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Religious Tolerance logo

Religious apologies for past sins

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The following essay is taken from an article in the  Christian Science Monitor, on 2000-MAR-14, called "Remorse that ends sin." The author is unknown.

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In recent years, the world has seen many public acts of contrition, from movie stars to whole nations to presidents.

Some of them are sincere and come out of a genuine change of heart and a commitment to right behavior.

Some merely deflate a public relations problem, and diminish the act itself.

But perhaps at the end of the 20th century, when totalitarian regimes such as the Soviet Union have fallen and new ideas flood the world with the click of a computer mouse, people everywhere are seeking new forms of spirituality - both in their own lives and collectively - by dealing with old sins.

Churches would be expected to lead the way in offering the kind of apologies and remorse that admit past mistakes as a way to ensure they won't be repeated.

The Southern Baptists, for instance, apologized for their past support of slavery and segregation. Government leaders, too, try to encourage the prevention of new errors by admitting past ones. British Prime Minister Tony Blair apologized for the Irish potato famine; President Clinton for the US government's use of blacks in the Tuskegee syphilis study.

Such apologies often serve more to repair relations than to evoke genuine remorse among the descendants of those who committed the acts. It's difficult to feel, at the collective level, responsible for sins committed by people long gone.

True remorse, however, is possible if people understand the nature of past sins and how they occurred because of a lack of love and respect between people.

To restore that love and respect often requires actions more than words. Each individual or group must decide if an act of repentance must also come with an act of making others whole again. Forgiveness is possible when a sin and its effects are truly eliminated.

Confessions are just a first step down a path toward a moral understanding that brings a sense of wholeness without sin.

Renewal often requires institutions and people to see the errors of their ways.

And how that is done can make all the difference.

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"Remorse that ends sin,"  Christian Science Monitor, 2000-MAR-14 at: http://www.csmonitor.com/durable/2000/03/14/text/p8s1.html 

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Copyright © 2000 The Christian Science Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Originally published: 2000-MAR-14
Latest update of this file: 2004-APR-13
Author: Unknown

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