"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 16, 2017

Fisking Mr. Shea, Part V

Some thoughts before turning to Mr. Shea’s fourth article promising to demonstrate the development of doctrine which requires abolition of the death penalty.

First, when we consider past developments of moral doctrine, such as the shift from prohibition of usury to a limited allowance of it; or of the approbation of slavery to the condemnation of it, we see generally that development does not happen in a generation, but over hundreds or more years. What death penalty abolitionists propose is going from full-throated approbation to absolute condemnation and abolition is less than one generation. Really, in less than 10 years, since the Catechism and the prior pope, Benedict, have, as we have seen, reiterated the moral legitimacy of the death penalty and the real possibility of its use.

Can a genuine “development” really happen in what would be in effect a blink of philosophic or theological “time?” It’s a question not asked, much less answered, by Mr. Shea.

Second, the real “development” if that’s what it is, in this area is that where Tradition and Scripture give primacy to the theological and philosophical underpinnings of the DP (congruent satisfaction and a vindication of the value of human life given in the Fifth Commandment), and the public safety/self defense/defense of society as a secondary justification, the “new” teaching of Evangelium Vitae and the Catechism references only public safety as a justification. The “new” does not expressly reject the philosophy and theology of the traditional teaching, it simply ignores it, passing it over in silence.

Is this the real development? Can it be called a conscious development when the prior teaching is just ignored? Can a moral doctrine be “developed” out of existence by mere silence? Overturned sub silentio?

Personally I was hoping against hope that Mr. Shea would address these real and interesting issues, but alas, thus far all we’ve been given is hyperbolic bombast about blood lust vs. mercy, a phony straw man opposition that exists only in his mind.

Indeed, so far, Mr. Shea hasn’t even established a change (a “development”). He admits several times the teaching of the CCC.  So to the extent he argues that the DP is inherently immoral and needs therefore to be abolished, he has not demonstrated that this novel view is an authoritative teaching at all which represents a development of some kind instead of an informal (and possibly erroneous) position held by various clerics and laity, and yes, maybe even by the current Pope. Again we are faced with the principle of non contradiction: the Cathecism, Benedict, and John Paul II’s teaching that “the DP is moral in limited situations” AND “the DP is immoral and should be abolished” can’t both be true at the same time.

One must be discarded; which one, Mr. Shea?

Perhaps his answer lies in the next chapter of his manifesto, which begins to approach these issues, mainly by arguing that we’ve just never really understood Scripture correctly, and all this stuff about justice that the Church Fathers and St. Thomas talk about is a bunch of karmic hooey.

First, the revision of the Church’s understanding of Scripture. He begins thus:
the words of Genesis 9:6 (“Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed”) are best understood as a concession to human weakness, not as a positive command or ideal, like the Old Testament’s concession to human weakness in the matter of divorce. 

Best understood that way why? By what authority? What Church Father, Pope, or Catechism viewed this passage thus? It’s mere ipse dixit, not an argument. This interpretation ignores the plain language of command (“shall”), and conveniently omits the rest of the passage, “for in the image of God made he man.” Thus God indicates that murder is to be abhorred and punished not because of human weakness, or public safety, but to vindicate the value of a life made in God’s own image! As a former Protestant, Mr. Shea ought to know better than to cite Scripture incompletely to make a point.

Nor does his interpretation hold when other passages are considered, such as Numbers 35:33:
Defile not the land of your habitation, which is stained with the blood of the innocent: neither can it otherwise be expiated, but by his blood that hath shed the blood of another.

Note, categorical language about expiation, and the command “defile not.” Nothing about concession to bronze age weakness. And look at this capital punishment law for the Jews in Leviticus 20:9-20:
He that curseth his father, or mother, dying let him die: he hath cursed his father, and mother, let his blood be upon him. If any man commit adultery with the wife of another, and defile his neighbour's wife, let them be put to death, both the adulterer and the adulteress. If a man lie with his stepmother, and discover the nakedness of his father, let them both be put to death: their blood be upon them. If any man lie with his daughter in law, let both die, because they have done a heinous crime: their blood be upon them. If any one lie with a man as with a woman, both have committed an abomination, let them be put to death: their blood be upon them. If any man after marrying the daughter, marry her mother, he hath done a heinous crime: he shall be burnt alive with them: neither shall so great an abomination remain in the midst of you. He that shall copulate with any beast or cattle, dying let him die, the beast also ye shall kill. The woman that shall lie under any beast, shall be killed together with the same: their blood be upon them. If any man take his sister, the daughter of his father, or the daughter of his mother, and see her nakedness, and she behold her brother's shame: they have committed a crime: they shall be slain, in the sight of their people, because they have discovered one another's nakedness, and they shall bear their iniquity. If any man lie with a woman in her flowers, and uncover her nakedness, and she open the fountain of her blood, both shall be destroyed out of the midst of their people. Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy aunt by thy mother, and of thy aunt by thy father: he that doth this, hath uncovered the shame of his own flesh, both shall bear their iniquity.

These are commands of the Mosaic Law, the Divine ordinance of the God of Israel, not some kind of concession to weakness. Note, many of these crimes in no way affect the public safety or would need to be dealt with by death in order to defend the physical safety of society; they are purely punitive in the case of the sexual offenses listed. There is no mere pragmatic concession to an un-advanced society, but a command to purge even secret sins.

This entire effort to undermine the Scriptural support for the DP by appealing to the “mean” God of the Old Testament who had to be really tough on those unruly bronze age Hebrews, will not survive the fact that in the New Testament, far from moving away from the death penalty, Paul tells the Romans (Rom. 13:2-4):
Therefore he that resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God, and they that resist purchase to themselves eternal damnation. For rulers are not a terror to the good work, but to the evil. . . For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, fear: for he beareth not the sword in vain. For he is the minister of God: and avenger to execute wrath upon him that doth evil.

If Christ could, as part of the New Covenant, abolish the Jewish concession of divorce (a fact Shea bizarrely cites to argue that DP abolition is a development), why then did He and His apostles not take the opportunity to abolish the supposedly “bronze age concession” of the death penalty?

And while, as Mr. Shea notes, God showed mercy to Moses and David after they committed murder, the Law was very clear about how murder was usually to be punished. Mr. Shea seems not to realize that there is a difference between God sparing Moses and David and what the ordinary course of justice should be for the Jews where God does not sit in civil rule of the state. King David was not at all confused, since he said, “I will early destroy all the wicked of the land; that I may cut off all wicked doers from the city of the LORD.” (Ps. 101:8)

After attacking the Old Testament justification for the DP, Mr. Shea turns in passing to the philosophical justification for it, the virtue of justice:
Punishment is ordered toward redemption, not toward restoring some abstract karmic “balance of justice” somewhere in the universe to which God himself is subject.

Again, the assertion that punishment is ordered toward redemption is mere ipse dixit, unsupported by evidence or citation.

Is the natural virtue of justice now just a pagan “karma” as Mr. Shea sneeringly terms it? And if God is the author of natural law, why is it incongruous to expect that in the ordinary course of events, following natural law and virtue, including the demands of the virtue of justice, is in accord with the Divine will, not opposed to it?

In any event, that noted modernist, Venerable Pope Pius XII, back in the “bronze ages” of the 1950s, viewed things a bit differently:
when it is a question of the execution of a man condemned to death it is then reserved to the public power to deprive the condemned of the benefit of life, in expiation of his fault, when already, by his fault, he has dispossessed himself of the right to live.

Address, 9/14/52.

Shea tries to bootstrap his Moses/David redemption trumps justice point by asserting another whopper unsupported by anything but his own say-so, arguing that Christ makes clear that “turn the other cheek” is the new way, and applies not just to individuals but to states. Thus, Shea claims, redemption is the ultimate goal of punishment, not justice, of which redemption of the offender is but one consideration.

Shea seems seriously to suggest by this that punishment has nothing to do with justice, or that inflicting a just punishment could be incompatible with redemption. It seems that Shea, by positing this newly discovered opposition of punishment and redemption is trying to get us to conclude that we could never execute offenders, not even for the Catechism’s public safety rationale, because after all, aren’t mercy and redemption more valuable than an indeterminate risk that a killer will kill again, or a lower-order consideration like justice (viewed as karmic revenge)?

Of course, under this revolutionary view, we could not punish murder even by life imprisonment, a sentence that seems decidedly to close the door on redemption and mercy. After all, if I murder, but am “redeemed” a year later, doesn’t “mercy” dictate my immediate release since punishment is ordered to redemption?  I wonder what Shea and his abolitionist comrades would suggest as the proper punishment, then, for murder?

St. Thomas, whose views have to be discarded by Shea to advance his novel theory, had this practical observation about redemption and the death penalty:
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.

But as with the Popes, Councils, and Fathers preceding the current Pontiff, we are to dismiss such authorities as hopelessly opposed to mercy and redemption. But I don’t see Shea’s newfound interpretation of Scripture and dismissing of justice as “karma” to be as persuasive an interpretation as this one given by the Fathers of the Council of Trent, expressly interpreting the Fifth Commandment:
Another kind of lawful slaying belongs to the civil authorities, to whom is entrusted power of life and death, by the legal and judicious exercise of which they punish the guilty and protect the innocent. The just use of this power, far from involving the crime of murder, is an act of paramount obedience to this Commandment which prohibits murder. The end of the Commandment is the preservation and security of human life. Now the punishments inflicted by the civil authority, which is the legitimate avenger of crime, naturally tend to this end, since they give security to life by repressing outrage and violence. Hence these words of David: In the morning I put to death all the wicked of the land, that I might cut off all the workers of iniquity from the city of the Lord.

As if to underscore this teaching, the Council Fathers urge as a remedy against violating this Commandment a reflection upon the evil of homicide, which is surely vastly more relevant to our murderous age than to theirs:
The enormity of this sin [of murder] is manifest from many and weighty passages of Holy Scripture. So much does God abominate homicide that He declares in Holy Writ that of the very beast of the field He will exact vengeance for the life of man, commanding the beast that injures man to be put to death. And if He commanded man to have a horror of blood, He did so for no other reason than to impress on his mind the obligation of entirely refraining, both in act and desire, from the enormity of homicide.

The murderer is the worst enemy of his species, and consequently of nature. To the utmost of his power he destroys the universal work of God by the destruction of man, since God declares that He created all things for man’s sake. Nay, as it is forbidden in Genesis to take human life, because God created man to his own image and likeness, he who makes away with God’s image offers great injury to God, and almost seems to lay violent hands on God Himself.

It seems then, very much in accord with both Scripture and right reason to execute some offenders (and I suspect the Fathers of Trent were familiar with Moses and David).

So who is wrong, Mr. Shea or the Fathers of Trent and their predecessors and descendants in the Faith?

No comments: