Monday, July 26, 2004

The Social Gospel and Social Vengeance

According to a Justice Department report released today, the number of Americans under the control of the criminal justice system reached a new high of 6.9 million people last year.  This means that a full 3.2% of the adult population is either in prison, in jail, on probation, or on parole.  2,078,570 Americans are currently incarcerated.

Comparative legal scholar James Q. Whitman has concluded that the American criminal justice policy is based on retribution and reflects the "base human inclination towards vengeance."  Whitman says that Western Europe, by contrast, tries to rehabilitate its prisoners and attempts to prepare its criminals for reintegration and life after prison. 

Even the conservative, Republican-nominated Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy has blasted American sentences as too harsh.  Indeed, Kennedy used vaguely Christian terms to condemn the current practice:

"[A] society is measured by how it treats the least deserving of its people. And two million people in prison in this country is just unacceptable."

Would a Christian criminal justice system be based on retribution and vengeance?  I don't think so.  The United States should look to the "tough love," rehabilitation model practiced in Western Europe.  The idea should be to retrain criminals and to deter crime, not to exact vengeance.

The punishment should not fit the crime.  We should not exact a life for a life.  Jesus rejected "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" and adopted a stance of love.  Matt. 5:38-45.   We must rehabilitate, not avenge.


At 12:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

reading Aeschylus's Oresteia which, purportedly, shows the beneficence of a system of laws over vengeance. One wonders if laws, made by the powerful, aren't simply institutionalized vengeance. As for us, our nation is "under God', a God who has informed us that "Vengeance is mine." Quite confusing.


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