On the death penalty, human justification and forgiveness

The reason why I feel so strongly about matters of human life and death is not solely because I have been strongly founded in Scripture and Tradition.

Around the time the Troy Davis case was discussed, last year (I believe it was in November), I went to bed and woke up after a horrifying dream. I want you to know what I felt, I want you to know what I went through.

This dream was of me in death row. I was being sent to a death cell, the last few days of my earthly life. Everything was taken away from me. I was stripped of all honour, all dignity, and the people who saw me recognised that I was going to die soon. I was lonely, desperate, inconsolable. No family or friends came to see me. I was stuck in a small enclosure with four walls and a metal door with bars where my head would be if I stood up. The walls around me were grey. I couldn't bear to live.

In that cell, I was driven to insanity. Prior to that, even after the many times I maintained my innocence and consistenly presented my facts, no one listened. No one even cared what my 'crime' was, or whether I had committed it. All the prison guards were ever concerned with was the fact that I was in the death cell, and that I would die at their hands soon. I just covered my face with my hands as if to shield myself from all the terrors surrounding me...

The next morning, I woke up with the worst possible feeling I could ever imagine. Even though the day went well, I knew that someday, I would have to share this story. The day has finally come.

People make all sorts of justifications to end others' lives. Note that I am speaking about capital punishment, and not legitimate self-defence. While it is true that the debate on capital punishment hasn't really got a clear, well-defined line to it, I would like for you to stop just a few moments, put yourself in my position in that death cell, and imagine what you would be going through.

Now open your eyes, and think that a lot of people who are in death cells at this point are going through the same things, to different degrees, with only a few people fully coming to terms over the fact that they are going to die.

The Old Testament and the early Christians may have seen the rationale of the death penalty, but Jesus gave life where He could. People have spat at my face telling me to come up with Scriptural reference to counter the fact that the people of the OT held on to the death penalty. I have two references for this: Jesus' forgiving of Mary Magdalene, and his healing and forgiveness towards St Paul the Apostle. Yes, on the one hand, you have an adulterer who has been caught red-handed, and on the other,  you have a mass murderer who grabs fathers, mothers and children and drags them to Jerusalem to be stoned to freakin' death.

What did Jesus say? "Let he who has not sinned cast the first stone." Did anyone even dare cast the first stone after that? No.

For once I'm going to take the offensive and agree with Abby Johnson when she wrote on LifeNews about supporting all human life. She wrote that God intervenes even among people who have killed and who have been sent to prison, and when life is given a chance, they do great things. So then, what about the people who don't? To that, she says, let God intervene in His own time. How are we to decide whether someone will behave in the same way? Time does marvellous things to people, if we believe.

Our justifications for capital punishment in this day and age are numerous. The dangerousness of the criminal, the closure of a case, society's way of self-defence, the death penalty being a deterrent, you name it, there's a justification for it. But really, think. We claim to do this out of love for humanity and for society and for the person. If we really love society and love that person, our primary focus would be on the reintegration of that person into society. Death is a last resort. With the modern facilities used to incarcerate criminals, there is absolutely no question of prisoners (particularly mass murderers and serial killers) making attempts to escape and threaten the public once more — unless that prisoner happened to be in Shawshank! Instead, what do we do? They are flawed human beings like you and me, and we, acting under the umbrella of the State, drive a lot of these people insane as sometimes, they want to do things to make amends for their misconduct, but they're not given the chance to. It's not right for us to kill all the people who can become saints in their own day.

Further, if the death penalty were really a deterrent, then why are people still doing it? Practically every person I know who stays away from murder just stays away because they know it's the right thing to do, not because they're scared of the death penalty.

If the early Christians, who followed Christ's example, were anything to go by, they forgave a freakin' mass murderer. And he is now a freakin' saint!  This is madness to a lot of non-believers, especially hardliners. This is madness to a lot of people I know as well. I know one person who had actually personally attacked me for the Faith, over the fact that Pope Benedict XVI (while he was much younger and still Joseph Ratzinger) allegedly joined Hitler-Jugend. If anyone were to follow that logic, because of all the crimes committed against humanity, all the rights trampled upon, the people involved in it should die, shouldn't they? But no. To the people who are alive today and live to tell their story, God gave them a chance, through the people who gave them a chance. There's a reason why in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the death penalty is seen as a sort of last resort.

I wrote this earlier, and I write this again: at the end of the day, when it comes to matters of life and death, there are only two choices: life or death. And each of us has the power to choose. It doesn't matter if the punishment is inflicted upon by the State, or the hospital, or by the mother when there's an unborn child in the womb. We are ultimately deciding the time of death of an individual, which, really, naturally, is something decided by God.

As I close this post, I invite all of you to ponder once again upon the death cell dream that I had.

Would you want this?


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