Human Rights or Political Correctness
“I feel sick to the stomach,” says the Prime Minister, “at the thought of prisoners getting the vote.” It’s easy to make the populist case for not giving murderers or child molesters or swindlers or whatever the vote. Why should lawbreakers be given the right of voting for lawmakers?
What would Jesus say? Quite clearly, “Obey the Law!” He said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” There appears to be a separation there between what we owe to the civil authorities and what we owe to God.
But is there? Scripture tells us that we are all made in God’s image. That tells us that each human has something of the divine in their make-up. What that “something” is can elude clear definition. The ancient Israelites were unique in that they had no representations of God. Indeed they believed they were forbidden to make such representations. In the Holy of Holies in the Temple in Jerusalem, there was empty space. There was nothing beyond the curtain. This space was God’s House. God, it was believed, lived there. In other religions there would be a statue of the god in this space. The Jerusalem Temple was similar to the Temples in neighbouring countries – except in this one regard. In Jerusalem, this space was empty. It was a space for awe and wonder – experienced by the Chief Priest alone on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
Jesus taught that God is “Spirit” – to be worshipped in spirit and in truth. “God”, in other words, eludes definition. Jesus speaks to God as “Abba” – Dad. “God” is experienced as a close relationship, as an internal impulse, as an awareness of overwhelming benevolence. Some are very clearly aware of that “something of the divine”, others less so, some not at all. That “something” is often a powerful welling up of love within us, a fire of love that inspires us and encourages us. In Christian terms, it is the Holy Spirit, the creative spirit, at work within us. However we describe it, it is the “something of the divine.” In many it may be profoundly repressed, but it is still there.
Jesus recognised this when he urges us to love our enemies. It is easy to be nice to those who are nice to us. The challenge is to use our intelligence in dealing with those who seek to harm us. Prisoners, for example have harmed individuals or society in some form or other. The challenge is also to keep on trying no matter how frequently we are repulsed by those we seek to engage with. If we do not seek to engage intelligently with those who are our “enemies”, how are we going to enable them to become full participants in human society after they have served their term?
Since Christians believe all prisoners, since they are fellow humans, have “something of the divine”, perhaps we ought to argue for prisoners being allowed to vote – if they wish. This could be one way of engaging with them in order to facilitate change in their attitudes, outlook and behaviour. Intelligence, though, must be used. Prisoners would vote by post. They would require to apply. What is to prevent candidates or party activists from meeting those prisoners to answer their questions? This could be done by closed-circuit television if necessary. A learning experience would exist for both politicians and prisoners. Anyway, didn’t Jesus say something about visiting those in prison?