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January 29, 2008

Religion and the Death Penalty

There's a fascinating piece over at the Weekly Standard by Walter Berns on the link between religious commitment and support for the death penalty. It may no longer be the case that death is, as Camus said, a religious penalty, Burns notes. But (quoting Camus) "it can be said that the death penalty is more likely to be imposed by a religious people."

The reason may be "that the religious know what evil is, or at least, that it is, and, unlike the irreligious, are not so ready to believe that evil can be explained, and thereby excused, by a history of child abuse or, say, a 'post-traumatic stress disorder' or a 'temporal lobe seizure.' . . . In a word, they are more likely to demand that justice be done."

Burns adds:

European politicians and journalists recognize or acknowledge the connection, if only inadvertently, when they simultaneously despise us Americans for supporting the death penalty and ridicule us for going to church. . . . In this country, 60 convicted murderers were executed in 2005 . . . almost all of them in southern or southwestern and church-going states . . . states whose residents are among the most seriously religious Americans. Whereas in Europe, or "old Europe," no one was executed and, according to one survey, almost no one--and certainly no soi-disant intellectual--goes to church. . . .

What explains [European] obsession with the death penalty? Hard to say, but probably the fact that abolishing it is one of the few things Europeans can do that makes them feel righteous.

There is much more, and I urge you to read the entire piece here.

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Comments

Brian

I've been stewing on this post for a few hours and I have some thoughts to share but I'm going to put those on the back-burner in light of a more recent post here on The Point.

I wonder Stephen advocates for grace and rehabilitation of individuals who either actively or tacitly affirmed the murder of 6 million (Jews in addition to the millions of Romas, disabled, gays, and political dissidents who were also targeted by the government) while Anne seems to support swift execution of convicted criminals for individual crimes which may not even include murder?

I see a real disparity between these perspectives and I wonder if we could tease out these positions.

Why is an American prisoner deserving of a different response than a German soldier who gassed infants or a gang of German teens who turned their Jewish classmates over to the Gespato?

Grizzly Bear Mom

Actually Europeans consider us barbarians for having a death penalty. I believe that the U.S. is the only civilized society that has one. Additionally, it is carried out in southern (read former slave) states in inequitably high numbers against Blacks, according to Prison Fellowship founder Chuck Colson. Maybe the term Walter Burns, author of the Weekly Standard article, should have used is racist? The last time I discussed this with a Catholic, she said that the church was consistently pro-life in all areas including disapproving of the death penalty. For Walter Burns to refer to banning the death penalty as not punishing is disingenuous. Life in prison is punishment. Brian where have non murderers been executed?

anne morse

Japan--a highly civilized country--also employs the death penalty.

For a comprehensive discussion regarding Chuck's beliefs about the need for a death penalty, read his new book, "The Faith."

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