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Contemporary Arrogance is the Perfect Fodder for Human Evil

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At this present moment there are three Australians sitting in Iranian prisons. Kylie Moore-Gilbert, Jolie King, and Mark Firkin have all been charged (and, in Kylie Moore-Gilbert’s case, convicted) with espionage. Jolie King and Mark Firkin have been accused of flying a drone over a military installation without a permit whilst the charges against Kylie Moore-Gilbert remain unclear.

To say that Jolie King and Mark Firkin were naïve would be an understatement. The couple, who raise money for their global adventures on Patreon, stated on their vlog that their ambition is to “inspire anyone wanting to travel and also to try to break the stigma of travelling to countries which get a bad rap in the media.”

Some countries have a bad reputation for a reason, a fact Jolie King and Mark Firkin seemed unwilling to comprehend. Iran, in particular, has a bad reputation for political repression, human rights violations, and corruption. Iran has been noted for using excessive violence against political dissidents, suppressing the media, carrying out arbitrary arrests, and using inhumane punishments.

No wonder Amnesty International has stated that the human rights situation in Iran had “severely deteriorated.” Iranian prisoners lack access to adequate medical care, trials can hardly be described as fair, and confessions obtained using torture are freely admitted in court. It was even reported in June 2018 that defendants accused of breeching Iran’s national security laws were being forced to choose from a list of just twenty state-approved lawyers.

There is nothing new about Jolie King and Mark Firkin. History is filled with people who deny the existence of evil. And many of them have paid the ultimate price. Jay Austin and Lauren Geogehan claimed in their blog that “evil is a make-believe concept we’ve invented to deal with the complexities of fellow humans holding values and beliefs and perspectives that are not our own.” This beautiful sentiment didn’t stop them being stabbed to death by Islamic State jihadists in Tajikistan.

A large part of this problem comes from the social disease of moral relativism. We have lived with peace, prosperity, and freedom for so long that we’ve forgotten what it is like not to have them. Our complacency has led us to believe that all moral beliefs are equally valid. And it has led us to believe that there is no such thing as evil.

The problem with moral relativism is that it is not true. Actions have consequences and some consequences just happen to be bad. Saying that all moral beliefs are equally valid is no different than saying that one cannot make judgements about the behaviour of others because there is no absolute standard of good and evil. It’s a rather convenient argument when people are doing the wrong thing and know it.

There are two fundamental problems with moral relativism. The first is that it is a self-defeating argument. By saying that there is no absolute morality you are, in fact, making an absolute claim. The second is that hardly anyone actually believes that morality is relative. If they did, they would regard rape and murder as being equally acceptable behaviour as charity and kindness.

Rather, people use moral relativism to justify their own immoral behaviour. It gives people an easy way out by allowing them to behave in whatever manner they please without moral justification. And this, when you think about it, is precisely what people want: the freedom to do whatever they please without having to feel guilty about it.

Socially progressive people like to see themselves as so sophisticated that they can do away with good and evil. Jolie King and Mark Firkin bought into such a worldview. They now find themselves sitting in Iranian prisons for their troubles. Such is the price of modern arrogance.

WHY I AGREE WITH THE DEATH PENALTY

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February 3rd last year marked the fiftieth anniversary of the execution of Ronald Ryan (1925 – 1967), the last man to be hanged in Australia. Since then, the general consensus has been that the death penalty constitutes a cruel and unusual punishment. Contrarily, however, it is the opinion of this author that the death penalty is not only just, but a key part of any justice system.

There are two main arguments against the death penalty. First, that it is an exceptionally expensive form of punishment. And second, that the death penalty leaves no room for non-posthumous exoneration.

The first argument is one of economics, not of morality or of justice. It does not argue that the death penalty is immoral, only that it is expensive. What this argument suggests is that a price tag can be placed on justice. That the most important factor determining a case is not whether justice is served, but how much money it will cost.

The way a society punishes murder is reflective of the value that society places on a human life. The life of a human being is not something that can have a time-based value placed upon it. It is something that has immeasurable value and purpose. The Norwegian mass-murderer, Anders Breivik, a man responsible for the death of seventy-seven people, received a sentence of just twenty-one years for his heinous crimes. A society that decides that the value of an individual’s life amounts to only one-hundred days is one that has no respect for the sanctity of life.

The second argument carries a great deal more weight. It is an undeniable fact that innocent people have, and continue to be, executed for crimes they did not commit. In the United States, prejudice against African Americans, Jews, Catholics, homosexuals, and other people often meant that justice was not as blind as it should have been. Furthermore, in an era before DNA evidence, convictions were based upon less reliable physical evidence and eyewitness testimony. And such evidence naturally carried a higher rate of false convictions.

There are two problems with the innocence argument. First, the advent of DNA along with other advances in forensic science has meant that the possibility of executing an innocent person is very low. DNA may not be foolproof, but when combined with eyewitness testimony and additional physical evidence, it makes a guilty verdict all the more concrete.

Second, the innocence argument is not an argument against the death penalty. Rather, it is an argument against executing an innocent person. It only applies when the condemned man is not actually guilty of the crime he has been convicted of. What it does not address is how a person whose guilt is certain beyond all possible reasonable doubt ought to be treated. When an individual’s guilt is that certain the innocence argument no longer carries any weight.

There are two primary arguments for the death penalty. First, that there are crimes so heinous and criminals so depraved that the only appropriate response is the imposition of the death penalty. And second, that the death penalty is an essential aspect of a just and moral justice system.

That there are crimes so heinous, and criminals so depraved, that they deserve the death penalty is self-evident. Carl Panzram (1892 – 1930), a thief, burglar, arsonist, rapist, sodomite, and murderer, told his executioner: “hurt it up, you Hoosier bastard, I could kill a dozen men while you’re screwing around.” Peter Kürten (1883 – 1931), also known as the Vampire of Düsseldorf, told his executioner that to hear the sound of his own blood gushing from his neck would be “the pleasure to end all pleasures.” Finally, John Wayne Gacy, Jr. (1942 – 1994) was convicted of forcibly sodomising, torturing, and strangling thirty-three boys and young men. The question, then, is not whether or not any individual deserves the death penalty, it is whether or not the state should have the power to execute someone.

The answer to this question is undoubtedly yes. It is frequently forgotten, especially by humanitarians, that the key aspect of a criminal penalty is not rehabilitation or deterrence, but punishment.

In other words, what makes a justice system just is that it can convict a person fairly and impose on them a penalty that is commensurate with the nature and severity of the crime that person has committed. What separates the death penalty from extra-judicial murder is that the condemned person has been afforded all the rights and protections of law, including due process, a fair and speedy trial, the right to trial by jury, the presumption of innocence, and so forth, regardless of their race, religion, sexuality, or gender. When a sentence of death is imposed upon a murderer, it is not a case of an individual or group of individuals taking vengeance, but of a legitimate court of justice imposing a penalty in accordance with the law.

What makes the death penalty an integral part of any justice system is not that it constitutes a form of revenge (which it does not) or that it may deter other individuals from committing similar crimes (which it also does not). What makes it just is that constitutes a punishment that fits the crime that has been committed.

THE PROTESTANT WORK ETHIC

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This is our weekly theological article.

If there is any philosophical or moral principle that can be credited with the prosperity of the Western capitalist societies it would have to be the Protestant work ethic. This ethic asserts that a person’s success in this life is a visible sign of their salvation in the next. As a result, the Protestant work ethic encourages hard work, self-reliance, literacy, diligence, frugality, and the reinvestment profits.

Prior to the Reformation, not much spiritual stock was placed on labour. The Roman Catholic Church placed more value on monastic prayer than on manual labour. Much would change when the German monk, Martin Luther (1483 – 1546), nailed his ninety-five theses on the door of the All Saint’s Church in Wittenberg. Luther railed against the Catholic Church’s sale of indulgences as a way of avoiding purgatorial punishment. Luther asserted faith over work believing that a person could be set right with God through faith alone. It was Luther’s opinion that an individual should remain in the vocation God had called them to and should work to earn an income, rather than the accumulation of wealth. This belief stood in stark contrast to the Catholic Church’s philosophy that relief from eternal torment came from Godly rewards for good works. By contrast, the second great Protestant, John Calvin (1509 – 1564), believed that faith and hard work were inextricably linked. Calvin’s theory came from his revolutionary idea of predestination, which asserted that only certain people were called into grace and salvation. It is from this that the Protestant work ethic is borne.

As a consequence, many Protestants worked hard to prove to themselves that they had been preselected for a seat in heaven. A result of this extreme predilection towards hard-work was an increase in economic prosperity.

The French sociologist, Emile Durkheim (1858 – 1917), believed that capitalism was built on a system that encouraged a strong work ethic and delayed gratification. Similarly, the German sociologist, Max Weber (1864 – 1920), argued in The Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1905) that America’s success boiled down to the Protestant work ethic. It was asserted as the key idea that would encourage individuals to move up the social ladder and achieve economic independence. Weber noted that Protestants – particularly Calvinists, were largely responsible for early twentieth-century business success.

The Protest work ethic is credited with the United States’ economic and political rise in the 19th and 20th centuries. As the political scientist, Alexis de Tocqueville (1805 – 1859), wrote in Democracy in America (1835):

“I see the whole destiny of America contained in the first Puritan who landed on its shore. They will to their descendants the most appropriate habits, ideas, and mores to make a republic.”

A study in the American Journal of Economics and Sociology found that nations with a majority Protestant population enjoyed higher rates of employment. The economist, Horst Feldman, analysed data from eighty countries and found that countries with majority Protestant populations – America, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway – had employment rates six-percent higher than countries where other religious beliefs were practised. (Furthermore, the female employment rate in Protestant countries is eleven-percent higher). Feldman explained how the legacy of Protestantism led to increased prosperity:

“In the early days, Protestantism promoted the virtue of hard and diligent work among its adherents, who judged one another by conformity to this standard. Originally, an intense devotion to one’s work was meant to assure oneself that one was predestined for salvation. Although the belief in predestination did not last more than a generation or two after the Reformation, the ethic of work continued.”

The Protestant work ethic is one of those Christian ideas that have helped create Western capitalist democracies in all their glory. It is yet another example of the influence that Christianity has had on the modern world.

JUSTICE AND MERCY

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This is our weekly theological article.

It is a common complaint of the media that criminals are not given an appropriately severe punishment. An article in The Express, SNP Plot to Scrap Short Jail Sentences Could See Thousands of Criminals Avoid Prison, argues that plans to introduce a “presumption against” sending people to prison will mean that thousands of people convicted of serious crimes will avoid prison. In another article, this time from the Herald Sun, prosecutors in Australia complained that the sentences criminals received were not in line with community standards.

Of course, this represents the common misconception, perpetuated by the media, that the judiciary exists to serve the standards of the community. It does not. Rather, the Justice System exists independently of both public opinion and politics. It bases its decisions on equality before the law and justice for all.

Much of the media’s rhetoric is designed to feed off of our very human desire for revenge based justice.  When we read about a rape or child murder in our daily newspapers, often our first reaction is to wish all kinds of cruel and inhumane punishments to be exacted on the criminal guilty of those crimes. Our indignation turns us into barbarians, not civilised people.

In his encyclical, Dives in Misericordia, Pope John Paul II warns of how justice can quickly devolve into cruelty and hatred when it is not tempered by mercy:

“It would be difficult not to notice that very often programmes which start from the idea of justice and which ought to assist its fulfilment among individuals, groups and human societies,  in practice suffer from distortions. Although they continue to appeal to the idea of justice,  nevertheless experience shows that other negative forces have gained the upper hand over justice,  such as spite, hatred and even cruelty.”

God tempers His divine justice with mercy.  If He were to judge us purely on our thoughts and deeds we would surely be condemned to hell. But in his mercy and love for us, He allowed his only Son to suffer and die on the Cross so we may be freed from the shackles of sin and death.

St. Thomas Aquinas wrote, “mercy without justice is the mother of dissolution; justice without mercy is cruelty.” It is precisely this idea, that justice ought to be tempered by mercy, that should drive the way we treat those who have harmed us. As Isabella tells Antonio in Measure for Measure: “it is excellent to have a giant’s strength, but tyrannous to use the strength of a giant.” We should never forget that the person who has wronged us is a human being who is as loved by God and as deserving of His forgiveness as we are.