Beliefnet

Big news today: the Boston bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, has been sentenced to death. The 21-year-old man who accompanied his brother on a journey of violence and terrorism will now live out the years of his appeals process until a lethal injection is administered to end his life.

Liz Norden, whose two sons each lost a leg in the bombing, said, 'It is bittersweet... There are no winners today.' She added that she thought the death penalty was an 'appropriate sentence.' -- The Huffington Post

Certainly there are no winners. Who wins when egregious acts cause death and maiming? Who wins when families are torn apart, children lose the breadth of their lives, and idealogical incitements set cultures, religions, and governments at each other's throats? Who wins when the corrosiveness of hate demolishes any regard for the preciousness of life? Who wins when we kill to punish those who kill?

I'd argue: no one. Even Matthew continued:

"But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also."

Biblical contradiction. What's a believer to believe?

There was a time when I was ambivalent about the death penalty. In the Catholic church in which I was raised, strict interpretations of the Bible were the meat of Sunday sermons, and tracts like Matthew's -- both concepts -- were repeated often enough that they became foundational pieces of my budding worldview. But as I got older I began to question the contradictions, querying the reasons behind which part of what canon was to be believed, was meant to guide and inspire me. This curiosity was not necessarily frowned upon, but it was met with patronizing mandates to "have faith" and trust in the good book. Which part, I asked? I don't remember anyone answering.

In high school I attempted to read the Bible myself rather than be fed selections by priests and nuns with agendas, and while I found it as ponderous and incomprehensible as I later found Dianetics, The Modern Science of Mental Health, or 2001, A Space Odyssey, what I did come away with was heightened awareness of its many inconsistencies. Which ultimately made the "eye for an eye" theory (amongst others) harder to either justify or defend.

History of the death penalty stretches back to the 1700s B.C., so clearly the urge for vengeance has been a part of human existence long enough to have assessed its effectiveness. And while the ease with which it is administered has been tempered over time, its morality and purpose has become a matter of deep divide in this country, particularly since its deterrent factor is negligible.

For those against the penalty, these fundamentals, as cited by the American Civil Liberties Union, are of most concern:

  • The death penalty system in the US is applied in an unfair and unjust manner against people, largely dependent on how much money they have, the skill of their attorneys, race of the victim and where the crime took place. People of color are far more likely to be executed than white people, especially if the victim is white.
  • The death penalty is a waste of taxpayer funds and has no public safety benefit. The vast majority of law enforcement professionals surveyed agree that capital punishment does not deter violent crime; a survey of police chiefs nationwide found they rank the death penalty lowest among ways to reduce violent crime. They ranked increasing the number of police officers, reducing drug abuse, and creating a better economy with more jobs higher than the death penalty as the best ways to reduce violence. The FBI has found the states with the death penalty have the highest murder rates
  • Innocent people are too often sentenced to death. Since 1973, over 140 people have been released from death rows in 26 states because of innocence. Nationally, at least one person is exonerated for every 10 that are executed. [Emphasis added.]

Yet studies show that the "eye for an eye" Biblical imperative still rules. Though the "pro" contingent has decreased since its high of 80 percent in 1994, a full 60 percent of Americans still support the death penalty, per the most recent Gallup poll. Why? Given its inequity and ineffectiveness as spelled out above, why do most Americans continue to see red?

Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus