Monday, 1 January 2007

Is Redemption Possible?

The media have fed on the death of Saddam. A tyrant has been executed. & the world should rejoice?

Is it ever possible for people, whatever evil deeds they have committed, to attain a deeper realisation that they have been wrong and that they should repent so as to change their ways? Except for those who believe that no evil-doer can ever sincerely embrace repentance, it has to be acknowledged that a change of heart is a possibility.

And with that possibility in place, what could justify its removal? Of course, when faced with an imminent threat, and we have to strike back to save the life of oneself or others, we can say that killing the perpetrator is a necessary option. But in many cases, the wrongdoer is in custody already. The crime, once established, can be granted as horrific and beyond excuse. In time though, if the spirit of humanity engages with the convicted, enables him to face up to his guilt, to initiate a change in his moral constitution so that he craves for nothing more than a transformation of his character, can we not allow that he may reach a point where his journey on the path to redemption is beyond doubt.

Some may say that there are villains so vile that they will never change. Let us not argue if Saddam is one of those - but in general, how do we tell those who may change, who indeed are changing, from those whose soul is rotten to the core? One argument would be to say that only those who beg others NEVER to forgive them, who demand to be executed or never to be released, can be truly regarded as having genuinely repented. Thus we have the eternal condemnation paradox - only those who can convince us that they must be condemned for all time deserve to be condemned no more.

Most of us do not want to forgive evil people. We want to see them punished - nay, suffer. But if we can choose between redemption for the wicked and their persistent suffering, which one should we choose? At least those who concede that the precise choice would have to be informed by the exact circumstances have moved from retributive hatred to restorative empathy. Let those who feel no remorse suffer - but respond to those who are capable of being redeemed accordingly too. And how can we tell if there is a chance of redemption if there is no reaching out to them.

Lord Longford was criticised and ridiculed for his concern for Myra Hindley. But if the door is forever shut on the possibility of redemption, no one could ever come through from the other side.

To save the good is a moral imperative. To reach out to those who could yet be good is no less so. But can we ever learn to differentiate when the bad can and should be given a second chance to amend for the evil they have done? Just because not everyone is redeemable (some may dispute that), it does not follow that none is.

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