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Crime, Capital Punishment, Intemperance

1893

 

The problem of evil has been the stumbling block of philosophers and theologians from the beginning of human investigation. Why the earth, which seems made to be an expression of divine love and wisdom, a revelation of infinite beauty, glowing with the tints of the morning and rhythmic with the thousand voices of nature, should at the same time be made the scene of disaster, of pain, of crime, and death; why man should at once be an angel of light and love, and a demon of devouring wrath, are questions upon which men have theorized and debated for ages, without arriving at any results at all commensurate with the effort put forth. And after all the researches that have been made, after the philosopher has speculated long and painfully upon the profound principles of the universe, after logic has paced the whole course, through the consecutive steps of the syllogism, from premises to conclusion, we come at last to this: that we cannot know and must rest in the simple faith that God is good, and has created all things in love, that love must bound the entire range of creation, and that good must at last overtop and rule all things.  
 
With this faith alone we can “solve the riddle of the painful earth,” and only by means of this faith can we answer the difficult questions which are suggested by crime, intemperance, and their associated vices. It is only in the spirit of love for man and with faith in his capabilities, that we can rightly deal with those unfortunate classes, who are not only bringing destruction upon themselves, but endangering the peace of society, and imperiling the most sacred of human interests.
 
Every thoughtful observer recognizes the fact that a large proportion of the misery of the world results from crime. Because of violations of law the world is filled with pain; terrible tragedies are enacted which appall the hearts of the bravest and chill the blood of the most enthusiastic; poorhouses and jails, prisons and scaffolds, riots and revolutions, turn the earth, which might be a paradise, into a pandemonium, and make insignificant even the infernos of the great poet. Homes are despoiled, hearts are broken, social life permeated with distrust and doubt, and business made insecure, because of crime. It is not enough, as an explanation of these things, to shirk the responsibility of human action by laying all guilt at the door of Adam, who in turn casts upon Eve the odium of his disobedience: “The woman that thou gavest me, she did eat.” Nor is it a sufficient cure to say, “I have laid all my sins on Jesus.” The same system which explains the origin of evil by referring all the wickedness of man back to poor Mother Eve, finds an adequate remedy for human transgression in the vicarious suffering of Jesus Christ.
 
Other explanations, such as that of two opposing and equal deities, one a great principle of evil, and the other of good, both striving to rule the earth, and obtain control of the human race, or the modern supposition that a great archangel fell from heaven and became a ruler in the regions of hell, whence he is ever putting forth his efforts to draw men from God, thus thwarting the purposes of the Almighty himself, belong rather to primitive periods, when the passions of men were personified and ascribed to deities, who were represented as mingling in the affairs of the world, bringing victories and untold blessings upon  their friends and overwhelming their enemies with disaster and ruin.  
 
In the light of Christian revelation, the Universalist recognizes a God of love, who in the beginning created all things, and declared it all very good; a God omnipotent, ruling the universe in the spirit of benevolence, rewarding and punishing his children for their good.  
 
“He wounds them for his mercy’s sake,
He wounds to heal.” 
 
“No chastening for the present is joyous, but grievous; nevertheless afterwards it bringeth forth the peaceable fruits of righteousness unto them that are exercised thereby.”  
 
We must look upon man and human society as an unfinished work. We see but in part; a small segment is before us for our consideration and for the completion of the circle we must look into the vast cycles of the future. The acts of men are a series of experiments, some of them wisely made, in conformity with the laws of the universe and resulting in immeasurable joy and blessedness; others, done at random, without regard to law, or in wilful disobedience, and bringing in their train, disappointment and failure.  
 
The criminal is one of the great human family; he is a man, a child of God. The sacred record tells us that God created man in his own image, that is, he was given intellect, and a moral nature, ability to discriminate between good and evil; he was endowed with spiritual powers and capacities, which being developed, would enable him to grow up into the “fullness of the measure of the stature of the perfect man,” who should at last appear in the beauty of holiness, in the likeness of the divine. We must regard man as created for holiness, endowed with an insatiable longing for better things, and placed here on earth for purposes of development, to learn the laws of his being by observation and experience, to endure the results of his own conduct, until he shall gain that wisdom which shall teach him to cease to do evil and learn to do well. He must listen to the divine commands breathed into his soul, until he shall learn to find in complete obedience to God’s will, the fullest liberty; in consciousness of the divine presence, the real heaven; and in union with the divine life, his true self. The transgressor is an experimentor who has blundered. Men think to enrich themselves, to gratify passion, to get good, by wrong doing. The transgressor finds himself confronted everywhere by the avenging spirit of a violated law, and all nature, from the shining stars above our heads to the minutest molecule under our feet, is in combination to foil his plans and thwart his iniquitous purposes. Failure, defeat, and ruin, wait for him at every corner. He is his own worst enemy and he carries about his own condemnation with him. He is himself the principal witness, the inexorable judge, the uncompromising jury, and the merciless executioner.  His condition appeals to our sympathy while his conduct calls for our condemnation. With this view of the criminal, as a mistaken and erring man, but still a child of the great All Father, capable of excellence, and destined to final salvation, we ask how a Christian government should punish crime, and what means a Christian people should use to eliminate intemperance and the vices that follow in its train, to banish crime, and bring in the reign of peace, truth, and righteousness?  
 
In the first place it must be conceded that retribution does not belong to human courts. God has not appointed any man as his vicegerent to punish a brother man. Human judgments must always fail of the requirements of absolute justice. Human vision is too limited to mete out retribution.
 
“Judgment is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord of hosts.” 
 
“Who knows the heart, ’tis he alone,
 
Decidedly can try us;
He knows each chord, its various tone;
 
Each spring— its various bias;
Then at the balance, let’s be mute,
 
We never can adjust it; What’s done, we partly may compute,
 
But know not what’s resisted.”
 
Our punishments then can properly seek to accomplish only two objects, namely, the protection of society and the rescue of the criminal. Heretofore, criminal codes have concerned themselves chiefly with the former. Man is bound up in relations with his fellows and the evil that men do, reaches from circle to circle, until it extends to the remotest ramifications of social life. The instinct of self preservation, naturally suggested in early times, that the criminal should be secluded, imprisoned, or put to the death, hence the death penalty, being ‘the easiest and safest, became the usual method of disposing of the wrong-doer. The severest doctrines of the old dispensation furnish the example followed by human legislatures: “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, blood for blood, death for death.”  
 
The spirit of retaliation characterized the courts, and the judges were most bitter avengers. The cruelties of a Jeffreys and the iniquities of the inquisition were justified by the desire to protect society from the evil influence of the wrong-doer. The smallest crimes were visited with death, and there was nothing more severe with which to punish the greatest. In the time of Blackstone there were in England, one hundred and sixty different offences punishable by death. This has now been reduced to two or three, while in our own country, murder is the only crime punishable with death.  The humane doctrines of religion taught by the Universalist church and modifying the theologies of all the churches, have left their impress upon legislation and our law-makers are now recognizing the fact that they are not warranted in taking life even for the protection of society. They are beginning to see that they owe a duty to the criminal, who is often the result of artificial and absurd conditions of society, enforced idleness, ignorance and evil associations, which are the usual precursors of crime. As a man and a brother, as well as a victim of our civilization, the criminal has a claim upon the charitable consideration of legislators.  
 
Experience has demonstrated that the death penalty does not lessen crime. On the contrary, by exciting the imagination and brutalizing the feelings of the people, it tends to increase the evil and to demoralize the public conscience; while thoughtful Christian people are realizing that human life is too sacred and mysterious a gift of God to be placed in the hands of any human court. “Unto God, the Lord, belong the issues from death.” No human power has a right to take that life which God gave and which it is his alone to demand. 
 
Statistics gathered by Rev. Charles Spear, Bovee Dodds, and others of the Universalist church, present many cases in which the death penalty has been inflicted upon those who were afterwards proven to be innocent, and whose broken life no power could recall. Their researches have shown that the death penalty is a failure as a means of protecting society, for while one criminal has been removed, the influence of the execution has created a dozen more, and thus multiplied the evil. They have shown that the death penalty is vindictive, unjust and generally ineffectual to accomplish the object sought. Through the efforts of these noble Universalist men, the death penalty has been abolished in many of the states of our country, and all are coming to see that society can best be protected by rescuing and reforming the criminal.  
 
In ‘some states, institutions for the reformation of the unfortunate classes have been attempted, but these are few and incomplete, and are considered, as yet, in the experimental stage. Is it too much to ask of a Christian civilization that it shall invent and adopt some system of prison discipline which shall make our penal institutions the means of saving the sinner; places where the condemned man may learn to feel the wickedness of the course he has pursued; where he may have such education as will stimulate a desire for holiness and enable him to seek a better life?  
 
The criminal is a sick man and he needs the most wise and careful treatment of the physician of souls. Not sentimental pity, nor foolish pampering, which might cultivate a deceptive self-complacency, but regular and thorough discipline, wise instruction, and such training as would promote industry and prepare him for self-support. The term of punishment might be made to depend on good behavior. His earnings might be invested and kept as an endowment for him on leaving the prison, or sent home to supply the wants of a needy family.
 
Those spiritual advisers most versed in the dietetics of the soul should be employed to train the moral faculties and cultivate a sense of individual responsibility.  Business forms and useful trades should be taught, so that upon leaving the prison, the man should go forth, not brutalized by evil associations, nor benumbed by idleness, nor pauperized by unremunerative years, but fitted for usefulness and prepared for a self-respecting manhood.  
 
A few of these reforms in prison life have been attempted. England in her penal colonies in New South Wales has tried a system, similar to that outlined above.  The reports of those having charge of the prisons have shown that a large proportion of the prisoners, after their release, became reliable, industrious and useful citizens.  In some states in this country where reformatories have been established for certain classes of criminals, it has been found that over eighty per cent, of the men committed went out to live good and useful lives. There can be no doubt that the greater part of those who belong to the criminal class might under such favorable conditions as are practicable today, be saved to usefulness and a respectable manhood, and had we sufficient discrimination, skill and patience, all of them might be reclaimed. Such a work would be worthy of a civilization based on the Christian doctrine of love.
 
It is a disgrace to this age of reform which claims to have done so much for the temperance cause, that as yet there is no adequate provision made by law, either for punishing, reforming, or providing for the drunkard, who is left to roam the streets of our cities, frightening timid women, following any mad caprice which may suggest itself to his diseased brain, a constant source of trouble to the police and a continuous and terrible drain on the public treasury, often entrusted with the transaction of important business, and even permitted to attend to affairs of state; while, after all our lectures and petitions, and tears and prayers, our only tangible remedy for drunkenness is the skin deep Keeley cure, and that kept as a means of private gain  and therefore accessible only to those who can command money. When shall we learn that we need not only a cure for the physical disease, but a tonic for the soul? When shall we recognize that spiritual forces must combine to lift the man into the atmosphere of higher influences, rousing his moral perceptions and placing him on the high vantage ground of moral truth? Why should we not have asylums for the intemperate, to which those convicted of wilful and habitual drunkenness should be condemned for a term of years, during which they should not only be treated for the physical disease, but for the spiritual as well, while industry should be enforced and the weekly earnings sent home for family support. Such asylums would be a great relief to drunkards’ wives all over the land, who, often in the midst of poverty, with children to support, are spending their time in ceaseless anxiety waiting on the paroxysms of drunkenness of the husband and the father, suffering untold fear, besides nightly watching and daily toil.
 
Were the drunkards of the country safely housed in such retreats, the crimes committed by men when under the influence of intoxicating liquors would be saved. Both public and private business would be much better done than now, and a stigma would be placed upon drunkenness that would do more to restrain men than all the temperance lectures and temp pledges in the world, and which would help to strengthen, educate and develop in the drunkard a better and higher standard of character. Surely the revenues that the state derives from the traffic in intoxicating liquors would be sufficient to support such asylums, and there could be no more just and appropriate use of such funds.  
 
A state that replenishes its treasury by the making of drunkards ought at least to take care of them after they are made. We provide asylums for the insane, we punish the criminal, we support the poor, we educate the idiot, but this man who combines some or all of the characteristics of all these is left without care, to destroy himself, harass society and multiply crime. Alike for the drunkard and the criminal punishment as a means of reformation is what we seek. The drunken, the vicious, the criminal classes, can all be saved by that charity which suffereth long and is kind. Christian love expressed in legislation could most effectually protect society while saving the sinner.  
 
Asylums, reformatories and educational prisons are the great needs of our civilization; and the tendency of the humanitarian spirit of the time is toward such provision for the criminal. We pity the blind and the deaf, and the state supports the asylum where these defects of the body may be overcome; how much more important to heal obliquities of the moral vision and to open the spiritual ear to the harmonies of the universe.  Those who are morally and spiritually blind, and deaf, and idiotic, and paralyzed, should be the objects of our commiseration and care.
 
The utilitarian may say that our state prisons are already sufficiently expensive, and to add education for the intellect, spiritual culture and physical training, would needlessly multiply expense and lay heavy burdens upon society for the sake of the undeserving. But, if by this means we shall lessen crime, the ultimate effect will be to save expense and relieve the state of the effects of criminality. If the ex-convict can be sent out no longer a hardened wretch to spread his malaria abroad, but a redeemed man, to take his place on the side of those who are working for righteousness, the money expended in his reformation will be a good investment. But money cannot be weighed in the balance with character. To what better use can the wealth of the world be applied than the building up of a higher manhood? A single soul is worth more than all the wealth of the world though it were piled mountain high. The gold and silver stored away in nature’s great treasure houses, which has so often served as a temptation to the weak, over which wicked men fight, boards of trade speculate, and legislators wrangle, must be transmuted into that brightest of all the precious metals — human virtue — the grandest transmutation that has ever been wrought. No outlay is extravagant if it can save the criminal and lessen crime.  
 
But while we seek to throw needed guards and helps around the mentally and morally infirm, we must beware lest we fall into the delusion of many Utopian dreamers who would make the government a perpetual guardian and all the people lifelong minor children. Such theorists have pictured a condition in which, by an equitable distribution of the wealth of the world, by a thorough organization of society, by wise regulations, people should be kept good and all temptation removed, leaving almost no possibility of crime. The demand for laws prohibiting the sale of intoxicants is allied to this class of preventive measures, which would make men good by external surroundings. But all such methods lack the essential element in the development of character, namely: the appeal to individual accountability. Men must be thrown upon their own resources; whether out in the great free world or in the asylum for mental and moral cure, individual responsibility must be recognized and cultivated.  
 
The child continues irresponsible, careless and characterless so long as the parent decides for him and governs his actions. He becomes a man when he is thrown out into the world to bear its burdens, to do its duties and share its responsibilities alone. Everyone must bear his part in working out the great experiment of human development. There is no royal road to the kingdom of heaven. We cannot make men good by organizations. Resolutions unanimously passed in great assemblies do not touch the inner life. The great resolution must be passed in the soul of the individual and inscribed there in letters of living light, God and the angels being the witnesses. 
 
There is no real growth in virtue except as the will is strengthened, and the higher nature installed in authority, the lower and the sensual being brought into subjection. Each man must learn, if need be, by the most bitter experience, that disobedience to law is physical, mental and moral ruin. In the rebound from the extreme severities of the past there has, of late, been a tendency to lionize the criminal, surrounding him with a delusive glamour which has sometimes obscured the loathsomeness of his iniquity. Especially has this been true in the temperance work, where bad men and the worst of drunkards, have sometimes been put forward as leaders and assumed the role of public instructors, much to the demoralization of society and the injury of the cause.  
 
There has been too much sentimental sympathy for the drunkard, as though he were an innocent, helpless, and harmless child, to be protected, watched and flattered, instead of a man, to assert his manhood, and  overcome temptation. The sooner we treat habitual and willful drunkenness as a crime, punishing it as a crime, and visiting upon it the odium which attaches to crime, the sooner will the saloon-keeper find himself without an occupation, and society be redeemed from one of the most fearful curses that ever fell upon the race. The true temperance reform must begin in the soul of the individual. Scientific temperance instruction in the schools is well, but if we have not at the same time trained the will and educated the moral sense we shall have done little toward saving the child from intemperance and the train of vices which follow in its wake. Our methods of prevention must be along the lines of such education as will develop a sense of responsibility, a recognition of moral law and a power of will that shall give to the world a generation of men strong to stand against the evil, to overcome unfortunate conditions, and to mold circumstances to their needs.  
 
What more fitting work for the Universalist Christian than to seek and find some tangible and practical means of applying our grand doctrines of the love of God and the worth of man, to the reformation of the criminal? We count among our victories the fact that to the efforts of representatives of the Universalist church is due the repeal of the death penalty in many states, and it is to our honor that it was the Universalist church that led the way in that great wave of temperance agitation which has swept over this country for a century and a half. Shall we not add a new gem to our crown, and carry forward still farther the great humanitarian work begun by our fathers, by securing charitable, wise and improving conditions for the criminal?  
 
The criminal is a man, aye, sometimes a woman, to whom has been given a soul — that soul capable of salvation from its present degradation; a man, a woman, placed here for discipline, that they may at last show forth the beauty of holiness, and reveal the love of God. No work for this erring child of the great All Father can be in vain; there is no room for doubt or despair.  
 
Both Scripture and the taws of the natural world show us that the ultimate triumph of the good is inevitable; that God has purposed, and in his own good time will accomplish, the salvation of all souls, and that his love reaches to the poorest wanderer on the face of the earth. There is no possibility of discouragement, but rather let statesmen and philanthropists rejoice to be the instruments of the Lord in this work of human redemption, counting it the greatest glory to be the agents of Him who “maketh his angels spirits and his ministers a flaming fire.”  
 
As of old, the artists took their subjects from the rude and homely figures of the street, and by the magic power of genius, transformed and glorified them presenting at last perfect specimens of symmetry and beauty, so the Christian of today may from these poor, benighted, storm-tossed, misguided men or women, by the magic power of love, develop symmetrical and beautiful characters. We are not alone in this struggle with the gross and the material. Divine inspirations intervene to stimulate the intellect, touch the heart and illustrate the power of law. All the forces of nature are with us. Spiritual and unseen powers are also with us. “The whirlwind of miracle blows continually.”  The spirit of the Lord broods upon the earth and great inspirations are born. A Messiah comes, bearing the torch, which lights us through the gloom, making clear the path of duty, and giving assurance of final victory. He shows us how to strengthen and confirm the good, to cast out the demons of selfishness, pride, greed, and lust, until at last the divine man shall stand forth, made perfect in love and clothed in garments of holiness. As one has said: “Civilization is manhood developing itself from within, outward; human intelligence radiates, wins, subdues, humanizes matter — sublime domestication.” The material must be subject to the spiritual; this mortal must be dominated by the immortal; this corruptible must put on incorruption. 

 

 

Source: The Columbian Congress of the Universalist Church: papers and addresses at the Congress, held as a section of the World’s Congress Auxiliary of the Columbian Exposition, (Boston and Chicago: Universalist Publishing House,) 1894, pp. 309-322.