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Real Christians say abolish the death penalty?

This morning at WorldNetDaily I read a piece by Joseph Farah reporting on an article by Richard A. Viguerie and Brent Bozell in which they claim that there are “a growing number of conservatives who have questions and reservations about the death penalty believe it is no longer a necessary form of punishment based on either Lockean or biblical principles, or oppose it outright.” These two well-known conservatives argue in favor of this belief. In doing so, they rely on two arguments that have long been in use among opponents of the death penalty. Somewhat disingenuously they invite conservatives to consider these arguments afresh, as if they have not been made and answered many times in the past. But as new generations bring the renewal of life they also represent the renewal of ignorance, and of opportunities to exploit it. So, in matters of political education, it’s especially important that we not grow weary of well doing.

Like their left-wing counterparts these conservative opponents of the death penalty seem unable to argue for their position without inaccuracy. Relying on the eighth chapter of John in the New Testament, they declare their belief that “Jesus did not consider the death penalty mandatory punishment for sins…” They further maintain that “Lockean principles do not compel the death penalty.” They say that Locke “believed the death penalty was a justifiable punishment for two reasons: protecting society (self-preservation) and deterrence.” Yet in chapter 2 of his Second Treatise of Government Locke actually traces the justification of the death penalty to what he calls “that great law of nature: “whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed.””Locke makes clear in the same chapter that the law of nature represents the will “of one omnipotent and infinitely wise maker”, and that it “obliges everyone”. The death penalty is therefore the consequence of a natural obligation arising from the natural law. But where the law obliges, it compels. (Otherwise, having no force it is not law at all, but only a notion or suggestion of what is lawful.) The death penalty is therefore compulsory.

In consequence of this compulsion righteous indignation is an important part of the human reaction to the crime of murder. Human beings are moved by this indignation to retaliate against the perpetrator, thus naturally volunteering to be the executioners of God’s commandment that his blood be shed. Because in doing so they act as “the servants of one sovereign master” they have the “right to punish the offender and be the executioner of the law of nature.” Their right arises from their obligation, because it is right for them to do what their sovereign master commands. It is true that by fulfilling their obligation to the law they serve the peace and safety of the whole species. It is also true that by shedding the blood of the perpetrator they “deter him, and by his example others, from doing the like mischief.”

But Locke does not speak only of deterrence. He says that the punishment meted out to the perpetrator aims “to retribute to him, so far as calm reason and conscience dictate, what is proportionate to his transgression, which is so much as may serve for reparation and restraint”. But, as Locke points somewhat further on in the chapter, insofar as the murdered individual is concerned murder is a crime “which no reparation can compensate”. However, if the crime of murder escapes proportionate punishment, this creates a degree of impunity for the ones willing to commit murder, which in turn gives them a disproportionate advantage when it comes to threatening and intimidating others. For what the others must fear to endure by ignoring the threat (death, the great unknown) bears no proportion to what the perpetrators may have to fear if they are ultimately apprehended and punished for carrying it out (life in prison, which may be fearsome but is not unknown.)

To whatever extent the perception of this impunity operates, to that extent the force of law is diminished until, for the hardy few, it ceases to be law at all. But though few in numbers, they may become the scourge of all mankind as their violence brings the law into disrepute. Thus though the victim of murder is beyond any reparation, after every act of murder the law stands in need of repair. But the breach in the law can be repaired by closing the gap between what potential victims must fear from the crime and what potential perpetrators have to fear from its execution. Reparation is therefore the aim of the death penalty, but damages are assessed on account of what is needed to compensate for the breach in the law, i.e., a life for a life.

This reasoning is not intended to justify the death penalty, which Locke rightly understands to be justified by the law of nature. Rather it helps us to understand the wisdom of the sovereign master who ordains the law. His will respects, in substance and effect, what is required to serve the good of all, even when the individual’s good has been damaged beyond earthly repair. In this respect the punishment for murder mirrors the nature of the crime, for it dispatches the perpetrator to be judged by the only sovereign with sufficient intelligence and power to assess the damage and pronounce a sentence commensurate with the harm it involves. The death penalty is thus the ultimate fruit of that appeal to God which the offender makes necessary when he “declares himself to live by another rule than that of reason and common equity”. For in the service of the law of nature human beings are obliged to do all that they are reasonably able to perform. The rest they must leave in the hands of God.

As one would expect what Jesus Christ does with the adulterous woman in no way contradicts the great law of nature set forth in the command of the creator God. Jesus clearly stated that he came not to destroy the law but to fulfill it. When he challenges the scribes and Pharisees to let the one without sin cast the first stone what he says convicts them of their sinfulness. But it also calls attention to the fact that they are in the presence of the only one whose sinless nature truly corresponds to that description. In that company Christ is the one without sin, the one who fully represents the authority of God. As such, he alone has the power to forgive sin, to remit punishment, and to pass on to others (as he later does) the authority to do the same. But contrary to the assumptions of the opponents of capital punishment this power of remission is not given to governments, but only to those who enjoy the freedom made possible by the law of grace. They have in Christ the power to judge according to the Spirit and to reprieve the punishment of others as Christ reprieved the adulteress.

Is the government of the United States part of the Body of Christ thus authorized for the remission of sins? Or does it operate still according to that law of nature which governs the flesh and which therefore remains subject to the understanding of life according to the flesh? Human law has the power to destroy the body, but the judgment of Christ extends to body and soul. Though the body be condemned to death, the Body of Christ extends to every living soul Christ’s offer of eternal life. In this sense it is true to say that Christians ought to oppose the death penalty, but the abolition they seek will never be achieved by any human legislation. In reality, it has already been achieved by the one through whom life is given, and in whom alone it is ultimately to be restored. In this respect we are all of us born under a sentence of death. Bozell and Viguerie are therefore not wrong to suggest that Christians work to abolish the death penalty. They are however wrong to assume that it can be abolished by any earthly human government or legislation. For as regards true life, it has already been abolished, in the kingdom of God, and for all those willing to enter by the narrow gate the only way that leads to it.

Those obsessed with abolishing the death penalty act on an understanding of life that is contrary to the Christian understanding. As they asked us to ponder the writings of Locke and the lesson of John 8, so I would ask Bozell and Viguerie to ponder this question: How does it serve the Gospel Christ commanded us to share for Christians to abandon respect for the natural law instituted by God to serve true life, in order to achieve a goal that depends on corrupting our understanding of the life all may obtain through Jesus Christ? Rather than working to abolish the earthly death penalty, shouldn’t Christians work instead to make sure that all who are justly subject to it will have the opportunity to accept bodily death with equanimity, because they have been freed by their acceptance of Christ from the fear of any death except what comes in the form of a life in bondage to sin? Which will be the truer testimony to the Christian understanding of salvation: the joy of prisoners saved by law from physical death, in order to continue their life imprisoned; or the peace of those willing to accept the death of their body, according to the law, because they have been born to true life in Christ, according to the grace of God’s? By their continued life, the first may be encouraged to remain in bondage to sin. By their accepted death, the second find true freedom, for they trust in the sure and certain hope of true life which lasts forever.

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  • Robert Malcolm Menefee December 16, 2017, 7:59 am

    Great article.

  • Death Row Sergeant August 21, 2011, 12:52 pm

    As both a pre-Law student and retired Correctional Officer at San Quentin Prison when it was a Maximum security Prison, I feel it’s hard to say that I don’t at least know something about both the law and the kind of monsters that exist within our prison system.
    That being said, I’m writing concerning the electric fences which are installed at many prisons in California and elsewhere simply to save money over having a human being in a tower doing the same job.
    As a former Official for the California Dept. Of Corrections, I can say that the current electric fences surrounding many of California’s correctional facilities are illegal. The question is, why are they allowed to exist simply to save money?
    Before you think they are in fact legal, let me explain my reasoning..
    If you are a prison guard or police officer, you are required by law to attempt to stop an escaping convict by using the “least amount of force necessary to stop the individual”. This is a cardinal mainstay of any law enforcement agency. The only exception to that rule is to protect your life or someone else’s who are in imminent danger, not indirectly in danger..
    Therefore, whoever designed the current fences SPECIFICALLY to KILL 100% of persons who touch said fence, and to SPECIFICALLY design that fence to do so specifically even in the event the fence is touched for the tiniest fraction of an instant, is guilty of premeditated murder under current laws as I understand them..
    With the current technology of stun guns a fence could easily be designed that prevents 100% of escapes by making it physically impossible to use ones muscles to climb a fence while their nervous system is incapacitated. And if there is any disagreement to that issue I would be happy to prove that fact for them..
    I know that there are some people who will kill anyone, anytime the opportunity exists. And many will never change. It’s my personal belief that those people need to be removed from the world and preferably by the same method they used on their victims. If your wife or child were the next victim, you might then feel the same.
    But the construction of these fences transcends that issue. People cannot be murdered simply for attempting to escape. Escape being a non capital offense). And these fences are not designed to have any chance of survival whatsoever. In fact they are specifically designed to kill 100% of the time.
    To plan and set out to kill an individual who has not been sentenced to death is by definition first degree murder. This is so cut and dry, I cannot believe anyone could have any hope of mounting any legal defense against it. Our prison system is bound by law to protect it’s wards. (convicts) Even a signed waiver by them would be coercion and as such void…
    During my career at San Quentin, many people were shot trying to escape. Most were merely wounded intentionally because a human being can make that decision. That required LAWFUL decision. On one occasion a violent convict had tried to swim out past a gun tower, and who would not return to shore, threatening to kill any officer who tried to go into the water to arrest him. The tower held him at gunpoint until the cold water of the San Francisco bay took the fight out of him and we could safely wade in and retrieve him. We could have shot him, but it would not have been the minimum amount of force required to stop him.
    But that convict and all the others would be dead now if they came into contact with the “Murder Fences”.
    Stun fences would be 100% effective, but without committing premeditated murder. Tell me how Government can allow this to happen.
    I am not anything close to a bleeding heart liberal. Quite the opposite actually. But the current policy of imprisoning 10 fold more people than ever before, most on petty offences, and coupled with these fences, is a very small step to gassing people like the Nazis did the Jews.

  • Dawg em August 21, 2010, 12:02 pm

    Whether simply a product of their licentious philosophy, or their specific goal, the end result is the same; the destruction of a powerful force that stands between them and America’s destruction.

    If I were in the military today I would be very concerned about a false flag attack against our warriors. Throughout history these monsters have murdered their own in order to accomplish their end game.

  • 113Tidbits May 30, 2010, 6:59 pm

    Thank you for exposing a viewpoint that needs to be exposed. The US is sick and it looks like everyday the fever is getting more and more rampant in every aspect of our lives. Why won’t anyone stop this crap!!

  • Aaron Greene May 28, 2010, 11:37 am

    Alan,

    Thank you so much for writing this article. I am currently in the National Guard, however, today I asked to be let go because I feel as if this country is no longer worth defending. The government is not even willing to listen to its military leaders and the people are so dumbed down by the liberal media and the indoctrinating education system.
    It is amazing to me that most Americans understand the issue no deeper than, “It doesn’t affect me personally” and “All the other countries are doing it” and “I know someone who is gay.” Those responses are what passes as an educated opinion now in America. It is still the best country I know but I don’t even recognize it anymore.
    Ten years ago, you were a viable presidential candidate, now because of the media and the stupidity of the American people, you are written off as a “nutjob.” It is amazing what a little television, government education, and pornography can do.
    Anyways, I hope the military can find a patriotic homosexual to replace me. Alan, the country needs you now more than ever.

    • loyaltoliberty May 28, 2010, 12:45 pm

      Aaron,
      Your comment and several other things in the past few days brought to my mind this piece by James Russell Lowell, the 19th century anti-slavery poet. I share it with thanks for your good words.

      The Present Crisis

      WHEN a deed is done for Freedom, through the broad earth’s aching breast
      Runs a thrill of joy prophetic, trembling on from east to west,
      And the slave, where’er he cowers, feels the soul within him climb
      To the awful verge of manhood, as the energy sublime
      Of a century bursts full-blossomed on the thorny stem of Time.

      Through the walls of hut and palace shoots the instantaneous throe,
      When the travail of the Ages wrings earth’s systems to and fro;
      At the birth of each new Era, with a recognizing start,
      Nation wildly looks at a nation, standing with mute lips apart,
      And glad Truth’s yet mightier man-child leaps beneath the Future’s heart.

      So the Evil’s triumph sendeth, with a terror and a chill,
      Under continent to continent, the sense of coming ill,
      And the slave, where’er he cowers, feels his sympathies with God
      In hot tear-drops ebbing earthward, to be drunk up by the sod,
      Till a corpse crawls round unburied, delving in the nobler clod.

      For mankind are one in sprit, and an instinct bears along,
      Round the earth’s electric circle, the swift flash of right or wrong;
      Whether conscious or unconscious, yet Humanity’s vast frame
      Through its ocean-sundered fibres feels the gush of joy or shame;-
      In the gain or loss of one race all the rest have equal claim.

      Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide,
      In the strife of Truth with Falsehood, for the good or evil side;
      Some great cause, God’s new Messiah, offering each the bloom or blight,
      Parts the goats upon the left hand, and the sheep upon the right,
      And the choice goes by forever ‘twixt that darkness and that light.

      Hast thou chosen, O my people, on whose party thou shalt stand,
      Ere the Doom from its worn sandals shakes the dust against our land?
      Though the cause of Evil prosper, yet ‘t is Truth alone is strong,
      And, albeit she wander outcast now, I see around her throng
      Troops of beautiful, tall angels, to enshield her from all wrong.

      Backward look across the ages and the beacon-moments see,
      That, like peaks of some sunk continent, jut through Oblivion’s sea;
      Not an ear in court or market for the low foreboding cry
      Of those Crises, God’s stern winnowers, from whose feet earth’s chaff must fly;
      Never shows the choice momentous till the judgement hath passed by.

      Careless seems the great Avenger; history’s pages but record
      One death-grapple in the darkness ‘twixt old systems and the Word;
      Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne,-
      Yet that scaffold sways the future, and, behind the dim unknown,
      Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own.

      We see dimly in the Present what is small and what is great,
      Slow of faith how weak an arm may turn this iron helm of fate,
      But the soul is still oracular; amid the market’s din,
      List the ominous stern whisper from the Delphic cave within,-
      “They enslave their children’s children who make compromise with sin.”

      Slavery, the earth-born Cyclops, fellest of the giant brood,
      Sons of brutish Force and Darkness, who have drenched the earth with blood,
      Famished in his self-made desert, blinded by our purer day,
      Gropes in yet unblasted regions for his miserable prey;-
      Shall we guide his gory fingers where our helpless children play?

      Then to side with Truth is noble when we share her wretched crust,
      Ere her cause bring fame and profit, and ‘t is prosperous to be just;
      Then it is the brave man chooses, while the coward stands aside,
      Doubting in his abject sprit, till his Lord is crucified,
      And the multitude make virtue of the faith they had denied.

      Count me o’er the earth’s chosen heroes,- they were souls that stood alone,
      While the men they agonized for hurled the contumelious stone,
      Stood serene, and down the future saw the golden beam incline
      To the side of perfect justice, mastered by their faith divine,
      By one man’s plain truth to manhood and to God’s supreme design.

      By the light of burning heretics Christ’s bleeding feet I track,
      Toiling up new Calvaries ever with the cross that turns not back,
      And these mounts of anguish number how each generation learned
      One new word of that grand Credo which in prophet-hearts hath burned
      Since the first man stood God-conquered with his face to heaven upturned.

      For Humanity sweeps onward: where today the martyr stands,
      On the morrow, crouches Judas with the silver in his hands;
      Far in front the cross stands ready and the crackling fagots burn,
      While the hooting mob of yesterday in silent awe return
      To glean up the scattered ashes into History’s golden urn.

      ‘Tis as easy to be heroes as to sit the idle slaves
      Of a legendary virtue carved upon our father’s graves,
      Worshippers of light ancestral make the present light a crime;-
      Was the Mayflower launched by cowards, steered by men behind their time?
      Turn those tracks toward Past or Future, that make Plymouth Rock sublime?

      They were men of present valor, stalwart old iconoclasts,
      Unconvinced by axe or gibbet that all virtue was the Past’s;
      But we make their truth our falsehood, thinking that hath made us free,
      Hoarding it in mouldy parchments, while our tender spirits flee
      The rude grasp of that great Impulse which drove them across the sea.

      They have rights who dare maintain them; we are traitors to our sires,
      Smothering in their holy ashes Freedom’s new-lit altar-fires;
      Shall we make their creed our jailer? Shall we, in our haste to slay,
      From the tombs of the old prophets steal the funeral lamps away
      To light up the martry-fagots round the prophet of today?

      New occasions teach new duties; Time makes ancient good uncouth;
      They must upward still, and onward, who would keep abreast of Truth;
      Lo, before us gleam her campfires? We ourselves must Pilgrims be,
      Launch our Mayflower, and steer boldly through the desperate winter sea,
      Nor attempt the Future’s portal with the Past’s blood-rusted key.

      • Aaron Greene May 28, 2010, 1:21 pm

        This is beautiful and I am going to share it with my fellow service members. I will have to read this many more times in order to get the complete feel of it, but that is somewhat the beauty of poetry. God bless you, Alan. I sent you an email and a facebook message but I am not sure youever received them. Anyways, here it is…I pledge the maximum donation of $2400 to your presidential candidacy, should you decide to run. I just want you to know that you have that support. Thanks again!

  • Chiu Chun-Ling May 28, 2010, 12:41 am

    If such is indeed their strategy, then they have failed to apprehend the harsh lesson they and their ilk taught American servicemen a generation ago. There is no more effective attack on the morale and readiness of a military than to slander it before the people whom it serves.

    A military stripped of those who deserve honor, and ordered to directly assault the very Constitution that every service member swears to support and defend, will deserve all the contempt of which the entire nation they are ordered to oppress is capable of mustering. And among those who make the most profound condemnation, by their absence as eloquently as by any other word or deed, will be those who retain the honor which those submitting to the destruction of freedom can never hold.

    They may yet murder tens of thousands, while millions die in the anarchy provoked by this utter betrayal of all principles of law, but only fools would imagine that the mere scope of their crimes can assure their victory or even mitigate the totality of their eventual defeat.

    And, in the final judgment, all must answer before the bar of God, who alone is just.

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