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Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Death Penalty and Minimum Sentences

Mrs. Pistachio posed a question to me the other night that proved that we don't agree on everything. She asked, "As a Christian the greatest gift is love. We are supposed to love thy neighbor. How is it then, that you support the death penalty?"

"I believe that the punishment should fit the crime," was my rapid response.

"But death? Is it really a human's place to issue death as a punishment? Wouldn't that be in the domain of God?"

"No offense," I said, "but that sounds like a liberal response fueled by their misunderstanding of Christianity."

She said, "I'm a Christian. I understand fine."

This is a hot topic. In my defense, I feel that if a penalty fits the crime (death penalty for serial murderers that are beyond rehabilitation), it will deter others from committing the same crime.

Mrs. Pistachio, armed with her college taught psychology background, believes that everyone is capable of realizing the errors of their ways.

I agree, to a point. With God all things are possible. But I'm not about to give Charles Manson a second chance because he claims to be rehabilitated. There are some people that deserve the death penalty. Manson, Hitler, Stalin, and Saddam Hussein, to name a few.

"So," she says, "what about rape and child molestation?"

I believe in second chances. The people who rape and molest children deserve a second chance after a minimum of 25 years of incarceration. Then, if they do it again, pump them full of a lethal injection.

Mrs. Pistachio did not like that answer. "Rape is not murder. 25 years is too long. The minimum should be 15 years."

I disagree. A life was still ruined. Murder, those of the serial kind, or pre-meditated without emotional duress involved, deserve a minimum of 50 years. Other murder cases would have to be determined on a case by case basis, such as crimes of passion, etc. Rape, minimum of 25. Child molestors, in my book, should be ranked right up there with murderers, but start with 25 years. Second offense? No mercy.

Talking to these severe offenders, and teaching them the errors of their ways, does not cure the animal inside. All the psychology in the world will not soothe the victims, or their families. A life was destroyed, and the price must be paid.

Mrs. Pistachio disagrees.


Wild Phil said...

Hi Doug,

I have to disagree with your wife on this one. She is only taking a part of the Bible into account. It also is stated that in Scripture that death sentence is also just as much a part of God as Love is.

With the Bible clear on our responsibility to live peaceably, it seems that there
would be no reason to ever go to war. However, if one depends on the Bible as a
guidepost for living, it is readily apparent that war is sometimes a necessary
option. In fact, just as there are numerous references to peace in the Bible,
there are frequent references to God-ordained war.

Many present-day pacifists hold Jesus as their example for unvarying peace.
But they ignore the full revelation concerning Jesus pictured in the book of
Revelation 19, where He is depicted bearing a "sharp sword" and smiting nations,
ruling them with "a rod of iron."

Moreover, the Song of Victory in Exodus 15 hails God as a God of
War: "... The Lord is a man of war: the Lord is his name." And, as the verses
that open this column indicate, there is indeed a time for war.

God actually strengthened individuals for war, including Moses, Joshua and many
of the Old Testament judges who demonstrated great faith demonstrated in battle.
And God destroyed many armies challenging the Israelites.
I Chronicles 14:15 describes God striking down the Philistines.

God even gives counsel to be wise in war. Proverbs 20:18: "Every purpose is
established by counsel: and with good advice make war."

Today, America continues to face the horrible realities of our fallen world.
Suicide bombings and terrorist actions are beamed live into our homes daily.
This serves as a constant reminder of the frailty of our flesh.

It is apparent that our God-authored freedoms must be defended.

Throughout the book of Judges, God calls the Israelites to go to war against
the Midianites and Philistines. Why? Because these nations were trying to
conquer Israel, and God's people were called to defend themselves.

President Bush declared war in Iraq to defend innocent people. This is a
worthy pursuit. In fact, Proverbs 21:15 tells us: "It is joy to the just
to do judgment: but destruction shall be to the workers of iniquity."

One of the primary purposes of the church is to stop the spread of evil,
even at the cost of human lives. If we do not stop the spread of evil,
many innocent lives will be lost and the kingdom of God suffers.

Finally, some reading this column will surely ask, "Doesn't the sixth
commandment say, 'Thou shalt not kill?'"

Actually, no; it says: "Thou shalt not commit murder."

There is a difference between killing and murdering. In fact, many times God
commanded capital punishment for those who break the law.

We continue to live in violent times. The Bible tells us war will be a reality
until Christ returns. And when the time is right, Jesus will indeed come again,
ending all wars.

Until that time, however, Christians must live as Galatians 6:2 instructs:
"Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ."

Anonymous said...

Put me down with Mrs. Pistachio!

Anonymous said...

I was raped, btw. That's no secret. At 13 and a virgin.

I think rape should put you away for life without the possibility of parole. But I oppose the death penalty.

The rubber really hit the road for me on this one when my friend and his family were murdered 1/1/06.

My punishment for murderers is worse than the death penalty, without harming a hair.

Anonymous said...

Phil, since I don't believe in the bible as a word of a god, why would that make any difference to me?

Anonymous said...

The reason the death penalty is an issue is because of the nature of our system of prisons. While incarcerated, people get to read, work out, take college classes, do drugs, have sex, get regular meals - hey, I wouldn't want to be there, but I don't make stupid decisions that will put me there.

If prison were truly a punishment - isolation and limited resources - I think more would be against the death penalty. Instead, we let them have the run of these places and let them out on early parole, and when they reoffend, we ponder why it happened.

I believe in good and evil. And, I don't think evil can be counseled. What happened to Mudkitty is unconscionable and that piece of slime who harmed her should never get to breathe free or be counseled.

It is God's job to forgive - not societies. We should worry less about the offenders and give the counseling and compassion to the victims - the one's whose lives have been forever altered.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Flag, for your sympathetic response.

There is good and evil. How can anyone doubt it? It's not something one even needs to believe in. Good and evil can effect your life whether you "believe" in it, or not.

Also - I thought that the job of a Christian is to emulate Christ, so it IS the very ultimate job of a Christian to forgive.

However, it ain't my job, since I'm no longer a Christian. Still, I do practice forgiveness; it's one of the lessons that I took with me when I left Christianity. Just because one is no longer a Christian, doesn't mean that one forgets everything they've ever learned up to that point.

Anonymous said...

Good and evil can effect your life whether you "believe" in it, or not.

Exactly. And, while I sympathize deeply with the suffering of your past, I don't believe that your personal exposure to evil gives you any more insight or moral authority into appropriate justice for same than anyone else.

Justice is not revenge. No matter how much modern society and the MSM portray it as such, justice is not about satisfying the victim's urge for vengeance (or lack thereof). Had you been completely against any prosecution of your attacker, in the case of a criminal violation, it is not up to you; it is up to the Prosecutor in his role as a representative of the US Judicial system (ie Society).

Had you held animosity toward your attacker, very likely, the enactment of proper consequences for his actions would not have satisfied your need for vengeance. Your forgiving spirit is to be commended but is, in fact, a gift to yourself and a tool for your own healing rather than any benevolent offering to your attacker. Forgiving him was probably the healthiest thing you could possibly have done for your own sake, but has absolutely nothing to do with his bearing the consequences of his actions.

Crime and punishment are not matters of forgiveness, they are matters of justice.

In my humble opinion, ANY uninstigated violent crime is a clear demonstration that the perpetrator lacks the capability of functioning in a civilized society. I don't really care whether they are put to death or simply incarcerated for life, but they should be permanently removed from society. Period. It is not a matter of "punishment" it is a matter of justice and of protecting society from those who cannot function within it.

There should be no "second chances" for violent offenders. They have already demonstrated that they cannot be trusted. Can they change? Of course...but the only way to tell is taking them for their word. They have already demonstrated that they are not worthy of trust, therefore, it is not worth risking society to give them the opportunity to demonstrate their changed nature.

Also - I thought that the job of a Christian is to emulate Christ, so it IS the very ultimate job of a Christian to forgive.

Christ's forgiveness from sins did not alleviate the forgiven from the consequences of their actions. Justice is a consequence for actions performed. Suffering those consequences is unrelated to forgiveness.

Besides, personal forgiveness has nothing to do with forgiveness for sins. We can and should emulate Christ...be we are not Him. Christ, as the Son of God, was empowered to forgive sins against God. We are not. We are only empowered to forgive sins against ourselves. Our personal forgiveness has no bearing on the consequences of one's actions.

Personal forgiveness is not a gift given to the forgiven. It is a gift given to ourselves and its reward is to be free from hate, animosity and, in many cases, fear.

Anonymous said...

Christ's forgiveness from sins did not alleviate the forgiven from the consequences of their actions.

To be more theologically correct, I should have said "Christ's forgiveness from sins did not alleviate the forgiven from the earthly consequences of their actions.

God's forgiveness through Jesus Christ DOES alleviate us (however unworthy we may be) from the SPIRITUAL and HEAVENLY consequences of our sins, but not the earthly consequences. Those are appropriately ours to bear.

Anonymous said...

One need not be a Christian to agree with much of what you wrote.

It's the magic, supernatural part, I disagree with.

Anonymous said...

It's the magic, supernatural part, I disagree with.

I could have addressed the points without the "magic, supernatural part" (or, as I would term it the "spiritual part") but those were the terms in which your point were couched:

Also - I thought that the job of a Christian is to emulate Christ, so it IS the very ultimate job of a Christian to forgive.

So, my reply was, of necessity, addressed in those terms.

I tend to keep my religious beliefs out of a discussion unless specifically addressing a point made by another. I don't need to proselytize in order to debate a point...but I'm not shy about talking about it or clarifying if it comes up in conversation...especially when the point brought up is in terms of forwarding or implying something incorrect. I will not hesitate to correct faulty interpretations or assumptions...even if that means delving into the "supernatural" parts of faith.

Tom said...

I wonder why it is that when Christians justify the death penalty, they turn to the Old Testament instead of the Gospel of Jesus? That makes no logical sense, does it? After all, when you quote a religious text (the OT) to justify a punishment, shouldn't you be consistent and execute people who eat shellfish (shrimp) or kids who do not honor their parents? Why is it you get to pick and choose which parts of the Bible are true, and which you'd rather not pay attention to?

Mr. Pistachio frames his support of the DP, at least in part, to it's deterrent effect. What if it was shown that there is no deterrent effect? Would that change your mind?

Interesting essay, which includes an examination of why people kill..

You would have to believe that someone on the verge of committing a homicide (the most vile act a human can do) would stop and consider his possible punishment before murder, the same as someone might when stealing something. While it's impossible to prove either way, common sense tells me that the DP has no deterrent effect. The studies are merely persuasive arguments.

It is clear to me that Mr. Pistachio's concept of the legal system relies heavily on vengeance. I am merely concerned with the crime prevention. The degree to which I have an emotional reaction to a crime has no bearing on what the suitable disposition of the offender should be.

You used Charles Manson as an example. It's a good example in a number of ways. First, Manson was never actually convicted of murdering anymore - but convicted of conspiracy. Does that matter? It's a matter of degree, but we're treading down the path of executing people who have not actually killed (as you advocate for repeat child molesters), and I wonder who draws the line. You?

Certain Islamic nations do things such as cut off the hands of a thief. Is that acceptable to you? If it is unacceptable to you, then you believe that your definition of justice is universal and not merely cultural. You think your personal beliefs should cut across any cultural divides.

The liberal view is that I really don't care what happens to Charles Manson as long as he is not permitted to cause harm to anyone else. It doesn't serve society to kill him any more than it would serve society to begin torturing (as in the cutting off of hands) people convicted of crimes.

Does that sound callous and cold hearted? Do I not feel anything for the victims? Of course I do, but separate the emotion. You can't un-do the crime. As we've seen, there is no, or very little, deterrent effect. All that killing Manson would do is satisfy your own personal sense of justice and desire to see somebody suffer as they have caused others to suffer.

In my view, and as I believe Jesus would view it, that does nothing but demean humanity. What would executing Manson do other than satisfy your (and others) bloodlust? I think, absolutely nothing but justify in circumstances as YOU see it.

Finally, take all the moral arguments out. What if a mistake is made. How many innocent people have been freed by the new-ish science of DNA testing? You cannot dig up a dead man and set him free.

When I've put that argument forward before, the pro-DP people would simply say they only support the DP for people we know for sure did it. But, by who's measure do we know for sure? Do we take somebody's word for it, and maybe not another’s? Do we have to have a video? Does a confession count?

In the myriad of ways that human beings can fail, it is not acceptable to risk executing innocent human beings. That is no better than murder through incompetence.

So, in the end.. the religious argument fails (it's all OT stuff). The deterrent argument fails. The "protect society" argument fails (Manson will never see the light of day again). The only argument left is this human emotion called "vengeance".

In the end, everyone's viewpoint on criminal justice is morally relativistic. It's changed throughout humanity for eons. It's culturally specific. For example, in Iran, they execute teenagers for being gay. Most westerners would find that abhorrent, regardless our views on sexual orientation, but can we criticize any human rights abuses when we kill people for what our culture says is a legitimate reason?

Heck, what would the "ancient" greeks think of us? For eons there was no "age of consent". Girls married at astonishingly young ages. The whole concept of mentoring was fixated around "under age" sexuality.

Yet - here we are talking about executing people for what the Greek culture saw as acceptable and commonplace.

Standards change, right? So do our standards of what we consider a human being to be, regardless of what they've done, and value we place on human life.

Anonymous said...

DISCLAIMER: I would not presume to speak for Mr. or Mrs. Pistachio. I only speak for myself.

Tom obviously is not a scholor of the Bible. The punishment of death in the Old Testament was reserved pretty exlusively for murder, negligently causing someone's death, and sexual perversions such as incest, bestiality, etc.

Cursing one's mother and father called for death but one must realize that cursing back then was considered much more egregious than the term is commonly understood today and rises way beyond the level of "dishonoring".

With that said, Jesus' ministry (he didn't write a gospel; the "Gospels" are Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and were written several years after Jesus' ministry) clarified that some of the more "legalistic" Old Testament laws and harsh punishments for some of the more "moralistic" crimes were not in keeping with God's will.

Basically, Jesus never spoke to the common practice of executing murderers and other criminals, only the religious practice of executions, stonings, etc of strictly "sinful" crimes such as prostitution, adultery etc which were not treated as crimes by the Roman civil authority.

He also repeatedly entreated His followers to respect and submit to civil authority...which is the basis for the death penalty in today's American Society.

Tom does make a pretty good case about Capital Punishment not really being a deterrent...but that data is incomplete. Statistics are basically inconclusive and there is no way to know how many criminals may have murdered someone but were deterred by the possibility of the death sentence.

Negatively impacting the deterrent effect of the death sentence as practiced today are:

a) The lack of consistency in applying it. Criminals simply don't believe that they are going to receive such a sentence at the time they commit their crimes (IF they are even caught and IF they don't get pled down to a lesser charge)

b) The relative comfort in which they live while awaiting their sentence to be carried out, and the amount of time they will be living in that manner. Death Row inmates are the "Rock Stars" of the prison population and are treated as such for as long as 20 years before their sentences are carried out.

c) The lack of fear of the death penalty as applied today. For someone who prides him/herself on not fearing death, and risk life and limb as a matter of course, the thought of simply "going to sleep" and never waking up does not exactly strike fear into their hearts.

Basically, I would submit that the lack of deterrent effect may have more to do with the inconsistencies of its application in this country than anything else.

In any case, I am not neccessarily a vocal supporter of the death penalty. I'm more like Tom in that I'm more concerned about violent offenders being permanently removed from society, by whatever means is most effective. While that is true, there is nothing in the basic tenets of Christianity as I understand it that would preclude such sentencing when appropriate.

Tom busily implies that followers of Christianity today are hypocritical and unfaithful to the Bible's teachings. Upon further review, however, his very arguments demonstrate his lack of knowledge about the subject matter which nullifies his own point.

Before disparaging someone's beliefs in such personal terms, perhaps he should learn a bit more about it?

Tom said...

I find that whole comment morally repugnant.

I have no interest in "learning" anything about the new or old testaments.. I'm not a Christian, and I view the texts as merely historical narratives written by the men of the time. Interesting in the respect of culture and history, but that's the extent of it. If other's take a different view, that's great, but making an argument is clearly not "disparaging someone's beliefs". It's called having an argument.

But allow me to sum up your post;

There is a whole laundry list of punishments in the OT that the authors of the NT decided were "not in keeping with God's will" so no longer applied. Apparently the authors called forth a burning bush and double checked with God. In any case, they took it upon themselves to re-write religious text. Interesting.. I thought it was the "infallible word of God", but okay. They picked and chose those things which applied to them and their culture at the time. Interesting we can't do that today.

Jesus asked his followers to submit to local authority. I take it that is the "render unto Caesar" part. I wonder if Jesus would have had Germans in 1940 submit?

Jesus would personally execute a murderer. A Christian who supports the DP would undeniably have to agree with that, as desiring such a thing as capital punishment is exactly the same as pulling the lever oneself.

We've also learned that the DP may not have a deterring effect because we coddle prisoners - as opposed to what? Torturing them? Indeed someone contemplating murder thinks it'll be just a long vacation if they get caught, so why not kill another human being?

Or - they saw how O.J. got away with it and figure they might as well.

Or - they figure that because we don't execute all murderers, they may not get the DP.

Or - they really don't care if they are sentenced to death and are executed.

You did not bother to address my point that you can't dig up an innocent man and apologize.

This really isn't a religious issue in any case. It doesn't matter whether I think Jesus (the one described in the literature) was a flaming liberal who was far more interested in things like the beatitudes than in executing prisoners. But you certainly can't analyze the bible as if it is some sort of legal document that you use to justify criminal justice.

Surely, the idea that we treat prisoners with humanity and respect, letting the most heinous live out their lives free of mistreatment is what a civil society does. That is, unless, as I said before, you are motivated by emotions to seek retribution - which is not a very moral thing to do.

Winston Churchill said that the manner in which a society treats criminals "is one of the most unfailing tests of the civilization of any country." The United States aligns more with countries like Saudi Arabia and China then it does with countries of enlightened western thought. Countries, I might add, which are far less violent then we are. I truly believe that the more "religious" a nation is, the more violent they are, and the studies bear that out. I highly encourage you to read the following with an open mind.


And finally, I truly do hope that you, or Mr. Pistachio, are not falsely accused of a crime and executed for it. It would be ironic, but tragic none the less.

Anonymous said...

test...eh tu?

Anonymous said...

I have no interest in "learning" anything about the new or old testaments.. I'm not a Christian, and I view the texts as merely historical narratives written by the men of the time

That is all well and good. I would never deign to insist someone adhere to my religious beliefs or read the religious texts. However, I would expect someone who knows so little about them to refrain from pretending that he has some knowledge of their content or meaning.

But allow me to sum up your post;

You can summarize all you want but your summation is irrelevant because you are unqualified for the task.

I love your leaps of logic. Because I don't support coddling prisoners, I must obviously support torturing them. Somehow I believe that if you really stretch your imagination you can probably come up with many levels of treatment between "coddling" and "torture".

I didn't address your point about not being able to "dig up an innocent man and apologize" because I'm not an ardent death penalty supporter and that is exactly why. My only argument was that Christianity does not preclude support for the death penalty.

I would submit, however, that we shouldn't be punishing innocents by any means. Perhaps, versus investing our energy in preventing sentences from being carried out, our efforts should be directed more toward ensuring that prosecutors and district attorneys concentrate on achieving justice rather than on getting their conviction counts up.

The United States aligns more with countries like Saudi Arabia and China then it does with countries of enlightened western thought.

Pure sophistry. That is the dishonest charge of a zealot, not a reasoned argument. The next time a homosexual is stoned to death, a thief has their hands cut off, or a political dissident is tortured and then summarily executed without a trial in the US, you might actually have a case. Until then, you only demonstrate your lack of intellectual integrity.