Thursday, March 25, 2010

Question for Debate

(originally sent to SDA and RMF 9/12/08)

I found myself wondering, if a man is convicted of a triple homicide (for example) that he didn’t commit, is life without the possibility of parole a lesser or a greater punishment than death? Or, put more generally, is the permanent detainment of an innocent individual more lawful or less lawful than the execution of that same individual? Of course I’m assuming the man in question had a fair trial and was just unfortunate, a case of being at the wrong place at the wrong time, and not that he was deliberately railroaded.

I know the argument will be made that, in the case of a life sentence imposed upon an innocent individual, the possibility exists that his innocence will be found out and that he will go free making the punishment possibly less severe—certainly less intractable.

However, all punishment is intractable—at least the part already inflicted—and there’s no way to give a man back the years he lost in prison any more than we can give a man back his life. And so, to make the point I’m getting at clearer, let’s say we have two men, both convicted of a murder that neither one committed, one was sentenced to life and the other to death, and that the one man has died in prison and the other has died in the chair. We have just learned of each man’s innocence but both men are dead. Their punishments are utterly intractable. In such a case, to which man has the government committed the greater injustice? Is it more wrong to deprive an innocent person of his liberty or his life?

Now, whether a government has the legitimate right or authority to deprive a man of his life or liberty may be the fuel for another debate. I would suggest, based on our Constitution, that OUR government unequivocally does claim for itself that right provided it does not do so “without due process of law”.

However, extraordinary circumstances excepted, the right and authority of a government to deprive a man of his life or liberty does not translate to the private individual acting on his or her own authority.

The slavery that existed in the United States of America prior to the Civil War is almost universally recognized today as a great moral evil. It was not so universally recognized at the time when our laws recognized its legality. (Neither did its legality prove its morality.)

Proponents of slavery rationalized their right to deprive other people of their liberty by concluding that the enslaved weren’t really people or were a lower sort of people.

Likewise, proponents of abortion rationalize their right to deprive other people of their life in just the same way. Either the fetus has not attained to personhood or the fetus is a person whose life is less valuable than those making the decision to terminate its life.

The vast majority of us who are alive today would agree with the essential abolitionist position which is that slavery was not something to be tolerated or compromised with. It was a great moral evil. Moral evils must not be contained but confronted. They must be recognized and not ignored.

Lincoln recognized this when he confronted American Slavery and Reagan recognized this when he confronted Soviet Communism.

And so I get back to my original question, is it more wrong to deprive an innocent person of his liberty or his life. Opponents of capital punishment will say the latter without hesitation. How then can they be in favor of abortion unless by diminishing the personhood of the one aborted?

As for those who recognize true personhood in the one aborted, how can the compromise pragmatic approach be warranted unless it would also have been warranted with regards to slavery?


  1. When our country was founded, most people in the country were Christians. Their view of capital punishment reflected their belief system.

    In the case of murder, the only just punishment is execution. You killed a person and sent them to God's judgement (for better or for worse), you separated the persons's loved ones from the person, any debts owed can now never be paid, etc.

    It was assumed the guilty criminal was an evil person and would go to hell. So, instead of living in partial torment at the people's expense, he/she can exist in the ultimate agony of God's punishment, Hell.

    In the case of the innocent person wrongly convicted of murder(s), execution would still be considered the most humane punishment. Remember, most people were "assumed" to be Christian. Death would result in Heaven for the innocent person who was executed instead of a lifetime of punishment for a crime not committed. It was a win-win.

    Today we know most people in our country are not Christians. (Or at least not practicing, which in God's eyes is just as bad.)

    "We're not covered by the blood unless were living by the blood."

    The situation does not change for the guilty murder. He has it coming. Fry him.

    With the innocent person to be executed, we have a bigger problem. If he/she is killed, he/she will likely go to Hell. Now in God's eyes, it's bad because it forces His hand early when the person still would have had opportunity to obey the Gospel.

    The people responsible for the execution are guilty of an innocent person's blood. Hopefully in ignorance.

    I do not think that these rare occurrences justify doing away with the death penalty. From a theological point, the innocent person executed was still responsible for their own salvation. They had ample opportunity to find Christ. Death is universal after Adam (except for Elijah and maybe those saints who are alive at Christ's return).

    From a secular perspective, we have to put our civil trust in the legal system. If the system is unjust, why would society ever recognize court decisions? This attitude would result in a complete breakdown in the our civilization. In a free society we need to the rule of law, and I would add that we need the rule of "Just" law or, at least the perception of it. Otherwise, we just have the tyranny of judges.

    As for the original question, which is worse? The loss of life or liberty? I think the question is moot. If you are sentenced to Life in Prison, you lose your liberty for the rest of your life. Prison is a very bad place to be. If you are sentenced to death you loose both. It's not an either or. As a Christian, I would pray for execution, because I know "to be absent form the body is to be with the Lord." Why suffer in prison when I can be in heaven? This argument will sound crazy to the non-Christian.

  2. On the issue of slavery, my opinion also
    differs. Slavery was allowed and regulated
    by God in both the old and new testaments
    of the Bible. If it was so evil, why didn't
    God forbid it? It was merely an economic
    system where the slave was forced to work
    for certain individuals for life.
    We must separate slavery from racism.
    Those are two distinct issues. There is no
    biblical basis for racism. All God's children
    are God's children. The color of a person's
    skin does not effect the quality of his soul.
    Christian slave owners would be obligated
    to treat slaves as Christian brothers and
    sisters. Slaves were to treat their masters
    as brothers in Christ.
    We must also separate the American
    practices of Slavery with Biblical ones. The
    American argument was that black people
    were not people. Or if they were (through
    hyper-Calvinism) they were pre-destined to
    Hell. Theological Predeterminism is
    especially dangerous when people think
    they can guess God's choices. American
    slave practices were cruel and wicked. Splitting up families, forced adultery, rape, torture, etc. Not based upon any type of Christian teachings at all.

    I do not like slavery, even biblical, Christian slavery. I am glad it has been abolished, but I don't think it was worth losing 700,000 American lives over. It could have eventually been legislated or taxed to oblivion. The result of the war was also the eventual destruction of states rights.

  3. If a baby is born pre-mature, we take care of the baby, give medical care and often save the baby's life. These babies grow up to be normal, healthy people. A normal pregnancy is 40 weeks. At just 25 weeks, survival is between 50 and 80 percent, and the chances of a long-term disability drop to between 15 and 25 percent. In our country, children are routinely killed in abortion at 25 weeks.

    The argument is often made that if the "fetus' can not survive out of the mother's womb, it is not yet a viable life. If you were in an accident and in a coma (or at least, very incapacitated) for 4 months, but would make a full recovery, would you be considered a viable life?