“A Few Words about the Death Penalty: Pro and Con,” by Andrew J. Schatkin
As a Christian, I value all life from inception to the last dying seconds. That is the value God places on all humanity, regardless of race, sex, age or any other factors. In this essay, I would like to talk about the death penalty and why as a Christian I oppose it but with reservations on the issue.
The death penalty spells an end to life. The argument is that the full measure of vengeance by the people comes upon another who has taken a life and this deters other societal miscreants from doing the same. Admittedly, homicide is the most heinous of crimes. Yet as a citizen, as the whole person and as a Christian who sets and understands the eternal value God places on all human life LI oppose it. I do so not because I believe that it does not truly deter future murders—I do—and not because I believe that mistakes are made in the criminal justice process and thus the death penalty may be wrongly imposed—they are. I feel this way because every man or woman, be he or she among the handicapped, the elderly, the mentally disabled, or children not yet born, has value. As an aside, for the same reason I oppose abortion and euthanasia. All life at any stage has infinite value and eternal value. Value is to be accorded to all, not due to their apparent superior intellect, or talents, not because of their superior financial status, and not because they are the ruling of dominant class, sex, or race. Those who think themselves so much better are likely so due to environment, opportunity, or current fashion. The baseball player or rock star is paid millions while Mother Teresa earned little or nothing for all her service to the outcasts, unwanted, underprivileged and poor. She saw value in all not because of what they have but because of what they are.
Jesus Christ, for me God incarnate in human form and for others perhaps a great teacher, forgave the criminals beside him at the moment of his death. He points the way to truth. It is the way of advanced civilization, the way of all the great religions, and teachers, the way of Tao, Confucius, and the Talmut. However disheveled, unattractive, and apparently abominable, there is value in all. I say again that Jesus for me as God is the sole mediator and way to understand what I say here but the teachers I mention here also provide guidance in this respect.
A society that sees no value in life itself—even in murderers—falls short of that respect and devotion to life in all its forms that must govern any enlightened society. It is not the outside of a man or woman I see, but the inside, the inner light. This inner light may be found in all, even the weak and the seemingly unattractive, and yes, even in criminals. Any civilization of society that chooses to exterminate any of its members for facial reasons of justice, vengeance, or deterrence falls short of the measure of an enlightened civilization. Five thousand years or so have passed since the Code of Hammurabi. If we have not grown up from it, let us at least grow away from it. English common law once executed pickpockets. That is no longer so. If we are to avoid the stigma of barbarism, let us once and for all cease what can be said to amount to no less than murder in the name of justice. Let us acknowledge that we do not raise ourselves and our society by placing no value on a life. This is the way beyond the Holocaust, beyond the Cambodian Genocide, and beyond Genghis Khan. Let us take that step.
Let me add something here. I oppose abortion and euthanasia for the reasons I have given here. But the lives of the unborn and those approaching death may not be equated with the death penalty imposed on one who has grossly violated our legal system and taken the life of another. The death penalty does take a life through the operation of our legal system but it is not the life of an innocent or the dying elderly that have had say in the decision taken to take away their lives. This is the point of distinction and it must be considered and heard in this present discussion. There is a question whether the life of an innocent or dying elder with no ability or chance to have a say or defend themselves is the same as the imposition of the death penalty after a find of guilt. It is clear they are not to be totally equated.
This essay is taken, with modifications and changes, from my essay in the book “Select Legal Topics: Civil, Criminal, Federal, Evidentiary, Procedural, and Labor,” Chapter 50 p.162, entitled Why I Am Opposed to the Death Penalty, published by University Press of America.