Would loving our enemies diminish terrorism?


In the April 28 edition, Rabbi Gellman wrote an advice piece on the religion page stating there is no need to forgive the Boston bomber since he had not repented.

I would like to suggest this is just the problem, the misperception that forgiveness is something withheld until it is deserved. That feeds the cycle of revenge, bitterness and tit-for-tat escalations that keep our prisons and foster homes full.

Forgiveness ought not to be withheld until it is sought, simply because forgiveness primarily benefits the offended, rather than the offender.

“Holding a grudge is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die”.

Rabbi Gellman stated: “I don’t feel one shred of compassion for that murderer and maimer of children and adults. ... I don’t hear God calling me to forgive a young man who had other bombs ready to kill other 8-year-old boys.”

What the Rabbi is missing is that unforgiveness empowers the offenders to perpetuate their terrorism indefinitely. To diffuse our own bombs of bitterness and hatred is the only way to diffuse those “other bombs ready to kill other 8-year-old boys”.

Everyone feels like the other party ought to take the initiative in peace and reconciliation. But until someone grows big enough to voluntarily forgo the perceived “right to hate”, the tit-for-tat violence will continue to escalate.

And more bombs will be detonated.

Unconditional forgiveness doesn’t ignore justice, it simply recognizes that final justice will be meted out by an infallible Judge, and it loves the offender as a tragically misguided human in more desperate need of help than hate. My duty is to stop the cycle of violence and hatred by “overcoming evil with good”. (Romans 12:14, 17-21)

Unforgiveness and bitterness are not good.

Unconditional forgiveness appears weak, but is not. It is unimaginably powerful. It is the paradox by which the bombs of evil and hatred are permanently diffused. The power of forgiveness in overcoming evil is limited only to the extent to which the power of an Almighty God is limited. (2 Corinthians 12:9,10)

In the absence of forgiveness, offender and offended are only opposing faces of hate, each as guilty as the other, for in the eyes of God, there is precious little difference between hatred and terrorism. (1 John 3:15)

Jesus taught us to love our enemies. (Mathew 5:38-48) I wonder what would happen to terrorism if we followed his advice?

Mahlon Zehr



Iopine 2 years, 6 months ago

Mr Zehr - Personally I believe your missing the point the the Marathon bombers were not looking for forgiveness and never had a thought about it. They were on a mission of killing infidels and killing as many as they could get in there sights. Forgiveness comes from some kind of remorse shown from the killers but I'm definitely not going to go out of my way while they are trying to destroy me and think they will repent. I wouldn't call that holding a grudge - I would call that the survival of the fittest.


fatherof5 2 years, 6 months ago

Mr. Zehr wasn't missing the point; he was disagreeing with it.


PearlY 2 years, 6 months ago

Well, that's one way to look at it.

I'm all for declining to hate one's enemy, but only because hatred tends to cloud one's judgment, and sound judgment is needed to kill a deadly enemy before he kills you. After he's dead or incapacitated, I'd just as soon forget about him, which is pretty close to forgiveness, I guess.

Winston Churchill said it best: "When you have to kill a man, it costs nothing to be polite."


stvsngltn 2 years, 6 months ago

It's simple to wax philosophic, study one's own navel, sing "om's" around a campfire or hold religious views about forgiving everyone no matter what they've done. I say simple because the real ones who have changed the world for the betterment of humanity didn't do that. They gave their lives fighting oppression and their white marble gravestones dot the landscapes at beautiful, grassy plots by the thousands in Europe and the Pacific theatre in the Philippines. They alone stopped the enslavement of humanity that was the goal of despots from Hitler to Tojo and from Stalin to Mao -- and a lot of petty ones in-between. War is always tragic and kills innocents ...but it's often been necessary. Unfortunately, brave troops couldn't save some six million or more in Hitler's death camps ... but it would have been much better if they could have saved those victims with force of arms than feeling they should "forgive their killers" afterwards.


fatherof5 2 years, 6 months ago

...And Hitler might not have ever risen to power if the victors in WWI had shown the kind of mercy described in the above letter - thereby - perhaps - avoiding the need for such noble service and sacrifice in WWII as you describe above. Hitler didn't emerge in a vacuum. There was a context.

I read where the Boston bomber left a note saying he wanted to avenge the deaths of Muslims by killing Americans. Then I've read Facebook posts and viral emails that speak of the "dangers of Islam" and the need to keep Muslims out of "our" country. I find both sentiments to be offensive.

Bad things will happen and bad people will keep showing up, but a more forgiving, less tribal world would help, both on the global stage and in our own lives. It isn't easy to do in either place.


PearlY 2 years, 6 months ago

fatherof5, the harshness of the Versailles Treaty may have been less a matter of vindictiveness than a matter of the Allies putting their own recoveries ahead of those of their defeated enemies. It's hard to be merciful toward those who caused your people to starve and die, while your people are still starving and dying, when war reparations might save them.

That being said, yes, maybe Hitler would not have come to power if the Allies hadn't been so harsh, or maybe the worldwide Depression of the 1930s would have been enough on its own. Lack of mercy didn't bring the Bosheviks to power, or Pol Pot, or any number of other tyrants.

I know a number of very nice Muslims, but there's no question that Islam has not adapted well in some Western countries, like France, and there's no question Islam is a less-than-welcoming majority population in every single country where that demographic holds. Therefore it troubles me that most of our "diversity lottery" visas go to essentially randomly selected Muslims who grew up in strongly anti-American countries. Even if their anti-Americanism is justified, and maybe there's some truth to that, it seems unwise to intentionally import hatred and anger.


PearlY 2 years, 6 months ago

"Islam has not adapted well in some Western countries, like France. . . . "

Add Great Britain and Sweden.


PearlY 2 years, 6 months ago

What's with the scare quotes in "our" country? If it is not the country of its citizens, whose is it?

No, I'm not asking whose WAS it, but whose IS it? Even if you disapprove of how the country came to be the USA, I hope you realize it wasn't an option for it to remain a random collection of Native tribes. If not the British, it would have been the Spanish or Portuguese or maybe the Dutch who took over.

I'm curious also about this: The Boston bomber's actions are adequately explained to you by random Facebook postings or whatever culpability the U.S. has in the deaths of Muslims. You seem to feel we could have avoided his acts if we had somehow managed to never kill Muslims. You do know the first Gulf War started to prevent Muslims from killing Muslims? You do realize tha merely purchasing oil from Muslim countries is enough to seriously annoy those who don't feel they get enough direct benefit from those sales? You do understand that selling a single handgun to Israel, which might use it to prevent Jews from being slaughtered by Muslims, is enough to get on many Muslims' bad side? Sanctions against Iraq were supposed to be a substitute for killing Muslims, but got us blamed for 50,000 child deaths per year. There really is no way to adequately appease all Muslims.

And what did we do wrong to annoy Timothy McVeigh or Adam Lanza? Are Muslims the only ones whose murderous vendettas must be given a gloss of rationality? Aren't they allowed their own nut-jobs, like everyone else?


Sign in to comment

Click here to sign in