Sunday, May 20, 2007

Jesus and the death penalty

Most Christians believe that Jesus Christ was not merely innocent, but was actually perfect. Yet he was tried and executed by the state.

I realize that a lot of Christians oppose the death penalty on principle. However, it seems like Christian opposition to the death penalty should be essentially universal, given that they believe the state can make such a colossal blunder that not only random innocent people -- but in fact the most innocent person of all -- might be wrongly put to death.

So today I'm going to try to guess what reasoning allows some Christians to support the death penalty despite their God's unfortunate experience with it:

* Those Romans were barbarians who didn't have the idea of giving people a fair trial or concepts like "presumed innocent until proven guilty," etc. We don't need to worry about such errors happening today.
* Jesus was executed for political reasons because there was an angry mob clamoring for his death. That's totally unlike the situation of any death-row inmates today.
* It was actually a good thing that Jesus was executed because he died for all our sins. Therefore the death penalty is good.
* The death penalty is part of God's plan. If He didn't want innocent people like Jesus and others getting executed by the state, He'd use His omnipotent powers to put a stop to it.
* Jesus's example clearly shows that even if innocent people are occasionally executed, it all gets sorted out correctly when they get to heaven.
* Jesus was executed for claiming to be king. Considering that He really did claim to be king (in a sense), the conviction was fair and just.
* Jesus was God. Things that happened to Him have absolutely no relation to things that happen to other people.

What do you think? Did I guess it, or is there some other explanation that I missed?


Anonymous said...

Chanson, thanks for raising this topic. The incongruence is really unbearable.

I think you pretty much covered the rationalizations. And I'd like to add what I think is the *real* reason behind the rationalizations; that Christians who support the death penalty simply do not believe in the Jesus who taught that human beings are unable to judge wisely--that only god can do so--and should therefore "judge not that they be not judged".

Rather than believe that there's such a thing as god's justice outside human justice, people take god upon themselves and take something that no human should be allowed to take: another human life.

I think it's one of the many tragic side-effects of human beings thinking that they act for god. And ultimately the only difference between the State doing the killing (by war, death penalty, etc) and an individual doing the killing is the rule of common consent operating under the delusion of god's justice.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Mel!!!

I agree -- I think that's the real reason.

JulieAnn said...

Great post, as usual Carol. This is really something I've never considered.

I think it goes back to the narcissistic Christian notion that anything they do is right (because it's backed by the Big Guy), and anything that others do is wrong. The Romans (heathen bastards that they were LOL) were not Christian, therefore killing Christ was murder and had nothing whatsoever to do with justice or due process. Toss in that it was God's 'plan' to have his son tortured and murdered for the ever-logical argument of blood atonement.

Since everyone is Christian (and if they aren't they should be or they don't matter), then the death penalty is okay and not murder because they are pronouncing judgment(they think they're kind of like God on Earth), and therefore, it is acceptable and sanctioned:

"If 'we' do it, it's okay; God is in our camp. If 'they' do it, it's a whole 'nother ball game."

Poor God. If God is even there, there's probably a lot of head shaking going on...


Anonymous said...

To really get inside the heads of the religious right, one only needs to read their (often talking point like) sermons. An excellent example is here

[...]God's moral principles [were] set down in the Old Testament. Murder is still wrong. Thus, since murder is wrong, the penalty for murder must still be implemented.
Capital punishment is to be implemented because of the sanctity of human life.
Romans 13:1-7 specifically teaches that human government is ordained by God and that we are to obey government because government does not bear the sword in vain.Human governments are given the responsibility to punish wrongdoers, and this includes murderers who are to be given the death penalty.

Finally, capital punishment is never specifically removed or replaced in the Bible. While some would argue that the New Testament ethic replaces the Old Testament ethic, there is no instance in which a replacement ethic is introduced. As we have already seen, Jesus and the disciples never disturb the Old Testament standard of capital punishment. The Apostle Paul teaches that we are to live by grace with one another, but also teaches that we are to obey human government that bears the sword. Capital punishment is taught in both the Old Testament and the New Testament.

Thus, word of God. That's that. The idea of mistakes or injustice are either ignored or dismissed. But that fits the authoritirian model and shouldn't be suprising - the head of the family, community or government says so - therefore it is. The apoligtics are just that.

It is worthwhile Googling for a few of the pro-death sentence sermons. They make chilling reading.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey JulieAnn!!!

I think you may be on to something. The idea is that just because the Pagan Romans made a mistake when applying the death penalty doesn't mean that a God-led Christian government would apply the death penalty unrighteously.

Hey Ben!!!

Another good explanation!!!

And here I was thinking that one should consider what happened to Jesus and draw conclusions from it. But you're not supposed to draw your own conclusions about what is right and wrong. Not about something where God has given a direct answer about in black-and-white in the Bible!!! Duh!!!

Anonymous said...

I found your blog this morning looking for information on peanut butter in France (don't ask) and kept reading because of the excellent writing.

Here's my two cents worth on the issue of the death penalty.

I recall that the bible tells us to "Be perfect, even as your father in heaven is perfect."

Of all the attributes of God there is none greater than the ability to forgive. Indeed, we say "to err is human; to forgive is divine."

Those who are convicted of murder are generally very bad people who commit acts so terrible that we recoil in horror at them.

By refusing to kill even such evil people we make clear our commitment to live our faith in the reality of God and his mercy; to be perfect even as God is perfect.

Ending the death penalty demonstrates to all men that the difficult task of forgiveness can be accomplished and, in doing so, glorifies God and the value of modeling one's life on his commandments.

C. L. Hanson said...

Thanks Rillfiane!!!

Actually, you'd be surprised how many of my regular readers originally found this blog by looking for info on peanut butter in France. ;^)

That's a beautiful analysis!!! If I were Christian, that's exactly the type of ideas I'd try to promote!!! :D

Anonymous said...

yeee c l hanson is dumbbb

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Anonymous!!!

I know I should just delete this (to avoid "feeding the trolls" as they say). But seriously, there are so many interesting things to see and do on the Internet -- is trolling really the best pastime you could come up with?

You're welcome to join the discussion if you have some thoughts to add, but please leave off the pointless trolling.... :D

Anonymous said...

Just because a person says they are a "Christian" does not mean they truly are. How many terrible wrongs have been committed "in Jesus name"? Please do not assume Christ would approve of all that sinful humans do in ignorance.
I, a Christian by faith, apologize for the atrocities people have done and attributed, falsely, to God's will.
To be Christian is to adopt the teaching of Christ and to rely fully on His grace. If you rely on His grace, then you must believe that His grace works for all men. Give those men, no matter how bad they are, a chance to receive grace.

**Julianne, please don't assume that all Christians are narcissistic. That wasn't Christ's goal at all. You have obviously been exposed to some normal, sinful people that need your grace as well as God's. AND, read your Bible.
The Romans did not crucify Christ. The Pharisees did.
The most religious Jewish leaders of the day. Interesting.... ?

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Sarah!!!

I'm not sure from your comment if you're for the death penalty or against it (on Christian grounds). As for whether the Jews forced the Romans to execute Jesus, or whether maybe it was actually the Pharasees who nailed Him up on the cross, or whatever, I'll just refer you to my post on the double-standard of evidence in the trial of Jesus.