Monday, November 21, 2011

An Eye For Eye Doubles the Blindness

Vitality and directness.

Pastor-turned-seminary professor Eugene Peterson felt his students were frequently missing these qualities when they encountered the New Testament through the prism of traditional English translations. So easy to hear and read familiar words, but not really understand.

So Peterson translated the original Greek into a radically contemporary English version and published it as The Message in 2002. Through Lutheran circles, my mom and spouse became aware of the book, and I learned of it from them.

Consider a sample:

Here’s another old saying that deserves a second look. “Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.” Is that going to get us anywhere? Here’s what I propose: “Don’t hit back at all.” If someone strikes you, stand there and take it. If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, gift wrap your best coat and make a present of it. And if someone takes unfair advantage of you use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.

This rendition of Matthew 5 provides a point of departure for a new potential paradigm in American criminal justice.

As I’ve argued repeatedly in this blog, we’ve been stuck for too long in the prison paradigm. This has come at great cost in broken lives and emptied treasuries, with little if any good to show in improved public safety from mass incarceration.

Indeed, one can plausibly argue that excessive reliance on prison as a response to social conflict actually reduces public safety. After all, almost all offenders get released eventually. And prison tends to make them more, not less, likely to reoffend when that happens.

In other words, tit-for-tat doesn’t work, if the justice system has goals that go beyond simple retribution. Could we try, as individuals and as a society, to summon the generous spirit that Peterson’s paraphrase of Christ counsels?

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