Joshua Judges Ruth?

And Anthony, and Stephen, and David, and John Paul … 

… and it’s worth noting at the outset that the following opinions are my own, and do not necessarily reflect any official positions of CTA, its staff or underwriters, or really anyone but myself.

To say that I felt uneasy last week reading about a recent ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court may not seem worth noting. Lately, I feel as though if I’m not registering disapproval of our Federal Government in one way or another, I’m just not fulfilling my duties as a concerned citizen or as a Catholic. But as a pro-life pacifist (a term not nearly as redundant in our society as it ought to be) I ought to have been pleased when the Court chose to limit the application of the death penalty. Yet for some reason, it troubled me.

When an issue tugs at my sense of moral disquiet like that, I take it as a sign that I need to ponder, pray, and perhaps expand my social conscience a bit. The Supreme Court had ruled, five votes to four, that the death penalty is not justifiable for someone who had raped a child. I would agree with that, only because I believe that capital punishment is never justifiable for any crime; I believe only God can truly make such irrevocable judgment.

Maybe it’s because the arguments of the majority opinion are so familiar to me. The unreliability of witness testimony, the irreversible finality of the punishment – we who work at opposing capital punishment have been making these very same points for years. So maybe it’s a reaction of impatience with Justices who can see the truth of this line of reasoning but then apply it so narrowly.

The suggestion that the rape of a child amounts to a “lesser” crime than murder also feels wrong to me; those of us to have been spared the lifelong pain of childhood sexual abuse would, I think, be hard pressed to make that kind of value judgment. The rape of a child is, I think, the most repugnant and reprehensible of crimes – an act of momentary selfish gratification at the expense of the most vulnerable of victims. It’s an act of violence against our natural inclination to protect and nurture our young, to put the interest of our future ahead of our immediate needs.

Which does seem to be a rampant attitude in our society, come to think of it.

Maybe the problem I have with this decision, with this issue, is that we’ve made pedophiles a kind of societal scapegoat. They’re easy to hate and to demonize; we can require they register themselves, and we can dictate where they can or can’t live. And we can by and large conveniently ignore the fact that these people were, more likely than not, once victims of sexual abuse themselves. But since we don’t know how to help them, we’d rather lock them all up. Or execute them, if we could.

So maybe this Supreme Court decision is a challenge to us as a society: a call to a more compassionate response; a time to reevaluate how we value our children and our future; to better understand the cycle of evil, wherein victim becomes victimizer; and finally to find our way to an appropriate, effective, compassionate response.

I have no idea what such a response might be, though; and maybe that’s what troubles me too.

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21 thoughts on “Joshua Judges Ruth?

  1. Ha! Thanks. I can’t take credit for the title though … while I was wracking my brain for an appropriate title it was actually my fiancee who thought of “Joshua Judges Ruth”.

  2. Thanks for writing about this Josh. I too felt some dissonance with this ruling and found myself thinking the dealth penalty was legitimate in such a case. (even though I don’t agree with capital punishment in ANY case!-pro life pacifist, I like the term).

    Such a crime taps into our basic human nature I guess. I wish our human nature were more divine, or at least more enlightened, but it is not sometimes. I like to think of human nature as basically good and blessed, rather than wicked and sinful, but looking at a crime like raping a child, coupled with my own instinct here creates an impass for me.

    I think of the many ways I have been touched by the basic instinct of some to help others, to respond with kindness, selflessness and goodness, and wonder too how we can be sometimes equally oriented away from such virtues. What is our true self? Obviously, it isn’t one or the other (there I go again putting a hole in my all or nothing thinking!) but both because both can feel equally raw, true, real.

  3. Yep, we’re created in God’s image but still subject to that darn fall from grace. St. Paul nails it when he says “I do not do what I want to do, but instead I do what I hate” — I forget where that’s from.

    But you’re right; it’s remarkable to look at the full spectrum of humanity and see that we can be so capable of good and beautiful things, yet also capable of the most depraved evil.

  4. Hey Josh,
    Good points all. No easy answers. I remember a line in a homily given many years ago in my parish when I was growing up, but it must have had an impact, because not many homily lines last that long. It was, “In the eyes of God, we are all better than our worst deed.” The problem, I think you note, is not with the fact that we abhor the crimes of pedophiles and child predators, which is pretty much a given, but as a society, we do not know how to respond to complex problems with complex answers. The hardest thing most of us have a hard time admitting to ourselves is that that “fall from grace” / original sin / original wounding (whatever we call it) gives us these complex realities and the complexity of a moral response to them. After all, does killing a pedophile or a engaging in social shunning help them? Does it truly help a victim? It might even make some people feel good to execute them, but, as you suggest, we are called not to feel good, but to (as my Jewish friends say) tikkun olam — the repair of the world. And that repair can only start with attentive relationships … and in the case of henious criminals, a relationship that is clearly circumscribed and where they can do no harm to ohters, but a relationship nonetheless. Yet, I empathize with the pains of those who have suffered this horrible scar in their souls as well.

    I think Sr. Helen Prejan, who has worked with both death row inmate and those families who have been victimized by the crimes of those on death row really offers a remarkable perspective on this type of pastoral balance, and recognizes the difficulties of it.

    That’s all. Thanks again for the post.

  5. Marc, thanks for bringing up Sr. Helen — I can’t believe I didn’t think of her myself! As a minister to both sides she is a wonderful model of what we are all called to be, and an inspiration in her work.

    Especially as our society is now — so polarized, that “with us or against us” mentality, seems like we need that kind of witness more than ever.

  6. Sr. Helen is such an amazing speaker as well. So funny!

    I’m musing over a thought about how one identifies and the work they are able to do. I learned of a ministry in St Louis that works with men who are abusers and was so thankful that someone did it but was pretty clear that I wouldnt be able to! I wonder if I identify more with victims than abusers. But secondly, if I cannot see my “shadow” side, which is a problem, that would make me resistant to identifying with an abuser.

  7. Yes, we heard Sr. Helen speak here in New Hampshire a couple years ago. (My finger hit a wrong key as I was typing and I almost canonized her ahead of her time!)

    Lauren, your comment reminds me of I Corinthians chapter 12; just because you may be a foot instead of a hand, don’t think you’re not a valuable part of the Body! :)

  8. Imagine in history if pro-life pacifists ran the world at key times in history. The result is many, many, many more people would suffer and/or die. When you claim to be a pacifist, are you sure you can maintain that identity for all seasons and occasions. It’s very easy to be sitting in a free country, incredibly blessed by God and claim to be a pacifist. Have your daughter or son kidnapped in this country or in a foreign country and then we’ll see if you remain sympathetic to the kidnappers motives. Then have the kidnappers saw off your child’s head in a video sent to TV stations around the world and see if you still think justice is served by trying to understand the kidnappers.

    There are very evil people in this world and God works through us to establish fair law and to establish just governments. To think that any government should not provide justice in various degrees, including death, is living in a fictitious utopia that certainly the God of the Bible never intended. See bottom examples from His Word not just mine.

    Here’s just one of thousands of examples in the news today of why just governments must act to protect others:
    WHEATON — DuPage County prosecutors say they’ll seek the death penalty against a Glendale Heights man accused of killing his two sons by dousing them with gasoline and setting them on fire.

    Are you self-proclaimed pacifists prepared to protect yourself or your families from any attack? Are you willing in any case to protect the freedoms that you take for granted in your country? Are the freedoms in your country worth protecting? If your country is ever overtaken are you willing to live under Sharia law, or a fascist dictatorship or communist government?

    People died and suffered great hardship to provide you with your comfortable lives. To think that you can comfortably sit back and relax under a pacifist flag when those before you risked everything to bring you that comfort is embarrassing and downright shameful.

    Did God really say?:
    Exodus 21:12
    “Anyone who strikes a man and kills him shall surely be put to death.”

    Exodus 21:15
    “Anyone who attacks his father or his mother must be put to death.”

    Exodus 21:16
    “Anyone who kidnaps another and either sells him or still has him when he is caught must be put to death.”

    Exodus 21:17
    “Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.”

    Exodus 21:29
    “If, however, the bull has had the habit of goring and the owner has been warned but has not kept it penned up and it kills a man or woman, the bull must be stoned and the owner also must be put to death.”

    Exodus 22:19
    “Anyone who has sexual relations with an animal must be put to death.”

    Exodus 31:14
    “Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you. Anyone who desecrates it must be put to death; whoever does any work on that day must be cut off from his people.”

    It seems like the God of the Bible was pretty serious about what He wanted punished and how serious a punishment He required, and it wasn’t just for killing someone else as you can see for yourself. Has God changed? Does He somehow see things differently than He did then? I don’t think so. He expected His people to rid themselves of those who did serious crimes. If those people were not removed, they would impact the rest of God’s people and corrupt them. That was a lesson for them then and it is a lesson for us now.

    “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your path straight.” Proverbs 3:5

  9. And, in Mark 10:5, Jesus tells us that some Laws from Moses were concessions to the people’s stubbornness, and not representative of the fullness of God’s will. So I look to Jesus’s words in Matthew 5:39; “But what I say to you is: offer no resistance to injury. When a person strikes you on the right cheek, turn and offer him the other.” Or Luke 6:27: “To you who hear me, I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” (which, I assume, means don’t kill them). So yes, I believe pacifism is God’s higher calling to us all, an imperative of the Christian life.

    And no, I would not willingly live under Sharia law or dictatorship; if it came to that, I would practice active passive resistance in the tradition of Lech Walesa, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, each of whom led successful pacifist revolutions. It wouldn’t be easy — I realize that — but who ever said the Christian life is supposed to be easy?

  10. mrissman-
    That is a VERY narrow and literalistic reading of the Bible you have taken; certainly not the reading called for by the Catholic Church’s leaders. It is funny how when you want to prove something you leave out the entire New Testament and New Law set forth by Jesus. He taught us radical love that did not break the old law but taught us to go past it and build the kingdom. The Beatitudes are very clear “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Jesus never blesses those who kill or seek revenge; that is not God’s way. He commands Peter to put down his sword and heals the man that Peter had injured. Instead of calling for war, what the Jewish people of ancient Palestine were hoping the Messiah would do (remember that is why they killed him; the peaceful Jesus did not live up to their violent expectations) Jesus says “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you….for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

    We are called to be peace makers and prophets, living and teaching the difficult “Way”–the first name for Christianity. Certainly the evil on earth is great, but violence only creates more violence. True peace comes from the softening of the heart and learning what love truly means.

    You asked if any of our children had been kidnapped in a foreign country. Well, I am not old enough to have children traipsing around war torn countries (this is a young adult blog), but in 2002, I was taken hostage with a gun to my head and machete to my throat in Latin America. In our own “free” country I have been beaten and raped, and all I have for my tormentors is love. No it is not easy. They have caused my family and I great pain, and I would rather seek revenge, for that is what the evil one wants of us. We Christians, however, are called to bring peace on earth, and taking another life will not lead to the Kingdom.

    It is to the cross that I am committed and not to your sword.

  11. Wow, now that’s a first (for me anyway) that pacifism is embarassing and downright shameful. I think it takes great courage to be a pacifist.

    But first of all I want to respond to Becky, for your strength then and now. I can’t even imagine. I am very glad you are o.k. and have kept on. As I’ve heard before, the best revenge is a life well lived. You don’t let them take your future/hope/joy too.

    As a pacifist myself, I don’t pretend to know what the answers to issues like kidnapping, etc. are. I know my values, and try to stick to them. And luckily I havent had too often an occassion to need to deal with violence outside of violent communication. Am I going to defend myself or someone else if I see them being hurt? I’m afraid I would just freeze really, but I think I would at least resist. I did just put a mace thingy on my key chain the other day but I feel very wierd about it. A true pacifist might not have one of those right?

    A pacifist strives to resist violence in all situations, so no, its not normally a selective process. I dont find it fair to just lay that on others who can ‘stomach’ the idea of violence either though. Such as, I could never do it, but I’m glad there are people who can. No, I don’t want anyone in harm’s way. mrissman, this seems to be an emotional issue for you, care to say why? It might make more sense to me if I knew where this was coming from. Passion always has roots, yes?

    Pacifism can appear to be a utopian vision, but it is a value to strive towards. A pacifist is not neccesarily ignorant of the world’s realities. It just so happens that we just respond to reality in a different way. Normally I recommend working with ‘what you got’ sort of thing, but some things are too important to not dream and hope, especially if we ever think God will come again.

  12. As a student of history, it’s hard to forget the battles against evil that have occurred throughout history. Had there not been people who took up the banner against the power-hungry megalomaniacs, those people would not have been freed. How many Jews would have been saved had the U.S. and Europe not at first taken a passive view of Hitler.

    If giving the least of His a cup of water or a bit of bread and/or visiting the least of His in prison is the honorable thing, how much more honorable to battle against the evil in Darfur. How many people have been mercilessly murdered because of individual and corporate pacifism? Had the countries of the world gone in to Rwanda or would go in to Darfur and battle sometimes to the death, those who spread death, rape and fear, many people would have been saved physically and possible spiritually. The question to you from me is: Would you kill someone in order to set prisoners free from murderers and rapists? Are people from these different regions worth saving and are we willing to do something uncomfortable in order to give them the opportunity for physical and potentially spiritual freedom.

    You just can’t live in a non-existent utopia from a corporate standpoint. People have been killed, are now this minute being killed, and will be killed, raped and tortured while you this very minute, proclaim passivity in your comfort. Is that a responsible thing to do and for how long is it OK to hold out while men, women and children get murdered, raped and tortured? I applaud you Becky for taking your individual stand in the situation you were in. How were you eventually set free? I certainly don’t profess to know the details of your situation but did any pacifist come to rescue you? Would any of the writers on this blog have risked their own lives or safety to save Becky? What if it was known that Becky was being brutally tortured, would any pacifist see any reason to rescue her? These things are really happening NOW in so many parts of the world. It would make our heads spin if we really knew all that was happening.

    Don’t get me wrong, the spiritual battle to remain passive is a real one from an individual basis, but from a corporate and government basis, there is a time when righteous anger must be our response. And just because we’re willing to attack a country, does not mean that we hate the people or even the brutal leaders of a country. Did Jesus hate those He whipped in the temple? No. He executed justice just as we must execute justice based on His word.

    The ultimate outcomes that should have been sought throughout the last few centuries should have been true evangelism to faith in Jesus Christ reflected by an extraordinary life impacted by the Holy Spirit. Because this outcome has not been the focus in the western world, Christianity in the western world continues to decrease and have less and less of an impact.

    Please understand that had people been pacifist in prior generations, you would not live in the incredible situation that you do. I guess my passion about this comes from hearing people proclaim pacifism while somehow ignoring/forgetting that it was the opposite of pacifism that brought about the world we live in and has rescued all of the following: individuals, organizations and whole countries from certain death and destruction.

    Has there been a loss of respect of our founding fathers and if so, why? Had they not taken the stand they did, we would not live in the country we do.

    Remember that because of the laws of Rome, known by God and used by God, Jesus was crucified. Pacifism is like any other extreme lifestyle. Extreme lifestyles work only sometimes and are dangerous and ludicrous at other times.

    Grace & Peace in Him alone

  13. Actually, I do believe that Christ calls us to the most extreme of lifestyles; hot or cold, as He says in Revelation, or He’ll spit us out.

    Along that same line, I would make a distinction between pacifism and apathy (or what I like to call “passivism”). Pacifism as Christ preaches it does involve actively resisting evil — just not by violent means. The historical examples you cite are examples of “Passivism” — ignoring evil and hoping it will go away.

    But Christ’s call to turn the other cheek means standing firm against evil, not backing down and not striking back but standing on principle even in the face of death. Could a unified pacifist front have stopped Hitler’s Germany? Not easily, certainly … but history does give us examplees of successful pacifist revolutions. Poland freed itself from Soviet rule thanks to an organized pacifist resistance. India freed itself from British rule. Russia’s Bolshivek Revolution could have been a pacifist revolution, if they hadn’t felt the need to go killing people after the fact.

    So from an historical perspective, I say of pacifism what Chesterton says of Christianity (and indeed, as far as I’m concerned, they’re one and the same) — that the problem is not that it’s been tried and found impractical, but that it’s been found too dificult and left mostly untried.

  14. Josh, that was a great response, I appreciate it. Pacifism does not equal passivity, apathy, indifference, inactivity, etc. Like you said, it means resisting evil, but in nonviolent ways. I think we need to try new ways, like Chesterton would probably suggest. War has not proven to be the ideal or to have ‘fixed’ the problems we face. And as a nation I think we wouldn’t be so inclined to war if it were being fought on our own soil. We don’t experience the suffering of civilians and devistation of land like war lands do. For example, Vietnam is still trying to recover.

    What about all of the UN peacekeepers in Darfur right now? I often wonder what those who suffered the Holocaust would suggest we do in the face of what is going on in Darfur. I am sure the responses would be all over the spectrum, but I wonder.

  15. Actually, I think Chesterton himself was critical of Christian pacifism. I seem to remember he referred to it as “selling doves in the Temple” or something like that. But I co-opted his quote because what he says about Christian life is true, and I believe that pacifism is inextricably part of a Christian life.

  16. Intersting about Chesterton! I didnt know that. But I was just thinking that he would have advocated for trying new ways in general, not exactly related to pacifism. And now I know not related at all!

  17. The Bolshevik revolution was not pacifist and Lenin was certainly not one. Actually, mrissman, I agree with you on a few things. I think there are times and places that merit military or individual action. There have been regimes, rulers, and legitimate times that violence is necessary to bring about a kind of calm. There is sometimes, as mentioned in the essay “Kicking Ass,” a need to beat men with baseball bats instead of talking around them in a circle. WWII was a necessity. When there is a visible threat, sometimes i might be too comfortable to envision a punch to the gut or a sacrifice of the self. And Jesus was certainly not just a pacifist. I have not come to bring peace, but the sword? I have lain down my life for my friends? He was a well-rounded advocate of both violent and non-violent actions. He also understood martyrdom. I am uncomfortable with the idea that Jesus was only a pacifist. He was living in occupied territory and resisted.

  18. Theodora, will you do a blog about this sometime!? The idea that Jesus was not just a pacifist. What does that verse mean that you mentioned? “…but the sword” Resisting in violent and non-violent ways? And of course, turning over the tables in the temple. These all seem to indicate otherwise, so of course I’m endlessly curious.

  19. Actually, I only said the Bolshevik Revolution *Could Have* been a pacifist revolution. The Communist party came into power through the political process, and only after the fact started killing people. So if it had been led by a pacifist instead of by Lenin … who knows how history might have been different?

    Which is more or less my point. Our society is addicted to violence. I firmly believe and maintain that “cold turkey” is the only way to beat the addiction.

    And Jesus laying down his life for his friends is the ultimate pacifist sacrifice. Martyrdom is a kind of pacifist action. Even overturning tables in the temple, as a kind of civil disobedience, is a pacifist action. (He didn’t kill anyone, or even attack them physically — only their tables and wares). So I still maintain that his message and his life are dedicated to pacifism. As ours should be too!

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