The Danger of Therapeutic Punishment

The practical problem of Christian politics is not that of drawing up schemes for a Christian society, but that of living as innocently as we can with unbelieving fellow-subjects under unbelieving rulers who will never be perfectly wise and good and who will sometimes be very wicked and very foolish.  And when they are wicked the Humanitarian theory of punishment (see previous post) will put in their hands a finer instrument of tyranny than wickedness ever had before.  For if crime and disease are to be regarded as the same thing, it follows that any state of mind which our masters choose to call ‘disease’ can be treated as crime; and compulsorily cured.  It will be in vain to plead that states of mind which displease government need not always involve moral turpitude and do not therefore always deserve forfeiture of liberty.  For our masters will not be using the concepts of Desert and Punishment but those of disease and cure.  We know that one school of psychology already regards religion as a neurosis.  When this particular neurosis becomes inconvenient to government, what is to hinder government from proceeding to ‘cure’ it?  Such ‘cure’ will, of course, be compulsory, but under the Humanitarian theory it will not be called by the shocking name of Persecution.  No one will blame us for being Christians, no one will hate us, no one will revile us.  The new Nero will approach us with the silky manners of a doctor, and though all will be in fact compulsory as the tunica molesta or Smithfield and Tyburn, all will go on within the unemotional therapeutic sphere where words like ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ or ‘freedom’ and ‘slavery’ are never heard.  And thus when the command is given, every prominent Christian in the land may vanish overnight into Institutions for the Treatment of the Ideologically Unsound, and it will rest with the expert gaolers to say when (if ever) they are to re-emerge.  But it will not be Persecution.  Even if the treatment is painful, even if it is life-long, even if it is fatal, that will be only a regrettable accident; the intention was purely therapeutic.  In ordinary medicine there were painful operations and fatal operations; so in this.  But because they are ‘treatment’, not punishment, they can be criticized only by fellow-experts and on technical grounds, never by men as men on grounds of justice.

C.S. Lewis (1898-1963), “The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment”, in God in the Dock.


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Filed under Christian Living, Christian Thinking, Justice, Law, Theology, Uncategorized, Worldview

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