30/70: Capital Punishment

For as long as I can remember — which is getting well on to three-quarters of a century — I’ve accepted The Fifth Commandment as a necessity for everyone’s survival. If we condone any action whose purpose is to take human life*, where do we draw the line? Capital punishment? “Stand your ground” laws? Honest efforts to minimize “collateral damage?” Honor killings?

    *In my view, human life does not begin at conception, nor do I believe a scientific or theological time line can be drawn. It is a moral and cultural and legal question, and the “right” answer for any time and place need not be the same as for any other.

Some time in the last century — I remember it as during the Papacy of John 23, but have not yet been able to track it down — the Catholic Church toyed with the idea of capital punishment: it ought to be allowed in theory, the Church proposed, but so constrained in practice that it could almost never be invoked.

I was okay with that, but the Church, so far as I can determine, never was.

Since then, I’ve reflected back on an observation I heard my father make several times, one which the world around me has increasingly validated and one I pretty much agree with now. It is this: While we must make every effort to salvage, restore, re-accept anyone whose actions have offended us, some few people will come along who are, for whatever reason, totally and irrevocabaly beyond acceptance as human beings; it is necessary, for the good of the many — for security and as a warning — to separate those people permanently from our world. That would validate either execution or, if practicable, total and irreversible isolation.

I come to this after thinking for some time about the man in Norway who killed so many. (I won’t name him or detail his crimes; he’s had too much publicity already.) He killed 77 people, and was sentenced for their deaths to 21 years in prison. In practice, the “authorities” explain that the man will never walk free again; whatever that means, however, is insignificant. He gets one hundred days — ONE HUNDRED DAYS — in jail for each of his victims. One hundred days in prison for murder.

It ain’t right. I’d say, here’s an instance where that theoretical RC proposition could be brought into play, and used to justify capital punishment. Preferably in secrecy, in isolation, and with minimal concern for humane methods.

Which, of course, is exactly what Stalin and Amin and the like have been doing for centuries. Maybe I’ll have to rethink this.


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