Zoom Meeting Sermon September 18 2022

 

Topic: The Distinction Between Justice and Vengeance

          The American “justice system” does not, in fact, dispense justice. What it does is exact vengeance upon those who have done society harm, whether that harm is tangible, or merely a violation of some collective moral code.

          The difference between justice and vengeance is quite important. The definition of “justice” is: “just behavior or treatment”. The definition of “just” (for our purposes): “based on or behaving according to what is morally right and fair.” The definition of “vengeance” is: “punishment inflicted, or retribution exacted for an injury or wrong.” (Source: online dictionary)

          What we have in place is rarely fair. People whose crime is basically having no money, such as homeless people, can be charged with vagrancy and told to pay a fine that they literally could never afford. The “crime” of prostitution (which is not against Path doctrine) results in jail time on top of monetary penalties, even though, in most cases, no harm has been done. The same is true for other victimless crimes, including possession or use of controlled substances. The American War on Drugs has been fought in all the wrong ways and imprisoned the wrong people. It’s time to admit that the war has been lost and was a bad idea to begin with. It’s also unfair that a single conviction will follow an individual for their entire lives. If a felon has done their time and paid their fines, let’s all agree to let it go, and stop asking that question on job applications.

          As far as morally right, that definition changes depending on who you ask, which is problematic from a legal standpoint. Some things we can all agree on. Murder, for example, is objectively immoral, but we can’t even agree on what constitutes “murder.” A vegetarian will tell you that eating meat is “murder.” An anti-choice activist will tell you that abortion is “murder.” But neither of these are nor should be prosecuted as murder. Many people consider sex work immoral, mainly due to our culture’s complicated and somewhat prudish views on sex in general. But the vast majority of sex work harms no-one. (Human trafficking is obviously immoral, as it is forcing somebody into sex work against their will, violating their bodily autonomy.) Drug use is considered immoral for some reason, so we’ve made drugs illegal, although all that really did was fill our prisons with users and let the drug lords go free. I have seen firsthand that you can be a drug user and also a productive, contributing member of society. But anyone who kills or orders to be killed other human beings, like many drug lords do, should be prosecuted as a murderer.

          What we get isn’t justice. It is vengeance. We take away the criminal’s freedom for some predetermined length of time, and then brand them as a felon until they die. We don’t bother much with rehabilitation or in any other way try to teach them how to be a better person. We make it impossible for a convicted felon to find a good job or a place to live, take away their right to vote, and treat them as second-class citizens pretty much for the rest of their lives. (Read the book The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander to find out how this system disproportionately affects men of color.) Discrimination against felons is easy and legal; we don’t even need to know what the crime was. Somebody convicted of writing bad checks may as well have been convicted of manslaughter, as far as society is concerned. The suffering of felons is a hard cause to be a champion for, but somebody must. Above all, they are human beings, and deserve a chance to live and work and be happy.

Do you believe that convicted felons are mistreated by society, or do you believe that they deserve what they get?

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