“What the heck is pardonment?” I hear you asking. The opposite of punishment, that’s what.
“But pardonment’s not a word,” I hear you protesting. (Aren’t you glad I got these hearing aids?)
No, no it’s not a word. But here’s the thing. After hearing “crime and punishment” all my life, “crime and pardon” sounds chopped. And here’s the other thing. What does it matter what we call something we don’t do?
Did someone make a racist/sexist/homophobic remark years ago? Or just yesterday? Was someone(s) accused of sexually inappropriate behaviour? Fire the bastards! Ruin their careers! They should never work again!
When confronted unexpectedly by an older, indigenous person, did a white teenager have an awkward facial expression that could be seen as smug? Hound him! Belittle him! He should never have a normal life again!
Did someone tweet an inappropriate or offensive sentiment? Shame them! Mercilessly! They should never appear online again!
I don’t condone bad behaviour: I’m old-fashioned enough to believe that there should be proportional consequences for it, and self-aware enough to be glad I don’t always have to endure the consequences for mine. But our collective judgmentalism about bad behaviour makes me tired. Sad. Angry. Afraid. Biblical.
If you, LORD, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand?
– Psalm 130:3
It’s obviously rhetorical. The psalmist felt no need to say, “No one, that’s who!” because there was a shared societal understanding that all had fallen short and would continue to do so, this being a regrettable part of the human condition. But the psalmist didn’t end in despair over the human condition.
But with you there is forgiveness
so that you may be feared.
I’m not so sure about the fear, but I like the sound of that forgiveness.
The Church created a machinery of pardon,
where the State could only work by a machinery of punishment.
– G.K. Chesterton (Illustrated London News, Sept. 2, 1916)
Opinions vary today on whether we need a machinery of punishment, but if we have legitimate qualms about the humanity of jails for those convicted of breaking laws, how can we be OK with “all punishment, all the time” for those guilty (or even just suspected/accused) of transgressing societal norms?
In our secular age I’m not sure what a machinery of pardon would look like, but I think we need one.
Postscript: Friday night, driving home from grocery shopping, I heard an interview with the Oklahoma police officer at the centre of this story: Starbucks fires employee who gave Oklahoma officer order with ‘PIG’ on the label. In that interview, he asked Starbucks to reconsider their decision, saying he thought there was, instead, an opportunity for a learning moment about the benefits of more civility in our public life. Pardonment in action, perhaps?