All of us wish to see those who hurt us pay for it and face what they have done. If this is done to balance the scales of justice it is seen as punishment. If you take the law into your own hands and have no regard for the dignity of the wrongdoer it is seen as revenge. But in the real world, there is no neat way to separate these things.


Retribution tries to hurt you for committing some crime and it denies it is the same as revenge. It is about giving you the bad you have earned while revenge is just hurting you without any concern for what you really deserve.

The retribution question often appears in those contexts: the family, the criminal law of the land and divine law.

Justice being true or fair is not the point in the eyes of the law. The laws of the land are parasitic on justice and care that they are broken not that they are really as fair as they could be. Can you really prove that a shoplifter should be going to jail for a week/month or whatever? See the point?

Retribution is revenge?

If retribution is revenge what then?

Even if it is not there could be dangerous thin line between them that makes one pass for the other a lot of the time.

The main argument that retribution is just revenge in disguise is, "The crime is in the past. The crime does not hurt anybody but people who know if it may choose to hurt themselves over it. Revenge cannot fix this so it is bad. Retribution is no good either. It is true that retribution and revenge do nothing. Thus one is as bad as the other. They are the same thing for revenge is simply trying to make a wrong right by doing another one."

Read the Third Book of Ethics by Aristotle. He is clear that nobody commits a crime or evil for evil's own sake. The rapist wants pleasure perhaps. He is not raping simply because it degrades his victim or for the sake of evil. The law of the land ignores all that. It treats crime as voluntary and as an abuse of free will as long as the person is assessed as sane enough. Some think that insanity is not an excuse for doing harm and evil. You are still evil if you kill x while under the delusion that doing so will save the world. The delusion is the framework but your will to do evil is a different matter. The framework did not make you kill - you did. Retribution is revenge for the law always treats criminals as if they were only breaking the law because it is bad to. They are doing bad for the hell of it in the eyes of the law. It is revenge for they are punished for what they have not done - done evil for the hell of it.

Christianity lies that it tries to love all. It does not.

If you inflict necessary evils on everybody love will not even matter then.

It could be that Christianity thinks love is a necessary evil!! The doctrine that love is doing good and not necessarily rejoicing in others makes that clear!

To protect love and the loving, the Church says you need to give people what they earn. If they do bad they earn bad in return and that is retribution. So clearly love and retribution in this scheme go together. To protect the loving you need to make laws. A weak punishment is really just a pretence at enforcing the law.


Theorists about moral justice always think or claim to be sure that your criminal or sinful guilt are to be measured by the worth and dignity and role of the one you do wrong against. So it is worse to throw a glass of water over the president or the pope than to throw it over your classmate. This kind of logic leaves us unsurprised when you go to jail for "life" ie ten years for killing beggarman in the park for life and literal life for killing the Minister for Finance. Who is anybody to measure a person's worth by their dignity instead of just saying, "They matter for they are human and that is all that matters." Such justice is just veiled retribution.

Case study on revenge disguised as justice

Jeffrey Epstein was thought in 2019 to have evaded justice by committing suicide instead of being tried for supposedly abusing many young girls and even supplying them to men he knew.

The alleged victims and others claimed to be upset by this for now he could not be tried for it and exposed if the allegations proved true. For the victims, true justice had not been done.

An alleged abuse survivor summed it up: “We have to live with the scars of his actions for the rest of our lives, while he will never face the consequences of the crimes he committed, the pain and trauma he caused so many people’.

That he died as a result of the crimes - if he committed them - is not enough. He did pay the ultimate price.

The alleged victims are unhappy because he cannot put themselves in their place and see and answer for the damage he did. If he did that he would recognise himself as being evil as a person. It will not fix his victims even a little but they are further hurt by the fact that he died before he could be proven guilty and condemned.

A psychology today article concludes, "Our reactions to Epstein’s suicide illustrate an important psychological principle. Justice is not the same as vengeance. In vengeance, we retaliate in revenge. We want the other to feel pain in response to our pain. Justice, however, is a moral concept. Injustice can only occur by repairing the moral order. It is possible for the other to experience deep pain for his infraction–even death–for his infraction. But the mere experience of pain is insufficient. For justice, we want the other to experience our pain–not just any pain. Justice demands attention to the moral breach, which involves having to face one’s wrongdoing. This is why justice requires much more than vengeance."

I have to comment on that conclusion. You know there is nothing you can do to make another feel your pain or really see through your eyes. It is all partial. No two victims even if they are twins hurt at the one time really have experiences that match up except in some respects and even then the accuracy is passable but still imprecise. Wanting impractical justice, is wanting revenge.

The cross

The Christian Churches either teach or allow one to assume that the reason Jesus was sacrificed by God on the cross was to give Jesus the retribution due to our sins. This evil core doctrine of the faith which is honoured by the Holy Communion in particular was popularised by Anselm of Canterbury.

“In a magisterial study, Timothy Gorringe has argued that Anselm’s theory of the atonement, in particular, had wide influence on violent justice systems in Europe. He notes that the need to hang or torture criminals was never self-evident” (Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence by Hector Avalos).


Retribution and justice are really covers for revenge and the Christian system is largely to blame for that for Jesus based his death around the notion of having to pay for the sins of others. For true justice, we must overthrow the Christian underpinnings of the legal system. The notion of people doing evil is nonsense. See them as hugely mistaken. Then you can give real justice.

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