I just read an Agatha Christie novel called “The Murder at the Vicarage” (published in 1930), and I found the following passage very interesting. Given your thoughts on determinism and capital punishment, I thought you’d enjoy reading it as well.It is a conversation between a doctor (Haydock) and a vicar (Clement). The doctor is speaking first. The first-person narrator is the vicar.
“We think with horror now of the days when we burnt witches. I believe the day will come when we will shudder to think that we ever hanged criminals.” [Doctor]
“You don’t believe in capital punishment?” [Vicar]
“It’s not so much that.” He paused. “You know,” he said slowly, “I’d rather have my job than yours.”
“Because your job deals very largely with what we call right and wrong—and I’m not at all sure that there’s any such thing. Suppose it’s all a question of glandular secretion. Too much of one gland, too little of another—and you get your murderer, your thief, your habitual criminal. Clement, I believe the time will come when we’ll be horrified to think of the long centuries in which we’ve punished people for disease—which they can’t help, poor devils. You don’t hang a man for having tuberculosis.”
“He isn’t dangerous to the community.”
“In a sense he is. He infects other people. Or take a man who fancies he’s the Emperor of China. You don’t say how wicked of him. I take your point about the community. The community must be protected. Shut up these people where they can’t do any harm—even put them peacefully out of the way—yes, I’d go as far as that. But don’t call it punishment. Don’t bring shame on them and their innocent families.”
I looked at him curiously. “I’ve never heard you speak like this before.”
“I don’t usually air my theories abroad. Today I’m riding my hobby. You’re an intelligent man, Clement, which is more than some parsons are. You won’t admit, I dare say, that there’s no such thing as what is technically termed, ‘Sin,’ but you’re broadminded enough to consider the possibility of such a thing.”
“It strikes at the root of all accepted ideas,” I said.
“Yes, we’re a narrow-minded, self-righteous lot, only too keen to judge matters we know nothing about. I honestly believe crime is a case for the doctor, not the policeman and not the parson. In the future, perhaps, there won’t be any such thing.”
“You’ll have cured it?”
“We’ll have cured it. Rather a wonderful thought…”
As Jake said at the end of The Sun Also Rises, “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”
This passage is remarkably prescient. Thanks to John for transcribing it!