WN: Presented at Arts & Peace Festival, Restorative Justice Workshop, March 1, 2001. Something similar was also presented at Regent College in 2003. It is also clickable.
Centrality of Western Christian Spirituality for Criminal Justice
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([The Formation of the Western Legal Tradition, Cambridge: Harvard University Press.] 1983/1997) describes this interaction of law and Christianity as centrally formative to the Western legal system.
The State University of New York (SUNY) Press just published The Spiritual Roots of Restorative Justice (Hadley, ed., 2001), 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. It is a groundbreaking book in discovering how all world spiritualities point towards Restorative Justice. I highly recommend the book!
In Canada, aboriginal spiritualities are of special interest and resurgence. Rupert Ross’ book, Returning to the Teachings: Exploring Aboriginal Justice ([Toronto: Penguin.] 1996) is especially pertinent to Canadians.
But given the unmatched dominance of Christianity in influencing the development of the Western penal law tradition, I shall unapologetically concentrate most of my remarks tonight on Christian spirituality and penal abolition2 [René Girard, whom I will discuss below, also indicates that “Christianity” in the academy is the “last politically correct scapegoat (Hamerton-Kelly, [Violent Origins: Ritual Killing and Cultural Formation, Stanford: Stanford University Press.] 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 founder – perhaps with due premonition! Alistair Kee’s historical study, Constantine versus Christ ([The Triumph of Ideology, London: SCM Press Ltd.] 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: RJ Workshop March 1 2001
Please click on: RJ and M2W2 Ministry July 17 2003