Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Castro and Justice

The apparent suicide of Ariel Castro late last night brought an end to a particularly blighted and malignant life.   For over a decade, Castro tortured and sexually assaulted three young women he'd abducted and imprisoned in his Cleveland home.  As crimes go, it was notably monstrous in duration, which is why he ended up being convicted and sentenced to life in prison plus a thousand years or so.

But now he's dead, most likely by his own hand.  Facing a seemingly endless captivity, he apparently could not cope with the very thing he had inflicted on his victims.  None will mourn his passing.

In his death, though, one wonders where justice might lie.  Justice...that restoration of balance and rightness...is a difficult thing in such a case, even with his sentence.  Here he inflicted sustained physical and psychological harm on three other human beings, who will carry echoes of that dark time for their whole lives long.  

And it wasn't just those women who were harmed.  Their families and friends mourned them as lost, in some instances dying certain that they had been murdered.  There is also a child, a daughter born to one of the women.  One wonders, as she grows, how she will come to terms with having Castro as her father.

Now he is no longer with us.   Is justice served by his short imprisonment?  Was justice served by his self-destruction?

It's hard to see how it is.  Imprisoning sociopaths does serve the purpose of eliminating their capacity to harm others.  That is a worthwhile goal.

But it does not itself restore, or reestablish a balance.  Finding a way to that balance is something that our systems of coercive power and retribution have found next to impossible.  Those crude systems, based and rooted in violence, have always fumbled helplessly towards justice.  They are as clumsy as a claw hammer in the hands of an amateur dentist.

And so we wonder, if we are prone to such things, where justice lies in such an instance.

For those who believe that this is all that there is, justice is an challenging concept to begin with.  His death is good riddance, sure, but the idea that there is any balance to be found is an absurdity.  In destroying himself, Castro has simply ceased to be, of his own volition.  Nothing further.

For those who embrace the idea of eternal damnation, Castro has simply expedited his entry into Hell.  Burn forever, you bastard, they'll say.   God condemns folks like Castro to an eternity of torture, punishment without end, or so that view tends to go.  And with monsters like him, it is a tempting perspective.

The challenge with that worldview, of course, is that it doesn't stop with monsters.  

A painfully large fraction of my co-religionists would affirm the same punishment for Castro had he been a gentle, kind-hearted Buddhist who staffed the hotline at a Cleveland rape crisis center.  Sin is sin, they say, no matter how self-evidently preposterous such a statement might be.  We all deserve damnation, they say, oblivious to how cruel and horrid it makes the Good News seem.

With the mystics of my faith, I tend towards another view.

Death is not negation or annihilation.  Neither does it lead to a crudely binary system of punishment and reward.  It is an opening up.  What we receive, when our mortal coil is ended, is nothing more and nothing less than the fullness of who we have been.  That means we know our whole story, the entirety of it, as our Maker knows it.  Everything we have done, everything we have chosen, that's our place in being.   If we have turned our whole selves to the love of others, that becomes the foundation of our eternity, the harvest of our actions.

If we have lived as Castro chose to live, then our encounter with our Maker is both the same and terribly, terribly different.

For the measure we give is the measure we get back, as a dear friend once said.

And in that, there is justice.


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