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Monday, April 1, 2013

Crime and Punishment
"Justice, only justice shall you pursue"  --  Deut. 16:20

There is a humorous story about the person who killed his parents.  Then he begged for mercy on the grounds that he was an orphan.  This little tale raises the essential questions of the purpose and application of justice. 

What is the purpose of justice?  Is it for the well-being of the community?  Or, is it for the well-being of the individual?  If it is for the community, then it should provide the greatest protection for the community.  If it is for the individual, then it should seek the greatest compassion for the accused.

In previous posts, we have examined the role of the individual.  However, we discovered that, in order to maintain the principles of balance and connection, the individual must be viewed in terms of his/her interaction with others.  The balanced, or responsible, person must have self-respect and respect for others.  Cain's lack of respect led to the death of Abel.  Then, responsibility ensures the well-being of each individual.

In a society, each person is connected to the other members. Then each person's action can threaten the well-being and safety of the community.  The metaphysical principle of connection implies that if one person violates the social contract, the entire community will suffer from the consequences.  Then the goal of justice is to restore the well-being and safety of the entire society.  Furthermore, the success of any justice system can be measure by the outcomes it produces.

In the Bible, the Sinai Covenant is the social contract.  Any violation of the social contract is an offense against the entire society.  Then it is the responsibility of the community to respond.  That response must reflect the principal of balance.  In this case, the balance must be between strict judgment and compassion.  The community must measure the degree of the threat.    Then it must determine the appropriate reaction to a specific individual's action.  That reaction must require restitution from the offender that will restore balance to the society.

Justice requires balance between strict judgment and compassion.  Either, carried to an extreme, can produce an evil outcome.  Strict judgment taken to the extreme becomes vengeance.  Vengeance breeds more vengeance.  Compassion taken to the extreme encourages repetition of the offence.  In either case, balance cannot be restored.  This explains why the balance scales have been the symbol of justice since ancient Egypt.

Within this context, how must a just society deal with those who choose to violate the contract?  One way is restitution another is removal.  For example, if the offense was stealing, then the offender must restore the stolen object to its owner and pay a penalty for any loss incurred because of the absence of the stolen property.  If the object is no longer available, then the offender must pay for the total loss or provide services to the owner that represents the value of the loss.  It is important to recognize that restitution must go to the victim.  The balance of the community is achieved through the restoration of balance between the parties involved.

If the crime was murder, there is no way to restore the victim to the society.  In that case, the only restitution available is the life of the offender.  The sixth commandment correctly reads, "Don't murder".  It does not say don't kill.  It recognizes that there are times that killing is unintended or justifiable.

Now, let's return to the case of the "orphaned" offender.  The matter must focus on the protection of the society.  Clearly, in this case, his status of "orphan" is irrelevant.  He was the means that led to his being "orphaned".  The only relevant issue is will the safety of the community be restored after his case is adjudicated.  If he murdered because he wanted to turn a video game into reality, then he will likely continue to be a threat to society.  He must then be removed from society. 

On the other hand, what if his parents had become an immediate threat to his life and he saw no other way out?  The balance might be restored in a way that will benefit the community.  For example, with proper supervision and training he might commit his life to assisting others in a similar situation to find another way out.  Notice, in this scenario he still must make restitution with his life by benefitting the society (strict judgment).  At the same time, he is given the opportunity to live (compassion).

True justice is the highest form of respect for all people in a society.  Those who choose to keep their contract are respected for who they are - contributors to the community.  And, those who choose to violate their contract are respected for who they are - threats to the community.

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