Since the dawn of creation the law of God to man has been “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed.” (1) Today, we refer to this biblical principle in public law as capital punishment.
Interestingly, regardless of the fact that the death penalty’s origin is found in the Bible – nearly every society, religious or not, has adopted the death penalty as a suitable way to deal with murder. There is a good reason for this: the death penalty makes sense – for as harsh a sentence as death is, the penalty fits the crime, and is best for all concerned, whether the victim, the victim’s family, the community at large, or the perpetrator.
1. Murder is a crime for which the victim cannot come back and say, “I refuse to press charges.” The victim has no voice.
2. Murder is a crime for which no payment by the criminal will ever fully satisfy the debt incurred. If one robs a store, the captured thief can pay back the debt, and in fact under biblical law (which some states are beginning to embrace in spirit via victim’s rights legislation) is tasked to work for the man he robbed until the debt is satisfied double the value of the good stolen. (2) After such a bounteous payback, he is set free, and by his honorable labor, restored to a position of trust.
But, again, a murderer can never bring back life. Thus, no matter how hard he labors, or how bounteous his payback, his debt remains unpaid, and society’s trust remains un-won. His victim is dead and will remain dead.
3. The legitimate role of government involves the protection of life, liberty and property. Just as the role of the government is to raise an armed force and rain down deadly force upon a bloodthirsty invading army, so also the government is duty bound to inflict death upon the man who chooses to slaughter fellow citizens.
Few if any object to the use of deadly force against an invading army. Yet those invading soldiers, ordered to fight (and likely whipped up by nationalistic propaganda to go into battle) are far less deserving of death than the assailant who has been proven guilty and has been convicted in a court of law by a jury of his peers of shedding the innocent blood of his neighbor – and this of his own free will. Nevertheless, we do and must condone the use of deadly force by our armed forces in the event of an attack. Governments must protect life. This is no less true regarding individual life. Here too, death to the assailant – the far less worthy assailant – is the right answer.
4. Murder eventually revokes the full array of rights of citizenship. Some defend the murderer with the claim that he, like anyone else, has certain rights, including the right to life, which can never be taken away. This is true prior to conviction. In this country we assume a person is innocent until proven guilty.
Therefore, the accused has all the same rights in the legal system as anyone else: i.e., the right to know the nature and cause of the accusation, the right to a speedy and public trial, the right to counsel for his defense, the right to face his accusers, the right to trial before an impartial jury of his peers, the right to obtain witnesses in his favor, the right not to testify against himself, the right not to be tried twice for the same capital offense (if declared innocent the first time around), and the right to appeal. (3)
But after all this takes place, and the jury proclaims guilt, and decrees a sentence, and the convicted criminal has exhausted all appeals, his rights as an American citizen ought to end. He freely chose to break the law and take the life of a fellow citizen – he must not now be free to avoid the consequences of his heinous choice. If the jury assigns death, his fate ought to be sealed, his right to life terminated.
5. The Death Penalty is not, as social activist lawyer Clarence Darrow once claimed, “an act of revenge”; it is an act of justice.
Opponents of the death penalty have made hay of a few people, once upon a time, driving by a penitentiary in Michigan City, Ind., shouting “Burn, baby, burn!” as a man who raped and strangled a mother and drowned each of her three children one by one was electrocuted.
As to the inventive “Burn, baby, burn!” fairytale, let’s address a more important issue: Even if the account was true, why do we suppose some people react with outrage? Could it be they are bearing testimony to the slayer and future would-be slayers that murder hurts, that murder is not just a crime against the individual, but against all those who loved that individual, against all those who depended upon that individual, against all those who were and may yet have been influenced by that individual, and against all those in the community who now live in fear that a similar act might someday befall them or their loved ones?
Certainly, no sane human being pastes on his face a perpetual smile after a family member or fellow citizen has been brutally murdered – nor should he.
Consider the counsel of King Arthur to Sir Lancelot in the movie First Knight: “A man who doesn’t fear anything is a man who loves nothing.” Or with slight adaptation: “A man who has never felt righteous indignation has never known love.” Or as American Founder Thomas Paine reflected regarding deaths, tortures and rapes inflicted upon America’s sons and daughters, brothers and wives, neighbors and countrymen, by the British: “The heart that feels not now is dead.” (4)
Love is a good and strong emotion. When the object of that love is threatened or destroyed, people possessed of moral and emotional sense ought to be free to react with emotion equal to the threat, or crime – to the point of outrage if necessary. Frankly, no one can fully understand such emotions until they have ‘been there.’
And so one wonders, could it be that some of these activist lawyers and pundits – who in far too many cases reject Judeo-Christian morality anyway – are guilty of confusing righteous indignation, true love, and respect for the laws of God and man, for revenge? One can be outraged; one can insist that stiff penalties up to and including the death penalty be administered, without being hateful and vengeful.
Again Thomas Paine writes regarding America’s call to arms against England: “Say not that this is revenge, call it rather the soft resentment of a suffering people, who, [have] no object in view but the good of all …” (5)
Even so, in an imperfect world, a desire for revenge will exist in the hearts of some victims. Their bitterness, however, does not change the nature of the crime committed, the proof of the murderer’s guilt, nor the necessity for proportional justice. Murder is still murder, regardless of emotion and the imperfections of victims.
6. The justice of the death penalty is strengthened, not weakened, by the advent of new technologies such as DNA testing, which has recently been utilized to more firmly establish guilt or prove innocence. It does not logically follow that the death penalty should be abolished because such evidence ‘might’ have reversed the fate of some previously put to death. It’s too late for that. What’s past is past.
7. So-called ‘racial profiling’ and ‘rich/poor lawyer success rates’ are poor excuses to eliminate the death penalty and thus rob justice. That some people inevitably ‘get off’ because of the skill of a lawyer, celebrity status, political power, or a racial issue (prejudice can go both ways) is a great injustice – but it does not negate the validity of and necessity for laws and penalties. It should only motivate us to find ways to make these ‘untouchables’ accountable before the law. We can’t have anarchy.
8. Life imprisonment is a poor, immoral substitute for the death penalty. Such a plan heaps additional punishment upon victims by insisting that they pay for the living expenses, the education expenses, the recreation expenses, the medical expenses of the man who killed their kin. Such a plan is likened unto ‘socialism for and behalf of butchers.’
Even worse, life imprisonment unnecessarily puts at risk prison guards, lesser criminals, survivors, jurists, judges, lawyers, witnesses, family members, little children … everyone.
Face it, murderers have been known to kill in prison, order outside hits while in prison, negatively impact the thinking of less violent prisoners in prison, and kill again once they are set free. That’s why the average murderer on death row has killed three times before finally being put to death.
Permitting a murderer to live is a paltry example of the so-called “progress of the law.” Putting a man to death the first time around is better. It saves lives and sticks to penalizing felons, not the law-abiding.
9. The swift use of the death penalty deters the commission of murder in the first place. An ancient prophet asked: “Now, if there was no law given – if a man murdered he should die – would he be afraid he would die if he should murder?” (7)
This question won’t go away. To assume and/or manipulate statistics in order to say that the death penalty does not deter some murders is at best thoughtless and at worst smacks of ulterior motives.
The desire for rewards and the avoidance of punishments affect every human being. We spend our lives pursuing the one and avoiding the other to the degree that the law and our native common sense and abilities aid us in that quest. Just look at the free market. Just look at the influence of religion. Just think about how driving speed is affected by the presence of a police officer and the possibility of a ticket. To claim that the fear of punishment, and such a severe and final punishment, will not deter murder is illogical. Our justice system’s failure to swiftly and consistently apply justice – that is to swiftly and consistently administer the death penalty – is the real deterrence to deterrence.
10. A society that honors the sanctity of life by putting to death those who are destroyers of life is not murderous but godly. Allies of eliminating the death penalty often flout the religious command “Thou shalt not kill” (8) back in the face of religious folks who advocate the death penalty. This presumptuous and fanatical approach to a command of God certainly misses the mark on the spirit of the command’s intent and the command’s supporting doctrines.
The Hebrew translation of the same scripture reads, “Thou shalt not murder.” Murder is defined doctrinally not merely as killing, but more precisely as “shedding innocent blood.” (9) Putting to death a convicted murderer who has been afforded a fair trial, and who has exhausted every appeal, is not the shedding of innocent blood, and thus is not murder, but justice on the one hand, and obedience to the law of God and man on the other. As already cited at the start of this article, the second half of, “Thou shalt not murder,” reads: “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed.” (10)
In this regard, we read also in Holy Writ: “For a commandment I give, that every man’s brother shall preserve the life of man, for in mine own image have I made man.” (11) And then again: “Ye shall defend your families even unto bloodshed” – likewise our “lands … country … rights … and religion” when our enemies are upon us. (12).
Therefore, when “Thou shalt not murder” is placed right smack in the middle of the big picture – as all religious principles ought to be – we realize the commandment incorporates the inalienable right to self-defense and the moral duty to protect the life of those within our jurisdiction as parents, neighbors, citizens, and/or officers of the law.
Again, Thomas Paine persuades:
My own line of reasoning is to myself as straight and clear as a ray of light. Not all the treasures of the world, so far as I believe, could have induced me to support an offensive war, for I think it murder; but if a thief breaks into my house, burns and destroys my property, and kills or threatens to kill me, or those that are in it, and to ‘bind me in all cases whatsoever’ to his absolute will, am I to suffer it? What signifies it to me, whether he who does it is a king or a common man; my countryman or not my countryman; whether it be done by an individual villain, or an army of them? If we reason to the root of things we shall find no difference; neither can any just cause be assigned why we should punish in the one case and pardon in the other. (13)
The punishment that common moral sense signified was death to the villain or to the villains. Paine reminds those who would shrink at such a high moral duty: “[T]he blood of his children will curse his cowardice.” (14) (15)
11. The death penalty is not cruel and unusual punishment. Giving ear to this secular stand against the age old wisdom of God causes us to lose site of the reality of life after life – and the tutorial benefits of the Law of the Harvest upon us all. The death penalty, in the eternal sense of things, is an act of love assigned by a merciful Being as the most appropriate, wise, and merciful sentence available to reform a murderer. In the New Testament Book of Hebrews we read:
My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him. For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chaseneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards and not sons. (16)
We do not want to be bastards, but sons. Both Christian and Jew understands that God’s object whether he sends and or permits death, plagues, famines, or other obstacles in our lives, is our growth, here and hereafter – a hereafter that awaits all men, murderers included.
12. Finally, I address a question already alluded to but taken to an even greater extreme by a June 2000 National Review feature article, “The Problem With the Chair: A Conservative Case Against Capital Punishment.” The question was asked: “If a democratic society executes criminals with the foreknowledge that some percentage of them are innocent, are all members of that society implicitly guilty of murder themselves?”
Well … God is more just and merciful than that. When the Roman soldiers nailed Christ – the only perfect man – to the cross, he pled, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Won’t He similarly plead the case of those who do their best, to do their duty, before the laws of God and man when carrying out the sentence of men far less innocent? It seems best to trust, as did our forefathers, that if we do our best, He will judge us by the intent of our hearts in those areas where we may have remotely failed. It is He who established the law for the death penalty. His law is good. To abolish His just and compassionate law in an overzealous defense of dangerous criminals fairly tried and fairly convicted misses the mark with religion, defies common sense, and strikes a legal blow at the laws and justice of God, whose laws are at the root of the American judicial system.
Steve Farrell is Founder and Editor In Chief of The Moral Liberal, former pundit with NewsMax.com (1999-2007), and author of the inspirational novel Dark Rose.
1. Holy Bible, Genesis 9:6. The full quote reads, “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.”
2. Ibid., Exodus 22:4-9.
3. The Constitution of the United States, Amendments 5, 6.
4. Paine, Thomas. “The Crisis,” Installment 1, December 23, 1776.
6. Dickens, Charles. “Bleak House,” Chapter 1.
7. Standard Works, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Alma 42:19.
8. Holy Bible, Exodus 20:13.
9. Proverbs 6:16-19, Jeremiah &:6-7, Jeremiah 22:6, Jeremiah 26: 11-15, Joel 3:19, Matthew 27:4, 1 Samuel 19:5, 2 Kings 21:16.
10. Holy Bible, Genesis 9:6.
11. Holy Bible, Inspired Version, Genesis 9:13.
12. Standard Works, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint, Alma 43:47, Alma 46:12, Alma 48:14-16, Doctrine and Covenants 98:32-38. See also Holy Bible, Genesis 14 (Abraham defends his extended family via war); Exodus 2:11-12 (Moses defends, unto death, a Hebrew slave); Exodus 17: 8-16 (regarding defensive war); Exodus 32:6-7 (going to war as per our duty to our fellow men dieing in the field – “Shall your brethren go to war, and shall ye sit here?” asks Moses); Deuteronomy 20:12 (If countries refuse our peace offering, but make war “thou shalt besiege it”); Numbers 10:9 (“If ye go to war in your land against the enemy that oppresseth you … ye shall be remembered before the Lord, and … saved from your enemies.”)
13. Paine, Thomas. “The Crisis,” Installment 1, December 23, 1776.
15. Some Christian opponents of the death penalty claim that Christ did away with ‘the law,’ and thus capital punishment. Christ, however, declared, “Think not that I have come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall not pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. (Matthew 5:17-18)
Christ fulfilled such aspects of the law as blood sacrifice (via his atonement), but he did not abolish the moral requirements of the law, which are eternal. Rather, he set a higher, tougher moral standard of the heart. Said he: “[E]xcept your righteousness shall EXCEED the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20, emphasis added)
Likewise, Paul, known for his teachings on grace, nevertheless defended the moral law. He considered the saints to be “teachers of the law. … [For] we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully; Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, For whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind [homosexuals], for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine. … ” (1 Timothy 1:7-11).
The righteous are called to live by the Spirit, a Spirit that inspires a higher standard, but if they fall, they again become subject to the lower law and its requirements. Paul writes, “What shall we say? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet. … Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.” (Romans 7:7, 12).
16. Holy Bible, Hebrews 12: 5-8.