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Rethinking God, Justice, and Treatment of Offenders

Zehr, Howard
June 4, 2015

Source: (2002) Journal of Offender Rehabilitation. 35(3/4): 259-285.

This article argues for a peacemaking school of criminology taking the direction of restorative justice as opposed to the historical tradition of retribution forming a closer connection to the founding document of Christian tradition, the Bible.
Retributive theology, the view that God’s holiness ‘forces’ God to act punitively, thereby justifying God’s agents, the church, or society, to act punitively, dominated Western worldviews in the Middle Ages and formed the bases for criminal justice practices. However, a closer review of the Christian Bible challenges retributive theology and points in the direction of restorative justice. This paper addresses three issues: (1) on what basis do people think they can deal with offenders without love; (2) is it possible to construct an understanding of God based on the founding texts of the Christian tradition supporting a 1996 research assertion about the fundamental law of life being love; and (3) is it possible in ‘real life’ to approach criminal justice issues from the point of view that love is foundational? The peacemaking approach to criminal justice is argued as indeed needed, but it must take seriously the philosophical and theological roots to retributive criminology. Abstract courtesy of National Criminal Justice Reference Service,


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