Tag Archives: Punishment

On the Power of Loss

Dear Father,

I apologise most profusely for my long silence. As you must know, I have been heavily occupied these past weeks with worldly duties, compelled by your world and the rest of your children to put aside pen and paper and focus on things more directly affecting my survival. I am starting a new phase in my earthly life you see, one not at all tied to my quest for the great Sophia, and as you know such moments of change are often fraught with much activity and little respite. In addition this new phase brings with it new responsibilities, and so I am afraid such silences may become more frequent in the coming months. I will, of course, do my best to write with the expected regularity.

But no matter, Father, no matter; as always it is never my intent to fill my missives with descriptions of my mundane life. While I may have been busy with the trappings of my childish form, I have not completely abandoned my quest. My journey continues, with the words of Augustine and Russell keeping me company and providing much needed food for thought.

I must apologise for my stagnation with Augustine’s Confessions; even though I started reading his work at the same time I did Platocrates, I have since finished the Greek’s dialogue on justice but am yet to pass the halfway mark on the Numidian’s narrative. His prose is most dense dearest Father, a throwback to another time, and it is often rather difficult to process. With that in mind, however, I seem to have stumbled upon a seminal moment in his journey.

When I last read the Numidian he had made a most important decision; he had decided to become a catechumen, a student in the doctrines of your as yet undivided House. It took a series of (un)fortunate events to push the great saint in this direction, prime among which was the loss of a friend most dear to his heart. This loss and its subsequent transformation came during his many years of decadence and debauchery, at a time when he was young and given to the indulgence of varied human vices. He was most impressionable in those years, proud in the gifts of his intellect and content in the contrived praises of his friends. Reading his words it is evident that he considered himself happy at the time, fulfilled both in worldly outlook and in his daily habits.

The death of his friend, a man he claimed to love so much his soul could not be without, had a most profound effect on our Numidian, but I dare say it was the conversion of this fellow before his death that dealt the most damaging blow to Augustine. The man had fallen sick you see, and after an involuntary baptism it seemed he had become a changed man, marveling in the beauties of your works and shrinking away from the heathen proclivities he and Augustine had once shared. Our Numidian was stunned, heartbroken; but before he could get to the bottom of this change his friend was taken from him, killed by a relapse of the very illness that brought upon the baptism.

Augustine was grief-stricken, as you can imagine. In what I suspect was a few weeks he had twice lost a very close friend, in mind as well as in body. Such is the price we humans pay for attachment to things so temporal and fleeting, and it seems to me that it was this loss, and the confusion and grief that came with it, that drove the frightened child into your arms. Of course, we read his words after the fact; we see his experiences from the eyes of one that has already found you, and so it is only natural, as a member of the House, that he attribute whatever thoughts and transformations from this event to you. To use his words:

“Blessed whoso loveth Thee, and his friend in Thee, and his enemy for Thee. For he alone loses none dear to him, to whom all are dear in Him who cannot be lost. And who is this but our God, the God that made heaven and earth, and filleth them, because by filling them He created them? Thee none loseth, but who leaveth. And who leaveth Thee, whither goeth or whither teeth he, but from Thee well-pleased, to Thee displeased? For where doth he not find Thy law in his own punishment? And Thy law is truth, and truth Thou.”

Perhaps he felt that by loving you, by loving his friends in you, all death would become meaningless. After all if one is in you, one cannot really be lost.

Of course the fear of death and the grief it brings have long been used as tools to draw many into your House, and so in many ways Augustine’s thoughts are not out of the ordinary. They are to be expected, after all. His experience leaves me wondering Father, whether or not such a loss would be the tool by which you bring me back to you. It would be a most interesting turn of events, for while I hold a deep love for the members of my family and a number of friends, I cannot say that my grief at their passing would cause me to seek you out. I am already on this path for personal reasons; taking the few of your children I hold most dear may not do anything to sway me.

Now there are marked differences between the nature of Augustine’s journey and mine, and so it is no surprise that I doubt this would be the tool of my conversion. I am not quite as given to vice as he was; I derive my enjoyment more from exercises of the mind than the occasional indulgence of the flesh. Where he still believed in you, if not quite the you of House dogma, my questions are on your very presence and not on some ‘heretic’ interpretation of your existence.

Of course there are a few similarities; he mentions that he was called Agnostic by an old physician, a term I find myself leaning towards more and more, what with the buzzings and mutterings of Doubt above my head and the strong and as yet irrefutable words of both Russell and Descartes floating in my mind.

I would be remiss if I did not add that I am a little put off by the conclusion in his quote, for he references your justice, a system that as you know I have very strong feelings about. Such a calm acceptance of acts which do not appear to do any good further highlights the fundamental differences between himself and me, but once again in the interests of keeping an open mind I chalk it up to the fact that his words have been written after the fact. Perhaps when he lost his friend he did not think this way; perhaps when, if ever, I return home I shall look upon my time away with the Father-tinted glasses customary of all within the House.

I see my friend shaking his head and I must say that I am inclined to agree with him; in my current state it is difficult to imagine an experience that would send me running into your arms. Still, Father, stranger things have happened, and with Doubt beside me I am willing to think that perhaps my time shall come, as it did with the Numidian. One can only hope at such a time that all my questions would have been answered.

With tainted hope,

Your Prodigal Son

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On the Justice of My Father

Dearest Father,

I ended my last letter on a hopeful note, lamenting the crude state of your children’s justice and expecting that when I turned my mind to yours, a system as noble as it is elegant would be discovered. Imagine my sadness, Father, the breadth of my disappointment, when I realised that this was not the case. In seeking a system befitting my Father most Supreme, I have found one barely distinguishable from the coarse (if well-intentioned) devices of his children. And Doubt, that ever wily and clever fellow, gleefully led me every step of the way, rejoicing as I agreed with him more and more and growing as my heart sank with sadness.

Naïve and hopeful I began with the basic premise that your justice, while perhaps a little beyond our feeble grasp, was balanced. I went in expecting to find a parity different from the vengeful excuse that exists amongst your children, an additive, complementary balance if you will. I sought a justice that was not simply better than ours in every way, but that was perfect, the ideal realisation of the flawed labours of your children.

My once little friend quickly rid me of any such expectations. With a few questions and some long words he showed me that your balance was just as negative, just as reductive, as the one’s I decried and railed against in my last letter.

Much like your children, the system you employ seems predicated on laws invented at will, with rewards promised for their obedience and punishments levied at their disregard. This disobedience of your laws is termed sin, the very manifestation of evil, and has been the crux of all the history and dogma put forth by the House and its members on the nature of your children. We are told that sin is within us, part of our very beings by virtue of our birth; we are, whether or not we like it, predisposed to displease you. And this disposition is itself born from sin, specifically the sin of the First Brother, Adam. It was for his sin that we were cast out of paradise, for his sin that we suffer daily in this our imperfect world.

It was at this juncture that Doubt stepped in, asking as always his signature question: Why?

My initial answer was swift, as you can imagine. The First Brother had disobeyed an express command from our Father; he had to be punished. I wish I could paint for you the smile that graced my friend’s face at this utterance; it was the very image of triumphant glee. Why? he asked me once again. Why did the First Brother deserve punishment? What purpose did his punishment serve? And perhaps more importantly, why did all his children thenceforth have to carry this burden with them for no other reason than the accident of their births? I had only just condemned the spiteful hearts with which your children justified their want for pain in their brethren; what could I say with regards to you?

I was lost for words, Father. One can understand to an extent the impetus behind some of the choices of your children. We honestly cannot afford to let wrong-doers go without punishment. As I stated in letters past, the world is harsh and cruel; allowing our siblings to run amok would result in such pain and destruction, especially upon the innocent, that we must keep the evil-doers at bay. We must protect ourselves by removing them; we must deter them by hurting them.

But this is not the case with you Father. If one says you cast our first siblings out for protection, one must ask what you were protecting. Your Book states that everything you made, you made for us. You gave us your earth, made us masters over every facet of your creation. Where you then afraid that Adam’s sin would damage the animals? Were you afraid that they would follow in his footsteps, those unthinking brutes that were not made in the image of the most amazing Father ever? If this truly was your intent you would have removed Eve. She fell first; she was the one tempted by You-Know-Who. If your intent was to protect, and perhaps reform, it seems you would have taken her out of the garden, put her in whatever prison a being of your stature could fashion, and educated her on the error of her ways. Instead you waited till she brought Adam down along with her, and then you cast both of them out, with no avenue for warning, no period for lessons. Where in all this is the intent to protect? Your punishment did not protect Adam; it certainly did not reform Eve.

If we say you tried to deter future sin, the question then follows: What did you deter? If the tales are to be believed, this was their first crime, their only crime. Once again, Eve offered a wonderful opportunity for you to manifest the preventive powers of your justice. She fell before Adam. She could have been removed, put, as stated before, in a non-paradise as a sign that disobedience would not go without cost, and then brought back upon her inevitable reformation. Adam would have seen this and known not to trifle with the will of his Father, and Eve? Her very readmission into your garden would have been proof of lessons learned.

As I sat in silence, pondering his words, Doubt pointed out something even more ominous: Your punishment of our first siblings did not simply fail to reform the sinner or deter the good or protect the innocent; it actually made them worse. You took two misguided children, afraid and confused, from a wonderful place of happiness and cast them into the coldest harshest world you could find, cursing them to till the soil without reward and to suffer doing the very first thing you commanded of them. This act seems almost foolish in hindsight, Father, for if your children could sin against you when they had everything, when they had no need to be desperate and selfish and cruel, how could you, a being that knows all, expect that when cast into a world that could turn the best of men into devils they would remain pure?

Anger, I answered. You were angry. We have oft been told of the wrath of the Father; one can only imagine the breadth of such anger at his children’s flagrant disregard for his commandment. And to that Doubt laughed.  Anger? he asked. What is anger that my Father should have it? Anger is born of things unexpected, things unwanted. It is at its best therapeutic, at its worst useless. It is what your children, powerless and unable to control themselves, express when they do not get what they want. It is inherently childish and causes nothing but pain and fear to those who receive it. It does no apparent or inherent good, choosing instead to cow people into guilty or unwilling submission. And yet anger was the reason you destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. Anger was the reason you flooded the earth. Anger was the reason you allowed pestilence and disease to ravage countless of civilisations the world over. We had sinned and you were angry. You, that knew everything and so could not have been caught by surprise. You, whose plans cannot be upset, who has known the end since the very beginning of time. You, Father, were angry with your children, and so you cursed us. And it was good, because you did it.

And with those last words Doubt struck against me a deadly blow, for this seemed to me to be the centre of your justice: You. It is barely different from that of your children. It does not appear motivated by a need to do any kind of ‘good’, but seems to be driven by an almost childlike motivation to just do. Your punishments have done nothing to help your children. They have not prevented further sins; they have neither protected us from future harm nor reformed us from past crimes. So glaring, in fact, was our lack of reformation that you saw fit to send the Brother-Saviour as an act of sacrifice for the many transgressions of your children, driving home once again the point that we are useless without your help – help, it seems, that took millennia to arrive.

Your justice is not even as good as the idealisation of your children’s crude attempts at better things. It is backed by the nebulous concept of your Will, and the inherent (if not at all apparent) goodness of all that you are. It does nothing but make you seem so loving, and we so terrible. Even your redemption is hollow, for it does not belong to all of your children. The Brother-Saviour and his first apostles stated many times that not all of us, not even most of us, would make it to the Great Upstairs. Like You-Know-Who our punishment lies in the depths of a fiery pit, a pit, we are told, that would last forever. This is the worst punishment of all, for even if one could justify the suffering and pain your children experience here on earth, the one that awaits those that do not have your favour is completely devoid of sense. It is pure pointless suffering. Forever. It does not seek to change, it does not seek to convert; it seeks only to punish. Those that make it there are beyond help, beyond reason, and instead of ending them you would rather they screamed in pain till the end of time. They have, after all, done evil things, and so they must be punished. The Justice of Your Children, your Justice, demands it.

I was crushed after his soft diatribe Father, for I could defend you no more. And to conclude his tirade he put before me a simple verse, culled from your Book and stumbled upon by chance:

This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be made worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering— since indeed God deems it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you… inflicting vengeance upon those who do not know God and upon those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord…” —2 Thessalonians 1:5-6, 8

This is your Justice, dearest Father, a justice of revenge . And it, as with all things that proceed from you, is good.

With much sadness,

Your Prodigal Son

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On the Justice of Your Children

Dear Father,

Having seen Platocrates’ vision of justice it seemed all but necessary to look upon the works of your children and see how well we have fared. It has been an interesting journey to say the least, but it is one that has left a sour taste in my mouth. Coming from the smooth and effortless beauty of Plato’s finished city, the ever evolving landscape of your children’s justice seems almost boorish and crude, childish in fact. It is easy to see how and why this is so. Where the system devised by Platocrates is simple and basic, the systems of your children are varied and complex. In Platocrates’ Republic there are no laws; all men choose to listen to their Sophie-loving Kings, and they, in their infinite and impossible wisdom, rule in a manner most just. The creators of the city, having already laid down its basic structure and told the noble lies necessary for its existence, have done all that needs to be done. Leaving the city to its devices means leaving a perfect system to run as it is supposed to, unhindered and undisturbed.

This is not the case with your children, Father. As I surmised in letters past, between the harsh nature of the world around us and the deplorable nature of the children you have sired, we are faced with a very difficult existence, lost in a land where – if unchecked – the unruly would overrun the good among us and chaos would reign supreme. To prevent such catastrophic happenings your children, it seems, invented laws, limits to the things we could do with and to each other, and attempted to apply them to all that would listen, by agreement and by force. This forcefulness and artificiality is at its core the nature of our justice, the only kind we can manage, and it pales before the golden ideal of Kings and purposes that Plato saw for us.

The nature of your children’s justice is tied to one very important and basic thing: balance. “An eye for an eye” they say, “A tooth for a tooth”. Where something is lost, something must be given in return. You take an eye, yours will be taken. You take a life, and yours will be forfeit. Things must be ‘balanced’; things must be equal; things must be just.  There is an almost intuitive appeal to this notion. We feel cheated when others get things we do not. We feel robbed when others can harm and steal and do as they please with no consequence. This need for balance is a primal one amongst your children, and is perhaps the inspiration for Thrasymachus’ and Adeimantus’ admonitions in the dialogues that led to the construction of Platocrates’ city. And this need for balance, it seems, stems from perhaps the most selfish and primal thing ever to inhabit your children: the lust for vengeance.

Think about it, dearest Father. I have taken the eye of my brother. I have crushed it and turned it into its composite goo. Under this system of equity a court of law will require that I lose my eye as well. Things, after all, must be balanced, for the ‘good’ of society. This is a fallacious thought, however, for it does nothing to help the one that lost his eye. Taking my eye will not bring his eye back. Taking my eye will, in fact, result in two lost eyes. The balance your children seek is a negative balance, one that, it seems, is but an excuse to enact revenge. Our motivation for laws and punishments comes then not from a desire to do good, but from a desire to ensure that the perpetrator loses something, anything, as long as it is proportional to our loss. It is an act that does not improve but damages, an act that does nothing but gratify itself. It does not seek to edify; it seeks to deprive. It is angry and cruel and blind, seeking to attain some form of equality by removing instead of by complementing. It is not only a shadow when compared to the ideals Platocrates sought when building his city, but their complete opposite, for it is not motivated by love, a sense of good, or a need to alleviate pain; it is motivated by hurt and a desire to cause damage, however equal it must be.

Now your children are not all bad, and some of us have been able to devise a means by which this system, this base need to exact vengeance on people we do not like, can actually be used for good in our harsh world. Our civilisations have prisons, places where unjust men can be placed away from society until such a time as they have been able to learn their lessons and ‘pay’ their debts. The sentences such deviants face vary based on their crimes as we try, as much as feeble humans can, to ensure that the punishment fits the crime, that the deprivations we get are proportional to the deprivations we cause. Punishments, with this slightly nobler intent, serve as deterrents and protectors, not as tools of revenge. By punishing those that harm we send a clear message to others that the consequences would be severe, that ‘injustice’ – whatever that is – has a price; one cannot simply do as he pleases and expect that all would be well. By carrying out the punishment in a place removed from society we prevent the evil-doers from continually damaging our worlds; we put them in a place where their actions cannot harm the innocent.

Of course this system, even with the noblest of intents, is far from perfect. Our prisons are home to the greatest of depravities and your children, ever tied to their fundamental want for eyes and teeth, are glad for this. Criminals should not enjoy prison; they should suffer, they should scream, they should pay, preferably in pain, for what they have done to us. Never mind that a good number of those that enter these pits of punishment are innocent and are transformed into criminals of the worst kind. Never mind that such a system makes it next to impossible for the people it incarcerates to return better than they entered. A part of our hearts is glad that people suffer when they are taken away, for we know, as much as any man can, that only by these means can your evil children learn. More importantly, we feel better with this knowledge, and in some perverse way it does lead to the good of our societies. A population calm in the fact that perceived evil suffers is a population that is ultimately at peace. It matters not that the cost is occasionally an innocent and poor fellow; the powerful masses, Thrasymachus’ ignorant ‘stronger’, have been satisfied and justice has been served in their interest.

It is not surprising that even at its best the justice of your children is far from perfect. We try, dearest Father, we try so very hard. Our justice is slow, for we want to ensure that it is fair. Our justice is harsh, for we want to protect the people we care for. Our justice is picky and prejudiced, for we are afraid of the monsters we cannot see; and our justice is cruel, for we are weak and ignoble and believe that only force and self-interest can control those less than us. We are children, you see, ignorant and powerless against the vastness of the world we inhabit. Even with our aspirations towards nobility our methods are brutish and coarse, harsh measures imposed by harsh minds to deal with the harsh masses. It is another symptom of our base natures, another manifestation of all that we cannot get right. One can only hope that when I turn my attention towards the model of your divine justice a more elegant and superior system will be found. There is after all an excuse for our failings as humans, dearest Father: We did not make this world; we simply have to live in it.

With much thought,

Your Prodigal Son

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