What is the meaning and purpose of Jehovah’s question, Where is Abel thy brother? Is it probable that in the question, Am I my brother’s keeper, the writer intended to assert the responsibility of society for the acts of its members? In China where to-day, far more than in the West, there exists the responsibility of neighbors, those who fail to exert the proper influence over the character and conduct of a criminal neighbor often have their houses razed to the ground and the sites sown with salt. Is society responsible for producing criminals? How far am I personally responsible for my neighbor’s acts?
THE MAKING OF A CRIMINAL.
Paul said, “All men have sinned.” Are all men therefore criminals? What constitutes a criminal? Was Cain a criminal before he slew his brother? Legally? Morally?
Was Cain’s motive in the worship of God truly religious or merely mercenary? This portrait of Cain illustrates the fact that formal religious worship does not necessarily deter a man from becoming a criminal. Sometimes men prominent in religious work become defaulters or commit other crimes. Does this story suggest the fundamental reason why great crimes are sometimes committed by religious leaders? The motive rather than the form is clearly the one thing absolutely essential in religious worship.
Was the slaying of Abel the result simply of jealousy or a sudden fit of anger or of a gradual deterioration of character? Compare the gradual development of the criminal instincts in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Think of the different influences tending to make criminals! Most criminals are made before they reach the age of twenty-one. The development of the criminal is the result either of wrong education or the lack of right education. Parents by their failure to guard carefully their children’s associates and to develop in them habits of self-control, respect for the rights of others, and a sense of social and civic obligation, are perhaps more than any other class responsible for the growth of criminals. In what ways does the State through its negligence also contribute to the making of criminals?
THE CRIMINAL’S ATTITUDE TOWARDS SOCIETY.
Every criminal act is anti-social. Few if any criminals realize this fact. A superintendent of the Elmira Reformatory after years of experience said that he had never seen a criminal who felt remorse; while criminals usually regretted being caught, they always excused their crime. The criminal repudiates his social obligations, not acknowledging the fact that the basis of all society is the recognition of the rights of others. The thief often excuses his acts by asserting that society owes him a living. Is this position right or do you agree with the following statement? “The criterion of what is for the benefit of the community at large must be settled by the community itself, not by an individual. The citizen, then, may and must do what the community determines it is best for him to do; he must stand in the forefront of battle if so ordered. He must not do what the State forbids; he may be deprived of liberty and life if he does.”— Jenks.