Wednesday, March 20, 2013
The Death Penalty: A Religious Precept, or Simple Just Desserts?
T.J. Lane was seventeen years old in February of 2012, when he brought a .22 pistol to his high school and killed three of his classmates in cold blood; two boys sixteen years old, one seventeen. He was convicted of murder.
At sentencing he wore a T-shirt to court with the word “Killer” scrawled on it and made the following statement: "The hand that pulls the trigger that killed your sons now masturbates to the memory," he said, then cursed at and raised his middle finger toward the victims' relatives.
Because of his age he could not be sentenced to death for the premeditated mass murder. The judge sentenced him to life without parole. Whole story here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/19/tj-lane-sentenced-to-life-chardon_n_2907540.html?utm_hp_ref=mostpopular
I do not think all murderers deserve the death penalty. But if ever there was a justification for capital punishment the conduct of Lane is it, irrespective of his age. I look at this from a purely pragmatic perspective, sans emotion. Simply put: any one who compounds the pain that their crime caused the victims’ families, and society by imposing incremental mental anguish on the survivors above and beyond the brutal act itself, is beyond redemption, beyond the realm of deserving of sympathy, compassion or mercy.
Such a person has divested himself of all humanity, surrendered that which makes a human better than a mindless predatory animal that kills on blind instinct, and thus forfeits any manner of mercy or consideration. Permitting such a person the continued benefits of life, such as they are in prison, can no more be justified than permitting a rabid dog to live.
My position was criticized by a facebook friend in that he perceived my position to be founded on religious precepts; that my expectation that such a criminal should pay the ultimate price is “…about punishment and wanting people to pay their penance and suffer for their crime … a religious notion.”
Punishment is in deed part of our judicial system, and necessary to signal to society that extreme divergence from societal norms will not be tolerated; and that the severity of the penalty will fit the severity of the crime(s). Capital punishment was employed well before the Abrahamic religions, before the first monotheistic religion in Egypt, and before the invoking of God/or gods for meting out punishment for violation of civil law.
The US Conference of Bishops opposes capital punishment, and the Catholic Church has, since 1997, revised the Catechism and opposes it in almost every instance. Further there are very few examples of the death penalty being imposed by Jewish Law in rabbinic times. Israel outlawed the death penalty, except for Nazi war criminals, in 1954. No, if anything, objection to capital punishment is more in line with the Western religionist concept of human-centric thinking, viewing the human species as "sacred" and worthy of more consideration than a violent mindless animal species.
The" boy" in question is a mass murderer, seemingly incapable of connecting with that part of the psyche that would, in the vast majority of humanity, at least not seek to heap pain upon the innocent suffering victims of his crime after the fact.. He's incapable of feeling remorse; incapable of asking for forgiveness; unable to even empathize with the victim’s families, preferring to heap insult on injury that will never heal. He has admitted he derives satisfaction from his actions and thus is utterly ill suited for living along side humans who possess even a modicum of humanity ... that includes other inmates. The wantonness of his anti-social acts exemplifies the kind of person for whom forfeiture of ones life is justified, the reason the death penalty exists.
One can disagree. One can dismiss the death penalty as archaic, barbaric and inhumane. I understand that perspective, and respect it, albeit I disagree. But, let’s leave labeling religiosity as the driving force behind an atheist advocating for capital punishment out of the argument, because at best invoking religiosity in this discourse is a double edged sword.