Article > Justice, law, morality, ethics
Description :: What would you like?
I'm not afraid to demonstrate that I misunderstand Ensis as much as he misunderstands me. This article may serve as evidence thereof.

First, allow me to summarize my current ideas in this matter. As an agnostic, I do not rely on God to define "right" and "wrong." As a relativist, I rely on myself for that, and expect that what I decide only applies to me. My concern, however, is pragmatic: I wish to design a system of law, an architecture for jurisdiction that will allow those who wish to live together in peace to do so as freely as possible. I do not intend to unite those who do not wish to be united, or whose wishes are incompatible. A wolf may wish to live with a sheep, but the sheep will likely want nothing to do with the wolf.

Ensis has declared my morality moot, to the point of saying it is mute to the atrocity that was the genocide of Jews at the hands of the Nazi regime. In one respect, he's correct: my morality only applies to me, and thus does not apply to those who committed those acts. However, my system of law is defined by the consent of the governed; in this case, I'm fairly sure the Jews did not wish to die the way they did, had not agreed to such treatment, had not been led to expect it, and were betrayed. In my book, that's not good. Your mileage may vary.

So, what would justice look like if Ensis's God were here, personally, administrating it? I imagine this is the best-case scenario for Ensis: anarchy is bad, human-made theocracy is bad (interpretation, corruption, etc.), our current system is bad, and whatever I propose is bad. I'm going to assume most other things are too. So let's imagine that his God returns to set things right.

All people who act in a just manner, treating their neighbors with respect, feeding the poor, and being good servants to their brethren may still find themselves punished, unless they repent of their sins (however few) and follow Jesus. Axe-murderers, genocidal maniacs, thieves, and the rest of the scourge of our planet may still find their way to Heaven, on the one condition that, at least a few seconds before they die, they honestly "decide to follow Jesus." Those who go to Heaven aren't punished for anything, having been entirely forgiven: axe-murderers don't see the favor returned, there is no eye-for-an-eye justice as we usually see fit on earth. Those going to Hell get no rewards for what little, or however much, good they did during their lifetime, and are punished as severely as you would expect for the worst criminal of all time.

That is God's justice, in the Christian world. (Objection, your honor: Salvation by faith is sometimes accompanied by the requirement for works! Rejected: repentance before death, particularly if there is no opportunity for works, is still a saving act; the whole point was that anyone, no matter the crimes or their severity could be saved, and everyone else would be damned, regardless. Faith is still the main factor.) Regardless of any laws given on stone tablets saying what you should and should not do, your are judged by salvation, and nothing else. That's a wonderful message (gospel) for those who feel guilt at their own actions. It's not so wonderful for those who still feel they want justice done. But then ... what are you going to do, tell God his justice just isn't good enough? Go on a vigilante man-hunt through Heaven? That'll be rich. I think I'd pay to see that.

And yet, for some reason, Christians want peace, prosperity, law, order, justice, and general goodness in the daily lives of earthlings. This is where it stops making sense. If a Christian kills a Christian, what happens? They both go to Heaven and enjoy the blissful light of God for all eternity. (Objection: those works demonstrate their lack of faith! Rejected: you can easily find in Christian literature stating that it is expected that Christians will commit sins during the rest of their lives, despite the guidance of the Holy Spirit; continued repentance is recommended, but its necessity is a matter of some debate. "Once saved, always saved" is something of a point of discord, admittedly.) Who cares if the unrepentant Hell-bound sinners of the world do good or evil? Their fate is the same, regardless: eternal damnation, pain, suffering, punishment, anguish, and separation from God. Why not let them kill each other? In fact, why administer any sort of justice, the kind we think of daily, when it's not God's justice? You may punish a man for a crime for which God has already forgiven him: what's the point of that? At the universal level, there's no punishment for the saved, and only punishment for the rest. Unless God just has a "thing" for letting us punish each other with stupid things like "10 years in prison" (compared to eternity in Hell, you have to admit it's pretty trivial, no?) this just doesn't make sense.

I wonder if this is related at all to the reasoning behind the concept of Purgatory? A place where even the saved are punished, for a while, for what they did. Obviously someone else thought it was a bit unfair that you could get into Heaven despite having been a royal pain in the neck, and figured maybe there was a mechanism built-in to deal with such people? You know, a last-minute kick in the nuts before your eternal bliss? Why else would God have given us rules (and sometimes punishments) for crimes, if he didn't mean for those rules to be applied?

Moot is my morality, yes? Sure, why not. Ensis will point out that his isn't moot, it's just mysterious: God told him not to kill, and regardless of why that might be, it's truth to him, and is part of his God-given morality. It necessarily can't be moot. Eh, fine, whatever.

In the mean time, I propose we figure out how to live with each other, without assumptions as to the divine nature of our various points of view. I'm not sure if there's an afterlife or not, but while I'm here, I'd rather have a pleasant life not involving axe-murderers and genocidal maniacs. I'm fairly sure I'm not alone in that respect. I just happen to also think we should do our best not to step on each other's toes if it can be avoided: just because I might think it's bad for someone to masturbate doesn't mean I need to make it a crime. Think I'm just being funny? Check out the state laws of Oklahoma. Obviously someone thought it was important enough to make it a punishable offense, though the only victim, if any (and I highly doubt you're your own victim in this case) is the person jerking off. I don't even depend on morality for this: morality is moot from the perspective of the system of law I would like to have. All that matters is consent, consensus, and jurisdiction. Not imposing personal beliefs on others is only important if you want to try to build large communities: if you're willing to live with five other people who agree with you entirely, and are willing to submit to each other's learned judgment constantly, go right ahead. Just don't count me in.

As far as I'm concerned, justice/law on earth are simply about trying to help us all have a good time together. If you can't play nice, play elsewhere. It has very little to do with morality or ethics. It does have something to do with good/not-good, in the sense that we're trying to adjust behavior so we can enjoy each other's company. Perhaps Ensis would like to argue that I shouldn't be so hasty to decide that this is "good" for everyone: maybe axe-murdering is someone's true desire, "good", and I'm just a mean, inconsistent relativist for asking them to do it elsewhere, possibly all alone? That's fine too. It wouldn't be the first time.

Justice and morality are separate: his God's justice lets murderers go free, yet his God also forbids murder. What do I know about anything? (Answer: nothing, I just speculate out loud constantly.)

* Note: by default Ensis' God sends everyone to Hell. All men are sinners from birth (before making a single decision) and are equally guilty of crimes, which are all considered equal, and all bear the same penalty of eternal damnation. This was implied, but I figured it'd be good to say it outright. Also note how this compares to a certain article's portrayal of consent-based ethics as "wrong" because it was seen as declaring all crimes against consent to be equally bad, whether the crime be rape or murder or theft or breaking a promise to keep a secret. I'll attach that article here again, just in case you missed it the first time. Maybe they should read up on the punishment for any sin again.

* Again: Ensis (in his response) seems to think I want God to give me a quantity of sin. I don't. If God is "the way he is" then, well, that's that. I'm merely pointing out that his earthly justice, based on rules given and interpretation as law by early Jews and later Christians (and Muslims) is not consistent with his absolute Justice. It's not even related. On the one hand you have morality in the form of the 10 commandments, and law (telling you what to do if you find someone breaking these laws) and on the other, you have a Justice system that turns a completely blind eye to sins (violation of law.) God doesn't seem care if you murder -- Heaven and Hell are decided by faith, not quanitities large or small or sin. Sure, you can estimate that the "saved" will sin less than everyone else, but it doesn't matter in the final verdict. Will God decide to "un-save" you for your sins? He didn't "save" you for your non-sins, so that wouldn't be consistent either. Sin might be symptomatic, but it's not causal. So, no, I don't care if God gives us quantities -- I fully realize the Christian system of final Justice has nothing to do with that. Which is precisely my point. It has nothing to do with it. Unrelated. Distinct. Separate. Different. A morality that is meaningless (not backed up by God's behavior) or absent (unless you consider "following Jesus" to be the one and only one point of morality involved, which would be an interesting use of the term, but I suppose appropriate.)