“The act of sin may pass, and yet the guilt remains.” St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)
The frailties and faults of mankind have been well established since the adoption of the religious concept of heaven and hell had gained currency by most people around the world. A fault is usually attributed to weakness especially of moral character (e.g., Adam and Eve who went counter God’s covenant and accepted to eat the apple offered by the serpent).
Anecdotally, the proverb “To error is human, to forgive is divine” also insinuates the inherent weakness in humans. Humankind is prone to making mistakes. As a consequence, man bears the burden of pain emanating from the feeling of guilt for some time, unless remedial measures are taken to alleviate the hurt such as through redemption. By “remedial” is meant here as curative or providing a remedy.
In the old days of colonialism (15th through19th centuries), redemption had a specific meaning derived from the bible: it simply referred to “a purchase” or “a ransom.” Thus, historically, redemption was used in reference to the purchase of a slave’s freedom. A slave was “redeemed” when the price was paid for his freedom. The use of redemption in the New Testament includes this same idea. Every person is a slave to a sin; only through the price Jesus paid on the cross is a sinful person redeemed from sin and death. So, there is no free ride to sin, mistakes, or misconducts.
Religiously, we refer to redemption as an act of redeeming or atoning for a fault or mistake. Redemption comes from the Latin word redimere, a combination of re (d)-, meaning “back,” and emere, meaning “buy.” From theological standpoint, redemption is what some religious people claim happens to your soul when you are saved from evil forces. Remedies include praying for redemption, for example, to the tooth fairy or to other deity in the hopes that an omnipotent being can save your soul or deliver you from a sin.
On the other hand, from psychological perspectives, redemption is to find relief from being haunted by a past act an individual regrets or by which he or she feels permanently stained. As a result, he or she tries to eliminate the burden of the feeling of guilt/remorse for the wrongs and mistakes committed.
When a wrong or a sin is committed by someone and if there is a feeling of guilt, redemption is usually attempted in one of two ways: either through religion to atone for sins by confession or psychologically through admission of fault by apologizing or by scapegoating (i.e., shifting) the blame on someone else. This shifting act is also known as “victimizing” someone for one’s own mistakes.
Based on research findings, it is an established rule of rhetoric that a culprit often seeks personal redemption through the act of victimizing another. The all too familiar case of two young siblings’ involves one blaming for his or her mistakes on the other. “I did not do it! He did it!” The Genocide denialists would say: the war caused many Armenians to die and, in fact, Armenians revolted against Turkey —and in the process they killed many Turks. Thus, by shifting the blame, the denialists absolve themselves of any wrongful act.
Let us take a recent example to illustrate these two ways of seeking redemption. By now, most of the readers have become familiar with the ongoing controversy surrounding some Armenian clergymen who have allegedly committed gross mistakes vis-a-vis vowed spirituality standards as expected from them. For instance, Archbishop Hovnan Derderian has been accused of many serious wrongdoings as a man of God.
Most of Archbishop Derderian’s transgressions have been published by Mr. Appo Jabarian, the Executive Publisher and Managing Editor of the USA Armenian Life Magazine and in its companion Hye Kiank. Frankly, had it not been for Mr Jabarian’s brave and honest investigative journalism, we, as the diaspora Armenians, would have been kept in the dark. As far as I know, none of the other Armenian newspapers has tried to get out of their comfort parameters of being politically correct to report the corruption of some of our high-ranking clergymen. Overwhelming number of letters to the editor, commentaries, and articles have been written about the corruption of power by our clergymen, especially by the three main individuals who have allegedly committed cardinal sins: Karekin II (Catolicos of All Armenians), Archbishop Hovnan Derderian (Western USA Diocese), and Archbishop Yezras Nersisyan (Russia Diocese).
In a world drowning in mundane news media, it is refreshing to see an island of innovative journalism, an oasis of reason and dedication to the Armenian Cause and Armenian advancement. Mr. Jabarian is one of the best and the brightest of the Armenian community. To muzzle him, to silence the press, these clergymen’s cohorts or body guards even threatened his life by forgetting that he was just the messenger. They tried to victimize him for the mistakes of others. Frankly, without his investigative reporting, we would be living under a rock about what is going on at our Armenian Apostolic Church.
The classic example of scapegoating or victimizing in the history of Armenia is when Ismail Enver, the Turkish Minister of War, in the Battle of Sarikamish, planned and took command of a winter invasion of Russia in the mountains of then Turkish/Russia border. Poor planning by Turkish commanders and severe weather conditions destroyed much of the Turkish invasion force during the WWI. The outcome was a decisive Russian victory. Humiliated, Enver, the megalomaniac “little Napoleon,” blamed his defeat on the Armenians. He brazenly claimed that the Armenians aided the enemies as a fifth column and vowed to put an end to their existence upon his return to Istanbul in collaboration with Mehmed Talaat. Instead of accepting defeat as his fault, he shifted the blame on the Armenians and caused the fateful day of the Genocide to begin on April 24, 1915, the nadir in the history of the Armenian nation.
To victimize Appo Jabarian is tantamount to accusing Khrimian Hayrig of encouraging the Ottoman Turks to exterminate the Armenians. Outrageous! Most Armenians expect our guilty clergymen to make a public acknow-ledgement of their mistakes, to make peace with God, to make peace with themselves, and with those who happen to know them, In other words, they should work on their redemption in order to be forgiven by their social environment.
Primitive tribes have always resorted to making sacrifices to purge the group of its problems and to keep the demons away. The usual victim was either a young human being or a four-legged animal that would be scarified to cleanse away problems usually caused by other humans or evil spirits. In our civilized 21st century, we are less inclined to kill an animal for this ritual to cast out of guilt. In its place, we invariably pick a plausible member(s) of our own species to scapegoat the problem to others. It is easier to blame others than to face reality. This constitutes an act of redemption by shifting of unwanted effects to others lifts us from the burden of self-examination. Scapegoating ploy or the victimizing subterfuge is a cheap way of covering up one’s own litany of sins. While it is one thing to be responsible for a sin, it is doubly wrong to incriminate someone else for one’s own mistakes.
The person who is guilty of wrongdoing faces a highway of four distinctly and mutually exclusive lanes for the future:
Remain silent about one’s guilt. Keep it to oneself and be haunted by it for the rest of one’s life.
Make a private religious confession to alleviate feelings of guilt but remain worried about the negative perception of one’s sociale nvironment.
Shift the blame on someone else (by scapegoating or victimizing process which is an unfair, if not an immoral, act).
Make a public apology to redeem oneself of the guilt and be accepted by most of the people one knows the culprit as was done by Jimmy Swaggart.
To help you get out of the dark on the subject, let me briefly remind you of a famous case of the remedial power of redemption. In the late 1980s, Pentecostal preacher Jimmy Swaggart fell out of the grace of his large ministry on account of scandals involving his relation with a prostitute. Swaggart publicly confessed his sinful behavior and apologized to everyone affected by it (family members, fellow Christians, and worshippers, etc.). After his infamous “I have sinned” speech, a large number of his followers forgave him. As a result, he began his new ministry and continued preaching. This is a good example of how life must go on because of its dynamisms and how redemption has the power to turn things around.
The path to redemption is made difficult by one’s ego or fear of punishment, but it is not insurmountable to follow. First, we must acknowledge that we have done wrong; secondly, accept responsibility for having done it; thirdly, ask for the forgiveness of those whom we have hurt by apologizing to them; and finally, promise never to do it again and resolve to move in the direction of high ground by being forthright in dealing with our fellow men and women. Naturally, we cannot easily escape the effects of our past actions, but we can aim to be transformed by them in a way that would strengthen the positive attributes in us.
Public apology by our accused clergymen of misconduct would be a win-win proposition. A remedial action is intended to correct a wrong or account for a sin or to improve a bad situation. The accused gets a relief from guilt feelings, a new lease on life, and the accuser gets closure. The ironclad rewards of psychological redemption include making peace with God; saving one’s self-concept and self-image; and rebuilding bridges with one’s friends and family members who subscribe to the age-old proverb of “To error is human, to forgive is divine.” After all, to forgive is the Christian way of dealing with someone’s guilty position.
Again, let me reiterate for emphasis, if the accused clergymen are truly guilty of the charges, they should resort to redemption. Religious redemption would cleanse their soul of sins and would put them on the path to heaven, while psychological redemption would clear their mind of the remorse of committing serious mistakes and would enable them to enjoy life with their friends and family members without the pangs of their painful past.
Centuries ago, Socrates once said that the unexamined life is not worth living. To examine our lives and acknowledge our failings, we need to launch the first step of making right with God, with ourselves, and with others that count. This crucial act would enable one to forgive oneself and find redemption in one’s own eyes as well. For anyone wrongdoer who remains haunted by a past act he regrets or by which he feels permanently stained, should remember that whoever fails to acknowledge his weakness and failings will never overcome them. Therefore, I sincerely hope and pray that our accused clergymen should begin to believe in the remedial power of redemption the sooner the better for their own sake and for the sake of all concerned Armenians who are worried about the status of some of their religious spiritual leaders and the future fate of their beloved iconic Armenian Apostolic Church which has survived many centuries of trials and tribulations.