Adam and Eve were not just naughty, disobedient children. They were created in God's image. They had God's desire for creative expression and awareness. As long as they remained in the Garden, they could not take the next step in their evolution.
How do you convince a dependent, obedient child to leave home, especially if there is a comfortable bed and three gourmet meals served every day? Adam and Eve weren't going to make a conscious choice to leave the comforts of the Garden. The choice had to be made at an unconscious level. They were driven by a desire they did not yet understand.
And so these two archetypal beings began a spiritual journey that would take them from sin to atonement, from ignorance to knowledge, from denial to responsibility. They would have to explore their darkness to find the light. They would have to become sinners to discover the blueprint for their redemption. They would have to experience the limits of their bodies, their minds and the three dimensional world to know that their true nature transcended all this. To become God, they had to first become human.
Excerpts from Forbidden Fruit
Correction or Punishment?
We live with an erroneous assumption that punishing those who sin prevents them from sinning again. Statistics show that this is hardly the case. Punishing criminals without doing anything to foster their rehabilitation is tantamount to locking them up and throwing away the key.
That may suit some people fine, especially when criminals are in prison for life. But most people behind bars get out of prison. And, if we have done nothing to help them face their guilt and atone for their crimes, they come back into society with the same consciousness they had before being sentenced.
The price that we pay for not rehabilitating prisoners who will reenter society is a very high price. More often than not, it results in more crime and victims of crime.
Even prisoners who are locked away for life place a heavy financial burden on taxpayers. Efforts to help them lead more responsible and productive lives behind bars can save taxpayers money and give inmates an opportunity to change.
Does punishment ever help people change? Well, in certain rare cases it might help the person being punished to connect with his guilt. However, in most cases, it just reinforces his bitterness and victim consciousness. Often, it actually interferes with his natural willingness to feel his guilt and begin to take responsibility for what he has done.Instead of punishing the criminal for not being responsible in the past, we may need to challenge him to take more responsibility for his actions now and in the future. Without offering the carrot, the use of the stick becomes utterly ineffective and meaningless. Without offering the criminal hope, how can we expect him to take responsibility?
An enlightened society encourages people to learn from their mistakes and redeem themselves. It also protects its members from people who continue to disregard the well-being of others.
While it may occasionally resort to punishment or imprisonment, its goal must always be to redeem and rehabilitate. It is a fact of life that not all will choose to learn from their mistakes. But it is also a fact of life that many whom we think are lost find some will to live and to learn that we never could have predicted.
To believe in the potential of people to transform themselves does not require any of us to be stupid or to deny the reality around us. We need to insist on proof of rehabilitation and demonstrations of responsibility before allowing criminals back on the streets. Shutting our eyes and crossing our fingers as we watch inmates re-enter society is not good enough. They must be psychologically and spiritually ready and support mechanisms (jobs, counseling, appropriate housing) must be in place. And, even with all this, we need to keep both our eyes and our hearts open.
We are all looking for justice. The question we must ask is "What serves justice best: to demand an 'eye for an eye' or to correct the vision of the one who sees in error?"
If you believe that people cannot change you will choose the first strategy. If you believe that transformation is possible, you will choose the second one.
However, even if you favor the second strategy, you must be realistic. True redemption is a rigorous process. There is nothing soft or naïve about it. It requires that each person look at his mistake until he can acknowledge it. It requires that he sees and feels sorry for the pain that he has caused. And it requires that he is willing to make amends and learn from his mistakes.
Will every mistaken person learn from his mistakes just because we offer him the opportunity? Certainly not. It will be up to him to decide if he wants to learn. But that is a choice that each one of us makes moment to moment. It is not just a choice for the man or woman behind bars.
Justice or Injustice
Justice is the goal of our legal system and our criminal justice system. Yet, it is clear that justice is far more elusive than we think.
Not only do we condemn innocent people to imprisonment and death, we also do very little to rehabilitate the inmates in our prisons. As a result, we have an astronomically high recidivism rate. That means that well over half of the people who goal to jail a first time return to prison after they have been released.
Our prisons create a culture that generates career criminals. To be sure, they have to work with the most difficult people. It isn't an easy task.
The problem lies not just with the competence of the people administering the system and providing its services. It is imbedded in the design of the system itself and the goals that it aspires to achieve.
The goal of the system is not to rehabilitate, but to punish. It is not to change hearts and minds but to make inmates "do time." Inmates are not asked to face their guilt, to confront their victims' anger, to take responsibility for their actions. No, they are simply locked up and dealt with on a custodial basis.
That does not mean that individuals who are motivated cannot find help. They can and they do. But these are the people who are going to turn their lives around anyway, with or without a therapeutic process.
However, the vast majority of prison inmates need a therapeutic process that will help them face their guilt and take responsibility for their actions. They aren't going to ask for this process. But they will take what we give them. And what we offer them right now is time and a culture as dire as the one they experienced on the streets.
How is justice served if there is little opportunity for criminals to transform their consciousness and their lives? Society does not want rapists, murderers and drug dealers back on the street, but this is what it is going to get if it continues to support a system based on punishment instead of rehabilitation.
Both on the individual and collective level, we must understand the cycle of sin, guilt and atonement and support an approach to transgression that helps people go through all three phases of the cycle. Punishment prevents this from happening by short circuiting the process. As soon as we declare someone's guilt, we prescribe punishment as an atonement strategy. We say that we are satisfied if inmates do their time and we think that simply by doing it they will "pay their debt to society."
Well, sorry, folks. The debt to society is not paid. It is not even acknowledged. We think that if we put people in jail they will accept their guilt, but most of them don't. They justify their actions. They blame others. They pretend to be victims. But, for the most part, they don't face their guilt or admit their mistakes. They don't understand the suffering they have caused others. Or, if they do, they don't care.
They are not honest with themselves or with others. No foundation for change is built. When they leave prison, they do so with the same operating system that was in place when they committed their crimes.
If we want the streets of our communities to be safe, we have to insist that inmates leave prison with a different operating system than the one they had going in. That is going to take a lot of time and energy. It is going to take skillful rehabilitation staff who aren't easily manipulated or fooled. It's going to take reformed ex-inmates acting as role models. It is going to take confrontation, caring and lots of patience.
It is going to be a major investment for all of us. But the importance of this should not be underestimated. If we can learn to deal humanely and effectively with our worst sinners, then we can create a society where people can learn from their mistakes and improve their lives.
In a sense, our prisons are a microcosm of the society we live in. They reflect our values and our commitments. That should be a sobering realization, for all of us.
How do we achieve justice? By punishing transgressors so that we and they can avoid dealing with guilt? No. We face our guilt and help them face theirs.
We offer strategies for telling the truth, opportunities for taking responsibility, expressing remorse, making amends or restitution. We look at sin not as a two part process the ends with punishment, but as a three part process that acknowledges the deepest levels of guilt and remorse and moves through a variety of atonement strategies toward healing and correction.
Healing and Correction
There is no healing without correction. And there can be no correction without our willingness to learn from our mistakes.
Atonement doesn't happen without a change in heart. It is that change of heart that ultimately leads to a change in behavior. While it would be nice to think that this could happen overnight, it rarely does.
Fortunately, the one thing inmates have is plenty of time. The question is whether or not we are going to ask them to do something productive with that time.
To be sure, if we ask more of them, we are also going to have to ask more of ourselves. It is easier and probably cheaper to hire prison guards than it is to hire trained, street-wise therapists. It is easier to ask prisoners to "do time" than it is to ask them to be accountable for how they spend their time. But if we do not begin asking them to be accountable for their time in prison, how are they going to learn to be accountable when they get out? If we do not ask them to start acknowledging their mistakes and learning from them, how are they going to learn to stop blaming other people for their mistakes and attacking them?
Prisoners have a lot to learn. They could use a lot of their prison time learning to take responsibility for their thoughts, feelings and actions. They could learn appropriate boundaries. They could learn how to apologize to others, how to make amends when they have injured someone, and how to give and receive forgiveness. Do we really think that there is something better than this for them to do?
By not offering our best to them, we only cheat ourselves. They may be our prisoners for a few years. But if we don't use that time to help them change their hearts and minds, it is only a matter of time before the roles reverse and they come knocking at our doors. And then who will the prisoner be?
If we want our communities to be safe places, we have a lot of work to do. Prisons cannot be places where criminals are banished away from our oversight and allowed to maintain their culture of denial, projection, attack and retribution. We must step in and tear down those walls of denial. We must insist on truth telling and transparency. We must create an environment where guilt can be faced, not hidden or avoided.
We want criminals to feel their guilt and bring it out in the open, instead of finding a scapegoat and projecting their guilt onto him or her. We want to hear their confessions and expressions of remorse, for only then do we know that they are moving toward correction/atonement.
Through constant practice, deeply ingrained patterns of denial and avoidance of responsibility can be gradually broken and new, more responsible patterns set in motion. Friends and family can see that inmates are changing for the better and support them, even when they make mistakes.
Like Alcoholics in the AA program – and many offenders are also addicts of one kind or another -- they must be encouraged to take one day at a time. Practice and patience are essential if they are going to be able to overturn old destructive patterns.
The Role of Groups
When people have similar lessons to learn, groups can be helpful in raising the consciousness of their members. Twelve Step or Affinity Groups that encourage people to confess their mistakes in an environment that is loving and accepting are powerful tools in the atonement process.
While many people benefit from the support of a "spiritual family" in cultivating healthy values and behavior, others must be careful that their search for acceptance does not result in their giving their power away to others who would like to control them. Indeed, some people commit crimes by succumbing to peer pressure and, as a result, their consciousness can be raised only by learning to stand up for their own values in the face of pressure from others. A group with guidelines that uphold clear boundaries can help them learn how to stand up for their own values and beliefs.
Cults of any kind must be avoided, as they themselves are agents of trespass incapable of understanding or upholding appropriate boundaries. They do not teach or support the principle of individual responsibility. While they may offer emotional support initially, this support is usually short lived and followed by a number of mentally and emotionally manipulative tactics designed to break down the self-esteem of members so that they surrender to the authority structure of the group.
Clearly, groups are powerful and can be tools for either atonement or trespass. However, as long as inmates take responsibility and refuse to give their power away, support groups can help them "anchor in" new values and behavior. Prisoners who have no hope or self-confidence can realize that they have the same power that they see reflected in the behavior of their sponsors or mentors. They can learn to have a new vision of who they are and what is possible for them.
Building an Culture of Atonement
Working with prisoners keeps us from becoming too romantic about the concept of atonement. We can't help but be humbled by the tremendous challenge of helping some of the most angry people on the planet move from distrust to trust, from denial to responsibility. Yet we know that unless they can travel this rocky road to freedom, we won't be able to travel it either. For the only difference between those inside the prison walls and those outside them is one of degree.
We all left the same Garden and we have the same story. They just chose to dramatize that story more than we did. Prison became their metaphor for exile. And because they are our brothers and sisters, it is our metaphor too. They may reflect the pain of exile with a greater intensity than we do, but it is the same pain.
Building a culture that supports atonement is both their work and ours. It is both individual work and collective work. It asks each one of us to take personal responsibility for facing our guilt and atoning for our mistakes. And it also asks us to work together to build a society that encourages honesty and responsibility from all of its members.
Regardless of which side of the prison walls we inhabit, we have the same work to do. We need to take down the walls of fear that keep us in denial. We need to have the courage to admit our mistakes and to stop blaming each other for them. We need to work hard to build a culture in which mistakes are perceived not as opportunities for ridiculing or condemning each other, but as opportunities to see our weaknesses and strengthen them.
Because they are in prison, and their anger, their pain and their denial is pervasive and profound, we cannot approach this task in a naïve fashion. We can't ask for too much at first or we will fail. We have to start with the basics. We have to start with the bar fairly close to the ground.
If a child is three feet tall and we set the bar at two feet, he will not be able to jump over it. He is bound to fail. But if we set the bar at 6 inches and keep raising it as he grows, it will not be that long before he can hurdle the two feet we expect from him.
Everyone has the capacity to improve. Even criminals can become more skillful, more compassionate, more responsible, more honest, more loving. They can learn to acknowledge their pain and face their guilt.
It won't be easy. It won't be quick. But with persistence and patience it can happen. Our goal may be redemption, but we will need to take baby steps toward it. We will have to deal with where we are today, not with where we would like to be in the future.
We are not rebuilding the culture of pretense and denial, after all. We are building a new culture based on honesty and willingness to learn.
It is a different culture than any we have known. And it will be a challenge to build it on our planet, in our countries, our communities, our families, indeed in our own hearts and minds. But it is the great work we came here to do. It is the Garden we must build, not because we have been abandoned by God, but because the God's light and God's love went with us into the three dimensional world. And it is by finding and reclaiming that light and that love that we understand the truth about ourselves and our mission here.
For we are master builders all. We have entered an imperfect world to discover that perfection does not lie outside of us, nor does it lie within our ego structure. If perfection exists, it exists in the blueprint of our evolution. It exists in our willingness to learn, to adapt, to grow and transform.
When God gave us the key to the Garden gate, He told us that we could come back home when we were ready. What we did not know is that the Garden of Eden was not a physical place, but a place of peace within our hearts and minds. We can find that place even if we are in prison.
Without the possibility for redemption this experiment in freedom is and will continue to be a rather grim affair. God knew this and He reminded us that the Key to the Garden gate worked both ways.
When we re-enter the Garden, we do so with a consciousness that is different from the one with which we left. We "return" having moved from ignorance to knowledge, back to grace. We return as conscious beings who create and take responsibility for our creations.
We may return to the same place where we started, but we are not the same. We have learned to be a little more gentle and compassionate. We have learned to forgive ourselves and each other.
Listen to audio excerpts from this book read by Paul Ferrini:
Human and Divine
Peace Will Return to Earth
From the CD The Hands of God. Click here for more info.