Clash of the Titans I: Capital Punishment

March 2, 2007, 10:00 am; posted by
Filed under Debate, Job, Steve  | 1 Comment

In this corner, arguing against capital punishment, we have Job!

And in this corner, arguing for capital punishment, we have Steve!

I used to make a broader, all-encompassing argument against capital punishment, claiming that more than 10% of those put to death in this country are later proven innocent, or that the institution is a huge financial burden on the system. But I eventually decided arguing the point from a strictly faith-based view was the best defense of the souls on death row, and the best offense on the souls of those I might argue with.

Most Christians who support the death penalty (and I would guess this is the majority of believers) fall back to their Alamo of the “rule of law,” saying men have been left to govern themselves, silly rabbit, and that since America has this law, this punishment, it is almost beyond their control. This disgusts me; they offer some holy resignation to this fact while frothing the foam of contempt over abortion and gay marriage — institutions protected by the same rule of law that allows the premature death of hundreds.

My argument is a simple one: we are called to spread the gospel to all people and to be everything to everyone. And if the sin is that much more pungent and discouraging to engage on death row, I think, then, that is where we should be somewhat eager to go.

I find it unsettling that we work on one hand to save these souls, while lobbying on the other to snuff out their vehicles. We are a confused Body, planting the very bomb we so furiously work to defuse. And I’ll admit some resentment. How can we comprehensively prosecute this gospel message while tipping our hand so lowly, showing a weird and incongruous penchant for revenge? This is not a healing we seek, nor is it closure. It is the destruction of something we fear and refuse to try to understand.

I used to wish Christ had been more exact in discussing and perhaps condemning the death penalty; then I realized He would have been campaigning not to have to suffer that same penalty, the eventual path to the salvation I want to bring to any and all poor souls on death row.

But I do see how, hanging on the cross, the weight of the world very much on His shoulders, He did surge and bring salvation to the man enduring the same last minutes with Him on Calvary.

This is the most poignant argument for the value of a soul I see anywhere in the Good Book.

I often wonder if the Christian supporter of the death penalty can see that Jesus already died for the sin that is every murder has ever been and will ever be committed. Do they not see the redundancy of frying the killer when the blame already hung on Golgotha? Is a murder – serial, passionate, or premeditated – not as worthy of death as any number of the sins you’ve already committed today, reader?

The weakest point of my argument is how overwhelmingly idealistic it is — but, friends, in the light of Christ’s example, I think this same idealism might be its strongest instance.

I respect opposition to the death penalty. When I debate it, I don’t try to convert my opponent, because I’d hate to be responsible for weakening deep convictions about the value of life. But I too have deep convictions about the value of life, convictions that lead me elsewhere, and my respect for the position does not cause me to join it. Support for the death penalty, by Christians, by those who respect life, is not hypocrisy. The death penalty can be morally proper, because of — not in spite of — the value of life.

Every legitimate society must be based on a social contract, the consent of the governed. To live peacefully, we bind ourselves to certain duties and agree to meet certain responsibilities. The rights we acknowledge by these duties don’t exist because we say so; many, as our Declaration of Independence states, are divine and therefore inalienable. The specific choices about their implementation are left to us, how exactly to protect every person’s basic worth.

Genesis 9:6 (“whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed”), although it’s no longer a binding moral imperative, nonetheless shows capital punishment is within the authority of government. And on a strictly logical level, our society simply must protect the lives of the weak and innocent from those who would harm them — we have an absolute obligation to protect ourselves from those who simply cannot co-exist peacefully.

What is more, justice requires us to punish certain actions by removing their perpetrator from the planet. Not much falls into this category, only the most hideous, extreme conduct. Saddam Hussein personally oversaw and carried out tens of thousands of senseless, brutal murders. What possible punishment, short of death, could be fair in his case? What tortured definition of justice lets him live? When we sentence a Hussein, or, say, a serial child killer, to death, we send a powerful message: certain conduct is so totally reprehensible, so violative of that fundamental agreement underlying society, that one who lives among us, yet commits it, must and shall forfeit his life.

Allowing such a man to live devalues life, for in a very real sense, he proved himself no longer worthy of it.

Is the system flawed? Its cost is certainly obscene, and though the “10% innocent” figure is nonsense, even one condemned innocent is too many. I contend only that the death penalty can be used in a way that is morally right.

Three men were condemned to die on Golgotha. Two were rightly sentenced, by the law of the day; they witnessed the execution of the innocent third. One came to redemption as a result — imminent death does bring a certain soberness of mind. Yet he still died. Christ granted that thief forgiveness and entrance into paradise; he did not free him from the earthly consequences of his actions. Equating a lie and a murder eternally is only a game of theological hairsplitting; the differences in their results on this planet are so blindingly obvious as to defy response.

Nothing a murderer does decreases the value of his soul, and death row is a singularly appropriate place for the Gospel. God is the ultimate Judge.

But He doesn’t require us to reject justice and endanger society by keeping the most dangerous and despicable human beings alive.



1 Comment to “Clash of the Titans I: Capital Punishment”

  1. Capt Steve on March 9th, 2007 9:36 am

    Job your argument was superb. smart move in focusing on the primary argument of morality and the Christian mission. The other arguments are really side bars used by people who are really convinced by a bigger picture and hoping that something will convince the other guy of the validity of there main point.

    you have my vote

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