CS Lewis – The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment

(Thanks to Daniela Lunga for the link)

Observation: It is interesting to see reflections of the Girardian scapegoat theory, even if probably Lewis was not aware of it.

Mercy, detached from justice, grows unmerciful. An illustration explaining a theory of Crime and Punishment that C.S Lewis described as ‘a man-eating weed’. Notes below in video description.

(15:53) “The new Nero will approach us with the silky manner of a doctor.” Nero (37-68 A.D.) was the Emperor of the pagan Roman Empire and the greatest persecutor of the early Church. He fed Christians to lions in the Colosseum. He also dipped them in oil and set them on fire in his palace garden at night as a source of light.

(16:00) “All will be as compulsory as the tunica molesta of Tyburn or Smithfield”. A ‘tunica molesta’ was a shirt/tunic impregnated with flammable substances such as coal tar, used to execute people by burning in ancient Rome. Tyburn and Smithfield were for centuries the main sites for the public execution of heretics and dissidents in London.

(19:06) Psalm 141:5: “Let the righteous one smite me; It shall be a kindness:
And let him reprove me; It shall be an excellent oil, which shall not break my head…”

The implication Lewis draws from this verse is that just as there is sternness that saves, there is also a niceness that destroys. A good person who rebukes your wrongs, will not do you serious damage – his rebukes or ‘strikes’ will actually heal you in the end – if you listen. See Revelation 3.9. An enemy, however, will drown you with niceness, flattery and oily selection initially (Prov. 7.15,21,27), but will give you, in the end, total destruction (i.e. an enemy’s pretend kindnesses and treatments [healing balms] will break your head).

(19:10) A quote from Faithful, a character in Pilgrims Progress (section IV) by John Bunyan:

“Christian: Did you meet with no other assault as you came?

Faithful: When I came to the foot of the Hill called Difficulty, I met with a very aged Man, who asked me, What I was, and whither bound? I told him, That I was a Pilgrim, going to the Celestial City. Then said the old man, Thou lookest like an honest fellow; wilt thou be content to dwell with me for the wages that I shall give thee? Then I asked him his name, and where he dwelt? He said his name was Adam the First, and I dwell in the Town of Deceit. I asked him then, What was his work? and what the wages that he would give? He told me, That his work was many delights; and his wages, that I should be his Heir at last. I further asked him, What House he kept, and what other Servants he had? So he told me, That his House was maintained with all the dainties in the world; and that his Servants were those of his own begetting. Then I asked how many Children he had? He said that he had but three Daughters: The Lust of the Flesh, The Lust of the Eyes, and The Pride of Life, and that I should marry them all if I would. Then I asked him how long time he would have me live with him? And he told me, As long as he lived himself.

Christian: Well, and what conclusion came the old man and you to at last?

Faithful: Why, at first, I felt myself somewhat inclinable to go with the man, for I thought he spake very fair; but looking in his forehead, as I talked with him, I saw there written, Put off the old man with his deeds.

Christian. And how then?

Faithful: Then it came burning hot into my mind, whatever he said, and however he flattered, when he got me home to his House, he would sell me for a slave. So I bid him forbear to talk, for I would not come near the door of his House. Then he reviled me, and told me that he would send such a one after me, that should make my way bitter to my Soul. So I turned to go away from him; but just as I turned myself to go thence, I felt him take hold of my flesh and give me such a deadly twitch back, that I thought he had pulled part of me after himself. This made me cry, O wretched Man! So I went on my way up the Hill [of Difficulty].”

You can find this essay in a book called ‘Compelling Reasons’.

Author: DanutM

Anglican theologian. Former Director for Faith and Development Middle East and Eastern Europe Region of World Vision International

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: