By Charlie Johnston
The Difference Between a Threshold Issue and a Single Issue
When I was a teenager, a very nice old man, Mr. Valentin (pronounced like the saint) lived kitty-corner behind us on the next street up. He was a German ex-patriate who had some great stories to tell about the war and always had really good pastries. He was always willing to lend a helping hand to his neighbors when it was needed. I and a few other kids used to like to visit him and chat about this, that and the other. He was a good neighbor.
One day, while chatting, the subject of Hitler came up. Mr. Valentin noted that he did not agree with Hitler about Jews, but proceeded to tell us all the good things Hitler did for Germany, concluding that, overall, he thought the Fuehrer had been good for the country. I was shocked. As I said, Mr. Valentin WAS a good neighbor. I wanted to treat him with the warmth I always had. I just could not get past the reality that this decent man considered the mass murder of innocents to be one issue among many. I did not visit him again. Oh, I would greet him civilly if I bumped into him – and I felt a little discomfort as it became obvious that he knew something had happened so that I was stiff and formal when I did have to speak with him. Truth be told, it troubled me even more that he never really understood what changed. He was so sure that the mass murder of innocents was just one issue to be considered among many that it did not seem to occur to him that anyone else could see it otherwise.
There are some issues that constitute such a bright, clear moral line that they are threshold issues. No matter how good a candidate may be otherwise, they don’t merit consideration at all if they are wrong on a threshold, moral issue. Mass slaughter of innocents is one of those issues. Abortion is the mass slaughter of innocents. The science is incontrovertible – which is why you rarely hear the anti-God left speak of science when talking about abortion. On those rare occasions when they do bring up science in this regard, they flat-out lie…and know they are lying. But mostly they insist that a woman has the right to slaughter her child – just as Hitler argued that Germans had the right to slaughter Jews and other “sub-humans.”
Sadly, we have a lot of Mr. Valentins in American society right now, people who are indifferent to the intentional murder of a particular class of innocents or justify it as a matter of personal interest or convenience. I pray for them, as I am convinced that, if we will be judged by the judgment that we judge, then if they do not repent, they will spend their eternity suffering the agony that they consented to consign babies to in those babies’ dying moments – and that that will be the least of their torments. The moral myopia that allows one to justify this abomination is so prevalent that one cannot help but be acquainted with some folks who support abortion. In the early 1800’s, it was near impossible not to be acquainted with some pro-slavery folks. Shockingly, many of both the modern pro-abortion advocates and the old pro-slavery advocates are otherwise nice people. I know that the cultural zeitgeist of any age makes some depravities so common that hordes of thoughtless people buy into it. But while I can be civil to people caught up in this generation’s hideous common moral depravity, I can’t be friends with them. Truth is, every time I meet someone I like who is wrong on this threshold issue, I am revulsed by this moral hole in their conscience. I cannot help but think them either morally maimed or lacking in the moral seriousness that would make them suitable for serious work. It is truly horrifying to me that some Bishops are incapable of understanding the difference between a threshold and a single issue. I can put up with their silly preening on issues they have no authority over like climate change, immigration policy, etc…but that they either abdicate (or worse, don’t even understand) their obligation on a core threshold issue tells me they should not be Bishops at all.
Abortion is not a single issue; it is a threshold issue.
What is The Purpose of a Justice System?
Historically, the answer to the above question has been to protect the interests of the sovereign. While most historical justice systems paid some deference to morality – mostly defined by the Ten Commandments these last few millennia – at bottom the critical thing was to defend the existing ruling authority. When France’s King Louis XIV reportedly said, “La loi, c’est moi.” (the law, that’s me) he was not being cynical, just honest. The fact is, various states’ justice systems have been set up primarily to protect the throne, the sovereign.
This was a serendipitous concept with the founding of America – the first truly free, self-governing people in which officials served at the pleasure of and with the consent of the people. As founded, in America it is the people who are sovereign. It was a trickier business than met the eye. Crime had to be defined as that which actually harmed people or impeded them from exercising their lawful rights – and not as a matter of who might be offended. People who were accused needed to be protected from being railroaded, which meant constraining the power of ambitious state attorneys and being rigorous about process. But the purpose of justice is justice, not process – though rigor in process plays a large role in ensuring that it is justice, and not mere vengeance or power plays, that is achieved.
In the early days of the Republic, many areas of the country were plagued with vigilante and frontier justice. As agents of the law were often few and far between, it was common for towns and people to take the law into their own hands. But without prudent investigative protocols, miscarriages of justice were often committed and large numbers of innocent people were wrongly punished. This gave rise to serious thought about protecting the rights of defendants and establishing professional standards of conduct of investigation that protected both the people at large and those accused. This system probably reached its zenith in this country in the first half of the 20th Century (I do not include the lynchings of black people in this: that was never an exercise in law, but an exercise of terror and power outside of law on behalf of a progressive political ideology). Mid-century, emphasis started to shift towards reforming the criminal rather than immediate protection of the sovereign people. This gave rise to a prolific growth of byzantine rules protecting the accused that became increasingly indifferent to the protection of the general public. All of us have lived our entire lives in a system in which violent criminals we all know to be guilty are routinely released on technical procedural grounds. Most of us have come to think that is the proper way of doing things, even when we release violent criminals we know to be guilty who we can almost guarantee are going to commit violent aggressions again on innocent people. Several decades ago we reached the point where we were knowingly letting violent felons off the hook because a judge or police officer did not say “Simon says” at some point in the process.
The reality of this hit home hard for me in the Polly Klaas case. The 12-year-old girl from Petaluma, California was kidnapped from her home on October 1, 1993 by 39-year-old Richard Davis, who then murdered her. It was a horrific enough story on its own, but then I took a look at Davis’ rap sheet. Almost his whole life had been a “one-man crime wave.” Several of his convictions prior to this offense were for kidnapping and rape. So with at least two, possibly three, prior kidnappings that the state knew of, I had to ask myself why, at 39 years old, he was not in prison. The truth is that all those judges and officials who claimed they were against the death penalty were actually adamantly for it. They just favored executing the innocent rather than the guilty. Every time they released Davis back into society despite his consistent violent record, they were signing a blank death warrant for some innocent citizen.
Now we have reached the point that the anti-God left openly wants to release actual violent criminals from prison while filling the jails with political prisoners. Once respected law enforcement agencies are used openly as partisan tools in political warfare with little concern for objective justice. But we have been being prepared and conditioned for the collapse of the rule of law for a very long time. As soon as we lost sight of the fact that the object of a justice system is to obtain justice, and instead emphasized characteristics of the process out of all proportion to the fundamental end, we were on the road to this systemic collapse.
When vigilante justice was the norm, innocents were being railroaded and wrongfully punished. When the process became so byzantine that obviously guilty men were being set free to kill again, innocents – like Polly Klaas – were badly hurt. When the law became a parody of itself, not focused on protecting society and isolating and punishing the guilty, it became much easier to politicize the law, making it a partisan weapon. All because we neglected the first thing of what the purpose of a justice system is.
To right things (and I am by no means sure we can until after a cataclysm), first the law must be depoliticized. Hillary Clinton, James Comey and John Brennan must be held to the same set of standards that Michael Flynn, Roger Stone and Michael Cohen are. Whether it is permissive or strict is a subject for another time. The point is that it must be equal. If we continue with one set of rules for conservatives and Christians and an entirely different set for progressives and atheists, the end result can only be violent strife and civil war.
Accomplishing that, the next step is to eliminate “Simon says” justice. Giving a violent criminal a get out of jail free card any time a rule has been violated is not the only way to protect a defendant’s rights. If there is a violation of those rights in the investigation of a criminal, other sanctions can be imposed against the officials and jurisdictions that violated those rights. I have not thought through, in detail, what specific steps to take…it can include fines, penalties, firing, and permanent barring from law enforcement or public office. What I do know is that every time we knowingly set a violent criminal free to maim, rape, rob or kill again we are serving a blank death warrant to be served on an innocent to be named later. That is a poisonous tree whose fruit we must quit consuming if we would be a just and moral people. Meantime, whether a person committed a crime out of “hate” is irrelevant to his guilt. His state of mind may be relevant to sentencing, either in mitigation or extenuation of his degree of guilt, but it is irrelevant to what he did, which is what is at question in a trial. Labeling some crimes “hate” crimes did not increase accountability, but laid the groundwork for the politicization of the justice system.
The principle of subsidiarity applies to law enforcement as well as governance and economics. The closer to home justice is administered, the more likely it is to be just and effective. In feudal times, there were usually two types of justice – that enforced by the King’s men and vigilante justice. Yes, there were often sheriffs – but they were appointed by the Crown to protect his interests. Some on the internet have said that when Herman Goering took over as minister of security in Nazi Germany, the first thing he did was defund local police. That’s not quite accurate in its detail, but it is accurate in its substance…and of course leftist media has fallen all over itself attacking the details as erroneous. What Goering did do was make all local police agencies subject to the authority of the central police, the SS, and destroyed any autonomy they had. Slightly different path, same result. I link to this Reuters article which declares the claim as false while also laying out how Goering destroyed the authority of any police agency except as a subdivision of the SS. It is kind of funny to me how these idiots in the press are determined to make distinctions that have no meaningful difference in order to protect their narrative – but then they neither know nor care about first things.
The purpose of a justice system is to provide justice. To do that it must protect both the people afflicted by crime and the rights of those accused of crime. When it regularly fails to do that in either case, it is a time to go back to the drawing board and get it right.
When God reigns, men seek justice for all, flawed as it may be by human fallibility – and they do not compromise a whit on Christ’s threshold issues.