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Ellen Feig

Professor, Bergen Community College

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Can one ever truly atone?

Today I taught my World Lit class The Book of Ruth. This story is in both the Old and New Testament. In the Old Testament, the word for atonement in Hebrew actually translates as "to placate." The word for atonement in the New Testament translates as "payment." So if we only placate people when we atone and we must make payment for our sins, can we ever truly atone?

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  • Mar 4 2013: Does placating require that the target be placated? Does payment have to be accepted? What is the purpose of atonement? Given that humans generally act in their own self interest, I suggest that atonement is essentially an effort to rid oneself or guilt. If this moves the questions towards "is it possible to remove guilt" then I think the answer is yes, although it's often more difficult for me to forgive myself and remove the guilt than it is to be forgiven by others.

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