Title capital punishment

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Back in the 1970s, a father tortured his small daughter to death. He forced her to walk without stopping, denied her food, and when she asked for water, he gave her hot sauce. She died slowly, agonizingly. The father was given a prison sentence, and if I remember correctly, it wasn’t life in prison.

In a famous case in Indianapolis from the late 1960s, a teenaged girl was left with a neighbor while her parents were away. The neighbor tortured the girl to death, helped by her own children and by children from the neighborhood. This torture continued over a period of weeks until the girl died. The neighbor was given only a few years in prison, and died a natural death after her release.

Such heinous crimes are those in which I think the death penalty would be justified. Those who kill in this most gruesome way most often lack any conscience or even a concept of a conscience. Ted Bundy probably had a moral sense to some degree, for he would not kill any woman he could not dehumanize. But he deserved to die in Florida’s electric chair.

The only proper justification for capital punishment is the ancient notion of desert–not the “desert” a person eats after dinner, but “desert” in the sense of a person getting the justice he deserves. Although the death penalty deters the person executed, it does not tend to deter crime in any other way. When the British had over 200 capital crimes in the eighteenth century, including pickpocketing, crooks would pick the audience members’ pockets at a public hanging of a pickpocket. But an argument from desert is not concerned with utilitarian considerations. Someone who commits murder damages the very fabric of human society so much that such a person deserves to die.

The real problem with the death penalty, from my perspective, is practical–what if someone innocent is executed? That is why I believe that unless a case is as solid as the case against Bundy or the murderers in the two cases mentioned above, life in prison is the preferable option. In addition, since some murderers retain a moral sense and a conscience, it may be best to give those murderers life in prison in case they repent. Just because a person deserves to die does not imply that he must be put to death.  But in the case of sociopathic or psychopathic murderers, and in the case of murders that are particularly heinous (such as the two cases mentioned at the beginning of this post), these individuals should be executed. This argument assumes that the murderers have free will; a delusional paranoid schizophrenic who commits a brutal murder while delusional belongs in a mental hospital.

Many Christians oppose the death penalty even though Jesus told Pilate in the Gospel of John that Pilate had no authority unless God had given it. St. Paul, in Romans 13, states that the governmental authority “bears not the sword in vain,” a clear reference to deadly force. For those Christians who hate St. Paul, I would remind them that St. Paul is in the canon of Scripture–and they are not.

It is sad that the moral fabric of some human beings is so destroyed by their murderous choices that they deserve death. Christians should be, I think, more reluctant than many secular proponents of capital punishment to put it to use. But some people are “desperately wicked,” as my Greek teacher at David Lipscomb College, Dr. Harvey Floyd, used to say, and death is the only proper punishment for them when they commit atrocious murders. It seems to me that those who deny any need for capital punishment are blind to the extent of human evil and cruelty in a fallen world.

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