The Concept of Mercy
The vast majority of people are capable of feeling compassion for others. To hear of people who's lives have been devastated by natural disasters can make people feel compassionate and even to donate, time, resources or money to help. We also often feel compassion when we hear of tragic accidents, misfortunes and for the victims of crime. Often there is nothing we can do to help or to alleviate their suffering. We are in many cases unable to restore their lost property, their sense of security nor can we restore people to life.
When we hear of these tragic events we often think how can the world be so cruel. If I had the power I wouldn't allow these things to happen. The truth is non of us will ever have the power to stop suffering so we can never know. But wait there is a way for us to stop suffering, we can show mercy. Mercy is a way for us to be not passive, but active in making the world a better place.
Unfortunately it is not possible for us to stop natural disasters or to prevent all accidents, misfortunes or crimes. It is only possible to show mercy when you have the power to change the outcome. So a criminal may show mercy to his victim, but a natural event cannot. Once a criminal has been arrested or imprisoned we have the power to show mercy. Mercy is a very important concept in Christian thought and it has been one way of showing God's mercy to all of us by giving mercy to one of us. So throughout history Rulers and Judges have used this concept of mercy to show that they are also Christian, that they live in Gods mercy and that now they are showing a small measure of that mercy by commuting the sentence or pardoning a convicted prisoner.
This concept was a major argument in the abolition of corporal and capital punishment. That while we had the power to punish severely it was merciful not too. It also demonstrated our power by showing that we were more evolved than others, particularly those of the past, and it showed that very Christian concept of redemption. That even though a person has committed a crime that ordinary people would think only a beast could commit, they are capable of being saved. Not by God but by us. The more merciful we are the less we need God as we are proving how much better we are.
The concept of mercy presupposes that mercy is to be given by the stronger to the weaker. Most people would agree that a prisoner is much weaker than his jailer. Who is himself employed by the Government. It is the Government that decides on mercy and it can either give it or withhold it from the prisoner. But this is a misunderstanding of the concept of mercy, because it is not just something that concerns the Government and the prisoner only. It concerns all those involved, no matter how distant from the prisoners crimes. Is it truly merciful to not punish a prisoner?
Is it merciful to his victim? Or to the victims family or friends? Is it merciful to future victims? And what of society, is it merciful for them?
If the concept of mercy does not extent to those affected by crime then can it really be termed mercy?
The courts have tried to accommodate the idea with victim impact statements and the like. But the truth is that for most people the mercy they want from the courts is for the court to hand out an appropriate punishment, something that is often lacking as the community standards of Judges and the community standards of the community are so often at odds.
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