I get mysteriously signed up for a lot of spam mail from various orgs who seem to think I am what (I have recently been informed) is known as an “social media Influencer”. I’m not altogether persuaded that this is a judgment of me that is in contact with Reality, but given the volume of mail I get from various people, it appears that lots of people disagree with my assessment.
As a result, I have a regular ritual of unsubscribing myself from mailing lists.
But not from all of them.
Here, for instance, is one of the mails from Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty, praising New Hampshire for abolishing the death penalty:
NEW HAMPSHIRE ENDS THE DEATH PENALTY
WITH Strong bipartisan SENATE vote
Statement by Hannah Cox, National Manager of Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty:
“Ending New Hampshire’s death penalty would not have been possible without significant Republican support. Increasing numbers of GOP state lawmakers believe capital punishment does not align with their conservative values of limited government, fiscal responsibility, and valuing life. The state of New Hampshire will be much better off because of it.”
For more information contact Jon Crane at 203-982-4575 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty is a nationwide group of conservatives questioning whether capital punishment is consistent with conservative principles and values due to the system’s inefficiency, inequity, and inaccuracy. Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty is a project of Equal Justice USA, a national, non-partisan, grassroots organization working to transform the justice system by promoting responses to violence that break cycles of trauma. To learn more, go to www.conservativesconcerned.org.
This tickles me, because conservatives have long been the bastion of war on the Church’s call to abolish the death penalty, so I am glad to see some within the conservative fold reject this foolish attachment to barbarism and recognize what the Church has seen for fifty years: that if there is any lesson to be learned from the 20th century, it is that giving the state the power to slaughter its own citizens is a very, very, very bad idea.
The enemies of this obviously sane development in Catholic teaching, for some reason, regard it as a “reversal of doctrine”. It is, of course, nothing of the sort. There is not and never has been a “doctrine” that criminals must be punished with death. Genesis 9:6 is not a command, but a permission, given to Bronze Age people so that some semblance of order may be maintained in an age of slaughter and inability to do much to restrain lawlessness. But the idea that the death penalty is some sort of shining ideal is simply not biblical and neither God, nor the Church, ever treated it as such. If it were somehow morally required, then God sinned by not killing the murderer David.
Likewise, if it were morally required, then the early Church sinned by assigning penances and not death sentences to murderers in the Church. The reality is that the death penalty has never been necessary, it has been tolerated by the Church.
Until the 20th century, when the insane mass slaughter by the state compelled a simple and obvious development in the Church’s teaching: Don’t kill people if you don’t have to–even if they have it coming.
This practical outworking of the Church’s guidance is as old as “Forgive them, Father, they know not what they do” which begged mercy for the most appalling act of murder in the history of the universe.
There are lots of reasons this is a good idea.
There is the fact that acceptance of the death penalty means, statistically speaking, acceptance of the cold-blooded murder of about 4% of the people we kill, since they are totally innocent of any crime.
There is the fact that killing even the guilty kills something in the executioner and in the population that thirsts for bloody vengeance when it is not needed.
There is the fact that in ours, the largest gulag on planet earth, dwarfing Stalin’s, Communist China’s and North Korea’s, the massively disproportionate percentage of people of color behind bars makes the death penalty a form of race and class war under another name.
And there is the fact that the death penalty makes repentance impossible for the victim and much more difficult for the executioner. Advocates of the death penalty are big on the claim that “nothing so wonderfully concentrates the mind as the prospect of a hanging” and urge that we go ahead and kill people on the theory that the ends justify the means and this will make the bastards repent. Of course, such people do not advocate the state kill them or their friends as a means of spiritual purification. Only the people they want to slaughter. That’s one of the little flaws in their argument for killing people we do not need to kill.
The other and bigger flaw is they they never consider the damage their bloodlust does to themselves. For the truth is, that advocates of the death penalty typically are not really interested in the repentance of the people they want to butcher. Proof: they gloat over the deaths of even penitent killers:
In the weeks before the execution, Bush says, “A number of protesters came to Austin to demand clemency for Karla Faye Tucker.” “Did you meet with any of them?” I ask. Bush whips around and stares at me. “No, I didn’t meet with any of them”, he snaps, as though I’ve just asked the dumbest, most offensive question ever posed. “I didn’t meet with Larry King either when he came down for it [the interview]. I watched his interview with Tucker, though. He asked her real difficult questions like, ‘What would you say to Governor Bush?’” “What was her answer?” I wonder. “‘Please,’” Bush whimpers, his lips pursed in mock desperation, “‘don’t kill me.’” I must look shocked — ridiculing the pleas of a condemned prisoner who has since been executed seems odd and cruel — because he immediately stops smirking.
The problem with the death penalty is, then, basically tripartite:
- It kills people who do not need to be killed.
- It kills completely innocent people in order to kill people who do not need to be killed.
- It makes the people who kill them into people who are eager to kill completely innocent people in order to kill people who do not need to be killed.
In addition to this, it makes Catholic death penalty defenders into people willing to make war on the Church in order to become people who are eager to kill completely innocent people in order to kill people who do not need to be killed.
And, as Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty recognize, it turns people who are theoretically leery of state power into people willing to hand the state the power to kill its citizens, which the 20th century strongly suggests is a very, very, very stupid thing to do.
Anybody who seriously fears the power of the state will seriously fear giving the state the power to execute its citizens. Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty are serious–and therefore consistent. People who say they are prolife out of obedience to God should likewise be consistent and demand protection of human life from conception to natural death. We don’t need to execute people. So don’t.
Bravo Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty!