Something to ponder: Is it more Christian to be pro- or anti- capital punishment?

For all the sins of the Catholic Church, I will at least give them credit for consistency in many regards: when they say they are pro-life, by George, they mean they are against abortion and against capital punishment. Protestants, though sensible in many more regards, have a bloodthirsty streak that is discomfiting. They are of course against abortion like most Christians, but are statistically more likely to support the death penalty1. Why is killing fetuses an incredible offense but killing grownup fetuses not?

I’ve previously pointed out some of the absurdities inherent in capital punishment—at one point, I had a long and detailed workup about a case somewhat similar to the one in the previous entry, but it has been lost to the ages. Essentially, a man on death row for murder acquired and died from a debilitating neurological disease that slowly and painfully killed him over a period of many months. Afterwards, the victim’s brother had the gall to tell reporters he was disappointed that justice hadn’t been served.

The impulse to exact revenge is deliciously tempting—and it’s easy to rationalize, if you subscribe to a theory of “an eye for an eye”—but not even Jesus advocated such a system: you have to look at Old Testament, wrath-of-God stuff to find it advocated. When you’re young, and your brother punches you, your mother tells you not to punch back, but instead to come and tell her. Analogously, killing a human being is a moral wrong: “killing them back” isn’t any less wrong. It’s easier to do, however, when the killing is being done by an abstracted entity like The State: the disembodied arm of ‘justice’ has connotations of infallibility and the divine. So when Red State conservatives propose the death penalty as administered by the Establishment while concomitantly lambasting the government for incompetence, there’s a noticeable conflict of interest.

It seems to me that there are a number of liberties which ought to be preserved from the government: some, like the freedom to free speech—yes even and especially against the government—are explicitly preserved in the Bill of Rights. But the government still has the power to kill, and that strikes me as a faculty I wouldn’t entrust to anyone.

But I digress. The question at hand today is “Is it more Christian to be pro- or anti-capital punishment?” I gave credit to the Catholic Church for their consistency on this issue, and I think such a conclusion is inescapable: the killing of another human being outside of his/her agency2, despite the circumstances of age or behavior, is either entirely acceptable, or entirely unacceptable. The desire to be rid of a being—be s/he a murderer or a fetus—is one made arbitrarily acceptable apparently by popular vote.

It seems to me that the killing of a nation’s less desirable elements is a wholly barbarous thing, even if it may seem3 easier to simply eradicate the troublemakers than isolate them. Of the 2’148 people executed in 2005, 94% of them were executed in our own little “coalition of the willing”: the US, of course, but also China, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, those flourishing democracies of the Middle and Far East4. Personally, I think we’re hanging with the wrong crowd.

  1. Religious Tolerance • Policies of religious groups towards the death penalty[]
  2. I use this qualifier because things like assisted suicide require an entirely different line of reasoning[]
  3. I use the word ‘seem’ because it is of course cheaper for the state to keep a prisoner for life than jump through legal hoops on the road to an execution. I suppose we could just reduce the red tape involved in executions, but I think perhaps that’s a bad idea, don’t you?[]
  4. Amnesty International • Facts and Figures on the Death Penalty[]
§1317 · August 21, 2006 · Tags: , , , ·

4 Comments to “Death!”

  1. Conor says:

    Remembering my wistful, wholehearted agreement with the sentiment expressed in your earlier post on capital punishment, I see again in this post what can only be a deliberate refusal to state the obvious: then, you didn’t acknowledge the emotional penchant for revenge, resultant from a broken (“unhealthly” suit you better?) morality; now, you won’t mention the centuries of persecution wrought by the Christians, no doubt partially in remembrance of their own prior suffering, which mirrored and mirrors that of the Jews, and so on back to the amoeba. Are these tenets assumed in your argument? If so, is the best method of persuasion to speak so lollingly about observations that are for some people still earth-shattering? Nice blog. =)

  2. Ben says:

    I don’t buy the apology of cultural history, either as an excuse or an indictment. I think it’s tenuous at best, and too easy an avenue for escaping culpability.

    Also, the lost write-up that I refer to in this post dealt at length with the unhealthy desire for revenge (I touch upon it briefly in the linked post’s comments), which I certainly understand but don’t condone.

  3. S4R says:

    My opposition to the death penalty is one of pragmatics. Most reasonable people observe by adulthood that violence is a thoroughly ineffective tool.

    I’m also endlessly frustrated with Christians who will do anything to save a fetus, but salivate at the thought of a killer being executed. However, that doesn’t necessitate I give credit to Christians who remain consistent in their adherence to “Thou shalt not kill.” I appreciate there reaching the logical outcome, but it’s certainly possible to think illogically and happen upon a logical outcome.

    It’s doubly pointless to give credit to the Catholic Church (as an institution) because its only real purpose at this point is one of prestige. Every religious person picks and chooses the facets of their faith that make them feel best.

  4. Jeff says:

    Sadly, I just learned that the Catholic church is actually fairly lax about capital punishment. It’s their position, but they also condone disagreement. Abortion, on the other hand, is absolutely wrong and disagreement is not condoned.

Leave a Reply