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Saturday, March 15, 2014

Rethinking Capital Punishment

Via Ad Orientem.
But as Ron Sider noted in The Early Church on Killing (Baker Academic, 2012), those Fathers who discussed capital punishment found it unthinkable that a follower of Christ could take a life, even as part of a judicial sentence. Lactantius said that a Christian should not even accuse someone of a capital crime, "because it makes no difference whether you put someone to death by word or by sword since it is the act of putting to death itself which is prohibited." Origen, recognizing that capital punishment had a place under the Old Covenant, drew a stark contrast between the law of Moses and the law of Christ. Christians, he said, cannot "condemn [someone] to be burned or stoned." Tertullian asked whether a Christian could be a civil magistrate and concluded that believers must avoid "sitting in judgment on someone's life."
Way back when, sociopaths were exiled or killed or died in the course of short, brutal lives. In the modern era, non-criminals, including crime victims, have to come up with $20K/yr per prisoner to keep sociopaths clothed, housed and fed and protected behind high walls from extra-judicial retribution.

The linked article draws a parallell with slavery, another institution which was said to be unworkable with Christian praxis. People with very low marginal product used to be slaves, because otherwise they were vagrant beggars. When they got sick or the weather got too cold or they couldn't find food, they died. Then we outlawed slavery and gave low marginal producers welfare so they wouldn't die. Now, the poor are obese and have children they can't afford.

These debates only take place in that interregnum between the institution of the welfare state and the point at which net consumption outpaces the capacity or the will of net producers to fund it. After that, what's old is new again and these debates don't happen.

10 comments:

Porter said...

That last paragraph was outstanding. I wish I'd thought of it.

Ingemar said...

One argument trotted out by anti capital punishment types is that the death penalty is too expensive because of the appeals process.

This of course is a relatively modern aspect of the criminal justice system and a completely artificial construct.

My counter argument is--Is it more expensive to execute a criminal, or keep him alive until old age at the taxpayer's expense?

Bob Wallace said...

It is now possible to tell a psychopath from brain scans, and apparently it's fairly easy. See James Fallon on this.

Personally, I believe anyone who wants to be a police officer or a politician should be forced to undergo that scan - and if they fail they should be forbidden to enter either of those professions.

I wouldn't mind seeing them sterilized. Again, see Fallon, who is related to Lizzie Borden and is a direct descendent of the first man in the U.S. who was executed for murdering one of his parents.

Anonymous said...

Aren't you one of those low marginal producers if you aren't one of the top 1%?

Northern Refugee said...

This reminds me of a coversation I had once with a feminist. She told me that feminism was correlated with higher per capita GDP. Thus, feminism leads to greater economic prospertity, and we should export this ideaology to uplift poor countries. I replied that she had it backwards: great wealth allows a society to indulge the fiction that men and women are equal in all things, and to create useless, high paying make-work jobs to provide middle class incomes to "educated" women with no actual useful skills (social work, human resources, etc). This woman, by the way, was a school administrator.

president borat said...

I suppose you can't imagine yourself or a loved one in the defendant's seat there... a real armchair executioner.

The Anti-Gnostic said...

I suppose you can't imagine yourself or a loved one in the defendant's seat there...

Actually, I can't. And if I had a relative who did what, say, Jeffrey Dahmer did, I might put him down myself. Better me than the impersonal State.

What I can far more easily imagine is myself or a loved one as a crime victim. Why would any middle-class individual with a first-level instinct against violence imagine himself committing murder and sitting on Death Row? Serious question for you.

That seems to be the Liberal Mind in action. A horrible crime happens, and their mind immediately leaps to empathize with the sociopath than the more common and closer-related class of crime victims. I don't know if such thinking is the result of extreme altruistic one-upmanship, or self-hating nihilism. Maybe they're both related.

Toddy Cat said...

I'm also a bit surprised at the choice of Church "Fathers" given by Ron Sider.

Here's what the "Catholic Encyclopedia says about each:

Lactantius: "The beauty of the style, the choice and aptness of the terminology, cannot hide the author's lack of grasp on Christian principles and his almost utter ignorance of Scripture."

Origen: "Were Origen and Origenism anathematized? Many learned writers believe so"

Tertullian:"It was after the year 206 that he joined the Montanist sect, and he seems to have definitively separated from the Church about 211 (Harnack) or 213 (Monceaux). After writing more virulently against the Church than even against heathen and persecutors, he separated from the Montanists and founded a sect of his own."

These guys are not exactly mainstream, and you'll note that not one of them has a "Saint" in front of his name.

Cherry-pick much, Mr.Sider?

SFG said...

"What I can far more easily imagine is myself or a loved one as a crime victim. Why would any middle-class individual with a first-level instinct against violence imagine himself committing murder and sitting on Death Row? Serious question for you."

I can imagine it pretty well, but that doesn't make me anti-death penalty. If anything, it makes me more appreciative of the deterrent effect. ;)

Arakawa said...

"Why would any middle-class individual with a first-level instinct against violence imagine himself committing murder and sitting on Death Row? Serious question for you."

Well, he may not have had "a first-level instinct against violence" (whatever you mean by that), but Fyodor Dostoyevsky made a career out of imagining exactly this kind of stuff :P

Maybe that's because he actually had the experience of sitting on Death Row.