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The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Punishment [Paperback]

By T. Richard Snyder (Author)
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Item description for The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Punishment by T. Richard Snyder...

This bold work confronts the spirit of punishment that permeates our culture and its deleterious effects on today's penal system and society at large. Rooted in experiences of prison reality, the book sets forth an original theory about the theological roots of our current punitive ethos and offers a creative antidote informed by a commitment to restorative justice. Snyder shows that the spirit of punishment in our culture is rooted in and reinforced by popular Christian misunderstandings of human nature and God's grace. These misunderstandings include two consequential errors: the absence of any notion of "creation grace" and an understanding of "redemption grace" couched exclusively in individualistic, internalized, and nonhistorical terms. In both cases the social-historical dimensions of grace necessary for holistic redemption are ignored. These theological distortions, coupled with a prevailing cultural context that divides people between "them" and "us"-the most virulent form of which is racism-make a spirit of punishment inevitable. Snyder finds clues for a different understanding of humanity and God in responses to crime categorized as "restorative justice." These alternative perspectives seek redemption not only for the perpetrator but also for the victims of crime and the larger community. They also recognize all persons as "graced," no matter what their actions may have been. Drawing on these clues, Snyder initiates fresh ways of thinking about the traditional theological concepts of covenant, incarnation, and trinity as foundations for a restorative approach to justice. He also challenges religious communities to understand God's good news in ways that offer hope for a transformed world. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Punishment is an eye-opening work with profound implications for contemporary social life.

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Item Specifications...

Studio: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company
Pages   172
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 9.13" Width: 6.01" Height: 0.47"
Weight:   0.58 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Jan 1, 2001
Publisher   Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company
ISBN  0802848079  
ISBN13  9780802848079  

Availability  95 units.
Availability accurate as of Oct 25, 2016 06:18.
Usually ships within one to two business days from La Vergne, TN.
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More About T. Richard Snyder

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > Nonfiction > Crime & Criminals > Criminology
2Books > Subjects > Nonfiction > Crime & Criminals > Penology
3Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Protestantism > General
4Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Protestantism
5Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Theology > General

Christian Product Categories
Books > Christian Living > Practical Life > Contemporary Issues

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Reviews - What do customers think about The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Punishment?

Excellent Treatment of the Basis for Restorative Justice  Jan 2, 2008
First, let me say I think John Gibbs must have inadvertently checked the wrong rating. His glowing review of the book seems to rate 5 stars, not one.

I am a novice in this area, but still found the book to provide a sound and insightful treatment of the role of society (with its various religious beliefs) as it deals with criminal behavior. The book provides an excellent intellectual basis for Restorative Justice as well as offering numerous practical examples of how societies have dealt constructively with those who have gone astray.

The book's message is elegantly presented with the readability needed by the lay person. Dr. Snyder has worked in the fields of religion and criminal justice for decades and we are fortunate that he has offered us his theological, sociological, and practical insights.
Moving From Reactive Retribution to Proactive Healing  May 8, 2001
The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Punishment (Book Notes)

T. Richard Snyder, the author of this first rate challenge to our nation's "spirit of punishment," is a seminary professor/administrator who has also led a Master's degree education program for 18 years in Sing Sing prison. He argues persuausively that our treatment of offenders is fueled by our thirst for vengeance, and that addiction to "getting even" is "a cancer within the national culture that has the potential to destroy us" (p. 1).

If the soul of a society can be measured by its prisons, as Dostoevsky claimed, then we have major work ahead to "convert" our thinking from vengeful punishment that aims to "get even," and replace that with commitment to comprehensive healing and "holistic redemption." Restorative justice will more readily reach our goal of a peaceable society than will the prevailing retributive justice.

So what does the Protestant ethic and its theology have to do with this drive to punish rather than to rehabilitate? If one major value of this book is its challenge to our criminal justice system, the other major value is its answer to that question.

Creation and redemption have been split apart. So have grace and nature. "Because of the strong emphasis upon the fall, original sin, and total depravity, it is difficult to find within Protestantism an affirmation of the beauty, goodness, and worth in all creation" (p. 12). Further, God's grace "is understood almost exclusively in individualistic, internalized, non-historical terms" (p. 12).

It becomes easy, then, to split humanity apart as well, and draw a dividing line between superior and inferior persons, between those who have "fallen" and those who are "graced," or between those who "broke a law" and deserve what they're getting and, on the other hand, those who have followed "the straight and narrow" and "deserve" to prosper. All that is to forget that the dividing line between good and evil runs through each person. The saying "so long as there's life, there's hope" is true only so long as "grace is present and at work within all of human experience" (p. 41).

"Restorative justice alternatives" take up the second half of the book. Using a grant from the Association of Theological Schools that was funded by the Lilly Foundation, Snyder spent research time in both South Africa and Sweden. Restorative justice in both countries "emphasizes repairing all the injured parties, including victims, offenders, and the community" (p. 76).

The "Ubuntu philosophy of Africa, which affirms the essential connection of all living things" (p. 81, and see pp. 105-08), guided the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa. The commission for financial reparations, however, has too few resources to accomplish economic justice. "Only when economic justice is joined with political justice will healing be possible. Healing is a circular process, and all dimensions of the circle must be attended to in order for healing to occur" (p. 82).

Sweden has discovered that the longer the imprisonment, the greater the probability of recidivism: "24% recidivism for those not imprisoned, 52% for those imprisoned from one to two years, and 86% for those imprisoned more than ten years" (p. 85). Respect and rehabilitation are the emphases in Sweden's prisons. Many prisoners there "regarded prison as a place of grace, forgiveness, and healing rather than punishment. One chaplain summed it up well: `It is impossible to be a prison chaplain and not think this way theologically'" (p. 87).

Snyder is especially persuasive in lifting up "Judeo-Christian roots" of restorative justice (pp. 109-125). Here "amazing grace" "looks to the future rather than to the past" (p. 101).

Resisting punishment, and cultivating restorative healing (of offenders, victims, and society), do not mean going soft on crime. Restorative healing means being effective in holistic healing, in restoring torn relations, in working toward a hopeful future for all of us. It is a means of initiating and nourishing mutual accountability between offenders, victims and community.

A society that includes structural systemic injustice and many tyrannies of the status quo is in no position to combat crime with self-righteousness and self-defeating efforts to get even. "We are all one and we must resist all attempts to divide us into `us' and `them,' upright citizens and bestial criminals" (p. 156).

To those who object that this " restorative justice" is an idealistic approach that will not work, Snyder responds that the present "spirit of punishment" has been proven not to work. The increasing costs of our present approaches, financial and social and psychological costs combined, are themselves so impractical that we must learn from practitioners of restorative justice, and undertake the arduous work of "converting" our whole attitude from reactive punishment to proactive healing.

-John G. Gibbs, PhD


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