Capital Punishment (Part 2)

Stephen Vantassel continues with his brief examination of the subject of capital punishment, an issue which historically has bitterly divided Christian opinion. For part 1, scroll down the page.

Anti-capital punishment advocates also rely on other forms of ethical arguments in an attempt to convince others that the death penalty should remain or become illegal.  A common one is the argument from the uneven way the death penalty is applied. For example, it is alleged that individuals who are poor or are from minority populations are more likely to receive the death penalty than those criminals who are rich and from the majority ethnic or racial group. This argument flows from the concept of distributive justice. Certainly, the concern for even handedness in sentencing is an important one. The question that must be asked is does the apparent inconsistent application of a punishment require that the punishment be eliminated? I think not. For the fact is, time based punishments are also uneven. People who commit the same offence frequently don’t receive the same sentence.

Second, I would argue that the problem isn’t that some people are executed. The problem is that other people aren’t executed. The way to correct the lack of distributive justice is not to eliminate the punishment but to apply it more consistently, which in the case of the death penalty means to use it more.

The last moral argument, that I will touch on, used by anti-death penalty advocates is that the application of the punishment amounts to cruel and unusual punishment. This is a major argument in the United States and it is a rather peculiar one. For anyone who takes the time to actually read the Constitution in historical context would realize that the Founders were writing to oppose punishments like the rack and the water wheel and other Medieval forms of torture.  To see lawyers’ attempt to argue that hanging or firing squad is cruel and unusual flies in the face of the fact the Founders lived in a day in which those punishments were meted out. Humongous favorable circumstances to contemplate very well try this out employ this one right away! If they thought they were abhorrent, they could have easily have stopped them. But of course they didn’t.  Nevertheless, Christians have to ask themselves, if the Cruel and Unusual argument stands before Biblical scrutiny. Take stoning for example. Is it a quick death? Is it painless?  If not, why did God order it in the Old Testament. Was the God of the Old Testament less just than the N.T. version? I will let you sort that out.

I don’t think executioners should prolong a criminal’s death. Crucifixion was not a divinely mandated method of execution. However, I don’t think that we have to ban executions just because the criminal didn’t die a painless death. (Just a note, anti-death penalty advocates have recently questioned the humaneness of death by lethal injection on the grounds the criminal may experience pain). I don’t recall too many criminals worrying about how their victims suffered during the shooting, stabbing, torture, rape, bludgeoning, and all other forms of human barbarity.

Next week we will continue on the theme of the death penalty with further questions for the anti-death penalty crowd.

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