Is this a big deal?

So, the U.S. Senate just made an official apology for slavery.  How can we not lose great amounts of respect for a group of people (that’s us, by the way) who drag their feet so badly in regard to such an issue?  How are we not all ashamed?  Maybe I’m blowing this out of proportion and it’s just that official apologies and things like that aren’t really that big of a deal, but this is troubling to me and it reminds me of some other things that I’ve come across recently.

 This apology came 146 years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed.  Haven’t we known that slavery was horrifically wrong for a long, long time?  Other similar statements have also taken far too long to come.  Here are two examples:

 The Southern Baptist Convention split from the rest of the Baptists in 1845, essentially over the issue of slavery.  Then, 150 years later, the SBC issued a Resolution on Racial Reconciliation.  Didn’t they know a few years before 1995 that the impetus for their split from the other Baptists was profoundly wrong?

 The church that bears the name of Martin Luther has a similar issue.  The Lutheran’s namesake was one of history’s most virulent anti-Semites.  Yet, it took the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America until 49 years after the Holocaust (and around 450 years after Luther’s work) to denounce Luther’s anti-Semitism and separate themselves from it officially.  The European Lutheran Commission made a statement as late as 2004 regarding issues of anti-Semitism and noted that, although past declarations have urged member churches to re-evaluate and re-consider the teachings of Luther, not all had shared in their commitment and that it was still “an acute problem.”  What?  How is this sort of thing possible?  Such racism seems to have been renounced by society widely long before 1994.

 This is all troubling to me.  There is no way that such things are limited to the Southern Baptist or Lutherans either.  Neither are these things limited to Americans and Christians.  What is that causes such a phenomenon?  Is this just evidence of the power of cognitive dissonance and our inability to address fault in ourselves?  Maybe we need to have the atrocities we commit pressed more forcefully and consistently under our noses so we can’t help but smell their stench.

It seems to me that the US Senate not officially apologizing for slavery for nearly 150 years has given license to those who would suggest that it never was wrong.  The same goes for the other two examples, and any others like them.  How could we have given anyone the opportunity to teach kids that “not even our Federal government has come out to apologize for slavery, so it couldn’t have been all that bad?”

 What other things like this are there or have there been out there?  If you know of any, please list them here, so that at least a few more people can be made aware of our collective shortcomings.




Filed under Grant

35 responses to “Is this a big deal?

  1. Grant, you may find the book “Political Forgiveness” by Peter E Digeser to be interesting. I have the book. If you’d like to add it to your mountain of reading, let me know and I’ll lend it to you. Below is a synopsis of the book from Barnes & Noble.

    Synopsis of Political Forgiveness by P.E. Digeser:

    What does forgiveness mean when it appears in politics, and what is its relationship to other ideas in political philosophy? In Political Forgiveness, P. E. Digeser defends a conception of forgiveness against those who are skeptical of its desirability as a political idea. While much of the previous work on forgiveness reflects theological or psychological perspectives, Digeser offers a concept of political forgiveness that is secular and public rather than religious or personal. It centers on the capacity of victims and creditors to release transgressors and debtors from their moral and financial debts. “If justice is a matter of receiving one’s due,” he says, “then political forgiveness entails releasing one’s due.” Nevertheless, political forgiveness remains connected to justice in important ways.

    Exploring the limits and possibilities of political forgiveness, Digeser considers not only its relationship to justice, but also such issues as who has authority to forgive, the connection between forgiveness and reconciliation, the meaning and scope of group responsibility, the idea of pardoning as a form of political forgiveness, and whether there is an obligation to forgive.

    About the Author:
    P. E. Digeser is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the author of Our Politics, Our Selves? Liberalism, Identity, and Harm.

    To read actual excerpts, click the link below:

  2. blraatikka

    It appears, sadly, the issue is not as simple as it appears and should be. Official apologies and condemnations are quite common, as I understand it (I seem to recall several official apologies for the same thing, but I can’t remember what for).

    This particular apology is connected to whether it could/should give rise to demand for reparations. This article is quite illuminating on this and similar matters:

    Also, it should be noted that the House of Representatives apologized for slavery last year:

  3. Christopher

    Surprising to me that no one has brought up the Roman Church, which is probably the most notorious institution for failing to recognize their own fallibility.

    It wasn’t until 1992 (!!!!!) that Pope John Paul II FINALLY “forgave” the famous scientist who taught Copernican Heliocentrism – 359 years after he was condemned to house arrest, sick and dying.

    What’s worse was the backhanded apology from the Holy See: though the ecclesiastical Inquisition which had found Galileo guilty was ultimately wrong, they had “acted in good faith.”

  4. John

    Rome *did* act in good faith at the time. The papacy never directly went after Galileo. Pope Urban VIII was his friend who applauded his work until he (and the Inquisition) fell under the terrific pressure of the Aristotelian scholars. Even then, it took a forged document to convict Galileo–that it was a fake was not even discovered until around the turn of the 20th century. Moreover, during the 30-Years War the pressure to limit heresy was immense, not just for Catholics but also Protestants (we tend to forget that they were just as suspicious of Galileo as Catholics). Urban could not simply force the Dominicans, Jesuits, etc. to revise their theories of the galaxy; neither could he jettison their support in 1632–just two years after Richlieu’s decision to fund Protestant armies and one year after Gustavus Adolphus’ decisive victory at Breitenfeld over the Catholic League.

    Galileo’s house arrest was hardly imprisonment (in fact, Urban commuted his prison term), as evidenced by the number of works he produced in the last eight years of his life. He lived in luxurious suites (his and his friends), received visitors, and enjoyed sumptuous meals. Hell, he wasn’t even excommunicated, and Heliocentric theory itself was never officially condemned by the papacy. But is it so strange that Galielo, who was arguing against scientific consensus and *1500 years* of belief in Ptolemaic astronomy would be caught in such a political/religious/intellectual firestorm?

    I don’t know why Rome, the Lutheran church, or the US Senate must apologize for anything that happened before their fathers were born. There is a pathetic value (in a rhetorical sense) to making an apology: it makes us/them feel better. Apologies do not right any past injustices. Trying to alleviate the mistakes of the past with policy–that makes sense. But official apologies are nothing more than simpering attempts to please special-interests, placate opposition, and further political agendas (and despite my Catholicism, I’ll include John Paul’s apologies for Galileo, the Crusades, etc. as moments to equally ridicule). Flame on…

  5. czf

    John. It sounds like you find official apologies far more bathetic than pathetic. I think that pathos is indeed the very reason we issue such proclamations. Of course they are not going to make things right, or change the severity of what has taken place.

    I understand not feeling like one needs to apologize for the the actions of their race or ancestors or some such thing, like slavery. But many Americans, undoubtedly, are still affected by slavery. Whether I, as a white (ex)Christian American male, personally committed such acts is beside the point. Thus, it seems bathetic to me to consider that these apologies are personal and somehow conscious clearing. But it is very pathetic to make them on behalf of things bigger than ourselves.
    Does that make sense?

  6. Christopher

    John-do you really attempt to rationalize the historical wrong doings of the Catholic Church by mentioning how cushy Galileo’s life remained after the fact? Even after the tremendous pressure levied by the Aristotelian Scholars, and the forged document, does this somehow alleviate the Papacy of responsibility?

    The reason why apologies matter is because they are an acknowledgment of wrong-doing; and particularly, in regard to institutions with long and varied histories it is important that representative members of those institutions acknowledge from whence they came, good or bad, in any effort to further that institution – to give it legitimacy in present times. This couldn’t be more true in the case of the Roman Church. I am constantly amazed at the Vatican’s inability to come clean with its past, despite claiming to seek “veritas.”

    You are absolutely correct: an apology doesn’t repair the broken window after the baseball has gone through it. However, an apology married with corrective action is the first step to rectifying a negative situation. If offered genuinely, an apology is representative of contrition.

    The Holy See’s inability to publicly recant it’s undeniably incorrect assessment of Galileo’s teachings until 1992 reveals just how damaging pride can be to an institution when people can’t muster an apology. And in the minds of many people, the good work of the Roman Church in this world is ill-legitimized by such flagrant arrogance.

    An apology is an act of showing regret for some transgression. I don’t have to commit the transgression myself to have regret that slavery, the crusades, or the holocaust occurred. Each are ugly stains on our human history, and are tirelessly regrettable.

  7. Holly

    Christopher, true, one does not have to commit a transgression to regret that transgression, but one *does* have to commit it to be able to apologize for it. We cannot offer a genuine apology on behalf of someone else. We can only truly apologize for what we are responsible. In that regard, we can only apologize for the ill effects of slavery that we are still perpetuating today. It’s our responsibility to address those, and if we don’t, we are at fault; however, we are not at fault for slavery itself.

  8. Christopher

    Holly – while in the context of private citizenship your point has some merit, Grant’s initial argument has to do with institutions: the Lutheran Church, the SBC, and the US Senate.

    To use your analogy: yes, you are not personally responsible for slavery Holly (at least I assume you’re not!). However, if you were a Senator, you would then be a representative of the force which was institutionally responsible for slavery. And in this situation you’d have a choice to either renounce and rectify or stay silent under the misguided notion that you were not personally responsible. When one cloaks themselves in the vested authority of the institution, one must acknowledge the past of that group.

    My own Episcopal Church has been the denomination of the American Establishment for more than 300 years. Given its prominence among English colonialists, it’s no wonder that many Anglican churches in the east were constructed with slave labor. Some still contain their original slave balconies. And when I worship in one of those buildings, or when TEC endowment grows because of the sale of a 350 year old church, I AM benefiting from the transgressions of slavery. To this regard, the Presiding Bishop recently celebrated a Mass of Apology for the role the Episcopal Church played in neglecting human rights. The Most Rev. Katherine Jefferts Schori recognizes that she is the figurehead: she has the responsibility to move her institution forward.

    It’s too easy to sit back and say “Well I didn’t do it.” Aside from the short-sightedness in not seeing that everything in this world is connected, it’s a dis-compassionate and adolescent attitude.

  9. Holly

    So, in other words, if I’m a part of an institution that committed a transgression, I’m responsible and need to apologize, but if I’m not part of that institution, I’m not responsible? I prefer to say that I’m responsible for that which is within my power to change, regardless of my affiliation with a particular institution. Otherwise, to use your example of the Senate, what if I’m in the minority party, fighting to do the right thing, but my institution persists in doing the wrong thing? Am I responsible for that? What if I’m a Supreme Court justice, writing the dissenting opinion? Am I responsible for the Court’s decision?

  10. John

    czf: I appreciate your point. Apologies made on behalf of a group, to me, lack sincerity–a congressman pushes the “yes” button and he and the institution are absolved? I would only say that there are other ways to right past wrongs than apologizing.

    Christopher: “Acknowledging from whence one came,” admitting a fact, regretting the past, and working to right past wrongs–all of these are effective components of reconciliation, and all can be done in the absence of an apology. An apology has no practical role other than to make the sender and/or receiver feel better or to act as a means to another end (such as reparations).

    As for rationalization, yes, the historical context does rationalize the Galileo affair. I never said the church was alleviated of responsibility, only that it had nothing for which to apologize. In the 1600s, Rome’s attitude was coherent, representative of contemporary opinion, defensible, and rational. If you have evidence to the contrary please present it.

    The Catholic and Episcopal churches have done a great many works of charity in the world to make up for past sins (and yes, your church has many for which it has not apologized either). I would contend that actions speak louder than words.

  11. Christopher

    Holly – what I am saying is that there should never be reticence in our hearts to apologize for transgressions committed directly or indirectly. But I am more concerned by your statement: “I prefer to say that I’m responsible for that which is within my power to change, regardless of my affiliation with a particular institution.” By this logic, a murder need not apologize for their action since the dead cannot be returned to life.

    John – While you are correct that an apology is an act between two parties, you leave out another byproduct of that apology: the witness of its taking place by third parties. This is in many ways possibly more powerful than the reconciliation attempted through apology because it breaks down the perceived arrogance attributed to a transgressor not willing to admit fault. It displays culpability. This in turn increases understanding.

    But your argument that the Catholic Church has nothing for which to apologize in regard to Galileo (due to their adhering to the beliefs of the day) is tantamount to saying that the US government shouldn’t apologize for its role in slavery because back then we understood Negroes to only be 3/5 human. As if to say, “It’s just the way people though back then. No need to acknowledge that is was completely wrong.”

    And you are right that actions speak louder than words. An apology is only a beginning. Although you may be interested to hear that I don’t believe in reparations or affirmative action as reasonable responses to corporate transgressions such as slavery or the holocaust. These “solutions” merely generate new transgressions against a generation of people who were not directly responsible. Corporate apologies from institutions (as understandably insincere as many may find them) are designed to change the cultural understanding of a given situation, and to maintain the legitimacy of that organization over changes and time. If an apology is never issued, the culture may very well go on denying the culpability of an egregious action, or in the opposite case, may disregard the institution completely because it is so out of touch.

    I think another discursion is in my fingertips tangential to this topic: how institutions that have power to uphold are often those least willing to admit culpability (the Catholic Church, Presidential Administrations, etc.) Particularly in regard to the Holy See: if you claim to be God’s representative on earth, it’s no wonder you can’t really fully apologize for anything (as it would be contradictory to what God wanted). I am interested to hear your response to this.

  12. John

    Exactly–I don’t believe the US government should apologize for slavery. They *should* acknowledge that we now know that slavery is wrong; according to our current knowledge and morality we judge it to be a great evil; and in our laws we have/are feverishly trying to eliminate its ill effects because we have a responsibility to do so. They should even admit the past culpability of the government. But these are apologies, are they? We can acknowledge the failings of the past without apologizing for them, and that’s the basic point I’ve been trying to make. We can’t force our morals on the past–*they* did not believe slavery to be a great evil. We do, but to apologize on their behalf is to strip the dead of their voice and trivialize history.

    Perhaps third parties do find satisfaction in hearing the apologies between others. I would argue that this is a deception that does nothing to practically improve one’s condition. Feeling satisfied does not necessarily translate into social improvement. Mao made the Chinese scholars feel satisfied with his 1956 Hundred Flowers speech, encouraged them to express their opinions…and then executed them!

    That an apology “increases understanding” is also highly debatable–there is no way to measure this sort of effect. For example, has awareness and understanding aided modern race relations? You may say yes, but most of my students say no–and I teach at a black, urban university. And, the reverse of your point may be true as well: you yourself found Rome’s 1992 apology lacking: it didn’t go far enough and came too late for your taste. In that case, the gaffe only stirs the pot anew. The apology did not satisfy and only increased your suspicion of the institution.

    Therefore, I argue that the rationale behind this apology phenomenon is purely speculative and hopeful. Its effects presume that the apology is well-received and sufficient and hinge on people listening, receiving, and then acting in positive ways. There is no way to measure the effect of an apology when made on behalf of an institution, whereas between living people the effect can be tangibly observed.

    My problem with your final point is that you are approaching it backwards. You have already pronounced your position–that powerful institutions are less likely to admit culpability–and now seek to prove it. As a historian, I would argue that you should first examine evidence and let it lead you to an interpretation.

    In this case, I would argue that the evidence demonstrates that the Holy See has either admitted culpability and/or apologized (as I say above, these are two different things) for more of its history than any other institution on earth. It has readily admitted when things went horribly wrong and contrary to the gospel, e.g. Pope John XII dying in 964 while having sex with a prostitute. Adjustments were frequently made within canon law to make up for great mistakes (the Great Schism is perhaps the most famous example of this). Could the same be said for the Office of the Presidency? I don’t know, as I am not well-versed in American history; perhaps Brandon could shed some light here.

  13. GCC

    It’s possible a specific focus on “apology” might make it more difficult to find common ground. I don’t necessarily think that what is required is a statement that says “we apologize and are sorry.” Rather, it could be about the acknoledgement of wrongs, condemn those wrongs, distancing from those wrongs, denouncing similar wrongs in the present/future, and committing to never again participate in such wrongs.

    It’s not so much about apologizing for things we didn’t participate in. It’s about acknowledging our connection to those things (as Americans, Lutherans, Catholics, or whoever), and rejecting it.

    The last two paragraphs of the statement from the ELCA linked above are a great example.

    But still, the statement is not enough. They say they deplore the use of Luther’s words by modern anti-Semites in their teachings of hatred. Well, they should do something about it. If they want to own Luther’s name, they should own his words too. For example, they could publish The Jews and Their Lies with full commentary on what’s wrong with it, how it runs contrary to scripture, etc. They should make their version of it to most readily available one there is. If that were the case, it would be very difficult for someone to use the document negatively. By keeping that particular document relatively hidden, they make it easy for it to be used by modern anti-Semites. (I have a theory as to why they and others don’t do that sort of thing, however.)

    As always, actions speak louder than words. But that does not diminsh the value of words.

  14. Equality 7-2521

    Grant, I am afraid to say that I reject most of your premises.

    The lack of an apology for an action is not the same as an endorsement of that action. I do not believe that anyone is teaching school children that slavery was “not that bad” simply because an essentially faceless entity failed to voice an official apology to another faceless entity. How is it possible for an entity that represents so many individuals to offer an apology on their behalf to another group of individuals? Every member of the first group would have to consent to be apologized for, and every member of the second would have to accept for the apology in order for it to carry any true weight. I believe that this is traditionally why government bodies, church organizations and other groups of people do not generally engage in behavior that is personable in nature. They are not people.

    This argument also seems to suggest that a recognition of wrongdoing must be voiced directly in order for any one or thing to move on from that wrongdoing. So apparently Emancipation was not enough? Our Nation chose to end the institution of Slavery but now must apologize for ever engaging in the slave trade? If you want an apology, could you please visit a Civil War battlefield and witness those places were no plant life will grow because of the blood that soaked into earth.

    And addressing the same point that others have broached here: The ridiculousness of apologizing for acts that I had no hand in and have not directly benefitted from presents a slippery-slope of absurdity. If this logic was applied generally, then off the top of my head and in no particular order I must apologize for the Holocaust, the Martydom of St. Edmund, the Boston Massacre, Bill Buckner’s Boner and the last Hasselhoff album. I also purchased a house a few years back, so I was partially responsible for the housing bubble and subsequent economic meltdown. I am sorry if your 401k or other investments were affected. It was never my intention to cause you economic harm. I have now benefitted unfairly from the economic climate of the late 2000’s. This apology works, because the government is not doing it on my behalf, and it is coming directly from me and going directly to you.

    Lastly, and on this point I will admit that my grasp is tenuous: What of Luther’s writings against the Jews was technically wrong? I haven’t read all (or even much) of his late work that was marked by the apparent “anti-semitism” of which he is often accused. From a perusal of the link you provided it seems that while he was rather passionate in his views, he only seemed to express (rather vividly) that the jews were out-and-out wrong in their beliefs. Which, as a Christian, is a perfectly acceptable point of view. It seems that Luther was recognizing that the Jews had rejected their birthright as G-d’s chosen people and was essentially criticising them harshly for their poor decision making. I wills stand corrected on this issue if given specific examples of true anti-semitism and not just vocal or harsh disagreements with the jews.

    In conclusion, this is a non-issue. I would rather have my highly paid elected officials spend their time on keeping my taxes low and my family safe, rather than the self-aggrandising resolution writing that seems to be such a hoot on the Hill.

    A question for you though: If I do apologize for slavery, will those who are supposedly the “victim’s” of slavery apologize to me for race riots, high urban crime rates, high taxes due to social welfare programs, low public school test scores, lack of jobs for qualified white males and rap music?

  15. Equality 7-2521

    After further reading, I concede the point of Luther’s apparent antisemitism. It is sad that someone such as Luther wrote such things in his later days. However, I have to give consideration to his earlier writings on the jews and his apparent good will toward them, and assume that his later writings may have been due to what we now know to be dementia or alzheimers disease. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.

  16. Christopher

    Firstly, in the pursuit of honesty, I’d urge the Discursionists to implement a culture of transparency by readers. Contributors should be using their real names as opposed to codes, lest this blog descend to the vitriol level of YouTube comments. This way we may actually be allowed to address one another in a civil fashion.

    Mr. Equality 7-2521, there appears to be much confusion in your understanding (or lack thereof) regarding the topic at hand: corporate apology from an institution. I suggest you re-read the original post, as well as Grant’s comments.

    No one has suggested that personal citizens apologize for any nationally manifested transgression. What we are discussing is an institution coming to terms with acts of corporate wrong-doing. What are the affects, and is an apology warranted from new generations of people with little personal connection to the original transgression?

    That’s why this comment is completely ignorant of the point:

    “If I do apologize for slavery, will those who are supposedly the “victim’s” of slavery apologize to me for race riots, high urban crime rates, high taxes due to social welfare programs, low public school test scores, lack of jobs for qualified white males and rap music?”

    Lastly, and in regard to the general readership of this post, I think we have refined the question further: to what extent should members of an organization distance themselves from the historical beliefs/practices of that organization? In what ways is this accomplished? Some, suggest corporate apology from leadership as a start. Others seem to suggest chalking a historical transgression up to conventional wisdom and allowing time to be our mode of distance.

    Does being an Episcopalian make me in some small way responsible for the beheading of Anne Boleyn? No more than John or Holly as Catholics are responsible for Galileo’s incarceration. No more than Mr. Equality 7-2521 is responsible for slavery as an American. But the question it does raise is this: how do we address the aspects of our own history that are less than savory, even murderous? I contend that they must be addressed somehow.

  17. Equality 7-2521

    That is my name. You can look me up. It might help you to understand me. If you want to address me otherwise, “in a civil fashion,” you can call me Prometheus. But that was the name I actually chose for myself, so it is likely not acceptable to you. It is a sad thing that a pen name is no longer accepted because of too much internet insanity. Does anonymity frighten you? I find it forces one to focus on the discursion rather than the source. You could make plenty of assumptions about me if you knew my real name, so I choose to keep it to myself. If those that run this site choose to censor my comments and ban me from being a part of the discursion because I desire privacy, then I hold them in the same regard that Publius likely held King George III.

    I understand perfectly the initial point and I reject it. I also understand that the discursion had supposedly moved beyond the idea of personal apology and drifted into “corporate” apology. My opinion was that apology is a personal thing, and it is essentially impossible for a corporate entity to apologize, and therefore any corporate apology is meaningless, pointless and unnecessary. My comment about personal apologies was then in no way ignorant of the point, but rather highlighting the absurdity of the corporate apology. It might be illuminating for you to answer my question: If I (The American people) apologize for slavery, will the so-called children of slavery apologize for the ills that they have brought on this nation?

    Chris, you sought twice in your first two paragraphs to censor my views. First asking the owners to prevent me from posting because of my desire for privacy, and second by insisting that I should somehow catch-up and quit focusing on the “old” issue of corporate apology. Both were attempts to skirt the issues I raised. Then later, you stated that corporate apology wasn’t the point after all because the discursion had been “refined.” Another skirt. Who am I hurting by coming to the party late and adding my two cents from the beginning? Why do you seek to censor what is an apparently opposing view?

    You contend that past indiscretions must be addressed. On this point we agree. I am not going to argue the case of the Catholics or Episcopalians as I am neither. Keeping with the issue that I can speak for the most, will you tell me how we (as a nation) have NOT addressed the issue of Slavery? The Reconstruction period was supposed to be a start, but was derailed by racist Democrats. Our nation has made many attempts since then to right past wrongs through social welfare programs from The New Deal to The Great Society. We have government sponsored programs like affirmative action that some would call blatant racism against whites. We live in a culture of apology and entitlement based simply on that single issue of the past wrong of slavery. What more needs to be done? In your opinion, how much more money do we need to spend, and in what manner, before we (Americans) have done sufficient penance?

  18. Equality 7-2521 (Call me Bob if it makes you feel better.)

    As an aside: Christopher, how do I know that is your real name? And how would I benefit from that knowledge? I can think of about a dozen Christophers that I know right off the top of my head, and you are likely none of them. So unless you would like everyone here to share their full name, date of birth, address, phone number, favorite ice cream and bank account information, you can consider the two of us to be on a level playing field. That is unless you can prove to me that you are actually named Christopher and not hiding behind some kind of “code”.

    If the Discursionists choose to allow another opposing view around here besides John (who seems to be the standing alone in most of the discursions) , and let me continue to post I can assure you that the level of discourse, or rather discursion, will remain somewhere much higher than the youtube environment that you are apparently so familiar with.

  19. Equality 7-2521

    I hope this adds to the Discursion, but I apologize if it seems off topic: For what things does our nation need to apologize, and at what point are we done?

    So lets say that we apologize publicly to the Native Americans for the deplorable acts that we committed against them. Lets say that we do the same for blacks and slavery. If we continue on, what else do we have to apologize for? There was a time in this country when businesses posted signs stating “No dogs or Irish allowed.” I know people who would appreciate a corporate apology from our government for that.

    The Polish were long been discriminated against in our society. What of them? Where is their government sanctioned apology (GSA)?

    Blonde jokes used to be pretty popular. Where is the GSA for those?

    My ancestors were indentured servants. That wasn’t really fair. Where is my GSA?

    Germans and Japanese were discriminated against (Although the Japanese certainly got the worst) during WWII. Where is the GSA for them?

    Do we need to have a big apology fest and just get this all off of our collective chest? We might feel better. Maybe we should adopt the Old Testament Hebrew practice of the year of Jubilee? Every seventh year is a year of forgiveness. That way we don’t hold on to these things.

    When I read the initial post, I was caught by what I viewed as the absurdity of the concept and have attempted (even in this post) to highlight that absurdity. But I think that I am seeing how this issue could be very important to some. I suppose if it makes you feel better, go for it. If the Senate drafting a resolution to apologize for slavery makes everyone feel better so that we can finally move on from this issue then that is great. However, if it ends up being a doorway to further brow-beating of the supposed “slave-owner” class and a continuation of the entitlement culture, or worse yet a continuation of what is essentialy slavery through MORE government handouts such as the oft-cited reparations, then I would have to continue my opposition.

    Half of the forgiveness process is the granting of forgiveness. If I am to understand forgiveness in the way that I think G-d wants us to, the party offering forgiveness cannot put conditions on it and should attempt to forgive in the way that G-d forgives. When G-d forgives us it is because he is able to see the cloak of perfection that Christ clothes us in and he puts our transgression out of his mind. (seems odd to refer to G-d as having a mind, as if he were a man rather than what he truly is, something so much greater).

    In this way we should do the same, and those being apologized to, if they choose to forgive the transgressor, should do so completely and without further conditions. On a corporate level as well as a personal one. I simply use terms that seem more personal because I still reject the entire premise of corporate apology. I understand that a recognition of past wrongdoing could be helpful as well, but I am wary of this sort of behavior becoming an addition to the culture of victimhood that is prevalent in our society. However thin it may sound, at some point I think we need to sort of let bygones be bygones and focus more on where we are going and how we are going to work to make the world a better place than it has been. Paraphrasing the words of our President, we need to turn the page and move on. We need to write a new future for our nation that is based on unity rather than division.

  20. Christopher

    Good job, Bob – you can make some Ayn Rand literary allusions. Now you just need to understand what censorship is. Until then, I’ll take your advice and let bygones be bygones.

  21. Equality 7-2521

    Gosh Chris. You didn’t address my points at all. Are you upset? I can sense the vitriol in your short little snippet that seems to be more an attack on me than part of the discursion. I see now what you mean about youtube style comments. You have shown that you have a hard time avoiding them when presented with hard truths from someone that you can’t attack based on who they are. Too bad, I thought we were really going someplace.

    Well, at least you are willing to take good advice when you hear it.

  22. GCC


    Thanks for posting. There are some good thoughts here. For instance, it can definitely difficult to see the direct benefits of apologies, etc. Furthermore, it can be difficult to decide where to start and stop. Further still, a lack of apology is not the same as endorsement. That’s all very obvious though. And I assume you recognize that the examples of other things for which there could be apologies (except for Japanese internment) have no logical connection to the issue of slavery.

    Your question about what and how much we might do to have reached a point of sufficient penance in regard to slavery is a very good one. I don’t know. I’m not sure the things you cite (i.e. affirmative action, etc.) are even good ways to go about it. I wonder if those aren’t even so much in response to slavery but rather to racism. If that’s the case, then it would seem to me that the real solution is not affirmative action, but an elimination of racism. I would suggest that such a thing would require a change of heart more so than a change of policy, so to that end it seems that statements of contrition might be more helpful than policies like affirmative action. If we think we can win hearts and minds on the battlefields abroad, it seems we should be able to do so in politics, etc. at home. Of course, the problem is that to do so, we would have to truly think that our hearts and minds are and/or have been wrong. And public apologies are just the sort of things that indicate that is the case.

    But for me, the specifics of a particular issue aren’t what’s important at this point. I’m mostly wondering about the phenomenon that prevents us from moving more quickly to admit wrongs. I think it has partly to do with cognitive dissonance. But it may have to do with more than that. For instance, we may delay apologies (or whatever) because we fear it might upset a current power structure. It seems you suggest that one reason it doesn’t happen is because of the personal nature of apology and the impersonal nature of corporate bodies. That makes some sense. That’s also why I tried not to limit this to “apologies” per se. See my comment above.

    When it comes to how a group that represents individuals can apologize on their behalf even though not all of those represented agree to the apology, I think it’s obvious. It works in precisely the same was any other statement or action the group makes as it represents the individuals. That’s how a democratically elected representative government works, no?

    The idea that an apology leads to a slippery slope of absurdity does nothing to discredit the value of such a statement. It does, however, remind us that the slippery slope argument is a logical fallacy. It is plain to see that there is no reason why one apology must necessarily lead to another. We make individual decisions and, when we are principled and convicted, can make a decision to apologize in one case and not in another.

    Your question about receiving reciprocal apologies brings up at least two points. First, you’re assuming you know to whom an apology for something like slavery is exclusively directed and that you know who will take benefit from it. It is entirely reasonable and appropriate for such an apology to be directed at the whole of the American people. When it comes to an issue like slavery, the apology shouldn’t just be to former slaves, but rather to society. When such evil is perpetrated all of society loses. Second, you’ve found another false analogy. The institution of slavery is universally (I hope you’ll understand I don’t mean that strictly literally) condemned as wrong. Things like rap music and the other things you cite aren’t. Furthermore, the key difference in all the fallacious examples you’ve provided throughout your string of comments is that they are not institutionally sanctioned.

    You’re very right to point out that apologies are important for some and not for others. That goes for both public and private apologies, I think. I also agree that a senatorial apology that ends in further wrong would be a bad thing. But it would be the apology itself that is bad, but rather the response to it. Issuing an apology is taking a risk. That’s one reason why apologies have value. Apologizing does not mean that we will be forgiven. Indeed, our apologies can be used against us. But the fear of being wronged because of admitting to having wronged others is only a reason to remain stiff-necked and ignore our wrongs if we are weak-willed and/or not truly contrite. If we are truly contrite and of strong will, we will make the apology and assume the risk. If an apology for something like slavery led to “further brow-beating of the supposed “slave-owner” class and a continuation of the entitlement culture,” you say you would oppose the apology. I suggest that is a position held by those who either aren’t truly contrite or are otherwise weak-willed. In contrast, I would support the apology and oppose the “brow-beating” and “entitlement culture.” For me, evil is not the appropriate response to evil. But the risk is not a reason not to address the first evil.

    I also agree with you about forgiveness. The forgiveness of God is really unfathomable. We should do everything we can to emulate it. But it would seem that part of that emulation would be the understanding that we cannot expect others to achieve the levels of forgiveness that God does. In addition to the fact that our mutual view of God’s forgiveness is not incumbent on anyone else, we are not in a position to tell others what that they should or should not expect before they offer their forgiveness. An apology does not entitle us to forgiveness, but that it no way diminishes the significance of or need for the apology and our contrition. One may certainly make forgiveness conditional, but one may never make an apology conditional – a conditional apology is no apology at all.

    I think your general rejection of corporate apologies as essentially useless might be based in an inappropriate understanding or application of them. The corporate body can really only apologize for its own wrongs. In the case of slavery, the apology should be for the institutionalization of the practice. I don’t see the Senate’s recent statement as an apology to individuals for the acts of individuals. It is apologizing rather for it’s own actions in the institutionalization of the wrong. Obviously a corporate entity cannot adequately apologize for the acts of individuals. But equally obviously, individuals cannot adequately apologize for the acts of the corporate entity. Both types of apology have their place.

    Lastly, I agree that we always need to look more toward the future than to the past. We must turn the page. Unity is always (well, usually) superior to division. Contrition breeds unity. Contrition is necessary for moving forward. Without contrition we leave open the possibility of always wondering and always looking back. That is one of the things that sparked this post. I agree we need to turn the page from the evils of slavery. I think we needed to turn in a hundred years ago. So, what in the hell took so long for the Senate to reach this point of contrition, allowing us to turn the page? The same goes for the other examples noted above.

    (Your comments on Luther require some comment as well. It’s all related, but it will require a separate post. Please be patient with me.)

  23. czf

    Oh, Ayn Rand.
    Oh, egoism.

  24. Equality 7-2521

    Yeah, CZF, it was a poor choice of pseudonym. I was grasping as straws. I actually strongly disagree with Ayn Rand.


    I apologize if I was not clear enough on my points. I do recognize that the examples given have no logical connection to the issue of slavery. That is the point. The reason that some of the issues I presented have no direct connection to slavery is to highlight the absurdity of the issue. I have nothing to apologize for and neither do you. But if this makes you feel better, then who am I to stop you. See me comments.

    Weather the policies of our government were in response to slavery or racism is I think an academic point only. The issues are intertwined.

    My slip might start showing here but regarding the issue of how so-called representative government can apologize on behalf of “The People,” you seem to be laboring under the false idea that our government has the consent of the people. “We The People” is a fiction and our government has never operated with the consent of the people. See Randy E. Barnett’s fine work “Restoring the Lost Constitution.”

    You claim that the slippery slope is a logical fallacy, and that one action does not necessarily lead to another. But you have to admit that we live in a very illogical world that does not function entirely within the Socratic classroom, so quite often the slippery slope operates in practice. When one wrong is admitted, the climate of devisiveness in our culture tends to see the apology, or statement of contrition if you prefer, as some kind of weakness and then attacks, as a lion on a sick gazelle.

    Concerning the corporate apology for slavery directed at an entire nation, this takes the absurdity of corporate apology to a while new level. Now you are suggesting that not only must an organization (which has no power to provide such an apology), apologize to those who desire such an apology, but to anyone and everyone in order to cover for any number of perceived wrongs. What if I don’t want to be apologized for or to?

    Your point about slavery being considered universally wrong is itself wrong. Slavery is still practiced in some parts of the world, and those involved likely do not see it as wrong. Furthermore, why must something be seen as universally wrong in order for me to be wronged by it? I think Female circumcision is wrong, but there are cultures that practice it regularly. You essentially state that slavery is or has been institutionally sanctioned. Since when? I think that the Emancipation Proclamation and the 14th Amendment sort of ended that. However, there exists an entire culture that still institutionally sanctions rap music and tolerates high urban crime rates, broken families, and low public school performance. And our government, which is I believe the institution that you are giving preference, still sanctions welfare, and tolerates high urban crime rates and other urban issues. You can’t state that someone has used a false analogy and then use your own false analogy as a counterpoint. Since neither slavery or rap music can be seen as universally and completely acceptable or condemnable, then they of course exist on a continuum of acceptability. At what point on that continuum do we corporately apologize for things?

    And must something be institutionalized for our government to apologize for it? That was another of my points. At what point must the institution take responsibility for not stopping a wrong that they do not necessarily sanction?

    Perhaps my point was misdirected concerning the effects of an apology. I agree that if the apology is given but rejected and leads to further wrongs, then we should condemn those new wrongs. But you must recognize that this is often not how the world works. For this reason I believe The Discursionists show their strong ties to liberal academia because they often refuse to see things as they are and rather view them as taking place inside the vacuum of the classroom. But back to the point I was trying to make: My opposition to the apology is that I believe that apologies should be personal. If I choose to apologize to someone for slavery, that is my choice, but if by offering a corporate apology, my government causes me harm, then they had no right to offer that apology in the first place, assuming that they have any such right at all.

    Do you want to know what the hell took so long? Our culture never deemed this sort of behavior necessary before now. People were willing to live their lives without blaming their problems on someone or something else and demanding apology. It seems that it has only been during our modern time of entitlement and self-flaggelating guilt culture that we have seen this sort of apology as necessary. Plenty has been done to make amends and show contrition for this issue. As someone else noted here, actions speak louder than words. See my comments above.

    If you really want to, go ahead and comment on the Luther bits, but as I said, I concede the issue.

  25. GCC


    First let me clear some things up and then move on to one of the most interesting things that’s been said on this post, and that goes to what I’m most interested in.

    Yes, racism and slavery are intertwined. It’s obvious that racism is the cause and not the effect. So what must be addressed is racism. To eliminate racism we must affect hearts and minds, not the social status of individuals. So, an official, unequivocal condemnation (which could take the form of an apology) of racism and all its effects (i.e. slavery) would go further toward solving the problem than things like welfare, affirmative action, etc.

    I can agree with you that culture has made the slippery slope more of a reality. But, to submit to it is just to be weak. I think we should strive to be stronger that the culture, and not bow to things that are incorrect because of the pressure of culture. So, I agree with you. I just think it’s an excuse to not be as good as we can be.

    This might not have been clear before: The Senate is not apologizing for you. The Senate is apologizing for itself. And the Senate is not apologizing to you. It’s apologizing to us as a collective unity.

    I tried to parenthetically point out that I didn’t mean the term “universally” in relation to the condemnation of slavery completely literally. Apparently that wasn’t clear enough. So, what I mean to say is that within the United States today there is a general consensus that slavery is, was, and always will be wrong. Naturally there are those who disagree even within the US. But I think it’s safe to say that the consensus on this is at least greater than it is on something like, say, global warming. To point out that slavery is still practiced in other parts of the world is beside the point. Not only did I not intend “universally” to be taken literally, but also the US Senate’s apology has little or no bearing on the practice of slavery abroad and vice versa.

    I would hope it’s obvious that I don’t think that slavery is institutionally sanctioned today. But the passage of an amendment to the constitution making it illegal seems to indicate fairly strongly that it was at one point. And that’s what the apology should be for.

    Culture is not an institution in the same way government is an institution. I think you would have a very difficult time demonstrating how the government tolerates or sanctions high crime rates, etc. The government does sanction welfare, but you’re still dealing in false analogies there (I can accept that redistribution of wealth could even be considered a form of slavery, but it still can’t be compared with the slavery that is in this context). I don’t see at all where I ran into a false analogy. I don’t like doing so though, so if you can point it out to me I’d appreciate it.

    I really hope you’re not serious in your comparison of rap music and slavery. Even if your premise that neither is universally acceptable nor condemnable is correct, the two are not comparable in this way. It remains a false analogy at a minimum because one is imposed up on other against their will while the other is not.

    When it comes to universal condemnation and acceptance, I think I understand your point. But it’s in this point that you begin to depart practicality and move into theory. It’s obviously impossible to know that anything is truly, 100%, universally condemned or accepted. But we don’t function on an absolute 100% basis. We operate as best we can on general consensus.

    Now for the good part: I think the reason you give for why this apology took so long is excellent. It makes sense. I think it’s entirely possible. It’s quite interesting and probably measurable too. I would also add that it could be that the passage of the 14th amendment, etc. was accompanied by sufficient apology and the recent on issued by the Senate is thus more of a sign of the cultural shift you point out.

    Interestingly though, if that cultural shift really has taken place, then it seems you would suggest we should accept it as a reality and then work within it. Just as you think the slippery slope is a reality and we must address it by avoiding certain actions that we think may take us sliding down the slope, pragmatism would seem to demand that we give into the needs and demands of our guilt culture, which I guess would include issuing these apologies. I think though that we should seek to do what is right, standing against the slippery slope and against a guilt culture. It’s for this reason that I think we should condemn racism and affirmative action.

    A superficial apology is of no value. It’s possible that the Senate’s recent apology is just that. It’s possible that the Senate is playing politics with this apology. That would be condemnable. To me the value in the apology (assuming it’s sincere) is not merely in making people feel good; it’s in helping to separate society from the evils that necessitate any apology in the first place. With that as the goal, we need not necessarily issue apologies per se, but we will never move past issues by sweeping them under the rug. I don’t think you’re necessarily suggesting that these things should be swept under the rug. I could be wrong, but it seems that you just see no value in public statements in contrition for and thus against things like slavery. Rather, you see the only statement of value in that regard to be that of the individual to another individual. I disagree. I think such public statements can have a positive impact. And, while our culture does present a risk that the statement could generate negativity, I think the potential impact of the statement outweighs the risk. I like the idea of pursuing the moral good regardless of how difficult or risky it may be.

    When it comes to my comments on the Luther stuff, please keep in mind that I do not intend to direct them at you. I think it’s all quite related to this topic though.

  26. Joseph

    I have not seen a strong tie to liberal academia in The Discursionists’ posts thus far. While I am a liberal and have a degree (making me, I suppose, an academic), I don’t know what definition of liberal academic these fellows would ever fit. They come close to defending an apology for slavery. This does not make GCC become Che Guevera reincarnated.

    Posts here are typically well reasoned critiques and discussions of Christian theology and spiritual matters in general. I don’t know many liberals, myself included, that would ever spend so much time discussing Pascal’s Wager or the Nicene Creed. This is why I enjoy the blog; though I long ago became a Buddhist, I am absolutely enthralled by the scholarship of these folks and the attention they pay to both the specifics and the bigger picture in which they practice their spirituality.

    Speaking of logical fallacies, this is one heck of a modern day ad-hominem statement. I have known Terrence for years – painting him as a liberal academic is grossly inaccurate and also distracts wildly from the point you’re making. At least it does to me. Knowing Terrence for all these years, when i hear someone call him a liberal, I sort of do a double take and question the validity of the rest of the point being asserted.

  27. GCC

    Some of the discursion above has made it worth posting the following comments:

    Was Martin Luther an Anti-Semite? To be technical, it doesn’t appear that his negative attitudes toward Jews were based in some form of genetic racism. Rather, it was more of an anti-Judaism. I don’t find that distinction to be of any real significance, however. So, was Martin Luther anti-Jewish? Well, the Nazi’s had a holiday called Luthertag (Luther Day – If you want to see part of the text of the announcement of it in the Ev. Luth. Church of Bavaria’s official publication from Dec. 10, 1933, see here and scroll down: – It also appears that you can buy an original lapel pin from the celebration: ). Now, as far as I know, the Nazi’s were not officially Christian, so it seems safe to assume that it wasn’t the reformation and Luther’s teachings on God that they were so much celebrating. So, the Nazi’s celebrated Luther as a hero and used his anti-Semitic writings in their pursuits. Was Luther an Anti-Semite? It would appear the Nazi’s thought so. What do you think?

    Should we give Martin Luther the benefit of the doubt that his vitriolic, murder-condoning anti-Semitism/Judaism wasn’t really him but rather the result of dementia? The Royal College of Psychiatrists in London states that “[Dementia] affects very few people under the age of 65. Luther begins writing of Jews in a dehumanized fashion at least as early as 1528. He was born in 1483. That would make him 45 years old when he got going. So, was it dementia? What do you think? Furthermore, the Royal College describes some of the symptoms of dementia/Alzheimer’s as including “difficulty in finding the right words” and “difficulty with skills learnt early in life.” That certainly does not sound like someone who could compose such an opus as Luther’s “Von die Jueden und Iren Luegen” (apparently it’s 60,000 words in length) and other works, sermons, etc. To be sure, Luther was in bad health in his later years, and suffered from a number of illnesses. There are apparently records of him becoming increasingly rude, etc. in his later life. That’s not surprising. We all get testy when we’re in pain, etc. But the fact that pain can make one into an asshole is no reason to conclude that poor health is the sole source of Luther’s obscene, anti-Semitic work.

    What about Martin Luther’s earlier writings on the Jews? Should they get him off the hook for his obvious and shameful anti-Semitism? Well, one must consider whether or not Luther’s “kindness” towards Jews was really ever kindness at all. His work on Jesus’ Jewish heritage seems to have been written in an effort toward converting the Jews to Christianity. That is not kindness. Kindness is the result of accepting and loving people as and for who they are. Kindness is not being nice to people in an effort to convince them to change who they are and conform to what we want them to be. That is subversive. It seems Luther was convinced that the reason Jews would not convert to Christianity was the evil that they saw going on in the Church. He even suggested that if he were a Jew and saw such things he would sooner become a hog than a Christian. But Luther’s true colors shine when he is forced to realize that he is also unable to convert the Jews. Even with his new brand of Christianity, the Jews found it to be as unacceptable as before. Martin Luther wasn’t truly “kind” to the Jews. He merely adjusted his apparent attitudes to serve his own ends. When he was unsuccessful, it appears he no longer felt the need to feign kindness, and instead moved to further dehumanize the Jews in his community.

    And that dehumanization and murderous vitriol is what makes Luther someone who had more than a theological disagreement with the Jews. This is clear because Luther also had theological disagreements with the Roman Catholics. In order for the argument that Luther’s anti-Judaic work was purely of a theological nature, one would have to show that he suggested that the Catholics were “a base, whoring people, that is, no people of God.” He’d further have to have said say that the Catholics were “full of the devil’s feces.” He would have needed to refer to St. Peter’s Basilica as “an incorrigible whore and an evil slut.” He would further have to have suggested that Catholic churches be burned and their parishioners’ homes razed. He also would have had to suggest that Catholics be drafted into forced labor. (Remember the Nazi’s Luthertag?) And lastly (for now at least), he would have had to suggest that people “are not at fault in slaying [Catholics].” (Seriously, remember the Nazi’s Luthertag? Those last two sound like the Endloesung.) Furthermore, if such vitriol were commonplace in theological disagreements, we would expect all disputations to contain it. While many of them do (when it comes to Christianity, even the Christian Testament contains it), the majority seems not to. Clearly, Luther’s invective against the Jews was not simply based in theology. Furthermore, if there were a way to rationalize Luther’s anti-Semitism in this way, one would think that the ELCA would have included it in their statement separating themselves from this component of his life.

    OK, now that we have that out of the way, and given that this post started about addressing wrongdoing, it’s important to discuss why making excuses for Martin Luther’s anti-Semitism is wrong.

    Most simply, if people agree that such a thing as anti-Semitism is wrong, then making any excuse for it or rationalizing it simply diminishes how wrong we think it is and opens to door for those who would pursue it. Any amount of equivocation on such issues makes it that much easier for those who would pursue such evil to do so.

    Further though, making excuses demonstrates that we either don’t really think that such a thing is wrong, or that we are not truly contrite. It’s either “This isn’t really wrong because there’s a rational explanation for it,” or it’s the whole “I’m sorry, but…” thing. Adults know that “I’m sorry, but…” does not come from those who are truly contrite. And it is obvious that explaining things away demonstrates that the excuser deems them to be relatively insignificant or unimportant.

    So, what is such excuse making in reality? It’s equivocation. Those who would make excuses are either ignorant of the situation, don’t think the situation is really a problem, or aren’t really contrite about the situation, or any combination of those things and possibly others. In making excuses, the person confuses everyone else as to what their true feelings are. Rather than make excuses, one should say, “I am fully ignorant of the situation and cannot comment either way,” or “I really don’t think this is a big deal, and I don’t think it is a wrong that needs addressing,” or “I see that this is sort of wrong or that it’s hurt some people, but I’m not really sorry.” Just be honest and clear. Equivocating with excuses and rationalizations does nothing more than delay progress on an issue. In order to move beyond things, we must know what people think and feel. We can’t turn the page if we’re left wondering whether or not someone thinks what he or she has participated in is wrong.

    Furthermore, excuses and rationalizations are for weak people. Their equivocal nature is a hallmark of the spineless. When it comes to issues of slavery, anti-Semitism, other forms of racism, etc. we all need to do a better job of (wo)man-ing up. If you’re a racist and don’t think it’s wrong then own it. If you recognize slavery was evil then own it. I’m not advocating that a racist “own” their racism by committing racist acts. Rather, when the issue is raised, they should be clear about their racism. “Yes, I’m a racist,” they might say. And “No, I am not sorry for slavery,” they might continue. When things are excused and rationalized what becomes clear is that the person isn’t truly convinced of their position or beliefs. And if they’re not truly convinced, they have no reason to pretend they are. The same goes for the apology. Don’t tell people “you’re sorry, but…” The person who says that is not sorry, so they have no business saying that they are.

    In order to move beyond issues like those discussed throughout this post, we must move away from equivocation, excuses, and rationalization. Excuses avoid the issues. And these are not issues that can be avoided if we truly desire to move forward and beyond them. Excuses demonstrate a person’s lack of desire to move beyond issues such as these. As long as we can’t move past these issues we will continue to live in and with them. So, make your excuses for Luther and anti-Semitism, for the South and slavery, for Pat Robertson and homophobia, for George Wallace and racism, etc. – they can all be rationalized – but know that as long as you do, you are perpetuating their evils.

  28. Equality 7-2521

    I am really tiring of having to pick apart my own words so that they are properly understood. Admittedly, it is my own fault.

    Joseph, please read my post again. I never called anyone a Liberal, I said that they exhibit strong ties to liberal academia, and that was written with a lowercase “L” for a reason. I never even responded to anything that Terrence posted, (but I suppose I did refer to the Discursionists in general) so to say that I presented an ad hominem attack on Terrence is a bit like saying that I kidnapped the Lindbergh baby. It might win you ratings points and sell papers, but it just isn’t true. The liberal academia in this sense referred to the strictly academic discussion of a point apart from the practical application. To say that the slippery slope is a logical fallacy is true, but it is the sort of thing that an academic will use in an attempt to refute an otherwise true argument. (Talk about a strawman.) In this case GCC even conceded the point that although not acceptable in the classroom, that things like the slippery slope must be recognized as existing in the real world. If I wanted to critisise Terrance directly I wouldn’t label him as a Liberal, I would call him out as a heretic for his views on the inerrancy of scripture and the existence of hell.

    GCC, if you did not intend the true meaning of “universal”, why then did you use that word? I understood your parenthetical statement, but chose to ignore it because it seemed a cop out to use as strong a word as universal and then hide behind the statement that you didn’t really mean it.

    You also made the statement that The Senate was not apologizing to me or for me, but in your previous post you suggested exactly that concept: That the Senate was representing me and apologizing to the entire nation for slavery. Please explain how your two statements can both be true.

    You say now that racism and slavery are intertwined, but in your previous post you kept them separate in order to pick apart my points. Please explain which view point you actually hold.

    As I stated before, I am not responding to the bits about Luther because I conceded the argument. Yep, his statements were anti-semetic. My statement about dementia or alzheimers, although off topic, was simply made to help understand a possibility for his statements. This blog does seek to promote understanding, correct? For you to suggest that Luther was in his right mind when he wrote his “opus” is just as much a speculation as mine. So I will consider them equal. Now, should I apologize for what someone else wrote? Of course not. If blraatikka wrote that he/she thought we should repeal suffrage for women, would you feel compelled to apologize to me for his/her statements? You would be a fool to, as you didn’t do anything wrong.

    Damn it, you dragged me in: Fine, let’s assume that I am a Lutheran and therefore need to apologize for Luther’s anti-semetic writings. What else in my life do I need to apologize for because of my relation to or benefit from it? Simple question: Have you ever apologized to the victim’s of the wars of The United States? You do use the internet on a regular basis. The internet is based on defense technology. Therefore by benefiting from a system which has certainly caused hundreds or even thousands of deaths, you are just as responsible for those deaths as the boots on the ground. You have already rejected the idea that wrongs might exist on a continuum, so logically you are angel of death for thousands of Iraqis. And so am I.

    Even better: Do you or does someone you know own a BMW, Audi or VW? IBM is mostly defunct now, but have you ever used an IBM product? Do the stores that you shop at use IBM Point Of Sales? All of these companies directly benefited from the Nazi regime, and some directly from the holocaust. If you do own one, or shop at a store that uses their products, your own logic suggests that you apologize for the holocaust. What about modern medicine? Have you ever benefited from that? Most of the medical advances of the 20th century came from what was learned by Nazi and Japanese doctors while dissecting jews and other prisoners of war while still alive. Where is your apology? No excuses please.

    Whenever you breath, you personally slaughter millions of living organisms. The microbiotic community awaits your apology.

    Again, I am sorry if I upset anyone, but I am using strong language and apparently flawed logic to highlight the absurdity of this entire line of reasoning. Life is not meant to be lived wringing our hands over the wrongs of past generations. We should be living for the present and the future, and the best apology we can provide (if you still think it is necessary) would be to assure that these wrongs do not occur again.

  29. John

    Sorry Grant, but I disagree with your statements on excuses, etc. Rationalizing the past by its context is the furthest thing from being “weak” or “ignorant.” Rather, it is a mark of intelligence. It does not diminish our sense of right or wrong–it allows us to think clearly about complex issues without relying upon our emotions and hyperbole. This is not “making excuses” but demonstrating an ability to think critically and not judge the past by our moral standards. Reasonable people do not claim that because something was okay in the past it should be okay now; instead, we first acknowledge the past for what it was and explain or even defend *why* we think differently today.

    The distinction you make between anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism, on the other hand, is correct and of real significance. I have argued this in print and will be happy to provide you with citations to this and other studies of the subject. Luther was not an anti-Semite—he did not see Jews as having an inherent biological defect.

    The exact reason for Luther’s later attitudes towards the Jews has never been firmly established because the evidence, frankly, is not very conclusive. The newest entry for him in the Encyclopedia Britannica (which I helped edit, coincidentally) argues that none of the three main reasons typically offered (chronic physical/mental pain, disappointment over the progress of reforms, and Apocalypticism) are satisfactory in and of themselves.

    But getting back to context, I must note that Luther was *not* exceptional in his anti-Jewish disposition. He is infamous for it because of his name but also (and perhaps more crucially) for his “German-ness.” However, none of his later ideas were innovative, and they sit squarely within the late medieval conversation on Jews. Here I am indeed “rationalizing” his ideas. Luther was a man of his times. His views do not align with our current morals but they were pretty typical for his day. I am not “perpetuating evil” by pointing this out—I am relating historical truths.

  30. blraatikka

    Best comments ever!!1!

    Grant, you say that: “The Senate is apologizing for itself… [and] [i]t’s apologizing to us as a collective unity.” And, that a “superficial apology is of no value.” You say some very great things about personal apologies (that it’s taking a risk; that contrition is required for true apology, etc.), but none of that seems to apply or is possible here, to institutions. The people, through representative government, is apologizing to itself. Or, if you take Barnett’s perspective, on behalf of its former self, a governmental institution is apologizing to society for a problem created largely by that society’s former self. I guess the question is whether such apology brings true healing or progress– I would argue that it does not. I think that the apologizing party, the content of and the audience for such an apology is too amorphous to have much meaning at all. Such apologies are fine (if you do not think such apologies do violence to language and the spirit of apology), but on the flip side, we shouldn’t especially fret if they’re not made. Personally, I think that if there is a possibility of whether it could be meaningful to some people or not, we might as well simply apologize and be done with it. But these comments have helped to convince me that would probably be virtually meaningless, so what’s the point in despairing when it takes us this long to apologize for something we had no direct part in? And I know your initial question was whether this is a big deal or not, so I don’t think you’re blowing anything out of proportion– you’re trying to engage this with an honest and humble mind, and you are motivated by proper moral instincts. However, it’s not clear that these instincts can be manifested in an institutional context in order to be meaningful– at least not in this context. I guess what I’m saying is that I won’t lose sleep over this, so I don’t think it’s a big deal.

    I don’t mean to sound flippant or short. But it’s very late and it’s pretty clear that this has been talked to death already.

  31. blraatikka

    Equality 7-2521, referring to me as “he” will not compromise your anonymity. Cheers.

  32. Equality 7-2521

    Thanks. I suppose I should have made the Brandon/blraatikka connection sooner. That makes sense. I apologize for androgynising you. “He” it is.

  33. czf

    apparently it is a pretty big deal.
    I’ve enjoyed reading (most of) your comments.

  34. GCC


    Although at least one particular sentece above seems to, I didn’t mean to suggest that we shouldn’t attempt to understand Luther’s context, etc.

    You make good points about Luther, etc. I think we should make a distinction between excusing things because of their context or something else, and understanding the context, etc. It seems to me that you’re thinking the latter. You’re very right that gaining a greater understanding of these things is a mark of intelligence. I don’t see you finding a rationale for Luther’s anti-Semitic/Judaic work that then suggests that it’s OK and we shouldn’t feel bad about it or see him as having done wrong, etc. etc. If I’m understanding you correctly, I would add that through the ciritical analysis that provides us understanding of the past, we are better able to learn from it and prevent it from repeating itself. Luther is a good example. I’m sure that none of the three reasons commonly given as explanations for Luther’s anti-Judaism are sufficient in and of themselves. The investigation of it could shed let on what its root really was. The simple fact that Luther was not alone in this is an excellent indicator of where the root may lie.

    In any case, that investigation can’t really take place until after the evil has been confronted and acknowledged as such. No matter what the motivation, cause, etc. Luther’s anti-Judaism was evil. All things can be understood and rationalized within their context. Understanding the context of something does not diminsh its evil. And that’s what my point is here. If we use the things we learn about context to diminsh the evil of things like anti-Semitism and slavery, we are perpetuating the evil. If, on the other hand, we use our knowledge to further address the evil, understand it more deeply, and help combat it, we are most certainly not.

    Am I making any sense?

  35. John

    We see the past’s sins so clearly because we are convinced that our morals are superior to those previously held. Thus, we can claim that Luther’s ideas were evil, even if he didn’t recognize this to be so. Fifty years from now, our morals will be doubtlessly be similarly challenged and condemned. While we may indeed learn from the past, we should be careful not to presume that we speak for it or can moralize about it. I, in fact, do not “feel bad” that Luther held these thoughts. My emotions have nothing to do with it. If I cried about everything in history I could never approach it objectively.

    I think I’ve made my points on this thread, so I’ll just conclude with a review of a book folks might find instructive, M. MacMillan, _Dangerous Games: the Uses and Abuses of History_ (NY, 2009):


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