This Sunday we are discussing: Redemption.
And although we are one week late after Easter, redemption is always an
apt topic during this time of the year. We all agree that redemption is
a religious term; the question is what comes after.
Ceit, Ruel and I have each written an essay on the topic, but of course
we all look forward to your point of view on Sunday.
Since redemption was my bright idea, I felt some obligation to compose.
In English, redemption is a word weighted with religious and spiritual
feeling; we are redeemed in the Blood of the Lamb, Christ is the
Redeemer, etc. Funnily enough, it also has a decidedly unreligious
usage. Many US states, trying to encourage recycling, offer 5 or 10
cent redemptions on beverage bottles and cans, which can be redeemed at
any store that sells the product. How can these uses be reconciled?
The main idea is that a person or thing is made useful after losing that
capacity through sin (people) or losing contents (containers). Of
course, for people in the religious sense, redemption is to make them
useful to their god(s), which may or may not have any benefit for their
physical environment. Redeemed containers, however, will be recycled;
some bottles are simply refilled, others, like cans, broken down and
remade into something else that has a use to the species of their maker.
To focus on people, while redemption is intimately linked to religion,
especially Christianity, it also has a secular usage. It is a state
connected to forgiveness and earning it from others. To redeem yourself
in the eyes of others is to atone for past wrong doing and be seen as
good and trustworthy. The song "Thrash Unreal" by the punk band Against
Me! includes the lines, "They don't know nothin' about redemption, they
don't know nothin' about recovery." The "main character" was a junky
but is now implied to be free of drugs, if not the clubbing lifestyle.
Most recovery programs for substance addiction and abuse have an element
of Christianity, or at least religiosity, highlighting the tie between
the idea of redemption and the supernatural redeemer once again.
Does this mean we have to have an outside force/judge/observer to
achieve redemption? Is it a state granted only by an external party or
can we claim it for ourselves? In the religious sense, the redeemer is
obviously removed from ourselves and from the real world entirely. When
changing bad habits, perhaps our families or program mentors take on the
role of redemption certifier, but we redeem ourselves. It seems to be
closely linked with forgiveness in this case, although the forgiveness
of whatever divine being is also a part of religious redemption. What
differentiates redemption and forgiveness then? It appears to be
sacrifice. For an addict to redeem themselves before their friends and
family, they have to change their lifestyle, which inevitably means a
sacrifice on their part even if it's for the better. For Christians,
the Redeemer was killed on their behalf before they were even born.
Forgiveness may be given with or without any effort on the part of the
object of forgiveness, but redemption requires active participation in
its earning and bestowal. It is not merely a gift or state we can
accidentally find ourselves in, it is an achievement, one might even say
a reward for our efforts. This is fairly obvious in secular contexts,
but where is our sacrifice for redemption in a Christian set of
circumstances? It looks more like some guy a couple millennia ago did
all the heavy lifting for us. Well, in order to be redeemed in Christ,
we do have to accept the sacrifice. We have to put aside any selfish
desires and work only towards the furthering of the kingdom, ignoring
personal ("earthly") pleasures. If we have never been tempted away from
the holy life (almost a miracle, that) we cannot truly be redeemed since
no change or real sacrifice/effort was made or necessary on our part.
Redemption requires change for "the better". Of course, some believers
get around this by saying we are all born with the stain of Original
Sin, so even if we never actually perform any ungodly acts in our whole
lives, we achieve redemption by not giving in to our inborn "sinful"
So, is the truth of redemption the effort and sacrifice behind it? Is
it a relevant idea in our lives or does it belong to the realm of
religious "mysteries" trotted out for effect but devoid of any real
meaning or substance? Also, should the religious be offended by bottles
and cans sharing their special reward, or do they see themselves as
objects of their lord as much as a soda can is an object to a regular
Here´s the link to what I wrote on Sunday´s PhiloMadrid topic:
See you on Sunday.
Redemption is a religious term which broadly means doing something, some
form of atonement act, to be forgiven for previous sins. In the
Christian religion this sin would be the original sin of disobeying god
and eating from the fruit of the apple tree.
Of course, for a philosophical analysis we do not need to go into the
religious content and context; religion is beyond the scope of
philosophy. However, forgiveness is always a valid issue in ethics,
philosophy of mind and political philosophy. And because of the
influence religion has in the real world our hand is rather tied.
The two necessary conditions for forgiveness are: 1) an act that has
done harm to the victim, 2) an act by the victim not to hold the
perpetrator to any emotional feeling of guilt for his her action. But
this does not necessarily neutralise any legal guilt nor the reputation
of the perpetrator. At the very least it means that the victim does not
However, redemption requires some special act, directly or indirectly,
performed by the perpetrator before forgiveness is granted. In the
religious context it required Christ, as a human, dying on the cross; in
South Africa it required a confessions of one's racist crimes under
Therefore, the normal meaning and use of forgiveness is quite soft
compared to redemption. Forgiveness can be granted without the
intentions after the act or behaviour of the perpetrator. Redemption is
a trade between the two parties although the forgiveness part is still a
free and voluntary act by the victim. Redemption is like a formal
contract (South Africa) or even better, a gentlemen's agreement (god and
In both contexts of meaning (formal contract/gentlemen's agreement), a
necessary condition is that of feeling of guilt by the perpetrator. We
can empirically verify if some individual really feels guilty, or not,
for an act even if it is a bit difficult to do so sometimes. Moreover,
we can also verify, up to a point, the acts of an individual, the
problem is collective guilt.
There is something inherently wrong in blaming a whole society for an
act perpetrated by a few members. Not all South Africans were racists
against the indigenous African population of the region; not all Germans
were racists against the Jews or gypsies. I would argue that guilt is
like being pregnant; I cannot be pregnant just because my neighbour is
And although we can argue that in both SA and Germany people generally
feel a sort of collective guilt, hideous wrong doing does not, of
itself, lead to a feeling of collective guilt, maybe similar to how
individuals feel. For example, we do not sense a feeling of collective
guilt in the USA for the racist policies against Afro-Americans or the
indigenous population. Political correctness is not, in my opinion, a
feeling of guilt: we can say the same of Japan towards China.
The question for us is whether today we can validly speak of collective
guilt. There is no doubt that collective guilt is a primitive concept;
and small tribal societies make it easier for everyone in that society
to take an active part in the relevant act wrong doing. Thus in a tribe
of say 200 people we can empirically "establish" those who participated
in a wrong doing and also those who supported them. Even if we accept
that guilt by association is a different type of guilt from guilt by
commission, But guilt by being in the vicinity of a wrong act in a non
starter to establish collective guilt. Basically, not everyone bought a
house during the property boom and not everyone over spent on the credit
Furthermore, today, with a little bit of help from technology, despite
there being more people from a primitive tribe, we are not a collective
mass, but rather identifiable individuals; my telephone number is
different from yours. Thus contrary to religious belief, guilt is no
longer an empirical fact about everyone; today a collective is a
probabilistic possibility and not an absolute event; there will always
be those who refuse to play the game. Many Germans hated the Jews, but
not everyone did, many white South Africans oppressed the indigenous
Africans but not everyone, many white Americans discriminate against
Afro Americans, but not everyone. Today's ethical standards do not allow
us to proffer guilt on everyone simply because a few or even not so few
perform a wrong act.
It might be argued that redemption and collective guilt can be
considered as following the herd immunity model familiar in infectious
epidemics. A vaccine against polio or measles would protect everyone if
administered properly. Thus, certain vaccines give universal protection
if enough people are vaccinated in the community; but herd immunity does
not require that everyone is vaccinated only a sufficient number. But
this is not the case with redemption in a Christian religion. Although
Christ dying on the cross was the redemption against the original sin,
we are still born with the original sin and we still have to go through
the act of baptism to be saved.
But even outside the context of religion redemption does not give herd
immunity. In SA the forgiveness meant not being legally responsible but
it says nothing about stigma and people who did not confess their crimes
were not immune from legal accountability. The Jewish nation is still
regarded as guilty for Christ's suffering despite the fact that Jesus
forgave those who did him harm by condemning him to the cross. Thus
redemption is not a bullet proof jacket.
Given that forgiveness is a voluntary act, there is no causal link
between an act of contrition and forgiveness. Unlike say herd immunity
or a legal set up. I would therefore be reluctant to argue that
redemption would have any valid common use that would include automatic
forgiveness or collective guilt. However, a strict meaning of "doing an
act before forgiveness is granted" is a valid common use of the concept of
redemption; even though it might seem unfair and more of a business deal
rather than an ethical or moral act.
Unfortunately, redemption in the context of religion is fraught with
conundrums and irrational paradoxes. This not only reconfirms my claim
that religion is not the business of philosophy, but certainly
philosophy has no business in trying to solve the conundrums of the
imagination of other people. By trying to solve the conundrums of
religion we, as philosophers, are going to get ourselves into a tiswas.
Basically, if my neighbour is pregnant, that's her business.
Open Tertulia in English every Thursday from 19:30 to 21h at
Irish Pub, c/ Barceló 1 (metro Tribunal)
from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting: Redemption