Among those who read my post Against Capital Punishment, reactions were varied, but only in their disagreement. No one agreed with me. Some pointed to the most heinous crimes imaginable and asserted vigorously that such crimes deserved death, pointing out that the unbearable outrage is only mitigated by a death sentence. Others were against capital punishment, but not against punishment itself, pointing out that the Church teaches that punishment must be administered with mercy. No one agreed with me that punishment itself is an error.
The most interesting was an objection to my suggestion that criminals (of whatever degree) should be isolated but not punished. “But that’s terrible! You’re saying that even a non-violent burglar should be placed in solitary!” Well, yes, actually I am. I’ve always thought that if I were in prison, I’d want to be in solitary.
Do we not punish children for misbehavior by giving them “time out”? Isn’t that solitary? And small children have not yet formed an ego; they’re not yet capable of the reflection and self-confrontation that solitary confinement would induce. Separation from their peers might really be much more cruel for them than for adults. Yet their loving parents do it, believing that because it isn’t corporal punishment, it’s okay.
One thinks of the “casting out” in Old Testament law. One thinks of lepers who were outcasts in the New Testament, those who were cleansed of their leprosy by Christ. Leprosy is a contagious disease, but so is evil. Demons expelled don’t cease to be; they find another dwelling place. They will not cease to be until the end of time.
My father was a career criminal, imprisoned multiple times. How did he get that way? I don’t know very much about him, but my mother said that when they married, he was kind and good and sober. Then the war came and he served in the infantry in Belgium. When he returned, he would get drunk and go into violent rages. They didn’t know about alcoholism in rural Georgia in the 1940s, and the term PTSD had not yet been invented. He was cast out. His whole life became self-punishment, alleviated only by alcohol, which led to more self-hatred.
Society has a right to be protected from anti-social persons, but punishment is condemnation. I don’t know that anyone has a right to do such a thing to another human being, or even an animal. I do believe that evil is a contagious disease, and I’ve never had a problem understanding Christ’s admonition to love our enemies.
Is this “unrealistic”? Yes, but I think we could get a lot closer to what our Lord commanded than we do. Only the One without sin has a right to punish. That isn’t me. It isn’t anybody I know.