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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. Jeanie

    I also find your use of the mild phrase, "commit a wrongdoing' to be way off. Murder of a toddler is not a simple 'wrongdoing' I would use 'wrongdoing' when speaking of stealing, having an affair, things like that. Murder is far more horrific than simple 'wrongdoing' and cold-blooded, deliberate murder of one's own child is horrific squared.

    July 17, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
  2. jilly

    I was just babysitting my parent's dog and don't have cable so I turned it on CNN for a few. What a joke.....I could not find any NEWS besides this CAsey bs. Yea it is sad but I have to agree with the one protester, She was found not guilty, get over it. E news even has more variety. I do find it sad that Caylee is dead but humanity is disgusting and so are the people that are watching Casey every minute.

    July 17, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
  3. anapol

    How does one forgive a neglectful mother?

    July 17, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
    • JOANN

      THERE IS NO FORGIVENESS FOR HER

      IN THE END GOD IS THE JUDGE AND SHE WILL PAY.

      DIE IN HELL

      July 17, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
  4. Milke

    Let's forgive Charles Manson, Scott Peterson, The Son of Sam and the Unabomber

    July 17, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
  5. Jeanie

    To Patrick Wanis PHD; the next time I commit a wrong doing I will want forgiveness. Why? Because I am not a sociopath who doesn't care if they're forgiven, who doesn't care about anyone else but themselves. Sure. I'm a normal human being. Casey, however, is not. She is a full-blown sociopath. So far we have no way of treating sociopaths that is at all effective other than containing them. Maybe we will someday and I would be right behind the use of such a treatment. But we don't now and she is a mach 5 tornado, destroying all that she touches.

    July 17, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
    • Alex

      I think what people are trying to say is that this case created so many villans, victims, and there was no fact in evidence to support her defense fueling feelings a great disappointment for justice for the real loss of Caylee. Also, it is so obvious that the future steps of her defense team are not to treat and relocate her but to sell her story which will only be filled with more lies and unfounded allegations. I don't want her to profit in anyway. The private investors just a scheme to hide her income.

      July 17, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
  6. dina

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WZvq0n4t-Nk&w=640&h=360]

    July 17, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
  7. Guy

    Murders will not enter the Kingdom!

    July 17, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
  8. Bea Wood

    She knows what she did, she got away with it and where is the justice for Caylee??..You can forgive all you want too but I'm not...It would be a different story if she owned up to doing it, but she hasn't she has steadily lied through the whole ordeal from the very beginning...so no she doesn't deserve forgiveness, tell her to admit to what she did and then maybe people can begin to talk about forgiveness....

    July 17, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
    • Wzrd1

      She was found not guilty in a court of law. I respect our laws, traditions and const i tution too much to reject it by crying for revenge. She has done nothing to me, my community or state, so there is nothing to forgive.
      Were she to move to my community, there is no reason for me to associate with her. But, I'll raise arms to protect her rights as a citizen of this land, as I have defending this nation in the past.

      July 17, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
  9. Jeanie

    mom1994, whether a person is found Not Guilty, or guilty does not change whether they are, in fact guilty or not. Look at how many people are proven innocent and released from prison due to the efforts of people such as The Innocence Project. The same thing is true the other way around. There are many people who are found Not Guilty, but in fact, are guilty and they go on their merry way in our society. You're a mom, right? Well what do you say about child molesters who are found Not Guilty due to insufficient evidence and walk free? Indeed, what do you say about child molesters who are found guilty, serve their time and are released and move onto your block? Why would you be bothered? They served their time darn it! Let them live in peace. See. It doesn't work. You would feel protective of your children and feel scared and hostile towards the molester who had 'paid their debt to society' You would know that didn't mean they weren't a continued threat to children.

    Casey Anthony is a sociopath. She had ALL the signs. Look it up. She will not morn her daughter one bit and will move on, wrecking havoc in the lives of those misfortunate to cross her path. If she moved in near you, your children would be safe as I doubt she'd go out of her way to kill other people's children. After all, they are not in her way. So you could feel just fine. Only, would you have her babysit your children? Your grandchildren? How sure do you feel that she's all sweetness and light? How would you feel if she lived down the street from you and got pregnant and had another daughter. How safe would you feel that child was?

    July 17, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
  10. Darren

    she is guilty as sin

    July 17, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
    • Tracey

      Someone missed the point.

      July 17, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
  11. monicme

    Forgive killing a todler who had no means to defend herself and who should have been loved and protected by her mother? If we stop caring about murderers walking free and try to make ourselves feel saint by forgiving there will be no chance to make sure people who committed such horrible crimes don't go free to live their life as if nothing has happened.

    July 17, 2011 at 3:51 pm |
    • Wzrd1

      So, you reject the United States of America, her laws and const i tution? Then, depart this land forever. I'll personally pay for your one way ticket to the hills of Pakistan or Afghanistan, where you'll fit right in.

      July 17, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
    • BostonGreek

      Dude, Wzrd, You sound like an idiot. Stop replying to each person's reponse. Where is freedom of speech Mr. Patriot? Really, your moronic attempt to smother everyone's attempt to speak his/her mind and interject your "better" and "more American" opinion is annnnooooyyying!

      July 17, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
    • wendyincalif

      Casey's next child is who will be at the mercy of this woman. I hope he or she forgives us.

      July 17, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
  12. Becky Neustadt

    I need to correct one factual error. Casey did not report her child missing. She never did. Ever.
    Casey's mother, Cindy, reported Caylee missing. That is why it was only 31 days and not many many MANY more.
    Forgiveness can certainly be earned. But not handed out like takeout menus. As such, it would have no merit, no meaning. Forgiveness is big and it must certainly be earned.

    July 17, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
    • Wzrd1

      It is not my place to blame or forgive her, she did no crime against me or even the people of my state. As such, it is truly none of my business.
      She was tried by a court of law of her state, the verdict given by a jury of her peers. The verdict was not guilty of murder.
      That is sufficient, were she denied her rights as an American citizen, I would THEN object, as the crime would be against both her and this very nation, rejecting our system of justice and highest laws.
      As that has not happened, her rights respected and protected, she goes free and rightfully so. Indeed, I cannot make an informed decision regarding the case, as I was not sitting in the jury box during the trial. I only heard sound bits on the news, reports of partial proceedings and opinions of newscasters.
      This is not the Spanish Inquisition. This is not Salem, trying witches.
      This is the United States of America. A land and people of law.

      July 17, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
  13. stillupset

    Then lets also have forgiveness to all the men and women of color who have gone to prison on less evidence

    July 17, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
    • Wzrd1

      Were they convicted in a court of law, judged by a jury of their peers? If so, that is per the laws of this land.
      She was found not guilty by a jury of her peers in a court of law.

      July 17, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
  14. John

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aGSvqMBj-ig&w=640&h=360]
    m

    July 17, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
  15. Harry

    Anyone who props the christian god up as one of forgiveness, in my opinion is of the same mind that can justify Him letting these tragedies and the holocaust happen in the first place. It is my hope that horrors like this will not necessarily teach us all how to forgive but how terrible things can happen to good people, and there is not always a reason for it. It should show us, and make us all as human beings empathetic to the suffering of others, and hopefully prevent crimes like this from happening in the first place.

    July 17, 2011 at 3:44 pm |
  16. Majestic

    Move on, people. She was acquitted. If you have a problem with that, it should be with the USA judicial system, NOT the accused.

    July 17, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
  17. Jeanie

    I do not agree. I believe people can be forgiven when they 'repent' which means see their actions and how destructive they were and not only feel guilt and desire to not do those things but actually put their actions behind the feeling of wanting to be absolved (as some individuals do who make it a mission to travel around speaking about what happened and trying to affect a change of awareness in others when their actions caused deaths due to their own drunk driving) But people without a sense of guilt (responsibility) for what they've done and who will go right back out there and continue to do damage aren't forgivable...at least not by anyone other than the actual people they hurt..as in that woman from the above article. She can forgive them FOR HERSELF, but not for anyone else. Therefore, the only person who could forgive Casey is Caylee, who is dead. WE, on the other hand, have no right to forgive her for what she did to this little girl. What arrogance that is! All we can do is UNTIE ourselves from being emotionally jerked around by what she did. You may call that forgiveness. I say it is not and that semantics matter. We have no power in the situation so all we can do is acknowledge it is beyond us and release it. NOT forgive.

    In this day and age humans know about all sorts of wrong doings around the world. We know about natural disasters all of which we can do very little about. We can do some. But it is little. We have to be able to do the little we can and go forward with our lives, living them richly, fully and with joy, even though we know awful things are happening to millions of people, millions of animals both wild and domestic and to our very planet. We do what we can and then have to release it, knowing we do not have the power to change everything. Some people have it in them to make their life entirely into a thing that helps in one of the countless areas help is needed. Maybe more people could do that than actually do, but even those people can help only a fraction of those affected by whatever it is they are impassioned about; human trafficking, child brides, hunger, animal abuse etc, etc, etc. So even those people have to do the bit they can and go forward in their lives of giving essential help knowing their are even more people/animals/the planet that they cannot reach, do not have the resources to help.

    This does not mean they don't do what they can. But it does mean they have to be able to live with knowing there are many more out there they will never help than the total they end up having helped in their lifetime. They have to be able to hold this awareness and go forward in a fulfilling life..and have joy at the same time.

    THIS ability to release the wrongs we cannot fix and go forward is what I'm talking about needs to be done. But that isn't the same thing as forgiveness. It is untying oneself from being dragged down by the unjust situation, the evil in another person, knowing it is beyond ourselves to 'make it right' and let them go on their destruction way knowing it is out of our hands but our own life is in our hands and choose to do good and to live life richly and with joy.

    July 17, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
  18. mom1994

    IT IS TIME WE STOPPED BLAMING CASEY! OUR JUDICAL SYSTEM FOUND HER NOT GUILTY.
    IF YOU HAVE A PROBLEM WITH THE VERDICT BLAME THE JUDICAL SYSTEM.
    YOU "ALL" THE MEDIA HAD CALLED HER GUILTY BEFORE THE TRIAL. WHAT HAPPENED TO "INOCCENT UNTIL PROVEN QUILTY"? SHE WAS FOUND INNOCENT LEAVE HER ALONE.

    July 17, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
    • Nick

      She was found "not guilty" not "innocent." There is a difference

      July 17, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
  19. Ted Oldham

    The way she laughed and smiled when she knew she got away with it is what is angering most people.The way she partied and lied and tried to live the beautiful life as her daughter lay rotting in a swamp was rather unfeeling of her and the way she accused her parents and her brother of all these different atrocities against her was just plain evil.She will CONTINUE to act this way with no remorse whatsoever and you are asking people to just let it go? Sorry.I am not personally effected by that,but I will be as forgiving to her as she was to her daughter to was in her way of living "The beautiful life" You forgive her.NOT ME!

    July 17, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
  20. Hemyola

    If we take upon ourselves the job of being kind and loving, we will raise human
    beings who are emotionally competent; we won't have stories like Casey's if we practice forgiveness.
    For the many here who say, "It is not up to us to forgive:" Well, then it is not up to us to avenge either.
    Since you are not Caylee, you cannot forgive nor accuse.

    Forgiveness is for our own sake and is not conditional on what the other person is doing, repenting, apologizing or not.
    But, it is up to each of us to bring peace inside. You can cultivate love and forgiveness inside of you for your own sake. When you do, you have inner peace and you become a kinder person.

    I have nothing to forgive Casey about because I never accused her. I cannot know the path of another person.I can only have compassion for those whose path is so painful. Forgive so you have peace. Or, realize that forgiving becomes a non issue when you don't assign yourself the job to judge and accuse in the first place. This is the way to peace and to healthy childrearing.

    July 17, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
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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.