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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. P

    WHO WINS IF SHE GOES TO THE ELECTRIC CHAIR

    HUH? no one – it just creates more pain for the family. Even if we WAS guilty of murder (which she's not – the defense proved this) who would lethal injection appease? her grieving parents? lmao, get a grip.

    July 17, 2011 at 4:18 am |
    • P

      "even if she was guilty"

      July 17, 2011 at 4:19 am |
    • P

      sorry for the typo – are you people going to send me to the electric chair for that too?

      July 17, 2011 at 4:20 am |
    • Amanda

      The defense proved nothing. There was only faults in the prosecutors case. Lucky for the defense!

      July 17, 2011 at 4:23 am |
    • fimeilleur

      Her defence did not prove her innocent... the prosecution failed to prove she was guilty of murder in the first degree. Since she was not charged with 2nd degree or manslaughter, she was not condemned (nor will be because of double jeapordy) of these.

      July 17, 2011 at 4:24 am |
    • fletch

      Who needs trials??? Just hide a dead body in the woods long enough and there is no DNA! No DNA ??? No need for a trial!!

      July 17, 2011 at 4:25 am |
    • P

      "lucky for the defense"

      Oh really? so you say she's guilty based on an admitted lack of evidence? nice

      July 17, 2011 at 4:26 am |
    • P

      We've cleared people from death row based 20 year old DNA. I don't buy that a 6 month wait cost this case

      July 17, 2011 at 4:29 am |
    • i wonder

      fimeilleur,

      She was charged with those lesser offenses too, and was found not guilty of them.

      Count One, First Degree Murder:

      Lesser Included of Count One, Second Degree Murder: (depraved mind murder, not premeditated)

      Count Two, Aggravated Child Abuse:

      Count Three, Aggravated Manslaughter of a Child:

      Casey Anthony was found not guilty of those three counts and the lesser included one.

      July 17, 2011 at 4:34 am |
    • fimeilleur

      @ i wonder,
      interesting... however, not guilty is not a declaration of innocence, it just states that the prosecution failed to prove it's case.

      July 17, 2011 at 5:08 am |
  2. SKyle

    What makes anyone think Casey needs our forgiveness? What makes anyone thinks the forgiveness is ours to give? Casey didn't murder my child. If she wants to ask God's forgiveness, then by all means, let her. Just because you watch Nancy Grace and HLN does mean you're involved. Butt out.

    July 17, 2011 at 4:16 am |
    • Erin

      Very well said!

      July 17, 2011 at 4:22 am |
    • P

      Amen to that. I watched Nancy Grace the first day the Anthony case broke back in '08 and for weeks afterwards. Nancy had convicted her in her book by day 3. what a disgrace to our free society..

      July 17, 2011 at 4:23 am |
    • dadda321

      Man, if only the masses thought this way. Well said.

      July 17, 2011 at 4:30 am |
    • No

      God? Where tf was god when the little girl was killed? THAT'S what I wanna know.

      July 17, 2011 at 5:10 am |
  3. Erondites

    Yeah, I took one look at his picture and proceeded to take nothing he said seriously.

    July 17, 2011 at 4:13 am |
    • Dean

      Seriously? Are you that shallow?

      July 17, 2011 at 5:40 am |
  4. scottld

    I'm not "stuck in anger, bitterness, vindictiveness or a desire for revenge." I have a life of my own to worry about. But I'm not ready to forgive her either. That should only come after she demonstrates, complete honesty and absolute remore... In other words, probably never.

    July 17, 2011 at 4:07 am |
  5. Baez - doing what it takes to get into Casey pants

    Who's Caylee? go on you slimy little p***k....get in there. Who knows, you might even defend her next murder....

    Remind me to leave a nice, big steaming, pile of --- on your gravestone

    July 17, 2011 at 4:02 am |
    • Anon

      You have serious issues...

      July 17, 2011 at 4:12 am |
  6. Congrats to the baby killiing C--T

    May she and the Bozo the clown spend the rest of their days in utter misery. I cannot believe got away with her murder

    July 17, 2011 at 3:52 am |
    • MC

      WHAT DOES RELIGION HAVE TO DO WITH ANYTHING??? WHY DON'T YOU QUOTE MOHAMMED OR SOMETHING!!!!!

      July 17, 2011 at 3:55 am |
    • MC

      Sorry, meant for the other post!

      July 17, 2011 at 3:57 am |
  7. ForestSound

    Christians follow Jesus by sincerely wishing and praying for the forgiveness, repentance, restoration, new blessed life and eternal life for the worst offenders against us. But judicial justice demands lawful punishment no matter how completely we have forgiven the offenders.

    July 17, 2011 at 3:52 am |
    • MC

      WHAT DOES RELIGION HAVE TO DO WITH ANYTHING??? WHY DON'T YOU QUOTE MOHAMMED OR SOMETHING!!!!!

      July 17, 2011 at 3:56 am |
    • wwsd

      If someone killed or hurt someone I loved the last thing I would do is forgive. I would kill them in a heartbeat.

      July 17, 2011 at 3:56 am |
  8. Tom

    Idiot. It's not about forgiveness or not, it's about getting a psychopath off the streets. This woman will do anything, even kill her own daughter, just to make sure she can go out with her boyfriend.

    July 17, 2011 at 3:50 am |
    • MC

      Like Joran Vandersloot and OJ she will offend again. Psychos always do. The woman is a moocher and a thief. Probably she;ll commit grand larceny. Hope it's not another human.

      July 17, 2011 at 3:54 am |
  9. ForestSound

    Humans can forgive only on the basis that God has forgiven our sins because Jesus died for us. Otherwise, vengeance is the virtue and justice. It has been. Christians forgive every offender on personal level, but crimes must be punished by law apart from personal forgiveness. People are angry for depraved justice, not because of wanting to make the criminals miserable. Injustice will encourage more crimes.

    July 17, 2011 at 3:49 am |
    • Tom

      hahahahaha

      July 17, 2011 at 3:50 am |
    • wwsd

      If someone killed or hurt someone I loved the last thing I would do is forgive. I would kill them in a heartbeat.

      July 17, 2011 at 4:01 am |
  10. Mr. Objective

    This is a typical academic and theorectical side of arguments. It sounds plausible at first, but lacks serious understanding of why people feel angry. It is not a matter of whether we can forgive her or not which is not concern for Casey anyway. It is a self deceiving process that one can blindly believe that the world is a better place with such false forgiveness. Forgiveness needs to be placed on a solid moral ground instead of on a wishful thinking. Just because a person can write an article on CNN does not mean he or she has better insights about our moral choices. That said, this article is shallow and useless.

    July 17, 2011 at 3:47 am |
  11. wwsd

    Ah..the social system at work..be like us or else The belief in the Bible is insane. People living for 700-900 years. Strange creatures whith multiple heads, angels, virgin birth. People who actually refuse to accept the real historical record are mad.

    July 17, 2011 at 3:47 am |
  12. mdamone

    Anyone who believes that "not guilty" means "innocent" is dangerously naive. Anyone who assumes that Casey could not have killed her daughter because they themselves could not do such a thing is dangerously foolish.

    Anger and resentment will obviously not bring Caylee back. But these emotions hold value beyond this – bringing the dead back is hardly the only reason we feel slighted by cases like this. Wake up and get real. Forgiveness is NOT always effective, or warranted, or the best course of action.

    We feel anger, etc. because cases like this go against our values – what we know to be the way the universe, or at least society, should be. These emotions help create our moral 'boundries' for a civil society. Anyone who goes outside of the 'boundries' we set – like those who murder – are considered with anger, hate, revenge, etc. Anger stems from passion and this passion is the fuel which drives us to seek justice. This was why OJ was shunned everywhere he went, why the Nuremburg trials took place, how the American Revolution started, etc. Anger fuels justice in many, many cases.

    Even the author above assumes Casey's guilt with "those who murder" them throughout. Maybe forgiveness would be emotionally healthier for those who now hate Casey, but that anger may also fuel an appropriate justice yet to come – i.e. – a re-trial or admission or ...who knows what?

    The people who feel anger towards Anthony are making a choice to sacrifice their own peace of mind for a greater cause...what they feel is injustice. Although the author uses Hitler as an example, he does not concede that sacraficing peace of mind for justice is the reason America joined the Allies and ended WWII anyway. There are two sides to the story. Don't forget that for the first years of Hitler's reign, he WAS forgiven for injustices, including early invasions. Backs were turned, agreements signed, peace promised...and it got worse and worse.

    Let the people who feel anger and revenge make their choice. Do not lecture them on forgiveness, compassion and what Jesus would have (supposedly) done. Justice demands morals with the passion to back it up. Without this upset, anger and expectation of justice, the Casey Anthony's of the world would just keep on keepin' on in what they do best: walk between the cracks of our sympathy all the way to their next murder...or book deal.

    July 17, 2011 at 3:42 am |
    • MC

      What blather.....

      July 17, 2011 at 3:47 am |
    • Beefburger

      She cannot be tried again even if she came out and admited it that she did it on live TV. Sure CNN go get that exclusive. The rules against double indemnity say she can NEVER be tried for the same crime twice.

      July 17, 2011 at 4:01 am |
    • Anon

      6 paragraphs and nothing said... incredible.

      July 17, 2011 at 4:16 am |
    • Deona Lindholm

      @beefburger The term is Double Jeopardy, and while she can't be tried for the same crime again, even if she admits it, she can be tried for a different crime that is related to the case. I took Civil and Criminal Law in high school.

      July 17, 2011 at 11:46 am |
  13. Casey - She puts the C in

    “I have no regrets, just a bit worried,” Anthony wrote in a journal entry dated June 21. “I completely trust my own judgment I know that I made the right decision. I just hope that the end justifies the means.”

    July 17, 2011 at 3:37 am |
    • Kathryn

      that was written in 2003.

      July 17, 2011 at 3:46 am |
    • MC

      @ kathryn.....the make of the diary was manufactured in 2003, not the writing. Stop spreading information.

      July 17, 2011 at 3:52 am |
    • CG

      No it was written after she left High School and her thoughts on that ...

      July 17, 2011 at 4:21 am |
  14. Dawn

    "Not guilty" does NOT MEAN "INNOCENT"!! "Not gullty" means "NOT GUILTY"!! The jurors failed to take everything that was presented by the prosecution into consideration. It was NOT their job to answer the questions "who", "what", "why", and "how". It was NOT their job to determine what the punishment should be. Their job was to examine ALL the evidence that was presented in the case. Listen to and use COMMON SENSE regarding the witnesses testimonies. They FAILED at the job they were given to do!! They allowed a KILLER to walk free! And NO, I will NOT forgive this woman for killing her child.

    July 17, 2011 at 3:37 am |
  15. Rose

    Forgiveness?A baby is dead,thrown in a garbage bag and thrown in a swamp to rot.She's has no grave and her mother will be filthy rich,live in a mansion and is protected.Noone protected Caylee,she's not even in this picture anymore and all these fat cats who are protecting and making her rich will sit back and laugh all the way to the bank while all Caylee's bones aren't even found.I hope the photo of her skull haunts all that are reaping off her dead little body.

    July 17, 2011 at 3:36 am |
  16. Sean Dawson

    Forgiveness? In order for you to forgive, the other person has to apologize.

    Casey Anthony never apologized. Matter of fact, she denies everything. So.....

    July 17, 2011 at 3:28 am |
  17. huxley

    Really good article. You might have talked me into forgiving my ex-employer, I'll have to sleep on it to decide if thats a positive step.

    I'd have to say I find it very easy to forgive Casey Anthony. I believe a large part of the charges against her were a fairytail invented in the tabloid press without evidence to back it up. Certainly the whole "tot mom who kills her kid to attend more toga parties" angle was pretty silly. Also chloroform was a silly murder weapon considering that its pretty difficult to make. Overall, it just seemed like the prosecution was copying an episode of CSI rather than finding out what really happened.

    July 17, 2011 at 3:28 am |
    • sylv

      Shut up, Geraldo! Go set your mustache on fire.

      July 17, 2011 at 3:31 am |
    • Rose

      Ofcourse,it's all a fantasy,there's no skull and bones of a dead child,it's all a lie made up by the prosecution. ~eyes rolling~ And the mother and lawyer didn't let the baby decompose in a swamp,because that would mean telling the truth,right?

      July 17, 2011 at 3:40 am |
    • Erin

      Huxley, Although it is not the popular opinion in this blog, I agree with you. I can forgive Casey. I don't want to carry that type of weight in my heart. I personally don't know if she did it or not and I'm not going to waste time on it. It was an excellent article and hope this craziness calms down much sooner than later.

      July 17, 2011 at 4:17 am |
  18. sylv

    Get real!! NOONE FORGAVE the Nazis. Most were hunted down or hung for crimes against humanity. Where do you people at CNN get this stuff? It's always easy to take the moral high road when it happens to someone else!

    July 17, 2011 at 3:24 am |
  19. Rad

    From the Christian perspective, Jesus died for all and "became sin" for us, taking on himself the punishment for all. The court of man may, or may not, have made the right decision,but for the Christian it is to the One who took on Anthony's sins that she will have to answer. This would be true even if she had been convicted. He is loving but also just. Do I think she is guilty? Common sense seems to say yes. Forgiveness does not mean you are saying "never mind, that's Ok, what you did doesn't matter." It is giving up the need for personal revenge, which hurts you more than it does the other person, and turning them over to the One to whom they owe the debt. We are a country of law and we cannot become vigilanties, no matter how much we might want to. It is a human system and therefore imperfect, but it is better than most.

    July 17, 2011 at 3:13 am |
  20. Anne Russell PhD

    You're outta your mind, Wannis! You think we also should "forgive" Hitler? How about OJ? Or Charles Manson? We should ignore Anthony now that a stupid jury has enabled her to be set loose to create more havoc. And you should have your professional license removed. (I'm also a licensed psychotherapist.)

    July 17, 2011 at 3:09 am |
    • ELEANO

      DUDE IF YOU DO NOT LIKE THE LAWS OF MY COUNTRY MOVE TO IRAN

      July 17, 2011 at 3:24 am |
    • Youarecrazy

      I believe the psycho part....therapist....I believe (and hope not)

      July 17, 2011 at 3:27 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.