Ethos Education

Carnage: What is the significance of an offender’s attitude to his actions when deciding an appropriate punishment or consequence?

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Learning Objectives:

  • Awareness of Christian teaching about judgement, forgiveness and punishment.
  • Understand different theories of punishment.

Learning Outcomes:

  • Reflect upon the appropriate punishments (if any) for a range of different scenarios.
  • Analyse differing points of view concerning the response to a schoolboy fight.
  • Analyse different theories of justice and punishment.
  • Evaluate those theories from a Christian perspective.
  • Understand the Christian concept of atonement.
  • Analyse Bible passages to determine what they suggest about guilt and punishment.
  • Analyse Bible passages to determine how Christians see punishment, justice and forgiveness being combined with each other.
  • Synthesise learning by rewriting a scene from the film Carnage, with the characters arguing from different Christian perspectives.


Tell the students that you are going to give them a number of scenarios, and for each they are to consider whether or not the people concerned should be punished for their actions, and if so what punishment they think is appropriate. As students respond to each scenario, encourage a degree of discussion, particularly if any students relate any of these hypothetical situations to real incidents from their own lives.

  • A four year old child keeps on hitting his younger brother.
  • A twelve year old is caught shop lifting.
  • A school student is late four days in a row, without good excuse on each occasion.
  • A teenager ‘borrows without asking’ an iPod – they return it later on in the day.
  • A teenager accidentally smashes a neighbour’s garage window with a ball.
  • A speeding driver knocks down and seriously injures a pedestrian.

Here are some questions to help develop the discussion:

  • How do you feel about the concept of punishment? Is it right that people who do wrong are punished? Are there other ways of responding to wrongdoing?
  • To what extent should punishment depend on the identity of the person who has done something wrong? For example, if it was a grown man, rather than a four year old, who was regularly hitting the baby, would the same level of punishment still be appropriate? What about if a teacher, rather than a student, was repeatedly late for school?
  • What difference does it make to your attitude towards punishment when you are involved in the situation, either as victim or as the person who is going to be punished?
  • What difference does the attitude of the wrongdoer make? For example, if the shop lifter is genuinely sorry for what he did, or if he is only sorry he got caught and sees no reason not to shoplift again if he thinks he can get away with it

Explain that in this lesson you are going to be considering the purpose of punishment for crimes, as well as looking at what Christians believe about how the response to crime can be combined with forgiveness and the restoration of the wrongdoer’s place in society.


Introduce the clip from the film Carnage (StudioCanal, 2011, certificate 15). Click here to buy the DVD online.

Explain that two sets of parents Michael (John C Reilly) and Penelope (Jodie Foster) and Alan (Christophe Waltz) and Nancy (Kate Winslet) are meeting up after a fight between their respective teenaged sons. Ask the students to pay particular attention to any differences of opinion between the parents in deciding what their sons should do to put things right.

  • Start time:        0.13.08 (beginning of chapter 3 of the DVD)
  • End time:         0.18.35
  • Clip length:      5 minutes and 27 seconds

The clip starts with Alan saying, ‘I’ve been so busy I’ve hardly had time for lunch’. It ends with Michael saying, ‘It’s okay, pal. I’ll get it.’

Ask the students to summarise the different attitudes shown by the parents towards getting the boys together to talk about what happened. Draw out the discussion about whether Zachary should be made to meet with Ethan, or whether he should only do so voluntarily.

What would the students suggest that the parents do? Do they agree that the boys should be brought together to talk about what happened? What difference does it make if one or other boy is an unwilling participant to such a conversation?

Although this episode concerned a dispute between teenagers that got out of hand, it also reflects an ongoing debate about the response to criminal acts. Ask the students to suggest different objectives that might be prioritized by judges and courts when sentencing convicted criminals. Here are some possible answers if the students need some help to get started:

  • Deterrent – preventing crimes from being committed.
  • Protection – keeping innocent people safe from lawbreakers.
  • Punishment – making lawbreakers suffer for the things they have done wrong.
  • Rehabilitation – helping lawbreakers to see how their actions were wrong, in order to help them not to re-offend in the future.
  • Restorative justice – making amends and seeking to put things right.

Write the different theories on the board as they are suggested. Make sure that the students have grasped the difference between the theories. Ask the students to identify the focus of each theory (deterrent focuses on potential criminal acts; protection focuses on potential victims of crime; punishment and rehabilitation both focus on the lawbreaker; restorative justice focuses on both lawbreaker and victim).

Discuss with the students the strengths and weaknesses of each theory. When you talk about rehabilitation, remind the students of the statements earlier about whether or not people can change, and ask how their conclusions might affect the way they think about this particular theory. You could ask them whether they think a Christian would agree with Victor’s statement that he can’t change the way he is. A possible response to this is that Christians believe that people can change, with God’s help. The Bible provides numerous examples, most notably Paul. Until Jesus appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus, Paul was notorious for stirring the Jews up against Christians, and having Christians put to death. After his conversion, Paul was a leading figure in the early church, and devoted his life to travelling across the known world telling people about Jesus.

Ask the students which of the theories they would expect a Christian to be most in favour of. Explain that justice is an important concept for Christians – the Bible describes God as a just ruler, one who acts to ensure that all wrongs are righted and that justice prevails (see Psalm 103:6, to take just one example). Similarly God’s followers are told to concern themselves with justice (see Micah 6:8) and to do what they can to ensure that people receive justice. However, Christians also believe that God will one day judge the world (see Revelation 20:11-15) and restore perfect justice. Christians are told that because of this, they should leave the matter of revenge to God (Deuteronomy 32:34-35, which Paul comments on in Romans 12:17-21).

Other Bible passages that may be helpful to introduce as the discussion unfolds include the following: Exodus 20:13; Leviticus 24:17-22; Psalm 9: 7-9 and 13-18; Amos 5:7-15; Matthew 5:38-42.

Explain that in Christian theology, the idea of paying the price for wrongdoing – a punishment – is often linked with the idea of being forgiven and restored. Christians believe that God has high standards: he is opposed to lawlessness, and he demands justice and fairness. Christians also believe that nobody can meet God’s standard of perfection. Ask students to look up the following Bible passages and to write a paraphrase or summary of each them. This activity can be done individually, or working in pairs or small groups. The passages are James 2:10-11 and Romans 3:23. It might be helpful to ask students to keep the page of the Romans passage, as they will be returning to it later in the lesson.

Allow students to feed their answers back to the class and draw out that the Bible teaches that everyone falls short of God’s standards, and therefore faces punishment.

Pose these questions to the class:

  • How can a God who wants justice and has declared everyone to be guilty tell someone they are forgiven, and free from any punishment?
  • Does this seem fair?
  • Does it seem just?
  • Has God just swept all the wrong things people do under the carpet and pretended they didn’t happen?

Now, again working individually or in pairs or small groups, ask the students to read Romans 3:23-25 (a continuation of the verse they have already looked at) and Colossians 2: 13-14. Ask the students to compare these verses with the ones they looked at in the previous exercise and to summarise the new passages.

Draw out from the students that Christians believe that God is able to forgive because someone else takes the punishment. Christians believe Jesus is a substitute, an innocent person taking the place of a guilty person. Jesus’ execution shows God punishing Jesus in the place of others. They believe that this allows God to maintain his requirement of justice for wrong-doing, while also showing mercy to imperfect people.


Ask students to write an alternative version of the discussion between the four parents. In the new version the parents should argue from different points of view about what should be done concerning Zachary and Ethan, but each point of view should be backed up with arguments from a Christian perspective.


  • A copy of the film Carnage and the means to play it.
  • Bibles

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