The idea of Biblical forgiveness runs like a red line through the entire text of Desmond Tutu. Around the commandment of it, he builds his whole position as a human rights activist. Forgiveness is served through selfishness: “To forgive is indeed the best form of self-interest” (Tutu 191). This concept echoes Ayn Rand’s egoism, but Desmond Tutu’s position seems more profound (Mzangwa). On the surface, self-indulgence as a foundation for forgiveness seems absurd, but it requires careful consideration. It may assume that only the person who refuses to go to reconciliation shows selfishness. However, there are different intentions, and if people indulge their interests in progress, they can compromise with criminals. The society of South Africa, which crushed apartheid, was broken into small parts. Still, people were eager for renewal; no one was interested in chiding the criminals, proving them wrong; no one had the strength or time for revenge. The situation that Desmond Tutu calls self-interest is when people do not want to spend their energy on retribution but decide to develop a community. Forgiveness in this context appears in an intense light of past and future phenomena.
Such a thirst for life and an honest look into the future appeared in Desmond Tutu after enduring illnesses and contemplating suffering. He confesses: “The disease has helped me acknowledge my own mortality, with deep thanksgiving for the extraordinary things that have happened in my life, not at least in recent times” (92). Diseases often put a person in an intermediate state of life and death. A healthy man, full of energy, is frustrated with his body for the first time. It can be hard to accept; such a state of pulling an existential crisis impacts later life. Desmond Tutu probably completely overestimated his strength and capabilities at that moment. Life and youth are endless for young people, and the body will never let them down. However, in different circumstances (catastrophes or poverty), a person can break like a reed in the wind, as described by Blaise Pascal. It should be assumed that, in general, the religious view, perception, and psychology of Desmond Tutu are connected with this: human capabilities are negligible compared to divine ones. Man is entirely subordinate to the will of God in his destiny.
Faith helps people survive and believe in the best under the most disappointing circumstances. Desmond Tutu learned this from personal experience and the experience of other people who suffered from apartheid. He describes: “Sometimes, when evil seemed to be on the rampage and about to overwhelm goodness, one had held on to this article of faith by the skin of one’s teeth” (140). People need faith in an Absolute that is stronger than them, more vital than others, and more essential than the circumstances that hurt them. This faith gives meaning to the experienced suffering and makes a man continue to live, despite the difficulties. People’s lack of sense is akin to losing this life or giving it up (Frankl). Apartheid and wars are not similar events, but drawing a parallel in this context with Viktor Frankl is appropriate. The position of Viktor Frankl was that people who survived the Second World War and learned the experience of concentration camps needed meaningful attitudes to continue living. Desmond Tutu refers to acquiring meanings through connection with God.
Desmond Tutu’s religiosity, experience, and education helped him cleanse man from the ideas of the demonic and angelic, leaving only the idea of the Human, the living. Usually, people who strive to raise human qualities to the limit want to praise or blame someone. Desmond Tutu dismisses this idea: “Theology reminded me that, however diabolical the act, it did not turn the perpetrator into a demon” (47). No matter what happens, a person who commits a crime remains a person. Accordingly, he is worthy of indulgence and forgiveness, and the demonization of crimes is not permissible. This demonization will create a wall between the accused and the accusers, where there will be an unconditional and undoubted villain on one side. Justice, and then the society that survived for it, is not built on hatred or revenge. Crimes are committed by the same people who become victims of these or other terrible events. Desmond Tutu approaches this quote with the idea of human equality before God. When pronouncing a sentence, judges and witnesses must understand that the hoax of crimes is not lawful and that ordinary people commit all crimes.
Desmond Tutu postulates the total equality of people before God, and the denial of this leads them to grave consequences: complexes of guilt and shame. God created people equally, but not the same: “One of the most blasphemous consequences of injustice, especially racist injustice, is that it can make a child of God doubt that he or she is a child of God” (Tutu 58). Readers should view these words of Desmond Tutu through the prism of psychological reactions to the accusation. Doubt is an enormous mental torment that leads people to paranoid thoughts and anxieties. As a result, doubts and accusations on an ongoing basis can develop pathological feelings of guilt and shame in a person. Whether guilt or shame will be the central feeling will be shown by the specific situations in which the victim found himself. Usually, Western culture produces guilt in a person, which he tries to atone later through hard work, study, or pilgrimages. Having gone through such psychological bullying, a person subsequently wants to put his whole life on the altar of redemption.
In addition to the fact that all people are equal among themselves, they are a priori born and construct their identity in society. People are doomed to live together and belong to one group or another. A person exists only in connection with another person: “It says rather: I am human because I belong. I participate, I share” (Tutu 92). People make mistakes, but they are not isolated from society. Isolation in this situation is the most terrible punishment as if the parent ignored the child’s questions. Segregation is unbearable; it destroys the built identity and confuses a person completely, making him not understand who he is and what to do next. The offender is part of a social group or society. Desmond Tutu may be trying to say that not only will rejection reflect poorly on the individual and community later on, but that rejection is impossible. In addition, he postulates the critical idea of participation (or assistance) of a person in other people’s lives, thereby actualizing his existence in the social space.
Desmond Tutu brings connectedness of people in the context of freedom, postulating the existence of exclusively general liberty and not limited to some groups. Working towards freedom for blacks means achieving true freedom for white South Africans. Desmond Tutu is unwavering: “White South Africans would never be truly free until we blacks were free as well” (209). This idea is the most important in the entire text of Desmond Tutu, as it directly concerns his human rights issues. White South Africans need to accept their past and admit their mistakes. They must be acknowledged, not for scolding and reproach, but for acquiring new freedom. Nothing is given to people as hard as liberation from stereotypes, pride, and prejudice. Denial is impossible, as it is impossible to separate strictly black people from white South Africans; they are all God’s children, striving for happiness. On the way to this happiness, there should be no stops for the sake of scandals, revenge, and reveling in being right.
Under the guise of religious enlightenment literature, Desmond Tutu postulates vital existential ideas about people’s past, future, acceptance, guilt, and doom. His concept of forgiveness is deeply connected with religious acceptance, humility, and submission, with the will to progress and an open perspective on the future. Desmond Tutu sincerely believes not in Jesus Christ and God, his father, but in humans, created by divine power. A person’s weakness allows him to realize the finiteness of his path and the importance of continuously running towards happiness, faith, and honesty. Thus, a person acquires the strength to survive the most terrible catastrophes. The thirst for freedom should make people, first of all, free from revenge and the desire to blame offenders. Cooperation will make all parties to the conflict happy and will not sow seeds of discord in the future.
Frankl, Viktor Emil. Man’s Search for Meaning. London, UK: Rider Books, 2020.
Mzangwa, Shadrack T. “The Effects of Higher Education Policy on Transformation in Post-Apartheid South Africa.” Cogent Education, edited by Yüksel Dede, vol. 6, no. 1, 2019. Crossref, doi:10.1080/2331186x.2019.1592737.
Tutu, Desmond. No Future Without Forgiveness. New Ed, Image, 2000.