Capital punishment revisited
Personally, I agree with this article's outline. It would seem to me that there is a fundamental right of the State to have the option of capital punishment inherent in the right of the people to be protected by the State. However, in the modern age, where we do indeed have the luxury of imprisonment rather than death, I also believe that we are practically speaking morally obligated to utilize this option - for "compassionate" reasons of course, but ultimately because I believe that for every moment that we are alive there is another chance for us to turn to God and be converted. To kill someone when it is not necessary to do so, even if they have committed heinous crimes, is to potentially deny them this possibility of salvation and for a Christian to ignore this is to be utterly inconsistent with the Christian life and witness.
At the same time, we cannot simply make capital punishment equal to abortion or euthanasia, because to do that is patently unfair to the innocent, being that it takes away all sense of moral right and wrong, particularly with respect to the victim. There is a fundamental difference between a pre-born baby and a murderer - the baby is innocent. Those two lives have the same inherent value, yes, however one is innocent, the other has willfully chosen to consider other life as less valuable. Justice demands that the innocent not be identified with their killers, it is only after justice is realized that mercy becomes a possibility - or even a duty, for the Christian.
Returning to the article, of particular note to me, as all things that examine the relationship and differences between European and American sensibilities are of interest to me, was the following section:
"Perhaps because we inherited an Anglo-Saxon system for constraining governmental power, America has seen many unjust social policies, some with lethal consequences, but never political prisoners marched to the gallows for mass execution. This goes a long way, I think, toward explaining our singularity. Europeans view our loyalty to capital punishment as barbaric, but, in truth, we retain the death penalty in large part because we have no rich history of barbarism to give us a sober sense of the need to remove the sacred power of the sword from the hands of the secular state."
Very interesting - the family I stayed with in France hinted at this idea to some degree in one of our conversations, as they talked about the effects of war on Europe that America has never had to deal with. However, we did not discuss the philosophical and political steps that Europe took to GET to the point where it became possible for Hitler to gas millions, and how America has or has not taken those same steps. Those philosophical underpinnings are something that I would love to consider more closely... but I doubt if Mother Superior will see such an interest as being complementary to the life of prayer in the convent :)
Read the rest of the editorial here.