Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

Shying Away from Mercy

From First Thoughts

Though mercy is a Christian virtue, our post-Christian society shies away from relying on it. Lenient criminal sentences, pardons, and debt forgiveness all seem to undercut the demands of justice and public safety. We now speak the language of rights, instead of mercy, to justify helping the needy. Social programs have displaced Christian charity, and generic ­do-gooder benevolence has sup­planted mercy.
Continue Reading »

Briefly Noted

From the February 2016 Print Edition

Anecdotal Shakespeare: A New Performance Historyby paul menzerbloomsbury, 253 pages, $29.95Did you hear the one where . . . ? Paul Menzer has heard it. He’s heard the one with the drunk Richard III, the one with the fat Ghost of Hamlet’s Father stuck in the trapdoor, the one with the . . . . Continue Reading »

Mechanized Justice

From the April 2015 Print Edition

Justice Through Apologies: Remorse, Reform, and Punishment 
by nick smith
 cambridge, 413 pages, $33 For decades, American Christians have worried about the dwindling room for religion and religiously inspired morals in public life. The church–state debates in which they engage often focus on . . . . Continue Reading »

Pardon Me

From Web Exclusives

As the President prepares to pardon the White House’s Thanksgiving turkeys, it’s worth looking back to our colonial roots to ask what role mercy should play in criminal justice. When we look back at colonial-era punishments, we think of them as promiscuously bloody, far too quick to execute. But while there were many more capital crimes than today, colonial American criminal codes were much less bloody than England’s and gave much more room for mercy than do today’s… . Continue Reading »

Moral Debate, Secular Correctness, and Judge Edith Jones

From Web Exclusives

Is moral argument, particularly morality flowing from religious beliefs, taboo in criminal justice? A recent controversy highlights how some lawyers shun the moral reasoning at the foundation of the American legal system. In February, U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Edith Jones gave a controversial speech defending and endorsing the American system of capital punishment… . Continue Reading »

Colson’s Enduring Legacy

From Web Exclusives

When Chuck Colson passed away last month, obituaries naturally remembered him first and foremost as the White House counsel brought down by his role in Watergate’s dirty tricks. But his evangelical conversion to Christ turned him into an inspired prison reformer, belying F. Scott Fitzgerald’s dictum that “there are no second acts in American lives.” He was the most significant, and certainly the most unusual, prison reformer of the past century. Colson’s Prison Fellowship Ministries, and his broader legacy of penal reform, will live on, though the burden now falls to the living to complete his unfinished business… . Continue Reading »