I don’t believe in forgiveness because it’s bullshit. I don’t. I don’t believe in forgiveness, primarily because humans are incapable of absolution, which is what forgiveness is. We are emotionally vulnerable animals capable of rational thought, and as such we can’t simply forget about something that has wounded us. There is no undo button, nor a magic wand that removes an in justice from our memories and experiences. And, ya know, I’ve tried, multiple times, explaining this to people over the years, but it’s always failed to hit home with people because they get hung up on “well, that’s not what it means to me.” And that’s great! But it, unfortunately, isn’t forgiveness that you’re thinking about in that case.

The tradition and ritual of forgiveness—at least in Western culture—was begun and promulgated by the Catholic Church, further promoted by the protestants, and is now so ingrained into the culture that it is expected by nearly everyone upon delivery of an apology, regardless of sincerity. Think about it, what’s the default response to “I’m sorry”? It’s “it’s okay, I forgive you.” And that is wrong! Not because the intention to forgive is insincere, but because it’s literally not possible. Absolution is a fairytale invented by the Church to make money and fill the coffers.

But I also don’t believe in forgiveness because, the act of telling someone else that you forgive them after an assault or infraction (i.e., a sin) is more about making them feel better at the expense of invalidating your own feelings than it is about resolving a dispute or righting a wrong in any way. One of my guiding philosophies in life is that “there is no forgiveness, only acceptance and forward momentum.” Accept that something bad has been done or happened to you and its consequences, and learn from the incident going into the future. That doesn’t mean living by Hammurabi’s Code or cutting people out of your life for simple and minor offences! On the contrary, it means that you can’t change what’s in the past no matter how badly you or anyone else wishes to do so, so you’ve got to accept what happens that’s outside of your control, learn from it, and use those lessons to inform your actions and decisions moving forward. Sometimes that does mean closing a door, sure, but if it comes to that there’s no amount of “I’m sorry”s and “I forgive you”s that’s going to fix the situation.


Commonly held as one of the sacraments of Christendom, absolution is the “forgiveness” granted by an ordained priest upon penitents. Forgiveness/Absolution is the erasure of a sin and the restoration of cleanliness to the penitent, or the person feeling repentant for their sin(s). In fact, let’s look at some definitions…

forgiveness [ fer-giv-nis ]

  1. act of forgiving; state of being forgiven.
  2. disposition or willingness to forgive.


forgive [ fer-giv ]

  1. to grant pardon for or remission of (an offense, debt, etc.); absolve.
  2. to give up all claim on account of; remit (a debt, obligation, etc.).
  3. to grant pardon to (a person).
  4. to cease to feel resentment against.
  5. to cancel an indebtedness or liability of.


absolve [ ab-zolv, –solv ]

  1. to free from guilt or blame or their consequences.
  2. to set free or release, as from some duty, obligation, or responsibility (usually followed by from).
  3. to grant pardon for.

  4. Ecclesiastical.
    1. to grant or pronounce remission of sins to.
    2. to remit (a sin) by absolution.
    3. to declare (censure, as excommunication) removed.


absolution [ ab-suh-loo-shuhn ]

  1. act of absolving; a freeing from blame or guilt; release from consequences, obligations, or penalties.
  2. state of being absolved.

  3. Roman Catholic Theology.
    1. a remission of sin or of the punishment for sin, made by a priest in the sacrament of penance on the ground of authority received from Christ.
    2. the formula declaring such remission.
  4. Protestant Theology. a declaration or assurance of divine forgiveness to penitent believers, made after confession of sins.


Them’s the facts, kiddos. That’s what this shit actually means.

The Church magiced this fairytale up around the same time as the ministry of Jesus was being recorded and further expanded upon it with the selling of Indulgences in the Medieval period of Europe. Long and complicated history there, that I would encourage anyone interested to investigate, but the point is that today there’s a series of rituals one must complete to be granted an indulgence, which are only to be granted for a sin which has already been forgiven. Regardless, the whole thing revolves around divinity and the ability of the divine to absolve a person, mortal or otherwise, from the consequences of their actions—which, again, is something that humans cannot do. Therefore, simply saying “I forgive you” is a meaningless gesture.

Priests and pastors, protestants and Catholics alike—especially evangelicals—will tell you that “personal forgiveness” matters, but that’s complete nonsense because, again, humans cannot remove or erase consequences. What they’re telling you is to not learn from other people’s offences against you and to treat everyone with kid gloves, which is idiotic and impractical. But personal forgiveness is often likened to “letting go” and not holding a grudge, however, as we have discussed, that’s not what forgiveness means and that’s not what forgiveness is. So, let’s stick to the actual meaning of the words—because words have meaning—and stay focused.

Emotional Animals

This whole thing is worth writing about—i.e., it bothers me because—for one reason: as I said before, the act of telling someone else that you forgive them after an assault or infraction (i.e., a sin) is more about making them feel better at the expense of invalidating your own feelings than it is about resolving a dispute or righting a wrong in any way. As emotional animals, we are trapped by the limitations of our emotional responses to stimuli in our environment and interactions with other animals, be they human or otherwise.

If a friend offends you, and you call them out on it, are you going to genuinely forget that they offended you after a verbal apology? No! Of course not. No matter what you’d like to think, you’re going to let that offensive comment, gesture, or behaviour inform your opinion of them and further interactions in the future. Because that’s what rational-thinking, emotional animals must do to survive. You learn. And you use that new knowledge to make decisions until such time as yet still newer knowledge rescinds or otherwise corrects what you’ve learned from your friend’s offence. Now, you may not hold a grudge against them, that’s entirely dependent on how petty you are as a person, and not something I recommend, personally. But you’re going to learn. Otherwise, you’re being wilfully ignorant and that’s dangerous. This whole process could be quick, taking minutes! Or it could last years. Or it could be a permanent change in how you interact with and hold that friend.

We, as humans, as emotional animals, cannot absolve others from the consequences of their decisions and actions. We can’t. Not even in our own minds. It’s not possible (unless you’re a complete doormat, I guess). But we can move forward. And that’s my point… you’ve got to move forward, without holding a grudge and being offended forever. After you learn the lesson being presented, move forward.


Am I describing something with my personal philosophy that others are using “forgiveness” as shorthand for? Possibly, but I like the accuracy and clarity of language. Say what you mean and mean what you say. I also like that my philosophy puts people on notice, up front, that they are responsible for their actions, as we all are and all should be. Some people may call me cold or say I’m being defensive for so doing, but I would argue that it is a far more humanist philosophy than the Sacrament of Penance.

I don’t believe in forgiveness, and neither should you.