Friday, May 13, 2005

Opposed to the Death Penalty...

The New York Times reports that Connecticut has executed its first state prisoner in 45 years (hat tip: Huffington Post). Let me start by saying that my opposition to the death penalty, like my pacifism, is purely personal. A state that has legalized capital punishment through its democratically elected legislature is fine by me, though I still view it as morally wrong.

I know the death penalty was an acceptable (and often required) form of punishment in the Old Testament of the Bible, but I think the episode from the gospel of John sheds a New Testament light on the subject.

(3)And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, (4)They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. (5)Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou? (6)This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with [his] finger wrote on the ground, [as though he heard them not]. (7)So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. - John 8:3-7

Given the opportunity to agree with the Old Testament corporate law, Jesus declined and instead made the issue a matter of personal judgement. Of course, there are flaws with this section of verses as Jesus is the embodiment of God serving in His office as the Son of Man (e.g. one of us). His response to situations will be different than that of God just as Condoleeza Rice will react differently to situations as the Secretary of State than she would have as National Security Advisor. So, do we have an example of the Old Testament Almighty God, Judge of all the Earth, sparing the life of one who has committed a violation of the law normally punishable by death?

Cain. Most know the story of Cain (Genesis 4) and how he killed his brother Abel. Considering the significant failure of Adam's attempt at blame-shifting in the Garden of Eden when confronted by God; Cain tried a different tact that remains the number one strategy to this day, denial.

And the LORD said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother's keeper? - Genesis 4:9

Here, Cain establishes the first rule of the accused, which is to deny everything. Unfortunately for Cain, God knows the fourth commandment of cross-examination, Thou shalt "Never Ask a Question to Which You Do Not Already Know the Answer". Rather than punish Cain with death, God pronounces a sentance upon him and exiles him. In fact, God goes so far as to explicitly prohibit Cain from being killed.

Now, I realize this is certainly open to all kinds of debate from many angles, but I just can't wrap my mind around the death penalty and feel comfortable with it. I think no less of those that do as I have changed my mind on the subject several times over the course of my life. I think part of this stems from a general mistrust of our justice system. There is no doubt that it is one of the most "just" system in the world, but it is not infallible and the death penalty no longer serves as a deterrent. I suppose it could be our effort to make our justice system less fallible that has watered down the capital punishment's deterrent capability, if that deterrence ever actually existed.

No, there is no point other than to work out my thoughts and opinions on the matter.


Blogger AlanK said...


My view on death penalty is similar that it is too problematic, also personal problems with it. However I have no problem with life imprisonment as can be reversed. Also article below with death penalty case was disturbing blogged on it a while ago

1:50 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

I go back and forth on the death penalty. I think people who show remorse and a willingness to change their lives should be spared. But someone who murders in cold blood and shows no remorse should be put to death. If you are willing to take another life and not feel sorry for it, you give up your own right to life. Some parts of the bible can be interpreted to support capital punishment, other parts seem to oppose it. Ultimately God is the final judge and we all must die sometime.

7:23 AM  

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