Posted: 31.12.06 in Blogging

Our deeds have travelled far
What we have been is what we are

This is a quote from the song Scene Four: Beyond This Life by Dream Theater from the album Metropolis Part 2: Scenes From A Memory. I would like to use it to introduce a theological question. Does our past define who we are?

This is an apt question to arise on the day of Saddam Hussein’s execution. I think few would argue that we should be spared punishment for past sins. However, let us examine what we mean by punishment. I believe punishment is the retribution for a wrong-doing. It is a payment by the offender by means of some sort of sacrifice for a misdemeanour. It cancels out a moral debt.

When you are a child, you might steal sweets from the cupboard. You get your punishment, and you are implicitly forgiven. However, no matter what crime an adult commits, he might be forgiven, but he carries new labels. Trust can no longer be taken for granted, and must be earned. I’m not sure this is fair.

I fail to see the purpose of a punishment if a past mistake cannot be forgotten. Take Rodney Trotter from Only Fools And Horses. You are rarely reminded of his experience of the judicial system, receiving a suspended sentence for possession of illegal drugs. I suspect you are able to forget his mistake. But translate this scenario to real life, he might have problems getting a job.

So, back to the original question. Does the past define a person? A murderer will always be a murderer. Would you lose sleep with him living next-door? It could well be that his time spent in prison, he no longer has the will to kill. It might even have been that his crime was an isolated incident, driven by many influences. Can a paedophile “go off” children? Might a tax evader learn his lesson first time round? Could a prisoner realise the error of his ways? Can a leopard change his spots?

If Saddam Hussein were spared his life, could he have ever done some good to compensate for the crimes he had committed?

  1. helen says:

    I don’t believe people can change, there are little mistakes that we learn from, like taking drugs/shop lifting when we are young, then choose to stop and grow into good people. Then there are the type of people who get a kick from this type of thing, some people enjoy causing pain, these people are never and will never be of use to the world, so should be removed.

  2. helen says:

    Oh and I forgotHAPPY NEW YEAR.

  3. Danny says:

    Happy New Year

  4. Steve says:

    Happy New Year Helen!

    Yes, there are two kinds of people. As you say, there are those that learn from their mistakes and become good people. How do we distinguish those that want to right their wrongs from those that do want to cause harm? I just think that many of us don’t do enough to find out.

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