"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

Friday, June 02, 2017

Fisking Mr. Shea, Part VII

As we plod along, through Part 6 of Mr. Shea’s epic series on why the desire for death penalty abolition on the basis of its immorality is a development of Catholic doctrine, we see he begins by reminding us that the movement of history has been from public, barbaric execution methods, to non-public, more humane methods.

This, to Mr. Shea, demonstrates the But isn’t is equally plausible that while Christians admit the moral and just of the death penalty, we also recognize that it should be used only in serious cases, and without undue pain and suffering inflicted on the offender? Other than Mr. Shea’s ipse dixit, why conclude that Christian “squeamishness” about the propriety of the death penalty per se accounts for the tightening of the use of it and how it is carried out?

Next, we’re told (yet again, as this is a regular canard used by Mr. Shea) that since unsavory countries use the death penalty, our use of it must be somehow tainted. But I’ve made the obvious response before, that this is a very basic, junior-high level logical error of association. If my neighbor is a thief and wife-beater and recycles his garbage, and I also like to recycle, the fact that a bad guy likes to recycle does not logically implicate recycling at all.

Mr. Shea also makes the risible claim that now, at long last!--the Christian world  “wonders if it has made some fundamental mistake, and starts to rethink what ‘made in the image and likeness of God’ could ultimately mean and whether there is a better way to think about this.” As if the modern, blood-soaked world is somehow more sensitive about the value of life than those barbaric authors of Scripture, the Church Fathers, and the Popes. As if the Church has never wondered about the morality of the death penalty before 1988, or encountered the argument that human life is so precious that it can never be taken, whether, as the Waldensian heretics claimed, by capital punishment, or as the Quaker heretics claim, by even a just war.

Of course the Church has always been the guardian of the truth of the value of human life, and while extirpating human sacrifice and private killing (such as dueling), nevertheless, has always and everywhere acknowledged that societies rightly protect themselves and avenge wrongdoing by just wars and capital punishment. The Church has always rejected pacifism, and the related error propounded by Mr. Shea, the “civil pacifism” of death penalty abolition. After all, if the state can defend itself by a just war, it must be that it can defend itself from violent men within.

Mr. Shea, after complaining about the high incarceration rate in the US and suggesting (without evidence) that racism is responsible for “people of colour” (sic) being disproportionately incarcerated, informs us that,
The obvious priority – particularly for a gospel that proclaims liberty to the captive – is not 'How can we send as many people on death row to their doom as quickly as possible?' but 'Might we be making a mistake somewhere? Is it worth the life of a single innocent human being to slake our thirst for the blood of the guilty?'

Now, this is interesting, because we are to believe that there are “possibilities” for rendering murderers and rapists harmless short of execution. What might such “possibilities” include, if not life imprisonment? At least that is what some have suggested as a reason why we no longer need the death penalty. Yet the Christian Left complains about incarceration rates. Is Mr. Shea suggesting, then, that the "gospel proclamation of liberty" (which is of spiritual liberty of course, not liberty to sin or be free from jail when you commit a crime) means we shouldn’t even impose lengthy incarceration? Indeed, he’s strongly suggested just this before, as a necessary corollary of “mercy” and “turning the other cheek,” which he claims applies not just to individuals but to states.

Note, too, his oft-repeated claim that our choice is either pacifism or being a bloodthirsty mob seeking out people to send to their doom. Is that really the only possible choice open to us? The Church has never presented its affirmation of the propriety of capital punishment in those terms.

He concludes this Part by saying that,
 since [the Church] was never under a divine demand for the death penalty, she finally concluded that while it is not intrinsically immoral, refraining from inflicting it is still the best and most prudent course of action whenever possible.

Again, I’m a bit confused about Mr. Shea’s entire project, which began by proclaiming:
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.

Sure sounds like he's saying the death penalty is an intrinsically immoral practice. And,

the Church’s actual teaching on the death penalty [is] that it should be abolished. 

Supposedly, it is a “bronze-age concession” to bloodlust and is withering away in our enlightened modern age.

Yet he repeats at the same time the actual teaching of the Church, which is that the death penalty is not immoral and “ought” to be resorted to only in rare cases.

I’m afraid, then, that we won’t see the actual proof that a development of doctrine has occurred mandating abolition of the immoral death penalty. At best, it seems, we’re to believe that our modern age is beyond the need for such barbaric methods of crime control.

That whole justice thing the Church has used to justify the death penalty? Mr. Shea says he’ll tell us in the next installment why that’s a bunch of hooey.

Can’t wait.

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