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. Kathy from No. VA

    Doesn't someone need to ask for forgiveness to be forgiven??

    July 17, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
    • Don Quixie

      No Kathy. Jesus forgave even when they were not repentant. You are to forgive your brother or sister 70 x 7/

      July 17, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
    • Neal

      Repentance it usually refers to confession to God, ceasing sin against God.

      July 17, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
    • Scott

      If you've accepted Jesus as your Savior, then you have to ask for repentance because you're a sinner and do this every day. As for Casey, that is her responsibility not yours but you can pray for her also. But being a believer does not negate asking for DAILY repentance; you cannot accept Jesus as Christ and live on every day without prayer and self-improvement. It's a continual process.

      July 17, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
    • florence

      yup i would think so

      July 17, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
    • Atheist2

      Sorry Scott. You have a really elaborate idea here.

      Actually, there's no personal god providing forgiveness. Living humans may forgive. But in this situation, I think Casey is entirely dead inside, and forgiveness would have no effect whatsoever.

      July 17, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
    • frank

      Lol people don't improve, they just run out of the energy or opportunity to do ill, and lose the fortitude to deal with negative consequences. They don't ever "turn good", they simply get old. Of course, Christianity can help a lot in this eunuchization process.

      July 17, 2011 at 6:12 pm |
  2. Joseph

    I would never forgive her she has committed the most evil act in the world.To take away an innocent little child just so she could go out and party every night.Now she wants to have more children.DO NOT LET THAT HAPPEN.A judge should order her to have her tubes tied.If that woman does have more children they should be taken away from her right after birth never should she be able to see them.As of forgiveness only the Big Man upstairs can do that.

    July 17, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
  3. Kayla

    My take is that if she would to be put to death there would be justice.And also other childern would feel safe they must be scared seeing this happen in the world nowadays.However it does not bring sweet Caylee back.Rest in peace sweet little angel.

    July 17, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
    • Atheist2

      What is "justice", Kayla? Only in the US and Iran are such feelings for the death penalty so alive.

      July 17, 2011 at 6:27 pm |
  4. Andi

    I am not a christian, I don't believe in God so don't ask me to find it in my heart to forgive! I am a Buddhist and so I'm not feeling what others are feeling! I'm not a mean person but to forgive Casey? I can't do. Maybe if she reported her child missing on the day she supposedly drowned and not waited 31 days or maybe if she wasn't so arrogant sitting in court throwing her family under a mac truck or not lied to the police, I would maybe have forgiven her. I feel that the Prosecution did a helluva job but overcharged. The jury did what they had to do with the proof they had to work with but the jury's decision certainly doesn't mean that she's INNOCENT because she's NOT.

    July 17, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
    • Atheist2

      Good points, Andi. Forgiveness by a few people or somebody's god will have no effect on Casey.

      July 17, 2011 at 6:26 pm |
  5. Jeff

    I know what’s going on here. People are worried that somebody is going to attack Casey and the media is trying to restrain the desire for someone to do that. All this soul searching about forgiveness is really moot because we’re talking about a girl who doesn’t care about being forgiven, only saving herself. If she was truly innocent, did she or her family try to make some honest attempt to continue looking for the REAL killer? No. Was Casey or her family honest with the police when they were questioned about the disappearance of Casey’s daughter? No. Did Casey run to the police the minute she knew her daughter was missing? No. So a truth remains unheard by all.
    I always believed that if a person wants forgiveness from others, they have to own up to what they did and really be sorry for it and be willing to take any punishment. Casey hasn’t done any of that and therefore the rest of us are under no obligation to forgive her.

    July 17, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
    • florence

      it is so good to hear coommon sense from people like you...

      July 17, 2011 at 5:27 pm |
    • Christine S

      It is not up to us to forgive or not forgive her. She did not tresspass against US. She killed a little girl. It is up to Caylee and God to fortive her, not us... we have no right to forgive her anything. However, as a society, we have the obligation to ensure justice is served, which it was not in this case.

      July 17, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
  6. MahaYoga Devi Dasi

    God loves Casey too. Perhaps he wants to give her another chance to live an honest life. Hare Krishna

    July 17, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
  7. lorraine

    forgive casey anthony??? she has never admitted her guilt...has she?. all she wanted to do was get off. how do you forgive someone who isn't asking for forgiveness. no justice has been served on her part except the 3 lousy years she's done. and that's not justice for a crime i have no doubt she committed.

    July 17, 2011 at 5:21 pm |
    • Tom

      I'll be frank Dr. Wanis, you are a blithering idiot. Flowery words and apples to oranges comparisons from you will only distract people with the IQ of the average Florida juror. Casey is not contrite, and justice has not been served. My hope is that with the help of God, justice will be. There is time for every purpose under heaven, but it is not time for forgiveness. Real justice is for Casey to explain to Caylee why partying and her boyfriend were more important than her little life. I think Caylee will have a better chance of hearing Casey's explanation in the beyond if she screams it up from Hell. The sooner the better. And for the record, killing Nazis is righteous!

      July 17, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
  8. florence

    I know it is right to forgive and I don't have a problem with that but I have a huge problem with people who are not sorry and who seem to get great pleasure in doing it and getting people to help them...Christians are supposed to forgive but they are also supposed to do what is right and not support evil... Why confuse forgiveness with approval? It is okay to be upset over evil if not we have become robots who out of emotion allow wrong to happen and give your seal of approval on it..

    July 17, 2011 at 5:21 pm |
  9. Lara

    Mr. PhD – even you, sir know that the jury did not find her innocent – they found her not guilty.

    A big difference there, sir – as the jurors suggested all the prosecution did "wrong" was not prove their case in regard to a conviction.

    Forgiveness is not societies, sir. As there is still a whole lot of LIES that suggest Ms. Anthony could very really be her daughter's killer. Torturer. Monstrous worst enemy.

    There is a whole lot we don't know that only Casey and Caylee Anthony do know. And how convenient is it for harm intending neglectful mothers who do not report their childre as being missing – that the only other witness to it all is stone cold dead.

    July 17, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
  10. Marcy

    Eva read a confession of guilt . We have no confession of guilt. We have a verdict based on a trial that was a farce.
    Where a defense team presented lies and a justice system scantioned them. No I do not think Casey Anthony should be forgiven. She should however not be subjected to violence or harrasement. As responding to violence with more violence only feeds society ills. Forgiveness for Casey Anthony is akin to embracing lying and horribly unfair to Caylees memory.
    Tolerance yes, forgiveness no.

    July 17, 2011 at 5:15 pm |
    • Rachel

      Acceptance is maybe a better word.

      July 17, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
    • florence

      that is so true

      July 17, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
  11. John Taylor

    This phenomenon that the jury gets it wrong in every instance where the popular current favors guilt is of course nothing new, and in fact, people of this character have presided as judge, jury and executioner for every lynching or summary execution throughout the history of mankind.

    "I have seen the" State's "bill of rights violated in every instance where it has been opposed to a popular current." (James Madison to Thomas Jefferson, 17 October 1788), and we still see this happen now and then.

    There are other justice systems that we could adopt where leaders follow the popular current in deciding the guilt and fate of the accused. If we were to adopt such a system then the verdict would never oppose the popular current. We can find a good model for this is Rome, and a well known example of how well it appeases the crowd can be found in "all gospel accounts, Pilate is reluctant to condemn Jesus, but is eventually forced to give in when the crowd becomes unruly..." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pontius_Pilate)

    Certainly Casey Anthony is not Jesus, but when under such a system of justice someone like Jesus can be executed for really nothing at all just because this is what the crowd wants, then how many innocent will we sacrifice to the popular current because an impartial jury of the accused's peers simply cannot be trusted to reach a verdict in all cases whatsoever that does not oppose public opinion.

    July 17, 2011 at 5:13 pm |
  12. Phyllis Brown

    If every one looks at the cars when pulling into the Plane ,you will see the car that casey was in pull over close to the wing and 2 people jumped out and ran to the plane, (one had on a pink top like the one Casey was wearing)while the white car went around it pulled in and then the Black car pull up and they unloaded the bags and put them in the plane. I know I was not seeing things,that was Casey and her lawyer.I don't know how they missed that,but she left on that Plane with her Lawyer..

    July 17, 2011 at 5:13 pm |
  13. nikki

    people need to leave it a lone. Let her live her life, and let her go. Stop being mad, you can not bring the little girl back so forget it. If you have no controll over it, then why let it bother you? Anger and threatening someone is not going to get you anywhere other then a jail bed and free food. I would not waste my breath on behavior like that. for get it,.

    July 17, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
    • Rachel

      It is an natural and human deisre to seek justice. Most people feel that it is a lack of justice and a poor decision. It is our system for better or worse, but there is still that natural desire we all feel for justice. That is the only reason, for example, that nazis are still hunted. It is a matter of justice and principle. It is not ok to get away with murder and if the court system can not convict you, then society will.

      July 17, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
    • Shelly

      i think you're a such stupid person I never heard. Casey desire in jail. i suggest people should boycott her not to buying her books.

      July 17, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
    • Atheist2

      Nikki, you're so right. In the US there are about 200 mothers who kill every year, unnoticed. Somehow the media sparked this case into existence deliberately knowing that it takes no effort at all to hate in unison.

      July 17, 2011 at 6:22 pm |
  14. Rachel

    I think Christians have a weird idea about forgiveness. If a person comes to you and says I have wronged you, please forgvie me, you should really try to forgive that person. However, if no one asks for forgiveness, there is no forgiveness to be granted. But, those feelings Christians talk about in terms of forgiveness I think are putting it the wrong way. You can process it, deal with it, come to terms with it, channel negative energy for good works like passing legislation etc. You can be at peace, not seek venegance but, forgiveness is another thing. Casey has not asked anyone's forgiveness. Who are we to forgive her??? How is that our right to do so? Forgiveness is between herself, her family and God.

    I do NOT forgive the Nazis for murdering members of my extended family. If he were to ask my forgiveness for murdering my family members then maybe I could. If a Nazi would come to be and ask forgiveness on the part of the Jewish people, I can not do that. It is not my right to forgive wrongs that were done to someone else. I do not represent the Jewish people. I am just one person. I do not live with hate. I am at peace. I do not believe in vengeance. But I don't forgive them.

    July 17, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
    • Bazoing

      Neither the Nazi monsters nor the predators which infest not only churches (and synagogues) are true Christians (nor true Jews for that matter) they are there to confuse, dominate and cheat good hearted people. So many of them become ministers that they create a lot of philosophical confusion. The stuff that is pouring into these comments totally illustrates the madness that passes for Christianity. God is not mindless! God forgives people who repent and truly change their ways. You cannot just go out and start trusting a pernicious liar (mind you I do not accuse her of murder) because she has suffered a little creating a difficult situation for herself and everyone trying to find that sweet child.

      July 17, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
  15. Jim

    It is not our position to judge another person. She will have her day when she meets with Jesus and then the real truth will come out. We are only human, but HE knows all and it is HIS decision that matters for eternity. I am praying for her everyday that she will put this all behind her and move on with her life. She will never ever forget the death of her daughter, but she must move on and pray for forgiveness if she did have anything to do with her daughter's death and HE will be the ultimate judge as to where she spends eternity, hopefully with Caylee. May GOD continue to bless both of them.

    July 17, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
    • Bubba

      You are a true Christian.

      July 17, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
    • Atheist2

      Jim, you're living a real fairy tale.

      July 17, 2011 at 6:19 pm |
  16. RachelM

    @ Patrick Wanis :
    Nothing will bring Caylee back, so I'm not sure what you were thinking when you stated that anger, revenge and bitterness won't bring her back. The gross miscarriage of justice is what has angered people– that though there was no 'smoking gun' with Casey's fingerprints all over it, we all know that Casey Anthony is guilty of not taking proper care of her daughter, that she more thank likely did smother her daughter and dumped her body. If she didn't, then she's covering up for the real murderer, and that is just as heinous, since it was her daughter. Other people have been convicted with less or even no evidence whatsoever, and even some innocent people have been convicted when prosecution withheld exonerating evidence, and people are rightly outraged by these things. It makes people distrustful of the system. It makes people distrustful of others. And where does forgiveness fit into all this? When Jesus spoke of turning the other cheek, he was talking about insults, not murder, not deceit.
    But lets get to the forgiving of Casey Anthony–has Casey even shown any remorse for the death of her daughter? NO. From the moment her mother called the police regarding Caylee's disappearance, Casey has been all about herself. When her family was pleading with her to tell the truth, she was demanding that they imagine how she felt being in jail. She lied repeatedly to police, to her family, her friends, to the people who were searching for her daughter.
    Now, a little lie now and then, such as "no, that doesn't make you look fat" is fairly harmless and doesn't make you a bad person, but the lies that came out of Casey Anthony were not little lies, and they were harmful. No one will trust her again. Her reputation is now that of a lying murderess of children. Will the public ever forgive her? Most of us won't. This is not a situation that calls for forgiveness. It's not like she was only caught stealing money from her grandparents. And we won't ever forget, either. Is it stressful for people to harbor hateful feelings towards another? Yes, it is, but in this case especially, the public feels a lot of hate, not just towards Casey, but for what seems to be a broke justice system one that punishes good people for nothing and lets killers go free. But as for Casey, she, herself has not even asked for any forgiveness-she believes what she has done is OK, and those jurors told her it was OK too. And that is not OK with most of the public.

    July 17, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
  17. Bubba

    If she confessed and genuinely wanted forgiveness for what she did, then I believe she could be forgiven. Unfortunetly for her, she is pleasesd with what she has done and does not want forgiveness. So I don't see how this article can propose forgiveness to someone that does not even want it.

    July 17, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
    • Atheist2

      Agreed, Bubba. Casey is likely dead inside, and forgiveness has no meaning.

      July 17, 2011 at 6:17 pm |
  18. Stephanie

    Forgive her for getting away with, at the very least, manslaughter? I think not, Mr. Goody Two Shoes Holier Than Thou.

    July 17, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
  19. Marlene

    I found myself getting totally wrapped up in this case. I strongly believe that Casey should have been put in prison at least for major child neglect. I struggle sometimes w/forgiveness when someone wrongs me or others I see that cannot defend themselves, like little Caley. However, if I don't forgive others, God will not forgive me. I have been praying for Casey and her entire family. For their safety and their souls. God knows what happened, and if those involved don't repent and ask for forgiveness, they will all be judged in the end. I know Caley is with God, and it makes my heart warm inside. Little Caley's life was short. Her her impact on the Caley law, soon to be made into law, will save the lives of many children in the future. God used her in a mighty way !! Bless you all.

    July 17, 2011 at 4:59 pm |
    • Stephanie

      God allowed her to be killed.

      July 17, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
    • Atheist2

      Agreed, Stephanie. If Caylee is really up there with Jesus happily dodging balloons, then there's no real problem with murder.

      July 17, 2011 at 6:16 pm |
  20. Woe

    It is not for me to forgive her. However, I can be outraged at what we all know she did and I can certainly boycott any company or person that tries to make a dime off of the murder of her daughter. I am a firm believer that you reap what you sew and she will soon be reaping in one way or another.

    July 17, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
    • Atheist2

      Then boycott Nancy Grace, the person who has made the most to date.

      July 17, 2011 at 6:13 pm |
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