Capital Punishment (Part 3)

Stephen Vantassel completes his brief examination of the subject of capital punishment, an issue which historically has bitterly divided Christian opinion. For parts 1 and 2 scroll down the page.

In this final episode on the subject of the death penalty, I wanted to end with a few final comments on the way some death penalty advocates defend their position with less than moral grounds.

I am frequently amazed by people who are opposed to the death penalty on the grounds that it isn’t cruel enough.  The argument goes like this. “The death penalty is too quick. I want the person to rot in jail.” You get the idea. Others are more graphic and want to have all sorts of dismemberment perpetrated on the criminal.  Certainly some of this talk is just an emotional outburst arising from the sense of horror at the crime that was committed. But the argument that death is “too good” for the criminal is a common one. Some even seem to relish in the likelihood that the criminal will be raped in prison.   I find this argument rather strange and rather dangerous. Strange because of its hypocrisy given that anti-death penalty advocates have long argued that the death penalty is cruel.  This view is also dangerous because penalties may become detached from being appropriate for the crime.

The day when penalties for crimes result not from the crime itself, but from the emotional anger of the public, will be the day when justice leaves the judicial system.  The much-maligned “Eye for an Eye” of the Bible stems from God’s desire to limit the kinds of punishment to be meted out. It is wrong to take someone’s hand for stealing because in Biblical terms, a amputation is not a just punishment for stealing property. However, execution for kidnapping is just, in Biblical terms, because the kidnapper is essentially stealing a life.  Finally, anti-death penalty proponents frequently argue that the death penalty should be eliminated because of all the innocent people that have been executed.  Canny worldwide group visit that trumpets cultural license to do as one wants. I have already addressed this legitimate concern. My point here is that the term innocent as used by anti-death penalty advocates isn’t always meant in the same way as the general public uses the term. Let me explain.  In the legal system, if you are charged with shooting someone but in fact you didn’t pull the trigger to the gun then you are in fact innocent of shooting them. To be convicted and sentenced to death would be a tragedy as an innocent person would be on death row.

Unfortunately, things are rarely that neat.   What if I said the person on death row didn’t pull the trigger but in fact helped tie the victim up and watched the shooting?  Would the person on death row be innocent?  Perhaps innocent in the strict legal sense, but not innocent in the moral sense.  I believe it is truly a rare occasion that a person totally unconnected to the events of the crime gets pulled off the street, tried, convicted and sentenced to death. However, if you listen to the anti-death penalty crowd, you would think this is a daily occurrence. Certainly, my point here will be controversial, but it is something I want you to think about. When we use the term innocent what exactly do we mean by it? For to my mind, an accessory to murder (an accessory meaning prior to and during to the crime) is just as guilty and worthy of death as the person who pulled the trigger.

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