Crime and Pardonment

“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?


This entry was posted in Feeling Clearly, Relationships and Behaviour, Thinking Broadly and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Crime and Pardonment

  1. Tom Watson says:

    I’m thinking about G. K. Chesterton’s quote. The State is pretty effective at working by a machinery of punishment. I wish that the Church was as good at carrying out a machinery of pardon that it created, but, honestly, it isn’t.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Tom – Chesterton was referring specifically (I believe) to the role of confession and absolution in the Roman Catholic church. (As a convert he might have been more enamoured of it than a non-convert.) I’ve been in Protestant churches with prayers of confession followed by assurance of absolution, but it never really hit home. And as to whether the “Church” lives out that principle, well, another story as you say. The human condition and all that.

      • Tom Watson says:

        Gotta say, Isabel, that I agree entirely that Prayers of Confession and Assurance of Pardon statements rarely hit home. For that reason, when I’m designing a service I don’t use them.; they’re way too obscure. The only time I use them is when I’m taking a service as a guest and they have those items as part of their every-week liturgy.

        As a young person, the Prayers of Confession were so bad that by the end of one I felt like a worthless worm. Just got over it by the next Sunday and there I was smackdab in the middle of one again. Yikes!

        • Isabel Gibson says:

          Tom – Yikes, indeed. It’s hard to understand how the Church (writ large) went from “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” to making people feel like worthless worms. Or is that power-through-judgment tendency part of the human condition, too?

  2. Barbara Carlson says:

    The mean-faced, rabid finger-pointing pendulum has swung far too far. People like you will bring it back to “normal”.

    As for despair, let me quote a friend who said he’s woken up in the middle of the night thinking of all the horror in the world and wrote down this (which he found in the morning): “Despair is the only logical option.” Logical, I agreed and then we both laughed, wryly.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Barbara – I sometimes think that the serious study of history is the best antidote to despair over our current situation. Those good old days often weren’t.

      • Barbara Carlson says:

        History: which is why I am so fascinated by the current history. Keep a record of the little things that historians won’t note, like, there was a shortage of eggs and tomatoes in D.C. the day before Trump’s inauguration.

  3. Jim Taylor says:

    From the Mikado:
    “My object all sublime, I shall achieve in time,
    to make the punishment fit the crime, the punishment fit the crime…”
    Gilbert and Sullivan saw themselves as humorists, but sometimes they were profound about human
    Jim T

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim T – Yes, that’s it: We’ve lost our sense of proportion. Maybe it was ever thus. Only now, we can lose our heads in a virtual public place, sparking others to lose theirs too.

  4. I largely agree with you and your readers about the watering down of the value of confession and absolution in the Protestant churches. However, my experience of a life confession with an Anglican priest (not Protestant but in a transitional ecclesiastic modality) showed me the value of that sacrament. Like you, I came to see forgiveness as a human need more generally. My experience paved the way for my joining the Roman Catholic Church but, 25 years later, the betrayal of that sacrament by certain mentally ill RC clergy left me to my own devices and desires and private practices. The strict honesty with self essential to Confession is surely promoted by your frank and open discussions. Some things pertaining to the priesthood of all believers flower here.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Laurna – As always, thanks for the frank and open sharing of your own experience. Maybe we can’t forgive others until we learn to forgive ourselves.

Comments are closed.