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God's Politics


Helen Prejean: The Greatest Indignity of All

posted by God's Politics

When Saddam Hussein and his aides Awad Hamed al-Bandar and Barzan Ibrahim were hanged, many were upset that the killings were not done with “dignity.” They thought it unseemly and improper that some present at the execution hurled insults and taunted Hussein, or that his half-brother Ibrahim was decapitated in the process.

That’s like talking about icing without talking about the cake.

Here’s the cake: rendering Hussein or any human being defenseless and killing him. Imposing a violent death on a person is the greatest indignity of all; it makes name-calling or taunts pale in significance.

Can a state killing ever be done with dignity? This question was at the heart of my dialogue with Pope John Paul II in January 1997. I informed him of the U.S. Supreme Court statement in Furman v. Georgia, which claimed that executing human beings is not “inconsistent with our respect for the dignity of men.” And I told him how in accompanying the condemned to their deaths, most asked me to “pray that God holds up my legs.”

“How can one possibly subject human beings to torture and to death and yet respect their dignity?” I asked.

The pope responded publicly when he visited St. Louis in 1999 and said: “A sign of hope is the increasing recognition that the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil.” He then renewed his call for the abolition of the death penalty, which, he said, “is both cruel and unnecessary.”

Even for Saddam Hussein.

The response to Hussein’s execution from Vatican officials has been unequivocal in their condemnation. “There is no doubt,” said Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, “that Saddam was a ruthless dictator responsible for hundreds of deaths. But one does not compensate for one crime with another crime. The church proclaims that human life is to be protected from conception to natural death. The death penalty is not a natural death.” Cardinal Martino said it was not morally licit for anyone, “not even the state,” to kill another person.

Hussein’s hanging was “tragic news,” said Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi. He went on to say: “This is a reason for sadness even if this is about a person who is guilty of serious crimes. The position of the Catholic church, which is against the death penalty whatever the circumstances, needs to be repeated again: There is a risk that [the hanging] feeds the spirit of vengeance and plants the seeds for fresh violence.”

Since 9/11, we have seen time and again the operation of this cycle of vengeance and violence. When will we ever learn?

Sister Helen Prejean is a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Medaille and a prominent anti-death penalty advocate whose work was featured in the film Dead Man Walking. Her most recent book is The Death of Innocents: An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executions.



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Daniel

posted January 25, 2007 at 3:53 pm


Just FYI. …I read last night that Barack Obama favors the death penalty for mass murderers and for those who rape and murder a child (The Audacity of Hope, pp. 57-58). So, then, as far as I can tell all the 2008 candidates support it except Dennis Kucinich.



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Daniel

posted January 25, 2007 at 3:53 pm


Sorry, that should be pages 57-58. the 8 + ) inserted an emoticon….



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Kris Weinschenker

posted January 25, 2007 at 4:13 pm


Unless we want Iraq to become a puppet state of America, we have to tolerate their cultural differences.



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kevin s.

posted January 25, 2007 at 4:15 pm


Somehow I wouldn’t be surprised if that books page numbers featured smily faces. I understand the peeps here are unilaterally opposed to the death penalty. However, position’s like Obama’s find resonance with people on both sides of the aisle. A principled opposition to the death penalty must go beyond sanctimonious tsk-tsking and take into account the reason why so many people find justice in the act. I think it goes beyond the simple bloodlust, or a desire for revenge.



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Daniel

posted January 25, 2007 at 4:43 pm


Kevin, That might be. I favor the death penalty in cases where it is needed to protect the lives of others. I think Obama’s position is rooted in the idea that someone who could do one of those crimes is beyond reaching and that the closure and expression of absolute intolerace for the crime is worth the life. I might be inclined to agree, at least I can construct a supporting argument. We have a 7 week old and a 2.5 year old. We don’t spank and we had planned never to do so. But then our 2.5 year old hit the baby out of frustration. Our normal responses seemed inadequate to the immediate need to highlight that the rule “we don’t hit the baby” is a special one – it is far more important and acute in importance than “don;t hit daddy.” So we chose to spank for that. And it worked – the message was communicated that this action is especially heinous. It worked because spanking means something grave in our household. God willing, it might never be necessary again. This argument goes beyond deterrence through fear – it establishes a cultural boundary, provides the framework of the possible. But I am just doing mental work to try and reconcile the fact that I agree with Barack Obama 90% of the time and I really want it to be 100. My longstanding conviction has been that the death penalty is a pragmatic thing, just like killing an enemy soldier during war – it is done to keep us safe, not to punish necessarily. Also, I am deeply troubled that wealth/poverty level of the defendant corresponds to whether they are convicted and get the death penalty. Better counsel changes the outcome, which is systematically immoral. Where my value system does not allow for an ultimate punishment, I now realize that I could be convinced of the death penalty’s morality on the principle of establishing cultural boundaries. The trouble is that you can’t measure crimes that didn’t happen, so it is a question of theory. Do I believe it is necessary for establishing a rule’s rigidness? I just don’t know that it is….



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Mike Hayes

posted January 25, 2007 at 5:59 pm


Daniel, Great thoughts! What about execution protects society more adequately than life in prison? I think safety of our society is also threatened when incorrigible pedophiles are released from prison and I think the shortage of adequate prison space could be corrected by limiting prison sentences to just those who are guilty of violent crimes. For example, former governor George Ryan of Illinois is not a violent person. I think his punishment should be limited to monetary penalties and community service of a type that would require him to speak with school children about the mistakes he made as Secretary of State in Illinois. And there are thousands of persons in prisons who did nothing violent.



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Daniel

posted January 25, 2007 at 6:23 pm


Mike, I’ve never even heard that idea proposed for discussion. Thank you for bringing it up! It appeals to me right away. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me that bringing a non-violent offender back in line involves isolating and stigmatizing them….



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suzanne

posted January 25, 2007 at 6:53 pm


Thank you Sister Helen! I am going to look for your book- The Death of Innocents: An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executions. I heard it said: When Jesus said “Love your enemies” He didn’t mean kill them. SH



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Bill Samuel

posted January 25, 2007 at 7:43 pm


Sr. Helen, thanks for the great essay. Obama not only supports execution for the guilty, but also opposes any effort to limit executions of the innocent unborn, or even of healthy full-term infants in the midst of being born. He’s a real extremist on that. Obama is a consistent death ethic person. He supports the war system, although he opposes this particular war, he supports abortion, he supports the death penalty, and I think I’ve read he supports killing the severely handicapped (euthanasia), although I’m not 100% sure on that one.



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Mark Hayes

posted January 25, 2007 at 7:52 pm


I wish that the good Sister Prejean was as passionate about the 4000 human beings executed each day in the US as she is about the human beings executed by the State. Interview by Robert Holton in Our Sunday Visitor for April 14, 1996): Abortion is much more complex than a mere choice, because the crosshairs of this decision are in the woman s body, and the woman decides this. I think for us to really answer the abortion question so that women don t have them, we really have to look seriously at the whole thing of birth control, family planning, and not having unwanted pregnancies. Very vague, very milquetoast platitude, Sister. Mark



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Elmo

posted January 25, 2007 at 7:52 pm


I’m on board with the Vatican that the death penalty is wrong, based on the value of human life. But after South Africa repealed the death penalty, crime rates skyrocketed. It was because most of the criminals were/are very, very poor, and prison time, even life, guarantees food, shelter, and a bed. The only thing that deterred them from crime was the prospect of death. I don’t know how we deal with that. As far as the idea of punishing nonviolent offenders with fines and such, I think it should go a little further. There should be extended probation that keeps the criminal out of the area where they committed their crime. For example, a corporate thief on probation wouldn’t be allowed to have a job that gave him any control of company finances…even a register or petty cash box. They’d be out, and they’d be on probation, and they’d be prevented from committing the same crime again.



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Carl Copas

posted January 25, 2007 at 8:56 pm


Daniel: “But I am just doing mental work to try and reconcile the fact that I agree with Barack Obama 90% of the time and I really want it to be 100.” Daniel, I like Obama a lot and currently he’s my fave for Democ. nomination. But why would you want to agree with anyone 100% of the time? Just wondering.



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Daniel

posted January 25, 2007 at 9:37 pm


Carl, why would you want to agree with anyone 100% of the time? I believe it is “mimesis,” the natural instinct humans possess for imitating each other. It’s ultimately a good thing, a survival tool and a parenting necessity, but it has its drawbacks like all instincts. It’s not a controversial phenomenon in politics. When people called Clinton a draft dodger we Lefties came up with a hundred responses. Then in 2004 we made a big deal about how we shouldn’t have a President who hasn’t served in the military. We did this altogether with few noticing the contradiction even on the Republican side. And my guess is that we’ll put just such a person up against McCain in 2008 and then we’ll swicth back to the Clinton-era arguments – and all the while we’ll be sincere! As far as I know, the best I can do is consciously watch myself for this tendency….



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HASH(0x121c4cb0)

posted January 25, 2007 at 9:50 pm


U.S. continuing implimintation of the death penalty when it has been rejected by the majority of first-world nations diminishes us as a people committed to human rights. The death penalty is an archaism that always seems to me to contradict our insistance that we are a ‘Christian nation,’ that we operate from Christian principles. The principle of the Old Testament was indeed ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,’ but it also included stoning for disobedient offspring. If our nation’s operative law is the law of Christ, then killing for any reason, certainly including that of vengeance, must be wrong.



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HASH(0x11f6a8c4)

posted January 25, 2007 at 9:50 pm


U.S. continuing implimintation of the death penalty when it has been rejected by the majority of first-world nations diminishes us as a people committed to human rights. The death penalty is an archaism that always seems to me to contradict our insistance that we are a ‘Christian nation,’ that we operate from Christian principles. The principle of the Old Testament was indeed ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,’ but it also included stoning for disobedient offspring. If our nation’s operative law is the law of Christ, then killing for any reason, certainly including that of vengeance, must be wrong.



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ronnie

posted January 25, 2007 at 10:17 pm


When God instructed His people to execute by stoning, was He aware He was damaging the dignity of the recipient?



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Payshun

posted January 26, 2007 at 12:06 am


Ronnie That’s a good question. Me thinks God saw the dignity of the convicted as already damaged and wanted the group to understand the weight of death so that they would not do the crime themselves. p



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Mike Hayes

posted January 26, 2007 at 1:11 am


Daniel, We do have to be vigilant with ourselves, don’t we. It is all too easy to slip and slide one way and another before realizing that we’ve done that.



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Mike Hayes

posted January 26, 2007 at 1:19 am


Elmo, Thanks for the thought about probation type consequences to avoid repeat offenders for non-violent crimes. I think we as a society punish ourselves when we place non-violent persons in prison… they could be out earning a living and providing for their own living quarters if we did not send them to prison. And the consequence that we do not have adequate prison capacity to keep violent, habitual offenders off our streets and away from kids (one example) when we do put non-violent shysters in prison seems very illogical, to me.



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John Paul McCarty

posted January 26, 2007 at 1:29 am


I don’t understand how people of faith can continue to kill. Three faiths from one root continue to be the the most violent. How can we ever get beyond 3,000 year old ideas of justice and retribution?



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Mike Hayes

posted January 26, 2007 at 1:31 am


John Paul, Yes, and I don’t think God who created all life told the Jewish people to stone people to death, either.



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Rick Nowlin

posted January 26, 2007 at 2:20 am


In fact, capital punishment actually was rare in ancient Israel, in no small part because you needed at least two witnesses for any capital crime, plus the accuser must participate in the execution. A friend of mine who I think comes from a Jewish background said that someone who presides over two executions a year is a “hanging judge.”



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butch

posted January 26, 2007 at 2:30 am


If we eliminate the death penalty then we can put the energy used to argue over the subject into more important matters.



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Mike Hayes

posted January 26, 2007 at 3:02 am


Elmo, A friend back in Illinois responded to the idea that non-violent persons like George Ryan should not be imprisoned with the concept that George Ryan was responsible for the deaths of children and should be in prison. To explain, the “bribes for licences” practice that was in place while George Ryan was Secretary of State resulted in trucking firms getting drivers licenses in exchange for campaign contributions, as I recall the outcome of the trials (prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald) of a number of persons who were employed by the Secretary of State at that time. One of the truck drivers was responsible for the deaths of one or more children of one family traveling along the same road as the improperly licensed driver. The driver was operating the vehicle in some way (can’t remember the specifics) that a properly trained driver would be expected to know about to avoid the accident. I think my friend makes the point that there are crimes of negligence (or something like it) in which persons who are not deliberately violent act in irresponsible ways that result in violence to others, and recurrence of that negligence should be prevented by our society placing those persons in prison. Extending that thinking, others are not violent, even resulting from negligence, but are habitual in some behavior or another that injures others… scam artists, for example, who will find new ways (or new target audiences) to take money away from vulnerable members of our society. Enron comes to mind… not because it exemplifies negligence resulting in physical injury, but because of the great harm caused by some non-violent behaviors. Repeat offenders of non-violent crimes perhaps should be imprisoned. But my impression is that lots of persons are in prisons in our country with no need for that to protect citizens from violence or to protect citizens from non-repeat offenses which are not violent. I think we punish ourselves by placing those persons in prison.



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butch

posted January 26, 2007 at 3:26 am


Just a little aside, “Enron comes to mind… not because it exemplifies negligence resulting in physical injury, but because of the great harm caused by some non-violent behaviors.” Enron was a natural out growth of poor legislation. When Newt’s congress allowed auditors to be financial advisers everything that followed was predictable. Another that hasn’t blown up yet is Banks being in the securities business, although a big bank was fined something like 7mm for their part in financing Enron and selling Enron stock. Very unethical but now legal! Get government out of businesses way and it will trickle down. I m so far down, I only got trickled on!



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Monica Higgins

posted January 26, 2007 at 3:29 am


Sister Prejean, Capital punishment kills over 4000 human beings per day in the US via abortion, where is your outrage? Are you afraid of offending your Hollywood friends? Mony



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butch

posted January 26, 2007 at 3:43 am


Monica these are such separate issues in terms of peoples thinking that your position goes nowhere.



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Anonymous

posted January 26, 2007 at 6:10 am


Interesting example of the stockholm syndrome at work. Her factual distortions are already well documented. Wish she had more respect for the 9th commandment.



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kevin s.

posted January 26, 2007 at 6:25 am


“Monica these are such separate issues in terms of peoples thinking that your position goes nowhere.” So because people think differently about them, you cannot draw a distinction between the two. Most people think the death penalty should be legal in certain circumstances (which is why Obama makes this his policy stand), Since how people think is important, what affect does that have on this issue?



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Don Costello

posted January 26, 2007 at 6:30 am


Helen, Your ignorance of the Word of God and your apostasy are offensive. It’s an execution for justice sake, and it’s not pretty. My advice to you is to get “born again” according to John 3:3, 7; and Titus 3:5. Begin to take God at his word, and stop belly aching over the execution of a criminal that the Bible says was God ordained justice. Good night!



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Donny

posted January 26, 2007 at 11:07 am


Why not consider an execution just a really, really, really, late term abortion? Then you progressives don’t have to thik about murder or inappropraite “killing? at all. In fact though, the hypocrisy of the Left is the deadliest instrument the world has ever seen. Out of sight, out of mind is the world Leftists like to live in. Unfortunately their victims don’t live in that world very comfortably. If at all.



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Wolverine

posted January 26, 2007 at 2:47 pm


Butch, We’re not the ones drawing parallels between the two, insisting that one must either oppose both or tolerate both to be consistent. Monica is on to something. As part of a consistent ethic of life, abortion should be made as similar as possible to capital punishment. That means an abortion can only be performed after a court finds the fetus guilty of a capital crime. I think even Operation Rescue could live with that rule. How about you? Wolverine



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cindy

posted January 26, 2007 at 4:47 pm


Sister Helen: AMEN! Cindy



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Mike Hayes

posted January 26, 2007 at 5:04 pm


Do any of the persons posting here who insist upon making abortion illegal see any value to supporting one version or the other (including information on contraception or not doing so) of the bills in congress to reduce the number of abortions?



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Mark Hayes

posted January 26, 2007 at 5:15 pm


I see no difference between abortion, at any stage, and the death penalty. A human being is being killed, a soul created by God is being killed, there is no difference. I do not trust Sr Prejean’s view on abortion, she plays footsie way too much with the Hollywood left, and they view abortion as a sacrament.



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kevin s.

posted January 26, 2007 at 5:25 pm


Mike, I do not see where they will have a measurable impact on the number of abortions. I do not see condom distribution (or economic redistribution) as a means of substantially curtailing the number of abortions.



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Mike Hayes

posted January 26, 2007 at 6:56 pm


It seems logical to me to assume that support of women who are pregnant and lacking support from the male who impregnated them would help reduce the number of abortions. Both approaches to reduce the number of abortions include measures like that. The bill that was first introduced included information about use of contraceptives (and distribution of contraceptives, I think). In response to the request for an alternative, the second bill was introduced, omitting anything about contraceptives. And, there were other bills introduced in prior sessions of congress. I think Jim Wallis is right… the abortion topic is a political football and is getting nowhere fast. Doing something to reduce the number of abortions makes sense.



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Carl

posted January 26, 2007 at 7:11 pm


“I do not see condom distribution (or economic redistribution) as a means of substantially curtailing the number of abortions.” Is anyone aware of scientific study of this issue? Would be nice to go beyond anecdote.



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Daniel

posted January 26, 2007 at 7:11 pm


Common Ground on Abortion? Women faced with unwanted pregnancy are stigmatized, isolated, and backed into a corner. Very often the pregnancy itself and whatever decision they make is made traumatic. As a culture we want to shame and condemn those irresponsible enough to have an unwanted pregnancy. We want to kick them while they’re down. Then we magically expect them to view their pregnancy as a blessing. I do not see that we can have it both ways, at least in an explicit sense. Liberals want to preserve choice to accept unwanted pregnancy because it protects women from benig kicked while they are down – it is seen as the only way these women have of possibly acceoting it as a blessing. Conservatives want to eliminate choice because they believe choosing abortion is murder – a murder brought about in the first place by the immorality of the woman with the unwanted pregnancy; she is now a double sinner. I’d like to suggest that there is immediate common ground available between the trenches: Our culture must respond to women with unwanted pregnancies not with stigmatization and shaming but should also not act as if men and women are not responsible for their sexual choices that result in pregnancy. What we want is a world where unwanted pregnancies are reduced but when they result are seen as a blessing, or at least as manageable. Rather than isolating women with our scolding and condemnation of their getting into this situation, I believ we should instead respond with forgiveness and a helping hand – inclusion and warmth rather than isolation and coldness. We have already made progress in making adoption a far more viable and widely available choice. I believe we should continue on that path, as well as make it a viable and available choice to keep and raise a child by providing essential services. I believ we, as a society and through the state and/or federal governments, should systematically provide, at a minimum: (1) Free counseling for women with unwanted pregnancies; (2) Prenatal care for poor women, with fees based on a sliding income scale; (3) Neonatal care for all babies, with fees based on a sliding income scale; (4) Child care for all children, with fees based on a sliding income scale; (5) Health care for all children, with fees based on a sliding income scale; and, (6) An expansion of the Responsible Fatherhood Initative. Recall that children cannot be held responsible for the sins of the father or mother; even a conservative framework cannot deny that a baby should not live or die based on its parents’ income level. This is an area where we should feel good about investing: saving children’s lives right in our own neighborhoods. And I believe a reasonable conservative add-on in the mean time might be to adopt the policy we forced on Mexico as a condition for receiving US aid: mandatory sterilizations after a certain number of abortions. The goal of creating a society which treats ALL pregnancies as blessings is one in which an overturning of Roe will grow out of sexual responsibility and a respect for life and potential life rather than out of puritanical condemnation. The difference is one that determines whether women will seek back alley abortions or stop viewing their pregnancy as a burden and make choice we can all applaud them for.



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Mike Hayes

posted January 26, 2007 at 7:12 pm


Those who are familiar with George Lakoff’s book “Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think” recognize what is going on here. Sr. Helen Prajean framed a topic for discussion about executions and morality. Now we’re talking about abortion. Those who favor making abortion illegal reframed the discussion to put it in a perspective that makes it easier for them to be on the offensive. But, if the number of abortions can be reduced simply by supporting women who face an unplanned pregnancy and help them and others avoid recurrences, doesn’t it make sense to support those women? And, is our society any more safe by executing persons convicted of extremely violent crime rather than sentencing them to life in prison?



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Mark Hayes

posted January 26, 2007 at 7:47 pm


What is with all of this rationalization about pregnancy? If the ‘product of fertilization’ is a human being, why all of the machinations? Either ‘it’ is a human being, or ‘it’ is not….most here believe that a human being is created…. i don’t give a rats ass what the circumstances are that lead up to someone being with child, it is irrelevant….. Negotiating with proaborts is like negotiating with the Waffen SS on how many Jews are going to be killed today…



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Daniel

posted January 26, 2007 at 8:47 pm


Mark, I get your frustrations. From your standpoint this is a clear abomination, murder as plain as day. Having spent most of my life not believing so I’d like to share that it does not seem that way at all from the other side. Mostly because pro-choice folks do not view a zygote as being a new person. I myself do not believe an embryo with no heartbeat or brain function can be considered a new life – it has no mind and the circulatory system isn’t working. Christian tradition has the interpretation as being created in the image of God as requiring a mind (the brain clicks on at 6 weeks at the earliest) and the OT says that the life is in the blood (heart starts up at 5 weeks at the earliest). But these have been ignored in favor of a single verse from James that where life is a soul is. Since a zygote has unique DNA and is growing, it is considered alive and therefore must have a soul present already. I view this as a logical fallacy – we have to decide the zygote is alive before we decide it is alive! So, I think there is room for a connection to be made. We can discuss whether these distinctions make a difference in how we should think about life and the growing embryo, etc.



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Mark Hayes

posted January 26, 2007 at 10:06 pm


I am a Roman Catholic, I apologize, I assumed all on this forum were Catholic, the Church has always taught that abortion is an abomination, and that the soul is present from the moment of conception. I understand that Aquinas had different thoughts on the subject, but those were his own.



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timks

posted January 27, 2007 at 12:00 am


Daniel, Interesting platform. At one time I volunteered at a local Crisis Pregnancy Center, my duties included counseling the boyfriends/fathers/husbands of the women who came into our facility. We did not refer anyone to abortion providers, but we did provide pregnancy testing, counseling and provided vouchers and goods. All for free. I can tell you from personal experience that the most opposition/trouble we got was from the parents of teenage girls who wanted us to convice their daughters that they needed to have an abortion and from Planned Parenthood (both supporters and actual employees of PP) who made (and as far as I know still makes) significant revenue from the abortion industry. I fear that much of your platform (particularly your first plank) is impractical because PP has lots of political influence. Based on my experience, they would use their impressive influence to do what they could to make certain their “competition” like CPC disappeared. CPC’s client base is comparatively small, but the women they serve are very vulnerable and often defenseless. If the government was providing the counseling services you listed, I fear these unfortunate women would be forced to go to PP run or vetted clinics and be subjected to their perceived pressure tactics. Many of them told us they did not want to do that.



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Mike Hayes

posted January 27, 2007 at 2:19 am


My recollection is that Muslims and Jews think life begins weeks or months after conception. Who knows how to distinguish Thomas Aquinas’ writings about life beginning weeks or months after conception (he wrote that females became human later than males) from his other writings?



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Mike Hayes

posted January 27, 2007 at 2:21 am


How does execution keep our society more safe from persons who commit extremely violent crime than life sentence to prison?



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John D. Sens

posted January 27, 2007 at 2:51 am


Sometimes people escape from prison and go forth to kill again. Executed prisoners don’t come back.



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John D. Sens

posted January 27, 2007 at 2:56 am


Mike, Thomas Aquinas’ theories about human reproduction, and other matters of natural science, seen ridiculous now.



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timks

posted January 27, 2007 at 4:26 am


Mike Hayes, How does execution keep our society more safe from persons who commit extremely violent crime than life sentence to prison? Here’s one reason: the prison population deserves protection from murderers, too.



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kevin s.

posted January 27, 2007 at 7:56 am


“Those who favor making abortion illegal reframed the discussion to put it in a perspective that makes it easier for them to be on the offensive.” I didn’t. But then, i think Lakoff is full of crap too. Maybe I should write that Conservative counter you have been pining for. At any rate, I think there is a natural tendency to find an opportunity to play offense. I have seen that on both sides of the aisle here. You’re implicit criticism, that this behavior taints the discussion, is not invalid. It is fair to say that the issue of abortion and the death penalty are sufficiently different, so we can safely discard the “consistent ethic of life” canard. The weakness of Sister Prejean’s argument is that it constitutes an appeal to authority. I could care less what the Vatican says about this issue (I am not Catholic). What remains is a question of the dignity afforded these men, and I am not convinced that Saddam deserved to die with any measure of dignity. Hence my call for a more honest discussion of the moral issues at play here.



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Mike Hayes

posted January 27, 2007 at 1:31 pm


I’m not aware of any discussion group sponsored by the leading conservative faith based groups that creates an opportunity of the type that occurs here. When this group began, there was some discussion of the tendency of conservative groups to focus on making abortion illegal and obstructing rights of gays, and that characterization was objected to. I think that perception by the late Cardinal from Chicago is what lead to his coining of the phrase “a seamless garment” on issues of life and death… he wanted to have all those issues considered together if conservatives were going to focus on making abortion illegal. Back to the point… who does a life sentence fail to protect society as effectively as execution? Several persons have mentioned yhe possibility for persons serving a life sentence to either escape and kill others or kill inmates. Are those the only examples?



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timks

posted January 27, 2007 at 4:47 pm


Back to the point… who does a life sentence fail to protect society as effectively as execution? If the only possible purpose of capital punishment is to protect society, then protecting the prison population (where they are now) and protecting the population not in prison (where they may be in the future) seems to have exhausted the list of possible populations to protect. Is the avoidance of potential future acts the only topic of discussion, or are other possible purposes of capital punishment allowed to be considered?



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kevin s.

posted January 27, 2007 at 7:30 pm


Two important elements of the death penalty, are the reciprocity and finality of the act. There is a one to one correlation between the murder of an innocent, and the execution of the guilty, and the act forever removes the guilty party from this Earth. The latter purpose can serve as a strong deterrent to would-be murderers, so long as the punishment were delivered swiftly and fairly. The former can salve the wounds inflicted upon the families of the victims. These are important considerations, which are vital to the question of whether enforcing the death penalty is ethically sound. I am certain that the overwhelming majority of Americans would say that it is. However, the way the death penalty is enforced in America clouds these considerations by removing the sense of finality (by way of endless appeals) and a sense of justice (by way of Nifong-type prosecutors who see the electric chair as an electoral chit). That said, I do not think it is relevant to apply our tactical failures to the question of whether these men deserved to hang.



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timks

posted January 28, 2007 at 4:46 am


I’m sure the following will be greeted with dismay by many here, but I hope those dismayed will take the time to consider the point I am (hopefully) making: Capital punishment can also be a demonstration of God’s grace. I mean this in the same way that the Flood (to take one example) is a demonstration of God’s grace: a judgement against sinners that testifies to “onlookers” of the Final Judgement and God’s righteousness. All people are deserving of the same punishment, take heed, believe on Christ the Redeemer, etc. I don’t for a moment suggest that it is the government’s job to be the provider of grace on earth, but each of us including governments do have roles which , if properly conducted, reflect their God-given purpose.



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Daniel

posted January 29, 2007 at 4:09 am


timks, Except that specific distinction: Venegance is mine sayeth the LORD. Also, Judge not lest ye be judged was the turn of phrase of Jesus. It’s tough for me to see myself or all of us in the role of dispensing a judgment explicitly reserved for God…. Although I admit this is because it runs counter to one implication I see in Genesis: the original Sin is the Knowledge of Good and Evil and the result is death and pain. To an extent, I think casting in the light you have enshrines our [individual] usurpations of God’s throne as an objective good – a complete inversion of Christianity. Maybe I’m off base, but I’m finding it hard to see it another way….



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Daniel

posted January 29, 2007 at 4:13 am


timks, Also, thank you for your reply above. Good stuff. I feel sure that the mere process of batting around these topics would lead to a successful compromise – I do not, for example, believe counseling should include the option of abortion. I think any counseling plans ought to be geared toward live birth as the assumed goal. I would like to see women at risk drawn in and made to feel that this baby is not a burden but a gift and that she is not alone and set upon but included and supported. For women that choose abortion, I believe we need to shame. Sanitizing it just because the decision and process itself are traumatic, to my mind,



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kevin s.

posted January 29, 2007 at 12:53 pm


“It’s tough for me to see myself or all of us in the role of dispensing a judgment explicitly reserved for God….” Regardless of whether you interpret Romans 13 broadly or narrowly, it seems that the government is given the authority to do precisely this.



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Daniel

posted January 29, 2007 at 2:30 pm


Kevin, I think we run into all sorts of problems with Romans 13, mainly because we can’t be consistent. Applied as is it justifies all actions by all governments throughout history whether by Saddam Hussein, Joseph Stalin, Bill Clinton, or George W Bush. But you and I would certainly agree on face that this is not accurate – we can observe that governments do, in fact, do wrong. Romans 13:3 says governments hold no terror for those who do right – and yet Jesus was tortured and murdered by a government and Paul spent more time in jail than Daryl Strawberry…. Grover Norquist, the Contract with America, George W. Bush, etc all agree on one premise that was succinctly stated by Van Hilleary in the Tennessee Senate race last year – every increase in taxes is a loss of freedom. But Romans 13:6 and its context makes this into heresy for Biblical literalists (and I suspect this is why Paul is hardly ever trotted out to defend the Iraq war or the Patriot Act). In fact, it follows from Romans 13 that all matters ought be turned over to teh state – they can do no wrong. We’d be perfect if only they ran every inch of our lives. This idea finds no footing with me. Frankly, I am confused why Paul included it. Acts 1 sets up the promise that return of Jesus means the overthrow of governments – pretenders to the throne. In the context of a letter sent to Christians under heavy persecution by the Empire, I tend to think Paul is here playing the 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 game; Paul was a pragmatist. I suppose it would be difficult to recruit new adherents of the faith if it requires getting eaten by lions. In contrast the Appolo cult would be awfully difficult to compete against. They held that Appolo was the morning star, the dying god who is resurrected to redeem mankind, they had Solstice and Equinox festivals, and they hardly ever were made to face the lions…. When in Rome….



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Daniel

posted January 29, 2007 at 2:32 pm


Sorry, that’s ‘Apollo.’ I don’t know why I didn’t notice that mistake….



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timks

posted January 29, 2007 at 11:56 pm


Daniel, I agree with much of what you said. While I believe some of your planks are problematic, I appreciate the pro-life approach. Have you given any thought to including adoption somehow in your platform? I also know from personal experience that adoption is not a pleasant or life-affirming process (I am referring to the process not the result). I personally don’t know what those improvements might be, but I do know that our experience could have been much better.



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robstur

posted January 30, 2007 at 1:04 am


Really not interested in chatting about this – but will make one statement and I might check back later as to what people have to say. I will agree with the idea of not carrying out capital punishment and just to life with out parole on one condition. The person in prison is not allowed any contact with family and friends. There is a person in the ground with will never get or send another Birthday or Christmas card. The one in prison may have the same conditions. You may think this is cruel – but think about the other family that would give almost anything to see their loved one even if it would only be once a year. Blessings on all… .



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timks

posted January 30, 2007 at 2:37 pm


Daniel, Except that specific distinction: Venegance is mine sayeth the LORD. Also, Judge not lest ye be judged was the turn of phrase of Jesus. I don’t see the Scriptures driving us to equate capital punishment to personal vengeance. To use your interpretation of “judge not” invalidates our entire judicial system and would put a lot of lawyers out of jobs. I just don’t believe “judge” can be parsed to include parking tickets and theft but exclude capital crimes. I believe Jesus meant something else.



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Daniel

posted January 30, 2007 at 3:25 pm


timks, I also know from personal experience that adoption is not a pleasant or life-affirming process This breaks my heart. There is no reason why it shouldn’t be pleasanta nd life-affirming, it’s a critical failure that we treat it so poorly. My sister Kate is adopted, as were her biological siblings who all live nearby. I believe adoption ought to be foremost on your list of options for at-risk mothers. We definitely need more support and less bureaucracy for adoption.



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Daniel

posted January 30, 2007 at 3:33 pm


timks, Jesus specifically tells us that if Christians do not settle all matters outside court then they will be punished for it – it’s awfully tough not to come away with all sorts of problems based on passages like this unless we are willing to avoid literalism. As such, I didn’t mean to suggest we shouldn’t make any moral judgments at all. I mean that matters of life and death and the state of a person’s immortal soul are not the same as determining whether jaywalking is wrong or not. But I think we moght agree on a crucial distinction here between the State discharging God’s morality or justice and the State providing for the protection and order of society. In that sense we can argue that capital punishment might be ethical when compared to God’s pre-existing objective moral code innate in all of us, but it helps us avoid the claim that we are carrying out a specific order from God with respect to an individual. For me, at least, the difference between the two is important.



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