Flannery’s opens with a question: whether it is “permitted” to refuse forgiveness to someone who is sincerely repentant. He notes that Simon is uncertain and guilty following his silence, and that his feelings are even more evident when he visits Karl’s mother.
Flannery defines Simon’s reaction to his actions as guilt, but his guilt is a long way from the guilt of Karl and Karl’s mother. Rather, it is more an uncertainty of his conscience rather than a true sense of culpability.
Flannery states that he can understand Simon’s refusal but cannot defend it. He believes that Judeo-Christian ethics mandate that forgiveness should be granted to those who are sincerely repentant. The only exception, he notes, is the New Testament reference to the “unforgiveable sin,” but argues that that reference refers to the rejection of God.
Unlike Henry James Cargas earlier, Flannery defines unforgivable sin as a sin against God. Thus, even though there are patterns between responses written by people of the same religion, there is still a lot of nuance and differences within individuals’ beliefs.
Flannery equates the German bystanders during the Holocaust with Simon’s behavior, watching a dying man pleading for mercy. He believes that the question of whether Simon has a right to forgive Karl in the name of all Jews is irrelevant, because Karl did not ask Simon to speak in the name of all Jews.
The comparison of Simon’s silence with the silence of German bystanders seems particularly severe. It is difficult to argue that easing a criminals conscience is akin to stopping the mass genocide of an innocent people.
Flannery addresses what he believes to be the primary question posed in The Sunflower: whether there are exceptions to the “fundamental norms of ethics and morality.” He states that there are usually two answers given to this question: one is that there are universal and basic moral laws, and thus no exceptions can be made. The other, he believes, relativizes moral norms, making them subject to change based on individual needs. He says regardless, he would have forgiven Karl.
Assuming that there are “fundamental norms of ethics and morality” assumes that there is either only one religion or that all religions follow the same philosophy. Yet he does prove once again the norms of those within a religion, providing another example of a Christian respondent who would forgive.