Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Let the Punishment Fit the Father's Crime

I'm reading a book called The Book of Were-Wolves published in 1865 by Sabine Baring-Gould. Here is my rough Modern English translation (it used a lot of Scots dialect and archaic words) of a story he tells of a Scottish punishment that I found particularly gruesome.
About this time (1460), there was a brigand taken with his whole family, who haunted1 a place in Angus. This mischievous man had an execrable habit to take all young men and children he could steal away quietly, or take away without knowledge, and eat them, and the younger they were, esteemed them the more tender and delicious. For which cause and damnable abuse, he with his wife and children were all burnt, except a young girl of a year old who was saved and brought to Dundee, where she was brought up and fostered; and when she came to a woman's years, she was condemned and burnt quick for that crime. It is said that when she was coming to the place of execution, there gathered a huge multitude of people, and specially of women, cursing her that she was so unhappy [as] to commit so damnable deeds. To whom she turned about with an ireful countenance, saying, "Why chide me, as if I had committed an unworthy act? Give me credence and trust me: if you had experience of eating men and women's flesh, you would think it so delicious that you would never forbear it again." So but any sign of repentance, this unhappy traitor died in the sight of the people.
[Quoted from the aforementioned book, but with liberties taken to replace archaic words and Scots dialect with more modern equivalents to the best of my meager ability.]

So, let's look at this. She was a year old when her family was burnt for being cannibals. Although she could not remember it, no doubt she tasted human flesh as a child. Had they just left well enough alone and raised her not to know her past, she probably would have turned out a fine, upstanding member of the community.

But did they? No. They poisoned her with stories of her family's crimes throughout her entire childhood, making sure that she knew exactly what foul stock she came from. Some versions of the story (I looked it up) say that during her childhood, she would often bite other children on the fingers and suck their blood. I don't know how much credence to put to that, but the crux of the point is this: She would have had no way of knowing the crimes of her family if they hadn't bludgeoned her with it throughout her entire childhood. If she did later harm other children and attempt to eat them, who could blame her? (I'm getting to that.)

The part that chills my blood, though, is that on a website where I found this story, it had this to say.
There was no hope of saving this poor child and the only solution was to execute her. The Dundee authorities were not heartless, however, and could not execute such a young person . . . they waited till she was eighteen then burned her alive in the Seagate.
So, once again: These good, "not heartless" Christian people burned an entire family alive except for one infant, raised that infant until she was 18, made sure that she knew full well for her entire life that she was evil, then, when she was 18, burned her for her family's crimes.

Yes, I'm speculating about the whole "making sure she knew she was the spawn of evil" part because we know for a fact that you can't "catch" cannibalism. She wouldn't have had any idea at all if they hadn't made sure that she did. Probably with every waking moment of every day of her miserable existence.

But, hey. What can you say? It's right there in the Bible, so it must be good and loving and moral and correct. Ex 34:6-7.
And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children, unto the third and to the fourth generation.
Boy, I'm glad their god is a merciful, gracious, good, and loving god, because otherwise, their actions sure do sound like cold, calculated evil. To me.

But what do I know. I'm just an atheist. I have no morals. I can't tell right from wrong unless it's explained to me. I'm sure someone will come along any minute now to explain to me how it makes sense to blame an infant for the actions of her family. Yep, any minute, now.

Any. Minute. Now . . .

  1. In the sense of visiting habitually, not our more modern meaning.
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