Death, Truth, And Us
Harvesting The Fruit has an excellent post about the heretical thinking that must underlie the post V II opposition to Capital Punishment, which the people call Death Penalty. As we live in pernicious times of creeping heresy in pretty much every aspect of Catholic thinking, the appeal to correct, traditional understanding can never be too insistent.
I would like to add to the considerations linked to some words of mine about what is the most important argument in favour of the Capital Punishment you should make at your next Thanksgiving Lunch, and what reflections you might add to it. In order to make the argument, we must start from the error, that is: from the Catechism of JP II. Paragraph 2267 recites thus:
Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.
If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.
Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm – without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself – the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity “are very rare, if not practically non-existent.”
You see here a typical example of V II creeping heresy: the teaching of the church is reaffirmed in principle, but immediately afterwards it is pickaxed in practice. We aren’t against, you see. But todaay, aahhh, todaaay it’s different…
No, it’s not different at all.
Firstly, paragraph 2267 refuses to address the matter of deterrence. The instinct to live being very strong, it follows that the threat of removing the good of life must, reasonably, have an effect on a number of potential situations which would, otherwise, possibly lead to a murder. To ignore the simple reality of deterrence is to ignore reality, nor can the usual excuse of “he who wants to kill kills anyway” work; because the last argument is exactly a strong argument for the justice of depriving him of his own life, once not even the threat of taking his life was inducement to not take the life of another.
This paragraph (but see below) also does not address the matter of justice, instead analysing the institute of the death penalty from the point of view of its usefulness. What is just and what is useful are not necessarily correlated. If you have any sense of justice at all, you must recognise that practical considerations may have a place, but they must most certainly not be what shapes whether justice is administered. The Church has always said that the capital punishment satisfied a need for human justice, not merely for practicality. The implied argument that the Church accepts the death penalty inasmuch as the execution of an offender is an absolute necessity is pure hogwash. It is a deification of life to think that just punishment should not extend to taking one’s life. It is also a thinking that has always been foreign to the generations before V II.
As so often, V II gives you the truth before taking the pickaxe. Look at the preceding paragraph, 2266. Emphases mine.
The efforts of the state to curb the spread of behavior harmful to people’s rights and to the basic rules of civil society correspond to the requirement of safeguarding the common good. Legitimate public authority has the right and duty to inflict punishment proportionate to the gravity of the offense. Punishment has the primary aim of redressing the disorder introduced by the offense. When it is willingly accepted by the guilty party, it assumes the value of expiation. Punishment then, in addition to defending public order and protecting people’s safety, has a medicinal purpose: as far as possible, it must contribute to the correction of the guilty party.
See? It’s all there! 1) “Punishment proportionate to the gravity of the offense”. 2) Punishment as re-establishment of justice, not practical remedy. 3) Punishment as a help to the criminal to change his ways. It’s so simple, really.
Thirdly, and most importantly today, those creepy, utterly disquieting creatures of V II, the “new man” and the “new world”, rear their ugly heads.
Jails have always been very safe. Chain a murderer to the wall and you will see he will find his ability to murder again somewhat limited. Leave him in a dark cell and with a priest at hand and you will see there isn’t much more that can be done to move him to repentance. Let him see his own scaffold and you will, in fact, help him to final repentance like he never was in his life. What a blessing, such a scaffold, compared to the destiny of countless atheists of today’s stupid world, surprised by death without a second thought about their own immortal soul!
All this is happily ignored in JP II’s catechism. The argument is defended for the sake of orthodoxy, but it is immediately thereafter undermined with the usual excuse: “today it is different”. This argument can be used to go against capital punishment, ban on communion for adulterers, opposition to sodomy, literally everything.
If today is different, Jesus is obsolete. If the motives and passions, the impulses and the desires, the entire sphere of human emotions is different today than it was yesterday there is no saying to what extent Jesus’ teaching still applies, and at that point you will soon find yourself blabbering nonsense about the “god of surprises” (small “g”. The God of the Christians has, obviously, no surprises).
There is no new man. There is no new reality. Redemption is open to every criminal now as it always was, as it will always be. Sinfulness and concupiscence lead men to horrible deeds now as they always did in the past and always will in the future. Faced with the reality of sin, man must recognise that he is as naked as Adam was, just as sinful, and thinking in exactly the same way. Nothing has changed in the dynamic of sin and offence, and as a result nothing must change in the dynamic of the reaction to them.
It is madness, and an arrogant madness at that, to think that any presumed “advancement” in, say, social worker’s rehabilitation techniques may add a iota to what the Church has always prescribed: prayer and repentance, fast and penance, contrition and expiation. On the contrary, it is typical of the madness of our times to think that the social worker, not the priest, may be the spark that ignites in the criminal the desire for a better life (if not condemned to death) or the desire to die at peace with God and his fellow men (if condemned to death). In both cases, the underlying thinking is either that a man today is different than the man of yesterday, or that we have… improved on Jesus in the way of dealing with his “wrong choices”.
This is the thinking of a Communist, or of a Communard. It is not the thinking of a Christian. A Christian knows that there is no new man, and as a result there can be no new recipes.
Why, then, all this modern excitement about the oh so inhuman “cruelty” of the death penalty, so cruelly endorsed by the Church these past sixty generations?
Because of fear of death, and lack of faith.
To those who do not believe in a life after death, life must truly be the most precious thing of all. Many of them would, for sure, gladly live in slavery than die free, because if they die free they have lost everything anyway. If, therefore, life is the highest good, there can be no crime that justifies the taking of it (unless it is the one of the aborted child, of course; but that doesn’t count for the atheist, because it’s convenient not to count it; and the poor baby has not even committed a crime…).
Something not very dissimilar goes on, I am sure, in the mind of the very many “I hope there is a God” rosewater faithful, whose faith is very “joyful” in words but very shaky in practice. They will say to you that they believe in eternal life, but their speaking of this earthly existence as something so incomparable and priceless will belie their very assertion. You see that mainly in their argument: “oh yes, in principle I am in favour; but what if there is a mistake?“. Again, you see here V II at work, with the pickaxe never far away.
What is truly unique and infinitely worthy in man is not his life, but his soul. God disposes of the life as he wishes, and everyone of us can be dispatched away from this vale of tears in no time when He has decreed that the time has come; but our soul, our soul will never die. It is, therefore, ultimately, nothing earth-shattering if yours truly were to be, one day, executed because of a judicial mistake. He gladly accepts the risk as the most irrelevant of the life risks. Just tell me where to sign.
The probability of yours truly to die because of a judicial mistake is so unbelievably tiny that it never ceases to amaze me that those who want to abolish the death penalty never ask for the abolition of trains, aeroplanes, cars and, most importantly, domestic stairs; all of them infinitely more dangerous than even an inefficient justice system. It just does not make sense. The figures are just not there. But no, let us obsess about the judicial mistake. It lets us feel good, and it assuages our lingering fear of death.
It’s the fear of your own death that makes you so attached to life. It is no other. In times of stronger faith this attachment was non existent. In times of little faith, life is promoted to Most Sacred Thing On Earth.
Think of your soul instead; and if you really want to focus on life, reflect that you could die the next time you go downstairs.
It puts things in perspective. Far more useful than obsessing about the tiny probability of a judicial mistake.