Blood and Forgiveness

Mormon principles about blood atonement first promulgated by Joseph Smith in 1856 seems still to have broad consensus in the State of Utah. I’ve never really thought of myself as a bleeding heart liberal, but the man shot by firing squad in Salt Lake City yesterday had been on Death Row since 1985 and was almost certainly not the same man who committed the crimes twenty-five years ago, which gave me pause for thought. He was the product of dysfunctional, indeed monstrous, parenting, suffered meningitis at four which may or may not have caused permanent brain damage and he was molested by his older brothers. When children are tortured and brutalised, later, all too often others have to pay the price, the child, then the adult, remains indebted to his own desperate loss.  We cannot morally justify barbaric behaviour; instead it has more to do with what we as a society recognise as symptoms and endeavour to do something about them. As long as we remain unprepared to invest time and money in managing such lost, emotionally dislocated, neglected souls then it does seem to me that we can continue to expect dire consequences. Feeling neglected, unloved, and unwanted, people like Ronnie Lee Gardner survived in the only manner they saw possible; it must be hard for someone to value anyone else’s life when you’re convinced that nobody seems to value yours. So, society used the same methodology that turned him into a savage in the first place. I had always rather hoped I believed that incarceration was primarily to be used to protect society from danger, not to visit medieval retribution so that righteous anger can be assuaged.
In the UK, we stopped murdering our prisoners half a century ago. This might be an indication of an advancing civilisation, for the rest of the world, little wonder it trembles at the American people living in a fundamentalist vacuum, demanding retribution like some Biblical tyrant. I wonder how, as sentient and self-aware beings, we can find our way out of these labyrinths of retribution and savagery. Both this man and his victims might have been safer under Islamic law, since the parenting he received would not have been tolerated. It could be argued that societies are safer under oppressive laws – Sharia law for murder allows the death penalty but is kinder than western law in one respect – after judicial judgement has been made, appeals are then allowed to the family of the murdered victims, and they are begged to be merciful. In Islam, it is always regarded as the height of mercy to forgive a murderer, even though one may have the legal right to take their life in reprisal. There are apparently far fewer executions in most Muslim countries than in the USA.

4 thoughts on “Blood and Forgiveness

  1. On second thought, the soapbox was a bit too evident.

    Suffice it to say that personal & professional experience leads me to disagree strongly with the perception that Sharia Law would have prevented the type of abuse Ronnie Lee Gardner experienced. I'm afraid not …actually, I know not.

    The opportunity for the family of the victim to proffer forgiveness is one facet of Sharia Law that is missing in our “enlightened” society. While the family doesn't always choose to exercise this option, there is at least provision for the operation of grace.

    Ronnie Lee Gardner was a mess – and your observation about the difficulty in caring for someone else's life when your own has been deemed worthless is so profound. I'm sure that is a principle of some sort – one can only value others to the extent that one's self has been valued.


  2. I am so glad I was able to read first comment before deletion and thank you so much for writing it. I make no apology for Sharia – in Europe there are Sharia courts set up in addition to the regular legal avenues- which of course provide better protection for the oppressed as you described. These supplementary councils appear to blackmail offenders with Judgement Day threats, giving recourse for debt, abandoned women and so on, but your moral outrage at the sheer injustice in the cases you mentioned is entirely justified.


  3. I'm not so sure I feel better knowing you read the original flame out. :-{ Sometimes my “moral outrage” gets the better of my good sense… which supposes I have some.
    I add the qualification that my experience of Sharia Law is here… maybe it would operate differently in a different context – not unlike the Catholic Church whose operation is seemingly also entirely contextual.



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