Vengeance is not Justice

Human understanding of justice progresses. Ideals of justice constantly draw us forward.

Breaking from self-imposed lurk to object strenuously.

Bridget! I appreciate your degree of outrage, but think! This is not "justice," this is disgusting! Barbaric! If you want to get Biblical about it, the Lord says "vengeance is mine." God's early attempt to inform us that vengeance is not ours to exact. (It's a bit of divine humor, really, talking down to the primitive human soul, for we find in heaven that God is never actually vengeful like animalistic mortals; God can only be just.) That crazy homeless man who beheaded a woman in a supermarket[*] this week, would you have the woman's relatives stab him to death and run down the street with his bloody head? Followed to its logical conclusion, why wait for the tedium of evidentiary hearings and all that delay of the courts? If thy neighbor offend thee, haul out the AK-47 and start blasting! That's the path you're praising! Mrs Webworker adds, the concept that this will be good for women, that she will be better off because she's done this to someone else is [I'll substitute the word, misguided].

It is precisely because such horrific offenses as this woman's mutilation blind us (no pun intended) with rage and affect our judgment that we have as a society moved beyond personal vendetta to (ideally) impartial judges and juries, standardized imprisonment or (in the case of the crazy homeless man) incarceration with whatever medical and chemical help he might need, if only to protect his jailers.

I'm not a Fundamentalist so I don't have to try to make God say "eye for an eye" out of one side of his mouth and "Turn the other cheek" out of the other. Without the scriptural literalists' strained exegesis, there's an obvious progression from "eye for an eye" to "turn the other cheek," representing, not a bipolar or capricious Deity, but rather the development — improvement — of human understanding of the justice and mercy the Spirit would reveal through us.

Once, justice was an individual matter. Later, courts — the will of the group — replaced personal revenge, a decided advance even if the forms of "justice" still involved vengeance. That's the level of society you're posting about & praising. Most of our "justice" system — and most of the population — has not progressed far beyond that desire for vengeance, but our rejection of "cruel and unusual" punishments represents a vast and Jesusonian advance over "eye for an eye." Fines, incarceration and not exacting eye for an eye have replaced bloody vengeance in modern justice.

Someday, our meager and in-name-only "rehabilitation" efforts may actually rehabilitate many who choose criminality but could be reformed. The criminally poor we will have with us always. Some few we might even really, in the balance of mercy and self-protection, remove as life forms from among us (merciful, painless state execution), but in no case should we step backward into the cesspools of this kind of mentality.

Want to walk that back a bit, darlin'?

I later posted a reply[*] to myself (always a bit weird):

(Speaking of walking back, I see some edits I might've made if I could've, but I can't, so, sorry if my own hastily-toasted comment offended anyone's beliefs or seemed scolding, Bridget.)

To expand upon that and other points, I add this, from discussing the above with a cousin.

"Those who know do not speak; those who speak do not know."

Meher Baba must have taken that to heart, because he said, "Love one another" and never spoke again. What a way to emphasize the message! (He had a great smile.)[*]
Lao Tzu's statement is hardly without exception, but there's a lot of good advice in his remark. I post in haste, and regret at leisure.
Our humble human efforts can never catch up to our advancing idealism, so to be in the realm of ideas is to increasingly accept being one who "speaks but does not know." To act, to move, to engage, we usually more or less err, fall short of the perfection to which we are compelled. However right our purpose or deliberate our method, we are mortal, and we could almost always have done it better.
Your reply said some things I'd thought of but didn't include, and some things I wish I'd said.
Hey! I should run all my posts by you first! (Cousin's hair stands on end.) Mrs Webworker tries to be my editor, but often shares my passions or opinions of the moment so she can't tell any better than I do where I may be right in message but wrong in spirit.

Paul clearly teaches that it is right and proper for government officials to "bear the sword." ...
"government officials... are under no obligation to turn the other cheek."

Indeed, although that "proper response" of turning to law, was followed in the Iranian case.

Seeing "justice" that's a notch above personal revenge but still below the mercy-based prohibitions on "cruel and unusual" punishment is like seeing fists fly in Congress. Old joke: I'll believe we evolved from apes when we finally do.
I know you (and Paul!) mean that they rightly use force (vs mercy) because they're employed to do so on society's behalf, but judges, jailers, police, soldiers, all those given power and engaged in confrontation on behalf of social justice are actually under all the greater burden to turn the other cheek -- in their case meaning keeping supreme self-control, doing things by the book, by the rules of engagement, even when under fire. Talk about tricky, yowch, and nigh-impossible! Thus, well worth every prayer for the job they do!

I am forbidden to hate him.

Yes! Revenge is hate in action. That's the core problem of Bridget's message. My reply addressed social justice, but not so much the personal and divine forgiveness upon which rests the "blind justice" aspect of our system. Maybe it's best; I already felt I laid into Bridget too personally.

My wiseacre remarks on Biblical literalists concerned me because the road to severe misunderstandings is paved with attempts at humor gone horribly wrong, many of those stones of my hewing. Not all Bible believers of my experience see the progression of social understanding that I see in scripture. What the anthropologist calls social evolution this believer understands as the unfolding revelation of God to and through us. But I sure don't want to get into open debate on the web about it! I'm out of practice on public speaking.

Back when I could better withstand the heat in the kitchen, I frequently engaged in extended "discussions" :) of approach to scripture. With inerrancy evangelists, I always concur, all scripture is good and valuable for study, but if the scriptures are all perfect the way some folks interpret them, it just hasn't sunk in that way for me. ;) (Therefore if I've got it wrong, I pray to be forgiven my benighted understanding!)

Frequently, such evangelists being ardent students of scripture, enthusiastically living and preaching the Gospel, and strong in faith, my relative position is (or ought to be) as listener, student -- one who does not know.

I have to keep re-learning restraint. All commenters replying so far support returning cruelty for cruelty, and against my better judgment, and I have left another reply. I'm swearing off after that, though. Really!
If you skip the sidebars, it's not such a long message. :-/

Why do I get into these things? Emotionally driven thinking I suppose. Well, my comment generated unexpected responses. One correspondent[*] picks up on the nit of "a difference in a premeditated crime vs a crazy homeless guy going off..." and still says that "the punishment should fit the crime." Another agrees, "this is one way to teach those men a much needed lesson."[*] The same commenter actually says, "I think that you are taking the Bible out of context in order to justify your position." Okay. I replied once more.[*]

[For my prior abusive invocation of scripture, I am rightly admonished and regretful.]

Dear friends, I have no heart for this debate, but consider how badly thinking can be unprincipled when emotionally driven. Hasn't similar ends-justifying-means emotionalism been remarked upon as the error of liberalism?

Shall we cut off the hand of the thief, too, or would that be two eyes for an eye? How about just a fingertip for petty theft? (Where's Kevin? Was Bridget just baiting us? What is going on here?) Look, friends, when we say that the punishment should fit the crime, do we rape the rapist, eat the cannibal, murder the family of the person who murders a family? Of course not! "That'll teach 'em" doesn't and revenge is lust that will never bring spiritual satisfaction.

Society must behave like a sober, loving, patient, but firm parent, even like the divine parent. Exacting judgment, yes, and when we're dealing with returning stolen value and paying fines, recompense (not revenge) can sometimes be achieved. In violent crime, there really cannot be recompense. One cannot bring back the murdered, repay for wounding, undo terror and pain.

Exacting justice never involves cruelty for cruelty. We forbid cruel punishment in the heart of our Law. We forbid vigilantism and vendetta, the means of revenge when barbaric people are unsatisfied with civil judgments. We leave whatever "vengeance" there may need to be to the Higher Judge.

The appropriate combination of punishment and rehabilitation is set by a wise and impartial arbitrator. Not always possible, but the ideal, the principle, to which we aspire. While society must protect itself, we can only stop the crime, and if we're not going to execute then hold the prisoner until "rehabilitated," if ever. (As if.) Our justice system is poor, fails to exact justice perfectly and those who operate in it are too often more concerned with dollars than principles, but it's the best we've got to separate us from anarchy. We strive for true justice and do not sink to the level of the criminal to do so.

Late-breaking news. Along comes Pam,[*] succinctly saying in six sentences of less than sixty words what takes me sixty thousand.

The success of Western jurisprudence is that is is based on taming man's lowest nature. As satisfying as it would be to have acid poured into that man's eyes as punishment, it would not be justice. It would be revenge. There's a difference. And it does not lift mankind to seek revenge instead of justice. It keeps us low.

Think I'll go back to doing abstract wallpapers.