Friday, December 29, 2006


Saddam was executed today. I heard it on the radio. The Shiites are firing celebratory rounds into the air. The Sunnis are exploding themselves in marketplaces. The Kurds are going about their business, building a free and just society. The lefties are clucking their tongues and saying Saddam was murdered. Really. I heard it with my own ears. The rightwing fascist bloodthirsty monster bigots, such as myself, feel no need to have an emotion. Justice is satisfying only sometimes. Frequently it is just ugly.

I take no pleasure in the destruction of human life. The pleasure that I might take can only be in the balancing of the scales. It is an abstract, but I live much more in the world of ideas than of practicalities -- despite all my usual protestations to the contrary. We cannot escape our temperaments, any more than we can escape our fate.

Saddam has gone down into the dust, and further, into Hell. Good. But that "good" is not an emotion. It is the successful outworking of an equation. As I have elsewhere said, justice is an appropriate and equal response. Take a life unjustly, lose your life. That seems like perfect justice. Other cases, such as rape, seem more problematic. Rape, and be raped? I expect that would involve some variation of sodomy, which is not an equal response, for all that it may be appropriate. Rape, and be castrated? Rape, and be stoned? Rape, and be forced to marry the woman? You see the problem. But the death penalty is ideal.

As for Hell, one might wonder how eternal torment is an appropriate response for finite wrongdoing. There are lots of ways to answer that. I'll keep it simple. Some people have garbage for souls, and they belong in the garbage heap. The suffering isn't environmental, it's existential. They are made for the fire. That brings into question the nature of a God who would create souls only that they might go to Hell. The short answer is that, per the biblical tradition, that is just the case, and if you don't like it, you don't like reality. And keep in mind that the only sense of justice that we can have, is the one that God made us to have. The longer answer is that everyone does indeed have free will, and some people use that freedom always to rebel and never to repent. Their condemnation is as complete as their rebellion. Infinite.

What does this have to do with Saddam and his execution? He's just another example of what's wrong with humanity. He had power, and he used it only to glorify himself. Whatever theology you might happen to subscribe to, you can see how wrong that is. Power is a responsibility. Whatever our complaint with God is about the corruption of this world, there is a more visible cause of pain. Leaders must be accountable. If they do not lead in a democratic manner, then only rougher justice can ever set things right. The danger to an absolute ruler is that his reign can be abreviated only in disgrace. Once off the world stage as an actor, he must become a pathetic freak or a pitiful watchword. In this instance, disgrace was consumated in death.

Today, one of the former princes of the world has taken his final fall. It was short, with a sudden stop. The process of justice was long, but its end will have lasted the breadth of a heartbeat. And then silence.


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