Retributive VS Restorative Justice? Some Thoughts from CS Lewis…

“Some enlightened people would like to banish all conceptions of retribution or desert from their theory of punishment and place its value wholly in the deterrence of others or the reform of the criminal himself. They do not see that by so doing they render all punishment unjust. What can be more immoral than to inflict suffering on me for the sake of deterring others if I do not deserve it? And if I do deserve it, you are admitting the claims of ‘retribution’. And what can be more outrageous than to catch me and submit me to a disagreeable process of moral improvement without my consent, unless (once more) I deserve it?

…Until the evil man finds evil unmistakably present in his existence, in the form of pain, he is enclosed in illusion. Once pain has roused him, he knows that he is in some way or other ‘up against’ the real universe…No doubt Pain as God’s megaphone is a terrible instrument; it may lead to final and unrepented rebellion. But it gives the only opportunity the bad man can have for amendment. It removes the veil. It plants the flag of truth within the fortress of the rebel soul.”

Problem of Pain, 93-94

Love Lewis.  Watching the Twitterverse and FB go berserk with Christian pseudo-commentary on the Osama bin Laden news last night was… well, interesting to say the least.  It reminded me that “justice” is by no means an unambiguous concept for us, and that accordingly there’s a lot of fuzzy thinking out there about these matters.  But I loved this quote from Lewis, for Lewis, as only he can do, reminds us that dichotomizing thinking about complex issues is likely to lead us astray… and especially w/ regard to the matter at hand – the categories, so he seems to tell us, of “punitive” and the “restorative” are not (no pun intended) enemies, but friends, and in fact depend on each other morally.

What was your reaction to the bin Laden news last night?

  • I am reticent to feel any kind of sorrow for this man’s death. However, it’s rather unsettling to hear see the nationalistic fervor that has grown out of this event (especially given that as a nation we have also been guilty of murdering thousands of people, such as the Amerindians). The threat hasn’t been eliminated, and if anything it seems that we are moving further and further away, rather than toward, justice. Our perceived “threat” of terrorism still lives. So does the horror that haunts the bereaved. Osama’s death still does not bring back the lives that were destroyed a little less than ten years ago. I’m not sure that anything can or ever will bring justice to the people who lost someone on September 11.

    Call me crazy, but I believe in a God that is big enough to love us all. I believe in a Christ who bled not only for America, but for every human in the world. Osama is just another example of man’s capacity to choose evil. Should we celebrate his death? I’d rather let God (not us) be the judge.

    • Bradley – Thanks for commenting. And agreed on the point of what Osama’s death/capture “means” in the geopolitical sense. I’m just wondering if something has gone askew in our brains when it comes to our concept of “justice” that we can’t breath a sigh of relief, and even gratitude, that he has been “brought to justice.” Don’t the heavens and the earth in Revelation glory in God’s justice against the wicked? “True and just are your judgments” is the cry… Just wondering aloud.

Join the Discussion

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *