Musings on Forgiveness

6 Jan

It is a truism that almost any sect, cult, or religion will legislate its creed into law if it acquires the political power to do so, and will follow it by suppressing opposition, subverting all education to seize early the minds of the young, and by killing, locking up, or driving underground all heretics. This is equally true whether the faith is Communism or HolyRollerism; indeed it is the bounden duty of the faithful to do so. The custodians of the True Faith cannot logically admit tolerance of heresy to be a virtue.”

-Heinlein, Revolt in 2100.

This is a bit of a meandering post, written in hopes of easing myself back into writing, but bear with me a little.

It may surprise some of my readers to know that I am both religious and profoundly suspicious of organised religion. A religion may come from God, if you believe in it, but the people who set themselves up as religious leaders are as human as you and I – and, therefore, bound by human nature. A religion that becomes a de facto theocracy falls prey to the same flaws in human nature that doom both fascism and communism, from the urge to impose one’s values by force to the inevitable rise of a dictator, put in power and maintained by the security forces (i.e. the religious police) that were necessary to impose the religion in the first place. The Theocrats of Iran – and even the Taliban – may have meant well, once upon a time, but they were corrupted by human nature. Religion provides all the justification one could possibly want to throw all restraint out of the window.

Indeed, religion – and I include fascism, communism and social justice as well as Judaism, Christianity and Islam – adds a dangerous aspect to the problem. If one truly believes in one’s religion, it can be hard to question both the religion and its priests. It feels wrong to question a religious figure, even when he doesn’t live up to his words. Thus, we have Catholics who find it hard to reconcile their faith in the Vatican with the ever-increasing number of priests who have been revealed as sexual predators and Muslims who find it impossible to openly acknowledge that their religion has been turned into a weapon and used against them. Those who do are often attacked – even murdered – by people who feel ‘my religion, right or wrong.’ The urge to censure someone for anti-religious sentiment – however deserved – can be overpowering.

This is a problem on a number of levels. On one hand, put crudely, what is the value of religious devotion if it is demanded (or extracted by force)? A Catholic who gives up meat for Lent, or a Muslim who fasts for Ramadan, is making a religious statement … but does it count if they will face everything from ostracism to death if they don’t? If the religious police arrests men who don’t have beards or women who don’t cover their faces … are those people doing something because they want to do it for God or because they will be punished if they don’t? Why should they take it seriously? Why should they not cheat? Forced compliance does not breed acceptance, but resentment and hatred.

And that hatred will be focused – on the other hand – on the religion itself. The Vatican’s failure to admit that it has a problem – and deal with it – has done untold harm to Christianity itself. Britain’s historic fear and loathing of foreign authorities (from the Vatican to the EU) may stem from the Pope’s interference and hypocrisy during the reigns of Henry II, Richard the Lionheart, John and Henry III. It’s easy to lose any claim to the moral high ground when you start putting the interests of organised religion ahead of the people the religion is supposed to serve. It should be no surprise that the most irreligious people are often those who fled strongly religious communities.

My religious education was never very through. What little we were taught about Martin Luther and the Reformation was strongly slanted against Catholicism, although (to be fair) the Church of that era was deeply corrupt and tyrannical. The idea of indulgencies (in which the Church would forgive a sinner in exchange for a massive cash payment) seemed grossly unfair. I found it impossible to accept that a man could go to Confession, receive a very minor punishment and find forgiveness and acceptance. How could a priest possibly forgive, for example, someone who had trespassed against me? I later learnt – when I had less biased teachers – that it was a little more complicated than that, but it stuck in my mind. The Church had crossed a line when it had abrogated to itself the power to forgive.

And yet, as odd as it seemed to me, there was a certain method in the madness. The people of the past accepted their religion as indisputable. They believed in their religion – in both God and His Church – to a degree utterly alien to most of us in the modern-day Western World. (Even King John called for a confessor when he lay dying.) The common folk believed that to sin was to be damned and to be damned meant going to Hell when they finally died. If a sin meant that someone was damned, why should they refrain from more sin? They were already damned. They had nothing to lose. By offering forgiveness, the Church convinced sinners that there was hope. They didn’t have to be damned. A spell in Purgatory might be bad, but at least it wouldn’t be Hell.

A cynic might argue that this was very convenient for the Church. And it was. But it was also based on a profound understanding of human nature. The vast majority of people who feel guilty about something – anything – would be delighted to seek forgiveness, if there was a prospect of actually putting the sin behind them. Confession thus served the purpose of both forcing a sinner to own up to the sin and acknowledge that he’d done something wrong – even if it was just to a priest – and liberating a guilty man from his guilt. It might not lead to punishment – the guilty man’s guilt would remain unknown to society at large – but it might keep him from sinning again.

There are people who will argue that this is unsatisfactory, that the guilty man is avoiding punishment (at least in this world). And I would agree with them. But it is – at least in theory – a way to avoid a sinner throwing away all chance of redemption and going wild. By offering a way to face up to the sin, without actually being punished out of all proportion to the crime, it offers hope. And people will crawl over broken glass, if necessary, if there is a hope of getting what they want at the far side. We like the rules to be understood. We like the goalposts to be firmly emplaced. When they’re moved … watch out.


I compared fascism, communism and social justice to religion for a reason. All three of them have a great deal in common with religion and – I suspect – speak to the same flaws in human nature that cause religions to go bad. Their devotees face the same problem as history’s theocrats; the vast majority of the population does not want to perform even lip service to the religion, so the devotees either have to abandon their ideals or force the vast majority of the population to conform. They therefore have to build a secret police – as I noted above – or give up.

One would consider giving up to be the sensible option, but a person who treats his religion as an article of faith – i.e. without questioning it – is often unable to make the mental leap he needs to realise that not pushing it would probably make people think better of him. (There would probably be less opposition to gay marriage if pro-gay marriage people weren’t so intent on smashing all resistance.) Instead, he tends to assume that his religion is good and right and therefore anyone who disagrees with him is wrong and evil. Worse, perhaps, he is so convinced of the rightness of his judgement that he finds it impossible to accept that a dissenter might not be wilfully wrong. To him, the truth is so self-evident that no one could possibly disagree with him. There is no room for contradictory opinions.

And he does not know when to stop.

Humans do not like to be nagged constantly, even when the nagger has their best interests at heart. There comes a time, fairly quickly, when the amount of nagging required to get someone’s sullen compliance simply skyrockets, if that person is obliged to listen to the nagger. It does not matter, from our point of view, if the nagger is a religious nut or a social justice bully. The more nagging, the more resentment; the more resentment, the greater the chance of an explosion; the greater the chance of an explosion, the greater the chance that everything the nagger wants will be thoroughly (and perhaps unfairly) discredited.

Now, say what you like about the Ten Commandants, but they are relatively easy to understand and follow. There was no doubt about what sort of behaviour crosses the line into sinfulness. When they were taught in schools, no one had any excuse for not knowing the difference between good and bad. The problem with social justice, however, is three-fold; the rules keep changing, the rules can be applied retroactively … and, worst of all, there is no system for forgiveness and social reintegration.

A few weeks ago, for example, Kevin Hart (who I had literally never heard of before articles condemning him started popping up in my Facebook feed) stepped down as Oscar Host, after a number of homophobic tweets were discovered and savagely condemned. He currently seems to be wavering between stepping back up again and staying down, between grovelling for forgiveness and being defiant. His tweets were offensive and I quite understand why people were offended, but … what now?

One of the problems facing society, these days, is that an apology is seen as a sign of weakness (and, in business, an admission of liability). But another problem is that there is no clear path to understanding, forgiveness and a return to society. (One might also question the value of punishing Hart when Hollywood holds far greater sinners, as we have been learning since 2016.) Should Hart be driven out of society? Or should a handful of tweets be held over his head for the rest of his life? There are people who will answer yes to both questions, for all sorts of reasons, but is this a good idea?

It is a basic understanding that the punishment should fit the crime. If Hart’s career is utterly destroyed, there will be people – including Hart himself – who will argue that Hart was unfairly treated, that he was punished out of all proportion to the crime. One does not punish a naughty child by cutting off his head! If pushed too far, the outrage can rebound upon the mob; the people who do not share the outrage may feel that the mob has gone too far (even if they don’t agree with Hart’s tweets). The optics of bullying someone into submission – as people who supported the wrong football teams were bullied at school – are poor.

But, more seriously, is there no statute of limitations on tweets? Or on … well, anything? People change, people grow up … at some point, the tweets you made when you were a teenager are going to shift from ‘daring and edgy’ to ‘stupid and idiotic.’ A person who had homophobic opinions as a teenager might grow out of it as an adult. Is it remotely fair for that adult to be condemned because of opinions he stated when he was a young man? And can anyone say, with complete certainty, that they never said anything that – perhaps taken out of context – could be used against them?

The blunt truth is that society changes too. What was acceptable in 1970 is now utterly verboten. And that’s a part and parcel of social change. But … is it fair to blame someone for doing something that was, at the time, regarded as acceptable? The push to condemn TV shows like Friends and Seinfield has a great deal in common with the Taliban’s wanton destruction of Afghanistan’s history, but it is fundamentally stupid and pointless. Reasonable people understand that social mores change over time. Attacking TV shows that were made in a different era – and there are quite a few cringe-worthy episodes of Star Trek and Doctor Who – merely gives the attackers a bad name.

And, perhaps the most important thing of all, why should someone strive for forgiveness if there is no forgiveness to be found?

The funny thing is that the incident that started this line of thought had nothing whatsoever to do with Kevin Hart, but a set of controversial moments in the writing world that probably have no meaning to anyone outside the writing world <grin>. The first was Robert Silverberg’s public condemnation for his opinion of Nora Jemisin’s 2018 Hugo Award speech. The second was Gregory Benford being condemned for statements made at LOSCON. The third was Mystery Writers of America deciding that it would not honour Linda Fairstein’s writing for her role in the prosecution of the ‘Central Park Five’ (alternate take).

Now, I’m not going to get into a pointless argument about if these people crossed the line or not (I had honestly never heard of Linda Fairstein either until I started seeing articles about her) or if they deserve punishment. By the time I heard about the controversies, there were pro- and anti- articles popping up all over the internet, with people putting their own slant on the affairs and then shouting down everyone who disagreed. There was a particularly nasty article on Silverberg – which I will not link – that basically painted him as a racist. You can go read them yourself if you like. The question these three incidents lead to, however, is simple. Is there any way back for them?

The question is more treacherous than it seems. One opinion holds that Linda Fairstein was guilty of serious misconduct. Another holds that she did the right thing, based on what she knew at the time. A third accepts that she was in a tough position and could not afford to back down. I don’t know the truth and I probably never will. Should she be punished for making a bad call? To the best of my knowledge, there is no evidence to suggest that she was wilfully wrong. And should Mystery Writers of America have the right to punish her by withholding an award explicitly to punish her?

I am aware, all too aware, of the satisfaction that comes from pointing at the guilty and shouting “UNCLEAN, UNCLEAN, UNCLEAN.” But a fundamentally emotion-driven reaction cannot be trusted. One must be able to formulate a convincing argument that appeals to people who do not share one’s faith – or preconceptions. If Silverberg is to be condemned, it must be proven that he did something wrong. A case must be made that the punishment is just. And while one person can argue that he made graceless remarks about Nora Jemisin, another can argue that he had every right to state his opinions (but no right to expect everyone else to agree with him). YMMV.


When I was a child, I was taught that the correct response to a mistake – be it stepping on someone’s foot or accidentally saying something hurtful – was to apologise. The victim would be expected, in turn, to gracefully accept my apology and move on. It was, in many ways, the same as confession; I would admit that I’d made a mistake, forgiveness would be proffered and the matter would be laid to rest. As I grew older, and more cynical, I lost my faith in human decency. Too many people saw advantage in claiming victimhood for me to keep it. (And others, probably, saw apologies as insincere, made more to escape punishment rather than express contrition.)

And yet, what are we going to do about this habit of regarding a single mistake as career-ending?

If we are incapable of forgiving people who transgress against social norms that change from day to day, what does that say about us as a society? If we are unable to let someone get over it, to leave it in the past, why should we expect mercy when we have shown none? And if we are insistent on punishing the guilty out of all proportion to their crime, why should they repent and apologise? I cringe every time I read an apology statement because they sound like a confession extracted during a communist show trial.

This breeds cynicism. Did [offender] really mean it when he apologised? Or was he only apologising because he wanted to avoid punishment? Does [big corporation] really care about [social issue] or is it doing nothing more than virtue signalling? Does [presidential candidate] really care about [social group] or is he just saying what he thinks they want to hear? And is that [writer/singer/actor] getting praised because they deserve it or because [reviewer] is scared to criticize?

The hell of it is that a great deal can be lost. Most social reformers have good intentions – and they often have a point. But they can push too hard, too fast, and lose the goodwill and support of the population. And this can discredit their entire cause. Activists who go too far can cause a backlash directed against their community, even if most of the community wasn’t involved (in the way that PETA embarrasses animal rights activists).

And – like I said above – societies change. What is acceptable today might be forbidden tomorrow. And societies that are unable to reintegrate the losers – however defined – are often setting themselves up for another round of civil war.

36 Responses to “Musings on Forgiveness”

  1. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard January 6, 2019 at 3:00 pm #

    If “everything we do/say” is evil (and we should be punished for it), then why shouldn’t we do/say worse?

    For that matter, if “you” call me racist/fascist/etc for something that I don’t see as wrong, then why should I believe “you” when “you” scream about some group (or person) as being racist/fascist especially if “you” don’t want (actually in some cases can’t) to say what makes them so bad?

  2. Hanno Frerichs January 6, 2019 at 5:35 pm #

    A good article in my option. I agree with most points you made. But would like to point out that it’s quite difficult. Some “sins ” and “crimes” are very difficult if not impossible to forgive and if a prominent figure does that, He or she will loose his prominence, that might be harsh but otherwise the positive prominence is a privilege, and many non prominent people in democracy’s at least will balk if somebody who did gross misconduct can still be welcome in that Circe even if it wasn’t strictly against the law.
    Of course I’m not saying that somebody who had a slip of the lip 30 years ago or a steeling child should be punished out of all proportion.
    Of course there are many sins that are not crimes and those must often be tolerated or forgiven.
    And I will certainly prefer to live in a society that punishes relatively mildly and tolerates many but hopefully not to many sins. good governance and social norms are always a balance act.

    Also the strongest quasi religious ideology of our time is humanism with liberalism, communism, nationalism, capitalism and even the Nazis nazism as branch sects if you wanna call it that way.

    Well any of the old religions like Christianity Islam and so on were essentially developing and operating in agrarian societies and are therefore often a bad fit for today’s societies.

    Also the normal way humans build any form of institution and power structure makes it very hard for the old churches to reform.

  3. David Graf January 6, 2019 at 6:47 pm #

    Eric Fromm’s book “The True Believer” has some keen insight into those persons who divide the world into us/them categories with no shades of gray permitted. In one sense, it makes no difference what a true believer believes since they all feel threatened by anyone who does not agree with them and threats must be dealt with. True believers can be secular or sacred in the nature of their belief but all insist that the world and everyone in it must conform to their beliefs no matter what the cost to ordinary people. As an evangelical Christian with no pretensions to sainthood, my understanding of Christianity is that we are called to love God and our neighbors. It’s much easier to talk about than it is to do it. Knowing that we are flawed creatures, I’m not surprised when I discover hypocrisy in myself or religious organizations. However, the sex scandals have pretty much eviscerated the willingness of others to listen to what the RCC hierarchy says on an issue. Ditto for what is happening to evangelicals in the states with our own seamy cases of abuse of women.

    • bret January 7, 2019 at 6:35 pm #

      Did you mean Eric Hoffer’s book?

      • David Graf January 8, 2019 at 1:15 pm #

        You are right! Thanks for the correction!

    • Astelon January 8, 2019 at 4:15 am #

      As long as one is making an honest attempt I would not call a mistake or the failure to live fully to one’s beleifs hypocrisy. I save that term for those who stridently demand peopleI live a certain way and do not make an honest attempt to do so themselves.

      We have seen such people in every ideology currently known to man, some cicumstances and ideologies just make it easier than others.

      • Andreas January 9, 2019 at 6:09 pm #

        Everybody who demands that other people live a certain way (in areas that only has effect on themselves, like who they love) needs to be stopped and shut up.

  4. philippeO January 7, 2019 at 3:00 am #

    It is because there are no organization that there can be no forgiveness ? Without Priest who can say “he is forgiven, lets we embrace him into our community” then how can society decide when someone is sincere -insincere, had been punished or not ? Without Dogma, what social value individual should hold ?

    There are arguments that society NEED Elites, Communist need party cadre, Liberals need professor, Mass Media need pundit, etc. Without Elites, people burn witches uncontrollably, and then eventually settle into Strongman/Dictator. Oligarchy become Democracy become Mob-ocracy become Monarchy.

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard January 7, 2019 at 3:04 am #

      Without Elites, people burn witches uncontrollably

      Where are the Elites when SJWs go to witch-hunts against Nazis, Sexists, Racists? 😈

      • Leonard January 7, 2019 at 9:37 am #

        Maybe that there is the exact problem, no one wants to/can step up as a neutral observer and weigh in on the matter because both sides refuse to listen and/ or accuse them of bias simply becasue they “might” disagree.

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard January 7, 2019 at 3:47 pm #

        “Elites doesn’t equal Neutral”.

        Of course, there is also the problem of the “Elites” ignoring Reality.

        In addition, the “Elites” may be leading the Witch Hunt.

      • Hanno Frerichs January 7, 2019 at 6:26 pm #

        Elites or leaders in some form are actually a necessary evil for human societies. Actually the more elites the merrier.
        if many people are elites in some form there is less corruption.
        Small oligarchy and so have very few true elites the cadre and the politburo were normaly very small organisations were nobody else could voice his options. for both China today and the soviet union of the past it were just 7 permanent members (most of the time.)

  5. Bewildered January 7, 2019 at 9:29 am #

    One issue that doesn’t seem to be made clear is between what a religion demands, or what its scripture(s) decree to be Truth, and what those who are recognised as priests proclaim it to be. What if a particular faith (or ideology) is even more extreme than its leaders preach?

    Following on from that there is the issue of what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object. Chris compares fascism, communism and social justice to religion – indeed elsewhere I’ve referred to them as religion, but they have mutually exclusive values.

    Chris uses the example of homosexual marriage and contends that pro-homosexual marriage activists would have less opposition if they didn’t seek to destroy all opposition. That may very well be true – conservatives would likely respond emotively if their backs weren’t against the wall, but Bible believing Christians for instance will never be able to accept homosexual marriage – the Bible is unequivocal in its view on the subject. Since activists are unwilling to accept any opposition it becomes a war to the death between the sides.

    Following on from that however, if it is a war to the death, if compromise is impossible, then there is little reason to resort to Queensberry Rules. Indeed the only constraints to conduct will be the morality of each side. And if one side believes no extremism is beyond the pale in pursuit of tyranny – their concept of freedom, whilst the other tries to balance love the sinner hate the sin …

  6. Billy January 7, 2019 at 6:19 pm #

    Some things I have wondered about.

    Anything about there being a Pope is not in the bible.

    How the Pope came about (As far as I know) after the Apostle Paul died (Some years later) someone decided to have a successor for the Apostle Paul.

    None of the Apostles set that up. Jesus did not set that up.

    So if that is ok. Can someone say I am the successor to the Apostle John or Peter or whoever. Now I am important and can be in charge.

    Jesus is King, he gets to decide who is in charge.

    I suppose he may be ok with there being a Pope. I don’t think no one living has had a in person conversation with him about it. He did not say anything about a Pope (As far as I know ) to the Apostles.

    The other thing the Catholic Church decides who is a Saint and who is not. Jesus nor the Apostles gave them that power.

    All Christians are Saints. No Church can say only this person is a Saint or this other person over here is a Saint and you are not a Saint.

    If you follow Jesus and do what he says then you are a Saint and no one can take that from you.

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard January 7, 2019 at 6:55 pm #

      Very Big Nits from a non-Catholic.

      The Pope is seen by the Catholic Church as the successor of Peter not Paul.

      The special position of some people as “Saints” (ie heroes of the Faith) is Theology of both the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church. Historically, a person being seen as a “Special Hero Of The Faith” has been a “bottom up process”. IE the laity had seen an individual as a “Special Hero Of The Faith” and eventually the Catholic or Orthodox Church “went along”. Currently, IIRC the Catholic Church doesn’t “Make Saints” but only acknowledges that a person is a “Special Hero Of The Faith” and in the acknowledgement adds that person to the official list of “Special Heroes Of The Faith”.

      In any case, this may be getting more into Theology that our host would prefer.

  7. bret January 7, 2019 at 8:20 pm #

    You’re worried about forgiveness for things that people have actually done?

    We can’t even forgive folks for what they’ve been accused of doing decades ago but might never have done. In other words, any member of any “victim group” can accuse any member of any non-victim-group of anything going back however far and the accused is in deep trouble and never forgiven regardless of proof or lack thereof.

    If we can ever fix the latter I might start worrying about the former.

  8. Astelon January 8, 2019 at 4:08 am #

    Another great article. You have a way with your analysis and words that cut right through to the heart of the matter.

    One minor issue, what you call religion in the article is properly termed as ideology. Ideology is the beleifs principles by which one governs themself and encompasses religious systems as well as political (socialism, fascism, etc) ones. Many radicals approach their particular beliefs with the same zeal they complain about in others.

  9. Darryl January 9, 2019 at 2:29 am #

    I seldom give credence to conspiracy theories because seldom is there any need for conspiracy. Human nature and the herd instinct is usually quite sufficient. Social Justice activism, for instance, seems to have no single scripture or cause. Like many such religions, it has a few who actually think and set the agenda and an army of the thoughtless faithful. Because there is no central authority there is no one to offer forgiveness and absolution. The best a person seeking such can hope for is that some of the “influencers” in this pernicious religion take up their cause, but it is most unlikely that any forgiveness found will be widespread. I wonder ifeven a person who themselves became a whole-hearted SJW would find substantial forgiveness. In any event, it is doubtful that those influential in the movement are believers in forgiveness. I find that despite their emphasis on compassion for all sorts of groups, they are generally themselves singularly lacking in this particular virtue which they preach so stridently.

  10. Big Ben January 9, 2019 at 4:43 am #

    I wonder how much of the Blame Game is exacerbated by the anonymity of the internet and other modern communication?
    It’s easy for anyone to rail against this person or that religion or the other point of view if they’re not face to face with the object of their (usually pathetic and factually unfounded) derision.
    Segregation is alive and well all ‘round the world. Rich do not socialize with poor. Religions never intermingle. Nationalism is becoming more virulent. Pick your poison, it is depressingly easy for the uninformed to hate those they do not know … and actively work at not knowing. Willful ignorance is one of the pillars of our destruction.

    Kevin Hart told some uncouth jokes several years ago – most comedians do from time to time. I heard them on satellite radio back then and I don’t recall anyone making much of a fuss.
    Heaven forbid these frothing squealing “social justice warriors” ever listen to Richard Pryor or Eddie Murphy, Don Rickles or George Carlin … or any of thousands of other comedians around the world who have told risqué, profane and usually hilarious jokes.
    I guess it only matters if they’re offered a gig hosting a big gala.

  11. Alex January 14, 2019 at 5:46 am #

    I’m again reminded why I only continue to read your Schooled in Magic series, and have made a conscious choice not to give you any more money for anything else.

    What I heard when I read this was, “It’s so bothersome when people criticize or ostracize people like me when we make hurtful, offensive comments about other people’s immutable characteristics. I don’t like that there are now social consequences for ruining the lives of other people. Why should we criticize hateful ideas now when maybe society will embrace hatred again in the future? People against racism and homophobia should just be quiet and they’ll achieve their goals better that way. Oh, and they should forgive me when I accidentally insinuate their inferiority, abuse them, or call them names.”

    Poor you.

    The fact is, companies and organizations recognize that they will lose business/membership if they do not distance themselves from the old schools of thought, because a large majority of people today find these old views offensive. Such views are demonstrably detrimental to human well-being and modern civilization. And we don’t need to “socially reintegrate” these “losers” (as you’ve called them). By and large, they seem to continue on with plenty of money, often restarting their careers soon after the attention fades. We don’t need to forgive them, either, especially when their not-pologies fall flat. “I’m so sorry I was caught” or “I’m sorry you took offense to my comments because you’re so sensitive” don’t fly. I’ve very very rarely heard any real apology like, “My comments were unacceptable, and I recognize I have hurt people and I will think about this and do better in the future.

    I’m fine with forgiveness if the person is question is actually sorry.

    • chrishanger January 14, 2019 at 4:45 pm #

      Well, that’s inspired me to write another article – on how something someone says can scan differently to different people – but that will have to wait until I finish Cry Wolf.

      I think, as a geek, I feel very strongly that ostracisers are evil. (Bing the Geek Social Fallacies if you haven’t seen them already.) I spent two-thirds of my time at school being ostracised – for being a geek, for not being sporty, for simply being there – and I am thoroughly uncomfortable with anything that smacks of ostracism. To this emotional reaction, I add the intellectual awareness that punishing people for speaking their minds (often well out of all proportion to the crime) has two very dangerous effects. It breeds resentment and has a seriously chilling effect on free speech. Having a bunch of people just waiting for a chance to get back at you is not the safest place to be, particularly if you don’t realise they hate you (because they’re not allowed to speak their minds).

      That said, ALSO on an intellectual level, I acknowledge that there are people who should be ostracised. Walter Breen, for example, should have been ostracised long before he was sent to jail – and the failure of fandom to do so does not reflect well on the people involved. Breen, however, is an open-and-shut case – he was convicted in a court of law, which would have made excellent backing for any decision to kick him out. Other cases – the Elizabeth Moon Kerfuffle, for example – are far more murky. To people inside fandom, you are either for or against Moon. To people outside fandom … who is this Elizabeth Moon again?

      I believe that, if you want to ostracise someone, you have to make an extremely good case for doing so. The people who will agree with you at once are not the people you need to convince. You have to convince a number of people, from people who share the belief in ‘GSF1’ to people who don’t know or care about your fandom (the judge, when the ostracised guy sues for slander/tortuous interference/etc). You have to be very careful not to come across as a bully. Quite apart from the dangers of triggering someone who’s main experience with ostracisers is being ostracised, you have to prove that you were actually damaged. Or else someone will just dismiss what you have to say.

      I don’t like it when people say something that boils down to ‘you are a crappy writer’ – of course I don’t like it. I’ve had people tell me all sorts of things like that and I don’t like them. Yes, I do find it offensive. But that’s the price I pay for free speech and decent criticism – and being a writer. I don’t have the right to complain about a critic, nor do I have the right to demand that they be punished for daring to criticise, nor do I have the right to do something – anything – that hurts them. I certainly do not have the right to demand that everyone agrees with me all the time.

      The thing is, too many people say ‘that’s offensive’ and expect everyone else to agree with them without question. I don’t think that way. If something is offensive, I want to know why it is offensive and why someone feels punishment should be meted out. (And why we should pay the social cost for punishing someone without a proper court case and legal finding).

      You may feel differently, of course. And you are free to tell me that you feel differently.


      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard January 14, 2019 at 5:14 pm #

        Like. 😀

      • Alex January 14, 2019 at 9:42 pm #

        Thanks for the thoughtful reply, Chris. I know that you and I have very different politics, which can present its own hurdles, but I’ve never doubted that your positions were not formed without a great deal of thought, knowledge and consideration.

        I agree that any social crusade, meaning an agenda to address some perceived social problem, can be taken too far. I would challenge anyone to identify such a historical movement where principles and punishments were applied at just the proper amount in all cases. Should we strive to do better? Of course. Collateral damage only breeds resentment and is counterproductive.

        In my experience, I tend to be forgiving of people who criticize the thoughts and actions of others which they perceive to be detrimental to society. Thoughts can change, and different thoughts result in different actions. That’s how we progress. However, I have little tolerance for those who criticize the immutable characteristics of others, i.e. the color of someone’s skin, which kind of consenting adult they are attracted to, or their place of origin. That’s not any kind of argument that lets us improve through change. It is simply bigotry.

        I agree, for that reason, that “these men behaved badly towards women” can sometimes go too far and become “all men are inherently flawed and we should suspect them all.” The former is worthy of pursuit but the second is not!

        Again, in my own experience, I have seen right wing types lash out against immutable characteristics far, far, more than the left wing types who I see focusing on certain ideas and actions that they wish to reduce. I acknowledge this is my own perception, and others could perceive things very differently. We all have a sense of fairness and we all feel angry and hurt when we fell that unfair things are happening. That is the root of the “social justice” movement, I’d argue. It’s also the root of Men’s Rights Activists, etc. It’s all a matter of perspective and each of us thinks certain perspectives reflect reality better than others. I happen to think the facts back up my worldview. No surprise, right?

        So, where should the presumption of guilt rest, in the process of multiple women coming forward to accuse a man of sexual harassment, for example? What is the social standard by which we “convict” someone and punish them by ostracism, vs. the criminal standard by which we send them to prison? I don’t pretend to know. I think it’s an ongoing conversation we’re all having right now. I think it’s a conversation that is long overdue. Should we accept the small cost of changing our language if people tell us it offends them? Probably. Are errors being made by going too far? Yes. Does that mean we should stop the overall conversation? I don’t believe so.

        Sorry for another long post but I hope it adds something.

      • chrishanger February 3, 2019 at 7:17 pm #

        It’s always interesting to hear from people with reasonable disagreements

        Actually, you’ve inspired me to write another essay. (But I’ll write another SIM first.)


      • Alex January 14, 2019 at 9:56 pm #

        Just as a quick follow up to my 9:42pm post, I want to add that I agree with all the principles you’ve outlined in your reply to my initial response. I think we just draw the line in different places, for how best to apply those principles.

        Also, get well soon!

      • Bob k January 18, 2019 at 11:26 pm #

        Your last sentence points out the problem with “correct” thought. My cause is so right, necessary, natural, choose your own words, that nobody is allowed to disagree. You are for me or against me totally. There is no middle ground.

        I was raised with the notion that I was free to not approve or to dislike something and equally free to speak my mind about it. I was told however the other day that some subjects are above the rights spelled out in the constitution and that I was a horrible person for even daring to have unapproved thoughts. Basically I had no rights to my thoughts even if I never spoke them or caused any harm. Only people who agreed with the poster should be allowed to think.

        The idea that two people could have honest differences and agree to disagree was monstrous to this man. Only the right thinking person was correct. The other did not have any right to think that way and they must be evil.

        I am 63 years old. It may be tough for younger people to comprehend but I am glad my time here on this earth is so limited. The hopes of my youth for a better world have long ago been ground into dust. I fear for the future where only correct thinking is allowed and the individual must submit to the mob.

        BTW The only correct solution to Kevin Hart or anyone who makes an unfortunate remark not approved is to herd tem into gulags in Alaska near the Arctic Circle. There they and their family can be re-educated until they can conform to proper thinking. Anyone who is innocent, well that is collateral damage. Better a thousand innocents be punished than a truly guilty man go free.

      • Big Ben January 24, 2019 at 1:13 am #

        I’d never heard of the Elizabeth Moon “kerfuffle,” despite the fact that I’m a fan, so I Googled it and found perhaps the best way to graciously respond to those who would gleefully muzzle freedom of speech and undermine the First Amendment.
        It seems Ms. Moon never retracted or apologized for her (non)controversial blog post … which seemed fairly factual to me.
        When the Con bowed to the Screaming Snowflakes and disinvited Ms. Moon, she didn’t lash out – she said that the organizers had every right to do what they felt best, stayed away from event and went on with her (obviously successful) life.

        And I came across a truly prescient quote: “One of the necessary skills of citizenship is developing the ability to hear and think about criticism while not being intimidated by it.”
        I can think of more than a few folks who should take that to heart.

      • anonymous January 27, 2019 at 11:15 pm #

        I also had never heard of the Elizabeth Moon Kerfuffle 🙂 lol.. I have been a reader and fan of her work for 20 + years.. The fact that there was controversy over such a self evident statement about Islam and the understated nature of that statement is the frightening thing.

        Have you noticed the the Gay community isn’t very supportive of the Islamic community? It can shorten your lifespan as well as your height in a lot of Islamic countries and regions around the world. From a first world perspective it’s easy to dismiss that as not so much Islam but just primitive societies ( forget that this is a very arrogant attitude to just label all those countries primitive and factually not really accurate anymore) The frightening things is when you poll practicing Islamic citizens of European nations, Canada or the United States and they in a large minority agree with those practices or in a decent sized majority won’t speak out against those death penalty practices for the crime of being gay.

        It’s funny as I’m sure I will get serious blow back for saying this where if I went on my rant against priests that are sexual predators and extended that argument to all Catholics because they obviously support that behavior if they are still Catholic I would get a lot of support and little to no blow back. ( I do wish very bad things were done to pedophile priests but don’t think all priests are that way only about the same statistical number that are in other religions or even the general population. (I have 2nd hand experience in my family of pedophile behavior in the general population. It is everywhere, not just in the catholic church) I do think the people in organizational hierarchies that suppressed knowledge of these acts should also be held accountable. However to blame the general catholic population is asinine. I know a bunch of Catholics and they are voracious in their denouncement of such behavior and would like to see heads roll. This is an almost 100% attitude in my experience with your average catholic. Of the smaller but still representative example of Muslims that I personally know maybe 5% will denounce terrorist activity. Maybe 60% won’t advocate for it but wont denounce it or will say it is bad while in the same sentence apologetically sympathize with the terrorist that they were driven to express their selves that way.. The other 35% actively justify. That is frightening.

        One instance after 9/11 really comes to mind. A man I had known for years and had spoken with at length over those years, a gentle man, a kind man, couldn’t condemn the actions of of those men who flew those plane’s into the twin towers. He didn’t straight up condone terrorism but he made excuse after excuse for the actions of those men. This is someone that over years of acquaintance proved himself to be a good, kind man. One that you would like to have as a neighbor. Islam like that is a very very dangerous meme.

        So I have a personal yard stick I use to measure belief systems by. All they have to do is fail one of the below statements for me to consider them a dangerous meme that shouldn’t be allowed in civilized society. This is applied to the official written doctrine not some asshole that is making stuff up in his personal version of it.

        1. Do they advocate killing of others that don’t believe like themselves.
        2. Do they advocate the forcible conversion of others to their belief system.
        3. Do they advocate penalties or death if you attempt to leave that belief system.
        4. They don’t recognize the doctrine of individual liberty as set forth in the American Constitution.
        5. They don’t recognize freedom of speech.
        6. They don’t recognize equality of rights based on sex, creed or color, or sexual orientation.
        7. Do they treat people who don’t believe like them differently under the law where their belief system is held as law.

        I could probably throw in a couple others but those cover it rather well.

        My kudo’s to Elizabeth Moon for her article and even more seeing she hasn’t amended or apologized for it that I can tell.

        I probably would have posted something similar back in that time frame under my real name. Today I don’t and feel the coward for not doing so but I am not willing to risk my family to the mob of social justice that would see this label me as a Nazi and see me or mine as fair game for all time that I published this opinion.

    • bret January 14, 2019 at 5:49 pm #


      I simply didn’t read the post that way. I simply read it as “forgiveness is good.”

      But as I often say, the curse of authorship is that the information conveyed is not necessarily what the writer intended, but rather what the reader chooses to infer.

  12. Technomad January 14, 2019 at 9:41 am #

    A lot of the hostility gay-marriage proponents receive is due, at least IMO, to their attitude of “Oceania has ALWAYS been at war with Eastasia, so shut up, prole!” Their habit of endlessly moving the goalposts is also getting very tiresome.

    They promised, long and loud, that the only people affected by “gay marriage” would be the “spouses” themselves. Then, the second they got the “right” to “gay marriage,” they started going out of their way to find businesses that did not want to participate, and when they did, raised an unearthly howl about “discrimination” and their easily-hurt feelings. Instead of finding a baker, photographer or venue that had no problem with serving them, they went running to the courts seeking triple revenge.

    The more I see of them, the more bitterly I regret that we ever gave in to them on anything at all. I have many very bitter memories of people who used the threat of hurting their FEELINGS to get their own way. And as far as them WANTING “gay marriage”—well, we all want things. I want an all-day-long threesome with me, Cate Blanchett and either Helena Bonham-Carter or Jennifer Lawrence. Why should their WANTS be treated as marching orders for society, and not mine?

  13. xromad January 23, 2019 at 5:16 am #

    @Billy, @Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

    The Roman Catholic Church uses Matthew 16:18-19 as the basis for Peter being the Vicar of Christ, and believe that basis was, and is, passed on to his successors as the Bishop of Rome. This belief caused the first schism of Christianity between the Western (Roman) “Catholics” and the Eastern (Orthodox) “Catholics”.

    It was also partially a cause of the later schism between the Roman Catholic Church and reformists who protested about misdeeds of the Church hierarchy. Unable to reform the Roman Catholic Church, they completely separated from it and formed diverse Christian churches which are loosely grouped under the term “protestants”.

    So technically you can say there is something in the Bible concerning the office held by someone called “Pope”. BTW, I’m not a Catholic, West or East nor am I a member of any church.

  14. Kira January 28, 2019 at 4:07 am #

    Hey Chris! Just wanting to check in and see if you were okay? I am one of your biggest fans and I check your blog regularly, but you haven’t posted anything since the 6th and it’s the 27th now. I am praying hard for you! Getting worried. I hope your doing okay!

    • chrishanger January 28, 2019 at 8:31 am #

      Still alive, just very busy .

      More blog posts will be coming soon.


  15. jade January 28, 2019 at 7:52 pm #

    Look – any ideology that creates tribes is going to be dangerous. Blind ideology is dangerous. An ideology that is unable to accept new ideas is dangerous. Yes, it can lead to straying and muddling of the original ideology, but like many things, we evolve and change. I have less fear of the social justice movements (because they don’t seek to dehumanize any group but they do seek redress for racist and sexist harm that has been encoded into almost self-perpetuating systems that deeply impact individual members of society. How is it that a woman is still held to absurd levels of propriety if she has to run for political office whereas a crotch grabber can rip off a few vulgarities, lie incompetently, and incoherently babble like a two year old toddler and get elected?)

    Sure – the people who benefit the most from these ingrained systems are the ones who generally fear social justice movements the most. And yes, there is a chance to go from French Revolution to the Reign of Terror. So it would behoove those who benefit the most to work with social justice to ease the redresses and correct the issues that various groups are complaining about. That genie has gone out of the bottle. You can’t just throw another Salem Witch Trial and kill all the outspoken women. You can’t just throw up a gas chamber or two and gas us. There’s a reason that each generation is getting liberal. Why is that? Because the children see what we can’t see. That it’s kind of stupid to get twisted like a pretzel because two gay men are getting married. The religious and conservative arguments which claimed hellfire and brimstone just didn’t occur. They see their moms doing jobs and society hasn’t gone to hell in a basket. (I may despise Louis C K but he had one joke that ran something like this – White men would love to travel into the past. But they would fear to travel to the future. In contrast, no other minority will travel into the past but they will travel to the future. Why is that? Can we not acknowledge that maybe the world isn’t fair and now, people are starting to talk louder and being heard by more?)

    On the Kevin Hart situation, initially I was like you. I thought.. can we just say that we aren’t allowed to condemn people for something they said 15 years ago. That we can allow for change? But then, Kevin Hart changed my mind. He couldn’t even say “Hey, I was dumb. I made a mistake. I accept the fact that my past mistake means that I don’t get this gig. But I deserve it. I hope that in the future, I can do better.” Instead, he babbled about he was the victim. Yep. Making homophobic jokes and including the idea that it’s okay to hit a child was “just a mistake”. Loads of people are decent people and that apology I wrote would have been enough. In contrast, let’s look at how James Gunn handled his own past “jokes”. James Gunn- director and writer of the two Guardians of the Galaxy movies who had, as an edgy young adult made some rather inappropriate jokes about child rape. Gunn didn’t play a victim card. He said “I’m sorry. I was stupid. I understand.” Gunn behaved like an adult. The moment I heard this, I started investigating and I saw that Gunn appeared to have genuinely changed. The man who posted child rape jokes and the man who apologized were very different. I’m still think that Gunn should direct the third Guardians of the Galaxy movie. Why? Gunn showed me that he had changed.

    As for the Linda Farstein. Five innocent boys were condemned to jail. Our justice system is imperfect. But what did we do? The DA should have been the voice of caution and promoted true justice over mob violence. That’s the whole purpose of our justice system. If we don’t have faith that the good guys will win in our courts, then what’s to stop me from getting my own justice? We look at the circumstances for how the teenagers gave guilty pleas and any rational adult should have cause for concern. No lawyers? No adult guardians? Only hostile police interrogating them? Using every single tactic to “get them to crack”? If you are a father, would you think that was an appropriate way to treat children, even if they are teenagers? Do you remember how stupid you were as a teenager? How ignorant you were as a teenager? The Central Park five case was about optics. A white girl is raped. Then, stories come out about black boys who gang rape her. And it’s not like we don’t have racist stereotypes about over sexualized violent black men. ( I’m still waiting for the stereotype where we see a white male and think “mass shooter”. I doubt that will happen. Oh yeah – Theriot is our most recent crazy white boy. In contrast, to many black males who have been shot and killed, this armed and dangerous white boy was captured alive.. Amazing.)

    We need people in our justice system who value justice over mob vengeance. We need people who truly believe in doing the right thing rather than the expedient thing. We need people of honor and integrity who “steelman” their opponents rather than strawman them. (Oh.. and Trump said that those central park 5 should be in jail despite them being innocent. those kid’s lost their entire youth. I can’t even imagine what they felt being convicted of a crime they didn’t commit.

    I’m going to quote a bit of Wikipedia’s page on Fairstein.

    “Fairstein’s behavior seemed so outrageous that in the 1993 appeals decision on Salaam’s case, then-appellate court judge Vito Titone specifically named her in his dissenting opinion and said in an interview, “I was concerned about a criminal justice system that would tolerate the conduct of the prosecutor, Linda Fairstein, who deliberately engineered the 15-year-old’s confession. … Fairstein wanted to make a name. She didn’t care. She wasn’t a human”

    Tell me again that we should give second chances to a person like Fairstein. Even your bible doesn’t think that’s okay.

    BTW – your Ten commandments are simplistic reductionist versions of morality. They are good for a 5 year old child but they are rubbish for an adult. The world is a complicated place. And it’s as simple as asking “Would you lie or tell the truth to the Nazi soldier at your door when he asks if you have Jews living in your home?” Well, will you break that childish “thou shalt not lie” and save the Jewish people who are in your home or will you tell the truth and let them die by your truth? Agan, the world is complicated. Maybe to conservatives the world is black and white. Maybe to semi-intelligent conservatives, the world has shades of gray as well. To someone who possesses average intelligence, the world has not only shades of gray but every other color in the spectrum. Childish things written in stone for primitive small tribes are irrelevant to large cities full of thousands of people coming from all walks of life and possessing myriads of life experiences.

    I’d rather we had more people who were willing to entertain the notion that they were wrong.. Humility is a virtue. Yes. Not all morality is equally good. We can have ideals and consistently apply them. The easiest way to find the best morals? Design a society where you don’t know whether you will be born of the most powerful and elite or be born of the most weak and disenfranchised. The intelligent person will design a society that ensures that even the most marginalized has rights. You’ll quickly find out what those rights are and the morality behind your rules.

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard January 28, 2019 at 9:03 pm #

      The SJWs dehumanize anybody who doesn’t completely accept their nonsense.

      When part of the nonsense is “whites are all racists” and “men are all hateful”, then they dehumanize whites who are racist by any objective standard and dehumanize men who aren’t hateful.

      Humility is a good but the SJWs show that they lack humility because they believe that They Are Always Right.

      So go out and punch a Nazi but don’t be surprised when the person who claim is a Nazi punches back.

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard January 28, 2019 at 9:04 pm #

        That should be “whites who are not racist by any objective standard”.

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