February 24, 2014 Editor

The Spirituality of Penal Abolition

ICOPA IX Presentation 2000

Noted Canadian Quaker activist and author Dr. Ruth Morris was the main organizer of the above annual event, that year in Toronto. She later was a recipient of Correctional Services Canada’s Restorative Justice Award, and of The Order of Canada. Her death from cancer (September 17, 2001) was a huge loss to the Restorative Justice field, which she preferred referring to as Transformative Justice. I presented on this theme at the ICOPA 2000 conference at her invitation.

The novel referred to is Chrysalis Crucible that may more be found about elsewhere on this website, since published in 2007 by me.

An excerpt:

The defining religious ethos of Western spirituality historically has been Christianity. Christianity has also been the reigning ideology in the West until into the nineteenth century. While it is salutary to discuss other world spiritualities with reference to Western penal law, no other religion or spirituality has remotely impacted the formation of the Western legal tradition like Christianity. Harold Berman’s magisterial Law and Revolution (1983/1997[; see also his subsequent Law and Revolution, II]) describes this interaction of law and Christianity as centrally formative to the Western legal system. Later this year, the State University of New York (SUNY) Press will publish The Spiritual Roots of Restorative Justice, a work commissioned by the Centre for Studies in Religion and Society at the University of Victoria. I participated with Pierre Allard in writing the chapter on Christianity for that project. I thoroughly appreciated interacting with other world spiritualities to produce the manuscript. They all point towards penal abolition. I highly recommend the book! But given the unmatched dominance of Christianity in influencing the development of the Western penal law tradition, I shall unapologetically concentrate my remarks today on Christian spirituality and penal abolition [Footnote 2 in the presentation: René Girard, whom I will discuss below, also indicates that “Christianity” in the academy is the “last politically correct scapegoat (Robert Hamerton-Kelly, “A Tribute to René Girard on his 70th birthday”, Contagion, Volume 1, Spring, 1994, pp. ix – xi., 1994, p. xi).” My teen-aged son once observed that in our culture any spirituality is readily acceptable – except Christian versions. There are good historical reasons why Christianity has been so eschewed, for it has often shown the world an ugly, oppressive face so contrary to the way of Jesus. Further, no attitude is so disliked ultimately as self-righteousness (often in religious guise). Ironically, however, this is an attitude more strongly critiqued by Jesus than any other world religion leader – perhaps with due premonition! Alistair Kee’s historical study, Constantine versus Christ (1982) addresses the first concern, the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 23, illustrates the second.]. I also have a far more intimate awareness of Christian spirituality, since I am a practising Christian, having been shaped by the North American evangelical tradition. I am also part of a Mennonite church, and am ecumenical in commitment and observance. My North American perspective will of course also be evident.

Please click on: Icopa IX Presentation 2000

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Wayne Northey was Director of Man-to-Man/Woman-to-Woman – Restorative Christian Ministries (M2/W2) in British Columbia, Canada from 1998 to 2014, when he retired. He has been active in the criminal justice arena and a keen promoter of Restorative Justice since 1974. He has published widely on peacemaking and justice themes. You will find more about that on this website: a work in progress.

Always appreciate constructive feedback! Thanks.