One of the podcasts I frequently listen to is Dr. R.C. Sproul Jr's podcast Jesus Changes Everything. If you haven’t already heard of the podcast I highly recommend it. Each day, Dr. Sproul offers an eight to ten minute lecture on a various topic of religious, political, or social interest. Because Dr. Sproul is so insightful each episode is thought provoking. Because the episodes are brief they are rarely wearisome to listen to.
Recently Dr. Sproul addressed the issue of the prison system in the United States. As always, Sproul refused to address the topic on a popular level and instead chose to address our underlying popular assumptions. As a culture we often make assumptions about various social, political, and religious issues and then begin our arguments from this starting point. Unfortunately, many of our societal assumptions are woefully unbiblical and rarely challenge.
The topic of prison is one such issue. Most Americans assume the necessities of a prison system like the one that we currently have and then start their arguments from those grounds. If the topic is addressed on MSNBC or the Rush Limbaugh Show the arguments might range from the amount of “taxpayer dollars” to the “psychological health” of the inmates. But rarely, if ever, is the assumption of the necessities of prison ever brought into question on these national platforms.
This is one of the reasons why I love alternative media like blogs and podcasts; the political rules of the left and right do not apply in the Wild West of alternative media and we are better off for it.
This brings us back to Dr. Sprouls thoughts on prison. Sproul points out that prisons were never mentioned in the entirety of the Law delivered to Moses and Israel. Rather, there were two forms of civil penalties. For crimes against property, restitution was seen as the solution. Rather than locking someone up, the person was allowed the opportunity to atone for his/her wrongdoing by paying the victim back.
Contrast this with our current prison system. Nevermind the fact that most inmates are incarcerated for victimless crimes where no person or property has been harmed. Even in the cases where a criminal has committed a crime against someone’s property they are hauled off to prison rather than given the opportunity to make restitution to the victim. Think about it. If someone breaks into your house, steals your television, and then is caught, would you not rather the person repay you for the television than you pay for the person’s incarceration via taxation?
The solution for crimes against persons under the Mosaic Law was capital punishment. If the crime was sexual assault, criminal negligence, or murder, the offender was judged to the severest degree of the Law. As a Libertarian, I am weary to hand the power of life and death over to an institution like the modern state. Yet, I do feel as though caging people in solitary confinement for 40 years is even less respectful of the Imago Dei that all humans possess.
In any case, Dr. Sproul offers some much needed perspective on an issue that most Americans, even American Christians, have every thought of questioning. I recommend listening to the full episode yourself if you have a few minutes.
Food for thought.