Capital Punishment


Elections tell you a lot about the worldview of Americans.  Last night’s election is no exception.  It reveals a lot about our moral views.  This election reveals that our nation has become very accepting of homosexuality and same-sex marriage, as well as smoking pot.

Homosexuality and Same-Sex Marriage

Wisconsin elected the first openly gay U.S. Senator.  Maine (53% vs. 47%) and Maryland (52% vs. 48%) voted to support the legalization of same-sex marriage.  Maryland voters merely confirmed their support of a law allowing same-sex marriage that was recently signed into law by the governor.  Maine chimed in on this same issue in 2009 after their legislature passed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage, and they rejected same-sex marriage with 53% of the vote.  Look how quickly public opinion is shifting!

The significance of what happened in Maine and Maryland cannot be underestimated.  This is the first time in history that same-sex marriage has been approved by the people of a state as opposed to the courts or legislature.

Washington also had an initiative to legalize same-sex marriage (same-sex marriage was already legal in all but name).  Only half of the votes have been counted thus far, but at present 52% have voted in favor of same-sex marriage, and thus it is likely to become legal there as well.  If so, nine states will have laws allowing same-sex marriage.

Minnesota tried to change their constitution to limit marriage to a man and a woman, but the initiative was defeated 51% to 48%.  The measure’s defeat, however, does not mean that same-sex marriage is legal.  It’s just not on the books as being illegal.

On the international front, France is now in the process of trying to legalize same-sex marriage there.  If it passes, they will become the 12th country in the world where same-sex couples can marry.  And yesterday, Spain’s high court upheld a 2005 law that legalized same-sex marriage.

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Edward Feser has written a short response to Christopher Tollefsen, who argues that capital punishment is intrinsically immoral.  Feser does a good job showing that if one believes in the principle of proportionality, that capital punishment is moral at least in principle, even if we might haggle over when we should apply it.  I particularly liked the first part of the article because Feser laid out a nice, succinct case for the notion of retributive punishment.  In my experience, those most opposed to capital punishment are opposed because they see punishment as being primarily corrective in nature, or for the purpose of quarantining evil, not for retribution.  This is a deficient view of punishment, and leads one to view capital punishment as either unnecessary or immoral.

While I appreciate many of N.T. Wright’s contributions to theology, there are some things he says that baffle me to no end.  For example, on September 15 he wrote a short piece for the Washington Post titled “American Christians and the death penalty.”  He claims that

you can’t reconcile being pro-life on abortion and pro-death on the death penalty. Almost all the early Christian Fathers were opposed to the death penalty, even though it was of course standard practice across the ancient world. As far as they were concerned, their stance went along with the traditional ancient Jewish and Christian belief in life as a gift from God, which is why (for instance) they refused to follow the ubiquitous pagan practice of ‘exposing’ baby girls (i.e. leaving them out for the wolves or for slave-traders to pick up).

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In May of this year Gallup polled Americans to determine what behaviors they found morally acceptable and unacceptable.  Sixteen behaviors were evaluated, and here are the results:

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Some people argue that if someone is pro-life with respect to the unborn, by the same logic they should also be opposed to capital punishment.  If a pro-life supporter opposes abortion but not capital punishment, these detractors claim they are being hypocritical, or worse yet, that such inconsistency serves to undermine the pro-life ethic.  This is often called the seamless garment argument.  It is advanced by both abortion-choice and pro-life advocates alike (pro-life advocates who are opposed to both abortion and capital punishment).

A couple of things could be said in response.  First, even if the pro-life ethic demanded that one be opposed to both abortion and capital punishment, the pro-life ethic would not be undermined merely because someone inconsistently applies that ethic.  An individual’s logical inconsistencies do not dictate truth.  Even if the pro-lifer is logically inconsistent, it could still be the case that the pro-life ethic is true, and thus abortion is wrong.  The abortion-choice advocate would be committing a logical blunder himself if he thinks that the pro-lifer’s logical inconsistency in applying the pro-life ethic is itself evidence that the pro-life ethic is false.  His conclusion is non-sequitar.

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Radio host, Andrew Tallman, has been running a series over at Townhall on the topic of capital punishment that is absolutely superb. He makes a persuasive case for capital punishment, and does an outstanding job answering both religious and secular objections to it. I would highly recommend his articles on this subject.

Michael Morales is a convicted rapist and killer who was sentenced to death by lethal injection in the state of CA. He was supposed to be executed on Tuesday the 21st at 12:01, but U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel put a stay on his execution until he could be certain that Mr. Morales would not feel any pain in the process. The accepted solution to this requirement was to have a registered anesthesiologist present who could confirm that Mr. Morales was completely unconscious and unable to feel any pain prior to the lethal injection. Two anesthesiologists accepted the responsibility, but later backed out. Why? Because some are arguing that a doctor participating in an execution is not ethically proper. As a result Mr. Morales has yet to be executed.

The American Medical Association, the California Medical Association, and the American Society of Anesthesiologists are three of several groups that have raised ethical condemnations of the plan. The latter organization argues against the plan on the premise that “Physicians are healers, not executioners. The doctor-patient relationship depends upon the inviolate principle that a doctor uses his or her medical expertise only for the benefit of patients.”

I am glad to see some ethical awareness in the medical community, but I am baffled how selective this ethical sensitivity is. For over 30 years physicians have been the main providers of abortions in this country, and in Oregon physicians are involved in the euthanizing of the terminally ill. How is it that participating in these executions is ethically acceptable, but participating in the execution of a man guilty of gross moral crimes against humanity is not? Where is the consistency?

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