LDL&S: The Death Penalty

LDL&S: The Death Penalty February 9, 2008

People can come up with statistics to prove anything; 14% of people know that. – Homer Simpson.

Statistics are a useful, sometimes even necessary, tool for thinking about social policy. They help us to check out own limited experience, intuition, and reasoning against a broader field of evidence. At the same time, statistics are often misleading and can be manipulated to make people draw false inferences from a statistic that aren’t warranted by the evidence.

Take, for example, the death penalty. There is a claim bouncing around the internet that 94% of executions are carried out in China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United States. The claim is a little out of date, but is technically true. In 2005, 94% of executions were carried out in China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United States. It’s equally true that in 2005 91% of executions were carried out in China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and France. That’s because in 2005 91% of executions were carried out in China, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. Told that a high percentage of x happens in countries a, b, c, and d, many people will assume that the percentage of x in country d must be fairly high as well. But this is a faulty inference. For all the statistic tells us, the percentage of x in country d could be zero (as it is in the case of executions China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and France).  

The U.S.’s share of executions worldwide is actually fairly small. Despite having around 5% of the world’s population, in 2005 it carried out less than 3% of the world’s executions, which puts its per capita execution rate below average. In fact, in terms of per capita executions, the U.S. ranks 20th. Who ranks first? Turns out its that country known worldwide for its harsh criminal justice system: The Bahamas. 

Ultimately, of course, looking to a country’s percentage of executions as a way of determining whether that country carries out the death penalty too often doesn’t make much sense. If China were to abolish the death penalty tomorrow, the U.S.’s share of executions would shoot way up, not because the total number of executions in the U.S. would go up, but because the total worldwide had fallen. Likewise, if other countries were to radically expand their use of the death penalty the U.S.’s share of executions would fall, but this wouldn’t mean that we were executing fewer people.  What matters is not whether a given instance of capital punishment raises a countries share of executions above a certain percentage; what matters is whether that given instance of capital punishment is just. 

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  • Policraticus

    This is good to know, though a bit disappointing that the U.S. is the only Western, industrial, “Christian” nation on the list.

  • Policraticus

    This is good to know, though a bit disappointing that the U.S. is the only Western, industrial, “Christian” nation on the list.

  • Yes, what Policraticus said.

  • Yes, what Policraticus said.

  • bill bannon

    I won’t burden VN with my usual tour of Catholic history and the death penalty. And it is very complicated when one tries to pair murder rate stats with the death penalty or even with its abscence.
    The trouble with the Vatican is that they don’t try and yet John Paul alleged that modern penology was sufficiently protecting society without citing one study whatsoever. It…modern penology is not protecting society in 6 Catholic countries who are in the top ten of all countries as to murder rates but perhaps neither is the death penalty protecting in Guatemala or Jamaica. Yet our prominence in the top ten would seem to call for the Vatican studying why 7 Catholic countries…6 with no death penalty….are in the top ten murder rate list.
    Rather than the Vatican having astronomy groups who I realize are being moved from Castel Gandalfo as we speak, there should be a general institutional think tank at the Vatican to cover many topics and this topic is one they should cover.

    For example Brazil’s last execution was in 1855 and it is 8th worst in murder rates in the world. Venuezuela is 5th worst in murder rates and abolished the death penalty in 1863. Columbia is 7th worst as to murder and its last execution was in 1910.

    I’ll leave you with the Wiki links which in this case seems to have the most detailed accounts on the net:

    Use of the death penalty here:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Use_of_capital_punishment_by_nation

    Murder rates by country here…and pan down to 2000’s:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_homicide_rate

  • bill bannon

    I won’t burden VN with my usual tour of Catholic history and the death penalty. And it is very complicated when one tries to pair murder rate stats with the death penalty or even with its abscence.
    The trouble with the Vatican is that they don’t try and yet John Paul alleged that modern penology was sufficiently protecting society without citing one study whatsoever. It…modern penology is not protecting society in 6 Catholic countries who are in the top ten of all countries as to murder rates but perhaps neither is the death penalty protecting in Guatemala or Jamaica. Yet our prominence in the top ten would seem to call for the Vatican studying why 7 Catholic countries…6 with no death penalty….are in the top ten murder rate list.
    Rather than the Vatican having astronomy groups who I realize are being moved from Castel Gandalfo as we speak, there should be a general institutional think tank at the Vatican to cover many topics and this topic is one they should cover.

    For example Brazil’s last execution was in 1855 and it is 8th worst in murder rates in the world. Venuezuela is 5th worst in murder rates and abolished the death penalty in 1863. Columbia is 7th worst as to murder and its last execution was in 1910.

    I’ll leave you with the Wiki links which in this case seems to have the most detailed accounts on the net:

    Use of the death penalty here:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Use_of_capital_punishment_by_nation

    Murder rates by country here…and pan down to 2000’s:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_homicide_rate

  • Jeff S.

    It is also corresponds to the fact that the US is the least secularized former Christian nation. Though we are on the sad cultural trajectory of Europe (Schaeffer’s Line of Despair), we do lag behind them. From that perspective, we are the last Christian nation that still retains fragments of Christian justice…ie the death penalty.

  • Jeff S.

    It is also corresponds to the fact that the US is the least secularized former Christian nation. Though we are on the sad cultural trajectory of Europe (Schaeffer’s Line of Despair), we do lag behind them. From that perspective, we are the last Christian nation that still retains fragments of Christian justice…ie the death penalty.

  • From that perspective, we are the last Christian nation that still retains fragments of Christian justice…ie the death penalty.

    I’m confused. Are you suggesting that we (the U.S.) retain some semblance of “Christian justice,” i.e that we still allow the death penalty? If so, talk about NOT thinking with the Church!

  • From that perspective, we are the last Christian nation that still retains fragments of Christian justice…ie the death penalty.

    I’m confused. Are you suggesting that we (the U.S.) retain some semblance of “Christian justice,” i.e that we still allow the death penalty? If so, talk about NOT thinking with the Church!

  • Iacobus

    M. Iafrate,

    Sarcasm noted, sir. One can only imagine Jeff S. refers to the legitimate use of the death penalty for retributive justice, something which a number of Christians seem to have forgotten about these days.

  • Iacobus

    Lest it come across that way, please read nothing sassy in my italicization of “Christians” – only my suggested explanation of Jeff’s “Christian justice.”

  • bill bannon

    Stats give very surprising relative pictures. Largely non Christian Mainland China according to a UN 1996 Demographic Yearbook published in 1998….has a very low murder rate (1.4 per 100,000…..(Phillipines is 11.5 per 100,000)) while having almost 1/5 of the world’s people. It has a death penalty that unlike the US is carried out very quickly and for 62 different reasons. As to whether the death penalty deters, I would say it does not when as in the US appeals last 10 years and up to 20 years average in California. But China with nearly a fifth of the world’s population and with a quickly executed death penalty may be a difficult obstacle for abolitionist thinking.
    Spain and Portugal have slightly lower rates of homocide than China and are Catholic countries but Latin American countries are Catholic and the Phillipines largely Catholic have far higher rates of murder than China while not having the death penalty.
    An interesting stat would be how many murders in each country are by relatives in the heat of anger …..and how many are actually by criminals.

  • bill bannon

    Stats give very surprising relative pictures. Largely non Christian Mainland China according to a UN 1996 Demographic Yearbook published in 1998….has a very low murder rate (1.4 per 100,000…..(Phillipines is 11.5 per 100,000)) while having almost 1/5 of the world’s people. It has a death penalty that unlike the US is carried out very quickly and for 62 different reasons. As to whether the death penalty deters, I would say it does not when as in the US appeals last 10 years and up to 20 years average in California. But China with nearly a fifth of the world’s population and with a quickly executed death penalty may be a difficult obstacle for abolitionist thinking.
    Spain and Portugal have slightly lower rates of homocide than China and are Catholic countries but Latin American countries are Catholic and the Phillipines largely Catholic have far higher rates of murder than China while not having the death penalty.
    An interesting stat would be how many murders in each country are by relatives in the heat of anger …..and how many are actually by criminals.

  • JB

    I think we can’t simply talk about this by referring to stats. While the quick death penalty in China may be an effective deterrent (or other factors may come in to play) that doesn’t make it right, especially if only one innocent man or woman is executed.

    The right to judge someone’ right to life or their possible forfeiture of that right is not one to take lightly at all.

  • bill bannon

    JB
    On the contrary:

    Pope Pius XII in an address in 1952

    “Even when it is a question of the execution of a man condemned to death, the state does not dispose of the individual’s right to live. Rather, it is reserved to the public authority to deprive the criminal of the benefit of life, when already, by his crime, he has deprived himself of the right to live.” (A.A.S., 1952, pp. 779ff.)

    From Augustine to Pius XII with some exceptions I’m sure, Catholicism considered the death penalty….right….not wrong. If you have grown up within the last two papacies however, your view will be that of John Paul II instinctively.
    A country could reserve death penalties to only those cases in which the accused had overwhelming evidence against them and that would obviate the problem of innocent people being killed. A man shoots innocent people before a host of witnesses on a long island train and there is little room for doubt but only as to sanity.
    A video captures a sexual predator in Florida grabbing a young girl who turns up raped and dead and there is his dna within her. Where is the rational doubt?
    Other wise you are morally superior to God who gave numerous death penalties to the Jews wherein God required two or three witnesses and He gave one death penalty for murder also to the Gentles even within the Old Testament….see Gen.9:5-6 to Ham and Japheth.
    I grew up with two people I knew being murdered within a block of my house (one murderer who killed my friend’s sister served 5 years due to youth but then was punished in a bar rather dramatically for bragging about it) and later as a late teen I would actually swim in NY harbor with gang members who would later stand trial for murder and walk due to no witnesses. And I was in very physical bad incidents against some of them in self defense after which they gave me a pass because I had earned their respect. But still they murdered another guy after that and in a sense, he earned it. That is… I grew up intimate with extreme violence.

    But “recent Catholicism” and Rome in particular has to look into these rates of Catholic countries and murder before lecturing the world on how to handle crime. And figures like Pope Benedict must be aware of our murder record of Catholic countries before they diss other cultures. In 1997 as Cardinal Ratzinger in an interview to a French magazine, he opined on how Hinduism’s reincarnation was a circle of hell and how Buddhism involved self absorption. No one cross examined Ratzinger on why then did the East have a generally low murder rate and Catholic Latin America have a high rate and the one Catholic Asian country…Phillipines…also have a high murder rate.
    Our leaders never get cross-examined. The incident caused an uproar in certain circles….Hindu and Buddhist…..and you can see it now in the Pope’s new and I think unconscious tendency to still say confrontational things to other cultures….but now indirectly (except in Brazil) not directly….and he does this through quotations by others who he then distances himself from…..as at Regensburg where I’m sure Benedict did not totally disagree with the ancient figure he cited on Islam as causing evil. It was an unconscious and subliminal shot at Islam….a moment of subliminal ventriloquism…but it got a nun killed in East Africa within hours and who of us remembers her name.

    Regardless of all that however, Rome needs to first solve our crime problem before trying to save other cultures….some of whom are doing fine and better than we in the area of murder. But Catholic leaders like many Catholic pundits flee history and actual news and sociology….. into theology where one can seem pure while not noticing that one also seems ignorant of actual data that involves one’s leavening success or failure in Catholic countries.

  • bill bannon

    JB
    On the contrary:

    Pope Pius XII in an address in 1952

    “Even when it is a question of the execution of a man condemned to death, the state does not dispose of the individual’s right to live. Rather, it is reserved to the public authority to deprive the criminal of the benefit of life, when already, by his crime, he has deprived himself of the right to live.” (A.A.S., 1952, pp. 779ff.)

    From Augustine to Pius XII with some exceptions I’m sure, Catholicism considered the death penalty….right….not wrong. If you have grown up within the last two papacies however, your view will be that of John Paul II instinctively.
    A country could reserve death penalties to only those cases in which the accused had overwhelming evidence against them and that would obviate the problem of innocent people being killed. A man shoots innocent people before a host of witnesses on a long island train and there is little room for doubt but only as to sanity.
    A video captures a sexual predator in Florida grabbing a young girl who turns up raped and dead and there is his dna within her. Where is the rational doubt?
    Other wise you are morally superior to God who gave numerous death penalties to the Jews wherein God required two or three witnesses and He gave one death penalty for murder also to the Gentles even within the Old Testament….see Gen.9:5-6 to Ham and Japheth.
    I grew up with two people I knew being murdered within a block of my house (one murderer who killed my friend’s sister served 5 years due to youth but then was punished in a bar rather dramatically for bragging about it) and later as a late teen I would actually swim in NY harbor with gang members who would later stand trial for murder and walk due to no witnesses. And I was in very physical bad incidents against some of them in self defense after which they gave me a pass because I had earned their respect. But still they murdered another guy after that and in a sense, he earned it. That is… I grew up intimate with extreme violence.

    But “recent Catholicism” and Rome in particular has to look into these rates of Catholic countries and murder before lecturing the world on how to handle crime. And figures like Pope Benedict must be aware of our murder record of Catholic countries before they diss other cultures. In 1997 as Cardinal Ratzinger in an interview to a French magazine, he opined on how Hinduism’s reincarnation was a circle of hell and how Buddhism involved self absorption. No one cross examined Ratzinger on why then did the East have a generally low murder rate and Catholic Latin America have a high rate and the one Catholic Asian country…Phillipines…also have a high murder rate.
    Our leaders never get cross-examined. The incident caused an uproar in certain circles….Hindu and Buddhist…..and you can see it now in the Pope’s new and I think unconscious tendency to still say confrontational things to other cultures….but now indirectly (except in Brazil) not directly….and he does this through quotations by others who he then distances himself from…..as at Regensburg where I’m sure Benedict did not totally disagree with the ancient figure he cited on Islam as causing evil. It was an unconscious and subliminal shot at Islam….a moment of subliminal ventriloquism…but it got a nun killed in East Africa within hours and who of us remembers her name.

    Regardless of all that however, Rome needs to first solve our crime problem before trying to save other cultures….some of whom are doing fine and better than we in the area of murder. But Catholic leaders like many Catholic pundits flee history and actual news and sociology….. into theology where one can seem pure while not noticing that one also seems ignorant of actual data that involves one’s leavening success or failure in Catholic countries.

  • If you have grown up within the last two papacies however, your view will be that of John Paul II instinctively.

    That’s a laugh. You seriously think all people who grew up during the papacy of JPII are against the death penalty? Hardly. Rest assured, Bill, that many young Catholics have views as strange as yours.

    Pius was wrong.

  • bill bannon

    Michael
    So it was just Pius?

  • Bill – No of course not. But Pius was wrong.

  • Bill – No of course not. But Pius was wrong.

  • bill bannon

    Michael

    I regret though that the Vatican itself took part in so many executions though but it did so as long as it was a country and a large one within part of Italy. As that country within a country broke down in the 19th century, more and more attackers of the papal territories were arrested in the early 19th century and here is wiki on the papal executioner, Bugatti who killed 516 people as the papal executioner in that period:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giovanni_Battista_Bugatti

    The Church was very pacifist in the early centuries when it had zero connection to power in general. It’s connection to earthly power begins while the Biblical canon is endorsing Romans 13:3-4 as canon and that combination should have led to simply endorsing secular executions but ended up supporting Church involvement with executions when the Vatican became a real territory with territorial enemies and hence Pope Sixtus V executed thousands in the 16th century which was not the intent of Romans 13:3-4 which only spoke of secular powers….but the Vatican had become one.

    What is wrong now is that many Catholics countries have an unusual number of executions…..but not by the state at all…..by criminals. Imagine a Pope now writing to Saudi Arabia and asking them to end the death penalty and then Saudi Arabia writing back and noting that 24 catholic countries have worse murder rates than Saudi Arabia …16 catholic countries have worse murder rates than Iran….and “so…no…we’ll pass on seeing you as the experts”.

  • JB

    Bill,

    I suggest you take a look a Newman’s “essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine.” There was a also a long history of Church teaching and acceptance on slavery, which is not counted among the list of intrinsically evil acts by the USCCB if I am not mistaken.

    Ever since Aquinas Catholic philosophy and theology has slowly developed the concept of personalism. It is this idea of the inalienable dignity of all persons, criminal or not, which flies in the face of the death penalty (and slavery and torture) for that matter. The Church’s thought on these type of issues can and does develop.

    You citing of stats seems to imply an ends justify the means approach to the problem of crime. Simply because China’s exercise of the death penalty produces favorable results, we cannot assume that their methods are just, or good.

    Furthermore, we cannot look at these stats in a vacuum. For example, Venezuela’s high murder most likely is largely a result of the inhumane living condition which Chavez has forced on his people. See Katerina’s post here.

    Furthermore, the Church and her leaders should not be calling us to merely the bottom line. She should be calling us to virtue and holiness. I cannot think of an instance where taking the life of another would be virtuous.

  • JB

    Bill,

    I suggest you take a look a Newman’s “essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine.” There was a also a long history of Church teaching and acceptance on slavery, which is not counted among the list of intrinsically evil acts by the USCCB if I am not mistaken.

    Ever since Aquinas Catholic philosophy and theology has slowly developed the concept of personalism. It is this idea of the inalienable dignity of all persons, criminal or not, which flies in the face of the death penalty (and slavery and torture) for that matter. The Church’s thought on these type of issues can and does develop.

    You citing of stats seems to imply an ends justify the means approach to the problem of crime. Simply because China’s exercise of the death penalty produces favorable results, we cannot assume that their methods are just, or good.

    Furthermore, we cannot look at these stats in a vacuum. For example, Venezuela’s high murder most likely is largely a result of the inhumane living condition which Chavez has forced on his people. See Katerina’s post here.

    Furthermore, the Church and her leaders should not be calling us to merely the bottom line. She should be calling us to virtue and holiness. I cannot think of an instance where taking the life of another would be virtuous.

  • Jeff S.

    “I’m confused. Are you suggesting that we (the U.S.) retain some semblance of “Christian justice,” i.e that we still allow the death penalty?”

    Are we more righteous than God? He dictated the death penalty as part of the Mosaic Law. Was He wrong to do that? Is the God of the New Covenant different from the God of the Old Covenant? The Church used to apply the Mosaic Law using the principle of general equity. What better standard do you propose we use to determine what precisely justice is and how it should be applied?

  • JB

    Jeff,

    God meets the Hebrews where they were, lost in sin and surrounded by paganism, and slowly raises their understanding of Him and of righteousness. Thus he does not immediately reveal himself as a Trinity of persons, but first establishes himself as the only God to be worshiped, then as the ONLY God, and finally Jesus fully reveals the Trinity. Similarly we can see God slowly raising His People’s awareness of the dignity of the person, etc. Such that Jesus eventually says “love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.”

    Similarly, God continued to reveal to us deeper understandings of truth through the Holy Spirit’s guidance of the Church. Our understanding of the capital punishment has changed, just as our understanding of slavery, of Eucharistic adoration, etc. have changed.

  • JB

    Jeff,

    God meets the Hebrews where they were, lost in sin and surrounded by paganism, and slowly raises their understanding of Him and of righteousness. Thus he does not immediately reveal himself as a Trinity of persons, but first establishes himself as the only God to be worshiped, then as the ONLY God, and finally Jesus fully reveals the Trinity. Similarly we can see God slowly raising His People’s awareness of the dignity of the person, etc. Such that Jesus eventually says “love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.”

    Similarly, God continued to reveal to us deeper understandings of truth through the Holy Spirit’s guidance of the Church. Our understanding of the capital punishment has changed, just as our understanding of slavery, of Eucharistic adoration, etc. have changed.

  • bill bannon

    JB
    Never read the Bible cover to cover as I did….you will freak. And I know that you have not.

    All of South America’s troubles can be traced in large part unfortunately to two Papal bulls which are posted on this site under “Papal Social Teaching” ….”Romanus Pontifex” of Nicholas V and “Inter Caetera” of Alexander VI. Read them closely though they are prolix. They were a primary cause of imperialism and slavery in Latin America and gave the papal grant for both phenomenon with the stipulation that no authority whatsoever could alter the permission in the future…in short…. future Italian Popes could not alter them since each of the above bulls were by a Portuguese and a Spanish Pope who gave half the world to their respective native countries.

    One thing they did was give the right of taking away the land of non believers and those two countries went right ahead and did so and rewarded the large land tracts to conquistadors who then left such land by inheritance to their heirs and so on and so on and thus began the permanent landlessness (of the good arable land) of the Latin American poor. Take Guatemala where you have one product…coffee….grown on the land of the rich few famlies which land can be traced back in some cases to conquistadors with the poor of Guatemala being landless or on non arable land century after century.

    China has multiple millions of poor also though…. and does not have nearly the murder rate of Latin America…..and has only one percent Christians.

    The US had no such legacy of anyone owning such large tracts of land but did have slavery and the crime later which is an outgrowth of that type of slavery that splits up families.

    Mary is sinless. Vatican II was saying that the Church is not sinless in all respects and will not be perfect til the end of history. Mary = sinless….Church = Holy in Her sacraments and dogma…… but = a sinner as to history.

    Mary is the Mother of God….the Church is the Bride of Christ and our Mother…there is a difference.

    Lumen Gentium toward the end of Chapter I, “ The Church, however, clasping sinners to her bosom, at once holy and always in need of purification, follows constantly the path of penance and renewal.”

    Further in Chapter 7 of Lumen Gentium it is written, “ The Church ..will receive it’s perfection only in the glory of heaven when will come the time of the renewal of all things (Acts 3:21)…and…“ ..for the Church on earth is endowed already with a sanctity that is real though imperfect”.

    “Development” cannot alter anything in the Bible….though the New Covenant altered and rendered null those death penalties of the Jews that applied to personal sins like adultery.

    See Dei Verbum…Vatican II…. where it stipulates that the Magisterium must hand on what is handed to them in Revelation. Popes can interpret scripture and rarely do in their charism of infallibility. Probably less than 1 % of the Bible has been interpreted by the Church at all within infallibility to date.

  • Bill – You can spare us the history lessons. We know that the Church has sinned in the past. The Church, rightly, now condemns the death penalty. I’m sorry you have a problem making this jive with the Church’s sinful past, but most of us do not. We know that the Church is a pilgrim Church, in constant need of reform and repentance.

  • Bill – You can spare us the history lessons. We know that the Church has sinned in the past. The Church, rightly, now condemns the death penalty. I’m sorry you have a problem making this jive with the Church’s sinful past, but most of us do not. We know that the Church is a pilgrim Church, in constant need of reform and repentance.

  • JB

    Precisely Michael.

    Bill, in no way did intend to infer that the development of doctrine and the development of the Church’s understanding of the fullness of truth would or could ever contradict Revelation. Scripture and Tradition are two sides of the same coin. That being said there is legitimate development within Revelation itself, in the NT specifically, which rationally lead to the Church’s current understanding of the death penalty.

    Pax

  • bill bannon

    JB
    The New Testament rendered null and void the death penalties for personal sin (sodomy/adultery/bestiality/cursing parents etc) not for the crime of murder (which was given separately from the “law” in Gen.9:5-6…and echoed in Romans 13:3-4 in the New Testament where sword=synecdoche for death and everything short of death/not scourge….sword….sword….and not ceremonial sword because Christ used the identical word for battle sword within the gospel).
    It…the New Testament….. did not render null and void the Noachide death penalty for murder found in Genesis 9:5-6 which was based on an eternal insight… man being made in the image of God (read the text) and is separate from the “law” and was given to both Jews and Gentiles…Shem and Ham.

    If a life sentence were an appropriate punishment for murder (and it is not despite the unintended pain from other prisoners), then what then becomes an appropriate punishment for two murders or seven murders or rape of a child plus her murder….lol…the same one life sentence with full medical and dental coverage that 40 million US workers do not have? Enough. This is the theater of the absurd. The last word is yours. It’s back to work and reality for me….I’m not on a pretend death row….I actually have to worry about paying bills.

  • JB

    Bill,

    Its been fun. Thanks for pushing to look deeper and more closely at the some of the Biblical texts.

    In reference to Genesis 9:5-6: Context as everything. The passage is certainly normative, authoritative and reasonable for its time, place, situation, and intent, but those all change significantly in the time that passes to the NT, and they have changed even more in the 2000 years since Jesus, against whom and in whom all things receive their fullest understanding and interpretation.

    Romans 13:3-4 reads: For rulers are not a cause of fear to good conduct, but to evil. Do you wish to have no fear of authority? Then do what is good and you will receive approval from it, for it is a servant of God for your good. But if you do evil, be afraid, for it does not bear the sword without purpose; it is the servant of God to inflict wrath on the evildoer.

    However, this passage must be read in context on the epistle as a whole, and must be read in light of Christ.
    For example, Romans 12 Let love be sincere; hate what is evil, hold on to what is good;…Bless those who persecute (you), bless and do not curse them…Do not repay anyone evil for evil; be concerned for what is noble in the sight of all… Beloved, do not look for revenge but leave room for the wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” Rather, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.” Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good.

    How can understand the Romans 13 to be a justification of the death penalty if just a few verses prior St. Paul exhorts not to repay evil with evil and informs us the Vengeance is not outs, but God’s.

    Furthermore, Jesus exhorts us in the Sermon on the Mount: You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on (your) right cheek, turn the other one to him as well…. You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, (Matthew 5)

    Clearly the commands of God in the person of the Word have developed are calling us to a higher degree of holiness. Now that he has fully revealed himself as sacrificial self-giving love, being made in his image demands the same of us.

    The situation of Noadic times was such that they had no humane, safe, or reliable way of detaining murderers and the like, but that is no longer the situation of the day, as Pope John Paul points out. We don’t have to kill someone in order to protect society from them. We have the ability to lock them up, but where we fail is that our prisons should be rehabilitive.

    I’m sorry wasted your time with my absurdity.

    Pax

  • JB

    Bill,

    Its been fun. Thanks for pushing to look deeper and more closely at the some of the Biblical texts.

    In reference to Genesis 9:5-6: Context as everything. The passage is certainly normative, authoritative and reasonable for its time, place, situation, and intent, but those all change significantly in the time that passes to the NT, and they have changed even more in the 2000 years since Jesus, against whom and in whom all things receive their fullest understanding and interpretation.

    Romans 13:3-4 reads: For rulers are not a cause of fear to good conduct, but to evil. Do you wish to have no fear of authority? Then do what is good and you will receive approval from it, for it is a servant of God for your good. But if you do evil, be afraid, for it does not bear the sword without purpose; it is the servant of God to inflict wrath on the evildoer.

    However, this passage must be read in context on the epistle as a whole, and must be read in light of Christ.
    For example, Romans 12 Let love be sincere; hate what is evil, hold on to what is good;…Bless those who persecute (you), bless and do not curse them…Do not repay anyone evil for evil; be concerned for what is noble in the sight of all… Beloved, do not look for revenge but leave room for the wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” Rather, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.” Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good.

    How can understand the Romans 13 to be a justification of the death penalty if just a few verses prior St. Paul exhorts not to repay evil with evil and informs us the Vengeance is not outs, but God’s.

    Furthermore, Jesus exhorts us in the Sermon on the Mount: You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on (your) right cheek, turn the other one to him as well…. You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, (Matthew 5)

    Clearly the commands of God in the person of the Word have developed are calling us to a higher degree of holiness. Now that he has fully revealed himself as sacrificial self-giving love, being made in his image demands the same of us.

    The situation of Noadic times was such that they had no humane, safe, or reliable way of detaining murderers and the like, but that is no longer the situation of the day, as Pope John Paul points out. We don’t have to kill someone in order to protect society from them. We have the ability to lock them up, but where we fail is that our prisons should be rehabilitive.

    I’m sorry wasted your time with my absurdity.

    Pax

  • bill bannon

    JB
    I just screwed up a mat cutting session for my art glicees that I self produce so I’ll answer the above.
    Try for the rest of your life not to mal-use the principle of context. You just mal-used it to make an entire passage vanish….so in effect God never willed Romans 13 because your alleged context makes it vanish from right before our eyes. With that technique, I could make anything in the Bible disappear.

    Our personal vengeance is what is ruled out by the New Testament…not God’s vengeance (which is really simply His judgement since He has no changing emotions like vengeance as per Aquinas who saw “wrath,anger,vengeance” as to God as anthropopathisms which nevertheless denote His judgement) since the same NT says… “Vengeance is mine says the Lord, I will repay”…Romans is telling you that one of the ways He does so is through the sword of the state. Separate your vengeance from God’s; His (judgement really) has a perfect right to exist and Romans states that the state administers that vengeance of God.

    If you wish to see another NT example of God’s vengeance which postdates the sermon on the mount, go to Acts 12 where you will see God kill Herod through an angel and leave his body for the worms….certainly not in keeping with man’s dignity as John Paul used the terms. God allowed Herod no rehabilitation nor did He allow Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 any rehabilitation once God willed His will as to their deaths.
    Though I imagine you will see that passage of Herod being killed by the angel in the context of the nativity scene in Bethlehem which also will make that severity vanish so that you are left with our current homily tradition of Hall Mark card versions of God’s word. Oi Veh. Sooner or later God is going to take you by the ear and make you face the severe aspect of the New Testament……passages like…. “he who wishes to become a friend of this world, becomes the enemy of God”…..try not to see that in the context of the wedding feast of Cana.

  • JB

    Bill,

    Thanks for another response. I certainly did not intend to make Romans 13 “vanish,” although I admittedly did not make the distinction between personal and divine vengeance. I think that is an important distinction and is in fact helpful for my (and the Church’s) understanding of the death penalty.

    The examples you gave from Acts are God enacting his vengeance through extraordinary (not-human) means. And God certainly has every right to exact judgment on any and all of us, you and I included.

    But we must remember that the final interpreter of Revelation is the Church. I am not attempting to say, nor does the Church say that governments due not have the duty to uphold the common good. I do not intend to imply that governments do not have the right to exercise capital punishment.

    However, we must understand that the Church, under the guidance and wisdom of the Holy Spirit, has deemed it prudent to elaborate on God-given authority which government’s have, requiring that they only resort to the penalty when absolutely necessary — which is never the case in America at this point in time.

    Finally, I am certainly no expert, nor am I saint, but I am someone who attempts to learn about and live out the will of God through prayer and study of Church teaching. I attempt to be a man of integrity, and I am certainly not someone who wishes to become a friend of this world. I have no problem with you criticizing my logic or exegesis, but being that you know virtually nothing about me, please do not judge me.

    Pax

  • JB

    Bill,

    Thanks for another response. I certainly did not intend to make Romans 13 “vanish,” although I admittedly did not make the distinction between personal and divine vengeance. I think that is an important distinction and is in fact helpful for my (and the Church’s) understanding of the death penalty.

    The examples you gave from Acts are God enacting his vengeance through extraordinary (not-human) means. And God certainly has every right to exact judgment on any and all of us, you and I included.

    But we must remember that the final interpreter of Revelation is the Church. I am not attempting to say, nor does the Church say that governments due not have the duty to uphold the common good. I do not intend to imply that governments do not have the right to exercise capital punishment.

    However, we must understand that the Church, under the guidance and wisdom of the Holy Spirit, has deemed it prudent to elaborate on God-given authority which government’s have, requiring that they only resort to the penalty when absolutely necessary — which is never the case in America at this point in time.

    Finally, I am certainly no expert, nor am I saint, but I am someone who attempts to learn about and live out the will of God through prayer and study of Church teaching. I attempt to be a man of integrity, and I am certainly not someone who wishes to become a friend of this world. I have no problem with you criticizing my logic or exegesis, but being that you know virtually nothing about me, please do not judge me.

    Pax

  • JB

    One last thing…

    Kyle R. Cupp had a great quote on another thread which sums which the prudential aspect of John Paul II development of Scripture and his teaching on the death penalty:

    “Many that live deserve death. And some die that deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then be not too eager to deal out death in the name of justice, fearing for your own safety. Even the wise cannot see all ends.”

    – Gandalf

  • bill bannon

    JB
    I was not referring the “friend of this world” to you….only as an example of the severity that we avoid in the NT. John Paul’s interpretation in Evangelium Vitae of the death penalty matter…as a paper in a university submitted anonymously….would get a very low mark. Read it yourself. I did. He completely omits the “shedding of blood” passage in Gen.9:5-6 which he quotes but only the non death penalty parts of it in section 39…read that section then look up the actual quote. He also no where quotes Romans 13:3-4….at least you looked at it and for Aquianas….it was pivotal. In short he avoided the very passages that would have given him trouble. Further he cites the immunity of Cain from the death penalty as relevant to us when in fact the same God a little later gives the death penalty in Gen.9:5-6. Spare me. We have idolized the office to the point where we are thoroughly dishonest about papal mistakes…thoroughly.

    Few are the moments in encyclicals when one can ascribe what is being written to the Holy Spirit….only those under infallibility and last I looked that was two encyclicals and arguably three sections of EV on abortion, euthanasia and killing the known innocent.
    Catholic canon law supported the slavery of those born to slaves for centuries beginning at Aquinas’ time. Canon law is not even guaranteed the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is only guaranteed to be involved when the charism of infallibility is accessed. Several encyclicals in the 19th century are now out of date because they virulently opposed freedom of religion and Vatican II took the opposite position.
    From the New Catholic Encyclopedia (not the ancient one at new advent)…..article on infallibility:

    “the contents of an encyclical are presumed to belong to the ordinary magisterium unless the opposite is clearly manifested. Moreover since they belong to the ordinary papal magisterium,they are capable of change. Such possiblity of change was mentioned by Paul VI in his June 23,1964 address to a group of cardinals, when it was observed that it was not evident that certain teachings pertaining to the ordinary magisterium of Pius XII were ” out of date and therefore not binding” and that these teachings were consequently still valid until he felt obliged to change them”.

    Peace.