A warning against confusing forgiveness with shamelessness.
On the front page of the January 18-20 weekend edition of USA Today, one of the headlines reads: “Can You Forgive?” The article uses Lance Armstrong's recent "confession" of "doping" to Oprah Winfrey as the point from which to segue into a discussion of the broader topic of Americans' readiness to extend mercy to those celebrities who have veered from the straight and narrow path.
Rick Hampson writes: “From Bill Clinton (again toast of the Democratic Party) to Charlie Sheen (again a sitcom star) to Michael Vick (again an NFL quarterback), the bar for public redemption seems to have gotten lower and lower.”
This one article provides much food for thought.
Unfortunately, it is all junk food.
USA Today expresses our culture’s conventional wisdom on this matter of forgiving those public figures who have fallen from grace. And this is exactly what we should expect would pass for wisdom within a culture that elevates celebrity status above that of every other station.
“Forgiveness” and “redemption” are concepts that originally emerged in Western culture within a religious context — specifically, the context(s) of Judaism and Christianity. Within this framework, they are preeminently meaningful. Once they have been dislodged from this setting, though, they open themselves up to the worst sort of abuse. Hampson’s USA Today piece is a classic case in point.
I cannot forgive Armstrong. Neither can you. Nor can either of us forgive Clinton, Vick, Sheen, Don Imus, Richard Nixon, or any other celebrity who throws himself at the mercy of the court of public opinion.
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