Saturday, December 11, 2004

The Quality of Mercy

If the death penalty is not about deterrence, or cost, or any of the other multitude of issues at hand, but is simply a matter of justice, then what exactly defines justice?
John Stuart Mill's simplistic notion of justice as taking life for life to show respect for life falls short on many levels. If the death of one person requires another death to achieve justice then what about mass murders? Can justice ever be achieved in a case such as Timothy McVeigh's where one man was deemed responsible for the loss of hundreds of lives?
And what of mercy? Are mercy and justice mutually exclusive? Can we not have both? Life imprisonment without parole offers us both the opportunity for justice and mercy. While it is clear that mercy was not present when the killer comitted their crime, it needs to start somewhere and that should be the role of a mature and just society - to show mercy to the criminals while also protecting society from future harm.

I am not surprised that you are able to find someone working at a conservative think tank who will argue that capital punishment is a deterrent, but I just flat don't believe it. I've seen far too many studies that come to the opposite conclusion. Plus, if it were truly the case that every execution deterred 5-18 more homicides then Texas should have the lowest homicide rate in the nation - and instead we have one of the highest.

Finally, while Christ did come down hard on hypocrites, I don't think that was his sole point in the parable about Mary Magdalene. Otherwise, why didn't Christ cast the first stone himself? Instead he forgives her and tells her to sin no more. Sounds to me like someone who didn't think the death penalty was a just form of punishment. He chose mercy and so should we.


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