Some of our Societal Normals Aren’t Normal

[Note: The following blog is on capital punishment.  It is not a pretty issue.  Just want to warn you in advance, I pull no punches but try to say it how I see it as a pastor, as a Christian, and as an American.]

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Our society’s ethics and morals do not make much sense to me sometimes.  We, as a society support the death penalty.  Most of our society is Christian and we just celebrated the biggest holiday of the Christian year where our Savior was executed, but was resurrected.  There is just an odd discontinuity with us being on the side of execution but that is what it is in our society.  We also live in a world where it is statistically shown that the death penalty does not reduce crime. Nevertheless, we, as a society are still for the death penalty. Ok.

Murderer in Oklahoma is convicted and sentenced to death.  But the key variable is that the prisoner can’t suffer because that would be “cruel and unusual punishment” (taking their life isn’t “cruel and unusual” but pain is.  Ok.).  So, the Oklahoma Dept. of Corrections goes to buy the drugs to execute said convict but can’t because U.S. drug manufactures don’t want to produce it.  Europeans produce it but don’t want to sell it because of what we use it for (apparently, Europeans use the drug for something else, maybe for animals). So, Oklahoma finds a “secret source” for a drug to kill said convict. Opponents of capital punishment bring them to court. Oklahoma Supreme Court stays the execution.  The Governor says she will defy the courts. Courts back down and unstay the execution.  They go to execute the prisoner last night. The drugs don’t do what they are supposed to do. The head of Oklahoma’s Department of Correction (not sure at this stage his title fits what he is doing but I digress) orders them to stop after fifteen minutes. Then, we have the bizarre scene of sending paramedics into an execution chamber to save the convict. But the convict dies en-route to the hospital from, “vein failure.”  The head of Oklahoma’s Department of Correction says he “passed away.”

As you can tell from what I have written, I am skeptical of the whole enterprise.  I don’t think executing people prevents other crimes from happening.  I also don’t think, as a Christian, we should engage in actions out of vengeance (although I well acknowledge it is easy for me to say when it wasn’t one of my loved ones who was a victim).  I know we must use force, even lethal force, sometimes to safeguard our world.  But once someone is behind bars, I personally do not see how executing them advances our society.  But, I acknowledge that is my personal opinion and is not held by a majority of my peers.

In the end though, I think our society has to grow up and stop splitting hairs or trying to assuage our consciences. If we decide as a society that we are going to execute criminals, then let’s execute them.  Stop this charade of not doing anything “cruel and unusual” because executing people isn’t pretty. If said criminal had been shot by firing squad, he would have died quickly (even if there would have been brief pain).  Get this out of courts and appeals for each individual case. Stop having people go on and off “death row” as trials drag out and Correctional systems seeking out drugs. from secret sources.  And, finally, pull back the curtain.  Let the world see what we are doing.  If it is morally right, then we shouldn’t have to put it behind closed doors. If we engage in the death penalty to discourage crime, then show it so potential criminals can see it.  Our ancestors hung people in the courtyard, not quietly out back.

Whatever we do, we do need to keep the violent and criminally insane out of the general public.  Finding a way for them to produce for our society, instead of being an additional burden, would seem to me to be more in the business of “correcting.”  We also might find ourselves (those of us who are Christians) not being executioners side but the reconciler side.  We might just find ourselves stronger in the process even if we fail to rehabilitate them or make them productive.

But, all that said, if the public disagrees, then lets do away with all this pretense.  It is helping no one.

What do you think?

Tom

 

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3 thoughts on “Some of our Societal Normals Aren’t Normal

  1. I would like to say I have a solid stance on the issue(s). Many people take sides and hold theirs is the only way, for why else would they take a particular side unless they believed they were right? Doling out death, to me, oddly at times seems to have its justification and at other times could not be more wrong.

    On one hand, our nation has to defend itself from those who would destroy us or our way of life. World War II is a prime example of that. At that period in history, I submit military action (which requires doling out death) was necessary. To deepen the issue, with any wartime action there will always be collateral damage, killing innocent civilians. So even in what some consider justifiable military action, we are guaranteed to kill those who do not deserve it. Is it not evil to kill those who do not deserve it, at some level? We do a lot of rationalizing as citizens and Christians when it comes to this subject. I have no complete answer either, but have many more thoughts on the subject.

    On the other hand, we have concepts like capital punishment and even willful abortion (of healthy, non-incest, non-life threatening lives). Oddity reigns when considering the mix of viewpoints held by folks on the combination of these issues.
    –Some support all levels of willful abortion while also opposing the death penalty. Does that mean the killing of the innocent is permissible while the killing of the guilty is not?
    –Some oppose all levels of willful abortion while supporting the death penalty (which has been shown to take the lives of the innocent as well).
    There are more combinations, especially when adding in their viewpoints on war, adding further to the complexity.

    What I find most salient and valuable to discuss at the heart of each of these issues is:
    1) whether or not we are “ok” with taking the lives of innocent people and what do we consider an innocent person
    2) whether or not we are “ok” with taking the lives of the guilty and how God’s direction to us is factored in (if you are a believer). And for those who do not believe, what code or ethic justifies killing the guilty and what makes them “guilty”?

    1. In re-reading the first sentence of my reply it comes across as confusing. I meant to convey that I would like to believe I have a solid stance but in reality do not.

    2. Justin, I like your thoughtful response. In days gone by, most Americans would say, “Better for 100 convicts not to be killed if 1 may be innocent.” Today, many people do not sweat too much if we are right 99% of the time (stats show it is not that high either if you consider DNA exonerations of late). I think it is a major issue if we are even incarcerating folks who are innocent. Anytime it happens, the government should have to pay lots of fines (back to the innocent) to encourage them to be sure. We surely become just like the Romans if that is the case.

      When it comes to taking life, I think the only time it is justified is if you are doing so to prevent a greater evil from happening. If the criminal draws a gun on the police officer, the police officer must shoot because not only will he/she lose their life but said criminal might harm others. The same thing goes on a macro-scale with just war. Yes, you go stop Hitler so Hitler can’t cause more suffering.

      But what is unbiblical to me – unChristian – is retributive justice. The Supreme Court ruled that you cannot execute someone who is mentally retarded who has committed a capital crime because there would be no retributive purpose. But does it really serve a purpose if some killer knows why he/she is being executed? Wouldn’t it serve a better purpose to have said criminal work the rest of his life and part of whatever he earned go to the victim?

      I just believe: a) the death penalty is not a deterrent. b) the death penalty cost more than to keep them in prison (especially working in prison and c) there are times we are executing people and we are not 100% sure they are guilty.

      You are quite right that conservatives are usually for the death penalty and against abortion and liberals are the reverse. Neither side stays on the side of consistently valuing life.

      Just my two cents. Thanks for the good response.

      Your ol friend,

      Tom

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