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Reflection 22 (p15 - cont)
Why Do Right? A Secularist's Answer

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Equally defective and objectionable is the system of punishment as taught by Christians, making, as it does, correction to proceed from a motive of revenge rather than from a desire to reform. Through life we should never cherish revenge, nor harbor malice. To forgive is a virtue all should endeavor to practice. Governments who desire to win national confidence do not seek to make the chief feature of their punitive laws of a retaliative Spirit; they aim rather to enact measures that tend to the reformation of the criminal. Now, the drawback to the threatened punishment of Christianity is, that it offers no incentive to reformation, for, when once in hell, the victim must for ever remain, and there no opportunity is afforded for improvement, and no facility offered for repentance. It cannot be said that the sufferings of those in the "bottomless pit" exercise any beneficial influence upon those on earth, inasmuch as we cannot witness their torture, and, if we could, instead of inspiring within us love and obedience, doubtless it would excite detestation towards the being who, possessing the power, refused to exercise it to prevent mankind enduring such barbarous cruelty. The rejected of heaven are here represented as being the victims of unutterable anguish: as having to endure tortures which no mind can fully conceive, no pen can adequately portray.

This Christian doctrine of punishment is based upon a principle opposed to all good government. It allows no grades in virtue or vice. It divides the world into two classes -- the sheep and the goats, leaving no intermediate course. Now, mankind are not either all good or all bad; there are degrees of innocence and guilt in each. Horace recognized this; hence he said: --

Let rules be fixed that may our rage contain,
And punish faults with a proportioned pain.

Punishment is valuable only so far as it tends to the reformation and the protection of society. It has been shown that hell fire must fail in the former, and experience proves that it is quite as impotent for the latter. Our law courts are constantly revealing the fact that those who profess the strongest faith in future retribution have frequently been remarkable for savage brutality and uncontrolled cruelty.

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