Richard Rohr: Restorative Justice

Almost all religion and cultures that I know of have believed in one way or another that sin and evil are to be punished and that retribution is to be demanded of the sinner in this world—and usually the next world, too. Such retributive justice is a dualistic system of reward and punishment, good guys and bad guys, and makes perfect sense to the ego. I call it the economy of merit or “meritocracy.” This system seems to be the best that prisons, courtrooms, wars, and even most of the church (which should know better) appear equipped to do.

Jesus, many mystics, and other wisdom traditions—such as the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous—show that sin and failure are, in fact, an opportunity for the transformation and enlightenment of the offender. Mere counting and ledger-keeping is not the way of the Gospel. Our best self wants to restore relationships, and not just blame or punish. This is the “economy of grace.” (The trouble is that we defined God as “punisher in chief” instead of Healer, Forgiver, and Reconciler and so the retribution model was legitimized all the way down!)

What humanity really needs is an honest exposure of the truth and accountability for what has happened. Only then can human beings move ahead with dignity. Hurt needs to be spoken and heard. It does not just go away on its own. This can then lead to “restorative justice,” which is what the prophets invariably promise to the people of Israel (e.g., Ezekiel 16:53; Isaiah 57:17-19) and is exemplified in Jesus’ story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) and throughout his healing ministry. We lose that and we lose the Gospel itself.

The aim of restorative justice is to return the person to a useful position in the community. Thus, there can be healing on both sides. Such justice is a mystery that only makes sense to the soul. It is a direct corollary of our “economy of grace” and yet the term restorative justice only entered our vocabulary in the last few decades. How can we deny that there is an evolution of consciousness, even consciousness of where the Gospel is leading us?

As any good therapist will tell you, you cannot heal what you do not acknowledge. What you do not consciously acknowledge will remain in control from within, festering and destroying you and those around you. In the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus teaches, “If you bring forth that which is within you, it will save you. If you do not bring it forth, it will destroy you” (logion 70). [1]

Only mutual apology, healing, and forgiveness offer a sustainable future for humanity. Otherwise, we are controlled by the past, individually and corporately. We all need to apologize, and we all need to forgive or this human project will surely self-destruct. No wonder that almost two-thirds of Jesus’ teaching is directly or indirectly about forgiveness. Otherwise, history devolves into taking sides, bitterness, holding grudges, and the violence that inevitably follows. As others have said, “Forgiveness is to let go of our hope for a different past.” Reality is what it is, and such acceptance leads to great freedom, as long as there is also both accountability and healing forgiveness.

Richard Rohr Meditation: At-One-Ment, Not Atonement

The common reading of the Bible is that Jesus “died for our sins”—either to pay a debt to the devil (common in the first millennium) or to pay a debt to God (proposed by Anselm of Canterbury, 1033-1109).

.. Duns Scotus was not guided by the Temple language of debt, atonement, or blood sacrifice (understandably used by the Gospel writers and by Paul). He was inspired by the cosmic hymns in the first chapters of Colossians and Ephesians and the Prologue to John’s Gospel (1:1-18) and gave a theological and philosophical base to St. Francis’ deep intuitions of God’s love.

..  The terrible and un-critiqued premise is that God could need payment, and even a very violent transaction, to be able to love and accept God’s own children! These theories are based on retributive justice rather than the restorative justice that the prophets and Jesus taught.

.. For Duns Scotus, the incarnation of God and the redemption of the world could never be a mere mop-up exercise in response to human sinfulness, but had to be the proactive work of God from the very beginning. We were “chosen in Christ before the world was made” (Ephesians 1:4). Our sin could not possibly be the motive for the incarnation—or we were steering the cosmic ship! Only perfect love and divine self-revelation could inspire God to come in human form. God never merely reacts, but supremely and freely acts—out of love.

.. Jesus did not come to change the mind of God about humanity (it did not need changing)! Jesus came to change the mind of humanity about God! 

God in Jesus moved people beyond the counting, weighing, and punishing model—which the ego prefers—to a world in which God’s mercy makes any economy of merit, sacrifice, reparation, or atonement both unhelpful and unnecessary. Jesus undid “once and for all” (Hebrews 7:27; 9:12; 10:10) notions of human and animal sacrifice (common in most ancient religions) and replaced them with an economy of grace and love.

.. Jesus was meant to be a game-changer for the human psyche and for religion itself. But when we begin negatively, or focused on a problem, we never get off the hamster wheel of shame, separation, and violence. Rather than focusing on sin, Jesus—“the crucified One”—pointed us toward a primal solidarity with the very suffering of God and thus of all creation.

.. God does not love us because we are good; God loves us because God is good. Nothing we can do will either decrease or increase God’s eternal and infinite eagerness to love!

A Ford Exec Who Took the Long View

Populism could intensify if corporate tax cuts don’t yield benefits for workers.

Miller made Ford take automobile safety seriously while General Motors lagged behind. The choice cost Ford sales because some customers balked at paying for innovative equipment such as seat belts. Miller defended his policy as the right thing to do and said corporate leaders should always ask themselves whether they were willing to have their decisions publicly reported. Volkswagen executives have paid dearly for ignoring this advice, and they are not alone.

.. I wonder how many of today’s executives would be prepared to sacrifice sales and profits to do the right thing. Most of them have been taught that maximizing shareholder value is their sole responsibility—and if this means ignoring the needs of workers and the well-being of local communities, so be it.

.. The bills’ drafters are assuming that executives will use these funds to invest in their businesses.

But that’s not what happened the last time this was done, in 2004, when corporations were allowed to bring back overseas assets if they paid a tax of only 5%. During the next three years, the 15 companies that repatriated the most raised salaries for senior executives, cut more than 20,000 jobs, decreased investment in research, and expanded dividends and stock buybacks. All this happened despite the letter of the law, which specified that the funds be used for investing in research and the workforce and prohibited their use for compensating executives and repurchasing stock.

.. If these bills pass, average Americans will expect something in return—higher wages, better working conditions, and more opportunities for their children. If corporations take the money and run, public retribution will be severe.

.. America needs a new era of broad-minded, socially aware corporate leaders who understand the long-term relationship between the well-being of their companies and the well-being of their country.

.. An environment in which profits soar while wages stagnate may make for satisfied shareholders. But the revolt against the arrangements that sustain this imbalance is already under way. Today the targets are immigration and trade treaties. Tomorrow the demands could include restrictions on the ability of corporations to shutter plants and fire workers at will. The day after tomorrow, if massive corporate tax cuts yield no benefits for workers, we could see an intensified revolt against elites, not only cultural elites, but the captains of industry and finance as well.

Taking the long view is self-interest rightly understood. It means refraining from squeezing the last bit of profit out of your business right now in order to secure a flow of profit over time. The economy rests on a set of political arrangements that the people can revise and—if things get bad enough—upend.

The Undead Religious Right: Why I Cannot Support Ted Cruz

.. James Davison Hunter’s To Change the World argued that the Religious Right’s political approach has been shaped by a Nietzschean will to power, which aims to  enforce its will through “legal and political means or to threaten to do so,” rather than persuading others or negotiating compromises.

.. For evangelicals,“injury—real or perceived—leads the aggrieved to accuse, blame, vilify, and then seek revenge on whom they see as responsible.”

.. Such an anti-politics of resentment, alienation, and disenfranchisement is at the heart of Trump’s appeal, even if the issues that he has been most vocal on are not traditional social conservative concerns.

.. In Cruz, conservative evangelicals have the embodied promise of a younger, chaos-light candidate who is firmly and securely one of their own—that is, one who shamelessly subordinates the religious life to the pursuit of political power.

.. Cruz’s unsavory use of the religious life for his own advancement, however, is the playbook that the Religious Right has written for itself, creating a vicious cycle that identifies the evangelical world with such shameless politicking.

.. Pandering is the litmus test for politically conservative religious ‘authenticity.’

.. But electing Falstaff or the politician most eager to imitate him would be an apocalyptic, anti-political judgment that our political order is beyond repair. That is hardly the ‘good news’ that the name ‘evangelical’ is meant to signify—but then, evangelicals are some of the only American’s remaining who use ‘apocalyptic’ non-metaphorically.

.. The only small consolation the Religious Right might have is that the exhausted, cynical anti-politics that Cruz has so effectively tapped into may at last finally die with a bang this cycle, and not with a whimper.