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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. Banderman

    Beauty is only skin deep; ugly goes all the way to the bone. Anthony underscores this sentiment.

    July 17, 2011 at 9:23 am |
    • JonDie

      Almost every comment on this board, including yours, underscores this sentiment.

      July 17, 2011 at 9:24 am |
  2. david79

    The author of this article is twisting the meaning of what Jesus taught. Jesus did indeed teach individuals to forgive for wrongs done against THEM, not to turn a blind eye to crimes committed against other people. The God-ordained role of government is to promote order and justice, part of which includes making and enforcing just laws. Many people simply feel justice was NOT done in this case. Trying to use the ruse of "forgiveness" to ignore murder and pretend you are therefore more "righteous" is simply wrong.

    July 17, 2011 at 9:21 am |
    • Vietnameravet

      Good point and since when did Jesus ask us to forgive those that have neither admitted their crimes nor ask forgiveness for them? The use of the word "forgivrness" implies guilt.

      July 17, 2011 at 9:47 am |
  3. Krist

    I agree with what the author is saying about forgiveness, however, I feel a person should a. acknowledge their wrong doing. b. show reomorse and c. ask for forgiveness...all of which casey anthony has not.

    July 17, 2011 at 9:20 am |
  4. Don

    The only thing that's sad is the number of people with no life who stood outside of the jail to yell at nothing. All drama and sensationalism drummed up by the media.

    July 17, 2011 at 9:16 am |
  5. Maggie

    Remember Caylee in your hearts! not in their wallets! Boycott all that profit off her death.

    July 17, 2011 at 9:16 am |
  6. Rhonda

    The point the writer is making is that we forgive others for our own sakes. Carrying around unforgiveness can be harmful to ourselves. We never forgive and forget. Justice – but not revenge – is necessary if we want to live in an orderly and free society. We don't forgive only when the offender asks for it or earns it. We forgive when we need to be unburdened of the soul grinding weight of anger and bitterness. Justice and forgiveness are not opposites.

    July 17, 2011 at 9:16 am |
  7. r

    Yup, I never said a therapist can't be crazy.

    July 17, 2011 at 9:15 am |
  8. EMMITT

    Forgive? You need to see a therapist...this evil girl killed her daughter.....and got away with it.......our justice sytem is becoming a circus.....I hope she is badgered and suffers the rest of her live.......

    July 17, 2011 at 9:14 am |
  9. Willa

    When we forgive someone, it doesn't mean they're innocent. Quite the contrary....forgiveness can only happen in response to a bad action, otherwise it would be moot. Only those who do bad things are eligible for forgiveness, even when they appear not to have remorse. All of us have the power to use forgiveness but it is still a choice. Having said that, the ability to bestow forgiveness elevates us as human beings because forgiveness is the ultimate act of generosity.

    July 17, 2011 at 9:13 am |
  10. fronco 123

    This is one sick therapist that knows nothing about people, only an opinion about himself and not in a professional.

    July 17, 2011 at 9:13 am |
  11. Maggie

    I will forgive her when she tells the truth about what happened to Caylee and not before than!

    July 17, 2011 at 9:12 am |
  12. bookgirl

    Confess, Casey. Then we will see about forgiveness.

    July 17, 2011 at 9:11 am |
  13. estelle79

    Forgiveness is about the forgiver, not the forgivee. Check out the link.

    July 17, 2011 at 9:11 am |
  14. Cathy

    OK she's out of jail now can we talk about something else. Everybody is feeding into the frenzy of the trial. Find something better to talk about. How about debt ceiling and all the vets who may loose housing and food if the President doesn't agree with the bill!

    July 17, 2011 at 9:09 am |
  15. yabbut

    "Forgive & forget" isn't a bad concept. However, my forgiveness is irrelevant since I'm not the victim and also because I believe she's probably guilty. As far as forgetting, she's not worth remembering. I do see the possibility of being entertained by karma eventually, however.

    July 17, 2011 at 9:08 am |
  16. JusticeDelayed

    Why can't juries convict pretty, young white women or celebrities of any horrific crime???
    Is it that we believe that they're too good to commit a horrific crime??
    Examples:
    1 O.J. Simpson
    2 Robert Blake
    3 Casey Anthony

    What's going on here??? We can't be that superficial as a nation.
    ......or maybe we are. Makes me sick to think about it.
    I'm going to hurl.

    July 17, 2011 at 9:06 am |
  17. mark273

    Why should I forgive her? She hasn't done anything to me. Its not my place to forgive her.

    July 17, 2011 at 9:05 am |
  18. sneakypete

    The criminal justice system in America is a commercial enterprise, you get as much justice as you can afford to purchase, if with the help of government money, you can purchase enouph justice you get away with murder.

    July 17, 2011 at 9:03 am |
  19. Two Witnesses

    THis guy is an idiot. Please tell me why I should read 30 bleeding heart blathering paragraphs lecturing me on the insanity of forgiving a murderer?

    July 17, 2011 at 9:02 am |
  20. Lee

    Check out the link that the author gives to The Forgiveness Project. It is better reading for today than all of the political and judicial news.

    July 17, 2011 at 9:02 am |
    • Bannister

      Yes, forgiveness is good. But I find certain aspects of The Forgiveness Project to be disgusting.

      Back in 1993, a beautiful young American girl named Amy Beihl was volunteering in South Africa trying to help local Africans lead a better life. Like many idealistic young people, she naively believed everything the mainstream media had told her about South Africa, the white oppression of blacks, the benevolence of Nelson Mandela etc.

      As she was driving in her car one day, a black mob attacked her car yelling racial epithets and smashing her windows with stones. They dragged her from the car and brutally stoned her to death while she begged for her life. All four of her killers were caught red-handed. But what does the benevolent Nelson Mandela do? HE PARDONS ALL OF THEM AND FREES THEM. How's that for "justice"?

      Worse still, the parents of Amy Beihl are equally liberal and naive. Not only did they forgive the 4 men for murdering their daughter – they took them out to dinner! And shook their hands and posed with them for pictures! On the fount web-page of The Forgiveness Project is a picture of Linda Beihl standing and smiling with her daughter's African killers!

      I'm sorry, but that is insane. Yes, I DO believe in forgiveness. And I do think that the families of crime victims should "let go" and "move on." But this kind of psychological capitulation to brutal murderers is unhealthy. It sends the wrong message to those who use violence (don't worry, you will be forgiven! And maybe even become a celebrity!) and frankly, I think it dishonors the victim's memory.

      July 17, 2011 at 9:55 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.