2016-06-30
Next week the Oklahoma City bomber, Timothy McVeigh, will be executed by lethal injection. McVeigh waived all appeals of his conviction for the 1995 bombing. The attack that killed 168 people and injured hundreds more left a deep scar on this nation, but are we really prepared to compound the injury byturning McVeigh's death into a Roman circus?

Apparently so. From the look of things in Terra Haute, you'd think the circus was indeed coming to town. Mayor Judith Anderson says her phones have been swamped; she's besieged by shop owners and vendors who want to sell T-shirts, buttons, and trinkets celebrating McVeigh's death on May 16th.

Unfortunately, the city can't stop them from hawking their goods. "We have no control over what they sell," Anderson says. "We're just asking that it be in very good taste." Right!

Execution T-shirts are already being offered on the Internet's eBay auction site. One shirt features a syringe and the words: "Hoosier Hospitality/ McVeigh/Terre Haute/May 16, 2001/Final Justice." The owner of Little Cee's pizza parlor across the street from the prison wants to deliver pizzas to police and security guards working the event. With all the extra security, business should be good. And another man, who owns a downtown restaurant, said, "We've never had an execution. We don't know what to expect!" Well, restaurants in Terra Haute are getting ready for a windfall!

The city is in a frenzy, preparing for an onslaught of protesters, camera crews, reporters, sightseers, and visiting entrepreneurs. More than 1,300 members of the media have already signed up for press credentials. Articles are being written, T-shirts and buttons are being sold, and hotels and motels throughout the region are booked solid. .Some of the national TV networks have been calling Larry Taylor, a man who lives across the street from the prison, wanting to rent his property as a parking lot for 40 or 50 of their vehicles. And the public schools are closing, too, giving Terra Haute's 16,000 students the day off. The McVeigh execution is the biggest thing to hit Terra Haute in a decade.

In his Confessions, Augustine tells the story of a young man named Alypius, who vowed to avoid the brutal gladiatorial contests that were so popular in Carthage and ancient Rome. But one day his friends dragged him to the arena. He tried closing his eyes, but when he opened them, Augustine says, "his soul was stabbed with a wound more deadly than any which the gladiator had received in his body." Alypius was captivated, drunk with bloodlust.

The Roman poet Seneca warned that those who make sport of human misery and death lose their virtue, becoming less than human. The rush by the media, the souvenir vendors, and even those who'll be watching on TV -- making sport of Timothy McVeigh's final moments -- tells us that Seneca had it right.

I believe in capital punishment in cases where the crime is egregious; justice demands it. But we should carry out the law saddened that sin has caused such a dreadful crime. If we enjoy the spectacle, we mock justice, trivialize sin, and coarsen our souls


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