It’s sad to say that there is still violent crime in society. People can and sometimes do become mass murderers, or just one-off murderers, or rapists, or child rapists, and so on. For one reason or another, they go down a path that has them destroy another person’s life. I’m not someone who believes in predestined paths, but only an idiot would suggest that when someone is murdered, that was “their time to go”, or that when someone is raped (either as an adult, or a child) that it doesn’t in any way alter where their life would have gone.
Society has strong notions of justice, repentance and rehabilitation. Committing a crime is a breaking of the social contract, and as such, you must do your part to reapply for full admission to society. Prison, fines, etc., are often mistakenly considered to be all about the notion of punishment, but that’s only meant to be half the equation; the other half, of course, is meant to be about rehabilitation. It’s about having someone come to terms with what they’ve done wrong, and through measured time and self analysis, admit their wrong doing and develop a means of avoiding doing it again.
Sometimes this works, and sometimes it doesn’t. (Some foolish people think that’s what a death penalty should be for – that if someone’s crime is “too great” or that they are continual recidivists in relation to serious crimes, that eventually a death sentence should be applied. That’s a load of crap, really – it’s a cheat’s way out. It’s a section of society saying “We believe there’s a higher authority, we’ll punt this person to that authority rather than dealing with it ourselves”. It’s also not real punishment. Murder the murderer, and their time reflecting on what they’ve done has finished as the light fades from their eyes. Wouldn’t real punishment in that situation actually be keeping them alive for decades? Capital punishment isn’t a solution.)
Ahem. I digress.
While some people jump up and down and claim that the justice system isn’t effective enough, and I’d certainly agree that there’s a lot that needs to be done to reduce recidivism rates overall, the notion of “do society wrong, get punishment+rehabilitate” is actually about the best and most humane option society has been able to develop so far.
Let’s consider an alternate model though:
- Imagine a situation where a child rapist offers the parents of the victim $100,000 so long as the matter doesn’t go further.
- Imagine a situation where a child rapist offers to help fund a new park in the community so long as the matter doesn’t go further.
- Imagine a situation where a doctor who tells a patient condoms will give him AIDS offers to ensure there’s clean water and food for someone in another country so long as the matter doesn’t go further, after that patient has unprotected sex and comes back with HIV.
In other words, imagine a justice system where the perpetrator buys his or her freedom, and nominal absolution.
You can probably see where I’m going for this. (And for what it’s worth, I fully acknowledge I decided to write this blog post after being referred to Christopher Hitchens’ part in a debate about the merits of religion.)
At a personal, individual level, most of us would find it completely repugnant notion that we could allow people to buy their way out of crime – it’s like putting a price on a life, or on innocence.
Yet, at a collective level it’s something that has been allowed for centuries. Organised religions have, by and large, gotten away with the most atrocious of crimes, not through real absolution and penance, but through two continual crumbs:
- Selling salvation in the ‘next life’ to people suffering in the now;
- Providing charitable services.
How is this anything other than buying your way out of a crime?
Isn’t it time that we stopped allowing organisations to throw petty crumbs at society in return for ongoing, perpetual absolution?
Even for all the talk of charity offered by religious groups, it’s never entirely charitable. They attach riders specifically to their charity, requiring people to hear a sermon, or refuse to have anything to do with safe sex, or flatly refuse to help certain people in need because they happen to be gay or lesbian. And then their charitable works become poisoned with corruption, too – even the most basic ones that should be incorruptible.
To be sure, there are people who work in these charitable arms who are genuinely wonderful, giving human beings, who care about others and want to do their utmost to help them. But their work is tainted and degraded by the tawdry nature of the organisation paying its way back into the good graces of society.
These organisations shouldn’t be buying their way out of the misery and suffering they’ve caused. They should be dropping to their knees and profoundly, completely and utterly begging humanity for forgiveness. They should be opening their histories to the world, and exposing all the criminals they’ve shielded over the years to justice, and ending the quest for profit covered up by creative accounting standards.
After all, if a child rapist donated a hamper of food to a hungry family, we wouldn’t say “there there, all is forgiven now”.
It’s time we stopped doing the same for religious organisations that shield their sins behind the petty crumbs of self-absolution via charitable works. Self-absolution doesn’t work. It just leads to continued abuse. After all, if you got away with it once, who is to say you won’t get away with it again?
This isn’t about revenge, it’s about society needing to collectively make the decision to say “Enough is enough: You must work harder for your forgiveness, and you must show penance. Take your dirty money back, and learn to be humans again.”