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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. Dave

    The reason Nazis can somewhat be given a pass is that groups often trump individuals. I bet most of us would've done heinous things if we were demanded to do so under a military regime. That's human adaptation, as terrible as it is.

    Anthony, on the other hand, was an individual acting without any pressure from any side. She is solely responsible for her actions. That moves her from "human" to "horrible person."

    Finally – as others have mentioned – forgiveness requires admission of guilt and penance. Neither of those are present here.

    I'm all for forgiveness philosophically, but practically speaking, if we abandon responsibility and penance, society falls apart.

    July 17, 2011 at 6:03 am |
    • DAN

      ...Nice.

      July 17, 2011 at 6:23 am |
  2. Peggy K

    I don't want to forgive her – I just want to forget that she exhists.

    July 17, 2011 at 5:59 am |
  3. artsfbb

    This is a total misunderstanding and misapplication of the religious and ethical idea of forgiveness, as it is generally taught in various religions. Many religious traditions teach forgiveness, but almost all teach that forgiveness is most fitting and complete when there's remorse and repentance on the part of the wrong-doer. Timing is also a factor, since forgiveness implies a change of heart toward the person who has done wrong. If we assume that this mother did murder her child, it is surely an abuse of the idea of forgiveness to argue that this is what is called for right now. At this stage, it would be a kind of cheap grace, and morally questionable.

    July 17, 2011 at 5:44 am |
  4. joey

    phd, good one

    July 17, 2011 at 5:24 am |
  5. mary

    I don't know what is up with people.. A week ago everyone was out for blood.. Tonight it's all this freaky wierd forgiveness stuff.. Great if you truly feel that way.. Lame if you don't..
    I still can't handle a mother tossing her baby in a dirty field to rot.. And partying while it's laying there..Being eaten by maggots and wild animals.. Sleeping in the house down the road, knowing her baby was laying there so close.
    So If it's a lack of being able to forget, that this "mother".. who may or may not have killed her baby.. Didn't treat her with tenderness or love in laying her baby to rest.. Who didn't feel compelled to protect her, even after death..
    Then it's some thing I can't understand and can not forget..If I see her on the street. I will cross to the other side..~!
    Because that is a person I do not want to be close to..

    July 17, 2011 at 5:23 am |
  6. mary

    How soon people forget she triple bagged her baby and put her in a field to rot..
    The trouble with society anymore is that no one stands up for what is right.. It's not the same as judging some one for being wrong...And people don't seem to understand that anymore..
    In not making a commitment to stand up for what is right and admonishing what is wrong..
    You are a huge part in making it easier for people to not do the right thing..
    Others having a bad opinion and expressing it.. Does a lot to deter bad behavior..
    As for killing her child? Well it seems she did.. But of course she wasn't found guilty in a court of law.. And like it or not.. She didn't do jail time for it..
    But they didn't prove she didn't do it either..

    July 17, 2011 at 5:09 am |
  7. Souknow

    She hasn't asked for forgiveness and she knows what she is doing every step of the way. A person who wants to be forgiven, must ask for it. As a Christian, you must then forgive as our Lord forgives. But if she does not confess and ask for forgiveness (as the Nazi guard did), then what is there to forgive? She heaps the coals of condemnation on herself. Now what we shouldn't do until she asks for forgiveness, is to seek vengeance. That is the Lord's. We must be tolerant and silent, for we are guilty and sinful too. "Shake the dust off your feet" with Casey and let her live her life. She is the one who must look in the mirror every day with what she knows. Maybe she will tell one day and say she is sorry. Then we can forgive.

    July 17, 2011 at 5:04 am |
  8. Sam

    Well, I like the message, and what the writer is trying to accomplish. And I like the bigger idea and how that's in the name of the greater good.

    But I don't think this is JUST about vengeance – I think people feel robbed of a certain sense that we live in a well-ordered society when justice isn't served via the legal system that's supposed to keep us collectively safe from harm.

    Like this went from just being a trial for justice for Caylee, to now also being about the rest of us wanting to be made whole for that loss of faith we have that there will be consequences in life for those who cause others harm?

    It's kind of scary to feel like somebody just got away with murder and they're free to go to the supermarket with the rest of us, etc.

    How do we prevent this from happening again?? That question hasn't really been answered ...

    July 17, 2011 at 4:49 am |
    • Alex in Bremerton, WA

      I think the proposed Caylee laws are a good example of focused action. Casey had her day(s) in court and 3 years in jail. She should not have to fear vigilante "justice" whipped up by the media! (Are you reading this Nancy Grace?)

      July 17, 2011 at 5:03 am |
    • Justice mostly happens

      Good way to look at it, but what we have to remember is that though the justice system performs its job for the most part without fail, sometimes things do fall through the cracks. In my opinion this is one of the instances where it did. We can't stop the world from turning just because of this, and it's hardly preventable. I'm sure there are numerous instances where someone was wronged or killed or whatever and they did not receive proper justice. That is the downside to our system.

      July 17, 2011 at 5:04 am |
  9. checkit out

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V2E3GWzFgyg

    July 17, 2011 at 4:38 am |
  10. P

    WE LOVE YOU CASEY!!

    July 17, 2011 at 4:37 am |
    • carl

      Amen to that!!

      July 17, 2011 at 5:06 am |
  11. Patiat

    Forgive her for what, exactly? For being a liar and a dopey young person? We've seen from the court case that we're not in a position to forgive her or not for first degree murder, since she was unsurprisingly found not guilty. Can we forgive the State of Florida for bringing such a head-scratchingly weak case before a jury and asking them to convict her of Murder 1?

    July 17, 2011 at 4:33 am |
    • yeasayer

      Forgiveness has to be sought before it can be granted. An apology contains three parts; an acknowledgment of the wrong that has been done, a plan to avoid repeating the offense, and a plan for reparations. None of these have been offered by Casey Anthony.

      July 17, 2011 at 4:58 am |
  12. kyle

    wow – to me, this article says this: "We here at CNN said she was guilty for X number of years. Now she was acquitted, but since we ruined her life, we have to publish something to make up for it. Despite the fact that mothers murder their children dozens of times per year, we chose this one to fixate on. Damn – I can't believe we lost. We better mitigate quickly before people blame us! Instead of an apology for shame, we will write that it's everyone else's fault for being ignorant. Blame it on the public – it's not like we spread the media in a convicting light! That wasn't us!"

    Can I get an "i'm sorry" from CNN? or at least an AMEN from my fellow news critic?

    July 17, 2011 at 4:32 am |
    • Mary

      Casey Anthony ruined her own life....not Nancy Grace or CNN...She may have be found not guilty, but most know only because of an inept jury is she free....

      July 17, 2011 at 5:11 am |
  13. Rachel Greenberg

    I think Christians have a rather weird take on the concept of forgiveness. If someone asks your forgiveness of a wrong they did to you, you should really try to forgive them. Your can't grant forgiveness on the part of someone else. if a Nazi came to me to ask forgiveness from the Jewish community, I can not grant forgiveness for something that was not done to me personally. I don't have that right. But, I think instead of thinking about this as forgiveness, think about it as dealing with it, emotionally processing it, channeling your energies in a positive way, etc. You don't have to be stuck, but you don't have to forgive. I do NOT forgive the Nazis for killing members of my family. But, I'm not filled with hate either. I am at peace and have dealt with it. I don't believe in turning the other cheek. I think that is a stupid idea. You seek justice combined with compassion.

    July 17, 2011 at 4:31 am |
  14. ForestSound

    Non-believers don't get it. People are angry because of injustice – unkept, dishonored justice. Of course Christians forgive everyone personally, but criminals must not be set free. Unconditional forgiveness based on the divine atonement is exclusive to Christianity. Elsewhere, vengeance has been always the most cherished virtue.

    July 17, 2011 at 4:30 am |
    • Rachel Greenberg

      Justice, not vengeance.

      July 17, 2011 at 4:34 am |
    • No

      Where does god play into this...? This is lunacy. If god had been there to begin with, the little girl would still be alive. So knock that off.

      July 17, 2011 at 5:07 am |
  15. yeasayer

    The forgiveness she needs is not mine to grant. She will have to forgive herself first, and she needs to acknowledge her offense in order to seek solace. Whether it was negligence, anger, or incompetence, she will have to face up to her failings and find a way to reconcile what happened to her child with the life she hopes to live.

    July 17, 2011 at 4:27 am |
    • Patiat

      The thing is, no one but she really knows just what she needs forgiveness for.

      July 17, 2011 at 4:34 am |
  16. Furunculus

    One opinion article saying forgive and forget. dozens of articles on the same site fanning the flames. mix messages much, CNN?

    July 17, 2011 at 4:27 am |
  17. _iNigel

    http://twitter.com/#!/_iNigel Follow me for really good tweets.

    July 17, 2011 at 4:27 am |
  18. Ed

    Only people that need to apologize is the media. They took a little girl's death and made it a giant spectacle.

    July 17, 2011 at 4:25 am |
  19. Lars J

    I care about that little child because the television showed me lots of pictures and videos of her, I live a meaningless and boring life so I really need to involve myself in cases like this. Like millions of Americans, I am very willing to watch many hundreds of advertisements put on my companies so I will buy their stuff in exchange for watching this story of this precious girl. I don't have many real things going on in my life, not stuff like this. I need this.

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

      Go shoot yourself.

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

      So you have to know someone to care what has happened to them? Ignorance really is bliss, huh?

      July 17, 2011 at 4:29 am |
    • Patiat

      Outstanding.

      July 17, 2011 at 4:37 am |
    • Everyman

      Beautiful statement Lars J....very well said! I'm just like most everyone else posting on this site....full of anger and completely incapable of recognizing who the article is talking to. Since I did no wrong, then I don't need to forgive. I can hold onto my righteous anger and sit in judgment of Casey Anthony and the media and the jury and the prosecution and the defense and anyone else I want to sit in judgment of. It's my right to judge!!! Since I'm not doing anything wrong by judging, then I don't need to forgive!!!

      July 17, 2011 at 4:56 am |
    • Deona Lindholm

      @Everyman It's not your right to judge at all. "Judge not, least ye be judged". May God have mercy on your soul.

      July 17, 2011 at 11:51 am |
  20. Amanda

    Ugh, not everyone believes in God, and Jesus is no reason to forgive someone. Casey Anthony has not even had the chance to prove that she is acceptable for forgiveness. And what if she isn't? Will she be able to kill again? No one knows. But, in my opinion she has gotten away with murder and will kill again. Thanks prosecutors.

    July 17, 2011 at 4:21 am |
    • Brandy

      The prosecution did fine. They had a wealth of evidence. If the jury had understood the definition of the word 'reasonable' and taken in all of the evidence as a whole, instead of being blinded by all of the defense's smoke screens, then Casey Anthony would have justly been convicted. That simple-minded jury is the reason she is free.

      July 17, 2011 at 4:33 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.