. This has always left a sour taste in my mouth, and it’s the reason why I can’t fully get on board with them.
I believe the success of any religious, political or social movement largely depends on their willingness to forgive. For a group to grow into an everlasting national or worldwide phenomenon, they need to accept members who may have had a shady past but are remorseful for the wrongs they’ve done. People generally respond well to criticism when it comes from a place of caring — and when they know that if they apologize for the bad things they’ve done, they’ll be forgiven and, like the Prodigal Son, be welcomed back with open arms.
The Bible wouldn’t be as revered as it is if God and Jesus were merciless. People find beauty in the fact that God, even though He has a lot of critical words to say about humanity, is willing to exonerate people of their sins. The Justice Democrats could take a lesson from that — and learn to forgive.
Eric Goldin is a Santa Clarita resident.