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December 09, 2005

Comments

stanton

I do not disagree with your reasoning on the death penalty, but I have to wonder how you reconcile this with the Mosaic law and its capital punishment for so many different offenses. Even though Christians often claim to be free of Mosaic law, it was still directly from God to the Jews of the day. Did God subject His people to the debasement that you describe, or was that different? If so, then how was it different?

Hugo

Many folks have given longer answers than I can right now, stanton, but if there's one thing that Jesus does over and over again, it is begin phrases with "You have heard..." (referring to Mosaic law) and then continuing "but I say..."

God and His people are in an ongoing relationship, and like all relationships, we are subject to growth and surprise, particularly when that growth is in the direction of more Christ-like compassion, humility,and gentleness.

stanton

Well, I think Jesus did that only in the Sermon on the Mount, where most of his admonitions were strengthening the Mosaic law, rather than softening or dismissing it (Ex: Mosaic law condemns adultery, Jesus condemns the lustful thought with or without the action). At least one of those expressions ("You have heard it said 'love your neighbor and hate your enemies'") wasn't in the law at all. But in any event, Jesus made NO statement about capital punishment (in Matthew 5/6 or anywhere ealse), and it is an astonishing stretch to claim that Jesus' explication here gives everyone else the authority to reinterpret scripture with their own personal list of "but I say" preferences. You say there are some longer (and more convoluted?) justifications out there. I would be interested in seeing some. Links?

stanton

To your second point: Yes, relationships change, and the Biblical relationship between God and man, as understood by Christians, has changed. Are you saying that the nature of taking human life is different now as well? That it wasn't brutalizing to the Israelites when they stoned a boy for defying his mother, as it now is to Americans when they execute a vicious murderer? (I ask as man who is fundamentally against the taking of human life, as you are.)

Nat Lanza

I definitely agree about the redemption stories -- it's the flip side of "well, forget the crime he's accused of, he's a terrible person who would kill again". If it's not okay to argue that some people should be executed for reasons other than the actual crime they were convicted of, it shouldn't be any more okay to argue that they should live for reasons other than the actual crime they were convicted of.

Scarbo

I agree with you, Hugo, 100%.

Ontario Emperor

Several comments:

1. One can look at the incident in the book of Acts in which the husband and wife dropped dead after cheating the believers out of some money, and the later incident in the book of Acts where one of the Herods was praised as a god and immediately struck down. While one can argue that God struck these three down, the believers were certainly in agreement with the punishment (especially with the wife, since the believers predicted her death before it happened).

2. Redemption in this case is interesting, since Williams does not claim to be redeemed for the crimes that landed him on Death Row, instead claiming redemption from his general gang and drug life. However, in everything I've read there seems to be a lack of specifics as to the "god" that redeemed Tookie. Is he now a Christian, a Muslim, a New Ager, or what? I realize that we can't read someone's heart (and I don't necessarily agree with John and Ken who are certain that Tookie is going to "a bad place" - again, we just don't know), but his testimony of redemption is somewhat lacking.

3. I need to explore your blog and figure out what an Anabaptist/Episcopalian is - the terms sound mutually exclusive. However, I have to state that this is my favorite Anabaptist/Episcopalian blog that I have ever read.

Hugo

Let me commend to everyone this terrific anti-death penalty piece from First Things (a surprising source indeed!):

http://www.firstthings.com/ftissues/ft0508/articles/bottum.html

K. Grant

Although I believe that Tookie should be executed not only for the murders but because he "co-founded" the Cryps street gang in LA County, I find your take on life in prison interesting. Your position, and those similar, is really the only defensible take on the case. More specifically, your arguement against the death penalty is not angled to save scum like Tookie, but instead to prevent state-sanctioned executions, as state-sanctioned executions are murder, to you and those likeminded.

This is a position I disagree with, however, I respect your opinion because it is cogent and consistent with your value system. Good luck on your end of the debate. If you did believe in state-sanctioned execution, I think you would be in favor of executing Tookie.

Xrlq
Obviously, I'm glad [Williams]'s done the work he has.

Which work are you talking about? The part about founding the Crips and murdering four innocent people? Or maybe you're talking about what he did after in prison, such as planning a prison break which, had it been carried out as planned, would have involved several more murders, as well? Or perhaps you're more impressed by his refusal to admit to the murders he's supposedly "redeemed" himself of, or to help prevent future ones by telling the authorities what he knows about the gang he claims to have renounced?

If there is such thing as a vicious, irredeemable killer, the Tookie Monster is it.

Caitriona

But in any event, Jesus made NO statement about capital punishment

Stanton, what of the woman taken in adultery? "Let he who has no sin cast the first stone."

mythago

but I have to wonder how you reconcile this with the Mosaic law and its capital punishment for so many different offenses

The Mosaic law is not just what's written in the Torah. The Oral Law makes it clear that we aren't fundamentalists. Like most of their Mesopotamian neighbors, the Jews treated capital punishment as an extreme upper end--most crimes really ended up with lesser punishments (like fines).

noelvictoria

HUGO . I love your consistent life ethic stance. Your comment "the guards, the wardens, the witnesses, and the citizens of the state in whose name the execution is carried out are all a bit darker, a bit less human, as a result" summoned up the horror of the death penalty perfectly. Your comment "it makes not an iota of difference whether he has redeemed himself or not" caught me off guard. I realize you where trying to make a point about what opposition to the death penalty should and should not be based on. However I believe themes of redemption fit rightfully into the opposition of the death penalty. When we take others life's and judgements into our own hands we do a great misjustice to the work of God and his plan of redeption for each of us. Christ's death has just as much significance in Tookie's life as it does for each of us sinners.

Hugo

Noelvictoria, you're right, I think, in suggesting that one reason for opposing the death penalty is that we must always be open to the possibility of future redemption. What I am wary of, and what I was referring to, was using Tookie's personal story to suggest that he is especially worthy of being apared. When I said I don't care "an iota", I meant his personal circumstances are irrelevant to my categorical opposition to the death penalty. In this, I am oddly similar to some of those who are most eager to see him executed.

Breadfish

'But this is terrible!' cried Frodo. 'Far worse than the worst that I imagined from your hints and warnings. O Gandalf, best of friends, what am I to do? For now I am really afraid. What am I to do? What a pity that Bilbo did not stab that vile creature, when he had a chance!'

'Pity? It was Pity that stayed his hand. Pity, and Mercy: not to strike without need. And he has been well rewarded, Frodo. Be sure that he took so little hurt from the evil, and escaped in the end, because he began his ownership of the Ring so. With Pity.'

I am sorry,' said Frodo. 'But I am frightened; and I do not feel any pity for Gollum.'

'You have not seen him,' Gandalf broke in.

'No, and I don't want to,' said Frodo. 'I can't understand you. Do you mean to say that you, and the Elves, have let him live on after all those horrible deeds? Now at any rate he is as bad as an Orc, and just an enemy. He deserves death.'

'Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends. I have not much hope that Gollum can be cured before he dies, but there is a chance of it. And he is bound up with the fate of the Ring. My heart tells me that he has some part to play yet, for good or ill, before the end; and when that comes, the pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many - yours not least. In any case we did not kill him: he is very old and very wretched. The Wood-elves have him in prison, but they treat him with such kindness as they can find in their wise hearts.'

Ilkka Kokkarinen

That doesn't mean I'm not praying for clemency, and I've already contacted Gov. Schwarzenegger by e-mail and phone to express that to him.

The obvious question: Do you tend to do that regularly for every death row inmate who is about to be executed in California, or just this time for Tookie?

I am asking this because very few death row inmates get large public support from progressives and celebrities, and it is hard not to notice certain things such inmates have in common. The anti-DP movement would be a lot more credible in their "killing murderers is always wrong" and "he has been a really nice guy since he was locked in his cell" arguments if, say, some white rapist-murderer ever received similar mass movement behind them.

In fact, even the majority of political progressives support death penalty. To see this, simply ask some of them what they would consider to be an appropriate punishment for rapists, or those who commit hate crimes against gays or blacks. Some form of torture leading to death seems to be a typical answer, in my experience.

Xrlq

Stanton:

But in any event, Jesus made NO statement about capital punishment...

Caitriona:

Stanton, what of the woman taken in adultery? "Let he who has no sin cast the first stone."

Oh, please. It's one thing to halt an execution of an adultress - a penalty nearly all modern supporters of capital punishment would concede was grossly excessive - and quite another to extrapolate from that a general opposition to capital punishment. If you are going to read it that way, you might as well go whole hog and conclude, as Jesus did with the adultress in that instance, that murderers shouldn't be punished at all, just sternly told to "go and sin no more."

AFAIK, the only time Jesus was in a position to comment on the morality of the death penalty generally was on the cross, Luke 23:39-43, when one of the other two guys crucified said "We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve." Jesus didn't chime in with "Damned straight, you are!" but he didn't exactly argue the point, either.

noelvictoria

ahh. I see what you were saying. good thoughts. thanks Hugo

mythago

It's pretty silly to claim that Jesus specifically said something about capital punishment either way. He had a lot to say about forgiveness and hypocrisy, mind.

Hugo

Ilkka, I have never met a serious progressive who seriously advocated for the death penalty for racists or homophobes. Most I know were tremendously relieved when the murderers of Matt Shepard got life and not the death chamber.

For all dozen or so executions in California since 1992 (when they resumed with Robert Alton Harris), I have contacted the governor's office. I have also contacted the governor's office before executions that ended up being delayed or not taking place at all.

Tony Vila

The redemption story is important in terms of showing how these are actual people we are killing, lost souls and sinners who still have humanity. It's all too easy for America to perceive them as monsters to be disposed of, and we need concrete reminders that this act is "killing a human being".

Scarbo

Why did Jesus need to say anything about capital punishment, when we've already got a Commandment from God saying "Thou Shalt Not Kill/Murder"?

stanton

Scarbo: Why did Jesus need to say anything about capital punishment, when we've already got a Commandment from God saying "Thou Shalt Not Kill/Murder"?

And we have earlier words directly from God Himself to Noah, after the flood, saying "Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed." Given this, was he ordering His people to be killers/murderers when he told them to carry out stonings of violators of the law? Or is the God-commanded execution of a miscreant possibly not regarded by God as murder?

Caitrona: Stanton, what of the woman taken in adultery? "Let he who has no sin cast the first stone."

I know that this passage has been used to argue that Jesus opposed capital punishment, but that is obviously an extrapolation at best. This was an attempt to put Jesus in a position where any answer he gave would discredit him. If he said she should be stoned, the Romans would take him away. If he said she should not be stoned, many of the Jews would reject him. It was an amazing answer he gave, defusing the situation and giving his enemies no grounds for condemning him.

But even if this is considered to be a rejection of capital punishment, my question for Christians (and Jews as well) is regarding the arguments often used against the practice. In this case, Hugo argues that it is a brutalizing influence on those who are involved, both individually and socially. I happen to agree with this. But I don't see how a Christian or Jew can think such a thing, when God Himself ordered His people to carry out executions.

Xrlq
Why did Jesus need to say anything about capital punishment, when we've already got a Commandment from God saying "Thou Shalt Not Kill/Murder"?

Because a violation of that commandment is punishable by death.

Xrlq
This was an attempt to put Jesus in a position where any answer he gave would discredit him. If he said she should be stoned, the Romans would take him away.

That's one possible explanation. Another is that they put her up to it themselves, which would explain why they claimed to have caught "her" rather than "them" in the act. Under that reading, "let him who is without sin..." could be interpreted more narrowly to mean "let him who is blameless in this instance..."

By that logic, let him who has never murdered four innocent people cast the first proverbial stone toward Mr. Williams.

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