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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. johnson

    That woman is a cold hearted killer and a liar , she did the devils work and ws rewarded by satan for her deed. This is another attack on the good this country still has as well as the decency. God will have the last judgement as far as the killing of her child, who throws a beautiful child on the side of the road like a bag of garbage but the devil/

    July 17, 2011 at 11:19 am |
    • JAK9295

      Leave your magical crazy talk in church. None of us want to hear about your delusions and you sound stupid.

      July 17, 2011 at 11:39 am |
  2. Kellie in Fort Worth

    As an Atheist, the religious context behind forgiveness is not my motivation, but I have found that forgiveness frees up a LOT of room in your head. Whether you believe in God, the hereafter, Karma, "what goes around comes around", or any other sort of cosmic balance, then you know that Casey Anthony is going to get her due, no matter what that is. Forgiveness is not about her, it's about us and how much rent-free space we allow her to consume in our thoughts. Hatred, anger, bitterness, disappointment – these are all motivators – but so are forgiveness, grace, peace, and acceptance.

    July 17, 2011 at 11:19 am |
    • phthia

      Let's just change that word "forgiveness" right? I mean seriously.....it is full of religious sentiment don't you think atheist? Or do you still have an inkling that there is a god?

      July 17, 2011 at 11:25 am |
  3. james

    Also all this Jesus would want this or that. Well the Bible says judge not lest ye be judged. So are all those screaming protestors going to hell for their judgement?

    July 17, 2011 at 11:18 am |
  4. Maryland, USA

    Withholding forgiveness isn't about doing what's useful. It's about doing what's appropriate.

    July 17, 2011 at 11:16 am |
    • wilbur

      6 children a day get beaten to death in America. Google it...2000 per year. Nancy Grace got very much richer. Casey is now a millionaire. How perverse is that? It is actually worse than beating a child to death. Children take about 9 months to make. Our civiliation took 10,000 years and Nancy Grace is doing all possible to end it

      July 17, 2011 at 11:18 am |
  5. james

    I stopped watching the coverage of the Casey Anthony trial because are hundreds of problems in this country that need to be addressed.If Mitchell and Grace would spend as much time and energy on the debt problem as they are still doing on a case that they still keep beating that dog to death
    All they want is ratings.
    If they spent as much time and energy on the national debt, it would be solved.
    Those protesters are whackos

    July 17, 2011 at 11:15 am |
  6. Byron Jones

    It's over, folks. Forget her and get on with your lives.

    July 17, 2011 at 11:14 am |
  7. Joseph Gorka

    Casey Anthony is guilty of killing Caylee Anthony. The "jury of peers" system does NOT work if the jurors are ignorant, lazy or corrupted in any way. I can believe what I want to believe. That is my freedom and my right. Casey Anthony was proven to be guilty of "murder in the 1st degree " to me. The shedding of innocent blood will NOT go unpunished. That is God's Law, and it will stand.

    July 17, 2011 at 11:14 am |
  8. ginger

    Regardless of what people think the woman has done, which one of us hasn't received mercy and grace from God, time after time, regardless of the sin?

    Let Him deal with it.

    July 17, 2011 at 11:14 am |
    • phthia

      Really....you think that?

      July 17, 2011 at 11:18 am |
  9. Rex Lutherin

    Great way to attract new business, isn't this? I would expect this and not much else from a CNN Belief Blog contributor, as well as someone who caters to celebrities. Yourself and the Anthony family aside, the people who should Never be forgiven in this case are the jurors. After all, they had the chance to find Casey Anthony guilty of the disappearance and death of her child and they failed to do so. You don't need forensic evidence to say "YOU were the last person the child was seen with therefore YOU were fully responsible for her safety and well being. Seeing as the child is dead, YOU are responsible." The third charge was completely suited for that reality and obviously was never considered by a jury composed of spineless idiots. Wake up and think people, what the ruling in this case means is that any parent(s) can now directly or indirectly cause the death of their child and get away with it. All they have to do is lie through their teeth and not give any plausible explanation as to what happened. And for that, my sincere wish is that each and every juror in this case spend the rest of their life living with guilt in the shadow of the precedent they just set, never able to forgive THEMSELVES. Some may even commit suicide when they start to witness the implications of this outcome, some maybe even sooner. In the meantime, while everyone is busily preoccupied discussing million dollar interviews, book deals, and movie stars best suited for the tentative film production, where is Caylee in all of this? It would appear that the most innocent of victims in this sick crime is long forgotten and deemed not important. If there is ONE person who should be asked to forgive Casey Anthony in all of this, it's her daughter. However, that is impossible because she is dead. As for you, Mr. Wanis, you should be quite ashamed for having the gall trying to cash in on this fiasco.

    July 17, 2011 at 11:13 am |
  10. LAborn

    I think this author is expecting "forgiveness" from the public in short order, and we are still stinging from the utter injustice of this trial and outcome. Albert Einstein said: “The world is a dangerous place. Not because of the people who are evil; but because of the people who don't do anything about it.” The author's example of the jewish girl who forgave "all nazis", I'm sure did not come immediately, but was a process. It's also important to stand in the gap, and not allow evil to flourish, and murderers to go unpunished.....

    July 17, 2011 at 11:11 am |
  11. Mark

    The court has to find her 100% guilty. But for me, 90% is enough.

    July 17, 2011 at 11:09 am |
  12. Maryann Martinez

    I completely agree. Everyone is filled with anger agents a mother(who in their opinion has killed her daughter) and has gotten away with it. We don't know what really happened and we also don't know where she stands with God but God does. And we need to forgive and look at others the way Jesus did.

    July 17, 2011 at 11:08 am |
    • phthia

      Well Jesus DIED for all the sins right?.....so at least she should be in prison for the rest of her life for her sin! Killing a child.....remember the "milstone" verse......ya Jesus would want her in prison at the very least!

      July 17, 2011 at 11:12 am |
  13. phthia

    I think the article "capitalizes" on what the so called therapist wanted.....notoriety! He is trying to make a name for himself by playing "devil's advocate"..... think about it......and a little baby was murdered by her mother....poor little thing.

    July 17, 2011 at 11:05 am |
    • SarahTonin

      Do you have a crystal ball or something? The best evidence, presented in a court of law didn't prove it, so tell us how do you know?

      July 17, 2011 at 11:13 am |
    • phthia

      Thank you for asking ! A missing child NEVER reported by a mother is evidence in itself! Included in my crystal ball is the reality that the MOTHER NEVER REPORTED HER MISSING the grandmother did! Ya...think about it and check your crystal ball I think it's cloudy.

      July 17, 2011 at 11:22 am |
    • Perryboy

      @Sarah Tonin You sound like a person that will kill and try to get away with it too.

      July 17, 2011 at 1:59 pm |
  14. Greg Eastman

    I couldn't give a sh$t what jesus would do, The Bi!ch deserves the worst the world can give her.

    July 17, 2011 at 11:03 am |
    • SarahTonin

      Good Greg and for being so opinionated and at the same time stupid you deserve a sharp stick in the eye!

      July 17, 2011 at 11:15 am |
  15. SarahTonin

    Forgive her? For what? If anyone believes that she's guilty, that's their problem. There's not enough evidence to support that conclusion, except in the warped minds of those who convicted her with media reports! So far we have a Casey Anthony look alike that has been assaulted by one of these wackos and another with her real name also being Casey Anthony being harassed. This is nothing but a damn sick bunch of opinionated people with nothing better to do than be stupid! Is she guilty .. maybe but where's the proof!

    July 17, 2011 at 11:01 am |
    • Steffiee

      Come on - for one thing, if she says (now) that it was an accident all along and her child drowned in the family pool on June 15, then, if anything, she would need forgiveness from the taxpayers of and the state of Florida for the tens of thousands of dollars spent on looking for the "missing " kid and then the hundreds of thousands spent trying the case, the city of Orlando for the thousands of dollars and man hours spent looking for a missing child, the citizens at the time who might have seen a bit less of a response to their own troubles since so many man hours and resources were being spent looking for the "missing" child, the group Texas Equusearch who came in and searched for days for the "missing" child using up their incredibly hard-won and precious donation dollars, the volunteers who gave up their time and energy and in some cases risked a swamp to help search, the families of TRUE missing children who were not helped by this group during the time they looked for Caylee Anthony when they could have been looking for their child, the friends who were all questioned and scrutinized and interviewed and deposed and had to sacrifice their own money to hire lawyers for themselves while they were being considered suspect in the child's disappearance, the family/friends/public who heard of the missing toddler and felt, in their hearts, some amount of panic, fear, worry and grief for her... Is that enough yet? A not guilty verdict on homicide does not mean that Casey Marie Anthony does not have a long, long list of individuals and organizations to apologize to and ask forgiveness of.

      July 17, 2011 at 11:14 am |
    • John

      Not enough evidence??? How bout not reporting her missing for 31 days? How bout the duct tape over her mouth? The same kind of unique duct tape that came from her parents home. How bout the evidence of decomposition in her trunk? How bout the fact she left her car in the parking lot until it got towed? How the all the lies about where Caylee was? So many lies there is not enough space on the post for. How bout the searches on the family computer for all the ways to kill someone? Including 84 visits to 'how to make cloroform?' All typed in while her mom was logged in on her computer at work. This is evidence 'beyond a reasonable doubt'. Not as the defense tried to give the jury, 'reason to doubt'. They are not the same. The 'reason to doubt' that the tried to throw out there was unreasonable, and there was no eveidence to support any of it. She is guilty, and the jury failed thier duty, mainly because of incompetence and too much C.S.I. I hope she gets swift justice. If she is dumb enough she will keep her ugly mug out there trying to reap profits from this (as I believe she will ), the anger will not subside, and there will be justice for little Caylee.

      July 17, 2011 at 11:25 am |
    • Perryboy

      We"re not going to forgive that...$#@^^ +*

      July 17, 2011 at 2:01 pm |
  16. baelknight

    In america, we say we hold most dear our Bill of Rights. Innocent Until Proven Guilty! In reality, we are a horde of hypocritical liars that would rather the country be run on mob justice and under the church (again the irony of this is baffling).

    July 17, 2011 at 10:56 am |
    • phthia

      It's been that way for 200 plus years!

      July 17, 2011 at 10:59 am |
    • StephensB

      and Nancy Grace is the leader of the lynch mob morons !!!

      July 17, 2011 at 11:00 am |
    • SarahTonin

      Sure Nancy Grace, the DA that had a murder conviction and a drug conviction overturned because she manipulated evidence and testimony. After two formal warnings from the Georgia Supreme Court she was run out of the DA's office and then offer a spot with CNN, where she remains a plague on the legal system.

      July 17, 2011 at 11:04 am |
    • LAborn

      It's not a lynch mob, it's that many (most?) see she escaped justice because of the twisted nature of the modern judicial system, which does not care about guilt or innocence, but only in cleverness and cunning of attorneys and the false stories that can be spun and sold.

      July 17, 2011 at 11:06 am |
  17. Mike

    Only a Christian or a Muslim would send death threats......typical hypocrisy

    July 17, 2011 at 10:55 am |
    • phthia

      Huh that was random?

      July 17, 2011 at 10:59 am |
    • camqueen

      You are out of line sir! I am a christian and I do not hate nor have I threatened her. That IS NOT what a true christian stands for. Please learn about religion. Religion is not truly evil – only the person behind it. I trust that God will judge her if she is truly guilty.

      July 17, 2011 at 11:01 am |
    • mark

      Not Christian or a Muslim but I wouldnt mind seeing her dead.

      July 17, 2011 at 11:04 am |
    • Cmax

      Yikes! Mike, never, I repeat never do a post when you are drunk or stoned again. It just makes you look so unbelievably stupid and bigoted.

      July 17, 2011 at 11:04 am |
    • Robert

      What bothers me the most is the attention that everyone here brings to this case are the same people who will buy Casey's book!

      July 17, 2011 at 11:19 am |
  18. Reality

    Forgive? Maybe. Forget? Never!!!

    July 17, 2011 at 10:54 am |
    • SarahTonin

      Real intelligent comment!

      July 17, 2011 at 11:06 am |
    • Perryboy

      @Sarah Tonin I think you're the STUPID ONE.

      July 17, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
  19. Fast Fred

    What people need to do is forgive themselves for judging others. Walk in their shoes.

    July 17, 2011 at 10:53 am |
    • Mama Seeta

      Correct me if I'm wrong–But wasn't it anger & rage that killed Caylee?

      July 17, 2011 at 10:59 am |
    • Cmax

      I agree we should do a lot less judging in our society and focus on getting our own houses in order. However, a jury is supposed to judge and they apparently did not feel comfortable with that. If they had done their job the way it was intended to be done, then this sociopath would not be walking free. When they talk about not knowing how Caylee died, all I can think of is the Scott Peterson case. He was convicted by his behavior after the fact. We have no information as to how his wife Lacey and unborn child Conner were killed or where or when - only speculation. But he is sitting where he (and Casey) belongs. In jail forever. The analogy some have given to a rainstorm is apt. You may not know what time the rain begain or how long it lasted, etc. But when you wak up in the morning and see raindrops on your car and the window panes then you can be darn well certain that it DID rain. Unfortunately we don't know exactly when Caylee Marie died or exactly how, but we know that her mother was the last one seen with her and the combination of Casey's bizarre behavior and the forensics that came in to play afterwards are almost as convincing as if we had a videotape of it all. As George said, "one plus one equals two."

      July 17, 2011 at 11:17 am |
  20. Steffiee

    I think there is an important difference between "forgiveness" and "acceptance" that should be noted. If it's insane to keep doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome, then blindly raging against a done deal IS crazy and it would be much healthier to accept the verdict and move on. However, and most especially in this case, I take great exception to the inherent command in "forgiveness" to renounce anger and/or absolve from payment of a debt. It is truly a sense of righteous (not to be confused with self-righteous) anger that has fueled many advances in the human condition. It is our American and human sense of the rightness of fairness, the rightness of justice, that leads others to admiration of the U.S. as the land of the free and the home of the brave. People do not just get sad about something that needs to be changed, they get angry - and do something to make change happen. Anger is an important motivator and a natural human reaction and I am speaking of appropriate anger and appropriate behavior fueled by anger - I am not speaking of raging senselessness or vindictive revenge. I absolutely do not have to forgive Casey Anthony anything to sort of cleanse myself of anger – I absolutely reject that. Parents who got angry about church bombings during the era of integration were motivated to teach their children about the importance of civil rights and respect and the wrongness of hate-filled violence and destructive behavior. People angry about the conditions of child workers did something to bring about reform that ended child labor in this country. People angry about lack of education for children or equal rights for women have been motivated to do something to improve life for millions of others. I could go on and on and I could pick more conservative or neutral examples, but still – the point is the same. Anger motivates.

    July 17, 2011 at 10:52 am |
    • John

      Well said. Forgiveness always seems like a betrayal of who you are–what principles you stand for. Acceptance is a civil way of dealing and 'accepting' an imperfect world.

      July 17, 2011 at 11:03 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.