Friday, April 15, 2011

Updated Essay-Thanks Everyone!!

Since there were so many people that were helpful, I've decided to post the essay.
Please excuse the lack of colorful analogies and excitement that you're used to;
this was cut and dry. I didn't even bother using third person.
I suppose worse things have been handed in. :-P

Generally, I like to say that I’m middle of the road when it comes to sentencing a serial murderer to death, but that’s not an option, so I’m electing, “Yes (as in, I support capital punishment), but with some exceptions.” As a Christian, it’s often difficult to look at the men and women on death row who have committed heinous murders and think, “Kill ‘em.” Believers and nonbelievers alike go back and forth setting conditions for which they believe a specific individual should be eliminated from society; it is not every day you meet a person who can go either way 100% of the time.

He who strikes a man, so that he dies, shall surely be put to death.
Exodus 21:12

Not long ago, I watched a documentary entitled At the Death House Door directed by Steven James and Peter Gilbert.  It interviewed a minister by the name of Carroll Pickett; a man who was transformed from pro-capital punishment to anti-capital punishment when he became the Chaplan for the Huntsville Unit Prison in Corpus Cristi, Texas. As the last person to talk to the inmates, Pickett recounts gruesome details of guilty men claiming innocence until the very end and innocent men accepting their fate.
Before seeing this documentary, I was pro-capital punishment. If you kill a man in cold blood, you deserve the same. I couldn’t stomach the thought of an individual killing someone I cared about and then getting to spend their lives in the general population (or even in solitary) in prison. The knowledge that most sentences usually don’t last their entire suggested duration also tugged at my heart. What if the offender was released and sought revenge? Or killed again? Of course, there are always those people who suffer from an inability to control themselves or their actions based on biological dispositions. If a schizophrenic suffers from auditory and visual hallucinations, he or she who looks like an innocent victim to us might look like a Nazi to a Jew, or an abusive father to an abused son. These select few individuals need intense treatment, and should not be killed for their inability to determine right from wrong under the circumstances, but should never be allowed to return to society again.
After the documentary, however, I was even more confused about my position on capital punishment. Based on the inconsistencies of the criminal justice system, identifying the wrong killer, not getting an appropriate sentence, or even not being able to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt prevent me from making a definite decision whether or not I support the death penalty.
My feelings about serial murderers, however, are slightly different. John Wayne Gacy raped and murdered 33 teenage boys. Eddie Gein killed his victims and made novelties out of their skin. Albert Fish lured children to their death and then devoured them. Robert Pickton killed over 60 women in the sex trade business as his guilty pleasure. These individuals are not only dangerous, but evil in its purest form.
The Objections
                Though I don’t often venture toward such a controversial matter, a general theme of morality applies to this topic. One objection to my opinion is:

He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.
John 8:7

Do not judge, or you too will be judged.
Matthew 7:1

Something I often hear people (Christians and nonbelievers alike) say is that, “If [you] are so God-like, [you] would reserve judgment for God”: that, by God, we are instructed to love and forgive despite the transgressions done unto us. Forgive and forget, they say. A person who does not support the death penalty might reference the story of the adultress who is sentenced to be stoned (John 8).  Jesus saves the woman from being stoned by using words that can loosely be translated as “Let he without sin, cast the first stone.” If you are a Christian, you acknowledge that Jesus was the only man without sin. If you are not, you acknowledge that you have sin, but you (hopefully) just do your best to be a good person. Due to the fact that we are all sinners, we have no right to “cast the first stone” or judge anyone else who has sinned.
Another objection to my opinion could be that “two wrongs don’t make a right”. This argument is usually coupled with the argument that all life is sacred. The picture to the right is an excellent example of this idea. How can we support killing people for killing people in order to demonstrate that killing people is wrong? We are just creating a cycle of violence that doesn’t solve anything; it just adds another tally to the list of those killed inhumanely. Are we any better than the murderer if we sentence them to death?
The Rebuttal

Bible verses are frequently misinterpreted, especially by those who don’t see the verses in their context. In John 8, the Pharisees were setting up a ploy to trap Jesus between two types of rules: Roman law and the Mosaic law. If Jesus said that they should stone her, He would violate the Roman law. If He supported the stoning, He would break the Mosaic law. Jesus cleverly avoided the trap by trapping the Pharisees instead. The second half of that argument, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged”, is also a matter of interpretation. What the Bible actually says is that we are supposed to avoid judging hypocritically (John 7:2-5) by judging with careful discernment (John 7:24).  If you observe someone close to you sinning, the Bible instructs you to confront them lovingly to help them bring their sins to the table (Matthew 18:15-17). Therefore, if you, yourself, can say that you would not commit murder against another human being, I believe that it is appropriate to pass judgment against someone who (without the imposition of a mental disorder) would.
The second objection is a little more difficult to rebut, but Scripture is always a safe way to find those controversial answers that you seek. Though used interchangeably in our society, one must acknowledge the difference between “murder” and “kill”.  Murder is forbidden by law, and in the case of this debate, serial murders are often very carefully planned. The killing of someone is a consequence of murder. The Bible teaches that murder is wrong, not killing. Unfortunately, these two words have gotten lost in translations of the Bible and make it incredibly difficult to have an opinion on the death penalty if you’re not familiar with the history of the language. In every section of the Bible, there is evidence that capital punishment is supported. In the Old Testament, Numbers 35:31 says, Moreover ye shall take no satisfaction for the life of a murderer, which [is] guilty of death: but he shall be surely put to death. In the New Testament, Matthew 15:3-4 says "Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? For God commanded, saying... `He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death,’” implying that not the Commandments are to not to be disregarded over time. Most importantly, in Exodus 21 it teaches that our government is responsible for punishing these murderers.
 Ultimately, there will always be a moment when you go back on your word and turn your back on your own opinion. Capital punishment is no different. Though my opinion is that the majority of serial killers have sealed his or her own fate, there are a number of exceptions that sway my opinion, and will continue to do so as my faith and knowledge of God grows.

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