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by Peter Moskos

February 24, 2011

WWJD? The death penalty and Jesus

Texas just executed its 466th murderer in the last three decades (not surprisingly, the guy being executed was black. Black murderers are much more likely to be executed than are white murderers.)

But I'm not here to defend murderers. I'm not even really even against the death penalty. (As long as we can be certain the person is guilty... which too often we're not certain of... which does make me kind of against the death penalty. Can't there be a legal standard even beyond "guilty beyond a reasonable doubt"? Like "caught-red-handed-we-know-he-did-it guilty"?)

But I want to mention two seemingly obvious facts:

1) Jesus Christ would not support the death penalty. I'm not religious, so you might ask why I bring this up. Because I think it's very strange that many people who claim to believe Jesus Christ was the Son of God also support the death penalty. Hey, support the death penalty for whatever reason you want. But please don't do it in Jesus's name. He was more of a forgiveness kind of guy: "Let he who is without sin..." and "Go, and sin no more." New Testament trumps Old! Isn't that the basis of Christianity?

2) The death penalty does not deter crime. The average murder rate of death penalty states is higher than in states without the death penalty. The murder rate in execution-central Texas is 5.4, also higher than the national average. Now maybe if Texas wasn't so execution happy, the murder rate would be even higher... but do you really believe that?

Now you may think it's right to kill killers for reasons that have nothing to do with God or crime. Maybe they simply deserve it as punishment. Frankly, personally, I don't give a damn if murderers live or die. But I would like to think that I and we are better than them. But please stop the nonsense that execution is somehow linked to crime prevention or is compatible with the teachings of Jesus.


suz said...

So true!
We aren't divine, so justice is all we have. In principle, the death penalty is just. In practice, in this country, it is not.

hotrod said...

I'm always a little conflicted about this. I am religious (Christian), if not espcially devout. I waffle on not so much the morality of it, but on whether the morality of it necessarily applies to a action taken by the state.

In other words, I might be able to reconcile myself to the idea that someone could do something so heinous that the only remotely just thing people of this world could do is to take the perpertrator OUT of the world. It's not a warm and fuzzy kind of idea though.

I reconcile the concepts, and therefore have more or less come down in full fledged opposition to the death penalty in ordinary civilian usage, by saying it's simply too much power to give to the state. Doubly true given the imperfect nature of policing/law enforcement as a human institution, and uneven quality of policing/justice in America.

If we ever reach the conclusion that Cameron Willingham was, in fact, innocent, well, there's not a whole hell of a lot we can do about it now. And whether or not he was innocent, the point remains - if an imperfect state screws THIS up - there's no pardon to be issued, no financial restitution to be paid. Better just to avoid the whole issue.

Exceptions for military crime, and perhaps a few other things of a different character than "normal" crime, e.g. international piracy, to pick something in the news.

Ebenezer Scrooge said...

Our host does not know of the Standard Wingnut Version of the Bible, which does not contain embarrassing stoner references. http://www.conservapedia.com/Essay:Adulteress_Story

For more about the Standard Wingnut Version, see http://www.conservapedia.com/Disputed_Biblical_Translations I'm particularly tickled about its treatment of Exodus 21:22.

PCM said...

Indeed I did not.

And yet why does that not surprise me? Don't like something? Just change the "facts" to suit your desire. Of course there is room for legitimate interpretation of the Bible. As there should be, since it was written by various people years after the events happened, written in a second language, and then translated into a third: English.

But to rewrite the bible while at the same time saying it's the literal word of God?! There's a word for that: Blasphemy.

But I suppose it's all for the better. Deep down, I suspected that Jesus was part of some vast liberal plot, perhaps even the homosexual agenda.

And besides, a vengeful Jesus makes a much better movie character and action figure. The one we have now comes off sometimes as kinda wimpy.

suz said...

Ohh! Ooh! Ummm, if we're rewriting the Bible, may I contribute? Please?

Anonymous said...

I think you have it backwards about race and the death penalty. I think the race of the victim and not the murderer increases the likelihood of a sentence of death. Murderers who kill whites are more likely to get the death penalty. Black murder victims are less likely to have their murderers get the death penalty. I'd have to look it up to confirm.

PCM said...

I would guess both are factors. I'm pretty sure there are a disproportionate number of blacks on death row who killed whites than whites who killed blacks.

MisguidedPotential said...

Blacks are on death row more and also the race of the victim is more important. But Blacks get put to death more because when you look at their cases they commit more aggravated murders that are death penalty eligible. I Don't remember the exact study but it is a chapter in Professor Mandery's "Death Penalty in America" textbook and Professor and Lawyer Barry Latzer talks about it in his Capital Punishment course at JJ.

DJK said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DJK said...

Schadenfreude, Mr. Moskos....schadenfreude