Where Has Justice Gone?

If we try using the word “just punishment” these days, people cringe. It sounds like an act of hatred. Almost across the board, people want to erase the word “punishment” and substitute the word “consequence” or “training.”

I have been puzzling over this for a while.

Some immediate thoughts.

The Bible abounds in the word “punishment.” Should we abandon the Bible?

Tradition abounds in the word “punishment.” Should we abandon Tradition?

Justice calls for retribution, that is, reward for good action and punishment for the evil action. Should we reject Justice?

The Redeemer took on our punishment, so as to pay for our sins. Should we reject his Redemption?

This rejection of “punishment” lurks in many places. It requires deep thought to try to counter this error. It is a heresy brewing. It is linked with a spirit of entitlement. Suddenly, we are all entitled to forgiveness and charity. We operate out of this entitlement mentality. That spells disaster for our view of God: He owes us! Also, if we have any faults, they are not our fault. They just need to be “trained” out of us. Thus, we reject free will and responsibility. Ultimately, why am I evil? Because my role models were evil. And they were evil because their models were evil. Trace this back to The Creator! Freud fingers God.

Thought needs to be given to this error. To call it out on the spot. If we keep glossing this over, by trying to highlight the beauty of redemption and mercy, we will be missing the very essence of redemption and mercy. Redemption and mercy are premised on just punishment. For they involve God’s taking this on. If we deny justice, we deny the redemption’s true essence.

We must stay focused and not be distracted. This is a great heresy, running rampant in the world. It is a great force behind all those who hate hell, not because they fear going there, but because they think it is an evil thing.

4 thoughts on “Where Has Justice Gone?

  1. As long as society continues to be viewed as a container for factions with ultimately contradictory goals, rather than a community working towards a common goal, there will be an impoverished idea of the common good. Consequently there will only be a faint understanding that if Joe Blockhead messes up the community’s progress towards that goal, he needs to make restitution insofar as he transgressed that teleology. Generally and for the most part people know the major premise, and would agree that Joe Blockhead needs to make restitution where there’s a goal involved: “Joe! We worked really hard on that, and you trashed part of it! Therefore, it’s on you to fix it.” But few people realize the minor premise, and hence that it applies to society qua community.

    And that’s just on a societal level. If we had a proper idea of God as the common good of creation, viewed as a community, then we would realize that even Joe Blockhead, simply *thinking* hateful things about his boss, deserves punishment. He is messing up the progress of creation becoming more and more like God, who is the common good and the goal we are tending towards in the first place. Insofar as Joe has trashed the project, he must pay up. Hard to admit because we are all Joe Blockheads in our own ways, but it’s easier to admit when we realize that there’s a rhyme and reason to the punishment—a rhyme and reason obscured when the teleological meaning of “common good” is obscured. Once we realize that the point of creation is to emulate God better and better, and that it is an incredibly valuable opportunity and duty, we realize how stupid and *pointless* (i.e. against the teleology of natural law) moral failure is—and consequently that we should be positively interested in satisfying justice, even if we are the offender. We naturally want our own self in particular, AND our families AND our community more generally, AND creation most generally, to turn out well. This means an interest in justice, to getting the project back on track when Blockheads or bad luck throw a monkey wrench in things. To drag one’s feet about the good of any of those things is to be curmudgeonly, i.e. an *uninspired* and therefore defective *spiritual* being. We become animals in need of “training,” and we lose out on the opportunity to be a part of something big. “We have piped to you and you have not danced.”

    And that’s just on a *natural* level. To make “mercy” do too much work is to be UNINSPIRED, to cut corners on and be uninterested in how perfectly society, or creation, or humanity’s salvation history can turn out, all of which God has very thoughtfully worked out for us like a good Father. It’s to be spoiled, or “entitled,” as you said. … A little verbose on my part, but what you said struck a chord.

  2. I suspect that the root cultural problem is that somewhere along the way we lost the idea of an *actual* moral order. What I refer to is a social entity analogous to the soul of the individual person. That there can be such an actual entity is I think disconcerting to most moderns once they understand what is meant.

    This understanding requires putting aside the idea of “moral order” as a set of precepts or rules. It also excludes “moral order” in the sense of denoting the whole set of behaviors in a community or a person.

    The moral order I am trying to invoke is instead an entity ontologically real but perhaps escaping the duality of concrete and abstract being. It is perhaps in the order E. H. Robinson has denominated “quasi-abstract.” A better term than moral order may be moral frame. The rules of society may be its moral framework, but the moral frame is to community what his soul is to the man.

    Behaviors in a man affect the condition of his soul. The moral order or frame of a community analogously is affected by the behaviors of the members of that community.

    It seems to follow, then, that the wrong that a man does not only may injure some one or more other members of society directly, but may injure everyone by adversely affecting the moral order of the community. Punishment is the way in which that moral order is redressed. It is not revenge, which would be a return made by one who is injured, but retribution, which is what is done by society in order to put its moral frame back in order.

    Suppose that your ideology of individualism has progressed to the point at which you deny ontological actuality to such a moral frame, perhaps because you deny that there is an existence of society that is ontologically distinguishable from the mere collection of individuals. Then there can be no moral frame because there is nothing to frame. Then it will be natural enough to speak not of punishment but of consequences, because the word “consequences” has the strong connotation of effects in the concrete order. We fall back on the concrete when we deny the abstract or quasi-abstract. Likewise, “training” makes sense if we restrict our attention to habituation, which is in the concrete order. That’s wholly appropriate if there is no reality to the moral frame, which is necessarily abstract or quasi-abstract.

    All of this has implications for the ongoing debate about capital punishment. In brief compass:

    There are three ways in which capital punishment can be legitimated. First, it undeniably prevents the murderer from murdering again. But this effect can perhaps be as well attained by secure imprisonment. Second, capital punishment can deter others from murder, by credibly threatening an unacceptable consequence. If we think that the prospect of capital punishment is too remote to affect one’s choice in the event, and if one believes that secure imprisonment is as effective as a death penalty in restraining the murderer and is in some way more humane, then we reach the position of John Paul and many, many others, that capital punishment, if not intrinsically evil, is but very rarely necessary.

    However, the third ground for the legitimacy and perhaps, indeed, the necessity of capital punishment is that it is the only way by which the moral frame of society, put out of joint by murder, can be rectified. It is the only retributive measure commensurate with the injury.

    The stance of the Catholic hierarchy in opposition to capital punishment is, on this view, not due to mercy or respect for life, but is the consequence of no longer believing in the independent existence of a social moral frame. Supposedly, we still believe in the Church as an entity with both concrete visible and invisible spiritual dimensions, both of them ontologically actual, neither of them involving mere abstraction. Why will we not grant the same kind of reality to secular society? Or, having abandoned belief in secular society having that kind of existence, are we, by our denigration of justice, on our way to denying the actuality of the Church?

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