Hello my friends. This is a long but important post. I hope you’ll read it through.
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about my values lately. In the course of my life, I’ve made many decisions that took me down this road or that one, but having been tossed by the waves for the last 9 years, I think it’s time I took stock and settled down some.
On a friend’s Facebook post, we were discussing the recent killing of a Baltimore, MD, police officer by four teenagers. The vast majority of the respondents were calling for blood, without the benefit of a trial, and it really gave me pause. It reminded me of medieval crowds gathering and cheering during public executions. Recently I read about what happened to young Louis XVII of France who died at 10 years old of tuberculosis (and probably sepsis). It is said that the medical examiner was shocked at autopsy by the multitude of scars that covered the young boy’s body — the result of physical torture while he was imprisoned. His only crime was to be born to the King and Queen of France at the time of the revolution. What really killed him was rabid inhumanity, hell bent on murdering the royals.
You don’t have to look far to find such examples of the hideous side of our human nature. I wonder how much thought people give it, though. I’ve often said that if I had to kill my own food, I’d be vegetarian. I wonder — if people had to flip the switch, push the button, release the trap door on the gallows — would they? Could they do it if they looked the prisoner in the eye? I couldn’t. Do two wrongs make a right?
I haven’t forgotten about those teenagers, but bear with me. And please read on, even if you aren’t religious (as I am not), because I’m trying to make a point.
The Old Testament had a lot of killing in it. When I was studying with a local rabbi, I did a fair bit of reading of the Torah (and I had read it as the Old Testament during my younger days). Wow. Someone was always at war, raping, pillaging, claiming to be the rightful heir. But the commandments handed down to Moses included a really important one. Thou shalt not kill. Full stop. No loopholes. But those ancient people were all about an eye for an eye. Here’s what Jesus said about that in Matthew 5 (from the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus unpacked the Commandments):
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’[h]39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
Whoa. He was pretty clear about that. Now, does that mean that if a group of teens kills a cop, we should hand over another cop? Of course not. But during that sermon, Jesus made it clear that killing is wrong and that he wasn’t about overturning those commandments from God.
Today’s arguments for the death penalty are illogical to me, especially given that the most vehement ones seem to come from “Christians” who claim to follow Jesus. Hmm. Here is an example from the Facebook post. At least it was done respectfully, pretty much.
(Retired cop) I do not believe in murdering anyone. I do believe in defending your life and property….and, if that means killing someone to protect you, than so be it. I firmly believe in the NRA and have a safe full of all types of weapons … People need a deterrent. If you kill anyone, then you deserve to be put to death. None of this, let’s find out about how bad their life was or how were they abused. At that point..it doesn’t matter. Once people start getting punished for their actions, then maybe others will think twice.
(Me) I’m not defending anyone here. They deserve to be severely punished, as in spending the rest of their lives in prison doing hard time.
But I have trouble with any argument that starts with “I don’t believe in murder” and ends with “put them to death.” It’s illogical. Eye for an eye went out with the Old Testament, as my fellow Christians would agree. If you enforce the death penalty, you are making someone a murderer. The executioner isn’t acting in self-defense, am I right?
Now we deal with these teens. Throw away the key. They aren’t fit to live in our society.
(Retired cop) I don’t believe in murder..as in…going out and killing someone for the hell of it. I Do completely believe in Capital Punishment. And no, the executioner isn’t acting in self defense…he or she is complying with the judgement handed down, legally, by the courts. No different than a soldier having to kill someone in a war. A decision that was based on the behavior of the individual who murdered an innocent victim. In no way should a murderer be allowed to live in prison for the rest of his life.. on our tax dollars..and get 3 meals a day, a gym, an education and visits from his family. That’s total BS! The victim never got any of that, and the piece of garbage that kills a victim definitely doesn’t deserve it! Take a life…yours should be taken…after a speedy court trial. Hell, we even put down aggressive dogs that attack!
For the first half of my life, I was pretty much a death penalty advocate. The reason had nothing to do with the fact that I grew up in the South. It was because of this crime that happened one year. A poisoning of a child by the Candyman. He was the deacon of a Baptist church, an optician, and a father of two. He poisoned Pixy Stix and fed them to his children. His son died. The motive was insurance money. I was 12 years old that Halloween, and the holiday forever changed. I was scared and furious. How could any parent kill their own child for a little bit of money? I was so angry, that I, too, was on the put him to death bandwagon. (He died by lethal injection on March 31, 1984.)
I will admit that the fact DNA evidence has exonerated a number of people on death row started me thinking about it all. I started to question my own inner need for vengeance, that voice that said, “They shouldn’t be alive when their victim is dead! I don’t want my tax dollars paying for them to sit and watch TV.” I’ve said and thought all the things you hear people say when they argue for the death penalty.
But now, I feel differently, and it isn’t because I’m a bleeding heart liberal. It isn’t because anyone told me to think this way. I’m just re-examining my belief in peace and in the great teachers who have all said that life is not ours to take. I’m okay with my tax dollars being used to put a murdered in prison for life. Some people cannot be rehabilitated and should never be allowed to live in open society again. I’m okay that they will spend the rest of their lives looking over their shoulder, eating crap food, living without freedom, and contemplating the actions that landed them there. If they can’t be controlled in prison, put them in solitary and throw away the key (especially child killers). I’m good with that. I am not good with killing anyone, whether it is sanctioned by the courts or not. It’s still murder.
Don’t ask me to give you my final say on abortion, though. I’m not ready to do that. I will say that I support a woman’s right to choose what happens with her own body, period. But it broke my heart that my daughter had two abortions. I still have the ultrasound picture of my only grandchild as a small embryo. I offered to take the baby and raise it as my own. I begged. I pleaded with her and with her boyfriend. They shut me out. I didn’t berate either of them, because I knew it was a difficult decision, but I mourned. (She had been taking Xanax for anxiety and also needed surgery. It’s likely the pregnancy would have ended prematurely anyway.) Now that my daughter is dead, I think about her maybe resting with her own children in the afterlife — or as my Jewish friends refer to it, The World to Come.
I don’t know what I believe in anymore. I’ve had so many so-called Christians turn me off on religion, including my ex. Her and her Christian buddies were the most mean-spirited people I’ve ever met. Our first big falling out was because of her comments in the wake of the Trayvon Martin killing. (By the way, why isn’t Zimmerman on death row?) It was like the scales fell from my eyes. I saw her for who she was, and I should have ended it then — but that was a death blow for sure.
But some part of me is returning to a kind of faith. And that faith questions everything, as is my right to do.
Today I read that Franklin Graham said that liberals and Democrats are not Christians (*cough* Jimmy Carter, did you hear that?*cough*). He has also said that Trump will remain president until God’s will is carried out. If that means that we’re all going to die in a nuclear holocaust (essentially ending the world), then maybe he’s right. We’ll all be dead. This man is a multi millionaire who got rich by peddling his brand of Christianity on his dad’s coattails. Well, he can’t fool me. He is shown in the latest picture pointing into the distance, and he’s got three fingers pointing back at himself.
Maybe I have faith, but maybe I’m atheist. I have a hard time swallowing the whole enchilada dished out by “God’s messengers”, but what if there is some great being who loves us no matter what? That’s the one I’d be on board with.