On Reincarnation and Retributive Justice

Retributive justice is a very ancient idea.  It has been known across many cultures for about as long as civilization, as we know it, has existed.  It might even be argued that it is a direct consequence of civilization, to the extent that it signifies the end of social control by kinship networks and the beginning of permanent multi-family settlements with conflicting interests. 

And yet, it isn’t the only means of righting a wrong, or the most effective in the long term, and probably isn’t the first or only system of human justice.  A broad application of retributive justice may chastise some, but merely wound and worsen others into more violent and dangerous people (which is certainly the case with the US prison system).  

Why, then, would we apply such a flawed theory of justice to the idea of God or reincarnation?  Let us suppose for a moment that there is a divinity that controls the reincarnation process, and its only desire is to help mortals learn of their condition and improve toward a nobler one.  Would it do to simply beat down everyone, including those whose only response to being beaten down is to slide further from a noble condition?  And is it really our place to say what someone deserves if the end goal is not their qualification for a blissful state by their merit (a very Greco-Roman idea), but their ultimate redemption?

Perhaps it would be more just, if the ultimate redemption of all is the goal of the divine ineffable, to provide for those who would respond to it a positive example in their subsequent lives.  One who has never known a loving family may have one the next life around, which may re-write how they view their actions when they remember the lives they have lived.  Sometimes, the only way to purge someone of evil is to surround them with good and I am convinced that a wise god would know that.

I say this as one who has committed one of the most grievous wrongs of all in a previous life.  I killed many times, in war and in related atrocities.  In other lives, I lied, cheated, and stole to varying degrees, and I have most certainly broken human laws many, many times across lifetimes including this one.  My soul is not an innocent one and by some accounts I should be rotting in hell, or worse off than simply broke and bored all the time.  But I find I’m not; I can’t say I’m entirely happy with my life as it is, but I don’t live in extreme privation and I have known love and friendship and joy in this life.

And for what it’s worth, I know so many others who can say the same.  And at first, I fell into the trap of thinking that this means there is no god to set things right when we commit some unspeakable atrocity.  How narrow my thinking was!  If there is a god, and that god cares anything about us, then that god is not a mindless robot bound to a black and white code like a human judge, but a being that can make up its mind case-by-case and use the means that works.

As to whether or not such a god actually exists, I am still unsure.


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