You’ve probably read about this elsewhere, but the U.S. Air Force pilot who killed four and wounded at least eight Canadians in Afghanistan has been fined $5,672. This article provides a fairly good summary of the decision. Personally, I’m disgusted that criminal charges against him were dropped, and that all he gets is the ‘maximum’ administrative penalty of about a month’s pay, along with a reprimand. The behavior of this pilot was outrageous, but even more troubling is the idea of a military institution capable of generating such self-justifying attitudes in the face of acts that are clearly wrong… One more reason I’m beginning to believe that all war is bad.
Ranting aside, this news has made me question LDS theories of atonement and “paying for our sins.” We speak of restitution and atonement as though we have two separate processes working contemporaneously: you repent of your sins, and you also give back the apple you stole or fix the fence you drove through. This seems to me to be erroneous, at least if we’re concerned exclusively with personal forgiveness. What payment would’ve been enough for this pilot? If we reject the notion of an eye for an eye, why do we require payment at all? Is the idea of payment generated out of the needs of the individual, or out of the demands of the community at large? For example, if God decides that an administrative reprimand is enough temporal suffering for this pilot to endure in order to be forgiven, does the community have any right to demand payment beyond that reprimand?
UPDATE: You can read the full text of the reprimand here.
UPDATE #2: ABC News has an older but still interesting article on how the U.S. military engages in relative soul valuation. You can view the article here.