Forgiveness, Revenge, and Survivor Justice Issues

Further Reading for Victims/Survivors
and Facilitators

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Arnold, Johann Christoph.  Why Forgive?, Plough Publishing House, 2000.

In Why Forgive? Arnold lets the untidy experiences of ordinary people speak for themselves–people who have earned the right to talk about forgiving. Some of these stories deal with violent crime, betrayal, abuse, hate, gang warfare, and genocide. Others address everyday hurts: the wounds caused by backbiting, gossip, conflicts in the home, and tensions in the workplace. The book also tackles what can be the biggest challenge: forgiving ourselves. These people, who have overcome the cancer of bitterness and hatred, can help you unleash the healing power of forgiveness in your own life. Why Forgive? Read these stories and decide for yourself.

Barton, Charles K. B.  Getting Even: Revenge as a Form of Justice, Open Court, 1999.

Modern Western culture has a deep ambivalence toward revenge.  Movies and novels continually appeal to sympathy for revenge, while discussions of law and public policy invariably express a dread of revenge as something irrational and uncontrollable.  Philosophers who defend retribution nearly always distinguish it from revenge, which they bitterly condemn, while philosophers who oppose retribution nearly always suggest that it is tantamount to a kind of revenge.  There has been an active victims’ rights movement affecting the conduct of trials throughout the English-speaking world for some time now, yet it is considered sufficient to dismiss the claims of victims if they can be held to be motivated by revenge.   The traditional legal processes of indigenous peoples, such as Native Americans and the Maori, have gained increased recognition in the courts, yet there is reluctance to admit that these processes are founded upon revenge.  This book is recommended for those who reject the concept of revenge.  The author breaks out of contradictory approaches with a startling and original defense of revenge as a form of justice.  He shows that revenge is a species of retribution--personal retribution.  He does not argue for individuals’ right to take the law into their own hands, but he does contend that the courts ought to recognize the revenge motive as legitimate, rational, and conformable with the rules of justice.

Blumenfeld, Laura.  Revenge: A Story of Hope, Simon & Schuster, 2002.

Story of a Washington Post reporter who went undercover to seek out the Palestinian terrorist who had shot and injured her father.  Laura Blumenfeld’s father was shot in Jerusalem by a member of a rebel faction of the PLO responsible for attacks on several tourists in the Old City.   Blumenfeld’s desire for revenge haunted her.  Traveling to Europe, America, and the Middle East, Blumenfeld follows the stories and methods of avengers worldwide as she plots to infiltrate the shooter’s life.  Ultimately it is a journey that leads her back home – where she is forced to confront her childhood dreams, her parents’ failed marriage, and her ideas about family.  In the end, her target turns out to be more complex and more threatening than the terrorist she’d long imagined.

Cose, Ellis.  Bone to Pick: Of Forgiveness, Reconciliation, Reparation, and Revenge, Atria Books, 2004.

In a world riven by conflict, reconciliation is not always possible — but it offers one of the few paths to peace for a troubled nation or a troubled soul. In Bone to Pick, Ellis Cose offers a provocative and wide-ranging discussion of the power of reconciliation, the efficacy of revenge, and the possibility of forgiveness. People increasingly are searching for ways to put the demons of the past to rest. That search has led parents to seek out the murderers of their children and torture victims to confront their former tormentors. In a narrative drawing on the personal and dramatic stories of people from Texas to East Timor, Cose explores the limits and the promise of those encounters. Bone to Pick is not only the story of victims who have found peace through confronting the source of their pain; it is also a profound meditation on how the past shapes the present, and how history’s wounds, left unattended, can fester for generations.

Egeberg, Gary, and Wayne Raiter. The Forgiveness Myth: How to Heal Your Hurts, Move on and Be Happy Again When You Can’t — or Won’t — Forgive. Richfield, Minn: Original Pathways Press, 2008.

This book was written because most of us have learned the “fact” and “unquestioned truth” that forgiving is the one and only way to heal our hurts.  This has been told to us from our earliest years on, perhaps from our families, through our experiences in a particular religious tradition, or by what we have read or heard from spiritual teachers and psychological experts.   Yet, in this book, by suggesting that forgiveness is a myth, the authors are challenging that which has been considered true for centuries.  The  authors clarify their intentions.  1) They are not saying that people should not forgive, because forgiveness is often a noble, worthwhile, and even essential spiritual and psychological practice that has proven invaluable to millions, including the authors.  2) They ARE saying that forgiving does not work for all of us all the time, and to suggest that it is the ONLY way to heal is a myth, an untruth, when in fact there are many ways to recover and move on in life.  It was recommended for our bibliography by a victim/survivor of severe violence.   The seven chapters include:

    1. Major Forgiveness Obstacles
    2. Six Common Reasons to Set Aside or Forget Forgiving — at Least Temporarily
    3. Eight Common Reasons to Set Aside or Forget Forgiving — Perhaps Permanently
    4. Healthy Alternatives to Forgiving:  What They Are and Why They Work So Well
    5. Preparing to Heal and Move Forward with Your Life
    6. Healing, Moving On, and Being Happy Again
    7. Making Peace with the Past When You Can’t — or Won’t — Forgive Yourself.

Enright, Robert D. and North, Joanna (Editors).  Exploring Forgiveness, University of Wisconsin Press, 1998.

Pioneers in the study of forgiveness, Robert Enright and Joanna North have compiled a collection of 12 essays that explore forgiveness in interpersonal relationships, family relationships, the individual and society relationship, and international relations–through the eyes of professionals in many fields as well as ordinary individuals.  It includes:

    • Without forgiveness there is no future /​ Desmond Tutu
    • Introducing forgiveness /​ Robert D. Enright and Joanna North
    • Power and reality of forgiveness : forgiving the murderer of one’s child /​ Marietta Jaeger
    • “Ideal” of forgiveness : a philosopher’s exploration /​ Joanna North
    • Metaphysics and morality of forgiveness /​ Keith E. Yandell
    • Psychology of interpersonal forgiveness /​ Robert D. Enright, Suzanne Freedman, and Julio Rique
    • Anger and the healing power of forgiveness : a psychiatrist’s view /​ Richard Fitzgibbons
    • Process of forgiveness in marriage and the family /​ Paul W. Coleman
    • Forgivers and the unforgivable /​ Beverly Flanigan
    • Forgiveness and crime : the possibilities of restorative justice /​ Walter J. Dickey
    • Forgiveness in the community : views from an Episcopal priest and former chief of police /​ David Couper
    • Is there forgiveness in politics? : Germany, Vietnam, and America /​ Donald W. Shriver, Jr.
    • Expanding our options : the challenge of forgiveness /​ Joseph W. Elder.

Flanigan, Beverly. Forgiving the Unforgivable: Overcoming the Bitter Legacy of Intimate Wounds, Macmillan, 1992.

In Forgiving the Unforgivable, author Beverly Flanigan, a leading authority on forgiveness, defines such unforgivable injuries, explains their poisonous effects, and then guides readers out of the paralyzing anger and resentment. As a Fellow of the Kellogg Foundation, Flanigan conducted a pioneering study of forgiveness, and from that study, from her clinical practice, and from her many years of teaching, researching, and conducting professional workshops and seminars, she devised a unique six-stage program, presented here. Filled with inspiring real-life examples, Forgiving the Unforgivable is both a practical and a comforting guide to recovery and healing.

Gobodo-Madzikila, Pumla. A Human Being Died That Night: A South African Story of Forgiveness, Houghton Mifflin, 2003.

A clinical psychologist, professor, and member of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) describes how she met in a maximum security prison with Eugene de Kock, the notorious commander of apartheid death squads.  She explores how “good church going people” can do the most horrible acts, and what forgiveness means in this circumstance.  She was one of nineteen people on South Africa’s TRC, and her interviews with  de Kock left her so unsettled, she felt compelled to write this book.  In addition, Gobodo-Madzikla weaves in stories of victims and other criminals on both sides of the racial barrier, who she met while serving on the commission.

Griswold, Charles L. Forgiveness: A Philosophical Exploration, Cambridge, 2007.

A comprehensive philosophical book on forgiveness in both its interpersonal and political contexts, as well as its relation to reconciliation. Having examined the place of forgiveness in ancient philosophy and in modern thought, he discusses what forgiveness is, what conditions the parties to it must meet, its relation to revenge and hatred, when it is permissible and whether it is obligatory, and why it is a virtue. He considers “the unforgivable,” as well as perplexing notions such as self-forgiveness, forgiving on behalf of others, and unilateral forgiveness, while also illuminating the associated phenomena of pardon, mercy, amnesty, excuse, compassion, and apology. Griswold argues that forgiveness (unlike apology) is inappropriate in politics and analyzes the nature and limits of political apology with reference to historical examples (including Truth and Reconciliation Commissions).The book concludes with an examination of the relation between memory, narrative, and truth.

Hadley, Michael L. (Editor). The Spiritual Roots of Restorative Justice, State University of New York, 2001.

This interdisciplinary study explores what major spiritual traditions say in text, tradition, and current practice about criminal justice in general and Restorative Justice in particular. It reflects the close collaboration of scholars and professionals engaged in multifaith reflection on the theory and practice of criminal law. A variety of traditions are explored: Aboriginal spirituality, Buddhism, Chinese religions, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and Sikhism. Drawing on a wide range of literature and experience in the field of Restorative Justice and recognizing the ongoing interdisciplinary research into the complex relationships between religion and violence, the contributors clarify how faith-based principles of reconciliation, restoration, and healing might be implemented in pluralistic multicultural societies.

Lampman, Lisa Barnes, and Shattuck, Michelle D. (Editors). God and the Victim: Theological Reflections on Evil, Victimization, Justice, and Forgiveness, Eerdmans, 2000.

This collection of essays grew out of a 1997 “Theological Forum on Crime Victims and the Church,” sponsored by Neighbors Who Care. Neighbors Who Care (NWC) was a non-profit organization affiliated with Prison Fellowship Ministries. The purpose of NWC was to assist churches that serve victims of crime in their congregations and communities. Seeing a need for serious theological and biblical reflection on issues of crime victimization and the Christian Church, NWC invited a number of religious scholars, clergy, and victim service-providers to present papers on and discuss key issues facing crime victims. Out of that forum in 1997 came the essays in this book. Written by various participants in the forum, the chapters cover questions about the presence of God in relation to the experience of crime, the role of the Church in caring for crime victims, victimization and healing, restoring justice, forgiveness, and more. Included in the book are a study guide for individuals and groups, recommendations for further study, resources for victim services, and a list of forum participants and contributors to the book.

Mandell, Sherri. The Blessing of a Broken Heart, Toby Press, 2003.

Memoir of the mother of a boy stoned to death in the Judean desert.  Koby Mandell was just thirteen-years-old on May 8, 2001, when he and his friend Yosef cut school to go hiking. Their bodies were found the next day. The boys had been brutally stoned to death in a cave in the heart of the Judean desert.  Survivor Story.

McCullough, Michael. Beyond Revenge: The Evolution of the Forgiveness Instinct, Jossey-Bass, 2008.

Argues that the key to a forgiving is to understand the evolutionary forces that gave rise to these intimately human instincts and the social forces that activate them in human minds. Drawing on breakthroughs from the social and biological sciences, this book offers advice for making the world a forgiving place.


Miller, D. Patrick.  A Little Book of Forgiveness: Challenges and Meditations for Anyone with Something to Forgive, Fearless, 2004. 

Patrick Miller reveals forgiveness as “a radical way of life that openly contradicts the most common and popular beliefs of this troubled world.” Includes four concise sections:

    • Seven Steps of Forgiving,
    • Forgiving Others,
    • Forgiving Yourself, and
    • Where Forgiveness Leads.

Murphy, Jeffrie G. Getting Even: Forgiveness and Its Limits, Oxford, 2003.

In this short and accessible book, philosopher and law professor Jeffrie Murphy proposes that vindictive emotions (anger, resentment, and the desire for revenge) actually deserve a more legitimate place in our emotional, social, and legal lives than we currently recognize, while forgiveness deserves to be more selectively granted. Murphy grounds his views on careful analysis of the nature of forgiveness, a subtle understanding of the psychology of anger and resentment, and a fine appreciation of the ethical issues of self-respect and self-defense. He also uses accessible examples from law, literature, and religion to make his points.   Includes the following chapters:

    1. What is Forgiveness?
    2. Two Cheers for Vindictiveness
    3. Vindictiveness and the Law
    4. Forgiveness as a Virtue
    5. Repentance, Punishment, and Mercy
    6. Self-Forgiveness
    7. Forgiveness in Psychotherapy
    8. Forgiveness and Christianity
    9. Christianity and Capital Punishment

Spring, Janis Abrahms. How Can I Forgive You: The Courage to Forgive, the Freedom Not To,  HarperCollins, 2004.

We have been taught that forgiveness is good for us and that good people forgive. Dr. Spring, a therapist and the author of After the Affair, proposes an alternative that will enable some to overcome the corrosive effects of hate and get on with their lives—without forgiving. She also offers an unconventional model for genuine forgiveness—one that asks as much of the offender as it does of the wronged.  This book includes step-by-step, concrete instructions that help some make peace with others and with themselves, while addressing questions such as these: How do I forgive someone who is unremorseful or dead? When is forgiveness cheap? What is wrong with refusing to forgive? How can the offender earn forgiveness? How do we forgive ourselves for hurting another human being?

Worthington, Everett L., Jr. (Editor). Dimensions of Forgiveness: Psychological Research & Theological Perspectives, Templeton, 1998.

This volume draws from some of the papers presented by more than forty research scientists and theologians at a conference on forgiveness sponsored by the John Templeton Foundation, whose purpose was to define the field and lay the foundation for future scientific research on forgiveness.   From the psychological and theological perspectives presented, they present the view that forgiveness holds within it the keys to spiritual, emotional, and physical well-being, as well as peace.


Worthington, Everett L., Jr. Forgiveness and Reconciliation: Theory and Application, Routledge, 2006.

Forgiveness and Reconciliation focuses on individual experiences with forgiveness, aiming to create a theory of what forgiveness is and connect it to a clinical theory of how to promote forgiveness. Dr. Worthington creates an evidence-based approach that is applicable for individuals and relationships, and even for society. He also describes an evidence-based method of reconciliation – restoring trust in damaged relationships. Dr. Worthington hopes that this theory will inform scientific research and improve intervention strategies. Showing that forgiveness transforms personality, Worthington describes ways a clinician can promote (but not force) forgiveness of others and self. He provides research-based theory and applications and discusses the role of emotion and specific personality traits as related to forgiveness.

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