Shuck and Jive

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

God and Executions

At 1:38 this morning, the State of Tennessee executed Philip Workman. Here is CNN's report. As I quickly checked the blogosphere, I was surprised how often God is invoked in one way or the other to either praise this act or to condemn it.

Obviously, state executions touch deeply held moral convictions. Whether one is religious or not, the question of whether or not the state should execute people is one of the defining characteristics of what it means to be human.

Is humanity and justice served by executions or not? What are moral reasons for or against the death penalty? Are there instances in which this is justified? What is the reason for it? What does the death penalty do for us or to us?


  1. "Is humanity and justice served by executions or not?" (John)

    I don't think society is served by death. Death seems to be battle we wage war with.

    "What are moral reasons for or against the death penalty?" (John)

    Moral reasons? I would say as far as justice goes I think the idea has some merit. Cold-blooded murderers have very little recourse in my book for actual redemption (since they cannot repay a single iota of what they did back to those they accursed with death). I also have a tough time believing someone doing a bid of a few life sentences has earned a reason to hang around? It's harsh but as far as a justice goes (I speak on a societal level - not a personal one) - I can see some of the validity for a 'death penalty'.

    "Are there instances in which this is justified?" (John)

    I think Hitler would of been killed if caught, Hussein was, etc. I think serial killers, serial rapists, and serial pedophiles make a good case for their own elimination.

    "What is the reason for it? What does the death penalty do for us or to us?" (John)

    I think the death penalty is way to satisfy the vengeance of a vicious crime - plain and simple. I see the penalty as a deterent (most will disagree) and as a way to eliminate the criminals who just have no chance in 'hell' of getting out of jail (like I said before 2 life sentences or more).

    I am no politician mind you but I can see the reason for such a 'tit for tat' idea like 'life for life'. In my city we just had two cousins that were killed (both murders) and the grief those families had was absolutely unbearable. That coupled with the ferocious anger from the family - I see the justice not settling this one - the community will. Maybe death penalties also get rid of that ander within people - knowing it will be taken care of - justice will be served.

  2. I've been leading some of the men of my church through an overview of the Bible. While we were in the Torah, I pointed out how much more just the Mosaic law is than our own.

    For instance, one of the controls on false testimony is that the witnesses to a capital crime must be the first ones to throw stones.

  3. It makes me sick to my stomach every time someone is executed in the United States.

  4. It makes me sick too. We have to consider not only the morality of executing the guilty, but the fact that we have executed the innocent and risk doing so again. See the Innocence Project web site for more info on the subject of wrongful convictions and exonerations. Executing an innocent person comes awful close to plain murder.

  5. "Is humanity and justice served by executions or not?"

    No. Justice can never be served by execution because fundamentally justice is about restoring things to right relation and there can be no relationship with the dead.

    "What are moral reasons for or against the death penalty?"

    We are prevented from casting stones by the knowledge of our own guilt. To the degree that we are all implicated in horrendous evil we are all deserving of death and therefore ineligible to pronounce a sentence of death over others. No crime is sufficient to remove this fundamental moral block upon our choice to kill. It is always wrong to kill. Period.

    "Are there instances in which this is justified?"

    No. Societyvs used the examples of Hitler and Hussein above - and these are actually the right ones to bring up. There can be no human court competent to judge crimes that heinous because we are incapable of restoring right relationships when things are that greivous. The Hussein trial for example was a travesty. It made a mockery of juridical systems because it was a foregone conclusion from the beginning that he would be found guilty.

    "What is the reason for it? What does the death penalty do for us or to us?"

    Research has shown again and again that the Death Penalty is not a significant deterrant. Moreover our appeal process make Death Row more costly than life imprisonment. It is neither economical, nor effective. The only reason left for Capital Punishment to be used is for base vengeance something that should be as far below us as the crime which incited the penalty.

    It is a huge disappointment to me that the US lags so far behind the rest of the world in this regard. We still kill more people every year than anyone but China. All of Europe, indeed almost every other democracy on the planet has completely ceased using Capitol Punishment.

  6. Any specific research you can point us to that proves the death penalty ineffective as a deterrant, Aric?

    And what do you suggest is the appropriate measure to take against a murderer?

  7. Sure, Chris. While I do not think it is productive to base arguments entirely on statistics, because they aren't an exact science and can often be partisan, I will happily point you to some interesting studies, which may or may not be persuasive to you.

    NY Times article:

    Phil Porter Article:

    The ACLU:

    Death Penalty Information Center:

    There is tons more, but if this doesn't satisfy you 20 other links won't help.