Crime and Punishment

Crime does not pay. But it does charge admission.

We were in Rothenburg, and I already knew that one of the must-see sites for me was the Medieval Museum of Crime and Punishment. At least that is what my guide book called it, though I note the website refers to it now as the Medieval Museum of Crime and Justice. There’s a subtle difference in the name.

The museum houses several hundred years’ worth of artifacts, instruments of correction and torture from a less enlightened age. I’m not sure if the emphasis is on crime or punishment, but the idea is to let you know that wrongdoers will get what they deserve. Or what the society at the time thought they deserved.img_1830

We live in a more enlightened age today than in the past. Our ideas of appropriate punishment for crimes has changed. We strive for rehabilitation as opposed to retaliation. Or that is the theory anyway.

To describe the museum as fun is both accurate and a little disturbing. Each of these instruments has a story, each relates to a crime of some sort. And crime, in the eyes of society, is never fun. Glamourizing it, even to make a tourist buck, has disturbing implications.img_1831

I’m not sure that crime is glamourized here of course. But there is something tantalizing about the displays, about learn just how bloodthirsty punishment could be.

Crime of course can be in the eye of the beholder, or perhaps the consensus of the society you are in. There are a number of prominent Canadian families who became very wealthy smuggling alcohol into the United States during the Prohibition Era. Their actions were perfectly legal at home and definitely criminal south of the border.

But are there universal crimes, moral laws that transcend state ordinances? Is there a law “written on men’s (and women’s) hearts?” Apparently so. And I say that not just because I read it in the Bible.

Taking a life indiscriminately (murder) seems from what I have read to be pretty much proscribed in every culture. Which makes sense – you wouldn’t have much societal function if there were no restraints. At least I don’t think you would.

We create museums dedicated to crime and punishment not to glorify crime, but to serve as a warning as to how it ultimately does not pay. Does it serve as a deterrent? I have my doubts.

Governments have tried various policies to deter crimes, and they don’t seem to be very effective. Even the death penalty, though it does deter recidivism, doesn’t have an appreciable impact on the murder rate.

The roots of crime are not poverty and injustice though those are frequently mentioned by “experts.” The causes go deeper than that.

The roots of crime are firmly rooted in Eden, in disobedience, in separation and alienation from God. If you are serious about tackling crime, that’s where you need to start. And that is precisely where the “experts” of our western society won’t go. I guess that means no end in sight to crime, which is good news for museums dedicated to preserving the history of crime.

All that being said, if I am ever in Rothenburg again I imagine I would revisit the museum. But I would do so with a different attitude. Less of a tourist, more of a sociologist/historian, pondering the human condition. And how we could bridge the gap between us and God.




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