Of course [fill in the blank] isn’t worth trying to save

Stephen Marsh Mormon 34 Comments

We all know some groups are not redeemable.  Democrats, heretics who think Christ can be your friend, those who abuse children.  If they aren’t redeemable, then they aren’t worth trying to save?  Or are they?

First, to understand who can be redeemed, it helps to understand just what it takes.  It takes acknowledging sin and being willing to fully accept the consequences.  We assure people’s failure to repent when we encourage them to justify whatever they have done that is wrong or to avoid the consequences.

Recognition and restitution do not occur in people who do not admit their sin to be unjustified sin in the first place.  Without those two steps, there is no forgiveness of sin, be it small or large.

Second, true recognition requires true confession, which in many cases requires public acknowledgment.

Third, it requires the kind of transformation that only occurs when someone is willing to accept permanent limits on future behavior.  Think of those who buried their weapons in the earth. They were willing to accept limits and foreclose themselves from future temptation.  In a similar vein, in Europe sexual offenders often choose therapeutic castration to avoid temptation or backsliding.

So, if we hide sins, if we allow people justification, if we let them avoid the full consequences of secular law, if we do not encourage them to set permanent future limits, we inhibit repentance and basically confirm that the person really isn’t worth trying to save and really can’t repent.  Regardless of what justice requires, mercy requires that we help offenders through these steps.

Comments

comments

Comments 34

  1. so we shouldn’t have the death penalty then, right? I mean, how can you “help offenders through these steps” if you kill them?

  2. “if we do not encourage them to set permanent future limits, we inhibit repentance and basically confirm that the person really isn’t worth trying to save and really can’t repent. Regardless of what justice requires, mercy requires that we help offenders through these steps.”

    That sounds harsh. That sounds like it is my responsibility to make sure you repent. I don’t think that is what Christ teaches.

    I think we have the responsibility to preach and pray the spirit will soften others’ hearts to repentence because I have faith it will help them be happy…
    but I don’t think it is our business to get involved with the extension of mercy. That is God’s to give and mine to hope for and my desire to share that message with others…but not my responsibility.

  3. I get the idea of not taking on the responsibility to make sure others repent, but at the same time NOT doing anything can be harmful to them as well. Case by case I think.

  4. Our constitution states that once we serve a sentence all is suppose to be forgotten, but is it really? Sex offenders can’t really go anywhere quietly because they have to register somewhere to let others know of their past crime. So, how does one move forward if they are constantly reminded of what they have done in the past? Its’ a tough call particularly because the public feels as though they have the right to know these things in order to protect their family, primarily their children. I’m not sure that I would want a sex offender to live next door to me, but then again, I don’t have children. And with that being said if my debt to society has been paid, where does my right to privacy come in to play.

    I was watching a 48 mystery program last weekend about a 10 year old child who had been given a life sentence for murdering his grandparents because he was tried as a adult. What does that accomplish? Yes, it puts him away from the public, but I wouldn’t think a one time event with special circumstance( he was taking medications like zoloft and prednisone) would warrant that we lock up a 10 year old for life. Do we treat him the same as a adult sex offender, why, a grown adult has a mature brain to help him make decisions, a 10 year old while knowing right from wrong may not be able to control impluses especially if his brain is being chemically altered.

  5. “Our constitution states that once we serve a sentence all is suppose to be forgotten”

    It doesn’t, actually.

    “so we shouldn’t have the death penalty then, right? I mean, how can you “help offenders through these steps” if you kill them?”

    “Depend upon it, Sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”

    Considering the appeals process drags out longer than most people’s natural lives (at least in California), if a man’s going to repent, the prospect of being put to death for a murder does have the tendency to cut through a person’s layers of self-justification.

  6. @ thomas

    It actually does because it falls under the category of due process.

    Here is a definition of due process. Where an individual faces a deprivation of life,2 liberty or property do to procedural process mandates that he/ she is entitled to adequate notice or hearing.

    so again, if someone who has been incarcerated, and completes his mandated sentence, where does the public than come in and say, no you haven’t yet paid your debt yet and you don’t have a right to privacy, you don’t have the right to move on, etc.

  7. frosty, snippy attitude> I am well aware, Madam, of the requirements of due process. Even if my Civ Pro professor was the absolute worst in the history of the Anglo-American common law tradition.

    As far as I’m aware, there’s nothing in due process law that says that a criminal conviction can’t trigger penalties in addition to a prison sentence. The Supreme Court just upheld, for instance, a a federal law that permits convicted sex offenders to be confined beyond the term of their prison sentences, if they are judged too dangerous to release. The case is United States v. Comstock, decided May 17. The two dissenters were those notorious soft-on-crime types Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas — but they didn’t dissent based on the Due Process Clause. Rather, they dissented based on their belief that the Commerce Clause doesn’t create a general Federal police power, as it has been conventional wisdom since a truly ghastly case in 1942 (involving chickens and some grain) to do. Huzzah for them.

  8. Dang. I was trying to make a funny, with a URL tag for “frosty, snippy attitude.” Apparently HTML thinks italics are frosty and snippy.

  9. Thomas
    Try :: frosty, snippy attitude ::

    That’s what I use. Why can’t all these stupid online places have just one set of tags and one set of “I’m trying to be funny” tags! Blasted internet free-for all with no standards grumble grumble grumble…

  10. Thomas

    Since I was being sincere in my response, I would appreciate the same in return. I wasn’t being rude in my response to you, So your attitude towards me in your response is uncalled for.

    BTW, since you don’t know me personally, please don’t presume that you can use snippy one liners that often don’t come across as funny. You came across as demeaning and dismissive.

  11. Thomas

    You are correct in your assertion that penalties can be added on to a convicts sentence. However, I was not arguing that point. I was pretty clear in my opinion, that I was arguing about the case of former excon who has served time as required and has been released.

    If a former convict, no matter what crime he has committed served his sentence what right do I , or anyone else have to invade his privacy? What right do I have to continually throw his past in his face? Who among us doesn’t have skeletons’ in our closet that we don’t want anyone else to know about? Where does justice and mercy come in at the point that a former prisoner isn’t entitled to move on without having to explain his past. Does anyone on this website know what that’s like? I doubt it.

    I have an inkling only because when I was a nanny, I was often asked what my childhood was like. I always told them the truth, that I grew up in foster care. I told the parents that if they weren’t comfortable with that then I didn’t want to work in their home, because truthfully, I would know. I also told them that just because they grew up in a normal family enviornment that didn’t mean that there weren’t any less likely to abuse their children than I was. Why did I relate this story, because, why do I, even at the age of 45 have to answer for the sins of my parents? I did nothing wrong, yet when I tell people this they always make judgments, the same as if I were a criminal.

  12. Even if my Civ Pro professor was the absolute worst in the history of the Anglo-American common law tradition. They have to work hard to do that. Mine was actually pretty good, especially the one who handled the second half of the class when the guy teaching the first half disappeared over the Christmas break.

    The two dissenters were those notorious soft-on-crime types Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas — sigh, there they go again, being consistent. 😉

    Dan — interesting point. I’d say as a criminal you have to be willing to accept the death penalty to repent, perhaps, while at the same time I have to admit that I don’t have the stomach to impose the death penalty. I look at the Dallas District Attorney’s office who saved all the DNA evidence whenever they had any, and then recently started testing it — and got a surprisingly large number of people out of jail. Compare to the Houston D.A.’s office that got rid of it all. I’d be tempted to void all of their convictions for spoliation of evidence. That, btw, is one of the two readings of blood atonement (there is an old testament style reading and a new testament style reading — one that you have a mechanical step you have to go through to atone for serious sin; the other that what you need to do is be willing to take such a step to truly accept that you have sinned and come short of the glory of God).

    The sub-theme of this post was dealing with child molesters and the trap some people fall into with them of encouraging them to not come completely clean. As I thought about that and other related themes, and started reading some more experimental ethics texts, I started to read more on the trap of justification or rationalization and how people who do that end up not accepting fault (the whole “mistakes were made, but not by me” sort of thing). It hit me that the process applies to everyone. If I’m an alcoholic, a twelve step program will work for me if I am rigorously honest and if I stay away from alcohol.

    That sounds like it is my responsibility to make sure you repent. My mistake. My duty is not to call you (or anyone else) to repentance (unless directed by God or given a stewardship to do so), but it also is not to do things that put a stumbling block in front of others. We do not have a duty to enforce repentance, but we need to make sure that we don’t keep people from repenting. True mercy (rather than feel good activities) means that we don’t encourage people to justify or rationalize what they have done as excusable, that we do not hinder their repentance.

  13. 1) Rights are extended only when they do not infringe on the same rights of others.
    2) So far as I understand, there is no “right to privacy” from the public, only an inferred right to privacy from the government. If there were, paparazzi would be illegal, eh?

  14. Stephen

    I think you raise an interesting point, however in my opinion the criminal justice system isn’t a place to make criminal repent as much as it is to have them serve time for the crime committed. I view the word repentance as something I would do withing the conscript of a church setting, not within a jail cell.

  15. I just reread your reply in #12

    I find it interesting that you label, (perhaps rightly so Anthony Scalia) soft on crime, yet you wouldn’t want to impose the death penalty yourself. I’m not trying to be disrespectful but isn’t that being a little duplicitous? The reason being you want to impose rules and regulations upon people who break a set of proscribe set of law that we have all agreed upon. Yet, you don’t seem to want to impose the strictest of all penalties. You would rather leave that to someone else, but yet you feel you have the right to call someone to repentance.

  16. Stephen,

    Thanks for the thoughtful post. In your last paragraph you write,

    “So, if we hide sins, if we allow people justification, if we let them avoid the full consequences of secular law, if we do not encourage them to set permanent future limits, we inhibit repentance and basically confirm that the person really isn’t worth trying to save and really can’t repent.”

    I agree. To me this is, as you clarify in your comments, related to the encouraging a person to hide his or her sins. We know that we are to forgive all, but we sometimes mistake forgiveness with absolution. As we forgive a person of his or her trepasses against us, it does not mean they should be free from whatever legal or natural consequences their offense might bring.

    For instance (hypothetically), I may forgive the child molester who hurts my daughter, but that does not mean I should argue against his being punished to the full extent of the law.

    dblock, your complaint against tracking certain offenders after they’ve left prison assumes the punishment for their crime ends at the end of the prison sentence. I see no reason why that needs to be so. A child molester, when sentenced, knows that his sentence goes beyond his prison term. The alternative is to keep him in prison forever.

  17. It seems to me our legal system encourages people to avoid responsibility at every turn. How many times have defendants insisted in no uncertain terms on their absolute innocence and then are found guilty, only to proclaim their sorrow at their heinous act and assurance that they are no longer that person? (I have often wondered why, in the penalty phase, prosecutors don’t invoke the obvious logic that if the defendant were really all that sorry about his crime, he would not have complicated matters by insisting on his innocence until the jury verdict.)

    In the spirit of Joseph Smith’s ideas on rehabilitation, maybe we should offer an alternate prison sentencing path to those who freely admit their guilt — not necessarily a less stringent punishment, but something that offers real hope for reform rather than merely incarceration.

  18. Dblock, that was a lame attempt at humor when I I find it interesting that you label, (perhaps rightly so Anthony Scalia) soft on crime — Scalia is not thought of soft on crime by anyone, but he is very principled on the subject of state vs. federal jurisdiction and powers. The irony is that the two judges seen as the harshest on crime by many are also the two that voted against the particular law (not because they were soft on crime but because they thought the federal government should not have the specific power at issue).

    Something similar comes up with Justice Thomas and marijuana laws, btw. I don’t see a joke that doesn’t come across as duplicitous, though it is probably lame. Otherwise, seems you missed where I tried to explain that my duty is not to call you (or anyone else) to repentance.

    Paul, you caught the point very well. Thank you for restating it.

    have often wondered why, in the penalty phase, prosecutors don’t invoke the obvious logic that if the defendant were really all that sorry about his crime, he would not have complicated matters by insisting on his innocence until the jury verdict. — I’ve seen federal judges remark on that, with rather pointed results.

  19. It seems to me that society uses incarceration and punishment to accomplish several different things, and it’s less effective at accomplishing some than others:
    1 – to exact justice for victims. To me, this one falls under the header of revenge. And it is a real need for victims to feel that those who harmed them had their come-uppance. Even so, it doesn’t seem like a very noble goal. From a religious standpoint, mercy and forgiveness seem more spiritually healthy. But it’s at heart of “an eye for an eye,” as well as most legal systems.
    2 – to deter crime. Stringent penalties for violent crimes are designed to be a warning to would-be criminals. The Puritans were even better at this, putting people in the public square in stocks, for all to see. However, to Vort’s point, punishments as they stand today do little to deter crime. It’s fairly easy in many cases to avoid punishment for technicalities and so forth.
    3 – to rehabilitate criminals. Incarceration is not only ineffective at rehabilitating criminals (Shawshank Redemption notwithstanding – oh, yeah, he was innocent), it actually can create networks of criminals and cause the innocent to become criminals in this harsh environment where social norms are so detrimental.
    4 – to separate harmful individuals from society. For some types of crimes, I absolutely feel that permanent separation from society is necessary to prevent the individual from harming more people: serial rapists, serial killers, and pedophiles. Whether that separation requires death or just lifelong incarceration is subject to debate. Lifers are capable of contributing to society in a positive way even though they have no chance for parole, and if so, I say let them do what they can to make up for their past crimes.

  20. I am sorry if you thought I was making a joke, I was not, I was merely restating what you and Thomas had previously remarked on. Lets’ use this as an opportunity to learn by not repeating things because often its’ not what the person had intended it to be. This is exactly why I don’t like it when Vort does the same thing..

  21. I think again I am getting confused by the word repentance, I have no problem with people serving mandating jail sentences. I need you to clarify your last two sentences in your response to #12. It may be a matter of semantics on my part, but I’m not sure what it is that your driving at on one hand it seems as if your saying we shouldn’t keep people from repenting, and we also don’t want them to make excuses as to why they don’t repent.

    I understand your argument against child abusers, I really do, but again, I’m confused as to the word repentance as it relates to the criminal justice setting because in a criminal justice sentence one isn’t called to repentance, as much as one is called to stand trial for the crimes that one committed. Then they are again given a mandated sentence. There really is no repentance process here as far as I can see.

  22. #11 — I see your point, at least in part. It does seem unfair, when a man has served his sentence, to have to keep paying for it, in the sense that an ex-con is less likely to be trusted, will be handicapped in finding a job, may be barred from the learned professions or positions of financial responsibility, etc. And this is especially true, in an age where regulatory felonies have proliferated, such that the average person, myself included, is probably committing two or three felonies right now and doesn’t know it.

    On the other hand, the Due Process Clause governs only the relationship between the citizen and the government. It doesn’t put any restraints on how citizens deal with each other. And given that criminals often re-offend (possibly because people commit crimes because they are just the kind of people who tend to commit crimes), it’s reasonable of me to trust a man less when he’s shown himself untrustworthy, until he convinces me he can be trusted. This isn’t a matter of mercy robbing justice; the issue is mercy trying to rob me of my right to protect myself from getting robbed.

    In the specific case of sex offenders — and in particular, those who commit the darker varieties of kidnap/rape — there’s good reason to believe that those people simply can’t change. They go back to the well again and again until someone gets killed. Or at least, enough of them do, resulting in such grave harm, that we’re justified in not taking the risk. If not for all that metaphysical mumbo-jumbo about inherent human dignity (which depends more on God being real than most secularists like to acknowledge), there’s really no reason for not treating this kind of person like an animal that’s proven itself vicious: Put it down.

  23. So, since I’m having trouble with the word repentance/restitution in relationship to the criminal justice system, I took it upon myself to look up the definition of words in order to try to tie the too together.

    When I Looked up the definition for the word restitution this is what I found: restoraation to the former or original physical condition,
    2) the restoration of property or rights previously held
    3) reparation made by giving compensation in the eqivolent manner,

    When I looked up repentance I came up with feeling sorrow,or contrition.

    So now that I have that straighten out in my mind I guess the problem is that with certain crimes there can never really ever be a restoration to the way something was before a horrific event. That being said, whenever we see people in high profile cases express sorrow over something that they did which landed them in the criminal justice process we say they are”faking,” or that they are only sorry because they got caught.

    And I think who am I to say that they aren’t sorry. They might very well have deep feelings of remorse, but because we are all concerned with being taken advantaged of we don’t see it.

  24. #26 — of course from a gospel perspective, repentance is much more than sorrow. It also encompasses restitution (which may be impossible as you have pointed out).

    I did not interpret the OP as suggesting that the criminal justice system facilitates repentance or not, but that we as individuals should not keep people from the criminal justice system out of our personal “mercy” because doing so may hinder their repentance process, that is it may keep them from feeling the full consequences of their acts.

  25. “In the specific case of sex offenders — and in particular, those who commit the darker varieties of kidnap/rape — there’s good reason to believe that those people simply can’t change. They go back to the well again and again until someone gets killed. Or at least, enough of them do, resulting in such grave harm, that we’re justified in not taking the risk. If not for all that metaphysical mumbo-jumbo about inherent human dignity (which depends more on God being real than most secularists like to acknowledge), there’s really no reason for not treating this kind of person like an animal that’s proven itself vicious: Put it down.”

    Amen brother Thomas…

    “If they aren’t redeemable, then they aren’t worth trying to save? Or are they?”

    I’m a little curious how you plan of saving them Stephen? How do you take one of those sex offenders and help them receive salvation? Are we like some other religions that believe once the Priest has granted absolution, the sin is completely erased in heaven? I suppose you could fellowship them, invite them to your home for a meal and spend your vacations with them. If you have a desire to help them transition from prison life to living in the community again, I suppose you could provide your home as a halfway house for them. None of these things are going to change how God judges that person, so I don’t understand how you or anyone else is going to save them…

    For dblock, I think there are crimes people commit that have fixed penalties and once the demands of the law have been met, that person deserves to be treated like everyone else. Having said that, most sex crimes on children are 1st degree felonies and therefore come with life sentences with minimum mandatory prison time. What this usually means is that even after they’ve done their time in prison and the parole broad has released them, they’re still accountable to a parole officer for what could be the rest of their life. I think that’s perfectly fair as their original sentence was life.

    I’ve got to say, I like Hawkgrrl’s comment:

    4- to separate harmful individuals from society. For some types of crimes, I absolutely feel that permanent separation from society is necessary to prevent the individual from harming more people: serial rapists, serial killers, and pedophiles. Whether that separation requires death or just lifelong incarceration is subject to debate. Lifers are capable of contributing to society in a positive way even though they have no chance for parole, and if so, I say let them do what they can to make up for their past crimes.

    I don’t know if prison does anyone any good at all, but what else are you going to do with them? I don’t have any answers for crime and punishment, but I do know that I don’t want a violent criminal living next door to me. As she said, there are some crimes that just don’t warrant the risk to society by having that person out on the streets again.

  26. dblock, I didn’t think you were making a joke, I was making a joke off of his joke and I was apologizing for that not being clear, not claiming you were joking, then trying to explain the joke.

    Vort, oh yeah, while I had a client awaiting sentencing himself. He almost passed out when the pregnant lady got close to the maximum jail time after the other guy who did. Long story.

    Doug G. — I thought I was pretty clear. Most of them haven’t a chance of escaping the binding force of self justification and self delusion and rationalization unless they fully accept the criminal penalties and bounds on their future interactions with others. In Europe most find that they only succeed if they embrace castration as well. I’m not saying that I can save any of them, only that to the extent that anyone acts as an enabler, a facilitator or we minimize the impact of what they have done, we are embracing their failure to repent and making it harder for them. I’m sorry if that wasn’t clear enough for you, unless you are suggesting that I have it wrong and should do what you are suggesting?

    I rather thought Hawkgrrl summarized it well.

    But wasn’t

    it requires the kind of transformation that only occurs when someone is willing to accept permanent limits on future behavior. Think of those who buried their weapons in the earth. They were willing to accept limits and foreclose themselves from future temptation. In a similar vein, in Europe sexual offenders often choose therapeutic castration to avoid temptation or backsliding.

    So, if we hide sins, if we allow people justification, if we let them avoid the full consequences of secular law, if we do not encourage them to set permanent future limits, we inhibit repentance and basically confirm that the person really isn’t worth trying to save and really can’t repent. Regardless of what justice requires, mercy requires that we help offenders through these steps.

    clear enough?

  27. Stephen,

    I believe your reading into my questions from our last discussion and therefore giving a defensive answer. Your catch line in the OP talks about saving of these souls. I was just trying to understand what you mean by saving? In reading your last line more carefully, I do think you answered my question.

    Sorry for the confusion… And for the record, I agree with what you wrote although I don’t know about castration. That seems very barbaric to me, surly with modern day technology a better way to monitor these predators could be devised. Despite what you and Vort think, I’m not totally heartless when it comes to people that have a propensity to abuse children. I just don’t believe they can ever be trusted again and long term jail sentences seem to be the only answer at present to protect the innocent. Again, not trying to start an argument, just wanted a little more clarification…

  28. Post
    Author

    No problem Doug.

    Too often when we talk about saving people we are just encouraging them to avoid repentance. That does no one any good. Compare that to a twelve step program which insists on absolute honesty as essential to recovery.

    Unfortunately, people turn into enablers when they should be doing something entirely different.

  29. Post
    Author

    Let me clarify. With sex offenders, castration, as practiced in Europe is voluntary chemical castration, provided as a therapeutic treatment. 85% of those castrated report significant improvement in quality of life. 10% report it as “meh” — take it or leave it. 5% report reduced quality of life and chose to end the chemicals. But 85% decide to keep it as a permanent regimen.

    It is something done for the offenders, not to the offenders, to help them rather than as a part of punishment.

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