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Journal of the Society of Christian Ethics

Volume 22, Fall 2002

June O'Connor
Pages 165-182

Fostering Forgiveness in the Public Square
How Realistic a Goal?

It has been proposed in South Africa and other sites that forgiveness is a political necessity if social reconstruction is to be effective following regimes of terror and torture. By placing the spotlight on forgiveness, these claims raise questions about the realism and relevance of forgiveness to public life. This paper interrogates the moral realism of forgiveness in public life by identifying some of its defining features, by comparing it to forgiveness in therapeutic and interpersonal settings, and by examining proposed reasons and motivations for forgiveness in the face of moral atrocities inflicted, tolerated, or ignored by an apartheid governance in South Africa. The author argues that the South African experience displays forgiveness as a realistic, though difficult moral choice, when forgiveness in the public square is construed as a feature of the common good.

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