Monday, February 22, 2016

The Pope has called for the universal ban of the death penalty

Of course.  This change to Church teaching has been a short time coming.  And it isn't only the Catholic Church.  The Orthodox Church, on the whole, tends to oppose the death penalty.  Which makes sense.  After all, for most the last 500 years Orthodox Christians have been on the receiving end of oppressive, totalitarian regimes of evil and murder.  So it never surprised me that they opposed capital punishment.

Liberal denominations have rejected it as well.  Just like most liberal societies.  But here's the rub.  Most liberal cultures that abandon the death penalty do not do so for the Sanctity of Life.  In fact, some of those societies are pushing the culture of death into areas not seen since ancient days of pagan barbarism.  They simply oppose the death penalty for the same reason they oppose torture or war.  Because it hurts the physical person and it's something bigger than the individual that is capable of hurting the individual.  I had an ethics professor who was near pacifist regarding war and the death penalty, but who railed against this antiquated notion of the sanctity of life.  It was not a life issue.  It was a primacy of the individual issue. 

Why imagine what future tolerance will be like
when we have the present?
Nonetheless, an argument can be made that we should abandon the death penalty. Certainly an argument on practical levels, as the rising Left has made it clear that tolerance for traditional religious beliefs is not in its plans.  Allowing a tool that could be used against believers in the future might not be the best idea.

But arguments from a Christian viewpoint can also be made.  And those can be made without adopting the post-modern arrogance of 'we're abandoning it because we're so much more awesomely holy and righteous than those scum who lived the last 2000 years.'  Arguments can actually be made in such a way that acknowledge what the Church, and what most societies, taught in the day, while recognizing the need to move forward.

My beef with the Church's shift in its teaching was the reason given in the Catechism: 
"Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm - without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself - the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity "are very rare, if not practically nonexistent."   CCC 2267

The idea that the State is close to effectively prevent crime.  The State is no more close to preventing crime than it was a hundred or a thousand years ago.  If that is your reason, please try again.  Reasons like that suggest the change is less to do with solid theological reflection and more to do with a desire to fit in with all the latest, hippest kids who get to play on the Nobel Prize playground. 

But nothing innately wrong with a call to eliminate the Death Penalty.  There are Christian arguments for the death penalty.  Just like there are Christian arguments against it.  Both can be made in good faith by people of good will.  But if we forget that, even for the sake of banishing the death penalty, and begin hurtling insults and accusations at people still struggling with this recent change in Church teaching,  we might run the risk of heading down a path toward self-righteousness and arrogance that may not kill the body, but can wreck havoc on the soul.
"You have heard that the ancients were told, 'YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER ' and 'Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.' "But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, 'Raca,' shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, 'You fool,' shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell."  Matthew 5.21-23 

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