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Life Without Parole

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Dear Eric:

Right now as you are reading your email a suspect is being rounded up on the outskirts of Quito, Ecuador. He is accused of breaking into his employer’s garage to steal some tools he cannot afford. The police question him. He denies wrongdoing. So they put him in the back of the van and attach wires to his genitals.

After a second denial the keys to the van’s ignition are turned. The electricity from the battery shocks the suspect causing him to scream in agony. The police question him again. Again he denies wrongdoing. So they shock him again and again. Eventually, he “confesses” and is taken to the prison.

When he arrives at the prison he is placed in a cell that measures six meters by six meters. He shares the cell with 44 other prisoners. He is surprised to see that one of his cellmates has a bandage wrapped around his neck. It is soaked with blood. The knife that someone used to slit his throat sits on a small table across the cell. The offender is gone. He’ll never again be seen alive.

As they walk towards the kitchen at lunchtime he notices the man with the bloody bandages walking right in front of him. They walk through puddles of urine mixed with fecal matter, which have leaked from broken pipes no one has fixed for months if not years. He wonders whether the man will die from an infection after barely surviving a knife attack.

The sound of clubs striking prisoners can be heard from the other side of the kitchen. So can the groans of those who are being whipped for failing to produce enough money for prison rent. Outside their relatives beg for money hoping they can collect enough to keep their loved ones from being beaten again.

Some prisoners are let go and told there was a mistake in their arrest. They are then shot in the back by prison guards who report the incidents as thwarted escape attempts. Some prison guards laugh when they are asked about the need for the death penalty, which had been outlawed officially in the late 1950s.

It is impossible to witness firsthand this kind of brutality and evil and adhere to the secular humanist worldview. Humanism assumes that people are good and that crime is caused by “society.” It therefore leads to the idea that government can reeducate its citizens and that, therefore, prisons can rehabilitate the criminal. The humanist mind fails to grasp the true nature of those who run the reeducation programs and the prisons.

Put simply, a multitude of “good” people cannot produce a “bad” society that can be cured by “good” programs produced by the “good” people. Something outside of humanity must save humanity from itself. This is what the 20th Century humanist has always failed to grasp. And that is why the 20th Century was the bloodiest in human history.

It is also impossible to witness these things and not believe in God. I walked into the prison I just described back in 1996. I walked out of that prison badly needing a shower to wash off the horrible smells that had walked out of the prison with me. But the stench of atheism had already fallen off my body by the time I walked out of those gates.

How absurd had I been to have embraced the philosophies of moral and cultural relativism? What kind of fool believes that all cultures are equal – that shooting prisoners in the back and shocking their genitals to procure “confessions” are simply equally valid practices when compared to our own? And what kind of fool cannot see that the shadow, which is evil, cannot exist but for the sunshine, which is God?

The answer of course is that it is a comfortable fool who believes these things. But he only believes them as long as he is comfortable. When he steps outside of his comfort zone it is no longer possible for him to place his faith in humanity. An unbelieving man can begin to believe in God after even the briefest of encounters with abject evil. And a man who believes but seems removed from God can be brought closer to Him by such an encounter.

That is why I always tell the lost to go seeking after God in the unexpected places - in the slums or in the prisons or on the grounds of a Nazi concentration camp. If it means packing up one’s belonging and going on a mad mission (Hat tip: Marvin Olasky) and risking it all then, by all means, do it. You have only one life. You have no idea when it might end.

When I returned to the United States I was struck by a desire to read more than I had in several years. The first stop on my journey towards exploring the parameters of this God I had encountered in prison was the exploration of Buddhism. I quickly decided that Buddhism was false after learning that it denies the existence of objective evil. I had encountered evil and knew it was real. Buddhism says it is an illusion. Therefore, Buddhism is not true. It is merely an illusion.

I would float for a few years before another prison experience – this time on death row interviewing a retarded rapist and murderer – would convict me again. This experience would be so profound that it would drive me to embark on a year of intensive reading, which would bring me to a full and complete acceptance of Christ as the only means of man’s salvation. This brings me now to the third key I promised in today’s letter.

Key Three: An emotional experience can cause someone to find God. It can also cause someone who previously found God to move closer toward Him. But emotion is not enough. There must be a strong intellectual underpinning to one’s faith. That intellectual underpinning is not only needed to strengthen a man’s faith. It is needed to help him share it with others.

Part Three was supposed to be the end of the series. But I thought you might want to hear a little more about my visit to death row. And I thought the reader might want to hear about the books that were helpful to me during that year of intensive reading. I’ll write back sometime next week.

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