Sunday, February 17, 2013

A Pro-Life Texan's Argument against Capital Punishment

Being a proud Texan, I never thought I’d see the day when I would be tempted to say I came from Arkansas. (I grew up in Texarkana, on the border between the two states. Naturally there was much rivalry, especially in football.) However, during my time in Munich last year, I sometimes found myself wishing that I came from that little bitty state which the rest of the world had probably never even heard of. (Sorry, Arkansas—you’re really a very nice state!) What made me feel this way was the fact that, almost every time I introduced myself to people, the first thing they’d say upon hearing that I was from Texas was: “oh yeah, the death penalty state”. And if they didn’t say it, I could see it in their eyes. After all that, I still tend to shrink back a little when Germans ask me where I’m from.

Back home for the summer, I realized how much I really do like my home state. I mean, where in Europe—cool as it is—are you going to hear Christian radio playing in a sandwich shop, or see a car wash sporting a Bible verse on its marquee? And there’s just something about cowboy boots that makes you feel about ten feet tall on the inside. One of my favorite things about Texas, though, is its strong pro-life movement. Especially in Dallas, where it all began with Roe vs. Wade.

I am opposed to abortion for any reason in any situation. My opposition to abortion is, in the end, what pushed me over to the side of those who oppose capital punishment. How? Quite simply, really. When asked why I was against abortion, I would say, “Because no human being has the right to take the life of another human being.” That’s when it hit me…How could I call myself pro-life and not also speak out against capital punishment?[1]

I do not here propose to argue my case from the standpoint of practicality. In this argument I’m not interested in whether or not capital punishment deters crime, or how much money is spent feeding and housing prisoners, or how much money is wasted on legal proceedings surrounding the issue. Human life is to be protected whether practical or not. And though it is a good point, I’m not concerned here with the fact that courts make mistakes in judgment. All that I’m saying applies to people who really are guilty. I’m also not arguing from sentimentality, saying that nobody could deserve such a cruel thing as execution. I’d even venture to say that by committing murder one forfeits one’s own life. But here’s the catch, the whole reason I’m writing this. Just because a person does something for which they might deserve to die does not mean that the right to take their life falls into the hands of their fellow humans. Only the Author of Life has the right to decide when a life should end. “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord’.” Romans 12:19

I said above that executing a murderer may technically be just, according to one definition of justice. A life for a life, right? But here’s one thing about cold hard justice: every sinner (that is, every human except Jesus and his mother Mary), technically deserves hell because of original sin. We certainly don’t deserve heaven, but we can go there because Jesus took our punishment on the cross and forgave us our sins. Justice without love and mercy is a cold, cruel machine. God doesn’t give us the punishment we deserve. Who are we to do differently to other humans than what God has done for us? The execution of a criminal only does further harm, depriving them of the chance to repent of their crimes and be reconciled with God, as well as tearing up the soul of the executioner, since, as automated as we have made the act of killing, someone still has to give the order, flip the switch, push the button. I call, therefore, on my fellow Texans (and fellow Americans, since Texas is not the only state with capital punishment) to take this step towards becoming more fully pro-life, by opposing capital punishment for all crimes.

[1] The question of self-defense may come up here. Self-defense is permitted because the intention is to preserve one’s own life, and not to kill the attacker (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2263). I do realize that this could prove problematic/confusing in cases where a pregnancy threatens the life of the mother. I’m sure there’s much written on that subject, but one thing at a time. As far as capital punishment is concerned, there is a difference between an unarmed prisoner locked up and isolated in a cell and an assassin coming at you with a loaded pistol and the intent to use it. See CCC 2267.

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