Capital Punishment > Abortion

Since I get so few comments here (hi Dad!) I thought I’d start writing some essays on controversial topics, mostly in Christian theology or ethics, and see what kinds of arguments I can stir up. If you’re not interested in this kind of thing, please ignore.

Resolved: it is illogical for Christians to simultaneously oppose abortion and support the death penalty.

The Christian church is pretty unanimous in condemning abortion on the grounds that we, mere humans, do not ordinarily have authority or jurisdiction over the lives of others. But there are many Christians who support the death penalty. In my opinion, the two stances are irreconcilable.

There are several reasons I’ve heard Christians give for supporting the murder of criminals — yes, “murder”, for the execution of a felon can be justified neither by self-defense nor the defense of another’s life.*

The first reason goes something like this: murderers or other egregious criminals deserve to die according to God’s law. The state is the instrument of divine justice, and is this justified in murdering such criminals.

But according to Christian doctrine, there is ultimately no hierarchy of sins; that is, we are all sinners, no matter what manner of sins we commit, and we all deserve to die. This leads us to the conclusion that all of us could and should be struck dead at any moment for our sins, and if the state is the instrument of God’s justice, the state would be entirely justified in knocking off random citizens whenever it pleased. This is clearly untenable.

And is the state the instrument of God’s justice to this ultimate degree? Paul teaches that we should submit to civil authority, as God has instituted government for our benefit. But it is clear from Scripture and church tradition that our obedience to civil authority cannot extend to violating God’s law. If, therefore, God says that “Vengeance is Mine”, then capital punishment by the state is a usurpation of God’s perogative, and should be rejected by Christians, to the point of civil disobedience, if necessary.

Related to this first idea is that the death penalty involves the idea of restitution for the crime. This is patent nonsense. Restitution involves mitigating the effects of the crime on the victim: if someone steals something, they should give it back. Killing a murderer does nothing for the victim — they’re already dead. It might provide a temporary feeling of revenge or satisfaction for the victim’s family, but as Christians are supposed to forgive those who trespass against them, this feeling would actually be an impedement to the victim’s family’s spiritual growth! It would better serve to resurrect the weregild.

As my grandma used to say, two wrongs don’t make a right. One person has already died in this scenario; how does killing another make things better?

The last reason for the death penalty is pragmatic: the death penalty serves as a deterrent for others, and it saves the state money, in that the state no longer must maintain a large prison population.

Well, the death penalty would also provide a pretty good deterrent for shoplifters, so why is it not applied to them? A hierarchy of punishments is quite reasonable to apply to a variety of sins, but execution should not be included — it is a punishment of an altogether different degree than incarceration, fines or restitution.

As for wasting the state’s money, the argument has merit if you also accept that the elderly, the insane and the crippled may also be murdered in the interest of economics.

That said, I am firmly in favour of putting criminals to work in salt mines or some other revenue-generating operation rather than coddling them. This would provide a much better restitution to society than staining the soul of a nation with institutionalized murder.

In the end, we must see capital punishment for what it is: exercising the power of life and death over someone, and from the Christian perspective, forever denying them the chance of redemption. This makes a mockery of free will and the Cross, for God is not willing that any should perish.

In my opinion, capital punishment is, in fact, far worse than abortion! For in most Christian theologies, an unborn child is innocent of sin, and automatically gets a free pass through the pearly gates, whereas an executed criminal is forever denied the chance to repent.

Therefore, judicial murder is a crime against God, in that it takes away the free will he provided to all of us in order that we could love Him, no individual or collection thereof (for what is a state but a group of individuals?) can be justified in committing it. If we all deserve death but for the grace of God, we must never deny that grace to anyone, regardless of their crimes.

* I plan to address issues of self-defense and war in a later essay.

2 thoughts on “Capital Punishment > Abortion”

  1. Keep going Gordon!

    I may not agree with all of the above, but you certainly present an intellegent and well thought out point of view.

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