I fear we are losing the capacity for proportionate response to misbehaviour, to temper justice with mercy, to forgive the penitent and to remember that we are all sinners living to some degree in moral glass houses. We are slipping into the practice of consigning moral, ethical and even legal questions to a sort of Manichaean lottery, where those who are not legally convicted of egregious offences, but are tripped up, caught out in naughty or tawdry behaviour – however sincerely the misconduct is regretted for moral as well as tactical reasons – don’t make the cut, are ruthlessly reclassified as bad and cast out like Old Testament lepers.
In treating those who seriously misbehave but are not criminals in this arbitrary and severe way, the majority is dispensing with the system of moral gradations that is inherent to all serious religious and moral and penal theory. We are all good and bad to varying extents at different times. If we draw a line before which all is permitted and after which everything leads to chastisement and damnation, we unjustly divide people into the good and the bad.
This is not only unjust to the losers; it is also an unearned psychic enrichment to the winners. Instead of striving to behave ourselves generally as well as we can, people are effectively encouraged to game the system: to get away with what they can and to join in the group self-delusion that in throwing the book at those who cross the double line, we are dispensing condign punishment to them and affirming the virtue of the unpunished.
I had sensed for a long time, but learned when I was in prison in the United States, that many who are convicted are not guilty, many who are guilty just made a mistake, from weakness before temptation, not inherent wickedness, and had paid heavily for it; and that many who had consciously decided to base their livelihood on illegal conduct had been over-sentenced vastly beyond what was necessary to punish them and show them the error of their ways.
This conducts me to the broader question of the systematic dehumanisation of our civilisation. This is a largely unsuspected and unnoticed, and generally unsought, result of excessive secularisation. Because the Enlightenment gradually became essentially atheistic and anti-theistic, reason was gradually construed as being incompatible with religion. The great majority of people, whether they practise or even acknowledge a religion (though most people throughout the West do), believe in some sort of supernatural intelligence. Most people recognise that there are some spiritual forces in our lives, there was some sort of creation at the start of things, and the human mind can’t grasp the infinite – what there was before there was anything, or what there is beyond the outer limits of everything. So people have always, until relatively recently, in a general collective sense, recognised their limitations.
But now academia, the media and the governing elites are almost entirely atheistic. Under the spurious cover of separation of church and state, as if there were the slightest possibility of commingling them or that anyone would stand for it here, there is a war of extermination being waged by government, academia and the media against the philosophical origins of our civilisation.
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