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The injustice of the Jubilee There's no room for revenge in the Royal Family

Don't ask Nietzsche (In Pictures Ltd./Corbis via Getty Images)

Don't ask Nietzsche (In Pictures Ltd./Corbis via Getty Images)


June 2, 2022   4 mins

The Archbishop of Canterbury has the worst job in the world because the better he does his job the less he is admired. This is especially true when it comes to talking about forgiveness. Forgiveness may not be unique to the Christian faith but it is arguably more central to it than it is to other faiths. ā€œLove your enemiesā€ and ā€œforgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who have trespassed against usā€ are among the most well-known phrases spoken by Jesus.

So when the Archbishop this week suggested Prince Andrew is ā€œseeking to make amendsā€ and encouraged people to be more ā€œopen and forgivingā€, he was not going out on some fashionable theological limb. He was doing what he was supposed to be doing: proclaiming the faith.

But however often Christians say the word in church, forgiveness has always been a profoundly unpopular idea, and is increasingly so in a post-Christian society. Look at the reaction to the Archbishopā€™s comments. People are aghast and angry. Why? Because the very idea of forgiveness can be extremely hard to reconcile with the much simpler and more popular idea of justice.

Justice means people getting what they deserve. Wrongdoers facing punishment: an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Punishment has to be proportionate to the wrong done. The scales of justice cry out to be balanced. It is a debt that has to be paid. Yet the greasy and featherbedded Prince Andrew has obviously not paid his debt ā€” so how dare the Archbishop speak about forgiveness? Bloody establishment, they all look out for each other.

This is where justice can take us. It was Nietzsche ā€” no friend of the Christian faith, of course ā€” who famously suggested that even the justice of the courtroom can have a highly persecutory tone, a mob desire for the blood of the perpetrator camouflaged by wigs and gowns. Consider also that common set-up at the beginning of the trashy American revenge movie: a crime is committed that allows us to see the various acts of response, however gruesome, as a form of moral restitution. The idea of justice allows violence to be understood as morally acceptable, unavoidable even. Justice becomes the moral word for winning. And Americans like to be thought of as winners. It is, of course, their least attractive side. And their most foolish.

At its worst, this logic of justice can perpetuate violenceĀ ad infinitum. It can create an unstoppable cycle of vendetta ā€” one act of justice/violence inviting another. Feuds between families can perpetuate this drama over generations. Justice is the engine of revenge. Violence is mimetic. What most frightened Desmond Tutu about post-Apartheid South Africa was the prospect of justice driving a death cycle of violence ā€” with some never-ending response and counter-response sending his beloved country into perpetual civil war. ā€œNo future without forgiveness,ā€ he wrote. Forgiveness was a way of breaking the cycle of tit-for-tat violence. Peace could only be established by holding back on the justice bit. Forgive your enemies. That, for all its faults, is what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was seeking to model.

In complete contrast to Tutuā€™s ā€œNo forgiveness, no peaceā€, Black Lives Matter protestors regularly chant ā€œNo justice, no peaceā€. One way of reading this is that we wonā€™t give you peace unless we have racial justice. It can be heard as a moral justification of ongoing violence.

As well as perpetuating discord, the justice tradition has another related weakness: it invariably imagines that the person calling for justice is in the right. When Hamlet appeals to Polonius to treat others better than they deserve, he observes: ā€œUse every man after his own desert and who [of us] should escape whippingā€. Or in other words: if we all get justice, we are all in trouble. In the same vein, Martin Luther came to realise that he hated the phrase ā€œthe justice of Godā€ because all of us ā€” sinners that we are ā€” are condemned. Only through Godā€™s forgiveness can we be saved. OK, this is church speak. But the equivalent secular point is that all of us require forgiveness. Justice language ā€” unqualified by mercy ā€” points the finger at us all in the end. This is why social justice warriors end up consuming each other in an orgy of recrimination.

The Jubilee is a perfect time to think about forgiveness. This is when we try and think of ourselves as a national community, reconciled for a few hours of cake-eating and tea-drinking. The street party is a powerful way of neighbours, who may have fought for years over the garden fence, to put “being right” aside. I am an enthusiastic monarchist because I think of the crown as holding the community together in a way that is beyond political contestation. The Queen has sought to do this for 70 years. Itā€™s part of her priestly role as it were, itā€™s what she was anointed for. Thank God for her.

Jubilees seek to restore something broken or lost. At the turn of the millennium, many of us came together to lobby for the forgiveness of the financial debts that the developing world had built up over years. Jubilee 2000 asked that we wipe the slate clean. It drew upon the Biblical idea of the Jubilee ā€” that every 50 years debts would be redeemed. It is very telling that the Judeo-Christian tradition often uses financial language ā€“ debt, redemption ā€“ as ways of talking about salvation. Back then it was the right that complained about the forgiveness of debts. These days it is often the left. Both insist upon the iron logic of pay-back, justice.

Forgiveness is not sentimental slush. Itā€™s not being overly nice or gullible. Properly speaking, it is about the refusal to respond to wrongdoing in kind ā€” those last two words being very important. It is not a refusal of the criminal justice system. It is a recognition that you do not get punishment proportionate to the crime ā€” a murderer does not get murdered, a perpetrator of sexual violence does not get molested. Even more, it is a denial of the satisfaction that comes with payback. As Tutu was right to point out, forgiveness is a way of giving the community back a future, a strategy of restoration.

The reason being the Archbishop of Canterbury is the most impossible job in the world is that he has to try and say something like this within a public culture that believes forgiveness is fundamentally mistaken and wrong. It requires messy compromises. It might let people off the hook, smirking as they slink away. It might leave some victims unsatisfied, bitter that justice has not been properly dispensed.

But the alternative is a kind of endless cultural war. ā€œNo justice, no peaceā€ is a terrifying slogan. For often, justice is the desire for revenge by another name.


Giles Fraser is a journalist, broadcaster and Vicar of St Anne’s, Kew.

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Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
1 year ago

It is nice to read an article from Giles Fraser to which I can give unqualified assent.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

just a shame it started with ā€œThe Archbishop of Canterbury has the worst job in the world because ā€¦ā€¦ ā€œ
This is plainly nonsense ā€¦.

Last edited 1 year ago by Ian Barton
Judy Johnson
Judy Johnson
1 year ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

I think he was writing metaphorically!

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
1 year ago
Reply to  Judy Johnson

Figuratively rather than metaphorically, I would say.

Matt M
Matt M
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

Quite right Jeremy. The longer I live, the more important forgiveness seems to me. I have been in one or two situations where if I hadnā€™t found a way to forgive someone, tragedy would have resulted.

Last edited 1 year ago by Matt M
Aidan Trimble
Aidan Trimble
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt M

This piece has inspired me to at least partially forgive Giles Fraser for the bilge he’s spouted on Unherd.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
1 year ago
Reply to  Aidan Trimble

Iā€™m not there yet, but well done you!

Etty Welch
Etty Welch
1 year ago

Forgiveness is a matter for the private domain. The aggrieved individuals can forgive the offender or not.
But forgiveness of private misbehaviour is meaningless In the public domain.
One can appreciate The Prince’s efforts to make amends but at the same time feel that he’s not worthy to officiate in public functions.
So basically Prince Andrew is the wrong hook to hang the issue of forgiveness on.

Russell Hamilton
Russell Hamilton
1 year ago
Reply to  Etty Welch

I don’t know much about Prince Andrew. Like all second sons in that family (and particularly with that father) he was destined for the armed forces. Same with Prince Harry; they both served their country in war, demonstrating duty, loyalty and courage. Does that count for nothing these days?

Being in the navy was likely the cause of his marriage breaking up – an occupational hazard for MPs, fly-in fly-out miners and others who are called away from home for long periods. Following his navy career he was given a role in selling British-made arms overseas – his princely glamour and military background made him successful at it, which translated as jobs for British workers. So, quite a good, long record.

His ‘failure’ seems to have been to be, for a period, a social acquaintance of his friend’s husband. In that circle he may or may not have had sex with a 17 year-old girl who appears to have been happy to trade sex for the glamorous lifestyle. We’ll never know. But we might remember that it is he who is without sin that can throw the first stone.

Last edited 1 year ago by Russell Hamilton
JR Stoker
JR Stoker
1 year ago

Very well put

patrick macaskie
patrick macaskie
1 year ago

I am with Etty. I think you make very light of the problem of his association with Geoffrey Epstein, as if he were simply the victim of wokish humbug. There are plenty of men who go unpunished for this kind of seediness and no doubt women.   But this doesnā€™t make it ok. The Epstein story is one of abuse of power. It matters not whether Epstein’s teenage targets were complicit or not.   It is a failure of judgement and upbringing that he didnā€™t seem to realise this association would destroy his reputation. Reputations can be rebuilt…but only slowly and from the bottom up…and without the help of powerful people.

Russell Hamilton
Russell Hamilton
1 year ago

I don’t care that much about his association with Epstein. Former Presidents of the U.S. were happy to be entertained by Epstein, he was very well connected. If Andrew himself wasn’t doing anything wrong, and we don’t know that he did, I guess he thought it was just ‘modern life’ – Epstein wanted the cache of associating with Andrew and Andrew wanted financial tips from Epstein. Lord knows who he associated with when he was pushing weapons sales in the middle east

I disagree with you about whether it matters that the 17 year old girl was complicit or not. If she hadn’t been complicit her allegation would be very serious.

What I wanted to suggest is that people aren’t all good or all bad. Andrew has quite a few ticks on the right side of the ledger, I think we can cope with the fact that he has faults. Overall I don’t see that he deserves to be ‘cancelled’, the faults can be forgiven.

patrick macaskie
patrick macaskie
1 year ago

teenagers think they are grown up but they are not. we know that Epstein exploited this for his own ends and no one at the heart of his operation was concerned with their welfare. this whole question is about degrees of association. like the devil, Epstein knew how to tempt, manipulate and exploit. I don’t think it is a new idea that if you get embroiled in something like this it will harm your reputation and if you are a public figure you may have to resign your positions. it is not just about the specific accusations, which will never be tested in law.
as to the former US presidents, if they stand for office again, the American public will make their own judgements and decide how much they care.
“cancellation” is not about public opinion in the true sense of the word. it is more about well organised groups of activists successfully intimidating public institutions and employers. the Duke of York is a public figure and it is my impression he fell foul of public opinion. his TV interview did not help. I don’t understand the rush and I don’t think it is a good tactic for the circumstances.

Russell Hamilton
Russell Hamilton
1 year ago

Well, we agree that he fell foul of public opinion, but my guess is that it’s not because of a slight association with Epstein, or a possible liaison with a 17 year old. Who cares? What you hear all the time is it’s because he’s ‘arrogant’. That’s why he deserves to be taken down a peg or two, or three. Arrogance is an unattractive trait, but it runs in the family – his father? his aunt? – and he was brought up in that old royal way. You see it in Charles, Anne and Andrew, but not in the next generation – all their children are fine. We can choose to see Andrew’s arrogance in the way we now think of the arrogance of his elder relatives – as kind of an amusing historical feature, soon to fade away!

Iris C
Iris C
1 year ago
Reply to  Etty Welch

Didn’t Prince Andrew’s accuser step back when she knew she was going to be subpoenaed and have her assertions questioned in court?
On the basis of being innocent until proved guilty would seem to be relevant here.

Tom Lewis
Tom Lewis
1 year ago

I didnā€™t see the word ā€˜penitenceā€™ used in the article. Surely, if ā€˜forgivenessā€™ is one side of a coin, then ā€˜penitenceā€™ is the other.

Russell Hamilton
Russell Hamilton
1 year ago
Reply to  Tom Lewis

I don’t think forgiveness is conditional on penitence at all.

Andrew D
Andrew D
1 year ago

Not exclusively. Acts of charity and calling upon the intercession of the saints are other ways of obtaining forgiveness.

Russell Hamilton
Russell Hamilton
1 year ago
Reply to  Andrew D

It can just be given, rather than obtained.

E. L. Herndon
E. L. Herndon
1 year ago

Agreed, given by the grace of God. And isn’t a definition of Grace “an undeserved gift by an unobligated giver”?

Judy Johnson
Judy Johnson
1 year ago
Reply to  E. L. Herndon

There is some confusion between mercy and grace in this thread.

Nanda Kishor das
Nanda Kishor das
1 year ago

“This is why social justice warriors end up consuming each other in an orgy of recrimination.”

Very insightful. True Christian values are often at odds with their secular adaptations, such as social and racial justice.

Peter B
Peter B
1 year ago

Because this is what SJWs do ! The famous “narcissism of small differences” of the Left (ref Judean People’s Front, the appalling pile-on on J K Rowling, …).

geoffrey cox
geoffrey cox
1 year ago

All very nice, but behind Welby’s comment seems to lie the assumption that it’s any business of the mob and the media to ‘forgive’ Prince Andrew, who has not been found guilty of any crime. Instead he has been pronounced ‘disgraced’ – which has nothing to do with ‘justice’, but from which there is no way back and which leaves no room for forgiveness.

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
1 year ago
Reply to  geoffrey cox

If he were a ā€˜Noble Romanā€™ he would fall on his sword and save his family and the nation from embarrassment. But, sadly he isnā€™t.

Tony Buck
Tony Buck
1 year ago
Reply to  ARNAUD ALMARIC

Suicide isn’t noble.

And it is contrary to Christian teachings.

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
1 year ago
Reply to  Tony Buck

Thus the use of the termā€™Noble Romanā€™. Attitudes change.

Andy O'Gorman
Andy O'Gorman
1 year ago
Reply to  Tony Buck

It can be! And why should the church decide your fate if you wish to end it?
Having lost many to depression and then the suicide, I think I may know one or two things about the syndrome.

Russell Hamilton
Russell Hamilton
1 year ago
Reply to  ARNAUD ALMARIC

I think that would be exactly the wrong thing to do. Do you recommend the same for all who have been convicted by the gutter press and social media? Perhaps consider the case of John Profumo, disgraced for something he did do, but then led an exemplary life and was later awarded an OBE – that seems to me to be a far better way to go.

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
1 year ago

Profumo showed signs of contrition from the start, unlike for example the simply dreadful Judge Denning.
Fortunately he has got the ā€œget out of gaol freeā€ card,
the dreaded COVID-19!

Last edited 1 year ago by ARNAUD ALMARIC
Peter B
Peter B
1 year ago
Reply to  geoffrey cox

He is, however, guilty of bringing the Royal family and the country into disrepute (and bringing the Royal family into disrepute really takes some doing). Remember, he is on the public payroll and he only had one job – representing his country. Which he failed to do. You may be happy with that. I’m not. And the majority of the country isn’t either.
That’s without considering the man’s arrogance and entitlement (others have remarked on this and I know from reliable acquantainces this is true). And his appalling judgement in continuing to associate with Jeffrey Epstein. And the fact that he got his mum to pay off someone he never met. All he had to do was prove his innocence in court. He chose not to do so.
His job – his only job for which he was very well paid – was to represent his country with decency and dignity. He failed. He’s finally been fired. Good riddance.
We can talk about “forgiveness” when he shows some contrition. I’m not holding my breath.

Albireo Double
Albireo Double
1 year ago

The archbishop of Canterbury is not unpopular because he preaches forgiveness. He is unpopular because he has shamelessly politicised the position that he holds, and thus brought it into disrepute.
His God may forgive him for this. But his congregations are not. They are melting away like mist in the sun. Hardly a surprise.

Last edited 1 year ago by Albireo Double
Brooke Walford
Brooke Walford
1 year ago

Such an illuminating take on justice. So necessary for our accusatory times.

Jeff Butcher
Jeff Butcher
1 year ago

I agree with what Giles says here about forgiveness but the Archbishop of Canterbury is as much a political figure as a spiritual one and I think one does well to view what he says with a healthy dose of scepticism.

Andy O'Gorman
Andy O'Gorman
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeff Butcher

As with the Pope.

Nicholas Rowe
Nicholas Rowe
1 year ago

Christians can get confused about forgiveness if they donā€™t pay close attention.
Matthew 18:15-17 sets out conditions for forgiveness and what happens if those are not fulfilled. Moreover, these conditions are applied solely to ā€˜brethrenā€™, and the failure to meet them results in such a co-religionist being treated like a ā€˜heathenā€™.
Given the historical context in which Jesusā€™s words are spoken, what is ā€˜heathenā€™ likely to mean? This passage goes no further than implying that forgiveness involves not rendering evil for evil. Nor are the conditions for forgiveness and the consequences of failure to meet them ā€˜messyā€™. Jesus described the workings of the world in saying that as you give, so shall you get back.
In his book, The Lionā€™s World, Rowan Williams liked to think that Godā€™s judgement and the forgiveness following would be a private matter between the sinner and God. Matthew 18 provides evidence to the contrary, as do other pronouncements of Jesus (such as the men of Nineveh acting as witnesses for the prosecution).
As has been pointed out by others, the modish fashion for making an apology (such as for historical wrongs) allows the one making the apology to gain the kudos of making it while at the same time heaping opprobrium on the people of the past. The Archbishop of Canterbury prostrated himself on a visit to India for a wrong committed under the Raj. Yet Christianity is supposed to be about confessing oneā€™s own sins, not those of others. Thatā€™s an act that gets no kudos.
As for post-Apartheid South Africa, itā€™s not uncommon to find young white South Africans who have left that country because, they say, they have suffered discrimination in attempting to gain employment. Have they been rendered evil for evil?

patrick macaskie
patrick macaskie
1 year ago

I think people were angry because he needs more time in the sin bin and he needs to show humility. He looked like the cat that had got the cream when he appeared next to the queen in her Landau for his father’s memorial. there was even a bit of “up yours” as swooshed passed his surprised siblings. it is only God that can see into his soul. the rest of us would prefer to see nothing of him for 2 years; other than with a woolly hat, doling out free meals to the homeless. it is true there is a group, who shall not be named, who have no capacity to forgive and will never forgive; because vanity and pride have eaten them up (and perhaps, like the prince, they can’t see it in themselves). the arch bish yet again harmed his message by choosing the wrong pretext.

Peta Seel
Peta Seel
1 year ago

The Queen didn’t go to Prince Philip’s memorial service in a “landau”. Prince Andrew had every right to be there – more so than anyone else who was there bar the family. I am also quite sure that none of the family were taken by surprise even if the public were – the Queen doesn’t operate that way. In her frail state and at such a public event she needed someone at her side who understood her needs. Prince Andrew fitted the bill perfectly as he spends more time with her than anyone else since he stepped back from all public duties. I rarely agree with the Archbishop of Canterbury but he had this issue dead right.

John Stone
John Stone
1 year ago

If we are going to have a Royal Family then it is not wrong to be concerned about its morality. There will be people who love the genre irrespective, but what we should really be worried about – as future allegedly constitutional monarchs – is the espousal by Prince Charles and Prince William of the WEF and the Great Reset, by which they might retain their own great wealth while the populace – happy or not – if they are still alive will by 2030 own nothing. The Queen talks of a great future but for whom? Perhaps an appropriate – and more important – discussion is the British state being completely out of control, with the Royals in the advanced guard. Did not the Queen go off piste to support ā€œpoor Mr Hancockā€, prime advocate of Klaus Schwabā€™s 4th Industrial Revolution, two days before he had to go because of a right Royal sexual indiscretion? Techno-feudalism beckons and our masters are not necessarily our betters.

Last edited 1 year ago by John Stone
Rafi Stern
Rafi Stern
1 year ago

Forgiveness requires repentance. Then it is mandated. If not, then as the Jewish sages said כל שנעשה ×Øחמן על האכז×Øים, להוף נעשה אכז×Ø ×¢×œ ×Øחמנים” – “all those who are merciful to the cruel, end up being cruel to the merciful” (Rabbi Eliezer in Midrash Tanhuma on the portion of Metzora’).

simon billing.simon@gmail.com
1 year ago

The problem with “forgiving” Prince Andrew is that he hasn’t admitted he’s done anything wrong, far less repented his sins. The Truth & Reconciliation commission was at least an attempt to acknowledge the past. Similarly, BLM will remain obsessed with “justice” until there is some real acknowledgement (from the nation) of injustice.

Paul Halsall
Paul Halsall
1 year ago

Absolutely spot on. For some years now I have realised that the most controversial line in the Creed is that we believe in the “forgiveness of sins.”

Andy O'Gorman
Andy O'Gorman
1 year ago

God forgives, i don’t! Well not often and it really depends on whom, and for what!

John Waldsax
John Waldsax
1 year ago

It does nothing for Unheard’s credibilty when you can not even get Giles’s workplace details right. Especially as editorial staff are meant to be media aware and yet missed the publication of multiple news stories reporting Gile’s installation at St Anne’s, Kew, weeks ago.

Peter B
Peter B
1 year ago

If Prince Andrew wants “forgiveness”, does he not first need to “repent” ? I’m not a believer, but that’s my understanding of now it’s supposed to work. And I hadn’t noticed any trace of repentance from Prince Andrew yet.
In which case, Welby is not “doing his job”. Which is no surprise at all to me. He doesn’t even seem to understand what his job actually is.

Marilyn Cornelison
Marilyn Cornelison
1 year ago

dfvsdf

Maureen Finucane
Maureen Finucane
1 year ago

Everything about the Royal Family is very calculated. They only care about themselves and hanging onto power. Andrew is only repentant because he was found out.

Peter B
Peter B
1 year ago

Did I miss the bit where Andrew was repentant ?