the death penalty...

I know I've written about the death penalty before on this blog... but I just finished watching the film Dancer In The Dark today, and it got me so worked up about the death penalty, I have to write again.

I HATE the death penalty. I think capital punishment is one of the most inhuman things we do. How is it that we feel the right to condemn another person to death, as if anything they do is so much worse than what either we do or are very capable of doing given the right circumstances? How do we feel that it is our right to interpret a person's actions to that level, not having the experience of being that person? Also, why would we even want to take another person's life because of their actions, besides revenge?

Maybe I'm simply too idealistic about things, but I feel that an awful lot of grace has been given me in my life, and I feel inclined to pass that on to others, rather than take revenge, hold them to strict justice, make decisions about which people are worth saving, and which are ok to kill. I just don't believe we as humans should have that kind of authority to decide what people are worth saving and what people are ok to kill. This applies to war as well. What is it that makes Saddam Hussein less worth saving than me? Who is to say that I wouldn't have behaved much like him if I had been born in the exact same circumstances? He may have oppressed and killed a lot of people, in a very externally visible way, but so many of us oppress and crush each other in all kinds of very subtle ways every single day and never realize it (or do realize it). If we had the chance to expand those and gain power and control, who's to say we wouldn't? I certainly know that I'm potentially capable of more than I'm comfortable thinking about. And who's to say that the damage we do to the people around us isn't just as bad as the damage done by oppressive dictators? I've seen some people completely destroyed inside by people who, on the outside, seem to be pretty normal, average people. Also, who is to say that a person who commits a crime which we regard as heinous will not be vitally important in some way in the future? Also, how can we be so sure about the validity of a decision made in our justice system to put a human life on the line?

How will we ever stop violence with violence? It makes no sense. We, in order to show that murder is wrong, do murder. What kind of fucked up logic is that? We decide that dictators, or muslims, or christians, or jews, or russians, or __________ group of people or individuals are not worth our time to save, or are worth our time to kill, and we make that decision based on our own concept of what is going on in a situation... and how can we be so arrogant, as to think we have enough information to decide that someone's life is not worthwhile?

I just simply cannot see how it is right that we decide who should live and die.


  1. A complex issue but I think I mostly disagree with your conclusions. The biggest point of agreement is that we as Christians should always reflect grace. Being able to look at someone who was responsible for your parent's death and forgive them is an amazing thing and DEFINITELY worth emulating. Revenge is always wrong (no matter how common or "natural" it seems).

    However, government is not simply the combination of many individuals but really a separate entity with a special purpose -- to reward the good and punish the bad. I feel it's Biblical for a GOVERNMENT to use capital punishment but I'm not at all in the theonomic camp which insists that adultery and other "lesser" sins be punished with it (as they were in the old testament). Individuals aren't endowed (in our form of government) with the right to pass judgment for crimes, but a legally appointed judge is; most people have no problem with judges sentencing people to prison sentences and things like that. Government SHOULD be (but never is) an earthly reflection of God's system of justice. There's room for mercy in God's system of justice but it's just that -- mercy, it's not universal.

    Justice systems will make mistakes and condemn the wrong people. However, it's injustice to send a person to prison or to execute them. Injustice isn't linked with the death penalty but with the limitations and flaws of humanity.

    A government has a responsibility to punish the evil just as a government's citizens have a responsibility to obey their government. Even if honestly attempting to act responsibly, members of the judicial system will screw up.

    The rest of the arguments are mostly "why do we think we have the right to make this sort of decision". It's a worthy question but also challenges the ability for us to send people to prison (depriving them completely of their freedom). Executing is more severe than prison but sending someone to prison may be unjust and may completely eliminate their potential contribution to society. But most people agree that suspected violent murderers should be locked up (but not executed!) It really isn't consistent. A government has a right and ability to strip people of their rights or they don't. Saying that "life" is less removable than "liberty and the pursuit of happiness" is rather arbitrary. What gives the government the right to send people to prison? The answer is the authority vested in them by God as rulers.

    Wars are a terrible thing and I'm a huge fan of just war theory. It's totally unacceptable to go around killing people in order to "prevent wars". If we are being attacked and are lives are threatened, I'll pick up a gun in defense -- but not until then.

    Regarding the last paragraph, you say "will we ever stop violence with violence?". The answer is no, but we won't stop it with peace either. Violence is a reflection of our fallen nature and WE alone can't possibly stop it.

  2. yeah, I know, it is a complex issue. I think I tend to be very idealistic, as well as very emotional about things that push those kinds of boundaries, and I do see that this is a reality of this world (like war), but it is so hard sometimes for me to be ok with things in a broken state. I realize that is a problem, living in a broken world, but the wrong-ness of things just weighs on me heavily at times.

    I agree that there is some inconsistency in being ok with the government jailing someone but not with them killing someone (though personally I'd rather not have either, though I'm not sure that's feasibly possible), though in jail there is always a chance for them to A) get out B) still live and grow and change, which you take away if you kill them. I also think there's some inconsistency in not feeling the government should have the right to do something like forbid you to carry a gun, but then be fine with them deciding you should die.

    Also, I think I would challenge our right to send people to prison as well. Again, I have a feeling it's the idealist in me speaking, and I'm not sure it would be feasibly possible, but I don't really feel that prison is a good way of rehabilitating a person and sending them back into society changed. So, if I had my way, then yes, I would challenge sending people to prison as well as executing them.

    I understand that we will never completely stop violence one way or the other, but if I have the choice to behave one way or the other, I will as much as possible choose not to add to the violence, especially not in the name of stopping it.