Friday, May 28, 2010

Post about death penalty at C4C blog

Are you interested in discussing the death penalty? I'm opening up a conversation about it here:

Justice, mercy, and the death penalty

Come and join in!


Siarlys Jenkins said...

I don't seem to be getting through at the other site, so I'll try posting here.

I'm not keen on the death penalty. First, it has historically been used by tyrants to suppress a subject population, and their victims become heroes, e.g., Roddy McCorley. (The British and the Irish have a long history with that, Kevin Barry too of course).

Second, there are many instances of innocent people being on death row in the United States. Anyone who flatly denies that has their head buried very deep in the sand. Those listed here

are only the tip of the iceberg. Then there is Cameron Todd Willingham, in Texas, who was executed for what was most likely a horrible accident. Nobody has affirmatively proved his innocence, which is almost impossible, but the testimony on which he was convicted appears almost certainly to be without any scientific basis whatsoever.

But I wondered a little about the defense attorneys (appointed) who celebrated their "victory" in getting a jury to sentence a man, already in prison for murder, to an additional life term, rather than execution, for a further murder committed in prison. I have friends who have been in prison. I know a few still in prison. I would like them to survive their sentence and come out alive. Executing those who commit murder in prison seems a reasonable way to protect other prisoners.

I recall some years ago that the state of Washington was about to carry out its first execution in many years. The convicted man had committed a string of rapes and murders. He called off his appeals, candidly saying "If I am ever released, I will kill and rape again, and enjoy every minute of it." He wasn't proud of that, he even had a sense it was wrong. He knew that was how his body, mind and hormones worked, and wanted to get on with the execution.

Execution can be horribly abused. Its use should be very limited. Executing Karla Faye Tucker was a terrible waste. But I couldn't say never.

John Thayer Jensen said...

@Siarlys is essentially arguing on the same grounds as the Catholic Church - prudential grounds. If this man is released, he is a danger.

John-Paul's article was intended to argue that in modern terms it ought to be possible not to let such a person out, and to protect those inside from one another.

What interests me is that in most modern discussions, only two of the three classic justifications for capital punishment is discussed. I take John-Paul as alluding to defence (he can't kill again) and deterrence (others will be afraid to risk the penalty). Classic arguments for capital punishment also include retribution (he deserves it).

This interesting article by the late Cardinal Dulles talks about this:

Catholicism & Capital Punishment

I certainly find the idea of capital punishment horrifying; I do not know whether I also think it always imprudent; and I particularly don't know what to think about the arguments for and against the retributive aspect of, indeed, all punishment. If it is not deserved, as C. S. Lewis says somewhere, how can we justify it? If it is deserved, then I suppose the argument against capital punishment's desert would have to be based on mercy rather than justice.


Siarlys Jenkins said...

Isn't it orthodox theology in almost any branch of Christianity that we ALL "deserve" death?

A Lutheran pastor who devotes most of his ministry to prisons was giving a guest sermon last year, and mentioned a choir director who came to visit, found it very rewarding to direct a prison choir during a worship service, but remarked "these aren't the hard core, are they?" Oh yes, Pastor Phil told him, these are murderers and rapists and armed robbers in this choir..."

A colleague of his was once asked by a devout church lady "Do you really think Jeffrey Dahmer can be saved?" The instant reply was "Well, can you?"

By the way, this church uses the response "And also to you." I always thought it meant "back to you father." Its amazing how the older Protestant faiths are so close in many rituals to the mass.