Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin!

Ever since I was around 16 years old, my views about justice seemed to differ from those of many other people I knew. Although defining justice is not something that could be done very simply in a blog article, I tend to regard it as the creation of the best possible conditions for ALL people. In my eyes, anything which is intended to cause physical or psychological harm cannot be regarded as just.

Sadly, there are many individuals who still believe that justice is mainly about punishment. According to this view, if A does something to hurt B, justice would involve a punishment being inflicted on A, depending on the type of harm caused to B. To me, this is not justice; such thinking is rooted in vengeance. And no matter how much one tries to justify harming another human being in the name of "justice", I strongly believe that any legal system that embraces the notion of causing pain to others is in desperate need of change.

This brings me to the topic of capital punishment. I consider the latter as the most barbaric way of dealing with individuals who are accused of breaking certain laws. It is even more shocking to see that this system is still so popular in the US, a country that talks so much about safeguarding human rights!

Over the years, I have read a great deal about criminal behaviour. I have read about dictators, rapists, serial killers, etc. Contrary to popular belief, as I examined the biographies of several wrong-doers, I never found a single shred of evidence to suggest that they were monsters; every person was born and lived as a human being. The sad thing that is often omitted from discourse about crime is that just as the typical human being is equipped to do a lot of good in society, the average person is also biologically equipped to carry out countless evil acts if they are exposed to certain circumstances.

There are several variables which are expected to affect human behaviour. The type of parenting one received, school experiences, formal and informal education, type of food that is eaten, national culture, and religious beliefs are just a few examples. At this stage, I believe that it is very important to highlight the relationship between a person's social and physical environment and the biological functioning of that person. More specifically, if I am living in an environment which promotes certain ideas, my brain is going to "replay" those beliefs over and over until they influence my behaviour to varying degrees. When an individual lives in a highly stressful environment for a long period of time, it appears that this could give rise to certain psychological conditions which could eventually lead to criminal behaviour.

The most frustrating thing about criminal or evil behaviour is that we are still not in a position to diagnose certain conditions very easily. Sadly, several diagnoses are made only following the carrying out of a criminal act. Unlike an individual who has a common cold and can be seen to be ill by several people, the groundwork underlying criminal behaviour cannot be observed in the same way. I could be standing next to a serial killer without knowing anything about the person's illness!

My position is that all ill people deserve treatment. Just as no society should turn its back on an individual suffering from HIV, no society should mistreat a person who is suffering from a psychological illness. The fact that certain illnesses constitute a grave threat to several members of a specific society does not mean that capital punishment is the only solution. Even if the illness itself does not seem able to respond to any existing type of treatment, executing people on an electric chair or by hanging or by lethal injection should never, ever be the solution.

Some people might be wondering about the victims of crime or evil. I believe that whoever has suffered as a result of harm caused by another person should receive all the necessary assistance in order to be able to move on with their lives. From a victim's perspective, it is essential that they feel safe. In other words, if somebody was sexually assaulted, they need to know that the person who committed the crime is being supervised or treated by the authorities. As stated at the beginning of this article, justice should not consist of a process whereby one party benefits whilst the other is subjected to a deterioration in their physical or psychological welfare.

As far as criminal law is concerned, it is my hope that the notions of vengeance will be replaced by the idea of rehabilitation. Criminals need to be cured; torture or any other type of harm will surely not contribute to creating a better society for everyone! Prisons need to be similar to secure treatment facilities. Furthermore, the authorities need to devote more resources to the extremely hard process of reconciling the criminal with the victim/victim's relatives.

Sadly, countless human beings have the habit of trying to judge others as good or evil on the basis of a handful of deeds. When analysing human behaviour in such a black-or-white way, it is very easy to forget that even the most evil person has probably done several good things throughout their lives.

Depending on its goal, judging itself can be a very destructive process. As stated by Dr M Scott Peck in People of the Lie, "We must also remember the purpose for which we judge. If it is to heal, fine. If it is to enhance our own self-esteem, our pride, then the purpose is wrong" (p. 294).

Perhaps it is possible to say that for most people, loving the sinner and hating the sin is much easier said than done. By loving the sinner, however, one is contributing to improving the life of another human being. As this happens, the whole society stands to benefit because as the saying goes, "What goes around comes around".

In People of the Lie, Dr M Scott Peck echoed the importance of loving those who have made mistakes sometime during their lives. Indeed, the Harvard-trained psychiatrist made his point in the following way: "How is it possible to love people who are evil? Yet that is precisely what I am saying we must do. Specifically, if we are to safely conduct research on evil people, we must do so in love. We must start from an a priori position of love for them" (p. 307).


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