Friday, 9 January 2015

Mercy vs. Justice

Greetings readers and my friends!

I am almost completely done with my philosophical reading's of Dogen's Shobogenzo's first chapter so I'll be posting those soon, but for now I'd like to hear some of your opinions (whether "Buddhist" or not doesn't matter) regarding the debate of "which bears richer fruit," mercy, or strict justice.

So that's it! My question: which bears better fruit? Mercy or justice?

Should child rapists ever be shown any mercy?
(is putting a child rapist away forever a merciful act instead of killing?)

Should a woman who was beaten by her husband then killed him in desperation deserve mercy under the law?

Is the law capable of mercy?

Is feeding the starving, helping the helpless etc acts of justice or mercy?

I'd love to hear your opinions on this topic! This is a very touchy topic for very very many people so do respond and be polite to each other!

I am personally on the side of mercy to a naively extreme point. I believe that most people given the chance will respond to mercy (certainly not all). I believe this because there are reasons people commit heinous crimes and the premise is that it generally takes place in acts of desperation and not willful acts of evil. The questions remains for me to answer, and my friends, I need your help because I don't know, do willful acts of evil--for example the Hitler's of the world, do they deserve mercy?

Comment, share, let me know, let your friends know, get this topic moving!


  1. Denis,

    Difficult questions that I have no certain (or even mercifully half-certain) answers for. BUT, I will be a trouper and wander into the bardo of uncertainty (for me) that you have created.

    My opening thought: "Sometimes, mercy is what is just." I think THAT idea may be near-to-the-heart of what you write near the conclusion of your post.

    Like you, I also incline toward mercy. "Strict justice" is often vengeful, intolerant -- sadistic, even. A hand for a hand. An eye for an eye. You killed one of my sons; I kill one of yours as recompense.

    But mercy can be mindless, too, putting angry, violent people back in with the public where their tendencies to do harm will play out.

    I am involved with the Sacramento homeless community. There are guys who have spent half their lives in prison, in many cases because they are pediphiles who cannot stay away from kids. You would think they would learn not 'to offend' since the cost, in years of their lives being lost, is huge. You would think, too, that these guys are absolutely terrible people -- but they're not, most of them, to my mind in the way I have a relationship with them.

    I have no answer. From what I read, it is likely for every judgment of child sexual abuse in a court of law, there are something like fifty acts of abuse that go unreported. Some of these pediphile guys are great, smart with elements of their character that demonstrate compassion and heart. But when something happens and one of them is hauled back to prison, I don't feel bad for them.

  2. I cannot possibly say in the limited space and unimportance of a comment how unfathomably deep reality is and how little of it we see, or of that little part, which is mostly the surface of things, appearances, how our society shapes our vision, not us as individuals. Though I am so shaped, I can say that there is a vision that sees everyone as a little child, innocent of the deeps, unaware of the inner connections, ignorant of the consequences of treating others as ‘something unimportant out there’, whether that is in harming them outright with an evil act or with self-righteousness.

    With this vision you do not let people get away with murder because you love them too much, and whether you have to get them alone unto themselves so to aid them in getting some glimpse of the depths of reality or not, it is that love that will make them stop killing, using this as a symbol for all wrong, and it’s that love that will make them regret their wrong and take responsibility for it.

    You don’t believe me of course, but that’s because it’s not a practice of compassion I’m talking about; it’s your very vision, how your head, heart, and hands see the world, and you do not now have that vision. If you were able to see those ‘pedophiles guys’ with those deep eyes, not seeing them with society’s scapegoat label, feel sorrow when they fall, the same sorrow you feel for the child they violated, what you feel for all situations of suffering, not anger, not self-righteousness, then you’d be more in a position of helping them not re-offend.

    You won’t see it I understand, but now you’re more on the opposite end: by your ill will you unknowingly give them will to continue wrong, since, though it’s apparent unlike most you do feel some compassion, have some understanding, your bottom line is that they are pedophiles and deserve the treatment they get. That’s society’s bottom line, and all that ill will is a secret underground aid that helps arm harmful acts. We are more connected to one another on the inside than we’d be comfortable knowing about living as we do, each for themselves or for their group. We have a shared identity as our true bottom line, and that’s not some belief to adopt but something you can go deep enough to see, and when you do see it, you look at everyone with 'googly eyes' regardless of how ugly or bad they appear.

    And to the author of the post: have you ever considered the question isn’t so much mercy or justice but that true justice may mean something different than retribution and punishment?