Repentance: A Comparative Perspective

Etzioni, Amitai, and David E. Carney, eds. Repentance: A Comparative Perspective. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 1997.

Asserting that Western civic culture lacks concepts and processes of repentance and reconciliation, Amitai Etzioni introduces a series of essays on repentance within different religious contexts. Etzioni argues that civic repentance, i.e. repentance within the context of shared values in public life, if transposed from a religious context to a shared public culture, will be a strong factor in a good social order. Towards this end, seven different authors describe repentance from the perspective of Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, and Buddhism.

Although there are substantial difference in how each of these religious traditions approaches the issues of repentance and reconciliation, Etzioni mentions three common elements. Remorse, or feeling sorry for the offense, doing penance or making amends, and restructuring one’s life so as not to commit the offense again, are three common elements in how different religious traditions understand repentance.

In order to transpose these three elements on to the domain of shared public values, Etzioni suggests the need to extend moral dialogue onto the public arena. These moral dialogues express the core values of a society and significantly impact the direction in which shared public values are steered. In the second place, issues of changes in policy relating to how the records of offenders are managed, and rehabilitating the offenders into society are needed to show the conciliatory aspect of repentance within civic culture. Etzioni proposes that true repentance within civic culture will need to incorporate these three elements of genuine remorse, some punishment, and opportunities for restructuring one’s life and to show that it has been reconstructed.