Last night, the state of Alabama tried to kill a fellow human being.
They weren’t doing this to prevent a murder or keep anybody safe; they were just doing it for vengeance. The man, Kenneth Smith, was an evil man; he had committed a murder-for-hire. He got a thousand dollars to kill a woman and make it look like a burglary. A jury had voted eleven to one to save his life and just lock him away forever. But the judge overruled them and declared that the man had to die for his crime. That was back in the 90s. Since then, the man had murdered no one; he was locked away on death row, not a danger at all. Now, the State of Alabama was determined to have their vengeance.
They strapped him to a table with his arms spread out like Jesus. They poked and prodded his whole body to try to find a vein so they could inject it with their cocktail of poisons. It took some time. Then they realized that they couldn’t do what they planned– his death warrant was set to expire at midnight. That would make the slow torturous death they had planned an illegal killing, like the one Smith committed, instead of a legal and righteous one. So they put him back in his cell and went back to the drawing board, planning to kill him again.
The reason the killing took so long that it had to be postponed, was that Smith’s lawyer was trying to save his life with a last-minute appeal. The Supreme Court of the United States vacated the stay of execution at the last minute. They could have chosen not to. Instead, the pro-life justices, some of them Catholics like me, chose to let the man be killed in cold blood.
Meanwhile, on Twitter, everyone was jokingly tweeting their last goodbyes because the platform is in danger of collapse thanks to the inept antics of Elon Musk. I was joking too. It’s a ludicrous situation. But I also noticed the tweets from journalists and activists, describing the plight of Kenneth Smith and what was going on in Alabama. The juxtaposition sickened me: comical sound bites and photos mocking the sinking of the Titanic or an immanent nuclear war, funny bon mots about what our last words would be, all from people who would still be alive the next day. And scattered in between them, messages about an actual man, strapped to a table and about to be killed by his fellow men.
And I interrupted the going away party to mention that a man was being killed.
And the comments I got from other Catholics were instructive. I had people explaining that the death penalty is in the Bible and in Thomas Aquinas and that I’d obviously never heard of Thomas Aquinas (whom I studied at a Catholic college at the graduate level). That to object to this particular form of torture and willful violence is to object to the validity of scripture and Sacred Tradition. That I’m obviously not Catholic and improperly catechized or I’d see nothing wrong with this.
And if you wonder why I can’t clearly see Christ in the Catholic Church these days, you need look no further.
Because I absolutely don’t care what the Bible and Thomas Aquinas say, if they’re being used to justify something so obviously wrong.
Anything that blinds you to the fact that it’s wrong to strap a live human being to a table and try as hard as you can to inject poison into his veins before time runs out, is evil.
I know very well that the Pope has recently evolved the Church’s teaching on this matter. I’m right about the Catechism and my trolls are not. But that’s really beside the point. We shouldn’t need an authority figure to give us permission to realize the obvious. Killing is evil. Killing when you don’t have to defend yourself or society, just because you think you are entitled to do so, is a grave and inexcusable wrong. You don’t need a catechism to tell you that.
If you’ve used your study of religion as a prop to tell you that a good thing is evil, either you are gravely mistaken or your religion is evil.
Catechism and theologians and scripture are supposed to enlighten us about things that are real, not blind us to reality so that we may anesthetize our consciences in order to follow rules.
If your religion turns you into a bloodthirsty sadistic vulture, something has gone wrong.
I don’t know what to do with people who can’t understand that.
image via Pixabay
Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.