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In defense of the death penalty

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Texas’ execution of Mexican national Humberto Leal, tried and convicted of the rape and killing of a teenager, has once again resurrected the nattering ninnies opposed to the death penalty. Leal committed a brutal crime and he himself said, “I take full blame for what I did. I am sorry for what I did.”

E.J. Dionne, that left-wing pundit writing for the Washington Post, allowed as to how America’s support for the death penalty “is bad for justice and bad for our country’s standing in the world.” 

I for one could give a rat’s patoot about what other countries think of us.

Most people who object to capital punishment do so on moral grounds saying the death penalty, like euthanasia and abortion, is a violation of the right to life and an unauthorized usurpation by human beings of God’s sole domain over life and death. 

After all our Declaration of Independence did describe the right to life being “unalienable”, didn’t it?

From a religious perspective the death penalty was long considered especially fitting as a punishment for murder since in his covenant with Noah God had laid down the principle “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in His own image” (Genesis 9:6).

In the Old Testament the Mosaic Law specifies no less than 36 capital offenses calling for execution by stoning, burning, decapitation, or strangulation. 

The offenses include such things as idolatry, magic, blasphemy, violation of the Sabbath, murder, adultery, bestiality, pederasty and incest. No prohibition against the death penalty there.

In the New Testament the right of the state to put criminals to death seems to be taken for granted. 

While refraining from violence himself, Jesus at no time denies the state has the authority to exact capital punishment. 

When Pilate calls attention to his authority to crucify him Jesus points out that Pilate’s power comes to him from above. 

Before he dies, Jesus commends the good thief on the cross next to him who has admitted that he and his fellow thief are receiving the due reward for their deeds.

In his letter to the Romans Paul said that the magistrate who holds authority “does not bear the sword in vain; for he is the servant of God to execute His wrath on the wrongdoer.” No passage in the New Testament disapproves of the death penalty.

In our contemporary world many people who are pro-life on issues such as abortion support the death penalty finding no inconsistency in those positions. The innocent and guilty do not have the same rights.

Some hold the death penalty is incompatible with the teaching of Jesus on forgiveness. I do not find it so. Jesus’ references to forgiveness are on the part of individual persons who have suffered injury. 

While it is indeed laudable for crime victims to forgive their debtors, such personal pardon does not absolve offenders from their obligations to justice under the law. 

The relationship of the State to the criminal is not the same as that of a victim to a perpetrator. Governments and judges have the responsibility to maintain order. It is their obligation toward justice, but under certain circumstances they may also exercise clemency. 

If clemency were granted to all convicts the nation’s prisons would be instantly emptied, but society would not be well served.

The paradox to me is that the most vociferous opponents of the death penalty are usually the most strident supporters of abortion. 

In one instance the individual has been tried, faced with the evidence against him, judged guilty by a jury of his peers, sentenced to death and receives the punishment in accordance with due process. 

In the other, the individual is completely innocent, has no input whatsoever and cannot plead for their life to be spared.

So, as I see it the purpose of capital punishment is threefold: The protection of society from the criminal, the deterrence of other potential criminals, and retributive justice. 

Just retribution which seeks to establish the right order of things should not be confused with vindictiveness, which is wrong.

On a moral, philosophical or political basis I have no problem with the death penalty. And anyone who reads and studies religion should not either.


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Fraud Detector 07/22/2011 16:35:18
Catholicism & Capital Punishment
AVERY CARDINAL DULLES
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