What do we do with sinners?

Of course, “Sinners” is a Christian term – or at least a term with meaning circumscribed by particular religious traditions. Other terms, taken from other contexts might include: “Miscreant,” “deviant,” “criminal,” “traitor.”

In the nation formerly known as the USSR, people who were accused of “sinning” against the system were dealt with quite harshly. Depending on the whims of the leaders, they might be tortured, killed, sent to the Gulag, or put in an psyciatric hospital. While this last option might sound benevolent, it was nothing of the sort in actual soviet practice. You see, the doctors tried to cure their patients. Or at least that’s that they called it. Massive doses of drugs. Electro-shock. Whatever it took to cure them of their sin. Sins like believing in democracy, freedom, God – all those were illnesses worthy of a soviet cure.

The Corner at National Review Online has been following the story of Abdul Rahman. They point to a story at CNN that the Afghans have come up with a possible out for Rahman: He’s insane.

On Wednesday a state prosecutor said Rahman may be mentally unfit to stand trial, The Associated Press reports.

“We think he could be mad. He is not a normal person. He doesn’t talk like a normal person,” The AP quoted prosecutor Sarinwal Zamari as saying.

Moayuddin Baluch, a religious adviser to President Hamid Karzai, said Rahman would undergo a psychological examination, according to the AP.

“Doctors must examine him,” the AP quoted Baluch as saying. “If he is mentally unfit, definitely Islam has no claim to punish him. He must be forgiven. The case must be dropped.”
So Mr. Rahman has an out. Innocent by reason of insanity. What does that mean in Afghanistan? When someone in the US is declared “not guilty by reason of insanity” does that mean their life goes on as normal, as if whatever it was they did wasn’t done? I think not.

What do they do with Rahman if he’s declared insane? Will they do the “compassionate” thing and seek (i.e., enforce) his “healing?”

As a Christian, I understand that turning away from Jesus can be an expression of mental unhealth. But as a follower of Jesus most of the common courses of action are ruled out for me. I cannot torture them into health (that was the mistake of that benevolent institution known as the Spanish Inquisition). I can also not imprison them or kill them.

What does Jesus say to do to people – to sinners – who won’t listen to reason? (I have Matthew 18 15-20 in mind.) He says, “Treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” Does that sound brutal? After all, from the view point of holiness, those are the bad guys. But think a minute. How did Jesus treat pagans and tax collectors?

Once we look at Jesus – which is what his followers are supposed to do – we see our way clearly. Our role is to love sinners (the miscreants, deviants, criminals – those who depart from the faith). Our role is to treat them as we would any outsider – as those for whom Christ died, as those whom we are to love into the kingdom.

Where does Islam stand on this? I wouldn’t be surprised if there are multiple traditions on this, partly depending on the weight given to certain Koranic passages (like, “There is no compulsion in religion”) and certain passages in the Hadith, as well as other cultural traditions that have built up here and there over the centuries.

Of course, it may be the case that Afghanistan, an ostensible Muslim nation, ends up doing the Pushtun or Uzbek (or Afghani) thing instead of the Muslim thing. I know that’s the case here in America (claimed by some to be a Christian – especially in the Muslim world – nation).

We’ll see.

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2 Responses to What do we do with sinners?

  1. John says:

    Atheists have told me that I am insane because I believe in the supernatural.

    They have a point. Belief is inherently irrational.

  2. Richard H says:

    Why is belief inherently irrational? We normally believe piles of things every day. Why is that irrational?

    Do you believe in monolithic Reason – a Reason is always and everywhere the same, a Reason best exemplified by naturalistic science? If so, I can imagine such a narrow view of rationality would lead you to say “belief is inherently irrational.” Of course I haven’t seen any signs on your site that you are a naturalist, so I’m likely reading you wrongly.

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