The Eternal Cluelessness of the Avenging Mind

Submitted by: Mike Spindell, guest blogger

Perhaps the real original sin of humanity is the concept of sin itself. There is of course evil in the world and there is good. To me there is little equivocation about some evils and I am hardly a moral relativist. Although these terms become subjective when viewed from the perspective of an individual, there is a wide general acceptance among diverse cultures as to general definitions. We consider murder in all cultures evil, as is robbery, assault, rape, and a host of familiar others. For at least five thousand years, cultures established legal systems to deal with bad behavior and with those systems came the need for punishment. The history of punishment has always been rather draconian and bloody throughout history. While today punishment is perhaps more humane in many places, it still caries with it significant cruelty in its application throughout humanity.

“A woman and her three children had just gotten off the bus at a stop across from their apartment building (in Marietta, Georgia) in October 2010 when her 4-year-old son, A.J., broke away from her and ran into the street. A car struck the boy, causing fatal injuries. Nelson (the woman) and one of her two daughters also suffered minor injuries. Nelson was charged with three misdemeanors: second-degree vehicular homicide, failing to cross at a cross walk and reckless conduct, according to court records. A jury convicted her this month. Although prosecutors did not recommend jail time, each count carried a potential sentence of one year in jail”. What is behind this prosecution? Who among us who has raised young children wouldn’t be chilled with the vision of this happening to them? Why do we see such prosecutorial zeal in our society to find someone to punish when accidents occur?

The other salient aspect of this case is: “The man driving the car, Jerry Guy, fled the scene after the accident but later admitted being involved, according to CNN affiliate WXIA-TV. He was sentenced to five years in prison but served only six months. He is serving the remainder of the sentence on probation.” This is the full story from CNN:

My proposition is that the increase in fundamentalist religious thought in the world and the influence it has had on us as a society, has led to a rash of unneeded prosecutions, motivated by the need to find an answer to each tragedy that comes to the public’s attention. The disconnect is that while our legal system and Constitution do not talk of sin as an offense against society, those believers in the concept of sin have the belief that we are punishing people for their sins and not for breaking the law. So deep is their dedication to fighting sin, that they believe our legal system is the proper venue to deal with it. In Christianity and Islam especially sin is to be punished by God/Allah’s judgment at the point of an individual’s death. Nevertheless, there is the idea that society should also punish sin, pre-Deity so to speak and in effect revenge itself on those miscreants who violate God’s Law. Judaism doesn’t talk of sin per se, but the harsh judgments prescribed in the Torah for various acts of breaking the 613 Commandments, may as well be the same as terming them sin by popular understanding.

When a society begins to judge criminality based on the notion of punishing sin, the roster of things to be punished is an ever-expanding one. With this goes the notion that society must avenge itself on those who commit sins and that punishment should be harsh. In this mindset, the law is meant to avenge wrongs and provide punishment as revenge. Not only is this notion inimical to our American legal system and Constitution, it is a foolish one that perverts our system and undermines our laws.

The tremendous increase in our prison rosters are due to what are essentially victimless crimes dealing with addiction. Hundreds of million$ are spent to dissuade drug abuse and after you parse  the message past the personal harm to the individual, the message is clearly that “getting high” is sinful. If we took the sin out of judging and dealing with the effects of drug addiction, perhaps we might even reduce it, or at least cut the cost in money and human lives it now represents.

Drugs are just one aspect of the problem of viewing our legal system as existing to punish sin and enforce religious based morality. Sin bespeaks the need of society to avenge proscribed behavior.

A rational legal system is not about revenge as punishment, but should be about protecting the citizenry from predation and maintaining a safe environment. As such, our law should be dispassionate about meting out justice and compassionate in its application.

The human mind strives to make sense of the randomness of tragedy, seeking reasons for why they occur and trying to pin blame for the devastation on someone, or something. We know intellectually that “stuff happens” but we find it hard to accept that sometimes there is just no reason for bad things to occur. If one is a Religious Fundamentalist, believing an omniscient God controls everything, since God is good it must be Satan controlling the supposed perpetrator. Therefore, when bad accidents occur to innocent, little children, someone has to assume blame. In this case, an overburdened mother, coming off from a bus and a four-year old behaving as four-year olds do and pulling away. 

We can imagine the indignant feeling of a judgmental public wanting her called to account and the avenging feelings of LEO’s and Prosecutors disdainful of her carelessness. This is what I call the “Avenging Mind”. This mindset believes that people deserve harsh punishment for their transgression, not as reformation, but simply for the satisfaction of revenge. It is an angry, narrow-minded mindset, which internally treats itself with undue harshness and guilt. From a Fundamentalist perspective, we are all sinners, some restrained only by their certainty of punishment in the afterlife. God’s wrath though is not enough for them, because they will never see the punishment to occur. They need the

vicarious thrill of seeing it happen. Isn’t this the reason people were fighting to get into Casey Anthony’s trial and that the television ratings for the verdict were astronomical? It was a need to see her face as the verdict was delivered and the punishment pronounced. The hope for the almost sadistic satisfaction that tears or a pained expression on her face would give them. This isn’t about her guilt or innocence, it is about the fact that some world take satisfaction in revenge. There are millions of children, living and dying in this world in horrible circumstances, yet we avoid that macrocosm with its attendant crying out to our emotions and focus on the death of one in millions.

This woman faced with the devastating loss of her child and the overwhelming guilty feelings accompanying it, was made to stand trial for vehicular homicide. She was convicted, but in a seeming show of mercy sentenced to no jail time. She never should have been tried on that charge in the first place, or put through the torture of a trial, to make sure that revenge was provided for the human mistake of an instant. The only crime we have here is the Driver’s, for his fleeing the scene. He was treated more humanely for his crime, while a grieving mother who will never forgive herself, was forced to undergo public humiliation and trial.

How do we educate the part of the public so inundated with the notion of sin and retribution, that revenge is not the purpose of the law? In theory, our legal system exists as an extension of our Constitution to safeguard us all and to protect our society from those who would willingly do harm to others. Somehow, it has gotten all confused with God’s wrath and that is to our detriment.

Submitted by: Mike Spindell, guest blogger

49 thoughts on “The Eternal Cluelessness of the Avenging Mind”

  1. I’ve been taking a break from all the sad and crazy stories here….but i do miss the discourse (sane) and Mike , if only those who prosecute had your heart and mind….

  2. Mike sorry, been busy. Trying to stay away from the computer other than doing my Tropical/Surf updates.

    I did read your comment on the other thread but couldn’t remember which one it was so I’m responding here.

    Thank you for your kindness and understanding. To go from where we were to where we are now is a testament that things a people can and do change. Thanks Mike !!!!!!!

  3. Mr. Spindell,

    “When I see the vitriol poured out in sensationalized trials I see a religious zeal behind it, but as I said that is my opinion and is open to refutation.”

    I hadn’t perceived it as such until you mentioned it, and now I too am able to see what you see.

    I find your posts interesting because although people observe the same phenomena, they oftentimes perceive things differently. Understanding the essence of a matter requires being able to perceive both as an individual and through differing lenses. That I know you know.

    The only reason for my previous comment was to provide you with a particular lens critical to understanding how a significant portion of the American population observes and believes what others see as myth and mythology.

    It required overriding an initial reaction to let things be. It may be how cohesiveness is formed in societies of differing cultures. I don’t know if respect can grow without a foundation of understanding.

  4. We all agree this case is a travesty. (I am pretty sure) We all agree prosecutorial overreach is a danger to democracy and an affront to civil rights.

    IF as Mike you think Original Sin is responsible, what is the best way to stop prosecutorial overreach? What are all the pros and cons of this approach?

    IF as I do, you think the incentives in the system are what is responsible, what is the best way to stop prosecutorial overreach? What are all the pros and cons of this approach?

    IF the two lists you just made are identical, what is the value of claiming one cause over the other?

    IF the two lists you made are different, once more, compare and contrast the costs and benefits of each approach.

    (As an aside to whoever suggested I must be religious, I am, if anything, a Jewish agnostic, once perhaps, a JewBu, maybe just an atheist. But think back to a time when the ACLU defended the rights of Nazis and you perhaps understood why you might, why you would, defend the beliefs of people who were not in your particular in group. Yeah, yeah, I realize you can’t even begin to imagine that.)

  5. Bob,

    A not so guilty pleasure of mine is action movies of the good vs. evil kind. I love to see them resolved by a fit, violent revenge taken upon the bad guy. I enjoy it immensely. That’s why I loved the first “Die Hard” movie with its shot of Alan Rickman falling forty floors looking up at Bruce Willis with the realization that he had been revenged and conquered by someone he thought inferior.

    However, in life I’ve learned that revenge rather than being sweet, is a letdown for me and one that gives me no redeeming pleasure. The Law as you know better than I, is not about revenge, but about dispensing justice.
    When I see the vitriol poured out in sensationalized trials I see a religious zeal behind it, but as I said that is my opinion and is open to refutation.

  6. “People that share my beliefs can’t get past original sin. Because of the man that hung on the cross.
    It can never be a myth for us.”


    Your beliefs no doubt enrich your life and if as I suspect you live up to them, based on you various past comments here, then you are a true Christian. I specifically referenced “hate the sin, love the sinner” as being an attitude that adheres to Christian teachings. Many though let their belief in sin cross over into hatred of those perceived to be sinners and it is the influence of those people that I speak about.

    In my long life I have known many pious people, both Christians, Muslims and Jews. These people were loving people, filled with compassion for their
    fellow humans. however, I have also known atheists who were a match for the pious in their goodness. A mainstream of fundamentalism today in the three religions that share origins is intolerant and filled with hate. They seem to have the upper hand in setting the agenda of religious belief and that is what I feel is not only wrong, but blasphemous by their own standards.

    That one may believe in “original sin” or not is not the issue that I posit. Those that believe in it often forget that in their belief system God is the final arbiter of ones life. Jesus did say “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone”, which I take to mean that God is the ultimate Judge of ones sins. If this is the case, then the tendency of some Christians to effectively take “God’s Law” into their own hands, is blasphemy. My only point is that some, using their religious teachings to cater to their own internal anger, have hurt the cause of criminal justice.

  7. Edmond Dantes: “I wish to be providence myself, for I feel that the most beautiful, noblest, most sublime thing in the world, is to recompense and punish.”

  8. While all drakes may be ducks, not all ducks are drakes.

    Accordingly, I respectfully disagree with the contention that the human thirst for vengeance is necessarily linked to a religious interpretation of sin.

    Consider the Count of Monte Cristo; is a ‘religious mind’ a pre-requisite for the people who enjoy that story of revenge? After all, that is fundamentally the same mindset at work as described in the article above.

    Sure I hear the hoof beats, but that don’t mean it’s zebras.

  9. Blouise,

    Want to talk about illogical logic see Kdponzi’s post at July 27, 2011 at 9:52 am

    “How about just being a little more even-handed with admonishments to stay on topic, rather than selectively criticizing only the people whose opinions you disagree with.

    Condescension trolling is no more elevated than any other form of it.”

    It appears that he/she is a conformist only when convenient…Do as I say, not as I do…. I suspect they are that way in the home life as well…The blame game goes a long way with some….

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