On the virtue of being pro-death

Progressive Evangelical theologian Roger Olson wrote a very interesting post on death penalty in America and its barbaric nature.


“We Americans like to think of ourselves as among the most developed and civilized countries in the world (if not at the top of the list!). But much of the rest of the world thinks otherwise. We don’t help our case when we continue to engage in acts that can only be called barbaric.
According to published news reports, during the last year various states have carried out what can only be called botched executions described as “preventable horrors.” Most recently, Arizona executed a man named Joseph Rudolph Wood by torture. It took his executioners one hour and fifty-seven minutes to kill him—from insertion of the needle to his death. During that time, according to witnesses, he gasped and snorted. If that isn’t cruel and unusual punishment, I don’t know what would be.
Defenders of the death penalty are blaming drug manufacturers and resellers and opponents of the death penalty for these botched executions. That’s a red herring if ever there was one. It’s like blaming America and Great Britain for the Holocaust because they didn’t accept all of Germany’s Jews when Hitler offered them before WW2. If states (and the federal government) are going to kill people, it’s up to them to obtain the best means. It’s certainly not businesspersons’ fault or the fault of opponents of capital punishment if they fail.
My guess is that the very people who will point the finger at companies and critics of capital punishment are the ones who argue that businesses should be exempt for reasons of conscience from providing health insurance that pays for certain methods of birth control. But they are then being inconsistent. If Hobby Lobby and other Christian-owned companies have that right, so should chemical companies have the right to refuse to supply poisons to government entities that plan to use it to kill people.
Clearly it is governments that have failed. They are experimenting on human subjects. And it won’t do to say these subjects, the convicts, deserve death by torture. That’s blatant barbarism and anyone who says it is either not in their right mind or is simply a barbarian not worthy to participate in civilized discussion of these matters.
In my opinion, the only way this barbarism will stop is if the Supreme Court intervenes to declare all capital punishment cruel and unusual and at least place a moratorium on it until there is no doubt or question that it can be carried out humanely. (But I doubt that can ever be done.) But a faster way would be for state and federal governments to prosecute persons who carry out such barbaric botched executions. Does the law permit execution by torture? I certainly hope not.”


Personally, I could understand why the most heinous criminals of our kind might deserve death and I can’t said I feel too sad about the Nazi officers having been executed after the process of Nuremberg. But I certainly don’t think they should undergo torture before passing away.

My main concern about death personality is that it inevitably involves that completely innocent people will be murdered, whereas imprisonment would at least give them a chance (however remote) to see the situation rectified.

What’s more, it goes without saying many folks executed stem from ethnic minorities and it is blatantly obvious that their free will was greatly limited through social and psychological factors.

I’m glad that death penalty disappeared from Western Europe and think Conservative Christians in America would be well advised to revise their priorities.


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7 thoughts on “On the virtue of being pro-death

  1. This is a tricky one this. My general view for the past few years is that I agree with capital punishment in principle, but not practice. If just one “innocent” person is executed, this is one too many, so best not to let anyone face the possibility. However, I am also fairly swayed by the argument that human life is so precious that the taking of it gratuitously in cold blood, requires a very real “substantial” form of retributive justice. One might conclude that a callous murderer receiving his freedom after a few years in prison has not “paid” for his crime.

    There have been a few stories over here about the last few British executions. Although admittedly a very grim affair, there had developed a fairly “humane” and very quick practice. One of the British hangmen had worked at Nuremberg and commented that the American hangmen caused much more agony than necessary. I don’t believe this was a deliberate or callous action, but much more to do with unfamiliarity with the technique. I wonder if some of the major problems with some recent executions is that some of the “humane” processes of execution are in fact in practice far from this. Lethal injection may sound much more “humane” but in fact is not as quick, painless or as sure as the noose or the guillotine.

    • Yeah it isn’t an easy topic at all, unlike what people both at the extreme left and extreme right of the political specter think.

      But since I reject utilitarianism, I think it is wrong to kill even one innocent person.

  2. The problem is that you can’t rectify imprisonment. The bell has been run; you can’t unring it. The best you can do is sometimes take them out before their full term ends, but this is possible with the death penalty as well. In fact, most death penalties take years before they are actually carried out.

    The fact that there are botched executions doesn’t actually invalidate the death penalty, anymore than the imprisonment of innocent people invalidates the justice system.

  3. Of course it’s barbaric. As are the crimes to which it is applied. Another question to ask is whether we, as participants in the government which executes, wish to continue to be involved in this barbarism.

  4. The death penalty was abolished in Australia some 50 years ago.
    Conservative Christians who support the death penalty are crucifying Jesus.
    They are like the Pharisees only worse.

    • Conservative Christians who support the death penalty are crucifying Jesus.
      They are like the Pharisees only worse.

      And I am a horrible person for saying that pro-abortionists disgust me, yet comments like this will probably get much support.

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