For those who thought I was referring to the other 3 R’s (Reduce, Reuse & Recycle) I apologize in advance. But seriously at first I was only going to talk about repentance, but then I thought about adding retribution and reconciliation as I went through the researching process. I also was planning to discuss multiple media examples but I found one that was able to exemplify all of the 3 R’s: the show Stargate SG-1 and the episode “Cor-ai.”
For those who are unfamiliar, Stargate SG-1 is a TV series, which was a continuation of the original Stargate movie that aired from 1997 to 2007. It follows the story of SG-1, a team consisting Colonel Jack O’Neill, Dr. Daniel Jackson, Captain Samantha (aka Sam) Carter and Teal’c of Chulak. They serve General George Hammond of Stargate Command and are tasked to defend the earth from a parasitic species known as the Goa’uld by exploring new worlds via the Stargate which creates a wormhole between two points in space. Now with that brief synopsis of the series out of the way, on to the episode discussion and just a warning there will be spoilers ahead.
“Cor-ai” takes place at the end of the first season, and starts off with SG-1 transporting to a new world. Teal’c recognizes the location from the many visits he made when he was the First Prime of the Goa’uld System Lord Apophis. During the team’s investigation they come across the planet’s inhabitants, the Byrsa, who not so welcoming given their frequent contact with the Goa’uld. O’Neill convinces them they are not their enemies and they mean them no harm. Tensions ease for a bit but not before a young man by the name of Hanno sees Teal’c.
It is revealed that Teal’c, during his service to Apophis, had killed Hanno’s crippled father. The young man seeks retribution on Teal’c for killing his father through Cor-ai which is the Byrsa culture’s version of a court trial. However Cor-ai is very different from U.S. court trials we may see both in its fictional and non-fictional forms. First off the notion of innocent until proven guilty does not exist in Byrsa culture and it was explained to SG-1 in the episode, “If there were no guilt there would not be Cor-ai.” Second the victim of an offense has the three roles of judge, jury and executioner, and needless to say this concept doesn’t sit well with O’Neill:
Jack O’Neill: “You can’t be the judge, that’s not fair.”
Jack O’Neill: “Yeah, the guy who controls the proceedings, decides what happens here.”
Hanno: “Why is it not fair?”
Jack O’Neill: “Because your are the son of the victim.”
Jack O’Neill: “The judge has to be impartial.”
Hanno: “What does that mean?”
Daniel Jackson: “Uh, impartiality would require someone who hasn’t already formed an opinion about Teal’c’s guilt or innocence.”
Hanno: “How can there be such a person? Everyone who has a mind has an opinion.”
In a desperate attempt O’Neill tries to appeal the Byrsa elder to have someone else judge the Cor-ai. She responds saying, “Only the person who has suffered understands the pain that been inflicted. Who else can fairly say what the punishment must be?” While Cor-ai seems unfair in light of the American justice system, Hanno is well within his rights to seek retribution in this way (within his culture at least). It’s better than just killing Teal’c right then and there and Hanno even acknowledges at the start of the Cor-ai that he was wrong to let his anger control him in that instance. So despite differences in perspective, Cor-ai serves the same purpose as court trials, to carry out justice and prevent revenge killings.
As the Cor-ai commences and Hanno asks Teal’c if he killed his father he replies, “Yes. I am the one who killed your father.” Admittedly he didn’t want to kill Hanno’s father, in fact it is revealed that he shot him not just to appease Apophis but so that the Byrsa would not be slowed down when they had escape into their hidden caves if the Goa’uld were to return to the planet again. While he had the right to blame it on Apophis, Teal’c acknowledges and accepts responsibility for his actions. This is best exemplified through his conversation with O’Neill (apologies for the length but I thought it would be best to show the entire conversation):
Jack O’Neill: “Teal’c are you trying to commit suicide?”
Teal’c: “I do not understand.”
Jack O’Neill: “Why didn’t you tell me you were guilty? At least before you told a room full of people that wanna see you dead.”
Teal’c: “You already knew, only you did not want to hear it. That is why you asked me not to speak.”
Jack O’Neill: “What happened?”
Teal’c: “Apophis ordered me to kill Hanno’s father.”
Jack O’Neill: “So, you were following orders.
Teal’c: “Hanno’s father died by my hand. No one else’s. I am responsible. What I did while serving Apophis, I will not hide from.”
Jack O’Neill: “Even if the punishment is death?”
Teal’c: “Then that is what I deserve.”
Jack O’Neill: “Teal’c, you sound like you wanna die.”
Teal’c: “Colonel O’Neill, have you ever faced the crying eyes of a child whose father you have just murdered?”
Jack O’Neill: “Not exactly. Teal’c, there are a lot things we do that we wish we could change and we sure as hell can’t forget, but the whole concept of chain of command undermines the idea of free will. So as soldiers, we have to do some pretty awful stuff. But we’re following orders like we were trained to. It doesn’t make it easier; it certainly doesn’t make it right, but it does put some of the responsibility on the guy giving those orders.”
Teal’c: “Then you are saying Apophis is responsible for Hanno’s father’s death.”
Jack O’Neill: “Yes.”
Teal’c: “You are wrong, O’Neill. While in the service of Apophis I did many things. For these deeds, my victims deserve retribution.”
Jack O’Neill: “Can we focus on this one case only for now please?”
Teal’c: “This case represents the many.”
Jack O’Neill: “Well it shouldn’t! Why? Why are you doin’ this?”
Teal’c: “When I look into Hanno’s eyes, I see the horror on the faces of many others, as their loved ones prepare for Goa’uld absorption. Worse yet is the face of the victims whom I selected as they realize they are about to take their final human breath. Hanno’s father is not the first nor the last of those whose lives I’ve taken. And I have done far worse, O’Neill. I cannot give all of their loved ones retribution, but I can at least give it to this one. I am sorry, O’Neill. I will not run.”
I wouldn’t say that Teal’c is giving up but rather he is letting this Cor-ai give him the chance to repent from all the acts he committed as First Prime of Apophis. Teal’c didn’t deny the crime he committed and I guess that is what stood out to me the most when watching this episode. It is rare especially in our society to see someone who is so repentant that they willing to accept retribution from those they have wronged. Despite SG-1’s best efforts to defend Teal’c, Hanno sentences him to be killed by his own staff weapon.
Thankfully the story does not end with Teal’c’s death for Goa’uld decided to show up in the Byrsa village just before Teal’c’s execution. Hanno leaves with the other men to fight them off but instructs a boy to inform those in authority to go through with the execution that if he is killed in battle. Unfortunately despite effort of the Brysa men as well as O’Neill and Carter, the Goa’uld discover the location of the women and children along with Jackson and Teal’c. Thankfully Teal’c is able to cut his bonds thanks to the boy who gave him a knife and put his life on the line to save the women and children from the onslaught of Apophis’ Serpent Guards. After risking his life to save the Byrsa villagers, Teal’c still hands over his staff weapon prepare for his execution by Hanno’s hands. This is the conversation that followed:
Hanno: “You would save those who wish to kill you?”
Teal’c: “I would save those who deserve to live.”
Hanno: “I have made a mistake. My memory is faulty. You are not the same man as he who murdered my father.”
Teal’c: “I am the one.”
Hanno: “No that Jaffa is dead…”
In that moment there was reconciliation as Hanno gives Teal’c his staff weapon back and allows him to go back to Earth with SG-1.
In some ways the justice system we see in “Cor-ai” is similar to how God operates. Like Teal’c, we all deserve retribution at the hands of God for all the sins we have committed against Him. We also have the same choice as Teal’c to repent and confess our wrongdoings to God. Finally we all have the ability receive reconciliation from God but unlike Teal’c we don’t need to prove ourselves worthy. Romans 5:6-8 explains:
“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
God has already forgiven us and paid the price for our sin through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. All we need to do is to repent and accept that forgiveness for the wrong we have done and will do. It is only when we do this that true reconciliation is accomplished and the promise from Jeremiah 31:34 is fulfilled:
“For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”
In this way we begin life anew and just like Hanno’s words to Teal’c the old self we leave behind is dead. That still doesn’t mean the struggle isn’t over but we live in the knowledge that we are free from the retribution of sin through our act of repentance and our acceptance of God’s reconciliation through His death and resurrection. That leaves only one question: Are you ready to lose your life in order to save it?