Friday, October 07, 2005

Revenge is Sweet

Yesterday in my literature class, we discussed a story in which a father exacts revenge on the young man who murdered his son. Here are the particulars: The son, Frank, is dating the estranged wife of the killer, Richard. One day Richard beats Frank up, and sometime later Richard barges into his estranged wife's house (they are in the process of divorce) and shoots Frank in the face in front of the wife and their two young sons. Richard gets out on bail, and late one night Matt (Frank's father) and one of his friends kidnap Richard outside of the bar where he works, take him to a remote area, and kill him. This killing is very well planned, down to the last detail, so that they will not be caught. During the process, Matt seems to waver in whether he thinks he is capable of killing Richard, but in the end, when Richard tries to escape, Matt shoots him without hesitation and then shoots him again in the back of the head to finish the job. (The movie In the Bedroom is an adaptation of this story.)

My students were very sympathetic toward Matt. Many of them felt that if they were put into a situation in which someone murdered one of their loved ones, they wouldn't have any problem hunting down the killer and ridding the world of him. I asked them if they would have any problem being friends with Matt, and they said that no, Matt was a very good man (and the story does depict him as a very good husband, father, and friend), and they would like to have him as a friend, but they would not be friends with Richard.

My students also expressed a lack of confidence in the justice system. Many of them felt that convicted murderers have too many rights and too many appeals and that executions need to happen more swiftly. Others felt that capital punishment is too easy, that murderers need to live but suffer harshly for what they have done (the word "torture" was even mentioned). My students also have problems with murderers getting out of prison. A couple of them had actually lost loved ones to violent crime and said that whenever the killer comes up for release, the family has to relive the painful incident over again. Another interesting thing many of my students said was that they do not trust when criminals in prison claim to have "found God" or "gotten religion."

If any students in class felt less harshly toward murderers, they didn't speak up. The biblical concept of forgiveness was brought up, but it was generally acknowledged that extending forgiveness to a person who has committed a crime of that magnitude is extremely difficult if not impossible.

So what do you think? Do you agree with my students? Or are you "soft on crime"?


Tony Arnold said...

I agree whole-heartedly with your students that, "extending forgiveness to a person who has committed a crime of that magnitude is extremely difficult in not impossible."

I also believe that is exactly what Christ calls us to do. From the victims side.

From the perpetrator's viewpoint: Being forgiven does not absolve one of the consequences of their actions. I will suffer.

I have gotten to the point in my life that when I know I have done wrong I pray: Lord forgive me of my sin and give me the courage to live with its consequences.

When looking at the call of Christ it focuses specifically on how each person should act within themselves. For the victims: forgive; love your enemies.

For the guilty: repent, confess, make amemds, sin no more, and face your suffering with the dignity of righteousness.


Ayatollah Mugsy said...

I can understand the students' skepticism toward inmates who "found God" or had "gotten religion." Although I found Allah while in the pound, I do not believe that my personal epiphany should have had any bearing on my legal situation. Nor should anyone else's. God can judge us by our full resume -- our deeds, our hearts, our souls. But society -- and the legal system -- must judge us by our actions and punish us accordingly.

To some extent, I can understand the students' view that our legal system is too soft on criminals. And this softness often flies in the face of common sense. Take pedophiles, for example. We know that their recidivism rates are extremely high. Many of our laws (requiring sex offenders to register, creating buffer zones near schools in which they cannot live, etc.) are based on our belief that they will try to offend again. And yet we continue to release them. If we believe so strongly that offenders will strike again, shattering more innocent lives, then we must keep them locked up. The same is true with releasing murderers. When balancing the freedom of one person who has already displayed wicked tendencies vs. the safety of society in general, we must err on the side of protecting the innocent.

And finally, though I cannot condone vigilantism, I am considering going to this year's Pug-O-Ween event dressed as Batpug, the caped crusader.

Wasp Jerky said...

I agree with Tony. Yes, forgiveness is difficult, if not impossible. But from the perspective of Christianity, that's what we have to work with. This isn't about picking the easy stuff and ignoring the hard stuff because it's hard. Forgiving and praying for your enemies, turning the other cheek, selling your possessions and giving the money to the poor, those are the things Jesus talked about quite frequently, not just preaching the good news and praying. It's just too hard doesn't seem to be an option.

JMG said...

It's just too hard doesn't seem to be an option.

I agree.