I remember discussing a variety of things one day with my good friend, Paul Valentine. One of the things that came up was the death penalty. Surprisingly to me, Paul was against it. At the time, I was pretty much for it. Now, I have come to believe much as Paul does; I have to sit down with him next week and get his reasons from him, though. Read on to see why I believe as I do.
If there is one thing Man has not learned how to grant in this world, it is Life. Oh, sure, we have infertility treatments, in vitro fertilization, artificial insemination, and other actions to replace the shamanism and non-scientific beliefs of the past. But in each of those cases, Man creates Life from the tools of Life: sperm and egg. Those tools come from sources that God has already breathed Life into, and therefore Man’s simply playing chemist.
If Life is sacred, and many cultures hold it to be, then it is to be nourished, protected, guarded, and guided. Presumably, this is why we imprison people: we wish to protect and guard society from their actions, and we wish to nourish and guide their actions in order to make them productive members of society. But this view has the idealistic notion that, given a choice, we’ll all go right. Human history has proven time and again that, given free will, Man can and often does choose the wrong thing.
The ultimate penalty, then, is the removal of Life from an individual. That is society’s highest power: to collectively say, “You can no longer walk this Earth with us.” It is a fate worse than exile, than life imprisonment, than suicide. In choosing to remove Life, Man plays God.
It’s fitting to note the obvious: that, as a Christian, the fundamental tenets of the doctrine I have chosen to live my life by are the result of an execution. When I started writing this entry, I asked myself again: What had Christ done to deserve to die? The answer’s woefully inadequate: blasphemy, as adjudicated by the Pharisees and Saducees. Blasphemers should perhaps be whipped [He was] or chained [He was]; there was no reason to kill the Son of God, other than God’s reason for doing so. That’s why it took the inordinate step of mob rule shouting, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” to convince Pontius Pilate that he best be about killing Jesus of Nazareth, lest the crowd turn upon Him.
I often wonder at that moment. Pilate is so obviously a politician. He went into the gig with Christ wondering what he’d done to run afoul of Jewish law. Finding that out, I’m sure Pilate found it no more distasteful than any other blasphemer, especially considering that Pilate likely didn’t hold to the Jewish tenets himself. [I’m 99% sure he did not, but my uncertainty is a product of my lack of education.] Pilate thought that he might get Jesus let off of this deal, because he was undeniably popular with the people. Politicians are that creature that gauge and manipulate public opinion to their own ends, which usually involves staying in power as long as possible.
It is for these reasons, I feel, that we have the death penalty again in this country. We want it. We crave it. We seek justice. But will killing Timothy McVeigh bring back the 168 that died in the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on April 19, 1995? No. They’ll be just as dead as they were yesterday. They’ll be just as dead as Timothy McVeigh will be come 15 hours from now.
My stomach churns at the thought of Man playing God again. McVeigh played God, removing 168 people from this Earth. Why should we judge him? Let us simply say, “He is unfit to be a part of our society,” and then exile him. Since the world today wouldn’t allow us to exile him somewhere else–and this wouldn’t be advantageous, as McVeigh would still likely run amok if he were on the outside–his exile is a prison, where he is effectively removed from society. Yes, society pays a monetary price to do that, but in my view, it’s far, far better to pay that monetary price, which doesn’t matter much in the long run, than it is to pay the social price of killing yet another of God’s creatures.
Much like Pilate, I don’t want Timothy McVeigh’s blood upon my hands. Come tomorrow morning, we will all be just that much more guilty.