It seems that this morning is an appropriate time to sort out my thoughts on concepts like “kill or be killed” and “deserving to die”.
Reading my Facebook friends’ comments the hour after Osama bin Laden was announced dead taught me two things: 1) They are glad someone finally caught him and killed him. 2) They are proud of our U.S. military for doing it. As for myself, I feel the same way. I also am somewhat comforted by the assumed concept that it’s morally okay to have wanted this man dead, and that we collectively as a nation do not feel any guilt for Osamba bin Laden’s death.
I would feel the same sense of relief knowing other antichrists were dead, had I lived in their era; the most obvious example being Adolph Hitler. It’s my observation that while most American religious and political groups have no concrete collective agreements on capital punishment, it goes without saying that if a man is responsible for thousands of lives being lost in a war or political action which he led, then that man deserves to die. And I agree.
What I am confused about isn’t whether or not we should want evil war tyrants dead. The thing I have unresolved convictions about is the much smaller scale version of men like Osama bin Laden and Adolph Hitler. What about serial killers who only kill 20 people, as opposed to 2 million? How high does the body count have to get before the killer “deserves to die”? Where is that conceptual line drawn that causes our American society to agree that a man needs to be killed?
I understand the inescapable concept of “kill or be killed”, as it applies to both war and self-defense. What I find fascinating/confusing is knowing when it’s “okay” to kill a criminal, after he committed a horrible crime. A month after a man killed and raped a dozen people, it is no longer self-defense or “kill or be killed”. Once that murderer and rapist has been captured, can we kill him? If not, would it be any different if he was a member of the enemy army in a war?
Probably, because it’s my observation that war justifies killing people who “deserve it”. But when that same evil man who deserves to die is not fighting our nation as a whole, but instead is individually picking out individuals to kill and/or rape and he is not associated with al-Qaeda or Communism or a being a Nazi, we suddenly are reluctant to collectively agree to place them in the electric chair and remove them from our society to keep them from hurting anyone else.
Despite trying to understand my own beliefs and convictions on capital punishment and self-defense for over a year now, the death of Osama bin Laden doesn’t help much in removing the blurry haze clouding my mind on these issues. And maybe this is as clear as it will ever be in my head. What do I believe? I don’t know for sure. What do you believe?
If this post was the least bit interesting or fascinating to you, I invite you to read its two prequels, by clicking on the titles below:
To ensure that capital punishment was followed through with, would you yourself be willing to take the life of a convicted, guilty criminal?
Back in November, I wrote a post asking the question, “If the only way you could eat any meat was by actually killing the animal yourself, would you still be a carnivore?” (click here to read it http://wp.me/pxqBU-ef). I ended up saying that I am a hypocrite- I couldn’t bring myself to killing animals as regularly as I eat them. (Though since then, I have begun trying only eating meat with dinner, and having vegetarian lunches.)
Recently, thanks to Netflix’s instant streaming, I have found a new series to satisfy me until LOST comes back in February. It’s a Showtime original called Dexter. He is a “blood splatter analyst” for the Miami Metro Police Department. He has unique insight and information regarding criminals who he knows are guilty but can not be convicted because of lack of evidence proven in court.
Interestingly, Dexter himself learned as a young teenage that he had a desire to kill people. His foster dad saw this and guided him into the possibilities working in the police force. So in addition to his day job as a blood splatter analyst, he also hunts down the criminals and kills them himself.
Dexter is a serial killer. He kills murderers on his own time, without the acknowledgement of the Miami police department. And has the know-how to get away with it. So other than breaking the law by killing the criminals, is what he is doing really so bad? He’s killing serial killers. Though he is one himself. He doesn’t kill innocent people, though. Just the killers.
I am thoroughly entertained by this TV show, yet I can’t go unaffected: It forces me to sort out how I feel about capital punishment. I have always believed that without a doubt murderers and rapists should be killed. That’s what I am sure of.
But who pulls the trigger? Who turns on the electric chair? Who holds the responsibility of killing another human being? Of sending them into eternity? Like Dexter, does it take a certain kind of person to execute this kind of justice?
For those who don’t believe in capital punishment, there’s no need to continue reading. This is for those who are like me- those who do support capital punishment, but haven’t necessarily been able to sort it through. This is my way of sorting it out.
So the question is this: To ensure that capital punishment was followed through with, would you yourself be willing to take the life of a convicted, guilty criminal?
I’ve thought it through. I say yes, I would be willing to do it. Because if I say no, then like my earlier question about only eating the animals I killed myself, I make myself a hypocrite.
Aside from the fact I would be taking the life of murderer or rapist, what would hold me back? Knowing that I am in a way playing God. Why am I okay with that? Am I somewhat deranged for admitted I could do it if I had to?
Is there justification in executing a murderer or rapist? I looked it up. From everything I found in the Bible in old Jewish law, murderers are to be put to death. Along with people who commit adultery. But not rapists.
And that’s annoying because that doesn’t add up to where I stand. I want it to say that murderers AND rapists should be executed. But it doesn’t. And I definitely don’t believe that a person who cheated on their spouse should die for it. That seems quite harsh.
Why is it so common for murderers and rapists to repeat the crime once they are released from prison? Because they can’t “learn their lesson”. Something traumatic happened in their earliest years of childhood which corrupted the way they think. While they were at one time an innocent child who may have been a victim of violent abuse or rape, they are now an adult who has chosen to continue that pattern. I don’t see how giving a person like that a second chance is an option.
It’s not a question of revenge. I want no part in revenge. But I do support justice.
This scenario was played out in Season 5 of LOST. Sayid travels back in time and shoots Ben as a child. An adult tries to kill a future serial killer. The ethics of Kate prevented Ben from dying. She took him to get help and his life was saved.
I would say that few people would be willing to do what Sayid did- to try to kill a future serial killer. Because that’s altering the life of an innocent child.
But once that corrupted child has grown up and proven that are corrupted by murdering or raping another person, I don’t see how anything can change them. They can be forgiven by God and people, yes. But not excused from the law of man.
The thing is, there’s no way around the fact that executing wrongdoers is a necessary part of life. War is a great example. Our country fights the bad guys. The other nations who are out to get us and/or other countries. They are the ones who attack. We must defend ourselves. Self-defense.
But even then, who are we fighting? A lot of the soldiers in the armies we fight against are fighting us because they don’t have another option. Their own corrupt government is often the one forcing them to fight us.
If they don’t fight for their country, they may be executed by their own army. If they do fight for their country, our country may execute them in war. They lose either way. But if we don’t kill them, they will kill us. We can’t avoid the situation.
But going back to capital punishment for our own criminals, why can’t we keep them in prison for life? Aside from the millions of dollars in cost us in taxes every year, we have a justice system that often lets them back on streets eventually. And as mentioned before, they often repeat the crime when they are freed.
The biggest issue I have in sorting all this out has less to do with whether or not I could execute a guilty person and more in deciding what crimes are worth of death. I say murderers and rapists. But where are the lines drawn? I’ll leave that to the courts to decide.
I don’t see capital punishment as a political or even a religious issue. Because in all I’ve researched, political and religious groups are split on the issue across the board. It’s one of those issues that isn’t cut and dry. It has to be pondered and discussed and seen from many perspectives. But it can’t go ignored. Someone has to answer the call.
But if we say really support capital punishment, in theory we should be willing to be the one who executes the criminal. If not, we are saying it’s wrong to murder a convicted criminal. Or that we’ll let a person who is more fit for the job take care of it. And do we think that the person who is willing to execute the criminal is less moral than else? Do we fear God will judge us for carrying out what we perceive as justice?
By agreeing that certain criminals should be put to death, we are already making that decision in our mind that it’s justified. But there is something scary about the thought of carrying out that action ourselves. Ironic.
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