Archive for June 11th, 2020

Jason Mccool's review of God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and ...

In 1957, C. S. Lewis published an essay, “Delinquents in the Snow” and it is included in the tome pictured above. I think this essay has a pointed meaning for us today.

Mr. Lewis begins by telling about young people caroling at his house but he is concerned they are some of same, “… who trespass in my garden, rob my orchard, hack down my trees and scream outside my windows, though everyone in the neighbourhood knows that there is serious illness in my family.” Well, he knows, that this is not murder and he does not want to be resentful. Mr. Lewis then relates  a more serious incident:

“Not long ago some of my young neighbours broke into a little pavilion or bungalow which stands in my garden and stole several objects — curious weapons and an optical instrument. This time the police discovered who they were. As more than one of them had been convicted of similar crimes before, we had high hopes that some adequately deterrent sentence would be given. But I was warned: ‘It’ll all be no good if the old woman’s on the bench.’ I had, of course, to attend the juvenile court and all fell out pat as the warning had said. The — let us call her — Elderly Lady presided. It was abundantly proved that the crime had been planned and that it was done for gain: some of the swag had already been sold. The Elderly Lady inflicted a small fine. That is, she punished not the culprits but their parents. But what alarmed me more was her concluding speech to the prisoners. She told them that they must, they really must, give up these ‘stupid pranks’…”

The judge’s remarks sound remarkably current…though, it was 1957. It’s the parents’ fault not the robbers. We need to remember that the rot in culture and society has been more advanced in Europe than here. Yet as you will read this was no “prank”:

“But if her intention was — and I do not doubt that the road on which such justice is leading us all is paved with good ones — to prevent these boys from growing up into confirmed criminals, I question whether her method was well judged. If they listened to her (we may hope they did not) what they carried away was the conviction that planned robbery for gain would be classified as a ‘prank’ — a childishness which they might be expected to grow out of. A better way of leading them on, without any sense of frontiers crossed, from mere inconsiderate romping and plundering orchards to burglary, arson, rape and murder, would seem hard to imagine.’

Mr. Lewis draws the lessons to be learned from this incident in a court of law and in society in general:

“This little incident seems to me characteristic of our age. Criminal law increasingly protects the criminal and ceases to protect his victim. One might fear that we were moving towards a Dictatorship of the Criminals or (what is perhaps the same thing) mere anarchy. But that is not my fear; my fear is almost the opposite.”

Mr. Lewis’ is prescient in his observation about a, “Dictatorship of the Criminals”, and as I write this, mayors and governors want to abolish the police and empty jails and wink at violent protests.  Yet, something equally worse can happen:

“But the classical theory morally grounds our obligation to civil obedience; explains why it is right (as well as unavoidable) to pay taxes, why it is wrong (as well as dangerous) to stab your daughter’s murderer. At present the very uncomfortable position is this: the State protects us less because it is unwilling to protect us against criminals at home and manifestly grows less and less able to protect us against foreign enemies. At the same time it demands from us more and more. We seldom had fewer rights and liberties nor more burdens: and we get less security in return. While our obligations increase their moral ground is taken away…

It is logical that if the State does not enforce the law, then the individual should by taking the law into one’s own hands:

“Much more obviously, on these principles, when the State ceases to protect me from hooligans I might reasonably, if I could, catch and trash them myself. When the State cannot or will not protect, ‘nature’ is come again and the right of self-protection reverts to the individual. But of course if I could and did I should be prosecuted.

But it would be worse, obviously not in the courts of law which can be lenient and subject to the spirit of the age(!), but in the court of public opinion:

“The Elderly Lady and her kind who are so merciful to theft would have no mercy on me; and I should be pilloried in the gutter Press as a ‘sadist’ by journalists who neither know nor care what that word, or any word, means.”

This is a generation before Twitter and Facebook and the dearth of actual journalism! Now Mr. Lewis comes to the opposite of the Dictatorship of the Criminals:

“What I fear, however, is not, or not chiefly, sporadic out-breaks of individual vengeance. I am more afraid, our conditions being so like that of the South after the American Civil War, that some sort of Ku Klux Klan may appear and that this might eventually develop into something like a Right or Central revolution.

For Mr. Lewis, this is wrong but understandable as to who is shortchanged in courts that don’t protect victims:

“For those who suffer are chiefly the provident, the resolute, the men who want to work, who have built up, in the face of implacable discouragement, some sort of life worth preserving and wish to preserve it. That most (by no means all) of them are ‘middle class’ is not very relevant. They do not get their qualities from a class: they belong to that class because they have those qualities. For in a society like ours no stock which has diligence, forethought or talent, and is prepared to practise self-denial, is likely to remain proletarian for more than a generation. They are, in fact, the bearers of what little moral, intellectual, or economic vitality remains. They are not nonentities.”

Remember that in our time our elected elites decry the same people as “deplorables”, “clinging to their God and guns” and the like, that is: “nonentities”.

There is a breaking point:

There is a point at which their patience will snap..The Elderly Lady, if she read this article, would say I was ‘threatening’ — linguistic nicety not being much in her line. If by a threat you mean (but then you don’t know much English) the conjectural prediction of a highly undesirable event, then I threaten. But if by the word threat you imply that I wish for such a result or would willingly contribute to it, then you are wrong.

Here’s the tragedy of the opposite reaction, and revolution itself, any revolution:

Revolutions seldom cure the evil against which they are directed; they always beget a hundred others. Often they perpetuate the old evil under a new name. We may be sure that, if a Ku Klux Klan arose, its ranks would soon be chiefly filled by the same sort of hooligans who provoked it. A Right or Central revolution would be as hypocritical, filthy and ferocious as any other. My fear is lest we should be making it more probable. This may be judged an article unfit for the season of peace and goodwill. Yet there is a connection. Not all kinds of peace are compatible with all kinds of goodwill, nor do all those who say ‘Peace, peace’ inherit the blessing promised to the peacemakers. The real (peacemaking) is he who promotes peace, not he who gasses about it. Peace, peace … we won’t be hard on you … it was only a boyish prank . . . you had a neurosis . . . promise not to do it again . . . out of this in the long run I do not think either goodwill or peace will come. Planting new primroses on the primrose path is no long-term benevolence. There!”

Both sides end up wrong Then Mr. Lewis hears the carolers again:

“They’re at it again. ‘Hark, the herald angel sings.’ They’re knocking louder. Well, they come but fifty times a year. Boxing Day is only two and a half weeks ahead; then perhaps we shall have a little quiet in which to remember the birth of Christ.”

C. S. Lewis seems to intimate that it’s only that Birth do we have hope in this schismatic and violent days.

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