Crime and Punishment

Aaron Hernandez and Jodi Arias have been convicted of the crime of murder. They were both sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Was justice done? Did their sentencing bring the dead back to life? Did it alleviate the grief of those whose loved ones were killed?

No, the dead were not brought back to life. No, judging by the statements of Odin Lloyd’s family today, their grief was not alleviated.

Crime and Punishment

Was justice done? Yes and No. Yes, Mr. Hernandez and Ms. Arias are being punished for their crimes. (I am assuming for the purposes of this post that they actually committed the crimes for which they have been found guilty.) Their freedom has been taken away, and they will spend the rest of their lives in restricted and uncomfortable environs. They will be unable to ever inflict themselves on the general public again.

Is this just? Yes, at least in some ways.

Society (you, me and the rest of us not in prison) will bear costs arising from these crimes for the next several decades. We will house, feed, clothe and care for these people, and thousands like them, for the rest of their natural lives.

In 2010 it cost about $31,000 to keep a person in prison for a year. That’s close to one and a quarter million dollars apiece for Mr. Hernandez and Ms. Arias over the next forty years.

Think of how many meals for the homeless this would pay for; how many free vaccinations for poor children; how many potholes filled; how many or how much _____ (insert concern of your choice)?

Now multiply this by the more than one million people incarcerated in our prisons.

Is this justice? No, but it is punishment–both for those condemned to our prisons and those of us who pay for it.

What can we do about this situation?

How about we quickly execute those found guilty of murder? How much does a bullet cost? How much does a rope cost? How about a jolt of electricity? And what does it do to how we see ourselves as civilized human beings?

How about we enslave our prisoners to help pay back the cost of their crimes and continuing imprisonment?

No. We see slavery as both uncivilized and racist. Besides, any worthwhile work prisoners (slaves) might do would take employment away from those who need jobs and haven’t committed any crimes.

What about prison laundry, cooking, license plates, office furniture, fighting forest/wildfires? Isn’t this slavery? No, it’s a reward for well-behaved prisoners. It’s physical and mental stimulation; it’s freedom from the mind-numbing sameness and boredom of life in a cell.

Is there a solution to the problem of crime and punishment? Not that I am aware of. A high level of education does not eliminate crime. Religious belief does not eliminate it. Economic well-being does not eliminate it.

How about we change human nature? How? Genetic engineering? Eugenics? Good luck!

Divine Intervention

Even GOD–God, god, gods, goddesses, __________ (insert supernatural being or beings of your choice here)–has not been successful.

Back when the human population of the planet Earth was two, Adam and Eve (assuming you believe the literalness of the Bible) disobeyed divine instructions. Of Adam and Eve’s first two sons one of them committed murder. And he wasn’t executed; he was punished by exile.

Later, again assuming you believe the literalness of the Bible, everyone, with the exception of one family, on the planet was killed by drowning for failure to follow divine commands–everyone: man, woman, child, unborn child. Essentially, GOD started over, and look where we are today.

The coming of Christianity didn’t really change anything. From turn the other cheek we have “onward Christian soldiers” and “for God and Country.” By the late fifth century, we have Christianity as the official state religion of the (or what is left of) the Roman Empire–non-Christians are persecuted.

In the eleventh century we have the advent of the Crusades to “recover” the Holy Land from the Muslims–“God wills it.” Eastern Christians, Jews and Muslims all died in the fighting and the Crusaders fought among themselves.

During the Reformation and the Thirty Years’ War, Christian was killing Christian for being the wrong type of Christian.

Islam is no better. Forced conversion of pagans, discrimination against non-Muslim “people of the Book” within its domain. Jihad. Muslim against Muslim–Sunni vs. Shiite.

Punishment (Mortal and Eternal)

Most of us have been brought up with some notion of divine punishment. “God will get you.” Lightning strike? Disease? Tornado? Do we really believe this? Is God/god really out to punish everyone who gets ebola, plague, or _______ (insert disease or disaster of your choice here)? And how do we know? The victims are old, young, male, female, deserving and undeserving. Or does the deity take the good along with the bad–bad aim, friendly fire or collateral damage, maybe?

Personally, I like the idea of karma and re-birth. Do bad in this life and be re-born into a lesser and harsher life the next time around. Hitler as a cockroach; Genghis Khan as a beetle; Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili (Joseph Stalin) as flea; Idi Amin as shark bait; _______ as ________ (insert villain and creature of choice). Some would be squashed lots and lots of time, but they have a chance to redeem themselves. (We have a chance to redeem ourselves.)

Hell and Eternity

What is Hell? Hell is where you go to be punished by your deity for Eternity.

What punishment? The worst pains you can imagine and then some.

For how long? Forever.

What is forever? Longer than the human mind can conceive.

Back in the days when people counted into the tens, hundreds and thousands (and maybe a few into the millions), this may have made sense. Does it still make sense today?

Forever. A million years? A billion years? A trillion years? A quadrillion years? A quintillion years? A googol (1 followed by one hundred zeroes) of years? A googolplex of years? (Yes, googolplex is a real number.) What crime or sin is serious enough to be punished with the worst imaginable torment for a number of years that exceeds the number of atoms in the universe.

Example: Adolph Hitler

Let us make Adolph Hitler responsible for all of the deaths during the Second World War–I’ve seen figures above fifty million but that seems to me to be a nice round number.

Let’s have Hitler suffer in Hell a googol of years, a googol number of times for each death. A googol times a googol times fifty million. Yet, forever lasts a lot longer than this and his suffering would never end.

Do your beliefs, or does your religion, assign a person’s soul to Hell for a crime less than murder? A person who commits such a crime would suffer as much for as long. Is that justice?

Yet, we–you and I and our neighbors and friends–believe that it is. This is the root of our problem. We can conceive of everlasting punishment and believe that it is deserved.

We can conceive of a “just and merciful” deity that visits everlasting punishment on us. We can conceive of a deity that believes we deserve punishment and death because we do not believe or pray correctly–and many of us believe that we are the instruments of “His” will to enforce, through any means necessary, that Will.

For Myself

If you believe in a deity who punishes people by placing them in Hell and leaving them there forever, you are welcome to him/Him. You deserve what you get–and this world is part and parcel of that belief.

I, however, shall believe in a deity that offers mercy even to the worst of us (though I may not feel this way in the heat of passion and a desire for revenge after a 9/11 or similar tragedy). As long as we believe in a deity that imposes a “just” punishment that lasts forever, we shall believe in, and find, an evil deserving of such–and if we cannot find one, we will create one.

What we need is a rational belief, if that in and of itself isn’t self-contradictory, in a reconciliation between good and evil, God and Satan. We need a prophet to preach belief in a god/God who doesn’t hold a grudge forever. Only then can we banish our demons and become a society that is rational, merciful and just.


For a different take on the nature of good and evil try reading Piers Anthony’s series The Incarnations of Immortality.


Yin, Yin -- Yang, Yang (Siamese cats)
Yin, Yin — Yang, Yang

 

Life in the Universe, Are We Alone?

Are we alone in the universe or do we share it with others? That is a question that has exercised our collective imagination for quite some time. Is there an “ET” out there somewhere? Other life, intelligent or otherwise? Let us set aside theories of a cyclic universe that recycles itself over and over again after billions or trillions of years and that of a multiverse in which there are a multitude, possibly an infinite number, of universes co-existing and go with the single universe that we know and love.Golden Sunset

What are the odds that we live on the only planet that has life? What are the odds that we live on the only planet that has intelligent life?

I believe that there are two ways to consider these questions.

Other Life Without God

The first answer concerns a universe in which there is no God (are no gods). In such a universe life on Earth happened strictly by “chance”—based on the existence of elements and chemicals and their physical and chemical properties. If the conditions that gave birth to life on Earth exist elsewhere in this universe, then, surely, other life must exist. It might not look like what we are familiar with, but, if the physical “laws” of the universe which are in effect here are in effect throughout the universe, must not like conditions produce like answers?

What are the odds on like conditions existing elsewhere? Are there other stars like our sun? Yes. Are there other terrestrial type planets? Yes. How many harbor conditions like those we are familiar with? Surely at least a few. Some will say we can calculate the answer based on the Drake Equation, but that is merely hazarding a guess by plugging numbers, arrived at by guessing, into an equation. No matter how valid the equation, any answer derived from it is still just a guess. Let us not worry about the number of places other life exists or how many other civilizations there may be (or were or which come into being), let us just think about it with a bit of logic.

As near as we can currently determine, the our universe is about 13.7 billion years old and has—the observable universe—a radius of 46.5 billion light years. (If you would like to check these numbers go to Google, or some other search engine, and ask it what the size of the universe is. Some of the answers are truly astounding, especially if you convert the light years into miles or kilometers.) And this is the part we can observe; how big is the whole thing?

The observable universe contains hundreds of billions of galaxies containing hundreds of billions of stars. Astronomers have already found hundreds of extra-solar planets and will find more as the technology improves. Does this mean there are billions of planets to go with the billions of stars? Logically, I think the answer would have to be yes. Logically, would our Earth be the only planet, out of uncounted billions, which harbored, or harbors, life, intelligent life? I think not. If it were, what a lonely and empty universe; one intelligent species after an existence of 13.7 billion years. What a sad and barren home for the human race; no past and, given the laws of physics as we currently understand them, no future.

Logically, I think, there has got to be someone else out there. Whether we’ll ever be able to communicate, or visit, with them is a different question; but, they’ve got to be out there, somewhere. And, I think, some were here before us, some are here now and there will be more in the future.

Other Life With God

If we, on the other hand, consider that we live in a universe created by God (or gods) are we alone in that universe? First, in this universe there are at least two forms of life about which we already know, earthly and God (or gods). Is there other life? The answer to this would depend upon the nature of God.

If God created the universe but does not regularly intervene or interfere, he becomes what is called a watchmaker or blind watchmaker. In this type of universe God sets it up and lets it run. Gee, this looks like the first type of universe, without a God, and works the same way. Logically, I would think, there must be other life, including intelligent life.

If God is not just a watchmaker, but participates in the daily running of the universe what does he actually do? Does he especially create the conditions for life? If the answer is no, we have the first universe again. If the answer is yes, we have to consider God’s personality. Think about it; what kind of god/God would create a universe consisting of trillions of cubic light-years of space and billions upon billions of stars and planets and place life, intelligent or otherwise, on only one of them; and that 13.7 billion years after he created that universe. What an absurd and illogical waste of time and effort. Given a benign, benevolent, or even malevolent God there has to be life other life out there. Otherwise, why create such a universe in the first place?

The universe is a beautiful and majestic place, at least, from my point of view. Why create it if you are only going to put, or allow to exist, life in only one small corner of it. This life will never be able to experience the rest of your creation, certainly never fill it, unless you change the physical laws of your universe to allow it.Di's Garden

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If there is no God, are no gods, there has to be other life out there.

If there is a God, are gods, anything like that postulated by humanity, there has to be other life out there.

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Of course, neither the universe, nor God/gods, is under any obligation to be logical, as I see logic, or answerable to the arguments of Saint Anselm or Saint Augustine. And, if he, she, or it is a sociopath, all bets are off.