Tuesday, October 11, 2011

On Capital Punishment...

In my classes, we have spent a bit of time recently discussing the form of execution called lapidation - better known to the masses as stoning.

It has come up because we have covered the incident in which Jesus rescues a woman caught in adultery by admonishing her accusers, "let he among you who is without sin cast the first stone" (John 8:7), as well as talking about how blasphemy in ancient Judaism warranted a stoning of the person who committed the crime.

The kids are fascinated by it, and it never fails to spawn at least one or two (not particularly clever) drug jokes by students in every section.  But I digress...

All of this spawned a little bit of a further discussion about the nature of executions and capital punishment in general.  I am happy to discuss these things with my students, provided they can keep it on topic and at a mature level.  I had started with a point that very few will actually say and it caused a couple of gasps...

If we are going to have executions in our society, they ought to be public.

I am not a priori in favor of, or opposed to capital punishment as a method of keeping order in society; however a lot of people do lean one way or the other.  I tend to fall in with the idea that, within our modern-day society, it has become less and less of a necessity to execute criminals. I also believe that the notion of deterrence as a reason to keep execution is a bunch of nonsense.  

That being said, it is very hard to avoid saying that some people deserve to die, especially those who murder children, the elderly, and the weakest in our society.  However, that discussion is rarely had, mostly because we live in a society that conflates (unfortunately, in my opinion) retribution with revenge.  Those two principles are not the same, and the belief that they are is in many ways an exercise in sloppy intellectual practice.  

Anyway, back to the original point - starting with the premise that if we are going to have executions to begin with, they ought to be done in the public view.  What we have now is a completely sterilized process where injections are done in a room with pure white walls and a stainless steel gurney.  If execution is indeed justice being carried out by the State on behalf of the people, then the people ought to be witnesses to the action taken on their behalf. Therefore, the method of execution ought to be more public - hangings, drawing and quartering, beheadings, and the like.  

Please keep in mind that I am not necessarily advocating that we even have executions; don't misconstrue what I am saying here.  The argument here is not whether we should have it, but rather if it is going to be a given in our society, should it continue to be done behind closed doors?

I say yes.  What say you?


Elizabeth said...

I understand what you mean, if you want justice then let it be seen. I guess the hard part would be that there are many instances where things are legal and some feel should not be, should they then become public to everyone? Great point on your end though, because I wonder how many people would be pro-choice for instance if they saw an actual abortion and the end result??? Sorry to bring that topic into this, but I always put capital punishment and abortion together because of my view points of life being precious from conception to death.


Joshua Lattanzi said...

That is always the conundrum, indeed - that tension that justice brings, especially in a public fashion.

I guess, personally, I have generally opposed capital punishment on practical grounds rather than on principle, for the reasons I have attempted (somewhat badly) to enumerate in this post.

I always think capital punishment should be an option of the State, much like the use of nuclear weapons - having it in the arsenal is better than not having it, but pray that they should never have to be used.

r4i-sdhc said...

The death penalty is much more expensive than life imprisonment, and is well documented. The high cost of the death penalty are complex legal process, and the cost will be higher at the beginning,