The recent Joy Reid scandal got me thinking about forgiveness in popular culture. It seems that it is impossible for the collective to forgive anyone for anything nowadays. Apologies are issued willy-nilly, but nothing comes of them because they’re viewed as insincere, the product of public pressure instead of a heartfelt expression of sorrow. At first glance, this line of reasoning should make apologies unnecessary, but it hasn’t. Apologies are still demanded, and then when they are given, they are ignored or ridiculed, making the entire charade of forcing an apology pointless.
This is a symptom of a damaging tendency in our culture, the tendency to refuse forgiveness. I’ve always looked askance at people who call politicians flip-floppers for changing their position from 15 years ago. The same is true with journalists, like Reid. Her case is more complicated because she has lied quite a bit along the way, but there are countless examples of apologies being scorned. A number of years ago, popular conservative commentator Ben Shapiro wrote a piece saying that forced transfer of Palestinians was a good solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. His views have changed considerably since then, and he has recanted his statement many times, but it doesn’t matter. The piece is still referenced in criticisms of him, even though it does not represent how he feels now.
This practice of holding people hostage to opinions they held years or even decades ago does our national dialog no favors. In fact, it holds it back and turns us ever more toward closed-mindedness. Imagine a world in which your opinions could not change even when presented with new data. This would be patently ridiculous, but it’s the world in which the media and the political circus operate. Politifact ran an article detailing 2008 and 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s supposed flip flop on abortion. It cites cases from 1994 and 2002 when he expressed support for abortion, and then cites a speech he gave in 2011 in which he declares his opposition to it. This is hardly a flip flop. If someone’s views can’t change over almost 10 years, we are living in very silly times.
This post got a little off track from forgiveness, but I think the message still stands. People change. People make mistakes. We should be willing to accept changes and mistakes, to a point. For example, I’m not ready or willing to accept an apology from Bill Cosby or Kevin Spacey on their behavior. But over things like gay marriage, religious liberty, or pretty much anything in the realm of ideas, I think it’s time we became a little more accepting of shifting viewpoints. Otherwise, we risk turning ever more toward anti-intellectualism, as people will begin to feel the need to cling to their viewpoints, lest they be viewed as weak or a “flip-flopper.” Once that begins to happen en masse, our national conversation will become a lot more stupid.