Of vengeance and forgiveness

Did anyone else catch the Jesus parallels in the Divergent series? All in all I was mostly disappointed with the trilogy, but at least there were some interesting ideas.

After enjoying the first movie version and then having my faith in young adult fiction restored by the surprisingly solid Hunger Games trilogy, Veronica Roth’s work felt poorly written. The second book was Twilight without vampires (ie. Mills & Boone for teenagers) and the third had a less than satisfying alternating narrator thing happening and a plot twist I’m not sure works.

The books, however, did explore themes of guilt, regret and sacrifice. I suppose in that context, some Jesus undertones are unsurprising.

Actually it made me think of this quote from one of my favourite authors, the brilliant Argentine intellectual Jorge Luis Borges:

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The image is taken from this article in Verne, which lists some lovely and frequently fascinating quotes from Spanish-language literature.

I speak neither of revenge nor of pardon; oblivion is the only vengeance and the only forgiveness. (my translation)

Thought-provoking and typically Borgesian, this quote rolls off the tongue. Especially in Spanish.

But thinking it through, I realised I disagree.

Oblivion as both vengeance and forgiveness unifies – yet nullifies – two distinct expressions of justice: retribution and mercy.

If oblivion satisfies both vengeance and forgiveness, then are we equating retribution with mercy? Conflating the two muddies the moral dimensions of each. I’m not sure I’m okay with that.

Is it fatalistic, cowardly or wise to leave the wrong we have suffered to be rectified by the forgetting that comes with time?

The notion of forgetting as a means to alleviate the crushing weight of guilt is something more than one character in Divergent wrestles with. And I suspect it’s something most if not all of us do, in one way or another, however conscious or subconscious the decision. That’s what sweeping things under the rug amounts to.

I wonder if it isn’t something nations also wrestle with. I say this in the wake of another National Sorry Day and the discussion around the Uluru Statement.

Invasion, war, genocide, and transitional justice: politics and the stories of nation-states are often narratives of revenge, pardon, sacrifice and forgetting.

People hurt us; we inevitably hurt others. We’ve all experienced both the desire for vengeance and a need for mercy.

So go back to that quote from Borges. What do you think? Do you agree? How have you handled guilt and outrage, in practice?

This is more than an abstract discussion. What we believe about justice on a personal and a political level shapes the way we live and interact with others, shapes the world we know now and into the future.


Header photo credit: RedCarpetReport Shailene Woodléy – DSC_0590 1 via photopin (license)

Any comments, thoughts? I'd love to hear from you :)

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