On Crime and Punishment

I’ve never been one of those people who believes that God strikes people down with a bolt of lightning when He’s unhappy with them. After all, if this were the case I would have been burned to a crisp years ago.

No, I think His method is to allow organizations like the FAA or IRS to hound people like me until we only wish a 1.21 gigawatt bolt would finish the job.

Nevertheless, it’s a hell of a coincidence that the actor portraying Jesus in Mel Gibson’s controversial film “The Passion of Christ” was recently struck by lightning during filming. The odds of being struck by lightning are 1 in 600,000. That’s rare enough. Now let’s consider fact that there are usually dozens of people on a set during filming, yet the guy who was hit just happens to be playing the role of Jesus. And it doesn’t end there; one of the assistant directors was also hit–for the second time in as many months while on the set.

I’m not suggesting God’s pissed–I’m sure He couldn’t care less. I just think it’s weird.

Even stranger, though, is the uproar over this project from certain religious groups. Apparently they are concerned that the film will spur anti-Semitism through it’s conclusion that the Jews killed Jesus.

Am I the only one that finds that conclusion funny? I guess if you read the Bible the Jews did kill Jesus. He was in Israel. Is anyone surprised that there were Jewish people there? If He had been in Spain, it would have been the Spanish. If He’d been in Athens, the Greeks would have killed Him. If he’d been in America, we would have done it.

But that’s just geography. The real problem I have with religious leaders opposing something like this film is that it places responsibility for anti-Semetic acts with the wrong party. Don’t get me wrong–I understand the role history plays. The Jewish people have been persecuted since the days of Constantine for this. Technology has only accelerated mankind’s ability to kill his fellow man, and in the greater scheme of things World War II is still recent history. Once bitten, twice shy.

But clarity must reign supreme. Personal responsibility is the key here. Racist behavior today cannot be sloughed off on a film any more than a German operating an oven at Auschwitz could say they were “just following orders”.

Racism is bred out of fear and ignorance, not truth and knowledge. So all that’s required is for someone to say the blacks/Jews/Mexicans/etc are responsible. A film is just a film. No matter what it says, it doesn’t force anyone to do anything. In fact, such a film might even be healthy. It forces us to think and reflect on its conclusions. Religious leaders who look upon this movie with trepidation have cast their aspersion based on the worst humanity has to offer. Shouldn’t our rabbis, our pastors, our clerics look to the best instead?

But let’s stipulate that these religious leaders are right, that anti-Semitism rises after the movie is released. Even if the conclusion and content of a film like “The Passion of Christ” are 100% reprehensible, when race-based crimes are committed, the responsibility for those crimes must lie with those who commit them. Period. Any other conclusion takes us down a very slippery slope.

Consider the broader issue of “hate crimes” legislation. I’ve never understood this. The basic idea is that if you commit a crime against someone because of their race, color, sex, or religion, you are punished more severely for it. So if I beat up John Doe because he’s black, I get 10 years in prison. If I beat up John Doe because I want to steal his wallet, I get two years.

This is extremely dangerous because it punishes people based on what they think instead of what they do. If someone beats up John Doe, they should be punished because they beat him up, not because of why they did it. The reason is immaterial.

As I understand the concept of freedom, people are allowed to think or feel whatever they wish, even if it’s unreasonable, ignorant, and just plain wrong. The law should be limited to punishing people based on their actions, not their thoughts or beliefs. That’s why for more than two centuries, the American Way has been to defend the right of the other side to say their piece, even when we find their beliefs to be in complete opposition to our own.

I can appreciate the good intentions behind the P.C. police using the legal system to change the way people think, but that is not the system’s purpose. The law should not be used that way for the same reason the framers of the Constitution prohibited it from being used to establish religion.

Sometimes the best way of protecting something sacred is to not protect it at all.

  2 comments for “On Crime and Punishment

  1. October 31, 2003 at 2:35 am

    Now THAT was a great post…

  2. November 5, 2003 at 4:13 am

    Thanks Helen! 🙂

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