The debate about capital punishment continues. James Garry wrote an article in support of the death penalty, while A.P. Schrader issued a rebuttal claiming that capital punishment cannot be justified, especially on Christian grounds. In this piece, Garry replies to Schrader that the scriptures do allow capital punishment.
My debate with Mr Schrader took an interesting Biblical turn, which I want to make the main thrust of this argument. A few things beforehand:
Mr Schrader suggests that capital punishment supporters carry a card declaring their support for the death penalty and, if ever found guilty of murder, hang them by their pretty white necks. I would agree to carry such a card. The law should apply equally to all murderers and, in spite of my attempts to justify my crime and avert my fate, as is only natural, I should be executed for an act of murder.
As for the blogger Guido Fawkes’/Paul Staines’ e-petition: Even though I have signed his e-petition (a futile gesture, I know) I do disagree with the particulars of the petition, of which Mr Schrader has exposed its illogicality. Namely, state execution should apply when the murder involves: “the murder of children and police officers when killed in the line of duty.”
Murder is most foul no matter to whom it is done. I do not understand why a distinction should be made between on-duty officers and off-duty officers. Or even between police and public. At the heart of this illogicality is a fundamental misunderstanding of what the police are: They are citizens. They are citizens in uniforms. Peel established the police force to be exactly that. They are not distinct from other citizens; they are not more valuable than other citizens; their murders are no more horrific or punishable than murders of other citizens.
All murder should be treated the same. All murder should be punished as such.
Mr Schrader also excites our distaste for capital punishment by reminding us that some of the worst regimes on the planet operate the death penalty: North Korea, The Yemen, Somalia to name but a few. Their lack of democracy and their operation of the death penalty cannot be viewed independently, according to Mr Schrader.
I disagree. Britain, at the height of its civilization, operated the death penalty. I would suggest that Britain in the first part of the 20th Century was far more civilised than it is today (look at the London/Birmingham/Manchester/Bristol riots). Britain’s use of the death penalty did not make it any less civilised or any more barbaric.
The reason why there is not a surfeit of examples of countries that use capital punishment in the civilised, democratic Western world is probably because the majority of the civilised, democratic “Western” world countries are found in Europe. Most governments in Europe are in the European Union or want to be a part of it. Union comes at the price of abolishing capital punishment. Outside of Europe, the civilised “West” includes America and Canada (and with a stroke of geographical ingenuity also Australia and New Zealand). So, outside of Europe, where civilised democracies can freely employ the death penalty, one out of two do. Or one out of four, whichever way you want to look at it.
On the subject of democracy and the death penalty, we should also remember that the Worlds Biggest Democracy, India, has a death penalty.
On to Biblical exegesis: Mr Schrader, as a Christian, considers that all human life is sacred, hence his opposition to euthanasia, abortion and capital punishment. I, however, am vehemently opposed to abortion and euthanasia but in favour of capital punishment. I am accused of hypocrisy. The injunction “Thou shalt not kill” is invoked to underline the wrongness of all murder, including capital murder.
I disagree that my reasoning is false or hypocritical or that my desire for capital punishment violates God’s greatest injunction. On the contrary, my position is not hypocritical and completely in line with God’s commandments. When God said “Thou shalt not kill” he means precisely that: Youhave no right to kill anyone. But God does have the authority to sanction the death penalty and he authorises use of the death penalty for murder: “He that smiteth a man, so that he die, shall be surely put to death.” This is from Exodus (21:12), the same Exodus in which Moses communicates the ten commandments, including the injunction “Thou shalt not kill”, to the Israelites.
There is no way around this. God condones capital punishment in some circumstances and permits authorities to use it. He does not permit individuals to assume the authority to kill others. As the apostle Paul says in Romans: “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.”
Mr Schrader invokes the crucifixion of Jesus as the ultimate example of a miscarriage of justice. I don’t think the crucifixion of Jesus is instructive in this debate. To believe in Christianity as it is, then we must accept Christ’s crucifixion was inevitable. He had to die in that way, under those circumstances. Were Christ not betrayed, were he not crucified, were he not the victim of a miscarriage of justice, Christianity would not be Christianity. Christ’s endurance of crucifixion, so that we might be saved, is the central tenet of the faith. To say Christ was executed wrongly, therefore capital punishment is wrong, is to completely misunderstand Christ’s destiny.
It is also telling that, throughout his ordeal, Christ is not on record for denouncing the death penalty.
Mr Schrader expresses perplexity at lex talionis, summoning Gandhi’s epigram that an “eye for an eye makes the whole world blind”. Actually, it makes the whole world monocular, but we are not meant to take Gandhi literally.
I am at a loss how to communicate this: The death penalty is not retribution. I am sure that the family of a murder victim do not have their feelings of vengeance satisfied by the murderer’s execution. Retribution would be much better prosecuted by keeping the murderer in a state of perpetual, excruciating agony for every second of his long, long life. Even then, the victim’s family would be nowhere near a feeling that equity had been achieved. It is quite incorrect to say that executing a murderer corrects the imbalance caused by the murder. The family of the victim would not feel as though the balance of the universe has been restored. The murderer’s execution does not satisfy the rage, the pain, the wrenching emptiness of the victim’s family. Capital punishment is not retribution. Lex talionis is not relevant to the capital punishment debate.
Mr Schrader supplements his Christian objections with libertarian objections. “If libertarians seek to maximise individual freedom and limit the power of the State then life imprisonment would seem preferable to giving the State the power to kill its citizens.”
Libertarians confuse me. Just whose liberty are they concerned with? I have debated the subject of cannabis with libertarians who upbraid me for wishing to punish cannabis users. Surely, then, these libertarians believe that the right of someone to smoke cannabis trumps other people’s rights to be free from the wicked consequences of someone else’s cannabis use. I have debated with other libertarians who scold me for opposing abortion by accusing me of wanting to arrogate control of other people’s bodies. Clearly those libertarians do not care about the baby’s freedom to live as much as they care about a mother’s freedom to jab the baby to death with a poisoned needle.
Strange creatures, libertarians. Being a social conservative, I have none of their hang-ups. I think that the innocent and the law-abiding should be free of state intrusions. That much we agree on. However, those who wilfully break the law and perform wicked deeds automatically forgo their right to freedom from state intrusion and maximum liberty. I do not see how capital punishment involves more state intrusion into a criminal’s life than does prison. Prison involves round-the-clock state intrusion. One of the fundamental principles of prison is to divest the criminal of their freedom, not to minimise their loss of liberty. The corollary of this mode of thinking is that we just open the prison gates and let out the criminals to enjoy their liberty. Why bother with prisons? Why bother with punishment? Criminals forfeit their right to be free of state intrusion. Whether they forfeit that right to liberty in the form of imprisonment or to execution is immaterial.
Mr Schrader also claims that capital punishment is wholly ineffective while ignoring my statistics saying the exact opposite. I repeat them here: In Britain, in the five years when capital punishment was suspended, there was a 125% increase in crimes that would have attracted the death penalty. Since the last capital executions in 1964 there has been a doubling of the rate of unlawful killings (with the increase in population taken into account). The figure would probably be higher if we hadn’t made improvements in trauma surgery over the last fifty years.
He backs up his argument with “countless studies” from America. Well, that’s as maybe. But America is a completely different beast. Evidence suggests that it worked in England and it also works in Singapore. I’ll go deeper into this particular discussion another time as it is quite involved. I think it is sufficient to say that parallels with the American system aren’t helpful. As for the cost of execution in America: It is a peculiarity of the American system because of, as Mr Schrader himself admits, the lengthy, multiple appeals processes and the elaborate delaying tactics. Historically, in Britain, capital offenders stayed between three to eight weeks and only one appeal was permitted. Much smoother than the American system, much cheaper.
The essence of my argument is unchanged: If you care more for the innocent and the gentle than for the murderous and the sadistic, then you ought to support capital punishment.