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My Take: Casey Anthony and the challenge of forgiveness
July 16th, 2011
04:00 PM ET

My Take: Casey Anthony and the challenge of forgiveness

Editor's Note: Patrick Wanis, Ph.D. is a human behavior and relationship expert and therapist and author of “Finding God – Spiritual Strategies to Help YOU Find Happiness, Fulfillment and Inner Peace."

By Patrick Wanis, Special to CNN

The justice system is designed to prevent, punish and rehabilitate. But with Casey Anthony being acquitted of murdering her 2-year old daughter Caylee, many people are still full of rage and anger toward her, seeking revenge and claiming they want justice for what they continue to believe is her guilt.

But does the anger, revenge and bitterness help bring back Caylee? What positive purpose might it serve? Does Casey Anthony’s case cry out for forgiveness, even if the court found her not guilty of murder?

When we feel injured we respond or react automatically with anger. When someone hurts us, we automatically want to hurt that person back.

Because of the constant media coverage the Anthony trial garnered, many people - particularly mothers and women - felt a personal connection to the case. Their original motivation for justice for Caylee has turned into a desire for revenge.

Casey Anthony's secret release

Anger is not always a negative emotion. When someone is being attacked, you need anger to push you to action to protect the victim. It was anger and frustration that led to revolution in Egypt and that is fueling other uprisings in the Arab world.

In fact, some people have used their anger to lead a petition for “Caylee’s Law,” which would make it a felony to wait more than 48 hours to report a missing child and a felony not to report the death of a child within two hours (though different versions have been proposed in different states).

Casey did not report her missing daughter for 30 days. Such laws may represent a positive use of anger.

But staying stuck in anger, bitterness, vindictiveness or a desire for revenge does not bring about positive results. As a human behavior expert and therapist, the most common denominator of the pain, mental and emotional affliction that I see people suffer is the lack of forgiveness - the anger and pursuit of revenge against mom, dad, brother, sister, aunt, uncle or self for something that someone did or didn’t do.

There are surely limits to forgiveness, some say. Is Casey Anthony beyond the limit?

The secret life of Casey Anthony

It was the spring of 1944 when 10-year-old Eva Kor, her twin sister Miriam and her mother arrived in the concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. Immediately, guards ripped both girls from their mother and they were never again to see her, their father or their older sisters.

Shortly thereafter, in a sick bay, a doctor told Eva “You have just two weeks to live.” The doctor was Josef Mengele. He had just injected her with a lethal cocktail of bacteria as part of a barbaric experiment with twins.

Eva had a strong immune system and survived but so, too, did the pain of her suffering. Her sister Miriam suffered an inexplicable disease from the injection of poison. Eva later tried to save her sister’s life by donating one of her own kidneys, but Miriam died in 1993.

In January 1995, at the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, Kor brought along a doctor who worked alongside Josef Mengele. Eva read a confession of guilt from the doctor who accompanied her and then shocked the world press by saying “In my own name, I forgive all Nazis.”

Casey Anthony appeals lying convictions

Eva says forgiveness led to her to inner peace and healing and she has made speeches about forgiveness across the United States in front of school groups and organizations. She teaches that forgiveness freed her from victim status.

“I felt as though an incredibly heavy weight of suffering had been lifted,” she has said. “I never thought I could be so strong… What the victims do does not change what happened. And the best thing about the remedy of forgiveness is that there are no side effects. And everybody can afford it.”

Eva is featured in the Forgiveness Project, an effort that “encourages and empowers people to explore the nature of forgiveness and alternatives to revenge.”

Most world religions promote forgiveness, an eventual end to demanding punishment or restitution. Love, forgiveness and compassion are primary teachings of Jesus.

"Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” Jesus said on the cross, asking God to forgive the people that were about to kill Him.

Although there are many reasons we hold onto a lack of forgiveness, the pain, anger, revenge and rage only hurt us. But forgiveness sets us free.

Even if Casey Anthony had been found guilty and were to be put to death, would that help Caylee or other living children? Would it truly free us in our hearts? Would our energy not be put to better use if we were to choose to help other children who are at this moment starving, homeless, at risk or in danger?

What if the thousands of angry people devoted that energy to helping mothers and children who have been abused or battered?

Look in your heart and ask yourself what effect the poison of anger and revenge have on you and your life. We have all wronged and we are all imperfect. Of course, murder is not the same as the wrongs that most of us commit.

But if Jesus could ask God to forgive the people that were about to murder him and if a Holocaust survivor could forgive the people that poisoned her and tried to exterminate her family, then what holds you and I back from forgiving anyone? The next time you commit a wrongdoing, won’t you be saying “Please forgive me?”

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Patrick Wanis.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Crime • Opinion

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soundoff (2,071 Responses)
  1. mailliam

    Maybe this touchy feel-y professional needs more experience going out and retrieving the remains of more dead toddlers than he already has. Of course his article is nothing but free advertising for parents of the same ilk as this disturbed former mother. If the State of Florida couldn't win a criminal case against her, maybe they need to 'OJ' her, and win a civil case for wrongful death and take away her financial future.

    July 17, 2011 at 2:20 am |
  2. rae

    hopfully theres an army of ghosts that haunt her day and night. as soon as i heard the verdict i decided to forgive myself for giving her a second of my attention.it is unfortunate the bad won this one. she is a nightmare and will probally "accidently" kill agian. protecting your loved ones and self and family and the good is the only energy worth wasting on her and her supporters and her supposed unpentratable bubble of lies and worped world. Its unfortunate that the bad won this one but her entire exsistince is crooked inside out all around and hopefully someday whatever piece holding it together is going to break.

    July 17, 2011 at 2:17 am |
    • David

      lol @ Army of ghosts. One isn't enough. Send in a brigade... the Casper Corps!

      July 17, 2011 at 2:27 am |
    • Kate

      She will offend again. She is a sociopath who spent the years following high school stealing from her family and friends, then getting knocked up, giving birth and then smothering her baby. Hey Cheney and Baez...If you're going to take Monster Mama into your house tonight, a word of advice: Lock up your cash, your credit cards and your valuables! In fact lock up everything that isn't tied down. Apparently Monster Mama has very sticky fingers.

      July 17, 2011 at 3:08 am |
  3. Kate

    I know why Baez wants people to forgive Casey... So both he and Casey can sign a lucrative contract with an entertainment company and make tons of money. I'm mean why not... a lot of hard up men out there think that Casey is hot. That certainly makes it OK for her to become a reality star! Right? I mean in this country if you are hot you can and should be allowed to get away with murder. In fact I think hot, young bimbos should be allowed to murder all of the people they want and receive complete and total immunity from prosecution. Bimbos need to do what they have to these days to make it in Hollywood and if it takes murdering your child to become famous..so be it. You know Caylee had to sacrifice her life so her Mother could become a reality star. After all Caylee life was just a stepping stone to fame and fortune for Casey and Jose Baez is going to make sure that Casey gets paid big. What comes around goes around.

    July 17, 2011 at 2:11 am |
  4. rae

    homeland security?

    July 17, 2011 at 2:09 am |
  5. Barb

    Gosh, wyciwyg's comment, in my opinion, speaks volumes to that of Casey's mother as well as Casey. To me, the mother
    was the most dangerous person in the family, with the father's soul-kill manner not far behind. Casey is a direct result of both, only to become a thought to be "murderer" , as she said she thought she was saving her baby from having to go through what she herself did, in that household.

    Murder is major major crime. Mercy killing is criminal most of the time also. Too bad, Casey's mother have had a child, for her demeanor and killing strength psychologically, I feel , brought more demise to the entire family, as did the mix the mother had, with the power of police work in her husband, and with his pent up hells.

    I'm just so thankful I have a gentle father and a fun mother. I'm thankful to be alive and loved, after seeing this family's makeup and horrid examples of life.

    I can't imagine in any trial, for the actual NAME of Caylee Anthony's REAL FATHER , NOT to be NAMED. This obviously
    to me, places the father as a policeman or someone involved in the legal system, in a way to keep his name anonymous.
    HIDDEN LIFE, HIDDEN COVERUPS, HIDDEN CHARACTER, HIDDEN TRUTH, HIDDEN REALITY.......CONSUMES THAT FAMILY AND ALL THOSE WHO ARE INVOLVED WITH THEM, FROM WHAT I SEE.

    I PITY THE WHOLE FAMILY, AND I CRY (AS I'M SURE THEY DO) FOR PRECIOUS CAYLEE.

    July 17, 2011 at 2:08 am |
    • LMick

      No way could it have been a 'mercy killing'. Casey kills her daughter so she doesn't have to go through what she went trough as a child? Really? MOVE AWAY. If you hate your family so much and they aren't healthy in your life, why would you stick around? That makes no sense.

      July 17, 2011 at 2:45 am |
  6. Alison

    I never understood how finding this woman guilty equaled justice for Caylee. A conviction of anyone would result in punishment for the crime, but that is a far cry from justice. Justification of a premature death can only be had if any good can come from it. The justification of Caylee's death would be passage of Caylee's law, and/or saving another child from suffering the same fate. Stop the witch hunt. She'll eventually be punished, but don't crow victorious and be deluded that it's some form of justice for anything once she is.

    July 17, 2011 at 2:07 am |
    • call him Dr. Lost

      First of all I never said or even implied that revenge would be a just outcome to the Anthony trial. I was only pointing out that Wanis completely (and perhaps even willingly ignorantly) ignores the other legitimate side of the point he's arguing.

      Second, you do realize that many of the greatest philosophers of all time, from the present all the way back to
      Plato, have dedicated volumes of their works to answer the question "What is justice?," without any consensus as to what might be considered a reasonable answer. But if you want to get into it, are you really claiming there can be any justification for the death of an innocent young child, even if some good comes from it in the future?

      July 17, 2011 at 4:52 am |
    • Bucky Ball

      Alison,
      Please see my post on page 16. Thanks

      July 17, 2011 at 5:20 am |
  7. call him Dr. Lost

    This guy comes off as just another religious tool.

    While I happen to believe in forgiving others, this article completely neglects the completely rational, reasonable, and logical other side of the argument- the natural desire for justice. Wanis (the author) practically begs the reader to just forgive people (without thought) for their wrongs, no matter how horrible. It's wise to forgive others their faults, no matter how terrible, but to do so blindly, as Wanis implies, is insanity. People naturally crave just justice. If someone steals from you for no reason, you legitimately and instinctively want things to be made right. Forgiving the person that wronged should be the eventual inclination of a wise mind, not one that not does understand why he forgives or only does so because he is told to.

    Wanis' position mirrors in this way what is often a peculiarly Christian outlook: Does your life happen to be filled with insufferable instances of injustice? Accept it and be grateful for the little you may or may not have. How dare you question critically or question deeply about this life.

    July 17, 2011 at 2:04 am |
    • Blaise Pascal

      You've obviously had no Catholic training. The Jesuits teach one to question everything.

      July 17, 2011 at 2:13 am |
    • Alison

      Dr. Lost, you, and most of the people following this debacle, seem to confuse Justice with Revenge. They are two very different things.

      July 17, 2011 at 2:20 am |
  8. ccx

    will God forgive her?

    July 17, 2011 at 2:04 am |
    • Sue

      Yes, if she asks Father in Jesus name for her sin. Jesus already paid the price of all sin. Jesus came to save those who know they are sinner; but not those self-righteous people. His Blood is sufficient to cover all sin if we seek God's forgiveness. Jesus is my savior and my redeemer. There is no other savior but Jesse! I will pray the Almighty God to send Angles to protect Casey Anthony.

      July 17, 2011 at 2:41 am |
  9. SGF GADFLY

    Wonderful article! Forgiveness is primarily for the one doing the forgiving. Mercy (as opposed to justice) is for the one who has committed the harm or sin. One can forgive...let go of the inner sense of right to exact justice, or vengeance...and still execute justice as part of the legal process, even if that means administering a lethal injection. If she had admitted and repented, then yes, there could be a second element to forgiveness, involving her, but it still might have ended with the lethal injection. Finally, we need to remember the distinction between forgiveness and reconciliation. Sometimes people are no "safe" and while forgiveness is healthy for their victims, (1) the perpetrator need never know he or she has been forgiven (it's a one-way operation) and (2) reconciliation may never be healthy, wise or possible.

    July 17, 2011 at 2:03 am |
    • Alison

      Justice and Mercy are not opposites. Mercy and Severity are opposites.

      July 17, 2011 at 2:28 am |
  10. nolapearl

    I wonder if Nancy Grace agrees with this cnn opinion?

    July 17, 2011 at 2:03 am |
    • Alison

      The Spanish Inquisition is missing an inquisitor. Nancy Grace belongs on Fox, not CNN.

      July 17, 2011 at 2:33 am |
  11. Barry haines

    I suppose if Casey and her family can live with this I suppose I can live with it . The baby will be forgotten and we will go the next travesty

    July 17, 2011 at 2:02 am |
    • Alison

      Barry, sadly in a way, the healthiest comment left on this board.

      July 17, 2011 at 2:35 am |
  12. Tracie

    I'll forgive her when she goes in front of the nation holding hands with Nancy Grace and tells us the truth about Caylee. Oh wait..that won't happen.

    July 17, 2011 at 1:59 am |
    • Sue

      Do you mean "Nance Dis-Grace"?

      July 17, 2011 at 2:44 am |
  13. Tracie

    I hope some of you never get picked for jury duty...

    July 17, 2011 at 1:57 am |
    • Alison

      Sure makes me want to walk the straight and narrow.

      July 17, 2011 at 2:36 am |
  14. Bazoing

    Forgiveness is for those who repent. She is convicted of being a persistent liar who cost the taxpayer and private folks hundreds of thousands with her lies. She shows no repentance for that, but she might feel regret at being caught after all the lawsuits. She will go on lying and damaging lives. This is not repentance and attempting to forgive monsters who are not changing their behavior is like throwing yourself to a shark. I wonder if she might be at the hot bodies place right now, or is she in bed with some fool who values a woman's body more than her integrity. Also consider the fact that she is likely to become bored in her mid thirties, or want an anchor for a new marriage, and have another child. Won't that be sweet?

    July 17, 2011 at 1:55 am |
  15. Tracie

    Why does everyone keep saying that Casey is an attractive young woman. GROSS! Really? I might have said she was "cute" when this all started, but she looks like she has aged about 20 years and that Elvira "bumpit" hair thing she has going on with the bad skin and s*** eating grin is anything BUT attractive in my book...I hope she uses her 1 million smackers for some extensive Plastic surgery.

    July 17, 2011 at 1:53 am |
  16. robe

    Remember–it was not proven beyond a doubt that she didn't do it. A two edged coin folks.

    July 17, 2011 at 1:52 am |
    • Curtis

      A double edged coin?? Did you just make that up? That makes absolutely no sense.

      July 17, 2011 at 2:07 am |
    • Deona Lindholm

      I think he meant either double-edged sword or two-faced coin.

      July 17, 2011 at 11:36 am |
  17. Bazoing

    Lets assume she really is innocent of murder, that's possible. However forgiveness is for those who repent. She is convicted of being a persistent liar who cost the taxpayer and private folks hundreds of thousands with her lies. She shows no repentance for that, but she might feel regret at being caught after all the lawsuits. She will go on lying and damaging lives. This is not repentance and attempting to forgive monsters who are not changing their behavior is like throwing yourself to a shark. I wonder if she might be at the hot bodies place right now, or is she in bed with some fool who values a woman's body more than her integrity. Also consider the fact that she is likely to become bored in her mid thirties, or want an anchor for a new marriage, and have another child. Won't that be sweet?

    July 17, 2011 at 1:51 am |
  18. Joe

    Forgiving? No. Forgetting? Yes. Let's face it folks, an incompetent jury found her not guilty so she's now *innocent*, nothing is going to change. Get on with your lives...

    July 17, 2011 at 1:51 am |
    • call him Dr. Lost

      I don't think the jury was incompetent.

      You should read this,

      http://professional.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303544604576429783247016492.html?mod=rss_com_mostcommentart&mg=reno-secaucus-wsj.

      July 17, 2011 at 1:53 am |
    • Tracie

      NO an incompetent prosecution let her back out on the streets..not the jury..

      July 17, 2011 at 1:55 am |
    • Alison

      She was not found "innocent," she was found "not guilty." That is the same as finding "no evidence to persecute." It says nothing about innocence.

      July 17, 2011 at 2:42 am |
    • Sue

      Please respect the Jury!

      July 17, 2011 at 2:48 am |
  19. DJ

    forgiveness isn't just a catch phrase. If you can't make a Jesus face, wave a couple fingers and honestly say "you are forgiven" then it's time to cuss and cuss some more. Casey Anthony shouldn't be forgiven by anyone until they are damned good and ready to forgive her, which well could be never.

    July 17, 2011 at 1:49 am |
    • rae

      right on

      July 17, 2011 at 1:59 am |
  20. Reasonable1

    Nancy Grace is a disgrace. She is so incompetent. In her banana republic show, she wants to be the judge and the jury. The school which gave her the law degree should be shut down. Her show was the direct result why prosecutors had to overcharge Casey. Now because of Nancy Grace, a child killer goes free.

    July 17, 2011 at 1:45 am |
    • Ahmed Johnson

      What nonsense! You are worse than that woman on the court TV...i do not recall her name, blonde, shrill, self-righteous and sanctimonious...just like you! Why don't you get a high school degree before you spout of your unreasonable nonsense. Thank you very much.

      July 17, 2011 at 1:51 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.