Making Amends: Atonement in Morality, Law, and Politics
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Can wrongs be righted? Can we make up for our misdeeds, or does the impossibility of changing the past mean that we remain permanently guilty? While atonement is traditionally considered a theological topic, Making Amends uses the resources of secular moral philosophy to explore the possibility of correcting the wrongs we do to one another.
Philosophers generally approach the problem of past wrongdoing from the point of view of either a judge or a victim. They assume that wrongdoing can only be resolved through punishment or forgiveness. But this book explores the responses that wrongdoers can and should make to their own misdeeds, responses such as apology, repentance, reparations, and self-punishment. Making Amends explores the possibility of atonement in a broad spectrum of contexts--from cases of relatively minor wrongs in personal relationships, to crimes, to the historical injustices of our political and religious communities. It argues that wrongdoers often have the ability to earn redemption within the moral community.
Making Amends defends a theory of atonement that emphasizes the rebuilding of respect and trust among victims, communities and wrongdoers. The ideal of reconciliation enables us to explain the value of repentance without restricting our interest to the wrongdoer's character, to account for the power of reparations without placing a dollar value on dignity, to justify the suffering of guilt without falling into a simplistic endorsement of retribution, and to insist on the moral responsibility of wrongdoing groups without treating their members unfairly.
440–62. 15. Alister E. McGrath, “The Moral Theory of the Atonement: An Historical and Theological Critique,” Scottish Journal of Theology 38, no. 2 (1985): 213. 16. Kant, Religion, 68; second emphasis added. 17. An interesting issue (one that I cannot properly pursue here) arises with regard to the continuing role of punishment in Kant’s account of atonement. He insists that some “satisfaction” must yet be made to God for past sins and that this satisfaction rightly takes the form of
morality does not yet give us a suffi ciently precise characterization of the external actions that are appropriate or required. In drawing these conclusions, I appear to be placing myself in opposition to a widely held view (associated with some popular interpretations of Christian doctrine) that the internal state of repentance alone can suffi ce for moral and spiritual redemption. The Christian faithful are assured that if they c h a n g i n g o n e ’ s h e a r t , c h a n g i n g t h e p a s
Families of the murdered and the “disappeared” frequently express a need to know what transpired and where the remains of their loved ones lie. Such knowledge helps them fi nd closure. It helps them to narrate the past to themselves as past. 4.5.5 material redress The transfer of material goods from the wrongdoer to victims or communities can serve the ends of atonement in many different ways. These transfers may take the form of the return of wrongfully taken property or compensation for
done is the resentment the victim feels and then relinquishes in forgiving. However, even in cases of minor wrongdoing, if the wrong suggests something negative about the wrongdoer’s character, then there is more work to be done. 5.5 The Victim’s Prerogative A victim’s forgiveness or willingness to reconcile is not a magic elixir that makes wrongdoing disappear into the past. However, victims and their responses to atonement are highly important to the resolution of wrongdoing because the
altar. 58 The worst sinners were required to stand outside the building altogether. In other places, bishops would literally walk over the backs of prostrate penitents on the way to mass. 59 Penitents in the Magdalen asylums were always referred to as “children” and the nuns as “mothers,” even when the penitent was fi fty years older than the nun.60 The 18 | m a k i n g a m e n d s whole Magdalen system was designed to eliminate the penitent’s power of choice, which is the mark of both