Tag Archives: Albert Schweitzer

gratuitous cruelty

 

 

‘after false drug test he was in solitary confinement for 120 days’

 

 

‘Man Sentenced to Life Without Parole in Brutal Farm Killings’

 

 

El Chapo – Washington Post 2-14-2019

 

 

‘Where El Chapo Could End Up’ – NY Times 2-15-2019

 

 

 

“In a memorandum on April 16, 2003, [Defense Secretary Donald H.] Rumsfeld approved 24 of the recommended [interrogation] techniques [for at the American-run detention site at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba]. … An action memorandum presented to [Rumsfeld] on Nov. 27, 2002, recommends that he approve a number of interrogation techniques for use at Guantánamo, including one described as ‘the use of stress positions (like standing), for a maximum of four hours.’

“Mr. Rumsfeld, who labors in his Pentagon office at a stand-up desk, added this handwritten postscript: ‘I stand for 8-10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to 4 hours?’ ”

— “Files Show Rumsfeld Rejected Some Efforts to Toughen Prison Rules,” by Douglas Jehl, The New York Times, June 23, 2004
*****************************************************

 

 

As I was walking downtown in the City on Thursday morning last week. enjoying the quiet, early morning streets — it seems that there is always something interesting or beautiful to see — I had a feeling of elation. The sun emerged from behind clouds at approximately 9 a.m.

I was thinking what a wonderful thing (which I assume as a given) freedom (personal, one’s own) is. And how awful is must be to be deprived of it.

My mind was wandering. I thought of an article I had read in the Times that morning: “After False Drug Test, He Was in Solitary Confinement for 120 Days.”

One hundred twenty days, four months, in solitary confinement. For testing positive for drugs while incarcerated. (The test results proved to be wrong. The inmate was not using drugs. The drug-testing equipment used was defective and failed to produce accurate results.)

The stupidity and cruelty of how the prisoners in the article (others suffered similar injustices and pain as the result of the same flawed drug tests) were treated seemed so unjustified, and just plain that.

Then I thought of the so-called supermax (a term meaning highest security prison): the United States Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility in Florence, Colorado (also known as the ADX), where recently convicted drug kingpin Joaquín Guzmán Loera (El Chapo) is imprisoned.

 

 

*****************************************************
“This place [the ADX] is not designed for humanity,” Robert Hood, a former warden, told The New York Times. (“Where El Chapo Could End Up: A Prison ‘Not Designed for Humanity’ ”).

Inmates spend 23 hours a day inside cells the size of a bathroom with little human contact and only one window three feet high and four inches wide. Every part of the prison’s 500 cells is made of poured concrete. Each cell has a bed, a concrete slab covered with a thin foam mattress, and a “combo toilet, sink and drinking water unit.” Some cells have a single slit in the door that shows a sliver of the hallway.

In an essay published on the internet, an inmate at the ADX wrote that even when prisoners are let outside their cells, the surroundings are severe. “No mountain, bush, tree or blade of grass is visible from the yard, just the sky,” he wrote. “The cages have just enough room to do aerobic exercises. Other than the opportunity to breathe fresh air and feel the sunshine on your skin, the outside cages are just cells that are open to the sky.”

Meals, mail and medicine are all delivered. “Everything the inmate needs comes and goes through the door slot,” the inmate wrote, adding that “the basic setup is for long-term solitary confinement.”

“The purpose,” the intimate wrote, “is to gradually tear a person down mentally and physically, through environmental and physical deprivation.”

“The segregation is intense; it’s a punitive environment as harsh as any place on Earth,” Duncan Levin, a former federal prosecutor, told the Washington Post (“El Chapo escaped two prisons in Mexico — but no one’s ever busted out of the American ‘ADX’ ,” February 14, 2019).

 

*****************************************************

 

 

I was also thinking about Albert Schweitzer.

In my adolescence, I read Albert Schweitzer’s Out of My Life and Thought: An Autobiography (originally published as Aus Meinem Leben und Denken). The book made a profound impression on me. I was greatly impressed by the principle of Reverence for Life adumbrated by Schweitzer:

“[T]he man who has become a thinking being feels a compulsion to give to every will to live the same reverence for life that he gives to his own. He experiences that other life in his own. He accepts as good preserving life, promoting life, developing all life that is capable of development to its highest possible value. He considers as evil destroying life, injuring life, repressing life that is capable of development. [italics added] This is the absolute, fundamental principle of ethics, and it is a fundamental postulate of thought. …

The ethic of Reverence for Life is the ethic of love widened into universality. It is the ethic of Jesus, now recognized as a logical consequence of thought.

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

Applying this to the case of notorious criminals such as El Chapo,* it seems to me true in principle that:

El Chapo must be locked up. He was the violent and feared leader of a criminal enterprise who had escaped from prison in the past and who would seem to be beyond redemption, should that be a matter of consideration. Along with accomplices, he habitually carried out murders, often brutal, of rivals, witnesses, and underlings who ran afoul of him.

But he should be allowed to see and embrace his wife and daughters as visitors. To be confined in something less than a virtual torture chamber. Because all prisoners are persons: human beings.

I feel that the operating principle should be: Do the minimum human harm possible. Regardless of how evil an individual is considered to be.

Gratuitous cruelty gives pleasure to those who inflict it.

I like to think (it is consistent with Jesus’s teachings) that somewhere in the afterlife there will be an accounting, a reckoning, for each individual, of one’s benevolent actions and one’s evil actions with respect to harm done to others in whatever capacity, whether it was a crime or actions supposedly not evil, but nonetheless equally so, done in an official capacity. Human suffering should be minimized.

Donald Rumsfeld’s comments encapsulate all of this. All of the above reflections of mine.

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

Addendum:

 

As I observed in a previous post

 

is it possible (or desirable) to hold two divergent opinions at the same time?

 

https://rogersgleanings.com/2018/01/25/is-it-possible-or-desirable-to-hold-two-divergent-opinions-at-the-same-time-2/

 

sometimes, if not often, one can assert, or stake out, a position only to find oneself thinking otherwise almost, as it were, in the same moment.

I also read an article in last week’s New York Times about a young man convicted of murder in Pennsylvania:

The bodies of four victims were found on the farm [in Bucks Country, Pennsylvania] after an extensive search. They had been partially burned in a roaster made out of an oil drum, and had been buried in a 12-foot-deep hole. (“Man Sentenced to Life Without Parole in Brutal Farm Killings,” The New York Times)

The man was convicted of first degree murder for the killings this week. He seems not to have shown remorse. His cousin pleaded guilty to the murders last year. “Your Honor, I want the four families to know I am so sorry,” the cousin said at his sentencing. “I hope that they find some peace in knowing that I’m just genuinely — I can’t even come to terms with what occurred. I’m sorry.”

As Leo Tolstoy observed, one’s horror at the depravity of heinous crimes seems to vary inversely with the length of time passed since the crime was committed:

A sinking man who clutches at another and drowns him; or a hungry mother exhausted by feeding her baby, who steals some food; or a man trained to discipline who on duty at the word of command kills a defenseless man–seem less guilty, that is, less free and more subject to the law of necessity, to one who knows the circumstances in which these people were placed, and more free to one who does not know that the man was himself drowning, that the mother was hungry, that the soldier was in the ranks, and so on. Similarly a man who committed a murder twenty years ago and has since lived peaceably and harmlessly in society seems less guilty and his action more due to the law of inevitability, to someone who considers his action after twenty years have elapsed than to one who examined it the day after it was committed. [italics added]

— Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace; First Epilogue

Well, in this case, the brutality of the murder and depravity of the killer seemed such to me that no punishment seemed too harsh. Prosecutors initially had sought the death penalty, but the district attorney changed his mind after meeting with the families of the victims.

Philosophers have been trying to come to terms with questions pertaining to what is just since Plato. The following is a passage from a book I am currently reading:

The natural law denotes the eternal and archetypal rule of right action flowing from the will and wisdom of God and guiding men possessed with free will through their ability to reason. Whereas revelation represents a direct communication of divine decrees to a privileged portion of the human race, the natural law proclaims itself with varying degrees of clarity to all rational beings, even to those deprived of biblical truths. Most of mankind came to acknowledge and obey this providential source of all earthly law and order, not through pure ratiocination, but through the historical attempt to discover empirically the conditions of life needed for optimum happiness: “…

Throughout the series the natural law comes close to being associated with a crucial principle of human necessity behind social progress. Such a principle ultimately reflects an elemental drive within human nature for self-preservation and social interaction, both of which generate mankind’s historical pursuit of happiness and preference for a civilized habitat to satisfy that drive. This principle of human necessity provides a norm for measuring the value of actions according to their strict “utility” in fulfilling the contradictory selfish and social impulses of humanity for the protection and fellowship of a civilized community. … But at the heart of all civil development lies an unremitting trial-and-error effort to meet man’s basic physical and psychological needs within the limitations of his earthly environment. If human nature craves social fellowship and protection, it also requires the restraints of a strong sovereign power to curb its egotistical appetites and enforce order and cooperation in a world left inherently unstable by original sin. …

 

— Thomas M. Curley, “Editor’s Introduction,” A Course of Lectures on the English Law: Delivered at the University of Oxford, 1767-1773, by Sir Robert Chambers, Second Vinerian Professor of English Law; And Composed in Association with Samuel Johnson, Volume I, Edited by Thomas M. Curley (The University of Wisconsin Press, 1986), pp. 40-41 (summarizing the contents of Chambers ‘s lectures at Oxford. which were influenced by,  and influenced, the views of Samuel Johnson)
The book has been worth reading for reasons other than those that primarily drew me to it, and I see that while I find the law disagreeable and punishments often cruel and odious, the former is necessary.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   November 26, 2019

 

 

* Did Schweitzer intend for his thoughts to be applied to criminals and depraved human beings? I am sure that was not what he was thinking of. After all, serial killers don’t have “reverence for life.” Nevertheless, what I feel is that if one (in Schweitzer’s words) gives “to every will to live the same reverence for life that he gives to his own,” one by implication — or extension of Schweitzer’s principle — must not deny the humanity of others, without exception.

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

SOURCES:

 

 

“El Chapo escaped two prisons in Mexico — but no one’s ever busted out of the American ‘ADX’ ,” by Deanna Paul, The Washington Post, February 14, 2019

 

“Where El Chapo Could End Up: A Prison ‘Not Designed for Humanity’,” by Alan Feuer and Alan Blinder, The New York Times, February 15, 2019

 

“Man Sentenced to Life Without Parole in Brutal Farm Killings.” By Sandra E. Garcia, The New York Times, November 18, 2019

 

“After False Drug Test, He Was in Solitary Confinement for 120 Days: Hundreds of New York State prisoners were locked in cells, denied release or removed from programs when tests erroneously showed they had used narcotics, according to a lawsuit.” by Jan Ransom, The New York Times, November 20, 2019

“Religion” (an essay by Roger W. Smith)

 

 

 

‘Religion’ 11-1-2019

 

 

 

“… the true religious genius of our race now seems to say, Beware of Churches! Beware of priests! above all things the flights and sublime ecstasies of the soul cannot submit to the exact statements of any church, or of any creed.”

 

— Walt Whitman, Notebooks and Unpublished Prose Manuscripts (New York University Press, 1984), I:408

 

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

Who cares what I think about the topic of religion, one might ask.

It has probably — I would say, certainly — been written and declaimed about far more than any other conceivable topic over the ages, far surpassing topics such as politics.

By the greatest writers the world has ever seen.

But I was thinking about religion the other day because of a conversation I had with a friend of mine. It made me think also of similar conversations I’ve had in the past.

My friend is a professional with an advanced degree. He works in one of the so called helping professions.

He is, as a result of professional training and experience and also by virtue of his nature, a thoughtful, insightful, and caring individual.

I had never had occasion to discuss religion with him before and had no knowledge or idea of what his religion was, other than suspecting that he was probably Christian. In the course of our conversation, I learned that he is Episcopalian.

I was raised as a Congregationalist and later became a Unitarian. (More about this below.)

My friend, while a church member, has a lot of reservations about Christian doctrine and about organized religion. We agreed to disagree.

To summarize, imperfectly, the points my friend made (I don’t have him with me to verify the accuracy of my summary):

— Many Christian beliefs, such as those derived from Bible stories, are patently “false,” meaning that to many an educated person in the modern world, they seem ludicrous. That would apply, for example, to a belief in the immaculate conception or that Jesus was resurrected, as well as Jesus’s miracles.

— Not only is much of religious belief based on fiction, but the historical veracity of much of what, say, is presented in narrative accounts in the Gospels cannot be verified. For example, there is very scant historical evidence for Jesus’s life and ministry. What we have been told may well have been invented and then propagated as revealed truth.

— Organized religion has done and does more harm than good. It has led to barbarity and intolerance. And, to modern day abuses. Conservative religion has become allied with right wing political factions in a way that is an anathema to liberals and progressives.

 

 

******************************************

 

 

May I be permitted a word or two about my own religious upbringing as it pertained to our discussion?

I was raised as a Congregationalist. They are “middle of the road,” I would say, on the Protestant spectrum, with the Episcopalians being more conservative, the Baptists much further to the right, and the Unitarians way to the left.

I am extremely grateful that my parents didn’t neglect my religious upbringing. From it, I got a good grounding in moral values. To give an example, I learned the importance of compassion and charity.

I developed — my parents had more to do with it than the church, but church teaching was also important — a moral sense and a CONSCIENCE.

I absorbed the basic tenets of Christian doctrine, observed the religious holidays. My family was more important than the church with respect to the latter, but church services and observances of Christmas and Easter seemed sacred and wonderful, as well as inspiring awe and reverence, a sense that they were very special as well as joyous times. (So did some religious and holiday music that I was exposed to at the time, such as hymns and Christmas carols.)

In Sunday school, which my parents saw to it that I attend without fail, I got an excellent grounding in the Bible. I know my Gospels — by no means as well as a TV or radio evangelist does — but I know the stories and sayings, when the angel of the Lord brought tidings of joy to the shepherds keeping watch over their flock; when Jesus spent forty days in the desert, was tempted by the devil, and told him, “Get thee hence, Satan”; when Jesus cast out the swine from the insane man and how they perished in the sea; the miracle of the loaves and fishes; or what Jesus said, like “blessed are the poor in spirit” and “he that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone.”

Many modern day kids raised in “enlightened,” “progressive” households don’t have the faintest knowledge of any of this. (A shame, I would say a disgrace.)

To learn these words and to read about the miracles when one is growing up are invaluable. They become part of you — your inner self — something you don’t question and which it seems as if you’ve always known. The words and the edifying stories are with you at trying times.

Growing up I also became well acquainted with Catholicism. The majority of my friends, in my early years, were Catholic. We argued about religion all the time. I thought they were narrow minded, borderline ignorant, incapable of thinking for themselves, too credulous, and so on – these youthful opinions were, needless, to say, prejudiced, often unfair and unfounded, on my part. But I grew over the years to appreciate and greatly admire the Catholic church. (See more below.)

 

 

******************************************

 

 

To return to my friend’s criticisms for a minute.

He spoke appreciatively of religiously inspired music; he is obviously not a know-nothing disbeliever/religious antagonist. But, basically, he thinks that Christian doctrine was and is founded on absurdities that are impossible of belief by an educated, rational person. And that, by subscribing to and perpetuating absurdities, organized religions are actually doing harm by cheapening and obfuscating civic discourse. (My friend did not actually say this. I am extrapolating from what he said and seemed to be implying.)

My take on this and my current beliefs are as follows.

I became a Unitarian when I was a preadolescent. I do not currently belong to a church. When asked, I respond that I do not belong to a church.

I am not what, in the common understanding of the term, what would be called a “believer.”

But I realize that I am fundamentally a Christian. What do I base this upon? My upbringing. My basic outlook on life. My core beliefs. My basic makeup and “spiritual genealogy,” so to speak.

I admire (which is an understatement) and completely respect religious people, from Saint Augustine to Albert Schweitzer, from Saint Francis to Dorothy Day, from Meister Eckhart to George Fox, from Martin Luther King, Jr. to Pope Francis.

I admire Walter J. Ciszek, S.J., the priest who endured twenty years imprisonment in the Soviet Union and hard labor in the Gulag on trumped up charges of being a “Vatican spy.”

I admire Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, who was recently installed as the archbishop of Newark, NJ.

I respect clergymen, priests, and nuns for their seriousness of purpose and devotion to their calling.

 

 

 

******************************************

 

 

The way in which religion affects me most profoundly is through art, in the broad sense of the word.

I defy anyone to listen to the masses of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, or Schubert; to Monteverdi’s “Magnificat”; to Vivaldi’s “Gloria” or “Stabat Mater” or Antonín Dvořák’s “Stabat Mater”; to an oratorio such as the Saint Matthew Passion or Berlioz’s l’enfance du Christ; or to two modern compositions, Alan Hovhaness’s “Ave Maria” and Vladimír Godár’s “Regina Coeli,” and remain unmoved.

Try listening to a hymn such as “Fairest Lord Jesus” — with its beauty, clarity, strength, and simple piety — and remaining unmoved.

Or “Christ the Lord is Risen Today,” with its ringing, joyous affirmation of Christian belief.

I know the Latin mass by heart. When words such as Laudamus te, benedicimus te, adoramus te, glorifcamus te … Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi; dona nobis pacem … Crucifìxus etiam pro nobis sub Pontio Pilato; passus et sepultus est, et resurrexit tertia die … Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini are sung, I am profoundly stirred. At such a moment, I feel the “truth” of Biblical events. I don’t go into a religious frenzy or temporarily lose my mind, but I do at such moments experience religion at a gut level, viscerally. I am not looking askance and thinking to myself. “This is, at bottom, silly; it can’t really be believed.” On the contrary, through the medium of sublime art, I have become a believer — for the moment, at least — insofar as it’s possible (for myself, that is).

I also experienced this when I saw Pier Paolo Pasolini’s film The Gospel According to Matthew (1964). The film is so powerful and convincing, the Gospel stories become so credible, that one is totally engrossed and in the moment; one suspends disbelief.

 

 

******************************************

 

 

 

A penultimate thought or two. I don’t want to leave the impression that my respect and admiration for religion are solely the impressions of an aesthete. That’s a big part of it, but there’s more, I realize.

It seems to me that religion is a core part of what it is to be human, though many of my friends and relatives would probably dismiss this as representing a sort of atavism. It must feed basic human needs. The need for belief in something beyond mundane existence, as we observe it. But, I don’t think this is just a matter of “emotional neediness” by weak minded people who need a crutch. Sort of the way Noam Chomsky has shown that there is a universal grammar that is innate to the human brain, I think something similar can be said about religion as it transcends all types of cultural and social boundaries and affects all of us.

I think that religion is important because it humbles us. We need to believe and to be able to conceive of something greater than our puny selves, something that inspires awe and reverence. Perhaps that’s enough to say. I am not a preacher and don’t want to be seen as coming across as one. But, I do think that religions play an important psychological function, or more broadly, an edifying one, when we attempt to conceive of the glory of God and His creation.

A lot of my contemporaries seem to think that they are self sufficient in their ability to reason and thereby to deduce their own truths (the absolute rightness of which they are convinced of) and that they don’t need a “crutch.” I find them smug. They would say they need no god or gods. They are too proud, in my opinion, too sure of themselves. They would do well to read what the great religious thinkers have to say.

 

 

******************************************

 

 

A relative of mine recently posted a comment on this blog. It had to do with a post of mine, not about religion, in which post I wrote that people should be more “Christian” when it comes to judgment and forgiveness.

“I am inclined to side with the [sentencing] judge,” my relative wrote. “This is an example, among many others, of why I am essentially non-religious. I consider established religion to be one of the most divisive, most antagonistic influences in human affairs and history.”

My relative’s view seems to be shared by many. It is hard to argue with him in view of contemporary church scandals and abuses; ones from historical periods not that remote; and examples from history such as the Crusades and the Inquisition.

But I still respect religion, without reservation. I try to follow the essential precepts and teachings of Christianity, although I do not belong any longer to a church or subscribe to a particular faith.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

     January 2017

 

 

 

******************************************

 

 

 

Addendum:

 

I picked out a piece of sacred music more or less at random from the Agnus Dei (lamb of God) section of Haydn’s Nelson Mass: qui tollis peccata mundi (You who take away the sins of the world). There are, of course, many other splendid examples.

Listen to it. Can one deny the intense spirituality? This from a master of classical form.

 

 

 

*********************************************************

 

 

 

Note: I have posted some splendid sacred music on this blog. Also, sacred music which I have noted above but have not posted here is available on You Tube.

Posted here:

 

 

Vivaldi, “Gloria”

https://rogersgleanings.com/2016/11/26/antonio-vivaldi-gloria/

 

Haydn, “Mass in Time of War”

https://rogersgleanings.com/2016/01/21/haydn-mass-in-time-of-war/

 

Haydn, “Schöpfungsmesse” (Creation Mass)

https://rogersgleanings.com/2016/01/21/haydn-schopfungsmesse-creation-mass/

 

 

Haydn, “Theresienmesse”

https://rogersgleanings.com/2016/02/03/haydn-theresienmesse-mass-in-b-flat-major/

 

 

Mozart, Mass in F minor, K. 192; Dixit and Magnificat, K. 193

https://rogersgleanings.com/2016/01/21/mozart-mass-in-f-minor-k-192-dixit-and-magnificat-k-193/

 

Beethoven, Mass in C major, opus 86

https://rogersgleanings.com/2016/01/22/beethoven-mass-in-c-major-opus-86/

 

Schubert, mass no. 6 in E flat

https://rogersgleanings.com/2016/01/21/schubert-mass-no-6-in-e-flat/

 

 

Berlioz, “l’Enfance du Christ”

https://rogersgleanings.com/2016/01/24/berlioz-lenfance-du-christ/

 

 

A couple of sections from Monteverdi’s “Magnificat” of 1610:

 

The final chorus from Bach’s Saint Matthew Passion

 

 

“Fairest Lord Jesus”

 

 

“Fairest Lord Jesus” is also on YouTube at

https://video.search.yahoo.com/search/video?fr=mcafeetypo&p=farest+lord+jesus#id=4&vid=ab4a7acb98161b09cf449d3d9c96b950&action=click

(rendered with sensitivity by a children’s choir)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XW5bkIUQqZc

(beautiful piano version)

 

 

Available on YouTube:

 

Vivaldi’s “Stabat Mater,” performed by the Academy of Ancient Music, directed by Christopher Hogwood, with countertenor James Bowman

 

 

 

Dvořák’s “Stabat Mater” (beginning)

 

 

 

 

Vladimír Godár’s “Regina Coeli”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mo2mDa6wU2s

 

 

Alan Hovhaness’s “Ave Maria”

 
Charles Ives, ‘in the Mornin’ (Give Me Jesus)”

 

 

 

 

Gillian Welch’s simple, intensely spiritual song “By the Mark” is at

 

 

“Christ the Lord Is Risen Today”

 

 

 

*********************************************************

 

 

 

See also: additional religious music which has posted by me on this site at

https://rogersgleanings.com/2017/01/22/more-religious-music/