Friday, March 18, 2005

Revenge, Forgiveness & The Love Of The Goddess

In the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, Bill W., cofounder of Alcoholics Anonymous writes:
...all people, including ourselves, are to some extent emotionally ill as well as frequently wrong...
[12&12, page 92, line 13]

The progressive side of the blogosphere has been prettyuniversal in its condemnation of radical conservative blogger Eugene Volokh in his call for amending the Bill of Rights to allow cruel and unusual punishment. Professor Volokh, who teaches Constitutional Law, cites this case from Iran as an example of appropriate punishment for a child rapist and killer. To make a long story short, the Iranians caught and convicted a man for raping and killing up to twenty children. He was whipped, a relative of a victim was allowed to stab him and the mother of a victim placed the noose around his neck and he was hung until he died of slow stangulation.

I'm going to say up front that I don't know what to do about child molesters or serial killers. It's not like we can cure them or heal them. Maybe we should execute them although that does not feel right to me. At a minimum thay should have to spend their life behind bars. But torture and revenge? No, I don't feel that is appropriate; it drags us as a society down to their level. So I don't have a good solution to this, I admit that up front.

There is an irony in a radical conservative law professor finding solidarity with a radical conservative Islamic state when it comes to torture. There is also a sickening feeling in my stomach that we have now moved the debate from it being okay to torture terrorism suspects to it being okay to torture criminals in general. If the public debate has slipped that far, how soon until we start to see instances of state sanctioned torture in prisons? Especially as it becomes clear that torture is standard policy for those in the custody of the US military or intelligence services.

What all of this discussion reminded me of was a mother who lost her son some years ago, in 1981. Her name is Beulah Mae Donald and the story is as follows. Members of the United Klans (Ku Klux Klan) were angry because a black man was acquitted of killing a white police officer. So they randomly chose a black man, Michael Donald, and tortured him, slit his throat and lynched him.

At their trial, before they were convicted, one of the men who tortured and killed her son Michael turned to Beulah Mae Donald and asked her forgiveness. This is what she said:
I do forgive you. From the day I found out who you all was, I asked God to take care of you all, and he has.

This does not mean Beulah May Donald meekly stood by and let evil continue; no she embraced the challenge of loving her enemies and then set about fighting them. Her work resulted in a lawsuit that bankrupted the largest Ku Klux Klan organization at that time.
It is important to note at this point that the kind of love I am suggesting is NOT identical with playing compliant doormat to the stomping boots of despots. It has much in common with Mohandas K. Gandhi's satyagraha--truth force--that non-violently stands up to injustice and does so with passionate intensity and quiet strength.

So there is a third, more difficult, more time consuming path besides the way of hate and the way of being a doormat. Maybe we should all look at that path and see if we are strong enough to walk it.