Sunday, January 8, 2006

Abramoff's Broken Theology of Merit

I want to be careful because I am not an Orthodox Jew as Mr. Abramoff claims to be. But I am attentive to the use of religious language in the public sphere. In particular the invocation of the Almighty by Abramoff. 

Here's what he said as reported in the Washington Post 

"Standing before U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle in Washington yesterday, Abramoff looked sheepish and sad. "Your Honor, words will not be able to ever express how sorry I am for this, and I have profound regret and sorrow for the multitude of mistakes and harm I have caused," he said softly. "All of my remaining days, I will feel tremendous sadness and regret for my conduct and for what I have done. I only hope that I can merit forgiveness from the Almighty and from those I have wronged or caused to suffer." 

What caught my attention was his idea the forgiveness was something to be gained or earned -- that's what merit means in most dictionaries. Likely the Almighty -- even as understood by this redneck Episcopal priest -- is interested, perhaps on occassion even impressed by sincerity, but mostly when attached to real action, especially the restorative kind so needed in this case. In other words, just how does Mr. Abramoff intend to shift the balance in favor of those he has caused to suffer and then "to merit the forgiveness of the Almighty?" 

His plea bargain is a weak attempt at that at best. He will have to endure approximately 10 years incarceration. Ask Martha Stewart how that went for her, . . . after her next show. He must pay a $26 million restitution to IRS and his Indian clients. In other words he has to pay the taxes he has already owed and not paid and he will have give back the money he kept for himself or used for purposes other than the ones named to solicit the donations. Then he has to snitch on the others mostly politicians -- of whom the best evidence says "politician equals republican" -- he courted via St. Andrew's, skyboxes, and trips to the beach. Oh darn. Is that what Mr. Abramoff means when he imagines what he'll do to merit forgiveness from the Almighty? Which one of these requirements is punitive? Which one of these is restorative? Does the Casino part of the $26 million fund them to the level they'd be now based on when the money was first collected by Abramoff? 

If the Almighty is waiting on Mr. Abramoff to earn forgiveness, I'm afraid he'll have to work through more agencies than the Federal Government's District court. But really my hunch is that the Almighty is not going to wait and will not even intervene to coerce any of the parties involved toward restoration for the sake of Mr. Abramoff's merit. If Mr. Abramoff covets -- among the many things I'm sure he has at least once coveted -- the Almighty's forgiveness he need only acknowledge that it is God's property always to have mercy. In other words forgiveness is a result of God's mercy and not our merit. If there is anything for Mr. Abramoff to hope to merit it ought to be our respect -- another word for the reduction of revulsion -- but understood exactly in terms of his ability to restore the balance he tipped so unmeritoriously in his favor. He can start doing that by getting out of Washington, entirely. His chances are just better somewhere else. Like Lame Deer, Montana -- yes, the Cheyenne have a casino but they're still broke -- where he could paint houses for the tribal council. At the rate he charges per hour it'll only take him a summer. 

I would also suggest to him that he avoid speaking of his crime as causing "others to suffer." For his clients, apparently he delivered, there was no suffering because they thought they'd received their money's worth. Yes they are victims of a crime -- it's called fraud -- but have they suffered due to his action? Has his family suffered? Hard to imagine that, given his wife's 6 figure political donation sum. And what about those politicians he was funding? President Bush had to give to charity $6000 out of the more than $100,000 that made Abramoff a Bush Pioneer. Since W is not running for re-election I can't imagine how they'll suffer from what si now a charitable donation. Just who is it that has been caused to suffer? If any one it will be those who are implicated by his testimony -- I called it snitching earlier. But if they're guilty of a crime Abramoff's not needed to explain their suffering. Unless it's only "wrong" to get caught. 

For me Abramoff's apology is made hollow by bad theology. Because of who the Almighty is, Abramoff has already been forgiven. Abramoff should stop apologizing and actually do somthing restorative, something that really helps make the world a better place. Only after a long time can he start talking "merit."

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