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April 29, 2017

"Is the death penalty un-Christian?"

The question in the title of this post is the headline of this recent commentary authored by Mathew Schmalz, ans Associate Professor of Religion at the College of the Holy Cross and published in The Conversation. Here are excerpts:

As a Catholic scholar who writes about religion, politics and policy, I understand how Christians struggle with the death penalty -- there are those who cannot endure the idea and there are others who support its use.  Some Christian theologians have also observed that capital punishment could lead to the conversion of criminals who might repent of their crimes when faced with the finality of death.

Is the death penalty anti-Christian?

In its early centuries, Christianity was seen with suspicion by authorities.  Writing in defense of Christians who were unfairly charged with crimes in second-century Rome, philosopher Anthenagoras of Athens condemned the death penalty when he wrote that Christians “cannot endure even to see a man put to death, though justly.”  But as Christianity became more connected with state power, European Christian monarchs and governments regularly carried out the death penalty until its abolition in the 1950s through the European Convention on Human Rights....

In the Hebrew Bible, Exodus 21:12 states that “whoever strikes a man so that he dies shall be put to death.” In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus, however, rejects the notion of retribution when he says “if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”  While it is true that the Hebrew Bible prescribes capital punishment for a variety of offenses, it is also true that later Jewish jurists set out rigorous standards for the death penalty so that it could be used only in rare circumstances.

At issue in Christian considerations of the death penalty is whether the government or the state has the obligation to punish criminals and defend its citizens.  Saint Paul, an early Christian evangelist, wrote in his letter to the Romans that a ruler acts as “an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.”  The Middle Ages in Europe saw thousands of murderers, witches and heretics put to death.  While church courts of this period generally did not apply capital punishment, the church did turn criminals over to secular authorities for execution.

Thirteenth-century Catholic philosopher Thomas Aquinas argued that the death penalty could be justified for the greater welfare of society.  Later Protestant reformers also supported the right of the state to impose capital punishment.  John Calvin, a Protestant theologian and reformer, for example, argued that Christian forgiveness did not mean overturning established laws....

Among Christian leaders, Pope Francis has been at the forefront of arguing against the death penalty. Saint John Paul II also maintained that capital punishment should be reserved only for “absolute necessity.”  Pope Francis observes that the death penalty is no longer relevant because modern prisons prevent criminals from doing further harm. Pope Francis speaks of a larger ethic of forgiveness.  He emphasizes social justice for all citizens as well as the opportunity for those who harm society to make amends through acts that affirm life, not death.

For many, the debate is about the relationship between Christ’s call for forgiveness and the legitimate powers of the state.  Those Christians who support capital punishment argue that Jesus was talking about heavenly realities, not the earthly matters that governments have to deal with.  Christians who oppose the death penalty say that being Christian means bringing heavenly realities to the here and now.  This debate is not just about capital punishment, but about what it means to be a Christian.

April 29, 2017 at 11:48 PM | Permalink



pretty amazing---thoughts Doug?

Posted by: federalist | Apr 30, 2017 8:21:15 AM

There is no real argument as to whether Christianity allows for capital punishment (it does). The argument is between actual Christians who add their own beliefs into the equation. There is not a single line of scripture that condemns the practice and many that support it. Jesus's teachings were for individuals, not government. When Jesus speaks against retribution, he is speaking to me the individual, not government, which is tasked with providing an emotionless judgment of justice, not revenge. Neither the judge, juries, lawyers, nor prosecutors were personally harmed by the defendant.

In other words, those quoting scripture in support of abolition are twisting it to fit their beliefs instead of changing their beliefs to fit scripture.

This is strongly supported by the fact that the only Church which has been there since Pentecost (the RCC) has never condemned the practice. Although the most recent two popes have a personal animus to the DP, they have never infallibly condemned it to their flock "ex cathedra" (nor could they). As a Catholic, I am free to agree or disagree with their opinions on this matter, just as I am free to disagree with Pope Francis if he gives me a stock tip.

As a Catholic, the reason I choose to disagree with the current Pope is because he is absolutely clueless as to what happens in a prison. It does not "prevent criminals from doing further harm" as he claims. This is clearly demonstrated by Craig Wissink, who last week bashed and killed a female corrections sergeant with the fire extinguisher she was using to put out a fire he likely started. He was obviously able to do "further harm" after his 2004 first degree murder prosecution for shooting a man in the chest with a shotgun while committing a home invasion robbery.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Apr 30, 2017 9:59:02 AM

"Jesus's teachings were for individuals, not government."

Show me a government absent its individuals and I'll show you an illusion.

Posted by: Daniel | Apr 30, 2017 11:21:31 AM

"There is no real argument as to whether Christianity allows for capital punishment (it does)."

Yes, all those Christians who argue it don't have "real" arguments.

See also, abortion, gay rights, the trinity etc.

Posted by: Joe | Apr 30, 2017 11:31:30 AM

Mark Osler's (former federal prosecutor*) book "Jesus on Death Row: The Trial of Jesus and American Capital Punishment" was pretty good. I have not read his "Prosecuting Jesus." Books with different perspectives surely can be cited.


* And, guest blogged: "Guest posting from Prof Mark Osler with advice to US Sentencing Commission on revising drug sentencing guidelines."

Posted by: Joe | Apr 30, 2017 11:43:28 AM

I am not criticizing the author, an expert in religious studies. I just remind him that this is a secular nation. The views of any religion are illegal if they enter into sentencing law and policy.

He also forgets a few things.

1) Death by incineration by government was used by the Inquisition, the Dominican Order of the Catholic Church, to enforce their nutty orthodoxy. For example, they put people on trial for claiming the earth was round, even though that fact was self evident to anyone with eyes. Never mind, if one believed the earth revolved around the sun, rather than the opposite. Beyond that enforcement method, they used death penalty in plea bargains, and seized the assets of middle class merchants to finance the heavenly palaces of the Vatican. So shut the fuck up about any Pope, until they move out of those palaces funded by plea deals to avoid the stake.

2) As to the lawyers. Religion is a far more effective tool to help people comply with the rule of law. It explains to people with average intelligence or below, why they should be nice, caring, and productive. It explains why they should not live the Roman Orgy lifestyle everyday, and take a shortcut to feeling good by drugs and alcohol. It works. The law profession does not work.

3) As an effective competitor to the incompetent lawyer profession, the lawyer is coming after religion, hammer and tong. The lawyer is on a crusade, on a jihad against religion. It is attacking from all sides. It is defunding it by its litigation for child abuse. The number of pedophiles is the same as in the general population, and it was not part of pastoral duty to abuse children. There is no duty to report crime, as the lawyer claims. If a football team wants a minute of silence, it is beset by ruinous litigation, and dirty, filthy, low life reptile appellate judges (these are the lowest human beings in our lawyer besieged country, lower than traitors and serial rapists and killers of children), these subhumans will uphold the claims. The lawyer siege against religion can only be stopped by violence. Violence is supported by an absolute principal of formal logic.

4) Religious societies are rich societies because they are more ordered. So the attack on religion by the lawyer represents a hit to the economy of $trillion, at least. Compare the economic performance of our blacks, versus the economic performance of intact family, religious immigrants with pitch black skins. Their skin color and performance superior to that of whites completely rebuts the racism claims of lawyer race whores, and validates the effect of religion, and of traditional family values. Not only are they performing better, but they are supporting big fractions of villages back home. All the ones I have known, outside of doctors and scientists, have been very religious.

Posted by: David Behar | Apr 30, 2017 12:10:10 PM

All pro-criminal weasels must publish their home addresses. We want to move dozens of released criminals into the neighboring homes, rather than into poor neighborhoods.

Posted by: David Behar | Apr 30, 2017 12:25:49 PM


Posted by: federalist | Apr 30, 2017 1:22:25 PM

federalist, I just got up a new post on the topic you flagged in your first comment. The second comment, which seems to be about the word choice in a New York Times article, strikes me as perhaps more fitting on David's blog than this one.

Posted by: Doug B | Apr 30, 2017 1:35:17 PM

Doug. I like Fed's link. It is religiously relevant. I know of no benefit to the girl of such a procedure. So it is a religiously based form of child abuse. Why does the lawyer allow such a practice, and destroys a company allowing the use of the non-preferred but real pronoun of a transgender person? Money and hatred of our way of life. All PC is case, you will find after a brief search.

Fed is the only licensed lawyer speaking for substantive right of victims to not be victimized, here. He is a rare and precious commodity. Be nice.

I object to your use of the word "professor," in "Robert J. Watkins/Procter & Gamble Professor of Law." That word implies an educational intent, rather than an advocacy intent. In education, the duty is to inform users of the service of all sides of a subject. I support your freedom to express your preferred side, but only after being complete in your educational duty. This blog has a 1000 posts advocating going easy on the lawyer client, the criminal, to each one of the posts advocating going easy on crime victims. The latter generate no lawyer income.

Posted by: David Behar | Apr 30, 2017 2:10:29 PM

"So it is a religiously based form of child abuse."

This comment would have far more persuasive value if weren't uttered by someone who regularly engages in secular-based sanity abuse in his commentary on this blog.

Posted by: Daniel | Apr 30, 2017 3:40:37 PM

Doug, re: NYTimes and FGM, there is a sentencing issue . . . . ..

and if major papers are euphemizing the facts, then that impacts sentencing

wonder what Joe thinks of "cutting" vs. FGM

Posted by: federalist | Apr 30, 2017 4:44:58 PM

"...secular-based sanity abuse in his commentary on this blog."

English translation, please. By the way, Daniel, did I tell you that I like you?

Posted by: David Behar | Apr 30, 2017 6:31:33 PM

federalist, I am not aware of any cases in which the word "cutting" was used instead of
"mutilation" and that nomenclature impacted the sentencing of an offender. Are you aware of any such cases? Moreover, what does this semantic issue have to do with the substance of this post on Christianity and the death penalty?

Posted by: Doug B. | Apr 30, 2017 9:51:41 PM

Doug. Mutilation is a religiously based practice, and immunized in the countries where practiced. How is sicko Christian doctrine in any way any more acceptable. You believe in mind reading, in future forecasting, and that standards of care should be based on a fictitious character. Why fictitious? So the standards may be objective, of course. You did not even know the real name of this fictitious character. You did not even know the technical meaning of "reason" in Scholasticism, a Catholic Church based philosophical methodology. It has totally infected the mentality of your profession.

You have to explain why those sicko, wacked out, delusional Catholic doctrines are any more acceptable than the Sharia.

I have read the Sharia. I liked 90% of it, except for some barbaric customs, such as the genital mutilation of little girls. It addresses legal subject from admiralty to war crimes. Did you know that it contained most Geneva conventions a 1000 years ahead of the West. It is a far less procedural and effective basis of a legal system than the utter failure of your legal system, based on the Catechism, some parts being word for word.

You learned all this college, but it was brainwashed out in your Harvard Law indoctrination. What I cannot understand is how all Jewish and Protestant law students do not rise up and kick the asses of the professors forcing this Catholic shit down their throats.

Reason is the ability to perceive God, and the most reliable path to making moral decisions. Intellect is subject to the sinfulness inherent in all of us after the fall from Eden. And the best guide to reason is the New Testament. That is a book about one man, Jesus the Christ. That is why the reasonable person must remain unnamed. I learned this from the tightest and best written IRAC in history by St. Thomas Aquinas.

We are a secular nation. You knew this after Western Civ I freshman year of college. You did not know that after 1L of your Harvard indoctrination into the criminal cult enterprise that is your profession.

You need to start to disclose those facts to your criminal law students or else you will be just like Eugene Volokh and that other asshole, the prof that was murdered in Florida. And for your asshole readers who accused me of doing that, I wanted to debate him, not to murder him. I thought he was cute with his pompous but totally idiotic Harvard Law gibberish.

Posted by: David Behar | Apr 30, 2017 11:04:36 PM

Joe stated: "Yes, all those Christians who argue it don't have "real" arguments."

I note that you provided no quotes from scripture outlining arguments for abolitionism. That's fine, though. Neither do those making the argument. The closest I ever see is "Thou shalt not kill" which is actually a poor translation. We do not have a word matching its exact meaning, but the verb is actually closer to "shalt not murder/manslaughter."

Posted by: TarlsQtr | May 1, 2017 8:25:02 AM

Daniel stated: "Show me a government absent its individuals and I'll show you an illusion."

Tell that to Jesus. He was very clear about what is to be "rendered unto Caesar" and what is not.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | May 1, 2017 8:26:33 AM

TarlsQtr, my intent was not to try to find "the" answer on such questions, but if you wish, you can very well find people who cite scripture as part of their arguments against the death penalty. Not that a literal belief in an infallible scripture is the only way to be a "Christian."

But, if you wish, here is a brief look at the other question:

Mark 12:17 says "Then Jesus said to them, "Give back to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's." And they were amazed at him."

But, how does this erase that the government is made up of individuals?

The account has someone trying to trick Jesus with this question:

"They came to him and said, "Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity. You aren't swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?"

Thus, the overall principle that there are separate spheres. But, as some remind, there cannot really be a total separation. Individual believers are members of the government. One can treat taxpayers fairly.

Furthermore, Jesus' lessons need not simply be ignored once one is part of the government. There is overlap. Thus, religious leaders use Christian rhetoric to advise the appropriate governmental policy. Be it Martin Luther King Jr. or the current pope. Sometimes, the state does un-Christian things. Religious groups can challenge them. But, it's far from clear to me the death penalty is one of things the state has to do.

I'm not so sure finally the pope is unaware that people harm others in prison, where btw he has gone more than once, taking Jesus' words to heart. I find latching on to a single line or something and then using terms like "absolutely clueless" dubious.

The citation of people who kill in prison is noted. Of course, we don't actually limit executions to that narrow number of people. Perhaps, he is somewhat unclear about the conditions in our own prisons, being so much worse than those he might be more familiar with though. The death penalty as a whole doesn't seem to make us safer though. Compared to countries without one, our prisons also seem somewhat lacking.

Posted by: Joe | May 1, 2017 11:56:18 AM

Clearly the commandment in question amounts to "thou shall not murder" ... there are a list of capital crimes cited in the same book that cites that provision.

But, what "lawful homicide" might be in this day and age is unclear. Jesus, e.g., spoke of lust in one's heart as a form of adultery. There was a liberal test there at times.

An absolute safety test, as compared to a legal retribution rule, would make quite a few executions dubious. Applying the death penalty for the rest is complicated, various difficulties in application. Perhaps, this is why so many states and nations -- including those where people kill in prison -- decide not to have it.

I'll leave it to others to determine if this is also "Christian."

Posted by: Joe | May 1, 2017 12:02:45 PM

Joe. The question of the Sixth Commandment has been settled on this blog. One commentator stated, all supporters are going to hell because of that mortal sin.

However, the original Hebrew says otherwise. It prohibits murder, not killing.

Brief review.


Posted by: David Behar | May 1, 2017 6:43:36 PM

Whatever the rules in the centuries before the common era among a tribal people, the application of the commandments in today world, the "meaning" of them, is something of a different question now as compared to then. There is also the repeated point that as applied, Jewish law as applied to capital punishment provides enough rules that there was a ready method open to leave it technically in place, but nearly never applied.

Sounds a bit familiar.

Posted by: Joe | May 2, 2017 10:26:21 AM

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