Anglican Samizdat

September 18, 2009

Crime and Punishment

Filed under: Anglican Angst — David Jenkins @ 7:18 pm
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The Anglican Church is obsessed with justice: we have social justice, eco-justice, justice camps, justice networks and justice missions. What we don’t have is any recognition of what justice is, or of the distinction between injustice and unfairness, or of the concept that, from the point of view of the state – which is where the church applies pressure – justice is properly concerned with the punishment of crime. Of course, the notion of punishing crime is anathema to Western Anglicanism, probably because it reminds apostate Anglican bishops of the essence of Christianity: we deserve to be punished, Christ was punished instead, we , if we accept it, go free – much too redolent of fundamentalism.

In Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov murders an odious pawnbroker, ostensibly to steal her money and use it for good. Raskolnikov reasons that conventional morality is for ordinary people; the extraordinary make their own rules and become their own “god” – the downfall of Satan and now the foundation of the ACoC and TEC.

Although Raskolnikov has convinced himself that he is extraordinary and therefore above conventional morality, the act of murder plays on his conscience so he gives himself up. He eventually realises that he needs redemption and rebirth; submitting to temporal justice is a necessary part of this rebirth. Because justice is part of the order of the universe, for redemption, the criminal needs justice as much as the victim.

Regrettably, the thinking of the modern criminal is not quite as subtle as Raskolnikov’s; neither is that of the average justice obsessed cleric. For him justice has little to do with rewarding the virtuous and punishing the guilty: it is, instead, a levelling exercise where the successful – even the successful criminal – must be flattened or rehabilitated to the level of mediocrity, perhaps then to pursue a career as an Anglican priest.

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