Friday, December 10, 2021

Unforgivable offenses that aren't all that terrible

When we talk of something as an unforgivable offense, we usually mean it is really a terrible thing. But if God doesn’t exist, then some very minor things are unforgivable and some very major things are forgivable.

Suppose that I read on the Internet about a person in Ruritania who has done something I politically disapprove of. I investigate to find out their address, and mail them a package of chocolates laced with a mild laxative. The package comes back to me from the post office, because my prospective victim was fictional and there is no such country as Ruritania.

If God doesn’t exist, I have done something unforgivable and beyond punishment. For there is no one with the standing to either forgive or punish me (I assume that the country I live in has a doctrine of impossible attempts on which attempts to harm non-existent persons are not legally punishable). Yet much worse things than this have been forgiven by the mercy of victims.

I ought to feel guilty for my attempt to make the life of my Ruritanian nemesis miserable. And if there is no God, there is no way out of guilt open to me: I cannot be forgiven nor can the offense be expiated by punishment.

The intuition that at least for relatively minor offenses there is an appropriate way to escape from guilt, thus, implies the existence of God—a being such that all offenses are ultimately against him.


Walter Van den Acker said...


The action may be unforgivable, but thé question is, does this action need to je forgiven?
I understand the need to be forgiven nu someone who is a victim of my actions, but in this case, the fact that that there are no victims seems to render the need for forgiveness rather artificial.
As for guilt, the very fact that I feel guilty about it is a kind of punishment d this guilt is so mild it Will fade away without Being forgiven.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Note that one can scale the example to be truly horrendous. Maybe you have false data that there is an alien species and by magic you try to cause them all to die in horrible agony... Then the guilt should be extreme.

Walter Van den Acker said...

I don't see why the guilt would je extreme if nobody actually got hurt.
In these cased it seems In am perfectly capable of 'forgiving' myself.