by Greg Krehbiel on 19 April 2017
There is a very controversial passage in the law of Moses requiring the death penalty for disobedient children. Bible haters try to caricature this as executing kids who don’t clean their room, or who stay up after bed time, but it has a much more serious message that’s very relevant today. The passage reads as follows.
If any man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father or his mother, and when they chastise him, he will not even listen to them, then his father and mother shall seize him, and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gateway of his hometown. They shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey us, he is a glutton and a drunkard.’ Then all the men of his city shall stone him to death; so you shall remove the evil from your midst, and all Israel will hear of it and fear. (Deut. 21: 18-21)
This isn’t talking about a casually disobedient kid. He’s stubborn and rebellious. He won’t even listen to his father or his mother, and he exhibits patterns of anti-social behavior.
I’m not trying to defend Moses, or recommend this approach. But this passage comes to mind whenever I think of the problems we have with psychopaths and with other people suffering from various mental illnesses. That is, people who are going to wreak havoc and just haven’t done it yet.
Yesterday I heard a discussion about what can be done re: people like the Facebook killer. The problem is, not much, given our current legal system.
This happens again and again. There’s some anti-social kid that everybody knows is going to be trouble. It’s just a matter of time. But until he “does something,” nothing can be done about it.
The same is true with the alcoholic who insists on driving, or the guy who hears angry voices, or the one who obsesses on hateful speech on the internet. You can’t do anything proactively until he does something. So the rest of us have to live with ticking time bombs in our midst. It’s the long battle between the rights of the individual and the rights of the society.
In this case, I think we’ve gone too far on the individual’s side.
There are people out there who are trouble waiting to happen. Some of them are simply no damned good, and the sooner we get rid of them the better. I know it sounds awful to say that, but that’s the sad reality. There are people out there who have no concern whatsoever for the feelings or rights or lives of other people. They are literally no damned good and there’s nothing we can do to help them.
Others — the majority, I hope and believe — are tragically ill, and need our help.
But we have no method right now for dealing with these people.
Moses took a very primitive approach. If somebody is exhibiting severely anti-social behavior at a young age, kill him for the safety of the community.
We can do better these days. Not because we’re morally better, but because we have other options at our disposal.
We need to allow family and friends to report anti-social behavior so these people can get the help they need — whether they like it or not. Or — in the extreme case — they need to be removed from society. (Exactly how is another question, but remember — prisoners and prison guards have rights too.)
I know first-hand what it’s like to have a friend who is trouble waiting to happen. You spend every day wondering if you’re going to get that phone call. And you’re completely helpless.
You can stand in front of the judge and have him involuntarily committed for a couple days, but then he’s out a few days later and up to the same tricks. And you wonder if a little girl is going to be stuck to the front fender of his car some morning.
There are parents who live in that kind of fear every single day for decades. It’s dreadful, and it’s all in the name of a misguided approach to individual rights.
Most of these mass shootings and assorted awful events that happen are entirely predictable. It has nothing to do with guns or Facebook live or violent video games. It has everything to do with the fact that we don’t have an effective way to deal with people who are going to (but haven’t yet) caused trouble.
2017-04-19 » Greg Krehbiel