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Deeper into the Death Penalty

Deeper into the Death Penalty

Some concepts from a panoply of sources can aid us in further discussions of Capital Punishment. Consider the view of the Society of Friends, the Quakers and the Quaker view of the Death Penalty. John Wilmerding's treatise called "Equity-Restorative Justice vs. Capital Punishment", published in THE QUAKER ABOLITIONISTS, spring, 1997 issue (found by clicking Quaker View on the Death Penalty in above link) is about the concept of Shalom. It is about restorative justice, which is in the Bible. The peace of Shalom, as Mr. Wilmerding explains, is the "presence of all creative powers." It contains wholeness, integrity, and other human virtues. "Shalom Justice" places a premium on human relationships, and only then mentions acts of individuals.

The Death Penalty fails to restore Shalom. What can restore it after murder is that the guilty may rectify crimes. Incarceration can certainly be a part of that, but more can occur between perpetrators and victims. Mr. Wilmerding writes of Victim-Offender Mediation. Family members thus derive benefits from meeting killers of their loved ones. In addition, the murderers may receive grace through transformation by way of the intervention of victims' families. In these transformative experiences, seldom though they may be, a small number of killers may become penitent for their crimes and then seek to restore Shalom. Putting criminals to death prevents that small number to find remorse and Shalom. There are no second chances.

The 1986 film, The Mission, by Roland Joffe follows Robert de Niro's character, a vial slave trader, also guilty of fratricide, finds redemption under the tutelage of a Jesuit priest (watch clip embedded below). He then repents in one of Mr. de Niro's best acting scenes. His redemption takes the form of serving the Guarani people in South America. When the church asks the priests to abandon their work and take up arms against the natives, de Niro's character becomes a freedom fighter for the natives. Out of his expiation comes a much greater good. He will try to defend more natives than the victims he created.

To draw out a religious view of justice further consider that, in a higher system of justice, a religious one, Heaven and Hell are fixed and timeless concepts. Why do we commit to Hell (or to oblivion in a secular view) a person who has committed a murder in a single point in time? What happens regarding the good deeds he has done in life or will potentially later do? Looking back in time, we might take into account that he was once an infant with no concept of right and wrong. Now that scientists are postulating as many as eleven parallel universes, we may consider the flaw of condemning persons in one place, in one time. Multiple universes suggest multiple perspectives.

Then there is the question of the legitimacy of our concepts of justice. The teenager who sports black clothing and claims to worship the devil might warrant a call to a psychiatrist. But in the fourteenth through eighteenth centuries, he would have been burned as a witch. This example shows the lack of stability and constancy of criteria by which we execute.

Don't we all have the potential to viciously kill? Consider those photos of towns in the U.S. from Reconstruction times right into the 1930's of towns people posing in front of lynching victims. (Warning: the preceding link contains very graphic and upsetting images of lynchings).


Are we to capture the few, albeit very old, surviving members of lynch mobs and arraign them with capital punishment being the ultimate goal? We won't. They were protected by the regnant and current system of justice at the time. It was not on the books to permit lynchings, but they were tolerated nevertheless.Yet it is alright for certain states to uphold the Death Penalty. This denies the Fourteenth Amendment of equal protection under the law.

Truth depends on what is currently held to be true, on the vagaries of fashion. Aspects of our justice system today will primitive in a twenty or thirty years. By then it will look barbaric to legally kill. If we perpetuate Capital Punishment, we deny the guilty the chance to receive stays of execution in the next few decades. Digg Technorati Delicious

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