"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

Monday, April 24, 2017

Fisking Mr. Shea

I intended to follow Mark Shea’s promised series on the Death Penalty with a view towards giving it a good fisking. However, installment number one leaves me wondering if it’s even necessary. What Mr. Shea needs is perhaps a few years of study and genuine education in rhetoric, in how to persuade, so he can present his “argument” in some other voice than utter snark, derision, mischaracterization, and condescension. 

His passion against the death penalty is evident, but his language is not that of "reasoning together," to persuade, it is-- well, these snippets from just the preview describing his presumed interlocutors give the flavor: "Reactionaries," seeking "human sacrifices," "absurd," "barbarism," seeking "retribution" not justice, "brutal," "threatening people with death," believing in “kill all, God will know his own,” believe that "what Jesus *should* have done with the woman taken in adultery was receive her confession of repentance and than bash her brains out with a rock," "dissenting," defenders of "slaughter," "thirsty for blood," believe "better the innocent should die than the guilty escape!" "righteous Christians eager to kill." 

Where to go when your premise is not that reasonable minds differ with what they view as a prudential shift in emphasis on this teaching, but that anyone who disagrees with this purported "development of doctrine" is not just wrong but a moral monster?

I understand this style is the coin of the realm in the age of Twitter, blogs, and Facebook, but a constant diet of it in service of what is supposed to be an apologetic is not just unhelpful, it lays bare the intellectual vacuity of the proponent.

So, in the same preview for the series, Mr. Shea calmly informed his readers that those who support the measured use of the death penalty as practiced in the West are really just a “mob screaming to kill somebody–it matters little who.” To which Mr. Shea offers the solution:
Screw that. Abolish the death penalty. It is poisonous vengeance, not justice. it is, as the Church makes clear, essentially unnecessary.It makes us worse, not better. No Catholic on the planet should be fighting the Church to defend it.
So the line is drawn. Capital punishment is inherently evil, as constituting vengeance and injustice, and makes society worse by its use. It is absolutely indefensible and of its essence unnecessary. 

Thus, Mr. Shea’s first installment contra capital punishment is an extended imagined reporting of St. Peter getting it wrong on the issue of Christian observance of the Jewish ritual law, particularly circumcision, and how his reversal of position was opposed by the “traditional and orthodox figures fighting a losing battle against a tide of modernism.” Got it? The set up is: if you struggle to square death penalty abolitionism (i.e., pacifism) with the Biblical and traditional Christian view of the Magisterium (including Popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and the latest Catechism) that the death penalty is entirely moral and permissible within certain prudential parameters, then you are: a Pharisee! Or at least an anti-Christian Judaiser:
The problem is this in a nutshell: Peter, a pope so weak he was known by the whole Church to have three times denied Christ (who once called him “Satan”), has departed from two thousand years of Tradition to suddenly declare that circumcision and keeping kosher are not necessary for those who wish to join themselves to the Covenant People.We are talking two millennia of established Tradition suddenly swept away by a pope and a “council” that – in a bid for trendy popularity with Gentile “converts” who want to remake things in their own image – have expressed unwillingness to undergo a little hardship for the sake of Jesus.
There we have it. If you question the novelty of death penalty abolitionism, you’re the one with the problem, you’re the Pharisee, you’re the one opposing the Church, because, Mr. Shea assures us, “the Church has not gone wrong in her developments of doctrine, neither with circumcision, nor with other matters of faith and morals, because as Jesus promised, the Spirit will guide the Church (often with excruciating slowness) into all truth and Christ will be with the Church to the end of the age.

Catch that? Abolishing circumcision was a “development of doctrine.” That's a curious way of viewing the situation, given that the Church never acknowledged the necessity of circumcision for membership-- that view was always an error meriting "reproof." But we're to believe that Mr. Shea and others are Pauls to our errant Peter when they tell us that the death penalty, once moral. is now immoral in se. No Pope or Council has formally taught this view, mind you, and it seems plainly to contradict Sacred Scripture, but we are to believe that what some scattered bishops, priests, and laymen opine has the force of a development of doctrine. John Henry Newman is sadly not available for comment on this novel idea.

But Mr. Shea promises, in his subsequent pieces, to show us how. I, for one, am anxiously awaiting the proof.

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