Saudi Arabia: Our Allies in Truly *Christian* Death Penalty Zeal

One of the many excuses many conservative American Catholics make for blowing off the Church’s teaching about the death penalty and the call of the last three popes to abolish it is the Good Thief Argument. Briefly, it goes like this: The inspired word of God tells us that the death penalty is just when the Good Thief declares “we are receiving the due reward of our deeds”.

What the argument overlooks, of course, is that what the Bible asserts is that the Good Thief said it, not that he was correct in saying it. The fact that the Good Thief thought his punishment just in no way obliges us to think him right.

And, in fact, almost nobody (including people who support the death penalty and appeal to him really think that). Why? Because conservative American Catholic death penalty supporters also tend to be the most vocal in condemning the barbaric cruelty of Our Friends the Saudis and other Bronze Age Islamic regimes who routinely practice crucifixion as a form of capital punishment.

I suppose, of course, that you could find a few nuts out there who would like to restore truly biblical crucifixion as the purest and most just form of execution. (I well recall torture supporters seriously telling me that torture was good because without it Jesus could not have redeemed the world). But such people are a vanishingly small minority of kooks. Most of the people who appeal to the Good Thief calling the death penalty “just” studiously avoid calling crucifixion–much less crucifixion for theft–“just”. They know, in their heart o hearts, that their argument is rubbish. Like almost all death penalty supporters, they are extremely selective in their reading of Scripture as they labor to ignore the Magisterium.

Now if they would only admit it and apologize to the people they have led astray with that argument.

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  • Dave G.

    They can probably distinguish between supporting the death penalty and condemning other countries they believe are wrong in their values and use of the death penalty for the same reason that opponents of the death penalty can still condemn countries that have abolished it on other moral grounds with which they happen to disagree. There are better arguments against the death penalty than this.

  • Steve S

    Regarding the people who argue that torture is good because without it Jesus could not have redeemed the world: Benedict XVI addressed this heresy in his Introduction to Christianity. Of course, he was not addressing the moral status of torture specifically. He was explaining that the sacrifice of Christ was in his complete love “to the end” in spite of the suffering and death. It is Christ’s LOVE that saves the world, not his suffering. The love is redemptive and true and complete because Christ did not balk even when his love meant suffering and death. Christ is our High Priest, and his perfect sacrifice was his perfect love., offered on the wood of the Cross.

    If it is the pain and suffering itself which is redemptive and not the love, then Christ is no longer the High Priest offering the sacrifice. Rather, the Roman soldiers who tortured Christ and nailed him to the cross would be the priests offering the sacrifice since they, and not Christ, were the agents of the suffering. This is utter blasphemy, obviously. There is no redemption in suffering itself, only suffering in love. People who think our redemption comes from Christ’s suffering and not from Christ’s LOVE in the face of suffering have fetishized the pain of the Cross and forgotten about the love of Christ on the Cross. It is pure heresy.

  • http://chicagoboyz.net/ TMLutas

    News flash! Some people holding a position make a bad argument for it. Position is thus discredited.

    Give me a break.

    I do not dissent from the idea that if there’s a reasonable alternative to the death penalty that is not also prohibited, we should prefer those alternatives. I think it’s a crying shame that those who thus oppose capital punishment don’t ever actually do the work to demonstrate the truth of the factual assertions. It’s like it’s all just a con.

    • chezami

      The factual assertion is that the Church opposes the death penalty and calls for its abolition while anti-abortion-but-not-prolife Americans *claim* that it is is a prudential judgement that we can have wiggle room on while in *fact* insisting on only one position: fight the Church while spending very little energy on what they *claim* is the “non-negotiable”: abortion Practical result: the unborn are human shields for the *real* core value: fighting the Church to maintain a foolish and vengeful death penalty.

      • Dave G.

        Do we know they spend little energy on abortion? Are there any numbers there? Exactly how much time is spent opposing abortion versus supporting the Church’s historical approach to capital punishment? Just asking for some numbers to back up the accusation.

      • http://chicagoboyz.net/ TMLutas

        Talk to me again when we’re having the same conversation. Among many other foul ups, we had a factual screw up that pedophiles can be reliably cured. That’s not a fault in faith and morals. That’s a fault in believing a set of flim flam men claiming to know human psychology. So when a factual assertion is put into the catechism (about the availability of alternatives to the death penalty) and, when gently probed, shows no evidence whatsoever of actual fact checking, it’s not unreasonable to demur, to protest, and to shout from the rooftops that we do not need another foul up on factual matters and we should check and recheck to make sure that we haven’t messed up again.

        In your world, this is apparently called not being truly pro life.

        That world stinks.

        • Mike Petrik

          Yes, and the currency of that world is self-righteousness printed by and at the Bank of Poor Reasoning. The currency may have little value, but the Bank’s customers continue to accept it as they make deposits and withdrawals. Meanwhile, an honest broker tries earnestly to gently admonish the Bank and warn its customers. The Bank responds with even more self-righteousness grounded in embarrassingly lousy reasoning, and so it goes ….

          • chezami

            American Culture of Death Conservatism: Where listening to the Church is “self-righteousness” and fighting the Church is a brave stand for Conscience–just like American Culture of Death Leftism.

      • Neihan

        You’re being a false teacher and a sower of division.

        “There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.”

        If memory serves you’re a fan of Catholic Answers. Here’s what they have to say on the death penalty. From their first paragraph: “St. Augustine, Pope Innocent III, St. Thomas Aquinas, Cardinal Newman, and the Catholic tradition as a whole has accepted capital punishment. Indeed, both the Old Testament (Gn 9:6) and the New Testament (Rom 13:4) seemingly endorse the death penalty.”