“The Weekly Standard” has a remarkable article by Walter Berns entitled Religion and the Death Penalty, arguing that the two are intimately connected. A sample:
The best case for the death penalty–or, at least, the best explanation of it–was made, paradoxically, by one of the most famous of its opponents, Albert Camus, the French novelist. Others complained of the alleged unusual cruelty of the death penalty, or insisted that it was not, as claimed, a better deterrent of murder than, say, life imprisonment, and Americans especially complained of the manner in which it was imposed by judge or jury (discriminatorily or capriciously, for example), and sometimes on the innocent.Camus said all this and more, and what he said in addition is instructive. The death penalty, he said, “can be legitimized only by a truth or a principle that is superior to man,” or, as he then made clearer, it may rightly be imposed only by a religious society or community; specifically, one that believes in “eternal life.” Only in such a place can it be said that the death sentence provides the guilty person with the opportunity (and reminds him of the reason) to make amends, thus to prepare himself for the final judgment which will be made in the world to come. For this reason, he said, the Catholic church “has always accepted the necessity of the death penalty.” This may no longer be the case. And it may no longer be the case that death is, as Camus said it has always been, a religious penalty. But it can be said that the death penalty is more likely to be imposed by a religious people.. . . . . . . . European politicians and journalists recognize or acknowledge the connection, if only inadvertently, when they simultaneously despise us Americans for supporting the death penalty and ridicule us for going to church. We might draw a conclusion from the fact that they do neither. Consider the facts on the ground (so to speak): In this country, 60 convicted murderers were executed in 2005 (and 53 in 2006), almost all of them in southern or southwestern and church-going states–Virginia and Georgia, for example, Texas and Oklahoma–states whose residents are among the most seriously religious Americans. Whereas in Europe, or “old Europe,” no one was executed and, according to one survey, almost no one–and certainly no soi-disant intellectual–goes to church. In Germany, for example, leaving aside the Muslims and few remaining Jews, only 4 percent of the people regularly attend church services, in Britain and Denmark 3 percent, and in Sweden not much more than 1; in France there are more practicing Muslims than there are baptized Catholics, and a third of the Dutch do not know the “why” of Christmas. Hence, the empty or abandoned churches, or in Shakespeare’s words, the “bare ruined choirs where late the sweet birds sang.”
What do you think the connection is between religion and the death penalty? The article, with its very unusual and pro-death penalty take on the matter (using all these existentialists to make its point) does neglect those whose religion motivates them to oppose the death penalty (such as that little sect called the Roman Catholic Church!).But beyond that, the article is interesting in addressing the consequences of the decline of Christianity in Europe, as reflected in this quote’s shocking statistics.