Crime and Punishment

Aaron Hernandez and Jodi Arias have been convicted of the crime of murder. They were both sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Was justice done? Did their sentencing bring the dead back to life? Did it alleviate the grief of those whose loved ones were killed?

No, the dead were not brought back to life. No, judging by the statements of Odin Lloyd’s family today, their grief was not alleviated.

Crime and Punishment

Was justice done? Yes and No. Yes, Mr. Hernandez and Ms. Arias are being punished for their crimes. (I am assuming for the purposes of this post that they actually committed the crimes for which they have been found guilty.) Their freedom has been taken away, and they will spend the rest of their lives in restricted and uncomfortable environs. They will be unable to ever inflict themselves on the general public again.

Is this just? Yes, at least in some ways.

Society (you, me and the rest of us not in prison) will bear costs arising from these crimes for the next several decades. We will house, feed, clothe and care for these people, and thousands like them, for the rest of their natural lives.

In 2010 it cost about $31,000 to keep a person in prison for a year. That’s close to one and a quarter million dollars apiece for Mr. Hernandez and Ms. Arias over the next forty years.

Think of how many meals for the homeless this would pay for; how many free vaccinations for poor children; how many potholes filled; how many or how much _____ (insert concern of your choice)?

Now multiply this by the more than one million people incarcerated in our prisons.

Is this justice? No, but it is punishment–both for those condemned to our prisons and those of us who pay for it.

What can we do about this situation?

How about we quickly execute those found guilty of murder? How much does a bullet cost? How much does a rope cost? How about a jolt of electricity? And what does it do to how we see ourselves as civilized human beings?

How about we enslave our prisoners to help pay back the cost of their crimes and continuing imprisonment?

No. We see slavery as both uncivilized and racist. Besides, any worthwhile work prisoners (slaves) might do would take employment away from those who need jobs and haven’t committed any crimes.

What about prison laundry, cooking, license plates, office furniture, fighting forest/wildfires? Isn’t this slavery? No, it’s a reward for well-behaved prisoners. It’s physical and mental stimulation; it’s freedom from the mind-numbing sameness and boredom of life in a cell.

Is there a solution to the problem of crime and punishment? Not that I am aware of. A high level of education does not eliminate crime. Religious belief does not eliminate it. Economic well-being does not eliminate it.

How about we change human nature? How? Genetic engineering? Eugenics? Good luck!

Divine Intervention

Even GOD–God, god, gods, goddesses, __________ (insert supernatural being or beings of your choice here)–has not been successful.

Back when the human population of the planet Earth was two, Adam and Eve (assuming you believe the literalness of the Bible) disobeyed divine instructions. Of Adam and Eve’s first two sons one of them committed murder. And he wasn’t executed; he was punished by exile.

Later, again assuming you believe the literalness of the Bible, everyone, with the exception of one family, on the planet was killed by drowning for failure to follow divine commands–everyone: man, woman, child, unborn child. Essentially, GOD started over, and look where we are today.

The coming of Christianity didn’t really change anything. From turn the other cheek we have “onward Christian soldiers” and “for God and Country.” By the late fifth century, we have Christianity as the official state religion of the (or what is left of) the Roman Empire–non-Christians are persecuted.

In the eleventh century we have the advent of the Crusades to “recover” the Holy Land from the Muslims–“God wills it.” Eastern Christians, Jews and Muslims all died in the fighting and the Crusaders fought among themselves.

During the Reformation and the Thirty Years’ War, Christian was killing Christian for being the wrong type of Christian.

Islam is no better. Forced conversion of pagans, discrimination against non-Muslim “people of the Book” within its domain. Jihad. Muslim against Muslim–Sunni vs. Shiite.

Punishment (Mortal and Eternal)

Most of us have been brought up with some notion of divine punishment. “God will get you.” Lightning strike? Disease? Tornado? Do we really believe this? Is God/god really out to punish everyone who gets ebola, plague, or _______ (insert disease or disaster of your choice here)? And how do we know? The victims are old, young, male, female, deserving and undeserving. Or does the deity take the good along with the bad–bad aim, friendly fire or collateral damage, maybe?

Personally, I like the idea of karma and re-birth. Do bad in this life and be re-born into a lesser and harsher life the next time around. Hitler as a cockroach; Genghis Khan as a beetle; Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili (Joseph Stalin) as flea; Idi Amin as shark bait; _______ as ________ (insert villain and creature of choice). Some would be squashed lots and lots of time, but they have a chance to redeem themselves. (We have a chance to redeem ourselves.)

Hell and Eternity

What is Hell? Hell is where you go to be punished by your deity for Eternity.

What punishment? The worst pains you can imagine and then some.

For how long? Forever.

What is forever? Longer than the human mind can conceive.

Back in the days when people counted into the tens, hundreds and thousands (and maybe a few into the millions), this may have made sense. Does it still make sense today?

Forever. A million years? A billion years? A trillion years? A quadrillion years? A quintillion years? A googol (1 followed by one hundred zeroes) of years? A googolplex of years? (Yes, googolplex is a real number.) What crime or sin is serious enough to be punished with the worst imaginable torment for a number of years that exceeds the number of atoms in the universe.

Example: Adolph Hitler

Let us make Adolph Hitler responsible for all of the deaths during the Second World War–I’ve seen figures above fifty million but that seems to me to be a nice round number.

Let’s have Hitler suffer in Hell a googol of years, a googol number of times for each death. A googol times a googol times fifty million. Yet, forever lasts a lot longer than this and his suffering would never end.

Do your beliefs, or does your religion, assign a person’s soul to Hell for a crime less than murder? A person who commits such a crime would suffer as much for as long. Is that justice?

Yet, we–you and I and our neighbors and friends–believe that it is. This is the root of our problem. We can conceive of everlasting punishment and believe that it is deserved.

We can conceive of a “just and merciful” deity that visits everlasting punishment on us. We can conceive of a deity that believes we deserve punishment and death because we do not believe or pray correctly–and many of us believe that we are the instruments of “His” will to enforce, through any means necessary, that Will.

For Myself

If you believe in a deity who punishes people by placing them in Hell and leaving them there forever, you are welcome to him/Him. You deserve what you get–and this world is part and parcel of that belief.

I, however, shall believe in a deity that offers mercy even to the worst of us (though I may not feel this way in the heat of passion and a desire for revenge after a 9/11 or similar tragedy). As long as we believe in a deity that imposes a “just” punishment that lasts forever, we shall believe in, and find, an evil deserving of such–and if we cannot find one, we will create one.

What we need is a rational belief, if that in and of itself isn’t self-contradictory, in a reconciliation between good and evil, God and Satan. We need a prophet to preach belief in a god/God who doesn’t hold a grudge forever. Only then can we banish our demons and become a society that is rational, merciful and just.

For a different take on the nature of good and evil try reading Piers Anthony’s series The Incarnations of Immortality.

Yin, Yin -- Yang, Yang (Siamese cats)
Yin, Yin — Yang, Yang