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Thoughts on capital punishment

Posted by Chance on July 17, 2008

Capital punishment is really an issue I’m not that passionate about, for whatever reason. Out of the things that keep me up at night, the thought that convicted killers get sentenced to death is not one of them. Maybe that makes me a bad person, at least in the eyes of those who are against capital punishment.

Probably the best argument against capital punishment is the fact that people are wrongly convicted. Libertarians for Life has the argument

If we imprison someone unjustly, we can repay our debt to that person to some extent and beg forgiveness. But how do we compensate the innocent dead? Given the fallibility of human beings, this is a fundamental ethical problem for capital punishment.

However, the Bible addresses this issue as pointed out at Neil’s blog.

The Bible requires that accused criminals be justly convicted, and our system doesn’t take perjury very seriously. God loves justice. Here’s just one of many verses one could point to: Micah 6:8 He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (Keep in mind that when I say He loves justice that doesn’t just mean he loves it when the innocent aren’t punished. He also loves it when the guilty are held accountable. This can help rehabilitate the criminal, protect others from the criminal and deter others from becoming criminals.)

The Bible required two or more witnesses for the death penalty: Numbers 35:30 Anyone who kills a person is to be put to death as a murderer only on the testimony of witnesses. But no one is to be put to death on the testimony of only one witness.

So, if implemented correctly, this problem would be addressed, at least somewhat.

Neil addresses other possible Biblical arguments against capital punishment in the post.

The main issue I want to address, however, is the method of arguing by opponents of capital punishment, which views the death penalty as equivalent to murder. The saying goes “Why do we kill people to show that killing people is wrong?”

There are a couple issues with this rhetorical question.

1) The government has authority that the individual does not. After all, many people support the right of the government to tax us and take our money, but that doesn’t mean we support stealing. The government has the right to hold us against our will should we commit a crime, yet that doesn’t give individuals the right to kidnap.

We see this distinction in the Bible. God said “thou shalt not murder”, yet God commanded the death penalty for certain crimes, and he supported war against other nations. To my recollection, God never commanded an individual to act separately from their government in taking life, or to be a vigilante and get revenge. Now granted, I don’t want us stoning people for worshiping other gods or committing adultery, or wiping out entire nations. The point I am making, however, is God obviously saw a distinction between one individual murdering another individual, vs. the government imposing the death penalty or going to war against another government. I am not advocating the extent of Israel’s power in domestic/foreign policy; Israel was a theocracy run by God through Moses. My point is that just because murder is wrong, doesn’t automatically mean the death penalty is.

2) There is a difference between killing an innocent person and a guilty person. Or, to say it another way, opponents of capital punishment need to work on establishing their argument that there is no difference. Again, opponents just take this as a given and run with it. Now, I will say the burden of proof is on those who are for capital punishment in this area. Like the abortion issue, the burden is on those who support death.

The point is, “Why do we kill people to show that killing people is wrong?” is not an effective argument because it presumes a moral equivalence to murder and the death penalty, a presumption proponents of the death penalty do not share.


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