I was reading a book this week that prompted the following thoughts to occur to me.
I was wondering about our legal system. What is it that we are after; justice, which suggests that we value the truth over a system, or precisely that, systemized justice, that is, that everything must follow a certain code or chain of events?
Suppose that someone actually committed a murder but did not get a fair trial. In such a case, ought he to be punished for committing the murder or allowed free (assuming there is no court of appeal) because the judicial process failed him and he was not tried fairly?
Now, I feel that the person ought to be punished anyway because the truth is that he committed a murder (something that is somehow very evident) but I know in terms of pure thought that if this were to occur, our entire legal system would collapse. We need fair trials in order to ensure a kind of order; it is more important to defend the legal system which governs us all than worry about the one murderer.
In this case, the system overrides the truth (by which we mean, the hope for further justice in other cases overrides the one individual case.) We are more concerned with protecting the system that in turn protects all of us than actually punishing a crime.
I wondered if the same argument could be applied to religion. Suppose one argues that the goal of religion, similarly to the legal system, is to work for the most protection, a systemized system that helps everyone. Similarly, if at times the truth is avoided or negated in order to benefit the system, this is all right because religion isn't necessarily after truth but after the strongest system to benefit the whole.
There are problems with this analogy because we are arguing the human aspect as opposed to what should be a Divine system (albeit one implemented by humans.) But the conclusions I draw from this don't sit well with me at all. In fact, I still don't like the idea of the legal implications. I understand entirely why we would have to let criminals go if they don't have a fair trial and why the system outweighs the truth (assuming they are really guilty.) But I don't like it. I don't like it at all.
For what is true justice? Is justice meting out punishment in accordance to error or is it implementing a system that will hopefully succeed in doing this? And is justice rooted in the truth or in the system? For some strange and incredible reason, at one point I thought everything was simple enough for justice to be rooted in truth, but now I see that it is not.
I don't like the idea that the good of a system outweighs the truth.
The problem is, I don't see any way around it. And I cannot even argue that there is a way around it in the Torah, for there too, the legal system outweighs truth. There must be two witnesses to a crime (if only one, the witness himself is whipped because he only comes to blacken the person's reputation.) There must be courts of law (indeed, one of the seven Noachide laws.) Here, too, the overall system is more important than the truth and if the system fails in some way or if the right elements are not there (one witness instead of two) the truth is dismissed and deemed unimportant.
Rather an unsettling realization for me.