"And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God"
-- Micah 6:8

"The duty of the prosecutor is to seek justice, not merely to convict."
-- American Bar Association Standard 3-1.2(c)

"There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia."
--Pope Benedict XVI, June 2004

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Life v. Death

OK, so enquiring defense blawgs want to know: "Which is worse: LWOP or the Death Penalty?" Or: would you rather face a (relatively) quick and (relatively) painless death or linger for years, perhaps decades, in a prison?

At Grits for Breakfast, a humorous (I suppose) reference is made to the idea that death is disfavored because what lies beyond is mysterious and unknown, but that for Christians, death would actually be a welcome entry into eternal bliss (at least for a believer).

This put me in mind of one of the old arguments for the death penalty advanced by the great medieval theologian and philosopher, St. Thomas Aquinas:
The fact that the evil, as long as they live, can be corrected from their errors does not prohibit the fact that they may be justly executed, for the danger which threatens from their way of life is greater and more certain than the good which may be expected from their improvement. They also have at that critical point of death the opportunity to be converted to God through repentance. And if they are so stubborn that even at the point of death their heart does not draw back from evil, it is possible to make a highly probable judgment that they would never come away from evil to the right use of their powers.
(Summa Contra Gentiles, III, 146). These observations reflect the position of St. Augustine in the sixth century, that “inflicting capital punishment…protects those who are undergoing capital punishment from the harm they may suffer … through increased sinning which might continue if their life went on.” (On the Lord’s Sermon, 1.20.63-64).

These viewpoints reflect a worldview opposite our own, one decidedly un-materialistic, one which values above all else the salvation of the soul as the final end of earthly life.

It's a sad reflection on modernity that the greatest possible evil is no longer the loss of our souls through sin, but the loss of our bodies, for "What is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" Matthew 16:26.

Thus endeth the sermon.


Gritsforbreakfast said...

I wasn't joking, Tom. My personal view is that LWOP is a worse punishment than the death penalty. Everyone dies, but not everybody spends their life locked up in a cage.

One of three things happens when the state kills you:

Something good: Heaven is a paradise as promised in the scriptures.

Something bad: Hell awaits sinners including many who go to death row.

Nothing: Life simply ends and the offender is put out of their misery.

With LWOP, the same options await the defendant upon their eventual death, so if death turns out to bring harsh punishment for eternity that's still there for them. But if one of the other options turns out to be true, then LWOP IMO is actually the more severe punishment, if what you're going for is the harshest possible outcome. It also spares the victim's family decades of appeals, on again off again execution dates, and a false sense of hope that the ultimate execution will bring "closure." It never does, of course, bc it can't bring the family member back.

Thanks for the commentary - interesting angle on the subject.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

One more item that may interest you. Regarding your observation that for early Christians losing your soul was considered worse than death, check out this bit of early Christian lore in which we discover that early (pre-Constantine) Christians would be irrevocably excommunicated if they snitched out a fellow Christian in a death penalty case!

Times really have changed, huh? Who'da thought that early Christians were proponents of the "stop snitching" movement. ;) best,

dudleysharp said...


I suspect your personal view doesn't have a criminal's mindset and/or you have never faced the death penalty.
Some reality.
What percentage of capital murderers seek a plea bargain to a death sentence? Zero or close to it. They, instead, plea down to a lesser and more preferred sanction, long term imprisonment.
What percentage of convicted capital murderers argue for execution in the penalty phase of their capital trial? Zero or close to it. They prefer long term imprisonment.
What percentage of death row inmates waive their appeals and speed up the execution process? Nearly zero. They prefer long term imprisonment.
This is not, even remotely, in dispute.
Hardly surprising that life is preferred over death. Death is feared more than life.

There are, likely, many reasons for this. Folks like to live longer, as a general rule. I'd call it a trusim, with the obvious exceptions. Most death row inmates have served prison time, before, and know they can live within the system. They probably hadn't died before and if they had (for reincarnation believers), couldn't remember, so it is the unknown they fear. For some, undoubtedly, there is a horror of the afterlife, as they know they have committed one of the worst crimes/sins. They may find that is a much higher probability, than your 30% rule or, being a monumental/eternal horror, that percentages really don't mean that much. The longer they can put off that possibility, however assured or remote, the better.