Book Notes: God Is Not a Christian by Desmond Tutu: What About Justice?


I read God Is Not a Christian: And Other Provocations by Desmond Tutu, and it is one of the most amazing books I have read. I greatly recommend it, whatever your religious beliefs. Desmond Tutu, arch-bishop of the Anglican Church in South Africa has won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984, fought against the apartheid, and is incredibly out-spoken concerning issues of tolerance, oppression, civil and human rights. I want to quote ever single page, but I’m trying to limit myself. Today I’ll be sharing my favourite quotes from the chapter, What About Justice?

What About Justice?

“We should not be scared of being confrontational, of facing people with the wrong that they have done. Forgiving doesn’t mean turning yourself into a doormat for people to wipe their boots on. Our Lord was very forgiving. But he faced up to those he thought were self-righteous, who were behaving in a ghastly fashion, and called them a “generation of vipers” (Matthew 23:33, KJV).

Forgiveness doesn’t mean pretending things aren’t as they really are. Forgiveness is a recognition that there is a ghastliness that has happened. Forgiveness doesn’t mean trying to paper over the cracks. Forgiveness means that both the wronged and the culprits of those wrongs acknowledge that something has happened. There is necessarily a measure of confrontation. People sometimes think that you shouldn’t be abrasive. But sometimes you have to be to make people acknowledge that they have done something wrong.”

“Santayana declared hauntingly, “Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.” And general amnesty victimizes the victims a second time around by asserting either that what happened to them did not really happen or, worse, that it was of little moment; and so those victims are not able to experience closure and will nurse grudges and resentments that may have dire consequences for peace and stability as their anguish festers, and they may one day take their revenge.

So the negotiators opted instead for a principled compromise: individual amnesty, not general amnesty, in exchange for the whole truth relating to the offense for which amnesty was being sought. “Amnesty for truth?” many have asked in genuine concern. “But what about justice? Are you not encouraging impunity?” Fist, it is important to stress that this way of going about things was deliberately designed only for this delicate period of transition, ad hoc – once and for all. Far from encouraging impunity, this way of going about things stressed accountability, since the amnesty seeker had to admit committing an offense. Innocent people or those who claimed innocence obviously did not need amnesty.”

“But in using this argument we would in fact be thinking only in terms of retributive justice, whose raison d’être is to punish the perpetrator. There is another kind of justice: restorative justice, whose chief purpose is not punitive but restorative, healing. It holds as central the essential humanity of the perpetrator of even the most gruesome atrocity, never giving up on anyone, believing in the essential goodness of all as created in the image of God, and believing that even the worst of us still remainds a  child of God with the potential to become better, someone to be salvaged, to be rehabilitated, not to be ostracized but ultimately to be re-integrated into the community. Restorative justice believes that an offense has caused a breach, has disturbed the social equilibrium, which must be restored, and the breach healed, in a process through which the offender and the victim can be reconciled and peace restored.”

“What it all says is that forgiveness is never cheap, never easy, but that it is possible, and that ultimately real reconciliation can happen only on the basis of the truth. In reality, there can be no future without forgiveness, for revenge merely begets further violence, causing an inexorable spiral of reprisal, provoking counter-reprisals ad infinitum.”


1 Comment


    1. Writer’s Wednesday: God Is Not a Christian by Desmond Tutu « Becky's Kaleidoscope

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