Catchup: The Law and the Afterlife – Response to Commentor; Lucius Svartwulf Helsen of ‘aheathenspath.wordpress.com’

It is something I do my best to try and cut down on, but its pretty much an accepted fact for me that there will be times when I simply don’t hold true to my ‘post at least once a day’ philosophy. However as the number of people reading increases, the number of comments also increases and comments are what I will drop everything to respond to. The logic behind that is simple. Comments, for the most part, are fairly straightforward short response things and being grateful for any comments I like to acknowledge when someone takes the time to leave a comment (I’m fairly sure that a few have gotten through the cracks without a response though).

This time however I’ve received such an amazing comment that is quite substantial that merely responding to it in the comment section wouldn’t do it justice. So, for this comment I’m going to go through it and bring out all the parts that I want to make a return comment on and more!

The original comment, unedited by me, from Lucius Svartwulf Helsen is as follows:

“one would also have to worry about the living trying to dictate what punishments could be used in the afterlife. Those who are beyond anything acceptable are fed to Nidhoggr in the Norse and I think Apep in the Egyptian, which ends their existence completely. How long would it be before those who oppose the death penalty started trying to prevent that punishment. Or how about the torments that happen in the Monotheistic and Buddhist Hells, which no doubt violates all kinds of “cruel and unusual punishment” standards for numerous countries and international courts? It would be the great irony, that in trying to make sure the evil were punished in death as they could not be in life…would inevitably lead to attempts to make sure that the evil dead were punished as they were in life…which created such feelings that those who did evil were not in fact punished enough.

Which isn’t even getting into the issue of if the guilty party would go to be punished by the pantheon of those he wronged, or to be judged by his own pantheon. How would people feel if say we went to the Infernal Hell hoping to see Bin Ladin being punished for all the death he brought, only to find out that in fact he was in the Islamic Heaven enjoying his reward for pursuing a Holy War. Or Hitler, who believed himself a good and faithful Christian, was to be found not in Hell, but in Heaven? What would that do to Jews whose people were slaughtered, and Heathens whose culture was stolen and blasphemed? Often the villain of one person’s story is the hero of another person’s story. What would it do to people, to find out that in fact your villain in the “right” according to his pantheon and wasn’t being punished, and you were the one in the “wrong?” “

The comment was left on my article ‘The Law and the Afterlife’ which questioned what would happen in a hypothetical world where the living could enter the afterlife and ensure that those who we feel in this life deserve to be punished but cannot be (because of extenuating circumstances, such as being dead already or a particular personage such as a head of state whom cannot be persecuted for lots of complicated reasons) are in fact punished in the afterlife. At the time there was a lot of details that I didn’t go into, also if I remember correctly that was an article that I had written a good version of then lost because of a web browser heart-attack. To my genuine joy Lucius has raised a number of the things that I didn’t go into – now let me show you the ways…

NB: From here on out the quotes will be edited by me, predominantly in terms of punctuation, because as an English teacher there are some things I simply can’t let go…

   “One would also have to worry about the living trying to dictate what punishments could be used in the afterlife. Those who are beyond anything acceptable are fed to Nidhoggr in the Norse [tradition] and I think Apep in the Egyptian [tradition], which ends their existence completely. How long would it be before those who oppose the death penalty started trying to prevent that punishment?”

In short, I love this point. I really do. It is something I really only obliquely mentioned in my original article, or else didn’t really express as clearly as Lucius has done. Its also a really important point, well points plural – The living dictating the dead and opposition to certain punishments.

In many respects this is one of those points that really falls in the ‘it wouldn’t be possible’ box. While I am normally an optimist, the harsh light of day (so to speak) really shines a spotlight on how unlikely something like punishing people in the afterlife really is through this point. At the end of the day, people as a collective body are stupid and have no respect. Its not exactly a new idea, but its one that holds true almost all of the time. In this situation there would be so much debate and discussion on whether or not we, collectively speaking, could allow the use of utter destruction as a punishment. Personally I would be on the side of the argument that says ‘if we do this, we are only there to keep a tally and occasionally request the punishment of a specific person, not to dictate policy’. In my eyes the living really have no business telling those in the afterlife, or at least those who manage it, what they can and cannot do.

Which leads me to the other half of the point – opposition to certain punishments. Now, this can be read in a few different ways – the punishment isn’t enough, its too much, its cruel, its too temporary… There are so many ways that it could be argued that I’m really just going to stick to the overarching point of generic opposition to certain punishments. In some respects this would be an easier subject to deal with, where the hypothetical scenario reality, after the one about the living dictating the dead (or those who manage them) because the most pertinent argument would have already been raised – the dead are the dead and the living are the living and ne’er twixt shall they meet. Which is really a fancy way of saying that the dead mind the business of the dead and the living mind the business of the living; in many respects it wouldn’t be too different to the way international relations are conducted today. We can ask nicely for something to be done, but really if they don’t want to do it theres nothing we can do to force them – regardless of whether or not we SHOULD, which is a whole other question.

 Or how about the torments that happen in the Monotheistic and Buddhist Hells, which no doubt violate all kinds of ‘cruel and unusual punishment’ standards for numerous countries and international courts?”

I’ve sort of already commented on this already, but its still a very good point. There aren’t exactly ‘fine lines’ when you look at certain afterlife scenarios, or hells as Lucius put it. Certainly, there are a number of interpretations where ‘going to Hell’ however you might define ‘Hell’ is the punishment for all wrongdoers, regardless of what wrong they did.

It would be the great irony; in trying to make sure the evil were punished in death as they could not be in life…would inevitably lead to attempts to make sure that the evil dead were punished as they were in life…which created such feelings that those who did evil were not in fact punished enough.”

And thats just the start of a convoluted spiral of hair splitting! If its possible to punish the person in the afterlife, do they still get punished in this life, if they committed a certain crime that is deemed to be only sufficiently punished in the afterlife do they get, uh… immediately conveyed to their ‘penal institution’? That wheels back around to the question of whether the death penalty is an acceptable method of criminal punishment. It touches upon a later point, but among the many other issues involved in this particular aspect alone is the question of whether a punishment from another faith , different to the one which the person being punished is… associated (?), could be used because it is seen to be more appropriate than one from their own faith.

Which isn’t even getting into the issue of if the guilty party would go to be punished by the pantheon of those he wronged, or to be judged by his own pantheon.”

This point here is… Yikes. There are so many things that this sentence alone could do to a world where this kind of punitive system existed. I already touch on this just previously, but there is so much more to it than just that earlier point. If a person is being looked at for potential punishment in the afterlife, but their pantheon or faith does not perceive what they did as a crime (whether neutrally speaking or ‘oh, we REWARD that kind of behaviour’ speaking) , yet it is determined that they need to be punished in the afterlife what do we do? Moreover, would it be ethical to use a pantheon other than the persons own to punish them? What if there was a tribunal of pantheons and two out of three decided they are guilty – within that: what if the one who says they aren’t guilty is the persons own pantheon? What if the persons pantheon is the ONLY one to say they are guilty? What if the person either doesn’t have a pantheon to put on the tribunal or alternatively their pantheon isn’t on the tribunal?

How would people feel if say, we went to the Infernal Hell hoping to see Bin Ladin being punished for all the death he brought, only to find out that in fact he was in the Islamic Heaven enjoying his reward for pursuing a Holy War. Or Hitler, who believed himself a good and faithful Christian, was to be found not in Hell, but in Heaven?”

This, at least to my eye, brings into the foreground a totally unmentioned question – What if the person in question isn’t considered, however that is determined, to be X (where is the name for a person of the Y faith)? If Hitler isn’t, or wasn’t (past tense I guess? If the afterlife is eternal does the past tense apply?), considered to be Christian but still called himself Christian does he in fact go to the Christian Hell?

What would that do to Jews whose people were slaughtered, and Heathens whose culture was stolen and blasphemed? Often the villain of one person’s story is the hero of another person’s story. What would it do to people, to find out that in fact your villain in the “right” according to his pantheon and wasn’t being punished, and you were the one in the ‘wrong’ ? “

Here we have the crux of the entire dilemma – How do we know what is right and what is wrong? At the end of the day the answer is entirely too involved and really is a moral dilemma that wouldn’t ever end. For me this really puts the nail in the coffin (see what I did there?) on the issue as a whole. There simply isn’t an answer that would be satisfactory enough for everyone to allow this kind of punitive system, however hypothetical the original scenario may have been, to become reality.

Thanks Lucius, for your amazing comment. You really added to my original article and hopefully there’ll be more from you in the future – I also look forward to one day getting my way around to your blog for my Subscriber S-day section.

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