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September 21, 2005



I think I agree with everything you wrote, but I think we ought to be as clear as possible about our terms, specifically, forgiveness. I think we ought to distinguish forgiveness, in the spiritual sense, from a reduction in the vigor of our search for justice against those who have perpetrated crimes against humanity. The former is much more personal than social and political.

The forgiveness question doesn't seem that complicated to me. In a spiritual sense, we needn't reach a consensus; it's a matter for each harmed individual to struggle with and reach a conclusion. We don't need to reach some sort of social consensus, and I'm not sure there is much to be gained by trying. Furthermore, support for vigorous pursuit and prosecution for the violation of the law and crimes against humanity don't preclude forgiveness in a spiritual sense; in fact, for many, the latter might be a precondition for the former--it's hard to imagine forgiving the genocidal war criminal who is living comfortably in hiding, extending his crime by avoiding responsibility for it.


One use of this blog is to document that growth, not merely for the amusement and edification of others, but to remind myself of how far I've come and how far I've still got to go.

This seems disingenuous. If the purpose of what you write here were merely to remind yourself of what a putrid asshole you were as a young man, you could do it in private. You wouldn't feel the need to burden the rest of us with that knowledge. And for what it's worth, I don't think I'm particularly amused or edified by the knowledge that someone I respect hated my guts for no good reason when I was a very small child.

Is that enough for my Jewish readers? My Jewish acquaintances? I don't know.

Oh, give me a break. We probably all did things we're not proud of when we were 15. You don't need to perform penance as far as I'm concerned. I just don't really want to wake up in the morning to the cheerful news that seemingly nice people used to loathe me. It just makes it harder for me to read everything else you have to say wth an open mind, and that's a shame, because you have all sorts of good and interesting things to say.


Sally, if taking me seriously hinges on not knowing the truth about who I am and who I've been, I'd rather you simply dismiss me. I'm not willing to sacrifice candor in order to gain a wider audience or to maintain respect. Perhaps that's a self-destructive failing.


Um, ok.

Maybe once you've told all the Jews to go away, you'll have a nice, comfortable blog where you can admit that you were a bigot and everyone will hug you and tell you it's no big deal. That'll probably be more effective than implying that Jews should prove that we're as good and forgiving as Christians by saying that you're "cleansed" because you taught a class and went on some field trips.


Not being Jewish, I don't take immediate offense to Hugo stating that he was a collosal (but nonviolent) ass at age 15 and that he grew out of it. It didn't directly hurt me then, and it doesn't hurt me now. However, it might be MORE interesting to figure out why some people grow out of it and others get stuck in hate mode, since as Hugo indicates, going through a phase of adolescent hate/savior complex/fascination with violence is fairly common, especially for boys.

Mr. Bad

Hugo et al.,

I know that there are many men - MRAs and others - who view feminists and their allies the same way that Jews view you vis-a-vis your dabbling in Nazi politics as a youth. We can try to forgive such people - mostly women - who either proclaim feminism or at the very least enjoy the advantages, privileges and other spoils that feminists have provided women in Western societies, but at the end of the day we pretty much consider any person who isn't an anti-feminist the way the Sallys of the world view anyone who isn't an anti-Nazi.

Food for thought.


Having gone through a phase similar to yours, though pre-adolescent, and more fascinated with Prussian militarism than with the Nazis (and never anti-Semitic - I had Jewish friends growing up), I think at least part of the attraction is not the attraction to evil for the sake of shocking the adults, but instead the attraction to the martial virtues, which is of a piece with boys' fascination with toy soldiers, toy guns, images of war, and football. I think these things become especially attractive to boys because schools de-emphasize or suppress these things, and most teachers are female. Turning towards Nazism is a pathological aspect of something which is otherwise normal.


Sally, that's off-center. Nothing in what he wrote suggested he wished to tell anyone to go away. I understand your feelings to a degree--I would have a hard time entirely trusting someone who, for example, once held virulent anti-Mormon views as a teenager(since I'm LDS), and yeah, I'd be afraid of finding more reasons to dislike someone I initially admired. But do you really want him to pretend it didn't happen? Stupid teenage prejudice is part of who a person is, and reading about someone overcoming it can be a constructive and evocative experience. Might help those who are still in the process--who knows?

djw, I agree with your distinction. forgiveness doesn't mean impunity for criminals. It's an internal, individual process that may strongly affect how we treat a given offender during the process of justice, but by no means prevents a society from meting out appropriate punishments for crimes.


Your candor about what you perceive to be your failings is one of the reasons I most enjoy your blog, Hugo. As a writer of poetry (which often draws on the autobiographical) and personal essays (which almost always do), I'm fascinated by the transformative possibilities inherent in telling and retelling one's story...and I admire your openness about who you have been, who you are now, and who you hope to become.

To me, the process that you're engaged in has some similarities to what Jews call teshuvah, usually translated as "repentance" but more literally meaning something like "return." We're called-upon to do teshuvah at all times, of course, but it's a particular focus during the month leading up to the Days of Awe, and during the Days of Awe themselves. In teshuvah, we closely examine who we are and who we wish to be; we acknowledge the ways in which we have committed chet (usually translated as "sin," though it's actually an archery term meaning "missing the mark"); we seek to fix what is broken within us and in our relationships; and in so doing, we return to connection with God, who was waiting for us all along.

In that spirit -- may this continual process of revealing yourself to your friends and readers be helpful in your journey towards wholeness!

Jonathan Dresner

Jewish tradition distinguishes between sins against God and injuries against fellow humans: in the former case, it is between the penitent and God, and repentance (Teshuvah)requires not only supplication but an active "turning away" from sin; in the latter case, it is between the individuals involved, and even in the absence of a grant of forgiveness, the penitent is excused if they have made reparation and asked sincerely for forgiveness thrice.

I would not presume to know God's reaction to Hugo's life thus far, but he seems to fit the definitions well enough. With regard to the latter case, it isn't clear to me, aside from a mild discomfort, that he did "harm" to anyone to whom he should be forced to make reparation; except perhaps in the general sense of adding to a social problem, but his teaching and ministry since his maturity would fall into the category of suitable reparations, at least in my book.

It is actually somewhat heartening to hear of someone who struggled with this particular demon and won; perhaps it is more common than we think, but so far all we really know is that some, and we don't know what share, of the teens who pass through that particular "dark valley" do not come through as well, or at all.


What good does it do to continue to burn with hatred of the Nazis, who are nearly all dead now anyway? I believe that underlying Christ's commandment to forgive and love is the truth that hate enslaves, and love liberates.

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