Death Penalty: should we believe in it? Reasons one wouldn’t: belief in rehabilitation, belief that the death penalty doesn’t deter crime, belief in God as the ultimate arbiter, belief in Christian or sentimental mercy/forgiveness, equating justice as revenge.
- Jesus Christ is the ultimate case of the death penalty. He became a man and was put to death to justify and acquit our egregious sins. Would it have been justice if our infinite sins against our infinitely good God were punished by Jesus sitting in a prison for life (the mere 60 more years on his 33 years of age an average human would live)? The crime: infinite sins, the punishment life in prison/60 years. Justice is the death of God’s son (infinite goodness) who became man for our infinite sins. An infinite for an infinite.
- C.S. Lewis explains that treating criminals not with a view to punishment, but only with a view to remediation and deterrence is the end of justice and the seedbed of tyranny. It is dehumanization with a gentle face. Here is his quote: “Thus when we cease to consider what the criminal deserves and consider only what will cure him or deter others, we have tacitly removed him from the sphere of justice altogether; instead of a person, a subject of rights, we now have a mere object, a patient, a ‘case.’” If a criminal’s sentence does not have to accord with what he deserves, it does not have to be just. At that point we are all at the mercy of those who are in power to call anything we do a crime and give it any therapeutic or remedial solution they choose, including gas chambers and medical alterations.
- What about Christian mercy? If the concept of what a criminal deserves, and with it the concept of justice, is lost, mercy ceases to be. It is replaced by sentiment and caprice. As Lewis observes, “The essential act of mercy was to pardon; and pardon in its very essence involves the recognition of guilt and deserved punishment in the recipient. Mercy, detached from Justice, grows unmerciful. If crime is only a disease which needs cure, not sin which deserves punishment, it cannot be pardoned. How can you pardon a man for having a gumboil or a club foot? But the Humanitarian theory wants simply to abolish Justice and substitute Mercy for it. This means that you start being “kind” to people before you have even considered their rights, and then force upon them supposed kindlinesses which they in fact had a right to refuse, and finally kindnesses which no one but you will recognize as kindnesses and which the recipient will feel as abominable cruelties. You have overshot the mark. That is the important paradox. As there are plants which will flourish only in mountain soil, so it appears that Mercy will flower only when it grows in the crannies of the rock of Justice; transplanted to the marshlands of mere Humanitarianism, it becomes a man-eating weed.”
- God is the ultimate judge but God has given license to mankind to conduct societies and governments and to carry out justice in this life. He will be the final judge of our souls in the next life but in this life there are governmental bodies and manifestations of justice that we, men, are the arbiters of. Romans 13 sets it up so that the government carries the sword to reward the good and to punish the evil, because society won’t work if governments don’t carry swords, prisons, fines, death penalties.
- Revenge is the exact opposite of justice. Revenge is brazen and chaotic. It is emotional instead of retributional. Revenge cares not whether the harm inflicted on someone for the wrong suffered at their hands is equal in scope to the wrong committed. Justice, on the other hand, is methodical and rational. It is the exact degree of punishment a crime deserves regardless of any one persons wanton feelings about it. Justice by definition is the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or punishments.
- Here is a hypothetical for the case that the death penalty does deter crime if it is equally implemented. Say on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays anyone that commits 1st degree murder gets the death penalty and on Sundays, Tuesdays , Thursdays and Saturdays everyone who commits 1st degree murder gets life in prison with the option of appeals and a lesser sentence on good behavior. Which days would 1st degree murders happen?
Remember this story? Anders Breivik’s sentence for killing 77 people at a youth camp in Norway on July 22, 2011 is outrageous. He was deemed sane and sentenced to serve 21 years in prison “in a three-cell suite of rooms equipped with exercise equipment, a television and a laptop.” That’s 100 days of posh prison time for each person he murdered, with a legal release possible at age 53. Life is cheap in Norway. The news agencies explained that such a sentence “is consistent with Norway’s general approach to criminal justice. Like the rest of Europe . . . Norway no longer has the death penalty and considers prison more a means for rehabilitation than retribution.”
They explained that “many Europeans” consider America’s criminal justice system to be “cruelly punitive.”
In fact, the news story explains that, after his 21-year smack-on-the-hand for killing 77 people, Breivik “could be kept there indefinitely by judges adding a succession of five-year extensions.” There it is. The issue is not what he deserves. The issue is not justice. The issue is power in the hands of judges who will decide if he has been “rehabilitated” sufficiently, and if his detainment has served the community to a suitable degree rather than serving his objectively just punishment which would be death.
Do you see the error in this? C. S. Lewis did.