Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Chelsea King Murder: Lock up sex offenders forever

Our criminal justice system, much of which is based on Judeo-Christian morality, has a fundamental flaw that's directly related to its religious roots. Christians believe in revenge, redemption and forgiveness, and those are the foundations of our penal code. And the result is that sex offenders serve their time, are released, and then rape and kill another girl.

The tragic news of Chelsea King's murder hit particularly close to home for me. I used to live at Lake Hodges where her body was found, and the trail where she was jogging is a favorite of a beautiful young woman who is my stepdaughter. She walked that trail every day. There but for fortune... I shudder to think that, had it been a different time of day, she might have been the victim.

The fundamental problem with our penal code is that it has, at the very core, the belief that once a man serves his time, he is forgiven and given another chance. For most criminals, this is the right choice. We've all made mistakes, and without forgiveness, there would be nobody left to be the jailers!

But here's the real problem: religion teaches that people can choose to be good or evil. The very first chapter of the Bible is where God gives us free will. Adam and Eve make the wrong choice, resulting in all the evils in the world today. All of Christianity is based on the principle that we have the ability to sin or not sin, to know the difference between good and evil.

This is simply and completely wrong when it comes to sex offenders. Religious ideas about sin and morality are useless, counterproductive, and harmful when the crime is a sex offense.

These are men who have something wired wrong in their brains. These are men who have no ability to feel empathy and remorse, to identify with their victims. They are incapable of behaving morally. They are as unable to feel sympathy for their victims as a tone-deaf person is to carry a tune. It's not that they don't want to, or choose not to. They can't.

The police investigator says Chelsea's murderer only wants to know, "What's in this for me?" Chelsea King, and probably several other beautiful young women, are dead, and he is only concerned about himself. This theme is repeated every time you read about one of these cases. Her murderer has no remorse and no understanding that he did something bad. He only understands that he got caught, and now life is going to be unpleasant.

There are many disabilities. Some people are blind and can't see; some are autistic and can't understand social cues; and a friend of mine was in an accident and can no longer smell anything.

Why do we have so much trouble with the concept that someone might be unable to have empathy and morals?

Simple: Because that goes against Christianity's fundamental principle, which says God gave us free will, the ability to choose between good and evil. So when a man does something evil, he must be an evil man. It is completely against Christian doctrine to believe that there could be a physical cause for evil behavior.

The result is a criminal justice system that is incapable of locking men like this up forever and throwing away the key. We feel that if they do their time, we have to forgive them and let them go to have a second chance. After all, if Jesus can forgive any sin, shouldn't we?

The trouble is, Chelsea King is dead.


  1. I'm sorry but you are wrong. You are talking based on emotion and taking one case to represent more than it can.

    The problem is not that all sex offenders are wired wrong and have no hope of redemption. The problem is that our system of justice is based on redemption through punishment.

    Sure there are people who are wired wrong (they are called psychopaths) but they are a very small minority (and some of them lead lawful lives anyway just because it seems like the easiest way to get what they want.)

    We put people into prisons and teach them that they are animals, then we release them and expect them not to act like animals. Prison sentences should be based on reorienting a person to be a productive member of society and they should stay forever if there is reason to believe that they have not been reoriented.

    You reminded me of a story I read on DNA. A man who committed several sex offences (that were quite horrible but apparently didn't involve murder) showed up in a cold hit on a DNA database. Unfortunately the DNA sample was in really poor condition and evidence from the cold case file seems to indicate the offence was committed by a different known sex offender (who is dead and whose DNA would be too degraded for a test) The man was found guilty do to abuse of the statistics surrounding DNA (when the sample is bad, it had only around 5 markers even close to intact and statistically there should have been 3 matches in california whether any were guilty or not) that man is very old and has a wife, he clearly either overcame his bad wiring or was a sex offender for other reasons.

  2. I agree with the first post, the claim here is overreaching. There are certainly cases where people are not rehabilitated, or cannot be rehabilitated, but a broad "sex offenders can't be rehabilitated" claim is nothing more than silly.

    If you argue that this particular man may not be capable of rehabilitation, I would ask you to provide some proof but would agree that it's a possibility. Lumping a large group of people together such as this though is just a response out of rage, not logic.

    1. What a naive post.
      Actually, it is generally accepted by those who work with and study VIOLENT sex offenders that they cannot be rehabilitated; recidivism is extremely high in offenders, like Gardner, who are profiled as violent and sexually sadistic. This is not "silly" conjecture, but rather factual assertion supported by myriad academic literature and stats.

  3. Good Anonymous, then you take him home to sleep in the same room as your family and leave him to be "Nanny" for the kids, then. Let the rest of us be assured he won't be near us. Thanks.

  4. While we are talking what Christians do, the guy they get their name from forgave the thief on the cross but he didn't take him down. We have a mistaken notion of forgiveness. It does not mean to set someone free to do the same thing again. It means you hold no attachment to the behavior PERIOD - that you go on with your life, not entangled with that person or their behavior. But, it is not a free pass for the person to behave the same way. Those who comment predatory crimes should not be out once arrested and convicted. They don't need more bites of the apple to prove themselves. There have been too many of these cases and we don't learn anything. Keep predators locked up.

  5. I claim, that some criminals can't be reformed, not that all can't. And I didn't even try to address the very difficult question of, "How do you decide which man needs to be locked up forever?" That is, and always will be, a matter for juries and judges to decide.

    You guys are arguing the details of whether certain criminals are psychopaths, unreformable, and so forth, but that's not what my blog was about. My blog was an attempt to show that, because of Christianity's core beliefs, our legal system is constrained.

    There are certain individuals who are just plain dangerous, and not because they're good or evil, but because of a physical defect. But we're programmed by our Judeo-Christian history to believe that God gave every one of us a genuine free will, the ability to choose to do good or evil.

    With these men, it's simply not true. But that goes against the core Judeo-Christian beliefs, so we have trouble discussing rational solutions to this problem.

  6. But Craig, in your claim that some criminals can't be reformed, you made a blanket statement about sex offenders: that this particular class of criminal can't be reformed. From your OP:

    This is simply and completely wrong when it comes to sex offenders. Religious ideas about sin and morality are useless, counterproductive, and harmful when the crime is a sex offense.

    These are men who have something wired wrong in their brains. These are men who have no ability to feel empathy and remorse, to identify with their victims. They are incapable of behaving morally.

    This is the claim that is being rejected. You're post may well be about the lack of merit in basing a criminal justice system on the basis of Christian beliefs about free-will, choice and redemption, but the cited claim is just wrong because it is a blanket claim.

    Yes, there are certain individuals, even within the class of sex offenders, that are, perhaps, unable to be reformed. And the justice system may well need to be reformed to take account of such individuals.

    The great flaw in the US justice system is imprisonment, and that flaw is that it does not offer rehabilitation. Where it does offer rehabilitation it is grossly inadequate, and is quite low on the order of priorities. Punishment is the main priority. Convicts are debased, treated as wild animals to be caged, then released into society once their term is served.

    The origins and early development of the prison system was based on the idea of rehabilitation and redemption, and derived such ideas from Christian beliefs of such. But the system we have today, particularly in the US, is no longer such. It is, I suggest, based on another Christian belief: Damnation.

    If one wants fellow humans being to behave morally, don't treat them as less than a human being. Accord them the dignity and respect one would expect towards oneself. Is it any wonder that if one debases a human being, that human being will behave in a debased manner?

  7. Stephan and Anon - You are both right, in re-reading my blog, the claim is overreaching. The term "sex offender" in today's society covers everything from this murder to some poor eighteen-year-old kid who got his seventeen-and-a-half year old girlfriend pregnant. (Yes, there are actual convictions like this).

    I should have been more specific, and stated that there is are some sex offenders who are unredeemable. Even if we our laws were changed to allow life-withoutout-parole sentences, we'd still face the task of sorting out which men are too dangerous to ever release.

  8. Indeed, overreaching. But I understood the idea that there are some who cannot be reformed and that christian beliefs are in direct contradiction with this fact.

    I think our "correctional facilities" fail to correct behavior. And there could be a solution to sex offenders besides locking them up for 20 years and then letting them go. When you say it like that, lock them up then let them go... it sounds so stupid. Does ANYONE Think that is an effective way to treat diseased minds?

    Perhaps this works as a deterrent for men with some self control and some empathy. Perhaps it is enough to make crime of passion offenders want to never do it again. But it does nothing for the truly sick men like the one accused of killing Chelsea. If he ever gets out of jail he will be anxious to commit his crime again.

  9. I'm the same Anonymous who posted first.

    The example I gave of the man who was once a sex offender and went on to get married and live to old age without upsetting the law again, used to force women to perform oral sex on him at knife point. This wasn't a 17 year old who slept with his 16 and a half year old girlfriend.

    The fact of the matter is that rehabilitation is possible, it just isn't magic. It isn't about accepting nonsensical propositions or crying on a priest's shoulder, it is about being psychologically reoriented. Read the book Influence the power of persuasion. There is a part about Chinese prison camps during the Korean Conflict. They didn't torture prisoners they used psychological tactics to reorient them. They took hardened US soldiers and made many of them pro communist. See if you punish someone for being a certain way you reinforce that they are that way, if you convince them they are something else they can come to believe it and then aspire to live up to their new self image. If anything prison most likely increased the chances this guy was going to murder again.

    The thing is most people don't believe in this, and so prisons are all about punishing people to make us feel better about ourselves (yeah we got him good.) People are also under this ridiculous impression that people close to a story are the best ones to make judgements on it. Sorry but that makes you emotional and prone to exaggeration and irrational thought.

    Most likely almost no criminals are beyond rehabilitation, but when a young girl is murdered our emotional response says someone is to blame and the monster that did it is a pure evil monster.

    Has anyone every tried to reform this guy? Does anyone know why he did what he did? There is a good episode of house where Foreman hates this prisoner they are treating (he tried to commit suicide) turns out he has a faulty adrenal gland and suffers from uncontrollable rage he can't explain or understand. At first Foreman thinks he has a mental problem and feels he deserves to go back to death row. When he discovers it is his gland and not his brain that is malfunctioning he changes his stance. House asks him why there is a difference, and he has no answer. He has no answer because there isn't one.

  10. So, let me get that clear. The blogger is an atheist who is blaming Christianity for a sex offenders crime. A liberal blaming conservatives for criminals roaming the streets ? Well, if you don't know you just have to ask. In the Old testament law there is nothing like prison, there is no reform, law breakers either compensate or are killed. The NT leaves the law in the hand of the government. The government happened to be liberal and sympathies with illegal immigrants, terrorists and criminals. Christianity teaches that the king is there to carry out vengeance on those who do evil. Again, if you don't know what you're talking about, just ask us. The Bible doesn't teach us to have faith in the good nature of humans, but rather declares that human nature is corrupt beyond repair. That being said the penal code can not be derived from the NT teaching that deals with Christians as individuals and does not have anything to do with civil laws

  11. Anon - I can't see anything in what I wrote that even remotely matches what you claim I wrote. My blog was about where people's attitudes come from, and how certain Christian attitudes about our supposed free will blind us to reality. It had nothing to do with Old- or New-Testament law.

  12. First of all, my name's Simon, I'm not American, but as a Chinese Christian who has followed the tragedy of Chelsea King, I would like to offer my thoughts.

    This man John A. Gardner, if he is indeed guilty (because every man accused of a crime is innocent until finally and completely proven guilty), deserves the death penalty, because he has committed murder. But it is a very big step to say that from now on, because of one disturbed individual murderer, we shall now place every single sex offender under lock and key for the rest of their lives.

    From there on it is not very hard to see how people will now be studying each other for any sign of sexual deviance, for any hint that someone around them ever had an impure thought about a young girl, in much the same way that citizens in '1984' were conditioned to expose anyone who ever had a seditious thought, in the same way that citizens of Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Taliban-ruled Afghanistan were conditioned to turn on anyone who ever had an un-Muslim thought.

    My point is that those who are pushing for one strike, for 'one conviction and we execute the bastard', are motivated more by revenge and fear than anything else. And that, if they get their way, the United States of America, the land that so many non-Americans look to for that mythical liberty to breathe free, may one day become a police state.

    In Asia, repressive authoritarian regimes prevail, police brutality and executions without trial are the norm, and 'the walls have ears', so to speak. And yet, do I feel safe? For myself, and my family, and my young female nieces and cousins and neighbours? The answer is no. NO. We have draconian laws and merciless punishments, but that doesn't make us crime free. It just makes criminals more careful. It motivates them to be more sophisticated operators.

    The fact is that, as the Bible tells us, we live in a fallen world. This world can be beautiful at times, but it will never be perfect. For the simple reason that it is not meant to be our everlasting home. That role is meant for the New Jerusalem that Jesus will throw open to His flock when the judgement is over. Until then, we have to accept that we live in a broken down, fallen, evil world where Satan is prince, and that means bad things, terrible horrible things, happen to good people.

    I'm not trying to say to Miss King's parents, "Big deal, people lose their kids all the time, to murderers and drink drivers and high school gunmen and whatever." I'm trying to say, "I'm sorry for your loss. But I'm sure your daughter wants you to move on. You'll be together again someday."

    Locking sex offenders forever, will it work? Herding them up in a penal colony? No. It just means one more way to start a witch hunt. In every witch hunt, innocents get implicated and nobody is safe, and at the end of it all we look back and wonder how we could have been so stupid. I should know. In China we have had witch hunts for years, and every time we just switched targets - yesterday intellectual deviants, today moral deviants, tomorrow sexual deviants, so on and so forth.

    Are certain people born irreparably evil? I believe that all men are born with the seed of sin within their intangible spiritual DNA. This means that every one who has ever lived and breathed has been tempted to sin, to hurt another person for the gratification of self. But I believe also that confronted with the temptation, every one - I mean every single one - has the power to act on it, or to walk away.

    Miss King's rapist and murderer acted on it, and Miss King lost her life. But there are also thousands who have rejected the temptation and went their own way. Nobody is 'wired' to do evil, we have to make the choice to hurt others.

    One of your great men Benjamin Franklin observed that when liberty is sacrificed for security both end up lost. Listen to him.


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