Redemption

I recently read an addicting fanfic (Hiddle me this) that explored the possibility of a person’s public face contrasting starkly with their proclivities in private life.

The author included an alternate ending with a few thoughts on forgiveness and redemption:

“I believe that there are truly evil people in this world, whether they see it that way or not. Tom may have only been talking about the mindset needed to play a character like Loki, and in the context of acting, his statement may certainly be true. But if someone who has purposefully done truly heinous things repents on their deathbed, is that good enough? They may have seen the error of their ways, but that doesn’t mean that they are worthy of the forgiveness of others, or that their wrongs may be righted. I think in this respect, Tom has led a bit of a sheltered life. It’s different to read about atrocities in the newspaper than to see them with your own eyes.”

– Cumberknit

This assessment was in response to a few quotes of Tom Hiddleston, including:

“I don’t think there are villains in this world. I think there are just misunderstood heroes.”

and also

“I don’t think anyone, until their soul leaves their body, is past the point of no return.”

I’m not sure that it’s useful to label any person as “truly evil,” even if his* transgressions certainly deserve it. To do so is to ignore everything else that he is. It may not seem important to really percieve another human being in his entirety, but to understand — rather than label — gives us more insight. A person who does evil things may have some complicated internal logic whereby he has convinced himself that his actions really were for the best. There are very few (if any) purely sociopathic people, and if we look hard enough into any given case, we can see how such a person was shaped by experiences and by the expectations of others.

The first quote is probably related to this:

“If you look at all of the villains in the course of human history, they’ve all believed, delusionally, in the virtue of their actions – every villain is a hero in his own mind.” [source]

In other words, it’s dependent on point of view. When we attempt to understand the motivations behind evil actions, we become better able to forgive. Furthermore, we gain the potential to be more successful at changing hearts and minds.

I think it’s true that our theoretical villain can come to understand the ramifications of his actions and begin to regret deeply and truly right up to his dying moment. I believe that it is possible for him, if he wants it badly enough, to atone for his actions and choose to live differently. It may be the exception rather than the rule, but I will always believe in that possibility. What should a deathbed repentance count for? The question of whether any of this is good enough is entirely separate, and up to the victims. Of course, I’m not claiming our repentant villain automatically “deserves” forgiveness. Forgiveness is a salve for the victim more than anything else. I agree that there is no “beyond the point of no return” though — there is always a way back.

* Gendered pronouns used for ease of notation only.

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3 thoughts on “Redemption

  1. As demonstrated in the recent Doctor Who episode, “A Town Called Mercy,” the repentance of and atonement for awful deeds does not right the wrong. Of course people are complex, and no one is a one-dimensional character (though sociopaths certainly exist who lack the capacity for empathy). The fact remains that, while a person may come to realize that they misguidedly harmed others, that realization doesn’t fix any of the harm done. Is there an amount of “red on your ledger” that can’t be erased? Does repentance mean that the person shouldn’t be punished for their prior actions? s The Doctor told Kahler-Jex, “You don’t get to choose how you atone.” Kahler-Jex’s decision to pay for his crimes by living a new life on Earth could be seen as quite the arrogant and self-serving decision, despite the fact that he seemed quite sincere (though he continued to justify what he had done, when questioned).

    So, while a person who has done evil deeds and harmed others always has a chance to repent, they may not have a chance at forgiveness or atonement, because that is not in their hands. It’s up to those harmed (or their surrogates) to decide whether forgiveness is possible, not to the perpetrator. What does “past the point of no return” mean? I think that it means a person can see the error of their ways. But that doesn’t automatically make them a good person.

    I don’t think we disagree; I just think that I find the view of the wronged to outweigh the view of the (reformed) perpetrator.

    Such deep philosophical thoughts our dear Tom brings us!

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    1. Yes, I think we’re in complete agreement — whether a person deserves forgiveness is always up to the victim. And you’re right that even truly recognizing the errors of one’s past doesn’t erase them or automatically make one a good person.

      Now that you’ve referenced Doctor Who, I guess I’ll have to start watching. 😉

      Thank you for bringing such an interesting discussion.

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  2. Hmmm. I have grossly mixed opinions on the above, it all seems to predicate on the victim of the perpetrator (or surrogates) being aware of the misdeeds. So what of the victims of animal abuse, or those who never discover the misdeed that has been done. Does the perpetrator fess up to his actions? And what if that were to cause more harm? Is it not easier for one to believe a sweet lie than a bitter truth? How then does one seek atonement for his misdeeds? All redemption truly lies within and from the understanding that your righteous and haneous actions have led you to the point where you wish to ammend or improve your lifes direction. If you have to restitute then you do so by first doing no harm, redemption comes from within.

    Ka is always served.

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