MattAndJojang's Blog

God. Life. Spirituality.

The Biology Of Forgiveness

with 2 comments


Here is the good news: science is… revealing how forgiveness, like revenge, is hard-wired in us – purposeful, and normal. We tolerate and excuse the deficits and mistakes of those we know and love and work with – and even those we don’t love but need to work with – a hundred times a day without ever glorifying these moments with the lofty word “forgiveness.” School shootings, ethnic slaughter, and road rage garner headlines, skewing our sense of our collective character. …forgiveness doesn’t work in real life as it too often works in media portrayals of dramatic stories of conversion and high emotion. Actually, we forgive, in good part, because it is in the interests of our genetic pool to do so. The evolutionary pay off for the forgiveness of mistakes by people we are close to or whose work we depend upon, for example, is survival. Michael McCullough says to think of forgiveness as a trait of the weak and the vulnerable reflects a simplistic imagination about human nature and evolutionary biology. And he has the science to give us a more complex imagination about both.

This is science, in other words, that liberates us from reductive analyses of human nature – that is to say, of ourselves and those around us. If we accept the normalcy of our instincts both to revenge and forgive, we have more control over both. Among the practical tools McCullough offers for moving forward in this way, here is one of the most simple and challenging: we embolden the forgiveness instinct when we come to see others as having value. In this light, religious traditions have more than straight teachings on forgiveness to offer up to our culture. Perhaps more practically, they have rich, ancient, cross-generational resources for seeing, knowing, and honoring the dignity of “the other,” whether enemy or friend, neighbor or stranger.

Krista Tippett


Written by MattAndJojang

November 24, 2008 at 11:10 am

Posted in Blog

Tagged with , , , ,

2 Responses

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  1. Thank you for sharing this post! I love it when Science and Religion work hand in hand to improve the world. Recognizing the dignity in others allows us to forgive them, enabling better cooperation and therefore progress, and both science and religion support that which is so cool.


    November 24, 2008 at 1:49 pm

  2. I often have thought the teachings of Jesus were scientific explanations of how things work more than pious platitudes


    November 25, 2008 at 2:18 am

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