Good to See a Consistent Prolife Ethic

Good to See a Consistent Prolife Ethic May 20, 2015

It is one of the weird ironies of our culture that, when it comes to the death penalty, so many “prolife” Americans will drop their quarrel with AG Loretta Lynch (who loves death in all its forms, especially abortion) and cheer for her stumping on behalf of killing the Boston Bomber:

“We know all too well that no verdict can heal the souls of those who lost loved ones, nor the minds and bodies of those who suffered life-changing injuries from this cowardly attack. But the ultimate penalty is a fitting punishment for this horrific crime and we hope that the completion of this prosecution will bring some measure of closure to the victims and their families.” —U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch

However, lust for death for both babies and criminals, while at least being consistent, is not really the optimal goal for the prolife movement. Rather, the sanctity of human life is. And human life is sacred, not because it is cute, nor even because it is innocent, but because, innocent or guilty, human beings are made in the image and likeness of God and–despite our guilt as authors of the passion and death of the Son of God–he wills our good and loves us. Indeed, God commends his love to us in that, while we were yet sinners guilty of Christ’s death, Christ died for us, the righteous for the unrighteous.

So *real* consistency is not being eager to bring to death to all, innocent and guilty, but seeking to spare all. It is asking not, “When do we get to kill?” but “When do we *have* to kill and seeking with all our heart to avoid it if possible.

This guy, an Evangelical, gets that. And so does Elie Wiesel who, if anybody has a right in this world to clamor for the death penalty, is that guy what with the horrors he endured at the hand of Nazi butchers in Buchenwald. Yet Wiesel destroys the worldly wisdom of those whose arguments begin, “But surely, you would agree that Nazis should be executed…” by saying:

“With every cell of my being, and with every fiber of my memory, I oppose the death penalty in all forms … I do not believe any civilized society should be at the service of death. I don’t think it’s human to become an Angel of Death.”

The Church is clear. Don’t kill unless you absolutely have to. We don’t have to kill this kid. Therefore, we must not kill this kid. It will heal nothing, help nothing, accomplish nothing. It will be an act of vengeance, not justice.

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  • CJ

    Ed Feser did the autopsy (heh) on this whole “vengeance bad” idea almost 3 years ago.

    He points out that vengeance when motivated by the desire for some good, and not by hatred is not only lawful, but part of the virtue of justice.

    I’m in favor of executing Tsarnaev. Not because I’m gleefully waiting to “get to” kill him; I’m not going to be the one pushing the button. I’m in favor of it because I believe it to be the just penalty for his actions.

    Your writing on this subject consistently frames the death penalty conversation as a dichotomy between “get to kill!” vs. “must we kill?” and excludes people like me (I hardly think I’m exceptional) who approach it as “is it just to kill in this situation?”

    • freddy

      Just curious, then; what is the desired “good” in executing Tsarnaev? He is no criminal mastermind who will control violent hordes from his prison cell. He is certainly unlikely to escape. His death will not return a single victim to life. The state may have the right to demand this killer’s life for his murders, but it doesn’t have that duty. Lacking that duty, may it not be merciful? Must it not be merciful, in fact? Executing Tsarnaev , I think, has the potential for worse effects than life in prison: why, then, do you see it as a good?

      • CJ

        The good that I see in Tsarnaev’s execution is that justice will be done. That is, I believe that a lesser penalty will be deficient in relation to his crime.

        Also, and not specific to him, there is always the argument that knowing the date of one’s death (barring intervening causes) can spur one to repentance.

        • freddy

          But it seems to me that true justice — at least Christian justice– would require mercy when mercy is possible and practicable, which in this case it is.
          Knowing the date of one’s death might, as you say, spur one to repentance; but might equally cause a hardening of one’s heart. Not a risk a Christian should be willing to take.

        • ” I believe that a lesser penalty will be deficient in relation to his crime.”
          Execution is also deficient in relation to his crime. His crime is so awful that that we can’t truly achieve justice for his victims and society in general, at least not on this Earth. So what good does execution bring? It might make us feel better, but I don’t think it brings us any closer to justice than life in prison does. It won’t serve as a deterrent, I don’t think he is likely to continue killing in prison, it won’t bring anyone back, and it will turn out to be far more expensive than just keeping him in prison.

          • Marthe Lépine

            For a man as young as he is, spending the rest of his life in prison might be a very painful, and scary, prospect. This is one of the reasons that keeping him in prison, where he will be reminded of his actions for so many years, seems to me to be a fitting punishment. It might also give him a better opportunity to think about what he has done, and to repent. Executing him would be actually putting an end to his suffering within a very short time.

    • Heather

      Indeed, you aren’t going to be the one pushing the button. You’re happy to let someone else be the one to look him in the face and calmly end his life.

      I wouldn’t want to be the one doing that. And I wouldn’t want to make someone else do it, either. The thought of making someone kill another person in cold blood to satisfy my need for justice when a non-lethal alternative is available makes my skin crawl.

    • jroberts548

      The person who pushes the button is an agent of the US government. The United States is a republic. He is pushing the button on your behalf, as well as on behalf of all Americans. You are roughly 1/300,000,000th the button pusher, as am I.

      • CJ

        The point I was making was that I won’t derive any “glee” from “getting to kill” Tsarnaev: I won’t actually be doing anything. My only reaction will be *shrug* “justice was done.” Same as with McVeigh or Alton Coleman.

        • jroberts548

          But you are actually doing it. The guy who pushes the button is your agent. He works for you (and the rest of America). The difference between murder and lawful homicide for the button-guy is that he is acting on your (and all other citizens’) behalf. Qui facit per alium facit per se (who does [something] through another does [it] himself) is an accepted principle. The US is a republic. Button-guy is the US’ agent. Button-guy only has authority to kill from the people of the United States. If you want capital punishment, but don’t want to do it yourself, you should move to Saudi Arabia or to another monarchy with capital punishment.

          • CJ

            jroberts548, I’m not disputing your points about agency. What I’m saying is that the “feels” that one gets just from being a citizen of the republic isn’t the same as the guy who actually pushes the button.

            Maybe another illustration will help. The best boss I ever had was a combat veteran of the Iraq war. He was working for me in Anbar province, but I don’t have his nightmares.

            • jroberts548

              That’s true, if you reduce the moral question to feels.

              I don’t care about your feels. If you’re asking when it’s permissible for your agent to kill, instead of when you must order your agent to kill, you’ve erred. No matter how little glee you get from it, it’s still the wrong approach. Even if your glee is as attenuated as your status as principal, it’s still the wrong approach.

              • CJ

                I appreciate the clear statement of where you’re coming from. FWIW, the problem that I have with Mark’s formulation is that it reads to me as if he’s chalking the pro-death penalty position up to feels (blood lust) and dismissing it on that basis.

        • chezami

          Indifference, not hatred, is the opposite of love. – John Paul II.

      • The twelve members of the jury were there to determine whether this is one of the cases where the death penalty is justified. This too is part of our republic and part of Church teaching that we should investigate and determine the truth. So do you have any actual evidence that their determination was defective? If it was not defective, the button pusher is accomplishing justice. If it were defective, isn’t the proper point of protest to be with that faulty determination?

        • jroberts548

          I was only addressing the earlier comment about agency.

        • Sue Korlan

          Of course, faithful Catholics who follow Church teaching in all matters, including the use of the death penalty only if the criminal can’t be prevented from harming others if it is not applied, were not allowed to serve on the jury.

          • So you were there for the jury selection? I’m perfectly willing to believe that the government gets something wrong. When you just assume that they got it wrong you end up an anarchist.

            I explicitly won’t vote to convict based on an unjust law and say it every time I get called to jury duty. That didn’t stop me from not only getting picked for a trial but becoming the foreman (civil trial, malpractice case). I’m skeptical that believing Catholics are systematically excluded.

            • Sue Korlan

              I didn’t have to be there to read the press reports, including one at in which 6 paragraphs from the end it says that someone was excused from jury duty for saying he would not put anyone to death. Since his decision is in line with Catholic teaching, and since he was excused for it, no faithful Catholic could be on the jury.

  • Cypressclimber

    How about this: the death penalty is fine. But human beings must not do it–because it ill behooves us to encourage killing, especially at this stage of our history.

    So let God perform the execution. He’s perfectly capable of doing it.

    • CJ

      God has delegated this task to human governments for millennia. I’m curious: what is it about this stage of our history that makes it especially perilous?

    • D.T. McCameron

      In a weird sort of way He has. Or Adam has, perhaps. For all of us. It just takes an indeterminable and unpredictable amount of time for it to take hold.

      Or you might flip the matter, and put the condemned to some trial or dump them in some pit or maroon them in some waste, and leave their survival to Providence or circumstance.

  • staircaseghost

    “…AG Loretta Lynch (who loves death in all its forms, especially abortion)…”

    Seriously, bro?

  • Marthe Lépine

    For an idea of what doing the killing does to a person, even when the killing is done under reasonably justifying circumstances, I would suggest you read this:


  • Dave G.

    I don’t think it’s about people asking when do we get to kill. At least not on this blog. Somewhere in the world maybe. But here, most seem to be asking when do we have to kill. It’s just the answers to that question that are different.

  • Marthe Lépine

    For an idea of what doing the killing, even a reasonably justified killing, does to a person, I would suggest you read this: From:

    • Marthe Lépine

      Sorry this appears a 2nd time – some problem with posting…

  • “We don’t have to kill this kid” is something to investigate and determine and not take a side a priori. To assume one way or the other without investigating the facts is to abandon the teaching of the Church.