Sunday, June 10, 2007

The Death Penalty

I see a lot of Catholics hotly disputing the death penalty as immoral and the wording in the Catechism even says that modern technology has advanced so much that it's rarely needed anymore. Hell there was more Catholic outcry over convicted genocidal tyrant Saddam Hussein's death than there is / was about Terri Schiavo. As if the hypocrisy of it all weren't enough to make anyone raise an eyebrow at least...

And as if common sense didn't already solidly explain this: Studies have repeatedly proven the Death Penalty Saves Lives. (By the way that's not from a conservative think-tank, thats from the AP - hardly conservative friendly).

What gets little notice, however, is a series of academic studies over the last half-dozen years that claim to settle a once hotly debated argument — whether the death penalty acts as a deterrent to murder. The analyses say yes. They count between three and 18 lives that would be saved by the execution of each convicted killer.
To be blunt, you're an idiot if you needed a study to tell you this: more punishment = less offense. In this case - an eye for an eye may may leave two people blind, but it leaves a whole lot of others with 20/20 vision who would other wise be blind as well. Mercy isn't mercy when it harms others (particularly when it harms more than it helps).

It's like sitting at a long traffic light when some idiot ahead of you lets another person out in front of them. By this "charitable act" they have allowed someone who hasn't been waiting long to jump in line. Ok, no harm done thats a good thing right? But there are 3 to 4 others who have already been waiting long who will now miss the green light and have to wait even longer. So by being "nice" to one, they have been rude to 4 others. How nice is it really?

By saving the life of a murderer, we kill 3 to 18 innocent people. How merciful is this really?

Now with that said - I hate the death penalty. I hate death altogether. There's nothing good about it. I hit a squirrel with my car the other day and it made me cringe. It didn't kill him, but I knew he would die as I saw him limp away - his hind legs rendered completely useless. How much more do I detest the death of any human being!

But the life of many innocents must be protected over the life of one murderer. It's not merely about keeping that individual from murdering again (although even if so, most murderers are released after only a few years these days). Its about deterring other would-be murderers.


Gretchen said...

I think of State killing as Caesar's due, and I render unto him the things that belong to him, the death penalty being one of them. The State, even if many of its citizens are Christians, is a secular thing. Informed and shaped by Christians, it is nevertheless a thing apart from Christians. I am continually amazed that some people are unable to see the difference between an individual's duty to God and the State's duty to administer the rule of law put in place by the collective citizenry. It's as if they actually believe Uncle Sam is a REAL being and therefore can and should behave according to their perceived moral code.

undergroundlogician said...

I want to throw something into the mix perhaps to give some clarity. JPII was against the death penalty. Look at it from his perspective as the vicar of the universal church. He sees the actions of many different governments besides the United States. Some governments kill political and religious disidents; some are convicted as enemies of the state when no immoral act was at issue. Islamic states kill Christian converts, such as the man in Afghanistan, or the three Christian men in Indonesia who were executed for their Christian beliefs.

From the Pope's perspective, there is absolutely no good to come from the death penalty in our modern day. Governments get it wrong, even states like Illiinois gets it wrong, ergo the stays of execution by the Illinois governor.

Just a thought...

TheGodFearinFiddler said...

Gretchen - I totally agree.

Underground - I am against the death penalty as well. I'm just against the death of innocent people a lot more than I'm against the death penalty for convicted criminals.

undergroundlogician said...

Me too.

Phil S. said...

I really have to challenge you on this one. The argument you are couching is a familiar conservative one and one which needs no connection of Christianity to make. Even granting the veracity of the statistics and/or methods (it does strike me dodgy to put a number on a hypothetical situation), are we called to act accordig to the world or according to God. Can we so conveniently divide the necessities of the world and God's law which pretty clearly condemns killing which strikes me equally in force with the state as it is with individuals? If we are called to be a people who live the reality of God's Kingdom in a world that is distinctly not it, can we condone the death penalty?

To me, those are the relevant questions and the arguement from expediency which you set out (dodgy as it is) is simply not the point.


TheGodFearinFiddler said...

If by Word of God you mean the Bible - the Bible is the most capital punishment friendly book I've ever read. It is in fact mandated by God on numerous occasions. In the New Testament, it is God Himself who executes the capital punishment - (Ananais & Saphira - sorry dont have spell check right now)

If you include sacred tradition or the magisterium, then you'd have just as hard of a time promoting this post-1960s "capital punishment is never acceptable" idea. The Church has never condemned this punishment unconditionally.

And scientific data does matter. If the death penalty only stopped one person from killing again, then liberals would have a point. Since that is not nearly the case, I dont believe that they do.

Gretchen said...

Phil, I think you are dodging the point, too. Look, did Jesus tell us to render unto Caesar those things that are his, or not? It is certainly not your duty, as an individual, to administer the laws of the State (unless you are an officer of the State). Your duty is to obey the law, and suffer the consequences if you break them. As proscribed by our Constitution, our elected representatives have the right and duty to make laws. The death penalty is one way the State enforces the law. You, as an individual, have the right to dissent, to speak out, even to disobey, but you must also suffer the results of your freedoms when they interfere with the State's legislated laws.

Living the reality of God's kingdom does not mean we can close our eyes to the reality of the needs of the State to enforce law and order, even if they are often in opposition to our deeply held beliefs.

When Paul told us to pray for our leaders, he was saying this with the potent knowledge that he and many of his compatriots were going to be killed by those leaders. He also didn't explicitly condemn slavery, but I am sure he had a personal conviction of its wickedness.

It is not so much that I approve of State killing, as it is that State killing is the law of the land, and as a Christian I am admonished to give to the State its due by being a law-abiding citizen and praying for its leaders. Do I have compassion on the condemned? Yes. I also feel for their victims. I am mostly grateful, however, that ultimately their fates are in the hands of a loving, forgiving, healing God, and not the State.

TheGodFearinFiddler said...

Gretchen - I couldn't have said it any better. I think you're exactly right.

Phil S. said...

God Fearin; and Gretchen

I have no problem with God's justice or his right to end someone's life. God is just and knows more than we can possibly. That is the rub, of course, because I do have questions about our justice and our ability to avoid injustice or simply stupidity in capital punishment.

As for Gretchen's suggestion that I'm dodging the point, I would say that both of you are missing the point. The render unto Caesar argument is not meant to shut down debate over the the morality/immorality of what a state is doing. If it were, that would shut down the abortion debate while we were at it. It is not meant to be a straight-jacket to limit the ability of Chrisians to critisize the morality of certain practices in areas within the power of the state.

I'm generally against capital punishment because I think it presuming on God's justice to take someone's life. I have no problem with imprisoning them for longer periods than are current. I have no issue with the state carrying on its function as keeping order and good government and using police and judicial powers to do it. I just don't buy that capital punishment is something we should trust the state with.


TheGodFearinFiddler said...

Phil - I think if your argument is right, then it must be intrinsically wrong for the state to administer capital punishment. If the OT is inspired, we know that's not the case since like I said, God Himself demanded the state to put criminals to death for a number of different things:

Murder, adultery, sodomy, cursing your parents, picking up sticks on the Sabbath...

It was God and not man who demanded these things. If it is wrong to administer capital punishment now, it was wrong then. If it is wrong now - then God was wrong then. Since God can't be wrong, it wasnt wrong then or now.

Jesus pardoned the woman who committed adultery - not because capital punishment was wrong but because He was forgiving her of her sins. We should do the same where applicable I agree.

But to call capital punishment a crime or intrinsically evil (as I am ashamed to admit one Catholic Bishop did surrounding the hanging of Hussein) - is absolutely nothing short of putting yourself above God and in fact, calling Him unjust.

Phil S. said...

God Fearin'

Good, that is precisely what I was trying to get you to do: state your case biblically/ theologically. My whole point in my original post was to get you away from using the practical individualism implied in your original post into reflecting on this in a Christian context and tradition.

Now, as for the content of your argument, I concede the point, but hope you realize that you are on dangeorus ground because this same argument can be used for keeping kosher, Sabbatarianism, circumcision etc. That is, I agree God mandated those things in the OT, but not all of those things are practiced today. You can, and probably will, argue these fall into the category of moral law, while kosher laws etc, are purity codes. Okay, yes, they are, but tell an observant (and Orthodox) Jewish person that and see their reaction to that kind of separation.

The fact is that, as Christians, we struggle with the OT because we do have to read it like Christians. I'm not saying a Christian reading can or should ignore these passages, but it should cause us to be careful how we read the OT.

Mind you, the question of how the admittedly divinely inspired law of Moses (handed down by God) relates to the here and now laws of the United States and Canada comes up. Are we using the law of Moses as the framework for the laws of the United States? That would be rather a tough fit, not only because of the simple facts that the two law systems simply don't coincide and that I doubt you're going to get anyone, even conservatives, to go for it, if you tried.

Are we trying to argue that the laws of the United States (and Canada) have the similar kind of divine stamp and, thus, authority behind them? If so, why are you protesting abortion?

Do you see the kind of sandtrap, you just walked into?


TheGodFearinFiddler said...

Phil - I see your points but (not that it's my interpretation of Scripture that counts) but for all the cases you mentioned - keeping kosher, sabbath laws etc.. - we have explicit NT passages denying these. St. Mark in the NIV says (chapter 7 I believe) "by saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean".

And of course, Jesus said "Sabbath was made for man not man fort he Sabbath" and Paul is even more explicit regarding our duties on the Sabbath.

You make a good point - it is not valid to say the ends justify the means - IE it is acceptable to use capital punishment because it results in less murder. By itself that argument is completely false. (Embryonic stem cell research supporters use a similar argument. Of course their argument is wrong on both accounts. IE - it doesn't work and even if it did that still wouldn't justify it)

But thats not the argument I'm trying to make. I'm just pointing out that (as in every case I know of) real data matches up to God's order of things.

The Catholic Catechism has wording that says soemthing like "modern technology has progressed to where it is almost never necessary to enforce capital punishment". This statement is erroneous for a couple reasons - the ability to lock people up indefinitely is not a new phenomenon. Societies have long had that ability - even back when the Church had absolutely no problem with capital punishment.

2. Studies like these show that the statement is simply false - capital punishment DOES deter crime.

Thats not a theological argument, just a scientific one. Note - the Catechism's wording offers a loophole so it's not technically wrong on this case since it says nearly all cases.

We can err on capital punishment. We can also ( and do) err on imprisoning people. That doesn't mean we stop doing it. We look for ways to minimize this. As long as humans are involved, there will be error.

Now Im not saying the Law of Moses still applies, just that you cannot say something is intrinsically wrong that was mandated in the Holy Scriptures by God Himself.

I'm not arguing that if you kill someone, you should be put to death. I'm arguing that the Death Penalty cannot be called intrinsically evil and definitely (as the catechism says) cannot be prohibited in all cases (maybe even most).

Phil S. said...

I think this is a point on which Christians can, in good conscience differ. We haven't really done the topic full justice, but I admit, with the end of the school year, my energy is limited. My main objective, to make you deal with this issue theologically, has been achieved, so I think I'll bow out here. I don't think we're going to solve this one anytime soon.


TheGodFearinFiddler said...

Phil - I'm not even sure that we disagree that much - and my views regarding the death penalty have certainly shifted to the left since joining the Catholic Church but I'm still right of center on this issue.