Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia...and Texas Too

What a reprehensible and barbaric day for our nation. Two people were put to death today, Troy Davis, a man in Georgia who may have been innocent, and a man in Texas, Lawrence Brewer, who was guilty of one of the most heinous crimes imaginable, dragging a man to his death with his pickup. It makes me sick at heart that these events follow so closely after the shameful behaviour of the audience members at the Republican presidential debate where they cheered for Perry and his 235 or so executions. I blogged about this subject only two weeks ago, but I feel compelled to repeat part of my argument. Why? Because two weeks ago the question was hypothetical. Today it became all too real. The death penalty is wrong in so many ways, and it's easier to argue from the point of view of a person who was probably innocent, but the arguments need to apply for the monsters in our society whose acts defy all humanity.

Modified slightly from my post of 9/9/11:

"Blood lust is an ugly, ugly emotion that is all too powerful. Revenge requires an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, and human history is replete with stories of families, villages, and societies that have destroyed themselves and others over...whatever set them off in the first place. Civilization exists in large part because we have assigned the chaos of revenge to the state through various forms of a judicial system, and through the use of science in the assignment of guilt in criminal trials.

What bothers me is that most of the people who...[support the death penalty, even if some doubt remains,]... probably describe themselves as Christians, and given their conservative leanings, probably fundamentalist Christians. If you...[agree]... you need to consider what you really believe.

I don't want to make an argument about "thou shall not kill". There have been centuries of theological justification for killing in self-defense or defense of others, whether in an individual case, or a national situation of war. But the problem is that capital punishment is not self-defense. By the time a person is strapped to the gurney, he or she is defenseless before the power of the state. If you really want to visit revenge upon someone, what could be worse than being locked up in a concrete cell for the rest of one's life, with no chance ever of release? Why isn't that enough revenge? Such people are no longer a danger to society.

A person who is guilty of murder is under condemnation, whether from God or from the state. One can fairly say that such a person deserves death. But if you know anything of New Testament theology, you know that "everyone has fallen short of the glory of God", and that all deserve death unless they seek forgiveness, and God loves everyone so much that he seeks that redemption for all people. All they have to do is ask. I don't want to sound like I'm preaching here; I am paraphrasing the arguments and entreaties I see over and over in tracts and hear from televangelists in the media. By killing those who have transgressed, the society removes the chance that such people would ever find forgiveness and redemption. And by the words of Jesus, "...they that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance". And there is no one sicker than a murderer.

So what are we to make of those who call themselves religious and yet cheer for executions, and who vociferously support capital punishment? They want revenge. And revenge is antithetical to the Christian religion. Again, the words of the Jesus: "You have heard that it was said, "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth". But I say to you, do not resist an evildoer. If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also." If one claims to be Christian, these words seem as clear as can be about the attitude one should project.

Politicians continue to call for the continuation and expansion of the death penalty, and consider this some sort of principled stand. They are not principled. They are pandering to the basest of human emotions, and as such are guilty of moral cowardice."

1 comment:

BJN said...

Revenge is also antithetical to rational action on behalf of society. The death penalty isn't reversible and it has taken the lives of people innocent of the crimes they were convicted of. It's irrational to punish killing by killing. The worst part is the vulgar, violent culture that the death penalty fosters. Truly medieval.