More than fair: Why I oppose the death penalty (repost)


dmwThis week is tech week for the New England premiere of Dead Man Walking, which I am in with Boston Opera Collaborative. Because this is where my heart and time are being spent this week, I decided am running a series of posts about the faith and justice issues in the opera. It only seemed fair to begin with an honest revelation of where I stand politically on capital punishment. What follows is a slightly redacted version of a previous post on the topic. 

I try to keep my vegetarianism quiet, because I don’t often feel like answering questions about it, and it has been my habit for almost half of my life now, so I’m not really interested in it anymore. Still, people sometimes ask me which of the many reasons for this lifestyle prompted my change: ethics, opposition to the industry, health, love of animals, desire to conserve resources, etc. And even though each of those is a very good reason, and I’m glad those reasons guide the decision making of others, I don’t have a very satisfying answer. In truth, eating meat feels weird to me, and I don’t want to do it.

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I can be extremely opinionated and extremely loud, which you might not know from reading this blog because I usually shy away from controversial topics (unless you consider “God is good and we should have hope and all that” controversial, which maybe you do). In truth, I don’t like being criticized, at least by strangers, and I know that many of my readers have different social and cultural views than I do, so I try to keep my political commentary very tame. Still, I’ll go out on a limb and write about why I am opposed to the death penalty.

Or I would write about it, if I knew why. Much like eating meat, state sanctioned killing feels weird to me. I know all the reasons people cite: executions are expensive, the court system is not always just, we know innocent people have been sentenced to death row, it is not a deterrent, and so on. And again, I think those are good reasons to be opposed, but they aren’t necessarily my reasons.

I wish they were. I wish I had a practical, logical explanation for why the death penalty repulses me, even when those who are executed have done horrible things. But instead I have my usual assortment of squishy affective reasons for it, and I’m still willing myself to believe that those reasons can be enough.

The death penalty says we can’t think creatively anymore. It says we give up. It says we know best, that there is no room for redemption, that death wins. It says that love and mercy have no place, that a person is defined by the worst thing they have ever done, and that if we do not kill because they have killed then “it isn’t fair”. You know who else complains that “life isn’t fair”? Seven year olds.

I want more for us than to be fair, asking an eye for an eye. I want us to comfort victims while also acknowledging that the job of our justice system is not to satisfy the desire for revenge. I want us to realize that everyone deserves defense and protection, that we are all safer when everyone -even the worst among us, who may have started out and who may even remain the weakest – is offered protection under the law. I want a world where we recognize that the line between good and evil runs through every human heart, and that there is always a chance, however slim, that we may nudge that barrier so that goodness and mercy can prevail.

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