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In Chesterton’s The Secret of Father Brown, a beloved nobleman who murdered his good-for-nothing brother in a duel thirty years ago returns to his hometown wracked by guilt.All the townspeople want to forgive him immediately, and they mock the titular priest for only being willing to give a measured forgiveness conditional on penance and self-reflection.I want to avoid a very easy trap, which is saying that outgroups are about how different you are, or how hostile you are. Compare the Nazis to the German Jews and to the Japanese.The Nazis were very similar to the German Jews: they looked the same, spoke the same language, came from a similar culture.

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Now the townspeople want to see him lynched or burned alive, and it is only the priest who – consistently – offers a measured forgiveness conditional on penance and self-reflection.

You forgive a conventional duel just as you forgive a conventional divorce.

You forgive because there isn’t anything to be forgiven.

But since forgiveness is generally considered a virtue, and one that many want credit for having, I think it’s fair to say you only earn the right to call yourself ‘forgiving’ if you forgive things that genuinely hurt you.

To borrow Chesterton’s example, if you think divorce is a-ok, then you don’t get to “forgive” people their divorces, you merely ignore them.

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