Thursday, August 4, 2005

How Pro-Lifers View the Death Penalty: Two Opinions

Two recent articles bring up the hypocrisy of the left with regard to supporting abortion and opposing the death penalty, but they ultimately reach opposing conclusions: Nathan Tabor's "Abortion Right, Death Penalty Wrong?" in The Conservative Voice, and Joseph Bottum's "Christians and the Death Penalty" in First Things.

Tabor writes:

Those on the Left are hypocritical in their argument. They want to protect the guilty, while saying it’s OK to kill those helpless victims who can’t defend themselves.

Now, our position on the right is logical: We are fighting to protect the innocent while punishing the guilty killers and other criminals.
It's an appealing argument and one which I agree with on a gut level, but my reason has trouble with it, because of issues that Bottum's piece makes clear.

While Bottum's article rationalizes to some degree as he gives his own interpretations of biblical passages, his arguments are well-reasoned and thought-provoking:
[B]oth a government’s right of self-defense and its duty to preserve the normal justice of the social order can potentially issue in executions. But neither of these gives the state a license to attempt either revenge or the high justice implied in the story of [executed killer] Michael Ross. Capital punishment may occasionally be necessary in a modern democracy, but it is never right, for the death penalty is not in a line with other punishments. A five-year sentence and a twenty-year sentence, even a life sentence, are related as more or less severe forms of imprisonment. Execution belongs to another order of punishment.
I believe that there is a biblical basis for capital punishment. It is significant that the New Testament mentions the validity of human justice, as performed under governmental authority, without condemning capital punishment outright. But I don't believe it's currently carried out according to biblical principles; for example, today's courts do not require two witnesses.

Where I believe Bottum's argument is strongest is in the picture he paints of the death penalty's being used to satisfy a desire for revenge. "Vengeance is mine," saith the Lord.

While I agree with many of Tabor's sentiments, I have serious problems with some of his assertions, especially when he writes of incarceration's monetary cost to society:
as a practical economic matter, our society cannot afford to support hardened criminals for life. These violent felons add nothing to our common good and must be locked away to protect the public safety, at a cost in excess of $22,000 apiece per year, on average. By what leap of logic should law-abiding citizens be required to pay for these incorrigible criminals’ food, clothing, shelter, and medical care, not to mention the cost of the guards and maximum-security prisons needed to contain them?
That cost-effectiveness argument is exactly the same one used by those who argue that it is cheaper to kill children in the womb than to allow them to live.