Thesis : In principle a case can be made on moral grounds both supporting
and opposing capital punishment.
Two different cases can be made. One is based on justice and the nature of a
moral community. This leads to a defense of capital punishment. The second
is based on love and the nature of an ideal spiritual community. This leads to
a rejection of capital punishment.
JUSTICE AND THE NATURE OF MORAL COMMUNITY
A central principal of a just society is that every person has an equal right to
“life, liberity, and happiness.” Within that, an arguement for capital
punishment forms along the following lines: some acts are so evil and so
destructive of a community that they void the right of the perpetrator to life.
A community founded on moral principals has specific requirements. The
right to belong to a community is not unconditional. The privilege of living
and pursuing the good life in society is not certain. The essential reason on
which community is built requires each citizen to honor the rightful claims of
others. The precious live in a moral community must be so highly honored
that those who do not honor the life of others void their own right to
membership. Those who violate the personhood of others, especially if this is
done persistently as a habit must pay the ultimate price. This must be done
for the sake of the community which was violated. We can debate whether
some non-lethal alternative is a suitable substitute for the death penalty. But
the standard of judgment is whether the punishment fits the crime and if it
honors the nature of the moral community.
LOVE AND AN IDEAL SPIRITUAL COMMUNITY
Christian live, is unconditional. It does not depend on the worthiness or value
of those to whom it is directed. It is persistent in seeking the good of others
regardless of whether they return the favor or even deserve to be treated well
on the basis of their own wrongdoing. An ideal community would be made
up pf free and equal citizens devoted to a balance between individual needs
and the advancement of common good. Communal life would be based on
mutual love in which equality of giving and receiving was the social practise.
Everyone would contribute to the best of ability.
What would a community based on this kind of love do with thode who
committed brutal acts of terror, violence, and murder? Put negatively, it
would not live by the philosophy of “an eye for an eye,a tooth for a tooth, and
a life for a life.” It would act to safeguard the members of the community
from further destruction. Those whe had shown no respect for life ould be
restrained, permanently if necessary, so that they could not endanger othe
members of the community. An ideal community would show mercy even to
those who had shown no mercy. It would return good for evil. Some kind of
service to the community might be required as a way of partially making
In brief, is the argument for and against capital punishment, one founded on
justice and the nature of moral community, the other resting on love and the
nature of an ideal spiritual community. If we stand back from this description
and make an attempt at evaluation, one point is crucial. The love ethic
requires a high degree of moral achievement and maturity. It is more suitable
for small, closely-knit communities in which members know each other
personally and in some depth. Forgiveness is best in a setting in which
people can participate in each aother’s lives.
In short, for the moment the Christian witness to society is this: first
demonstrate that capital punishment can be administered in a just and
efficient manner. Then we will debate with you as to whether capital
punishment is in priciple necessary, fitting and right or whether a humane
society will find non-lethal alternatives to protect citizens from persistently
violent criminals. Until then the church should say “no” to this extreme
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