The Email Pushback Excursus

After I published the spring 2005 revision of whyjust.html, I had an old friend develop some pushbacks to my arguments, and we had a long email exchange (mostly long-winded from my side, as you shall see). His basic position was this:

  1. Not only does the Christian God of love NOT have to punish the post-mortem sinners, but He is obligated under (a) love and (b) desire for redemption of all, to continue-until-success with redemptive efforts.

  2. Punishment which did NOT serve redemptive elements--for example, punishments for retribution, claims of justice, and abstract 'promise keeping' by God --were inconsistent with the principles of mercy, love, and forgiveness.

  3. Furthermore, if God really didn't like punishment (as claimed in the bible), then He shouldn't have promised it to the evil doers.

The questions and points he raised were often very good, and I suspect in my replies I demonstrated that I did not always understand the objections. But nonetheless, after looking back over this trail, I think there may be some useful distinctions and arguments for the interested reader. At the end of the process, I wrote the new summary for the original piece (and made a couple of modifications). Here's the chronology and flow (my responses are in regular text/his are in blue).


April 27/2005


Hey, Glenn, I hope you're doing ok. My life right now is mostly little hoops to jump through to finish law school.I was hoping I could make some progress on the necessity for atonement, at long last. I don't know what your life's like right now...but I thought perhaps if I resummarized for you, some more reading list items might pop to mind... I know you've been hitting your head against this with me for a while, but hope springs eternal. So I'll go point by point through the latest version of your "why can't God just forgive" piece, as efficiently as I can.


1: "God's justice (relative to punishing evil with the stated consequences) is generally related to God's anger, wrath, or "hatred" in the Bible [which is directed at things that are truly evil and destructive]." No problem here.

I don’t understand your acceptance of this…If the ‘stated consequences’ of evil acts are ‘the soul that sinneth it shall die’, or ‘shall rise to everlasting shame and disgrace’ (Dan 12.2), or ‘those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation’ (Jn 5.29),etc, then I was under the impression this WAS the problem…(the necessity of an atonement flows directly from the absoluteness/inevitability of judgment upon those who have done evil in the past, for evil deeds done in the past)… I thought your problem was about why God is ‘allowed to’ inflict ‘the stated consequences’ on ANYONE… have I been wrong all this time?

If the ‘stated consequence’ of evil acts is punishment from God (“to include, but not limited to,” …wan smile), such as the effects listed in the Deuteronomic curses and/or separation from God and/or deprivation of normal life-eternity-beneifts, then why would we NOT expect a good God to find some way to bypass/circumvent/abrogate/something these for the repentant (assuming that He would even do it—graciously—for the “merely repentant”?!—I can think of no ethical law which would REQUIRE this of anyone, esp possibly Reciprocity?)

So maybe I need to re-learn your objection here…

So, let me state the ‘summation’ of how the bible presents this and you tell me which of these you disagree with it about…

  1. God (the ground and URP of morality) set up laws which specify ‘stated consequences’ for sin.

  2. One such stated consequence is that His judicial role as judge/executioner is invoked

  3. He specifies in the same Law that this punishment can be averted only by repentance and requisite penalty-“absorbing” (?) sacrifice [“without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin”, Hebrews]

  4. For the repentant who cannot bring (due to failures of history, nature, will, etc—all of us basically) a requisite/adequate penalty-absorbing sacrifice [mechanism is unexplained in the bible as to how ‘specifically’ this works—other than general notions of identification, substitution, and satisfaction], God provides for them a Requisite Sacrifice (in His Person/Son).

  5. The repentant are discharged from liability and forever in the debt of grace and generosity.


The necessity of Atonement itself is simply a ‘given’ in Scripture. Like sacrifice in the OT, the mechanisms (other than general substy, identification, satisfaction of justice, etc) in the OT/NT are not explained with any precision. We basically trust God’s EXPLICIT statements that (a) it was necessary; (b) it was very costly to Him; and (c) it worked beautifully, to satisfy His internal justice needs (which we only see in general principles). This is not rocket science, obviously, but we shouldn’t have a problem in trusting His statements/explanations about this, since it was OBVIOUSLY a matter of great importance to Him—judging by the ‘unpleasant’ Gift of His Son! (We can only assume that a Wise God might take other, less-painful, more economical means to satisfy the punishment problems, had there BEEN any other way. (e.g., “If salvation came by the Law, then Christ died needlessly”—Galatians; “it was necessary for better sacrifices than these…”, Hebrews)

I/we can try to explain ‘how’ the Atonement worked in detail, or consistently, but we don’t actually HAVE TO DO THIS to accept it as necessary at all. Unless we jettison the entire framework of monotheism, revealed truth in Scripture, ontological ‘reality’ of evil, privileged epistemic position of Jesus, prophets, apostles [which would generate the massive challenge of constructing alternative explanations of existence, creation, morality, “Christian evidences”, evil, etc, etc, etc], we have enough clear statements of the THAT (“I, God, had a need for an atonement of this magnitude—for ultimate theological reasons related to righteousness and the possibility of pardon for humans-- and this need was satisfied fully in the Cross”), to render the “HOW IT WORKED” questions of secondary criticality. I may never understand more than the general notions of substitution, sacrifice, appeasement, etc (freely and clearly available in the Bible at the one-page level), but this doesn’t bother me much at all. I don’t pretend to understand the ‘mechanisms’ of evil-pass-on, or group-evil, or evil angels, etc, but that doesn’t stop me from (a) knowing enough to articulate these; and (b) believing the truthfulness of the propositions about these in the Bible.

If this sounds a little like “God said it. I believe it. That settles it.”, its because it’s very much like that. “I am intellectually convinced that the real God said/revealed those propositions. I am intellectually convinced that God has a privileged epistemic and moral position/nature relative to mine, and that His statements can be trusted—even if my understanding of those statements (a) are image-based, (b) resist systematic/precise further explication; (c) are grounded in other images/institutions which are ALSO less-than-precise in mechanism [e.g. sacrifice, forgiveness]; and even if my moral intuitions (which are malleable and derivative) are not in full-synch with the moral substrates seemingly presupposed to be held by God the Moral Ultimate, in some cases. Therefore, I “believe it”, and will work on further understanding—but without assuming moral or epistemic superiority to the Ground of my mind/conscience/etc. I will not assume that my sense of disconnect (intellectual OR moral) with God’s “THAT” statements are more trustworthy than (previously accepted as trustworthy) God’s THAT statements.

To me personally, I am in this situation in a few areas… I have ‘minor disconnects’ (mostly over how and whys, obviously) with some of the “THAT”s, but the data for the “THAT”s is just too strong to reject…but I do not have this problem with the Atonement at all… His statements are too clear, the cost was too high, and the blessings that poured out on us too great—I don’t have any reason to doubt this, even though I don’t see how it solved ALL of the problems it was meant to address. (I may NEVER understand most the implications of the “Defeat of the Powers” work of the Cross—I have much less data/image/models to go on in that case, but it doesn’t cause me to doubt His THAT statements…similarly with the “Cleansing of the Heavenly Sanctuary” aspects in Hebrews—eh?? The model/image is crystal clear, but I am stuck with a gazillion questions past the 1page level)

Okay…where am I? (“He mused, absent-mindedly..”)… oh, on the necessity of judgment/punishment, and your “No Problem” with bullet one.

I was under the impression that your problem with the Necessity of the Atonement, was due SOLELY to your problem with the Necessity of Punishment… That punishment for evil MUST be dealt out (which would later create for you/us, the problem with Penal Substitution)… hence my surprise at your ‘apparent’ acceptance of the legitimacy of God punishing evil with ‘stated consequences’.

So now I have to turn the tables on you for a while (smile), and ask YOU a question…once you give me an answer on THIS, perhaps it will give me a clue as to where to go next. The question Q1 for YOU is this:

Why CAN God punish past evil with stated consequences, such as death or exile or deprivation?” “What about the moral universe ALLOWS an authority to punish evil?”

Of course, after this I will ask you Q2 “then how does that principle NOT apply to some people (perhaps the ‘repentant’) but not to others (the stubbornly evil), even though the evil deeds of the past may be identical? E.g. what about post-evil repentance could POSSIBLY ‘interfere with’ the application of ‘stated consequences’ on a lawbreak, under whatever plausible-and-consistent ‘rule’ you come up with on Q1 ???

Also…I’ll continue to look through your following points to see what other ideas I might glean from your comments—but you start on coming up with the nature of moral authority and obligation, relative to judgment yourself in parallel

I did read your concern over reciprocity, and I’ll try to develop that further for you—but it flows from the very DEFINITON of a ‘value’. Values are ‘universals’ and all peer-agents are ‘identical in obligations’ under universals. If I assert a universal via act/word/etc, I am obligated by that –qua universal—it implies much more than reciprocity, but in the context of universals, reciprocity is really a relationship of ‘identity’. All moral agents are referentially the ‘same’ under it. There is not difference between an “I” and a “you” under a ‘value’—all are both subject and objects…but more on this later…its elevenish and I have to calm down now…(more personal status stuff this weekend—take care, friend…glenn]


April 28/2005


Turns out I DID misunderstand:

oh, no...i think i wasted some of your thought-time....i'm sorry, glenn. You comment on MY comment below:

"God's justice (relative to punishing evil with the stated consequences) is generally related to God's anger, wrath, or "hatred" in the Bible [which is directed at things that are truly evil and destructive]." No problem here.

When I said "no problem here", all i meant was that i agree that IN THE

BIBLICAL TEXT the things that make God angry are generally things that seem truly evil. I was agreeing that the provocations of punishment are not arbitrary, not that the punishment itself makes sense.

......

And I offered some early speculations about the need for moral philosophy work:

"Dont worry about this 'wastage' at all--i think this may turn out to be helpful...i am beginning to suspect i know where the problem is... i suspect (not sure until i get you to answer a carefully worded set of questions) that you dont actually have REAL moral obligation in your 'system'; that no one is actually 'owed' anything (and therefore has a 'claim' on others); that 'merit' and 'demerit' relative to obligations are not grounded in personal rights (e.g. to be treated fairly, etc); that punishment as 'getting what one deserves' for a perp (eventually, after all attempts at redemption/restitution have failed) is somehow NOT the same as 'getting what one deserves' as a victim who has been defrauded/burgled; that a victim is not 'owed anything' (no rights to what they had which was stolen)--IRRESPECTIVE of perp-redemption issues; that privation of a thief (e.g., taking BACK the stolen property) is NOT a justice, legal-claim issue for the victim (retribution/restoration of what was lost, satisfaction of legal/moral claims to the stolen property), but ONLY a matter of behavioral engineering upon the perp...

"i suspect the disconnect between (eventual) punishment (as a legal/justice category, authorized by the moral 'system', and executed by the Moral Governor) and the moral obligations of the perp, and the moral/legal rights (and therefore, claims) of the victim is where the problem lies... but let me work through the rest of your comments (it will take a week or so, probably) to see if this pattern emerges...


later, pal,

glenn


April 30, 2005


2: "This connection between God's outrage and social and moral justice shows up in categories of responsibility and injury [ie, I think, justice is the society's acceptance of its responsibility towards the wounded]." Not sure I understand what this point adds to the above, but no problem here.

The point is to show that outrage/lament are fundamental parts of true moral response to malicious injury. Rehab/reclamation of the perp is a distinctly different matter. BOTH have to be addressed, and not solely Rehab/redemption of the perp. A system of ethics which does NOT ask the questions of the meaning, implications, and responsibilities of moral outrage/lament toward an act is an incomplete one. In the case of moral governance—as the ‘voice’ of the society and/or moral fabric on which it is based—the responsibility of the society to the victim of treachery/privation has to be considered as fundamental.


3: "This notion of moral responsibility as a condition of society brings us into the very being of God." No problem here.

Not sure why not…the point is about God’s passionate action/empathy toward the victim first…the passages are not about ‘rehabing’ the wicked men, but about the horridness of their crimes against others…the louder these passages are about the atrocity-shock/outrage, the more vivid the issue of judicial punishment for past acts (and not prevention of future acts) becomes.


4: "As a loyal covenant and community participant, God 'takes a stand' to be trustworthy, dependable, and constant in His actions." I think the point you're edging towards here is that once God announces he'll punish x with y, He has to follow through for integrity's sake.

Actually, there are several points in the section, and the follow-through issue of personal integrity is not really there…the points are (by paragraph): [1 and 2] The clarity and constancy of the Law of rewards and blessings (beyond the impact on conscience or happiness), and the principle of not ‘punishing’ the community by eternally allowing the treacherous to impact, role-model, or operate in it (under some hope of individual redemption of the perp); [3] the primacy of moral outrage in us/God, and the implication this has for ‘absolute’ values, irrespective of rehab policy, community health, or personal destiny; [4] the ‘theoretical’ outrage experience likewise suggests the non-pragmatic basis of values (i.e., some things are evil in themselves, regardless of community impact); [5] the important point that in philosophy there is no need to discuss ‘is good only good because it helps somebody?’—good/evil are ultimates (evil in only a subordinate sense, though, but still hyper-human), so that outrage toward evil is legitimate even though one cannot articulate why something is actually evil…I am driving toward the fact that evil is beyond simple ‘hurts’ and ‘rehab’—there is something ‘bigger than’ rehab, than restitution to the victim, etc. It includes those (and other) issues, but there is something trans-human (?) about it.


If I DO buy that, I think the corollary is that a loving God won't pre-commit himself to any punishment incompatible with the perp's ultimate redemption.

I cannot agree with your ‘hyper-Reformed’ stance here(smile)… I would not agree that God cannot excise/destroy an incorrigible saboteur, after the longer-than-normal period of patience, rehab, teaching, appeals, etc is over…I do NOT believe God has the ‘right’ (or obligation to the community/perp) to essentially ‘force salvation’ against-the-will, on someone who intelligently, thoroughly, and persistently opposes it… God’s commitment to the community says (a) He has to make a trade-off decision as to ‘how much undeserved and destructive abuse on the innocent/community’ is allowed/required(?) to suffer/experience, before all rehab is discontinued and the perp is forcefully, against their will, and yet regretfully driven out (via death, dissolution, exile from the community of blessing/life)… I subordinate the future of the individual to the future of the community of individuals… I will not allow one to hold the entire community of the good, hostage, by transforming God’s desire/efforts/longing for the perp-individual’s redemption and restoration into a community-destructive (and for that matter, perp-destructive, since a re-wired-against-their-will perp is not the same dude at all) absolute requirement of Universalism. The bible is replete with cases, personal statements, and even theological statements of God’s greater-than-human ‘longsuffering’, ‘not willing that any should perish’, etc, but what is under discussion is the legitimacy of God’s punishment of the finally, irreversibly, and happy-about-that treacherous. ]


Since the redemption process is inherently emotionally painful (the perp will suffer over his actions in exact proportion to the degree of his sanctification), God can meet this criteria and still make a credible threat that doing evil leads to suffering.

Not sure of YOUR point here…?… if the perp doesn’t ‘consent’ to redemption (and consequent sanc.), then there is ZERO ‘internal suffering’—in fact, they might be smug, arrogant, defiant, self-justified, etc if they ‘get away with it’ (even in imprisonment, often)…they might not be happy about imprisonment, but they often would do the deed again, but not get caught ‘this time’… are you suggesting that God –as punishment—should FORCE the perp to be re-born (or, more technically, ‘re-birth’ them WITHOUT their consent, and then accelerate, against their will, the way-too-slow-in-my-opinion (smile) sanctification process to where they feel commensurate ‘guilt’ over serial killings, multiple rapes, child abuse?), so that they THEN feel some kind of remorse, as being JUSTICE for past wrongs? That this would be satisfaction for the victim for the past wrong? That it would make up for a burned down house, a violated child, a ruined reputation? (I am not sure I understand what you are saying here, obviously, and wondering if you have ever seen anything remotely like this in your studies of legal history)…


However, I'm NOT totally convinced that God is required by integrity to follow through on the letter of His threat..."On the day you eat of it you shall surely die." But I think you address this further later on.

Tes, I attempted to…(smile)


5: "God's commitment to each community entails some actions on His part to maintain the basis of community." No problem with that theme, which you generally then apply to removing perps from the community. But I think it's fair and important to add that an omnipotent God could probably do this without tanking His other major goal - redeeming the perp.

Here we are in deep theological disagreement, it appears… I draw the line at ‘forced conversions’… I fully accept ‘highly influenced conversions’, but I just cannot buy into the theological position that God is morally required to (a) override-by-reconstituting at 100% level, the will of ANYONE—unless they requested that [and I actually don’t think God honors THAT much either—at least not in MY pleas for it (smile)]; and/or (b) distribute the benefits of righteousness to those who do NOT want them; or (c) treat those who DID consistently/significantly make the tuff moral decisions for good/love the same way, in the end, as those who obdurately chose evil (a distributive justice issue). Thinkers much better/persuasive than I have not been able to persuade the philosophical and/or theological community of the truth of Universalism [and it's not due to some carnal vindictiveness of humanity(LOL!)], but rather to some deep sense of morality and justice. This is separate, of course, from the biblical witness against it), Omnipotence doesn’t mean that God could turn all the perps into butterflies, so that the community is safeguarded and the perp has a contributing and insectoidal-level happiness… there are limits to what is required of God and to what is consistent with other realities (e.g., identity/worth of the self). I, along with many other folks who work in Theodicy, see the system as one ‘under constraint’ (the explorations by Walls and Swineburne are good reading on this). (But I deal with these issues elsewhere, as you know. But it IS relevant here, since you seem to imply that God should/could transform such a perp (for their good, but against their personal integrity/identity), and even when this overriding wasn’t done to help the wannabe-gooders in THEIR struggles with moral challenges.]

[Gotta stop here… more when I can, friend—I hope this stuff is of value ‘and provocation’ (smile)


May 1st/ 2005


A random email to him:

"emerging" thought-- i am noticing hitherto unnoticed 'themes' in my argument, not all of which are (a) explored, or (b) necessarily consistent.

i cannot develop this right now--but it will start showing up in the subsequent responses (and explorations, since it is early on):

the theme of explusion/excision of the finally ("perfected") treacherous seems (theologically) to have TWO DISTINCT rationale applied to it in Holy Writ:

1. The evil-maker (beyond just evil-doer, at this point) is judged to be dangerous/destructive to the community and is therefore removed from damaging its enjoyment of blessedness (this is based on the 'deservedness' of the community [of promised rewards of peace and unfettered fruitfulness] and the now-sure-to-happen FUTURE evil acts of the treacherous to disrupt that [based on the EFFECTS of PAST evil acts on the CHARACTER, when not dealt with/corrected/softened/etc through reformation, conscience, chastening and the other means exerted by God and community on the perp, in attempts to PRECLUDE this situation. [i.e. "The soul that will FOREVER SIN, will die"--(death being separation from life/community/blessedness/God-the-source)"--"The soul that will FOREVER SIN, will NOT be allowed to do so in the community of the righteous"]

2. The evil-doer (or better, "evil DID-er") is judged by MoralAuthority (as executive representative of the MoralSystem and MoralCommunity) to be 'unworthy' of the blessings 'earned' (even under grace) by those of similar 'constitutions' who WERE reformed by conscience, chastening, etc, and this evil-doer is therefore excluded from the community of blessedness. This is based, NOT on community welfare and/or the perps CHARACTER (as predictor of FUTURE behavior) as in #1, BUT RATHER on the dis-merit of ("addressed otherwise") PAST EVIL acts. The perp is NOT granted the conditional promise of true-NewFuture-life-in-blessed-community, since he (willfully, consistently, knowingly, etc) failed to fulfill the condition (while others were ABLE and WILLING to do so)--a perfectly fair/legal/just 'transaction'. [i.e., "The soul that SINNED, will die" -- (death being separation from life/community/blessedness/God-the-source"--"The soul that SINNED, will not receive the indivdiual/social rewards promised to those who DO NOT SIN"]

There are at least 2 other distinctions which come to mind, but FINAL judgment seems to be most often referred to in the above categories. The other two distinctions would be: (1) "The soul, as it sins, slowly dies ['increasing estrangement from the blessed-aspects of the community, which will BLOOM into full blessedness upon FinalState, and increasing insensitivity to the influence which would reverse that estrangement'] and related to this, (2) "The soul, as it sins, slowly dies (above) and is slowly REBORN into an "anti-community" community and value set", i.e. the transformation of the soul into the final/perfected form of the evil-maker, above. This is a bit like the old 'what you wish for, you get' or final reciprocity (the squabbling residents of Lewis' Great Divorce hell).]

Anyway, the distinction between #1 and #2 occured to me today, as i was reflecting on the (non?) relationship between moral outrage categories and explusion-to-protect judgments. The former were clearly past-oriented TOTALLY; the later were forward-oriented ONLY (e.g., a single sin might not cause a judge to decide one was a real THREAT in the future, but a single sin COULD incur demerit, and/or constitute breach of contract, etc.)

One other (potentially HUGE in import) theme: I was explaining to some folk in Feb about the 'PART' of the Cross which was atoning, and i pointed out that it was NOT the pain per se, but only the death of Christ. [I.e., the OT sacrifices--the model of Christ's death--were NOT tortured, humiliated, disfigured, scorned, etc; it was only their (quick) death which was required.] When I speak of God 'pouring out His wrath' upon His Son, this wrath is "ONLY" expressed in the (grievous to one so pure and sensitive) SEPARATION of Jesus from the blessedness of communion with the Life-Father, and the subsequent aftermath of that (i.e., physical death). The Wrath was not in the 'stripes which healed us' (except insofar as they demonstrated that God had abandoned Him to the will of us malice-ones, as one aspect of separation--a la Deuteronomy), nor in the humiliation and rejection by His people (except insofar as that demonstrated that God had abandoned Him to the malice of others--which God is not supposed to do (by and large) to the righteous. Rather, it was that "His soul was made an offering for sin". As i have often said, the Atoning death of the Son could have happened in heaven, without us even seeing it or without it involving Gibson-level explicitness (smile) --in fact, Paul/Hebrews sorta says this is how it WAS, relative to the 'former sins' which were REALLY forgiven One point of possible relevance to our discussion here is that THIS punishment was "non-agressive" (i.e., it was abandonment to intrinsic and SOCIAL/COMMUNITY pathological forces created by the effects of the presence of un-addressed evil; there was nothing 'extra' sorta added, but it was more than simple 'guilty conscience'). More on this later ("as it develops")...

okay--gotta move on, but i did want to mention these--they MIGHT prove helpful distinctions for our thinking in this space---

later, g


May 3/2005


He responded to that last email:

"Yes - I see the distinction you're making - but i still don't understand the justification for the 'retributive' part of it. I looked over your reply to my original but am holding back right now so i don't complicate the picture -will wait till your final reply (right?) thank you so much, my friend."


And I:

"...right...i wanted to get through your first round of feedback first.

"I am also kicking around in my head the need for specifically philosophical and theological research (where ultimacy is factored in, basically)...There is an important distinction which i suspect needs your thinking here: in the philosophical-theological area (except for PURE materialists, which have worse problems IMO], evil is not wrong because it is destructive, but it is destructive because it is wrong. the flow is from wrong (ultimacy/moral ultimacy/URP/God, and one's relationship to ultimacy) to destructive (derivative, space-time, community, self, etc; and the derivative consequences of one's relationship to ultimacy). ["ponder these things"...smile]



May 5, 2005


6: "God's commitment to communal warmth, nurture, cooperation, robustness, development, and expansion is also expressed in His 'incentives' toward constructive lives." No problem.

I am not sure why you do NOT have a problem with this section. The point is that the promised rewards will ONLY be given to the morally-upright, and there will be some kind of post-mortem ‘privation’ visited upon the wicked, to ensure/uphold God’s promise that blessings ONLY accrue to the righteous. That is, that I must have confidence that those who do NOT make the tough moral choices for good (i.e., the wicked) who die in fullness, abundance, and pleasure (without having gained that through righteousness, obviously), will have to ‘relinquish’ those ‘stolen blessings’, and this is EXACTLY what (most of) retribution/punishment is about (when it's not about deterrence, and other social goals, of course). I don’t see you being able to agree to some kind of post-mortem privation process, that ‘reverses fortune’ – the Dives/Lazarus principle in Luke 16—as an incentive to goodness. [Essentially, ie., a PROMISE of judgment on the wicked—as a deterrence to the group. God could NEVER follow through on this PROMISE/THREAT in your position, as I currently (mis?)understand it.]


7: "Also, as a participant of all that the community experiences, I share in its need for equilibrium and closure." In the examples that follow in this setion (apartheid in S. Africa, Scott Peterson) you define closure as a) a legitimate, healthy psyhologial need, and b) necessarily involving punishment. No problem with a). The main evidence for b) seems to be that people in the above examples stated they NEEDED punishment in order to feel closure.

Actually, the examples were peripheral/add-ons to the argument. The main argument here is in the second half of the first paragraph. It is about community response of validation of the value-violation done to the victim. If a person suffers horrible torture, abuse, deprivation at the hands of a psychopath, and the perp is tried, found guilty, and sentenced to only a $30 fine (!), my shock as a victim is two-fold: at the perp, who regarded me as of-no-value (as evidenced in his treatment of me); and at the community, who regarded me of minimal-value (as evidenced by the ‘proportionate’ punishment meted out). The data for this doesn’t come from the examples, but from cultural antro… rewards and penalties are ‘value-assigned’ (loss of life ‘bigger than’ loss of money, etc) , and how they are assigned to various crimes are used as an index to the culture’s actual value system. So, e.g., in the ANE, adultery with landowners was a capital crime (since the succession issue problem would undermine basic property and inheritance law), but its not even a CRIME in the US (where this is not really an issue). If a state doesn’t come close enough to value-matching punishments to crimes, I as victim (and, btw, I as social onlooker—learning from the patterns (cf. Prov 29.12: If a ruler listens to falsehood, all his officials will be wicked), am violated/ de-valued further… closure is both (a) rite-of-passage; and (b) value-reaffirmation (e.g., am I RIGHT to FEEL this dishonored by the perp?, this outraged?, this violated?, etc.


But let me suggest an alternative. What about a public investigation and broadcast of the person's crimes and any extenuating/exacerbating circumstances, with a moral verdict rendered to the community by the community's chosen representatives

This already happens, in many countries, in the legal system. Up to the point of “verdict”, but you haven’t gotten to ‘sentencing’ so far… how does your ‘moral verdict rendered’ address the RE-VALUATION of the victim, and the affirmation to the society of HOW BAD this was…words are probably not gonna do much here in teaching/re-setting the community (“…we denounce the terrorist act in strongest possible terms..”)


- and then require the perp to face whichever members of the community want to speak to him? And require him to observe directly all the visible downstream effects of his actions.

This is already done somewhat in Victim Impact Statements—but only relative to sentencing (i.e., the community saying ‘HOW BAD’ an ethical travesty was done), but there is a huge controversy about it—see

http://www.boalt.org/bjcl/v2/v2stevensnf.htm]


To the extent of his resources, whether he repents or not, he would have to make reparations.

Btw, what moral grounds would YOU have to ‘force the perp’ to do this? How is this not ‘silent retribution’ (via privation and hardship on the perp—even a REPENTENT one???) I.e., what moral principle of ‘restitution’ are you going to invoke to support this claim, and how are doing to defend THAT moral principle—apart from some notion of ‘enforced privation, in the name of justice’?]

And what about irreparables? Murder, rape, physical disfigurement/impairment, etc? what reparations exist there? (a whole LOT of the big-issue crimes—the major foci of punishment discussions—fall into this category… there’s not a lot of dispute over purely-pecuniary crimes, but when you get to abusive and violative crimes, we are deepest into the hearts and souls of people…their ‘lives’ in the real sense of that…). “you’ve totally devastated their hearts/ and ruined their lives FOREVER…now, ‘go your way and sin no more’…and you have to make ‘child support payments’ the rest of your life, and if you violate THAT law, we’ll bring you in here AGAIN, and shame you yet again, and let you go with another set of Fines, and if you violate that…”…”but never will the pleasure you derived from the violation of another be taken from you, through some corresponding REAL pain…”]


The community's ethical statement has been made. This, for me, would be emotionally sufficient closure and could be intensely redemptive for the perp. I've never suffered anything like the people in your examples, but we've all suffered injustice, and I'm not whitewashing my feelings in saying I'd be satisfied by that.

I do think this is wishful thinking, tender-hearted friend, but perp-redemption seems only to occur EARLY in the cycle—in early ‘smaller’ crimes, when the cries of victims for appropriate punishment are not loud/heard…when we get to the crimes of THIS controversy, the criminals seem to be so hardened that nothing seems to work (statistically), even alternative treatment approaches…the only real data of how a victim might respond (vis a vis closure) here is anecdotal—the cries of the victim and family when they feel justice is NOT done in the court…these are in the media OFTEN (although only the more melodramatic ones, obviously), and the wide range of people who voice this outrage over ‘lack of proportionality’ might suggest that it is pan-human (i.e., NOT a function of vindictiveness, need for material things, etc).


So if I say I would be, EVEN IF someone else denies that it would satisfy him, how can he have sole authority to define 'sufficient closure'?

That’s the fallacy of the beard—just because I cannot define/delineate it precisely from stubble, doesn’t mean its not a beard by common acceptance… YOU would experience a sense of lack of closure in YOUR scenario if only 51% of the community pronounced moral judgment on YOUR perp (as opposed the overwhelming majority)—but YOU couldn’t specify a body-count of what WOULD give you closure…

But remember, closure is of two kinds: the rite-of-passage (“acceptance”, as in bereavement) might be addressed with simple, FORMAL, ‘moral dismissal’ of the perp by the community, but the ‘proportionality’ closure is a different matter, and can ‘err in both directions’. The punishment has to be proportional to the violation (a common principle of law, of course, as YOU have told ME a gazillion times!), and wide variances from this will NOT be ‘closure’—something will be ‘amiss’. We only hear about the under-valuation cases, of course, in which a horrific crime is ‘under-punished’, but I can easily imagine mid-tier crimes in which a victim could even feel a little ‘guilty’ if the judge/court OVERPUNISHES a perp. “I only really wanted my stuff back, plus a little for my distress and emotional trauma—I didn’t mean for you to sentence him to ten years!” kinda stuff. We already respond to stories like that ourselves everyday. ‘That seems a bit harsh for that, don’t you think’.

So, the MAIN closure I am talking about is ‘proportionality’, which varies by person (as you obviously noted), but one which is a cornerstone of all modern legal systems anyway. And proportionality has ALWAYS been understood to involve forced privation, in irreparable crimes.


(Personally, I'd suggest that the true reason black South Africans don't feel closure is because RESTORATIVE justice wasn't done - they continue to live in the poverty that is the economic fallout of centuries of exploitation by the white population. Some property redistribution is in order, politically feasible or not, but not for the purpose of punishment.)

Well, that’s not something I want to have to research (smile), but on the surface, the quote I gave would suggest otherwise—that it was about NEVER BEING VALUED, not about NEVER HAVING Material goods…

And, btw, I have been thinking about this SA issue since I first read your remark…there’s actually a sad scenario hiding in there. Let’s say their grievance really is for proportional punishment closures, but that instead they are offered a metric truckload of money instead. All they have to do is ‘drop the emotional outrage at violation’ and they can have the anesthesia of material goods. This is amazingly grotesque to me (I realize I am off topic here, but this really bothered me today)—its like (or maybe "is") bribery: turning away from the pursuit of REAL justice, because of self-interested materialism.

There’s this great scene in the movie “Small Soldiers” like this. The Toy Company has placed military chips in their Action Figures, which have gone on the warpath relative to some guys’ family and house. The humans BARELY win against the toys, but not without total destruction of their house, physical injuries, and massive emotional distress/trauma. The CEO flies in to smooth over things, and the outraged father charges over to him yelling “look at my house, my history, my family—you don’t have enough money to—“. At this point in the sentence, he looks down at the check the CEO just handed him, and he (in amazement, calming down Instantly), says softly (while reading the check)…”well, maybe you DO…” His justifiable outrage at the unethical use of advanced military chips in household toys is TOTALLY gone at the material ‘retribution’, even though the CEO is TOTALLY UNrepentant (he remarks that he can use these toys in the south American drug markets, and make a killing—and that the devastation he is looking at ‘would have made a hell of a commercial’). !

[Anyway, sorry for the digression…more as it comes…]



May 11, 2005


8: "Actually, much of the punishment (or more simply: "consequence") of evil is 'built into' the system, and does not involve any 'extra' action on God's part." No problem here.

Again, I am not sure why you DON’T have a problem with this. The standard complaint about punishment is that “two wrongs don’t make a right”—that lex talionis is MORE destructive than even just letting the perp get away with it (where only one wrong occurs—until a second crime occurs, of course—under either scenario). But if this anti-punishment principle is held strongly, then wouldn’t it be problematic for God to bake-in such a principle into nature, in your position? I.e., wouldn’t it be a case of two-wrongs making a right?

But, on the other hand, if it is morally ‘permissible’ for God (!) to build negative consequences INTO the system, then why can it not be morally permissible for God to visit ‘extra’ negative consequences ABOVE the system (on what moral ground, e.g., could you object to such, IF YOU ACCEPT the legitimacy of the first)? See what I mean? And how in the world would you justify a system WITHOUT any such consequences? (even conceptualizing a world like that is impossible, IMO).

The issue that keeps surfacing for us there is that if you allow ANY type of negative consequence to follow an evil deed (therefore ‘looking like’ punishment), then how can you restrict—on moral principle—OTHER negative consequences which look like “judicial” punishment? You might argue over practical matters (e.g., proportionality, usefulness, etc), but the basic morality of punishment per se would stand…

Also, I would expect you to restrict this consequence stream to purely subjective/psychological effects of a theoretically positive/rehabilitative force (e.g, guilt? Remorse? Awareness of damage?), but the biblical point is MUCH broader than that (e.g, those that wickedly murder, are themselves murdered by wicked men) and even anti-rehabilitative (e.g., the hardening and darkening of one’s heart, conscience, sense of guilt—the very OPPOSITE of rehabilitation).


9: "One of the more sobering (but observable and demonstrable) results of treachery is on the character of the agent, and this is also a 'natural' consequence that requires no 'extra' action by God." No problem here.

Ditto above, since I developed that a little toward the end of my last comments.

I can only see where this fits in your position ‘somewhat’. At the first few crimes, I can see psychological and moral dissonance and dis-integrity developing, and the stress of this internal dissonance will force one to choose—under this stress-- good/evil on the next morally-heightened dilemma. This fits both of our systems. But once the perp begins to ‘not care’ about the good, and begins to habitually choose the evil (i.e., proclaiming it to be a good), the dissonance abates quickly until the hardness is complete. Theoretically, there could be a situation which would re-surface the stress (e.g., the need to kill a loved one, who got in the way of some evil accomplishment), but without these extrema, the natural (personal, on-self) consequence of evil is simply more-and-better and more-comfortable evil. The witness for good can be deliberately ignored, silenced, and later even, enjoyed-as-spoilable a la vandalism.

What this might suggest, I just noticed, is that after some cutoff-point, the ONLY negative consequences of an evil actual (that would be perceived as negative by a perp) would be FORCED privations from outside. And we are at punishment, whether it is ‘natural’ in the broader sense (e.g., eventually being murdered by wicked men, or being double-crossed in a drug deal) or ‘artificial’ as in legal judgment and punishment. That is, IF it is okay/commendable/’morally good’ to visit negative natural consequences on a perp (whether rehabilitative or not, given WHERE in the evil cycle they were), then WHY WOULD IT NOT BE okay/etc to visit ARTIFICIAL negative conseqx on a perp (when such ‘natural’ conseqs were not experienced as NEGATIVE)?

And we are back to the question of is anything really ‘of consequence’ in your position? Should (and most importantly, WHY SHOULD, morally speaking, ) any horrible act be visited with suffering consequences? I.e., is there really some category of ‘de-merit’ , and if it doesn’t imply the warrant for punishment, then what DOES it mean?


10: "This self-inflicted destruction is itself a violation of the community, for the treacherous ones were supposed to be contributors to the whole good, as well as co-celebrants of community life." No problem, but one modification: this part of the perp's culpability is only real to the extent that he ever had evidence he was of potential value to the community. Someone who was raised being told and shown he was worthless is less guilty here IMO.

Not a lot of disagreement here. In all cases of evil, I presume that God sorts out the perp-as-victim from the perp-as-volitional agent, and balances the moral assessment accordingly of the act in light of both sets of realities. But although this scales the responsibility for one’s actions, any residual ‘willing agent percentage’ can be directly and clearly judged (and punished, rewarded). I even think good ‘features’ used in ‘bad ends’ will be praiseworthy, but will be sometimes dwarfed by impact of the evil ends.

That being said, I think I would also introduce the notion of pathologies in the areas which might be ‘excusable’. I think of people who prefer their misery, who are ‘content with emptiness’ (The Singer), who love to bear the arrogance of an unwilling martyr, etc. Since I have done all these myself, I know that they are no different a pleasure-vice than gluttony, addiction, or intellectual superiority. I think more of the ‘helpless, hopeless commoners’ you see each day in the public defender buildings (as you described them to me once) will be revealed to be of less-than-innocent attitudes, and attitudes which are less-than-excusable because of influence-forces. The biblical witness to the depth of the taint-problem in human hearts is very accurate IMO, even though the scope of taint is not expressed always in spectacular crimes of horror. The callousness of a parent to child (when not everyone in that SES-strata is such), the bitterness of a malcontent toward caregivers (when not everyone in the SES-strata is such), the exploitation of even marginally greater power toward another needy (when not everyone in the SES-strata is such) is more widespread than we would hope. Just as I think there are volitional (and therefore laudatory) elements in every good thing done (e.g. hug to a child, respect to an aged kin, struggle for self-respect, creation of laughter among friends), so too do I think there are volitional elements to the other side of their behavior also. I do not attribute ALL of the former to their ‘upbringing’, and symmetrically, neither do I make such attributions of the latter.]


11: "In addition to the 'natural' principle of 'you reap what you sow,' there is an additional such principle in 'you (eventually) get from God the relationship that you ask for'." I'm not clear here whether you're implying here an eventual change in God's behavior/attitude or just the natural internal result of constantly refusing God. If it's the second - just an example of your point 9 above - no problem. If it's the first, I have trouble seeing why there's any clear point at which God would be required to...what? give up on redeeming the perp? when would that point be? why?

I see this point as two-fold. First, there is an exile-point, at which the delay of judgment on the perp (under the try-to-redeem-as-long-as-possible motif), has become too destructive for the community to continue bearing abuse/loss by the perp. This is a practical matter of which I written often already in this word-stream (and elsewhere).

Second, there would be a point at which the perp REALLY, REALLY, REALLY wants God to ‘give up on him’—which would be, at the latest, at death (where the soul becomes ‘perfected’ and fully integrated upon/expressive of the core/highest value/orientation of the perp; and, according to the theologians, perfectly clear in its knowledge of God, value, hell, heaven, etc—and still chooses against it/them). It would, at this final point, become ‘unredeemable’ (i.e., incorrigible in the technical sense). It could, presumably, come earlier, if someone reached the ‘point of no return’ in one’s thinking [not sure I believe this—I still think there are forces on people operating, however weakly, in dissonance to WHATEVER their current position is], but these two points would not be in synch. I can see God exiling someone from the community (before death), yet still wooing them until death, whereupon, whatever element of their soul was dominant –or perhaps even ABOUT TO BECOME dominant, under grace—becomes their last and final state.

Judging from the OT cases of Amalek and Canaanites, God waits a long, long time before he even executes TYPE 1. And, He clearly struggles to find and reward good in even the most reprobate of folks (see 2 Kings 13—I read this morning and was AGAIN impressed at how God’s eagerness to see the good is so much more developed than ours).

I also think there might be a practical limitation on how much of any shared, finite resource (e.g. prophets, witnesses) God might invest in a really hardened person. He might still hope for his redemption, and use unconstrained resources (e.g., cosmos, residual conscience, reflection, crises) on said individuals, but I suspect God has to triage scarer resources such as missionaries, etc. In Acts Paul tried to go into several countries (all of which needed the gospel), but he was directed to Macedonia—Paul was a scarce resource so I DO think God (in history) deals with that on a practical matter.

[gotta stop here tonight…]


May 22, 2005


The guy sent me some links explaining that the position he was theoretically supporting was called 'Restorative Justice'. Here were some of my observations on the material:


1. thanks for the helpful links. Here are some of my observations after reading through the material (correct me if I am wrong):

2. Restorative Justice has Christian theological/theoretical defenders (all of which, as far as i can tell) ignore or marginalize the OT passages on punishment. As a process, it is endorsed and practiced by Prison Fellowship Ministries (the Chuck Colson organization) an excellent organization.

3. Historically it has worked best in juvi's and soft crime.

4. It has much in common with community life in tribal groups (including OT Israel--in which the community at the gate 'conferenced' with offenders and victims and decided what needed to be done--long before very VIOLENT crime occurred).

5. The point i have made a few times earlier about the anthropological problem lurking within your alternatives to retribution/punishment (IMO) are discussed in detail in the greentree.pdf document--thanks.

6. I looked on the web myself after looking at this, and the best overall article i have found about the reality/issues of the approach (IMO) is in the kdpaper6.pdf (excellent, nuanced work, by a supporter and contributor to that area/approach)

7. I noted that (in current applications, that it) when the perp does not 'submit' to the process, nor agree with the community consensus, the case is referred to traditional legal courts for trial/sentencing (in a standard 'retributive' mode). This is SOMEWHAT like the 'God waits, woo's, and hopes for reclamation BEFORE having to exercise judgment/punishment for the community).


May 23, 2005


12: "Strangely enough, most of the more-literal images of the Last Judgment involve humans as those doing the judgments, almost as a community-judgment." I don't disagree, but I don't see that as evidence for the justice of it.

Actually this point is about judgment as opposed to punishment. The point is that condemnation (a judgment term) is done more by peers than by an ‘outsider’. And that this implies that (some?) standards of morality are NOT ‘unreasonable’. These cases are where peers have judged fellow humans as being guilty, as being unworthy-of-something-good and deserving of (unspecified) judicial response. The justice in this is related to fairness, equal treatment, distributive justice. All are under the same moral law—with the same incentives and threats—and all are held to that standard.

People USUALLY judge each other too harshly

This may be the general case (under Reciprocity this has immense implications), but this is not the case in the biblical passages cited—the opposite is true. They did the right thing with much less resource than those who turned away. This is not inappropriate in the least. There isn’t the slightest hint of hypocrisy, sanctimoniousness (?), or double-standards.

and, if allowed, would overpunish those who hurt them.

1. Your term ‘overpunish’ is odd: is there a ‘punish’ that is NOT ‘over’?? or are you merely saying that “if punishment is allowed, people will abuse it”

2. I think this is part of why God created legal institutions and your profession—to try to take the issue out of personal response scales (biblical scholars tend to see the Cities of Refuge and related procedures as exactly that—something to reduce inexorable blood vengeance), and create more objective and less ‘cruel and unusual’ penal codes for humans. Counting heavily on you here, dude!

I find the Revelation images of the redeemed asking God to punish the wicked pretty disturbing.

Unless you disagree with my article on biblical ‘vengeance’ I cannot see why you could legitimately object. The call for vengeance in this case is a perfect example of an appeal to the sovereign to intervene forcefully, in recognition of unaddressed crimes of violence (past AND future—the perps are still alive on the earth, continuing their reign of terror, and it would be entirely reasonable for a victim to ask God to forcefully stop them—on moral grounds of crimes past, NOT of ‘uncertain but likely’ crimes future). The ‘how long’ question is essentially that voiced so many times in the OT of a version of the POE (“How can a God who has promised the community of loving, to defend them against treachery of the wicked, allow it to happen, continue unabated, and even thrive somewhat under God’s gentle patience with the wicked?”)


13: "Even the idea of God's 'vengeance' is generally portrayed as an expression of community-needs of justice and closure." Again, exegetically I agree, but philosophically it's not clear to me why closure requires 'vengeance'.

Community closure is related to several different things, but two are especially relevant. First, the notion of “values-reaffirmed” is important, and this is where the ‘most dominant authority’ in the community (often the government, the only authorized user of force) reaffirms through censure, remediation, and justice/”vengeance” the TRUE values of the community again, after these true values have been attacked by perp behavior. Secondly, community closure has to do with ‘unpaid debts being paid’. Morality IS obligation, and a perp has deliberately left an obligation unfilled (either through omission, or commission—an ‘unfulfilling’ of the obligation to live in peace/respect with others). Everybody else is essentially fulfilling their mutual obligations, but the total system is now at disequilibrium—one set of obligations have not been met, and some victim-partner in the community has been deprived of resources NEEDED to support their obligations to the community.

You would know this better than I, of course, but I have always thought it significant that in western law, crimes are not victim-versus-offender, but the STATE-versus-offender. Crime is against the community, and NOT just against the victim. Community closure is as important as victim closure.

Closure is about perception of balance, equilibrium, the ‘solidity and truth’ of held/shared values, and relative safety….

14: "There is a distinct sense in which all people do not want God's forgiveness--so why should God 'force' it on them?" No problem here, depending on how you define forgiveness. I don't "blame" God for not having yet redeemed, at any given point in time, those who are continuing to refuse redemption. But that doesn't include the concept of punishment. If God asks the still-refusing folks whether they want Him to stop a certain punishment even without redeeming them, I doubt they'll say no.

Actually, it very much includes the notion (we are talking about LEGAL forgiveness here, not psychological forgiveness—it wouldn’t make any sense to speak of ‘forcing psychological forgiveness’ on anyone but oneself). Its not a matter of how I define legal forgiveness, its how the WORLD defines it. Forgiveness is (dictionary definitions) ‘give up a claim to requital’, ‘to remit the penalty of’, to pardon’.

The actual theme of #14, was that forgiveness (as pardon) INCLUDES the acceptance of responsibility on the part of the perp. I.e. there IS NO “forgiveness (pardon)” without acceptance of resp. It is NOT pardon, to merely stop some punishment without admission of guilt/acceptance of remorse. You cannot separate forgiveness FROM punishment (in the legal sense). Guilt IS ‘liability to punishment’.

You cant really separate the legal consequences of a condemnation (the sentence, whether its coerced community service or flat-out execution) from the condemnation itself (the verdict of guilty, of a crime with a specified sentence). Punishment is NOT mere deprivation/pain—it is deprivation/pain which is legally connected (as consequence) to criminal guilt. So, I cannot see the relevance of your counter-case, actually.

15: "God, in His role as community member, has the right to hold another member accountable, and in so doing, expresses the worth of that other member." No problem at all, but as in my suggested alternative above, I don't think holding someone accountable can only be done through punishment.

Not sure that your definition of punishment is broad enough for practicality (and wondering if your professors knew of this 'dissenting opinion'--chuckle). “Holding someone accountable for a crime” always carries an IMPLICIT THREAT of coerced privation. When a court says ‘you are charged with a sentence-able crime —give an account’, if the account doesn’t satisfy the court/community (to the point of rendering a ‘not guilty’ or ‘justifiable act’ verdict), doesn't SOME unchosen, coerced, unwanted consequences accrue to the perp? FORCING the perp to attend ‘restorative justice’ conferences is PUNISHMENT (coerced, un-wanted, resented—even shaming, as it is actually a design goal of that process), as will be any ‘required’ (or semi-voluntary…) reparations.

Now, strictly speaking, it wasn’t the legal process I was describing in the point—it was the principle of reap-sow. I used both the good-acts->rewards and bad-acts->reverse-rewards (more a “natural consequences plus” arbitrary system) as the basis. Under that principle, ‘holding one accountable’ CAN ONLY be done through the promised-earned-deserved consequences, good or bad. It flows from the nature of agency power. I choose to act influentially in a certain way, and it flows from my power as an agency to generate real “first-order” consequences (which themselves generate promised/enforced second-order consequences, i.e. sentences, approbation, promotion, ripple-effects etc). If someone says my generated first-order consequences didn’t really generate significant enough second-order consequences to attract ‘notice’ or earn “merit/demerit”, my actual ability to GENERATE first-order consequences is questionable (hence, my status/significance as a REAL agent, capable of positive contribution). (It’s a little like the teenager who never feels ‘taken seriously’ because his parents never get upset over his vandalism/destructiveness enough to censure him or get outraged. They use the phrase “I am invisible’, ‘I don’t even really exist’, ‘nobody treats me like I’m really even here’. )


16: "God, in His role as community member, has the right to reclaim assets that were 'loaned' to another community member." I'm not sure what the "right" means here. Since God has an unlimited supply of these assets, He doesn't have a NEED to take them back like I might with a rake. I think the only relevant question is, in each cirumstance, whether the most loving/constructive thing to do IS to take away those gifts. If you're 'holding' God to the standard of love rather than property ownership, it's not ethically justified to take something away either just because it's His or just because it's been used badly - the question is whether it would be good or bad for the person to have it in the future. (If he HAS used it badly, that may again have created character changes that make his redemption more likely if he loses it.)

This point is explicitly talking about the final judgment (last sentence of the 2nd paragraph). There is no question that (at least the VAST MAJORITY of) ‘punishment in time’ (for non-capital cases at least) is specifically designed to ‘wake up’ the perp to the reality/seriousness of moral law/consequences. The whole point (in the OT) of ‘earthly punishment’ might be classified under ‘discipline’ or ‘chastening’ (and is so termed in many passages). It IS designed, IMO, for three things (at least): (1) all the community stuff I have been talking about; (2) as not-self-pleasure-friendly suffering (smile), it looks like parental discipline and attempts to wake the perp up out of their self-centered existence—the LOUD ENOUGH shout, to break through any increasingly being-deadened conscience ; (3) as an incident of moral condemnation-leading-straight-to-punishment per se, it functions as a ‘forerunner’ and assurance of the reality of a FINAL judgment, with the hope that the perp will ‘use’ the results of #2, to become aware of the danger/folly of their life, and to become aware/afraid of their danger of a similar (but final, and more intense, purportedly) punishment at the end of their life/world (Is 20.22—to get them to ‘return to the Lord’, so they can be ‘healed’).

As far as I can tell, the OT punishments were either (a) chastening/alerting of Final Judgment or (b) excision of a too-destructive element from the community via death. It is only at the final judgment that the accountability of the individual comes ‘fully due’. All else before that seems to be a mixture of ‘wisdom’ teaching (‘learn from the example of the good and the wicked’), parental grooming, community-formation (community discussions and decisions made at the gate by the elders and community), and punitive-chastening, a la the above. ALL of these things are designed to (a) shape the individual; and (b) warn them of accounts-due-in-full-Someday, if they shape themselves—in opposition to the way life/history/community TRIED to shape them-- the wrong way.

Final judgment is just Final accountability come due. All earned consequences are ‘applied’. All tools-used-as-weapons returned to the Owner. Individuals are left with (a) what they shaped themselves to be; and (b) what they ‘earned’ under reap-sow. They are sorta fully ‘independent’ at that point—no longer being subsidized by community (even God), and using their own-shaped reality therefrom.

I might also quibble, btw, even though its oblique to the point, at your suggestion that only ‘love and constructive’ have to be considered in ‘gift-return’ settings. IT is NOT true that God has an unlimited supply of these at all—He normally doesn’t create resources out of the thin air in history. When (in time) He judges to take the life (via execution) of a traitor to a community, for example, that ‘life’ is essentially given back to the community—for THEIR use. The removal of the power, effects, influence, wealth, etc associated with that life is now re-distributed to the rest of the community. Power relations change, other influences become relatively ‘louder’, power-generating wealth is redistributed to successors (who are different) or victims, etc. God doesn’t generate new resources wholesale—he redistributed them to others who will leverage them BETTER and more fruitfully for the community.

Hence, when deciding to take a loaned-item away from a perp, ‘constructiveness’ in the life of the perp himself/herself is NOT the ONLY thing to be considered: there is AT LEAST (in this argument) the question of WHO should have this resource now, who will leverage it positively, who will use this gratefully, generously, and graciously, who will not abuse it, who will not use it as destructively? It DOES involve ‘property ownership’, but in the sence of ‘assigning stewardship’ of that resource wisely and for the greatest good.

Gotta stop here—I want to do the ‘integrity’ issue one by itself. Integrity as I use the term has NOTHING to do with ‘self-image’(!!!), but everything to do with being true to one’s convictions/knowledge of right and wrong. It has to do with truth and true values. Love doesn’t demand that someone sin, do evil, against their values and commitments to truth. Love doesn’t require a sacrifice of purity, of conscience, of truth. Integrity is what YOU are wrestling with in accepting God as good. You cannot violate your conscience by calling Him ‘good’, even though there are good arguments to that effect—that would be non-integrity on your part. That is not about self-image per se; its about you being YOU. It’s about being true to what you BELIEVE in/sense deeply as true and right. God’s great love does NOT let Him ‘sin’ or ‘lie’ to achieve redemption, and that is why the Cross was so (a) necessary; and (b) reflective of the wisdom of God—in pursuit of His aims of love. But more on this later…I really want to delve into this issue further, when I can…


June 19/2005


In between write-ups, the person graduated from law school and moved up to one of the Dakota's. I wrote an email trying to thumbnail some of the problems/issues I saw, and they more-or-less concurred with the (non-exhaustive) list. Here's the relevant content:


"...as i try to narrow down/distill the essense of your question. Currently, it seems to involve:



And this last question entails related issues of


[Wow, I didnt really mean to go on like this--its taken an hour+ just for this #4!] Anyway, its a bit of a Gordian Knot, so far, so that's why (a) its taking me so long; and (b) why we could probably use some folks who have worked in these issues more than I...


July 1/2005


[It’s been a while since I worked on this, so I hope I don’t repeat myself too much, nor contradict myself in places (smile)…

17: "There is a very real sense in which the integrity of God the law-giver is at stake: He must do what He promises to do in the law." See my comments on #4 above. I guess I just don't see the self-evident rightness of the Fred and Barney parable. Why should God prize his OWN "integrity" - narrowly defined - above the redemption of one of his creatures? More likely, God could avoid the situation by not threatening what he doesn't want to deliver. But when it comes down to it, isn't it more likely that love would sacrifice its own - what? self-image? - to save the beloved?

A couple of comments here: (1) integrity, as I think I mentioned in an earlier email or comment, has nothing really to do with self-image. This is about ethical integrity: God is a law-keeper. [In God’s case, He actually has no choice—it’s a part of His righteousness: He cannot break ANY unconditional covenants He makes, nor can He act out of synch with His internal moral goodness. He simply CANNOT ‘overlook’ evil, regardless of some other Goal (the ends do NOT justify the means—redemption of a creature, by God breaking His own stated, sworn, unconditional law is not an option). God will go very, very far to save a creature (the Cross shows that)—but He simply cannot sin in the process. He ‘prizes’ His own purity and faithfulness above ANYTHING external because that is what a God IS—the definition of absolute purity, faithfulness, truthfulness, perfection, wholeness. With this ethical/covenantal understanding of integrity (instead of ‘feeling good about Himself’), the Fred/Barney parable easily holds.

(2) You suggest that He not make a law involving any elements he ‘doesn’t want to deliver’, but I don’t think you realize how inconceivable (or incoherent) this position is. He is very explicit that He does NOT like/want punishment (“I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked” and “Why will you die, O Israel?!”), but He didn’t want the wicked to hurt the innocent either—but that didn’t stop Him from giving us freedom to do so. His wants/likes are violated all the time by us (regardless of His desire for our righteousness and/or redemption to righteousness). He doesn’t want people to die from accidentally falling off a cliff, but HE made the gravity rules and if we run afoul of them, the consequences (although ‘unwanted’ by God) will follow. Evil kills self-life and other-life, and God doesn’t want that EITHER, but it’s not optional—that’s what evil IS. God cannot set up a system where evil does NOT parasitically destroy something—that’s an incoherent, inconceivable universe. Similarly, promising unpleasant-to-perp-and-to-Maker consequences of evil as a deterrent (remembering that the self-death-from-evil is NOT perceived as unpleasant by the evildoer, and is therefore NOT a ‘deterrent’ or call-to-redemption) makes perfect sense—there’s no alternative that the unrepentant perp will listen to/even care about (“It is all about ME!”).

The guilt-suffering you refer to back in #4 (I think) of the perp-as-redeemed, over past sins is post-facto…it has no deterrence or call-to-accountability at all. No hardcore perp is going to forgo a pleasurable crime because he anticipates how bad his conscience will feel when he becomes redeemed/good and changes his life! The perp who dies in defiant love-for-destruction feels nothing of remorse for victims—they are irrelevant in his own universe, no matter how many times you rub his nose in their pain, misery, and shattered lives. And that type of conscience-suffering actually adds very little to someone already re-committed to righteous life].

And as soon as God has to promise the punishment (as a hopeful deterrent), it will only be taken seriously by the wicked if they really believe God will follow through on His promises—His integrity again. (It’s a basic law of parenting that you must NOT make promises of reward/discipline to kids and fail to administer those. You screw kids up royally by creating the moral ambiguities and perceptual distortions of authority entailed therein. I think you're supposed to be in that parental boat yourself, in about 3 or 4 months now, right?) Too often this lack-of-visible-and-swift chastening (punishment-looking, i.e.) in the OT was used tragically to base inferences of ‘we can get away with in’ on the part of the treacherous, so it HAS to be enforced if it is to have ANY impact (pre-death). Grace/patience doesn’t seem to work in stubborn cases (e.g., “My soul yearns for you in the night; in the morning my spirit longs for you. When your judgments come upon the earth, the people of the world learn righteousness. Though grace is shown to the wicked, they do not learn righteousness; even in a land of uprightness they go on doing evil and regard not the majesty of the LORD. “ Is 26.9)

Now, let’s suppose for a minute that God did a different kind of ‘consequence’ statement: “If you choose not to do good in this life, then I will end up FORCING you to do good—by changing your will, against your will—and you will suffer guilt for what you have done.” What would be the likely response of some of the serious perps you have told me about? How about, “Then if that’s all the punishment I am going get, then I am going to live it up now and do as much pleasure-producing crime as I can squeeze in, before I am ‘redeemed’”… With the opposite of the intended result. Of course the whole ‘override the will by destroying your existing one’ threat is likely to produce AT LEAST AS much resentment toward God as would the threat of punishment-but-with-the-will-intact…and its is not clear that this resentment would not add FURTHER to the evil posture of the perp.

Or let’s even word this in more ‘evangelical’ or ‘warm’ tones: “If you choose not to do good in this life, then I will continue to chase you in love, never punishing per se, always bearing the cost personally, until you finally melt before My love and you wail in anguish and guilt over your crimes, and you become an other-centered member of the community you currently despise/de-value.” What right-minded perp wouldn’t see this as a license-to-kill??? What right-minded perp would even BELIEVE this would happen, as opposed to their believing that a judgment/punishment cycle would? (Of course, the perp might assume that this statement of God’s was actually an ‘override your will’ statement ANYWAY, and accordingly grow even further anti-good/anti-God).

I just don’t see any non-punishment system even having a CHANCE at helping the perp toward redemption. If redemption of a tuff-perp IS a high theological priority, then I strongly believe it is BEST served in the existing model of SIGNIFICANT/Proportionate punishment/rewards. The alternatives do NOT have the ‘volume’ or ‘pain-point’ needed for initiating change [in the management science discipline of Change Management, you ALWAYS have to start with the issue of motivation for change and fear of change…the perp has no MOTIVE for change, and has a FEAR of changing into the thing he attacks and violates.] If your high-redemption value is to be asserted (under the current state of humanity), then I don’t see how you can NOT endorse fair-stable-consistent THREAT of punishment (after all the earlier reformation tactics have been applied). Just a practical issue, but a real one for you.

Now, let’s ask the next question: what happens if the threat doesn’t work, and the defiant perp is standing before God at the personal post-mortem judgment event. Under what conditions could God somehow NOT have to keep the promise of post-mortem punishment?

Well, the simplest way is to have meant something CONDITIONAL by something stated so UNCONDITIONALLY—like Jonah’s prophecy of Nineveh (“Nineveh shall fall”). It was stated UNCONDY, but it was clearly CONDY (like it was explained in Jer 18). So, in this case (and others a la Jer 18), the punishment was promised, but NOT delivered because the perps had made a radical change in behavior. It was not withheld on some PROMISE of good behavior, but BECAUSE of some good behavior (hopefully, but not in this case, LEADING TO some MORE/FUTURE good behavior). This clearly does not apply to a post-mortem judgment: the perp is ‘finished developing’ (i.e., is incorrigible in the metaphysical sense, no more ‘chance’ of redemption or fall) and is removed from the community of the righteous (to the community’s undoubted gratitude for the relief—even at the cost of a potential contributor). They don’t want redemption, don’t want heaven (‘would rather be a servant in the tent of wickedness that dwell lavishly in the palaces of the good’—to invert Ps 84.10-12), would not choose God even face-to-face with love… Not sure God should do anything other than place him where he ‘belongs’—in the company of others like him, whom he cannot further exploit (at least not in the same unilateral manner).

I don’t think it would be ethical for God to force this person to undergo transformation-for-redemption. Not only is the concept potentially unintelligible (it's certainly not the FORMER individual who goes to heaven—there wasn’t even a ‘spark’ or ‘core’ to work with, like it is with the want-to-be-redeemed ones.

You have to realize that theological redemption is a DERIVATIVE concept, and it is derivative upon two prior concepts: moral freedom and moral good. Theological redemption occurs when someone morally-mixed freely chooses moral good, but cannot achieve said good, because of their morally-mixed character and history. God sees this desire for moral good (chosen freely) and redeems (promises them to remove the negative aspects of their character—leaving only the element that desires the good—and place them in a community of other such redeemed souls). It is NOT redemption if God essentially destroys the perp who has NO desire for goodness (i.e., a non-mixed soul, in the post mortem state), and creates a different person in the same body. This is not theological redemption, because the perp didn’t actually get redeemed at all—he disappeared. And the ‘new person’ in that body didn’t get redeemed because he never FELL…see?… you have to have a continuity element, and in the case of the impenitent wicked, there is nothing there to sorta ‘appeal to’ for a call-to-ask-for-redemption. In this sense, redemption CANNOT be the highest value in the system, because it is already SUBORDINATE to freedom and moral good. Upholding principles of freedom and moral goodness is MORE important than redemption, since without THEM, there IS no redemption at all….

But let’s look at it this way too: the world is composed of two kinds of people, (1) reluctant criminals (i.e., the righteous and the wanna-be-righteous) and the (2) ‘happy’ criminals (i.e., the treacherous who want ONLY to prey upon the righteous)….Let’s look at a post-mortem judgment process.

The Happy-2B-Wicked appear before God. God reviews the data of their life with them, makes any adjustments for victimization/nurture/culture forces, and then lays the residual acts of treachery and testimony of their CURRENT conscience/spirit (“I STILL want to exploit…!”) on the table as evidence. God then makes the following judgments:

(1) They are a danger to the righteous and will continue to be/want to be, if given the proximity/freedom; God has promised the soon-to-be-fully-righteous a place of PURE SAFETY, peace, and freedom from even the suspicion of treachery. Ergo, God—in fulfilling His promise to the at-least-slightly-righteous (and soon to be REDEEMED from all self-evil too)—decrees that the treacherous are forever excluded form the New Community of the Pure. [The Wicked, btw, do not at this point complain that God could purify THEM just like He will purify the wanna-be-pure, because the Wicked do not WANT to be purified in the least.]

(2) Then, God points out that they didn’t do the morally good deeds that would have ‘earned’ the supra-natural blessings in the New Future. (That is, the moral law has as an aspect of it the promise of supra-blessing: if you pursue righteousness, etc, you get immortality/glory (Rom 2.7-11). This is beyond all ‘natural consequence’ of doing good—this is a ‘bestowed’ blessing.) They had the opportunity (like the soon to be transformed for New Future), but failed to complete their end of the deal. The condition wasn’t satisfied, and so there are no ‘legal’ demands upon God to give them (still treacherous, remember) the same external blessings of the Righteous [assuming that they even want it, except as maybe means to an evil end—“I want to live forever too, so I can enjoy my memories of violence and perhaps find some other similar outlet for my restlessly-evil heart”]

(3) Then, God points out that in addition to not fulfilling the condition for blessing, they actually went beyond non-performance all the way to anti-good, and that they KNEW that such acts would incur punishment. They knew that “those who do such things are worthy of death” (Rom 1.32), but not only did this not stop them, they actually encouraged others to do the same (Rom 1.32)—multiplying destruction in the universe and among the pre-mortem community. He asks them why they knowingly did such evil, and they say “Because pleasing us/ourselves is more important than anything else in the universe, including other selves such as Yourself or people” (this is the essence of sin, of course, the absolutizing/divinization of the self-will, and consequent down-relativizing of all others)). God then points out that they ‘signed up for punishment of the suffering kind’, knowingly, and they do not disagree. But they then appeal for mercy, and ask God to not inflict the incurred penalty. When He asks why should he NOT give them their just deserts, they appeal to the same principle: “because our pleasure—in this case, the absence of pain—is more important than anything else in the universe, including Your law, Your commitments, Your fairness, our accountability, and/or our unwillingness to even RECOGNIZE your authority/goodness/mercy/etc! Granted, God, YOU might consider your act one of mercy, but WE will only see it as a sign of weakness, inconsistency, and further proof that WE are the final arbiters of our final destiny/state. It wont change us in the least, except possibly for the worse, for you to show such ‘mercy’”. God asks then, “So, you want ME to endorse your basic evil principle of self-first-n-only, by not inflicting your suffering on you????!!!” “Absolutely!”, they shout. God answers: “Guys, I gave my very Heart for you guys on the Cross, for EXACTLY this problem—but I cannot do evil Myself to help you out here (even though it wouldn’t really be helping you guys out at all—judging by the inferences you would likely make from my ‘weakness’). I might alleviate your proportionate suffering for OTHER REASONS than your sin-based-request, but not if in so doing I sin by encouraging you in YOUR sin (like YOU did on earth!) or in your scorn for good/mercy. Besides, all the times I withheld judgment on you WHILE you were on earth—HOPING you would wake up and seek forgiveness/good, was met with similar more-destruction attitudes. Sorry, but NO”.

At this point the Malicious move over the side of the courtroom, and the Reluctant-Sinners are ushered in. Their judgment proceeds something like this:

(1) God tells them that part of them is good (the “good-wanter-inside”) and THAT part can go into the New Future, since it is not a treacherous/dangerous element. But that the other part (that mixture concept) cannot. They have to get new ‘bodies’ in conformity to the Good-wanter-inside, and that then they will be guaranteed to be WHOLLY non-treacherous in the New Community.

(2) They then get nervous because the judgment then moves to the section called “Contract Performance Assessment”. God pulls up a surprisingly massive amount of “sub-optimal” behavior, thoughts, and omissions, then adjusts for victimization/nurture/culture influences, but is still left with a sizable chunk of contract-flaunting behavior. [The wicked shout from the across the room—“Go get em, God! Bust them like you busted us! Play fair here, God! ‘No favorites’—remember?! Yeah!”]

God then asks them if there is any reason why He should NOT apply the contract penalties (i.e., punishment and exclusion from the New Future), like He is about to do relative to the happy-2b-wicked. The reluctant-sinners look back and forth among themselves, a little confused, before timidly answering God: “Uh…Lord…its because You cancelled this contract with us a long time ago, when we asked for a way out. Remember, we admitted our contract failures back on earth and asked if there was some way we could have a NEW contract that focused more on YOUR work than on OURS. You tore up our old contract and gave us this new one that somehow shifted those consequences away from us—through some things YOU did for us. So…uh...we…are just sorta reminding you that you already removed (somehow) those judgments from us…Isnt that right?…did we misunderstand something back then?”

God smiles, and says “No, you folks got it dead-on right…and your responses to that new contract reinforced My decision. My mercy/forgiveness to you resulted in your mercy/forgiveness to others—unlike others who shall remain nameless (glancing over at the happy-wicked) who used that relief to FURTHER their anti-mercy and exploitation of others. Off you go into the realm of unsullied peace and fruitfulness!”

The happy-2b-wicked scream in protest, as the reluctant-sinners are led off to get new bodies, names, etc. “It’s not fair!!! You arbitrarily forgave them—why don’t you have to forgive us, too!!!”

God responds slowly and calmly: “Several reasons, folks. They asked for forgiveness of sins and you cannot even PHRASE that request—since you don’t even believe you DID anything wrong! You don’t even recognize the moral law against which you SINNED! It’s not ‘forgiveness of sins’ to you, but only ‘relief from privation’. Secondly, as I have already pointed out, for Me to just give you ‘relief from privation’—because of My good and/or compassionate nature—would be basically wrong, since it would encourage you in your sinful attitudes/beliefs and just be used by you for further sin (to anyone who walked into your line of fire!). Thirdly, there is a sense in which I have to ‘take back’ what you stole from others. You stole the happiness, peace, pleasure, and wealth from others through oppression, exploitation, etc, and they don’t belong to you. I am going to remove them from you, before you enter into YOUR Next Future. I am just repossessing those goods, so you don’t continue to believe they are actually and LEGITIMATELY YOURS. I don’t want to perpetuate, substantiate, or give credence to ANOTHER of your self-divinized delusions! So, I will simply ‘back out’ (proportionately) those experiences, with opposite (humbling, reversing, neutralizing) experiences. Are THOSE enough reasons for you?!”

At this point they start whining, wailing, gnashing their teeth in defiant anger at God, who is grieved at the loss.

Then, God calls the bailiff and has the malicious sent to the Penal Colony, surrounded by others JUST LIKE THEM, all trying to exploit one another, abuse one another, but without (probably) adequate power/resources to do much (the faded aspect of these figures).

……………………….

Okay, one of the main points of this parable is that ‘relief from punishment’ may not be the morally correct thing to do. Love and Mercy might be unethical (or technically, “might be unintelligible” or “might be unimplementable”) in these cases (as they are--analogically-- in dependency problems in THIS life—one cannot implicitly condone an alcoholic’s habit by always forgiving them of the consequences). There are more moral principles than just LOVE and MERCY in the moral fabric.

Another way to see that Love is not the only worthy value is to consider the obligations upon a party and/or authority in a multi-party social context (e.g., moral governance). If there are only two persons (God and glenn), then Love might be the major (but not the ‘only’, because there are some other notions also primary such as truth, reality, freedom, good, respect, etc) priority in a one-on-one. However, as soon as we add Melanie to the mix, new values (and responsibilities) accrue to God, including Fairness (e.g, God must treat them “equally” [but not identically], never letting the exercise of love/mercy toward one negatively or adversely impact the experience of the other or others) and something like “Equal Exercise” (i.e., some semi-policing function to ensure that Glenn doesn’t restrict Melanie’s exercise of life/freedom in his OWN exercise of life/freedom—with the corollary that temporary imbalances will need to be reversed back down to equality over time). The first deals with the effects on one of God’s actions toward another, and the second principle deals with the effects of one’s actions on another (and God’s policing and reversing and balancing function). There are no doubt others, but these two alone would constrain God as to how He showed Love/Mercy to the individuals. For example, love-mercy to a perp MIGHT result in abuse of another—and this violates the Fairness law; and maintaining Equal Exercise might require God to ‘pri-vate’ a perp forcibly to rebalance the individual’s execise abilibities.

I should also point out that God cannot expect the finite humans to ‘give in love infinitely’. One might make the argument that God could bear the cost of forgiveness indefinitely—being God—but such could not apply to any other agent. God may bless the righteous for bearing the cost of forgiveness, but the righteous has to draw the “line of consumption” at the point where stewardship of resources becomes violated. God cannot forgive a perp beyond the cost-limit of the finite community. There is a point at which love for the community MUST override the love for the individual, and this principle comes into play IMMEDIATELY when we add members to the community beyond Glenn. The world in which we live is a constrained/finite-resource experience—there are limits to how far ANY principle-process can go [e.g., I will let the wicked continue in their sin with only community rebukes and shaming tactics], before some OTHER principle comes in to set a boundary condition [e.g., I owe it to the community to shut down saboteurs before they do more than 51% damage].

Still more to say here, but I will save it for later… This was all written on ONE point of yours! Sigh…But we are getting close to the end. I have 4 paragraphs left in your original pushback, and then I can write my summary/conclusions, and then formulate a question/response back to you—for your response.

Still targeting to get this done over the next few days—if possible…but I have yet to think much about the next 4 paragraphs…and I am battling a sinus/ear infection currently.


July 2/2005


18: "Natural consequences alone are not always adequate/sufficient 'consequences' for certain types of community violations." No problem here - I do think the community needs to pass verbal judgement on the ethics of the situation even if the perp has already suffered far MORE from his own actions than his victim did.

Not sure I understand YOUR point here. MY point was that there might need to be more ‘punitive-looking’ punishments on the perp to restrict his/her downstream power (to bring it more in line with the stream of good it destroyed). A verbal judgment (unless accompanied by social sanctions (i.e., privations of some sort) would do nothing along this line. I have assumed all along that there would be a VERBAL judgment anyway—since there would already be an implicit one in the moral outrage felt by every morally-sensitive heart already. I don’t see how a verbal judgment would work to accomplish the stream-magnitude-balancing Point 18 was about…maybe I have misunderstood your point.


Notes on comments you make after ending the point system above: I just don't see why reciprocity deserves to be enshrined as a basic principle of the universe. I have the feeling you may have made a defense of that somewhere that I've totally missed.

Uh…no, I didn’t mount a separate defense of that, because I sorta thought it was fairly clear in the piece (even naming the Ancients who affirmed it as basic)—but I’ll go back and explain it better there later. For now/here, I can simply restate it in another way, that should be much more obvious to you: one cannot hold two competing value systems at the same time. Value systems are inherently universal in scope—you cannot have two of them. I cannot say “Doing a bad X to people is okay” and “Doing a bad X to me (a people) is NOT okay”. Unless I de-personalize all humans in the world around me (so that they don’t fall into the ‘people’ category) or divinize myself OUT OF the category of people into something godlike, I intrinsically have tried to affirm A and non-A at the same time. That is impossible. Reciprocity is nothing more than the outworking/implicative web of a personal value-ethics system. It simply affirms the obvious: one cannot have TWO contradictory ethical systems in play. (And switching between them, for personal convenience, just reduces back down to the first self-serving one, the ‘I am god, the value maker’ version).

Its as basic as (a) there being ANY ethical system; and (b) the law of non-contradiction. I mentioned in an earlier email that it is sorta self-stultifying to deny it, but that’s probably not correct. It is contradictory and unintelligible to deny it (since one would be stating A/~A), but it wouldn’t contradict the ethics of predication (required to create an ethically self-refutational statement).


But it doesn't carry the load of beauty that mercy or generosity do...

Huh? The paragraphs that opened that section—before calling it ‘reciprocity’—are filled with references to mercy, beauty, generosity… these are supposed to flow back and forth across the channel/process of reciprocity all the time. Reciprocity itself is just a ‘obligatory conduit’… I am supposed to pour mercy, affirmation, goodness, generosity, patience, and even ‘constructive correction’ into that conduit, with a confident expectation (but not greedy manipulative de-humanizing one!) that I will receive likewise from those around me (in season, of course)—without it being a ‘machine to work’ kinda of system. And I am supposed to respond in kind to ‘unsolicited generosity’ poured into MY conduit, with outpourings of gratitude, warmth, and unsolicited generosity to others. It’s a beauty/goodness-resonating system, when it works.

[And, to be complete, I should point out that one cannot build a world on mercy and generosity. One needs many more values than just those--fidelity, truthfulness, accountability, obligation, priorities, etc. Reciprocity provides a 'conduit' for these beautiful values, but mercy is no more 'beautiful' than loyalty, faithfulness, reliability, companionship, or truthfulness. Do not try to build a moral universe on too small a base, friend.]

However, when a "beacon-node" starts sucking up the good, and spitting out destruction/poison, things change slightly. At first, when this proto-perp still has a mixed character, the other people respond in ways in which THEY would like to be treated, were it THEY who were in a proto-perp mixed state (or more likely, how they WERE treated) when they had been in such a state, but made it out due to correction, warning/warming, etc). Thus, they would respond with confrontation, challenge, coaching, correction, restraint, appropriate forms of mercy, etc. [The conduit assures them that THEY will find mercy, forgiveness when the roles are reversed.] And, if the proto-perp heeds the warnings, discipline, censures, and become re-established in the community, all prosper and this individual can become a leader in the ‘forgiveness pouring’ process to others later.

But let’s say, the proto-perp does NOT respond positively to the mercy, gentleness, correction coming in to him, and therefore get MORE perp-ish, until, after cycles of mercy/unresponsiveness/self-hardening, they become non-mixed and a full perp, there is no redeem-ability left. They are now just a black-hole resource-drain on the community. What will the Golden Rule warrant doing to such a one? For a moral agent, who gave and gave and gave and hoped and hoped, it would boil down to a “What would I want others in my beloved community to do to ME, should I become so irredeemably destructive?” For the honest and good of heart, there is only one answer: “I would have them utterly remove/constrain me from being able to hurt others—via exile, execution, radical privation, whatever” (i.e. punishment, in the traditional sense). And similarly, earlier in the cycle, the good agent would have wanted some one to ‘give him a taste of his own medicine’ to see what it was like for correction (in stubborn, but not irredeemable yet, cases).

That’s the practical outworking of this Reciprocity principle, from the standpoint of the good agent. In my piece I dealt more with the theoretical outworking, from the standpoint of ALL reciprocal agents.


I don't see why it has any claim to BE a basic principle. Thus I don't see the authority of the requirements that flow from it (like, "even a sincerely repentant perp must be punished, or he's actually being wronged by the denial of his agent status".) I do agree, as above, that ignoring a person's crime completely WOULD be an insult to his agent status and a devaluation of him...but these are not the only two alternatives.

Hopefully, you DO see how it is basic now, and perhaps see why it has been adopted as such in most major ethical/religious systems. You might disagree with how I draw implications FROM IT, but you would have to advance a more rigorous demonstration of exactly WHERE my argument was faulty. I developed quite a bit of analysis/argumentation there, to try to help ground this "legal" stuff in deeper ethical and philosophical bedrock, so you’ll need to do the same level of detailed analysis to rebut it.

You mention the possibility of a divine law that says "for X, a perp must be punished with y, unless he sincerely repents, in which case no punishment - full forgiveness." And you say that we would feel justly outraged at such a law. I just don't feel it, Glenn...the guy may wind up working the rest of his life to undo the consequences of his actions...but I don't feel outraged at the idea of his not being further punished. heh...any books you can refer me to about feeling outrage?

[Well, let me give you an example and contrast that with what I THINK you mean.

[If we modify the law to something like this, “"for X, a perp must be punished with y, unless he sincerely repents and makes up for the loss to the injured parties, in which case no punishment - full forgiveness." Then the outrage element may not be present. But the initial law—in which there is NO requirement of restitution, bearing the cost of the damage inflicted etc (an inherently Privative act!)—should trigger SOME at least outcry about unfairness… I can only assume that you MEANT ‘repent—and restitute somehow’ in YOUR comment. Your ‘may wind up..’ phrase might suggest that, but if that course of action is not judicially required, I suspect the injured parties will be justly outraged…And in at least some historical cases, injuried parties only grant ‘forgiveness’ AFTER the repentance has proved genuine—through ‘debt to society’ etc.

I cannot think of any books on this (sad smile), but there are tons of stories in which this accidentally occurs which should incite such a response…fortunately, human law systems are wise enough to not make such repent-only laws (smile), and they try to substitute ‘debt to society’ for ‘making it up to the injured parties’ (for good or ill)…I hope you personally never have to experience a situation which you are the victim, and you alone have to bear the cost without any help from the authorities, and that even your prospective caseload will not scar your soul in this way, either.

And then I wrote the summary at the end of the whyjust.html piece...