Anabaptist Dirk Willems escaping from prison, turning around to rescue his pursuer—who had fallen through thin ice while chasing Willems—to then be recaptured, tortured and subsequently burned at the stake in 1569.
“Assembled in a crowd, people lose their powers of reasoning and their capacity for moral choice. Their suggestibility is increased to the point where they cease to have any judgment or will of their own. They become very excitable, they lose all sense of individual or collective responsibility, they are subject to sudden accesses of rage, enthusiasm and panic. In a word, man in a crowd behaves as though he had swallowed a large dose of what I have called “herd-poisoning.” Reading is a private, not a collective activity. The writer speaks only to individuals, sitting by themselves in a state of normal sobriety. The orator speaks to masses of individuals, already well primed with herd poison. They are at his mercy and, if he knows his business, he can do what he likes with them.” – Aldous Huxley, Brave New World Revisited, published 1958
The other day I saw a notice advertising a film to be shown at my local library. It was on the theme of Restorative Justice and I mistakenly thought it was locally filmed and locally produced. I had seen signs with the term Restorative Justice. Having never heard of the concept, I was intrigued and decided quite at random to attend the screening which was to occur that same evening.
After a nice supper I walked the few blocks over to the library and found a chair and sipped a coffee. The crowd, once assembled was mostly older folks and predominantly female. One lady was introduced as a local representative of RJ. There were several others who were involved locally. The film was from the USA. It contained several stories, cut and layered together. The stories took place in three different locations, those being Arizona , San Diego and Florida.
One story was that of a white conservative cop in Arizona who had pulled over a fugitive armed robber. He had been shot and had subsequently shot the criminal. The cop had lost an eye and sustained other lifelong physical trauma. The cop narrated his own story as he survived his wounds. The criminal narrated his side of the story as he also survived his wounds..
Another story was that of a young promising university student in San Diego who worked as a pizza delivery man. He had been shot in cold blood by a young black boy as part of a gang initiation. The boy's father narrated his story.
The third story was of a young Jewish Florida man who had been visiting at an apartment and had been stabbed fatally after a verbal altercation outside. The boy's mother narrated his story.
From this troika, we were taken through a swamp of deep, powerful, primitive emotions. The graphics were less gory than the abattoir that is today's cable regular prime-time line-up but this said, the cutting, editing and crafting of the film made expert use of every technique to leverage emotion, position perspective, lead conclusions and deposit messages that have been known and used by culture creators since the slaves and citizens of the Greek city states were made to sit in outdoor theaters and watch the plays.
In each case, the victim or their surviving loved one came to confront the criminal in jail in a group setting and with the help of professional mediators, overcame their natural instincts for retaliation and forgave the wrong-doers. These people then talked about how, although they still grieved their losses, they grew to embrace and even to love the people who had caused their grief. They became lifelong friends.
The father of the pizza boy, after forgiving the young killer of his son and making friends with him went on to start an organization to promote, facilitate and encourage this path that he had chosen. He spoke of the spiritual side of things in a coherent, logical well prepared apologetic discourse.
The Jewish woman, unable at first to confront the murderer of her son, began to meet with other inmates and violent offenders until such time as she was able to go the next step. She came to such a closeness to the young killer that she said many people she knew thought that she had simply made a psychological swap.
All of these narrators spoke about the liberation they felt upon forgiving the offenders. Some said that it was this less than altruistic reason that made them even to consider the RJ road in the first instance. All of the criminals spoke of having trouble believing that their victim's or their victim's loved ones could not only forgive them but come to actually love them. Finally, we were treated to some fairly recent statistics dealing with the population of the incarcerated.
Any normal person would have had a queasy stomach, a sore set of adrenal glands, a swollen migdala and a need to blow their nose by the time it was over. Indeed, the library lady tossed a box of Kleenex on the floor just after the show. One elderly woman to my right grabbed a few sheets and began to sob.
The library lady asked if anyone had any comments. There were very few as can be expected. It was like asking someone standing in the smoldering wreckage of a train derailment what they thought about travel. Whenever there was an uncomfortable silence, one man always spoke up. He also commented upon anything said by others. He reminded me of Gandalf. No one asked if the film we had just seen was done with actors or with real folks.
I gave a short description of an alternate form of justice I had witnessed in Manila. A young man had been caught red-handed stealing a tape deck out of a car in a particular barrio of Makati. He had been apprehended by citizens and the barrio captain had been summoned. The fellow was tied to a chair and placed on the sidewalk with a sign around his neck stating his offense. The passers by were allowed to stop and speak their mind to him. Besides the shaming involved, the face of the perpetrator became known in that neighborhood, so I figured it to be unlikely he would continue frequenting that location in future. I figured that this non-violent way of dealing with this petty crime of a young offender to be of serious merit. I doubt I would have had those sentiments if he had just killed someone.
I left for home and it was many days before I had digested the emotional omelet which had been served. Eventually I decided to research Restorative Justice and look at it unemotionally. Soon, I learned that the logo for Restorative Justice Online is the same as the logo for Prison Fellowship International. An orb with three latitudinal markings, two longitudinal markings and a bent reed standing in the center for the third. A look at the New Zealand RJ website gave a biblical reference of the bent or bruised reed.
It is taken from Isaiah 42:3. KJV “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations. He will not shout or cry out in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his law the islands will put their hope.”
There are several other references in the Bible to bruised reeds in which the Pharaoh in Egypt is likened to such. The admonishment is not to lean on a bruised reed because it will splinter and pierce the hand that leans on it. Most of the references to flame and fire that I could see in the Old Testament were to do with God's retribution, punishment and justice. Since the quote that gave rise to the chosen logo comes from a prophesy from the Old Testament which was intended for the audience of the chosen people I believe there is much room for conjecture as to what exactly it means just as there is much room for conjecture as to what the founders of the Restorative Justice and the Prison Fellowship International NGOs interpret it to mean. It is not clear who is the servant being described.
Investigation shows that a man named Howard Zehr is usually credited with first bringing the RJ philosophy to the wider public audience through his writings. He is a Mennonite and is currently the Distinguished Professor of Restorative Justice at Eastern Mennonite University's Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, and co-director of the Zehr Institute for Restorative Justice. He is also a photographer.
A look at the Prison Fellowship International showed me that it was founded by Charles Colson. This man was described as “Nixon's hitman” and went to jail for obstructing justice in the Watergate trials. He claimed he was inspired by reading C.S. Lewis' book, Mere Christianity which led him to plead guilty and turn himself in. Colson only did seven months time. He wrote or co-wrote thirty books upon release from prison and was awarded honorary degrees, medals and even had the rights he had forfeited through his felony reinstated by the Governor of Florida. From what I could see he had more accolades showered on him than C.S. Lewis.
So, a man who was convicted of obstruction of justice was a leading proponent of Restorative Justice and had come to this calling by the reading of a book by an Irishman who was by age fifteen an atheist and only later and very reluctantly, in his own words, turned to Christianity after many discussions with his friend and colleague J.R.R. Tolkien. Lewis' book was called the best book on Christianity in the twentieth century. Another book, number five on the same list, was written by a Mennonite man called Yoder whom I learned was disciplined by his church for alleged sexual misconduct.
These are men of note yet they are only human as you or I. While it is fascinating to delve back into sixteenth century Switzerland to see the genesis of a movement within Christianity which today exerts its efforts all over the world, we must not forget that leaders of people are themselves people and are as fallible as those they lead. Each person has their gifts and their merits to balance their weaknesses and foibles.
If we refer back to the quote at the top of this essay we may place ourselves back in the group viewing the film on Restorative Justice.
I contend that clearly, a group is not the proper setting for the pondering of topics of this scope for the reasons cited by Mr. Huxley. I imagine that in any such group there will be persons witting and persons unwitting of the special dynamics of humans in groups. I found it interesting and revealing to notice that in the training courses offered at one university for certification in the field of Restorative Justice, that some of the work of the students must be performed in “cohorts” comprised of groups of students.
Think of a molecule of water and its various and inevitable manifestations as sap in a plant, fluid in an animal, vapor rising to condense into a cloud, drops falling from the sky, rivers above and below the ground, lakes of fresh water, drifts of snow, sheets of ice and the vastness of the salt sea to name a few. Each of these states may be likened to a participation in a particular group.
The individual molecule of water cannot come to a full understanding of what it is until it has experienced all the possible modes of its being and has learned that every mode is subject to overall laws. An iceberg and a cloud are very different though composed of the same substances. Each molecule of water will experience every mode eventually and thus know the cycle and the purpose of the cycle while retaining its integrity. A water drop cannot deny the ocean nor can it describe the sea without having soared above it as a cloud.
Humans are like molecules that may be called upon by others to form allegorical rivers, lakes and seas. In doing so, I believe we sell ourselves short. Why? Because we are gifted at birth with awareness of both our individuality and of our universality. We are not drops of water or so many building blocks yet most will readily assume a suggested mode so as to avoid the terrible responsibility of the gift of being human. Those who take on the burden of cognition will be followed as well as criticized.
All this drama takes place in a system older than memory of a mountain range and the laws of this system have never varied. Therefore, it may be, that doing unto others as one would have them do unto you is the wisest choice one has. Many lack the ability to discern this, whether they be incarcerated or free. It may also be that humans naturally tend to form groups. I believe that the size of the group is key to its health as measured by the integrity of the quality of the thoughts of the individuals that make up the group. I further contend that in a natural setting, humans will control the size of their groups to keep them healthy functioning units. This had as much to do with the spread of our species as did the quest for food. There is lots of room.
In the case of the Anabaptist, the forerunners of the Mennonites, Hutterites and such; a few like minded men in Switzerland broke away from the main body of Protestants because they had pondered the prevailing doctrines and found that they disagreed on some key points. Soon they were being persecuted, gathering followers and seeking places in which they could practice their beliefs. When the following was large enough, in my opinion, the dynamics naturally changed and over time many smaller groups hived off of this beginning.
Their main premise, as I understand it, was sound in my opinion. They contended that an infant cannot possibly be equipped to choose to live a Christian life but that an adult could make a conscious decision to do so and understand what it meant to do so. Thus, they practiced adult baptism. This was contrary to the established norm of baptism at birth and so the religious authorities both Catholic and Protestant dubbed them as Anabaptist or those who baptize twice. The fact that this was such a big issue as to lead to horrible persecution tells me that some monkey business was definitely underfoot in the religious world then as now.
It is interesting that many Mennonites keep a massive book called the Martyr's Mirror. The full title of the book is The Bloody Theater or Martyrs Mirror of the Defenseless Christians who baptized only upon confession of faith, and who suffered and died for the testimony of Jesus, their Saviour, from the time of Christ to the year A.D. 1660. The word defenseless refers to the Anabaptist belief in non-resistance. The book includes accounts of the martyrdom of the apostles and the stories of martyrs from previous centuries who had beliefs similar to the Anabaptist. There were some groups that didn't believe in non-resistance and they were hunted down relentlessly just like their peaceful brethren. While it is obvious that these people believe in forgiveness, they also appear to believe in not forgetting. I agree with this on the basis of common sense.
Through history since the days of Christ it appears that it is acceptable to be a Christian as long as one counts membership in a large enough denomination and professes to live by that particular group's doctrines and dogma. It is when the individual or the small group decides to live and practice their faith in such a way that their very lives become the expression of their beliefs and thus, their religion; that the trouble begins. This perplexed many native North Americans and no doubt other aboriginals when they discovered that the people bringing them the Good News about Jesus were not willing nor able to emulate the object of their worship in day to day practice.
A fly in the ointment of humanity that I believe has not been factored in to most belief systems is that of the individuals, who through no fault of their own, do not possess the ability to feel remorse, guilt, shame or compassion. These are the psychopathic minority and we must add to their numbers another set of individuals which science has now proven are irresistibly drawn to them like moths to a candle. This segment of society, when included in groups, have a very bad influence via the natural dynamics of any group, which are governed by natural laws which no human sick nor sound may change.
In old Cherokee culture for example, the murder of an individual was answered with the killing (by a member of the victim's family) of the murderer or of a member of the murderer's family. This system was viewed with horror by Christian newcomers to America. The critics had come from a world where people burned each other at the stake for simply having different ideas. The hypocrisy was not lost on the Cherokee. The Cherokee practice was faulted for setting up a self-perpetuating feedback loop. Finally, it was caricatured as the feuding between the Hatfields and McCoys.
If we go back to a distant time, however, when populations were smaller and food was plentiful, we might be able to perceive that this system may have come about as a natural way to deal with the proliferation of the genes responsible for inexplicable aberrant behavior. I don't believe there was much killing going on even when the percentages are adjusted for our population today. I don't know, I wasn't there. I do know that people are capable of cruelties that would make any of us hang our heads in shame of our species.
That said, I also know that other than those psychopathic individuals and their thralls, the vast majority of all humans, while quite capable of taking life to eat or to protect themselves or their loved ones; are a very non-violent lot. The battlefields of the Civil War proved that conclusively when a census was taken of the unfired rifles of the dead. As a result of this data, new ways of training were found and are still being developed today. The shell-shock and PTSD experienced by returning troops are further proof of the inherent peacefulness of our species.
While it cannot be argued that the prisons of the world are not overflowing and that many inside are innocent of serious crimes, there are some who could never walk peacefully outside as they are incapable of doing this. In my opinion, the senseless taking of a life can never be made right. Violent assaults of any kind leave indelible scars on the victim, whether they forgive their assailant or not. Of course, material crimes can be compensated, if the perpetrator has the means, which in most cases they likely don't.
The saying that to err is human and to forgive is divine, in the context of Restorative Justice, leads me to the conclusion that within the healing circle (which includes people from the community not directly involved in the crime, the victim and some of their loved ones, the perpetrator and some of their loved ones and a trained facilitator) the criminals get to be human and the victims are called upon to be divine. At this point it is hoped that the criminal will also sprout wings.
The other two possible scenarios are: That the victims get to be human, the criminals are called upon to be divine and it is hoped that the victims will also sprout wings. Thirdly, that all parties get to be human and are collectively called upon to be divine.
The common thread through all of this is the call to embrace a Christian worldview. Not a bad thing. We must not forget that those that call are only human as are those called. I have spoken to several recovered heroin addicts, crack-heads and alcoholics and learned from them (all of whom were Christians) that during every day of their abstinence, their addictions were “out in the parking lot doing push-ups.” They all told me that the only road open to them was one of service to others and that there was no other possibility for their lives. These bruised reeds form an army and perform untold and often unsung good deeds which benefit all of society and the world. They are a powerful, loyal and to some extent invisible force to the majority of us. They are also by dint of this fact, very expendable.
There is a fraternity called Beta Theta Pi. It was formed in 1869 at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. It is the eldest of the Miami Triad who's other parts are Phi Delta Theta and Sigma Chi. It has in the vicinity of 8,000 undergraduate members and 198,000 initiated members worldwide. There are 131 active chapters and 25 colonies in the USA and Canada. Charles Colson was a Beta Theta Pi man.
One of the eight founding members was a man called John Holt Duncan. He was a lawyer in Houston, Texas and also served as a Confederate Artillery Captain in the 31st Texas Cavalry during the Civil War. It is said that at the First Battle of Newtonia in Missouri, he lost a leg from a wound received. He was taken in by the Confederate family of another soldier. When the man of the house got home, Duncan was discovered by the authorities. The man was put to death in front of his family for harboring Duncan and Duncan was spared. He returned to Houston and his law practice and eventually became the Chief Justice of Bexar County. Finally, it is said that he spent the rest of his life caring for the family who had helped him and died penniless as a result. He was buried in the Texas State Cemetery. His wooden leg is kept as a relic at the National Headquarters of Beta Theta Pi in Oxford, Ohio.
In this battle, the Union Commander was born in Prussia. He immigrated to the USA and eventually became a Brigadier General in the Union Army. One of his brothers was a Governor of Wisconsin and another was a General in the Union Army. After the war he was the Surveyor General of Utah Territory. He is laid to rest in Salt Lake at Mount Olivet Cemetery.
The Confederate Commander had previously put together the 1st Choctaw and Chickasaw Rifles which later became known as simply The Indian Brigade. His father was a physician and a Baptist minister and his mother is not mentioned in his bio. He looks a bit like his mother to me in the picture I saw. He spent the rest of his life after the war in Indian Territory and was an ardent supporter of Choctaw and Chickasaw land claims against the Federal Government. He is buried in an unmarked grave at Fort Washita in Oklahoma.
While it is my understanding that some Christians are against the swearing of oaths, it must be remembered that many people do swear oaths. The fact they are seen in churches, synagogues or mosques does not change this. This makes it difficult to ascertain just where their loyalties reside. If these people are in positions of power, as invariably they gravitate to, the results of their stewardship can be quite different from what they profess to stand for.
I think Restorative Justice is a good way to go for petty offenses. For crimes of a serious nature of any age group, I don't think RJ is going to work. A certain amount of people are aberrant in any time or place on earth and can never get along with others. The underlying problems in the artificially created system we live in and are continuing to build, will not be fixed by the forgiveness of victims of crimes. The practice will probably lead to a critical mass of bruised reeds to be sent against an equal force of Muslims.
The result will be a third way and it won't resemble Christianity, in my estimation. I have noted in my travels that whether or not people are Christians, they certainly appreciate the values and behavior of their neighbors who are. The scenario was outlined and discussed as far back as the American Civil War. World War Three. Will the Indians ride again? Undoubtedly so and willingly so. A visit to a sheep farm could tell one the rest of the story. A farmer and two dogs. These three managing the throng, the product. For their own good, you understand. While writing this essay, it occurred to me that John F. Kennedy, C.S. Lewis and Aldous Huxley all died on the same day, November 22, 1963. Curious that, indeed.
Copyright © 2015 by Michael A. Hawes. All Rights Reserved.
Michael Hawes was born in Texas, raised in Louisiana and lives in British Columbia.