Insane criminal verdicts; or how Christianity lost cultural influence

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The visit in Chattanooga on Monday of Mohandas Gandhi’s grandson was covered in the local newspaper under a story on the same page, B1, about a man pleading guilty to the strangulation death of his son.

When I read the stories in the Chattanooga Times Free Press I couldn’t avoid considering the state of Christianity and the blunting of its reformational might in the United States and in India.

Mr. Gandhi’s native land was transformed by the introduction of Christianity by missionary William Carey starting in 1793. Our country was founded with strong Christian influence in the same era, and in both lands the Lord has cast something of a veil over the eyes of the people so that many good things have been hidden from them, the light upon their path grown dim.

When men’s opinions rule, justice proves elusive

Before saying more about Mr. Gandhi, I’d like to tell about the case against Dedric Lamont Atkins in today’s editions who pleaded guilty Monday to the 2003 beating and strangling of his 5-year-old son, Dedrick Kayshon Johnson. He suffered from mental illness and psychotic delusions since at least 1997 and claimed to have heard voices telling him to kill his son. A prosecutor said he would not have been able to convict Mr. Atkins for first-degree murder because his mental illness undermined premeditation, and would have tried the defendant on a second-degree murder charge.

So Mr. Atkins, in admitting guilt, was to be sentenced to 15 years in prison minus two years already served.

Legal systems based on human opinion and manmade values will not reflect true justice, which is best understood from the holy scriptures. What men arrive at when God has withdrawn His favor is disproportion. Punishments don’t fit the crime. Punishments are out of proportion to the sin. The general rule in scripture is lex talionis, “an eye for an eye.” In other words, equal and just punishment.

Mr. Atkins does not lose his life in Tennessee courts for his deliberate killing of a boy. While his apparent mental condition obviates his premeditation (his planning of a crime), it does not appear it would have obviated his will. The killing was not manslaughter, an accident. It was deliberate. Mr. Atkins retains his life while having taken that of another.

Compare justice in his case to the alleged “justice” in three others:

➤ A prison sentence two-thirds as long as Mr. Atkins’ is given to Clarksville, Tenn., child pornography defendant Jared Scott Aguilar, a porn addict. Though he ruined his marriage and his life with his compulsions, he did not sexually abuse any person. The former army specialist was sentenced to 10 years in prison for having 150 child sex images on his computer.

➤ A teacher in the Kingsport, Tenn., area in August entered an Alford plea which is essentially an admission of charges that she had sex with a 16-year-old boy. The 37-year-old math instructor will serve eight years in prison.

➤ In Florida, Marissa Alexander was convicted of firing a gunshot into a wall in 2010 to scare off her husband, whom she believed was threatening her. The mother of a toddler and 11-year-old twins was sentenced to 20 years behind bars. She insisted on a jury trial, was found guilty of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. The judge said the statute allowed him no discretion in sentencing.

Manmade systems of law without reference to an eternal standard bring legal chaos.

Pietism has brought loss of influence

I don’t have room here to develop a legal argument about what the scriptures would suggest as suitable forms of punishment or restitution in these cases. You notice how prison is the solution for each of these crimes. Reports gave no indication of restitution to any injured person, which is where biblical jurisprudence would drive us. Biblical law does not envision prison at all, but death for a variety of crimes, and restitution for everything else. No prison-industrial complexes as we have today. (See, for example, Victim’s Rights[;] the Biblical View of Civil Justice by Gary North, 1990.)

Christianity in Chattanooga and the rest of the country has been influenced by a religious doctrine called pietism. Pietism arose in the 17th century Germany as a reaction against the reformed interest in right doctrine. Its main lights were Count Nicolaus Zinzendorf and the Moravians. Its doctrine of retreat started giving way in the U.S. in the 1970s with the advent of Dr. R.J. Rushdoony and other reformed thinkers such as Dr. North. The shriveling of Tennessee Temple University in Chattanooga, once a fundamentalist Baptist bastion in the pietist tradition, to a mere 300 students is evidence of the weakening influence of pietism.

Pietism emphasizes belief in God as private and personal. It focuses on individual holiness — a great strength. But a pietist holds so strongly to the personal benefits of Christ’s saving grace that he argues (or allows) that Christianity should withdraw from the public square — the university, the hospital, the school, the legislature and the art gallery. Not only is Christianity not of the world, but hardly in the world anymore under the sway of this conviction.

India is example of biblical transformation

My space has run out, but it is important to consider Mr. Gandhi’s homeland. Christianity so transformed the people and their institutions that many barbaric Indian customs were eliminated. Of these idolatries I mention two:

Infanticide. In an ancient custom, sick infants were placed in baskets and given no care for three days amid a perceived struggle with evil spirits. Babies were often pushed into bodies of waters to be drowned or devoured by crocodiles. Death in the Ganges was considered an honor and a religious form of sacrifice. Thanks to Christianity, infanticide was finally banned.

➤  Widow burnings. Before Christianity, heathenism placed widows at terrible disadvantage. When much-older husbands died, they were suspected of having put him under an evil omen, having eaten her husband. Widows who did not burn under the sati system lived terrible lives, viewed not as an asset or as in need of charity, but a liability. Her dowry was not given back to her family so she could be married off to another (the Indian dowry system was a perfect reversal of the biblical model).

Carey witnessed a widow burning, and ended a moving description in a letter to a friend, Andrew Fuller, with these paragraphs:

No sooner was the fire kindled than all the people set up a great shout of joy; invoking Siva. it was impossible to have heard the woman , had she groaned, or even cried aloud, on account of the shoutings of the people, and again it was impossible for her to stir or struggle, by reason of the bamboo held down on her, like the levers of a press.

We made such objection to their use of these, insisting that it was undue force to prevent her getting up when the fire burned. But they declared it was only to keep the fire from falling down. We could not bear to see more, and left them, exclaiming loudly against the murder, and filled with horror at what we had seen.

Sources

Vishal Mangalwadi, The Legacy of William Carey[:] a Model for the Transformation of a Culture (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1993, 1999). p. 36

Ruth and Vishal Mangalwadi, Carey, Christ and Cultural Transformation[;] the Life and Influence of William Carey (Carlisle, Cambria, UK: OM Publishing, 1993, 1997)

Todd South, “Man pleads guilty to killing 5-year-old son,” Chattanooga Times Free Press, Sept. 18, 2012

“Woman gets 20 years for firing warning shot,” Chattanooga Times Free Press, May 20, 2012