Punishment and the Moral Emotions: Essays in Law, Morality, and Religion

By Jeffrie G. Murphy | Go to book overview

Chapter 3
Christian Love and Criminal
Punishment

What would law be like if we organized it around the value of Christian love, and if we thought about and criticized law in terms of that value? Christian love as a divine command is, of course, not identical with either philia (friendship love) or eros (erotic love), although it may incorporate elements of both. Christian love is rather that kind of universal (that is non-particular) love called agape or love of neighbor. American philosopher John Rawls claimed that justice is the first virtue of social institutions. But what if we considered agape to be the first virtue? What would social institutions – law in particular – be like?

My primary focus in this chapter will be to explore criminal law and the practice of criminal punishment from a perspective of Christian love. Why should anyone really care about such an exploration? Almost everyone would acknowledge that Christianity’s emphasis on the moral and spiritual significance of the inner life exercised great influence on the development of a comparable emphasis on this in Western criminal law – for example, the idea that mens rea (intention, for instance) is generally required for conviction of any serious crime. But this general rejection of strict liability, one might think, has more to do with justice than with love, and this may still leave one with the question of why one should care about the value of love in thinking about criminal law.

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