“A Word on Repentance,” by Andrew J. Schatkin
Repentance is a concept in the Christian belief system and posits and demands an admission of wrongdoing on the part of the person repenting and general remorse in that admission. Hence, people are told by the church to repent of their sins. Repentance is not excusing and putting aside but an internal admission and remorse. In the West, I think that repentance, since Western societies were Christian in their original structure, was a very significant factor.
It could be said the West repents of its sins. But not always the East. For example, after the Holocaust, the German government did pay reparations to Jewish families. I make no critical statement or judgment but the Japanese government and citizens have not come to terms or made amends for the awful atrocities that they committed during “World War II.” The Japanese have never apologized for their brutal treatment of the Chinese and Koreans during the Second World War. The issues of Korean “Comfort Woman” or the rape of Nanking in China come to mind. I note that President Obama on his journey to Japan took note of the atomic bomb used against Hiroshima and Nagasaki but the Japanese had nothing to say of the atrocities committed by them on China and on prisoners of war and on captured American flyers. Moreover, the Turkish government has refused to take responsibility for the Armenian genocide. It is significant that after the Salem witch trials the judges responsible for these trials and the judgments that followed publicly repented.
The English slave trade was ended by the Christian William Wilberforce. It was the New England churches that led the abolitionist movement for some years. In this sense, Western societies grow and evolve. America repents, modifies, and changes. I do not criticize other societies and systems nor do I know enough to comment on them or how they work but I know this much. The West comes to terms with its sins but I surely do not know whether other societies even have the concept of sin and moral wrong and make public admission and modification of that wrong. Saudi Arabia and Pakistan take no refugees but Germany and Scandinavia do.
I would like to add one more comment. It is somewhat significant that under the Christian belief system Christ will accept a last-minute or even last-second act of repentance before death. This seems unfair for the righteous and good person who has led a blameless life. He gets no more reward than the fully wicked person who at the last second before death repents. I can only say that the love of Christ for every human being is that deep and profound. Christ’s love is so great for every human being who has ever lived or will live that he will accept that person at the last second of their life. Christ will afford the one who repents the same eternal life and joy that he affords to the person who has lived a completely good and blameless life. How can we explain this since it is so difficult to understand? I can only say that the value Christ and God sets on every human being is so great that he will accept that person at the last second. In short, Christ wants all human beings to be with him and will deny no one that change even at the last second.
We do not know and cannot know whether Hitler or Stalin repented at the last second. If they did and this repentance was genuine, then they are with Christ along with St. Francis and the disciples. I emphasize that I am not in a position to pass judgment on any other societies but merely have made what I think were pertinent observations to some degree.
This essay is taken from my book “Essays on Faith, Culture, Politics, and Philosophy,” chapter 11 entitled, “A Word on Repentance,” pp. 28-29, with some alterations, published by University Press of America.