THE WAYS IN WHICH SOCIETY DEALS WITH THE CRIMINAL.
Cain’s punishment was banishment rather than imprisonment. What was the fate that Cain specially feared? Cain and Abel in the original story, some writers believe, represented tribes (see Hist. Bible, I, 44). Among nomadic peoples in the early East, as to-day, the punishment of murder was left to the family or tribe of the murdered man. Was this just or effective? The same crude method of avenging wrongs is found in the vendetta of Italy and the family feuds in certain sparsely settled regions in the United States. The survival of this institution is to-day one of the greatest obstacles to civilization in those regions. Why?
In most criminal legislation the chief emphasis is placed on punishment. For example, thieves are punished with imprisonment. Why? A radical change in public opinion is now taking place. The prevailing method of dealing with crimes advocated by penologists to-day is the protection of society if possible by the reform of the criminal. Does this method protect society effectually? Why is it that criminals generally prefer a definite term in prison rather than an indefinite sentence with the possibility of release in less than half the time? Which method of treatment is best in the end for the wrong-doer?
It is important to distinguish clearly between the private and the official attitude toward the criminal. As individuals, who cannot know the motives, we should heed the maxim of Jesus: “Judge not!” As public officials whose duty it is to protect society, we are under obligation to deal firmly and effectively with the criminal. What would probably have been the result had Cain confessed his crime? God was far more lenient even with the unrepentant Cain than were his fellow men. Did God, however, remit Cain’s sentence? Cain said, “I shall become a fugitive and a wanderer on the face of the earth.” Was this sense of being an outcast the most painful element in Cain’s punishment? All crime thus in a sense brings its own punishment. If in placing upon Cain a tribal mark, thereby protecting him from being killed, God apparently aimed to give him an opportunity to reform, the clear implication is that the divine love and care still follow him. That love and that care never cease toward even the most depraved. Compare Jesus’ attitude toward the criminal, as illustrated in his ministry and especially in his dealing with the woman taken in adultery. His forgiveness of the woman’s sin did not cancel the social results, but gave her a new basis for right living in the future. She realized that some one believed in her. Is this one of the most important influences to-day in assisting weak men and in redeeming criminals? Henry Drummond when asked the secret of his success with men said, “I love men.”