Listening to prisoners’ stories day after day for 20 years has left with me insights into human misery and sin, as well as experiencing the shadow sides of social and political life. Listening also gave me a heightened respect for the value of the human narrators of their stories, as well as marveling at the miracles of healing, forgiveness, and transformation. Meanwhile, in dismay I watched social supports and therapeutic community and prison programs atrophy as our Canadian prison system was drawn back to medieval severity through a politically motivated tough-on-crime, law-and-order regimen. There is an interdependent chicken-and–egg relationship between legislated crime policy and the citizens of the nation. The current Canadian ruling governing power claims that getting tough on crime by severity for deterrence sake is being done for the sake of victims, and will make our streets safer. Most of the rhetoric, poorly researched and largely unconstitutional, it seems, is readily believed by the public who encourage policy makers to get tough; it takes two to tango. But really, for example, the recent shootings and gang violence in Surrey is not proof that we need to get tougher, or that we need more prisons, but rather an indictment of the authorities who for too long have stubbornly invested too much in the misguided war on drugs. Most victims still feel marginalized.
Dominant in partisan election rhetoric this year are the issues of public security regarding crime and terrorism, and economic freedom, in attempts to win voters. Public safety and economic security are certainly important issues, but, are these issues not being exploited and turned into virtual national idols? Absolute trust in coercive punishing to deter crime and make society safe for life and business is contrary to research and evidence. Purportedly conservative, most rhetoric is unabashedly rooted in liberalism’s myths of rugged “male” individualism and freedom; of self-sufficiency, autonomy, competition, winning, success, and in state power to protect the individual (and corporation) to freely pursue happiness in culture’s things. Besides dehumanizing and trivializing the value of human life and the environment, Western culture’s quest of progress seems to lead us to more poverty, violence, and anomie. As important as economic and public safety are, they must be called back to their divinely created function to serve the commonweal, to serve especially the weakest, most vulnerable human beings of our society, as stewards of Christ’s health-giving rule for shalom. The Gospels suggest that both the state and society is looking for solutions in all the wrong places.
Jesus offers an alternative vision to modern liberalism’s state enforced epicurean pursuit of happiness. Concluding his Sermon on the Mount as found in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus reminds us not to be anxious about what we shall eat, drink, or wear; and reminds us not to condemn (krino) our neighbour. God’s Good way to the goods we seek is by way of seeking first God’s Kingdom and his Justice (dikaiosune): justice-in-love, not in fear, deterrence, and mass incarceration.