What Would Jesus Do?–Apply Only When Convenient

woman_9I try not to go all Jesus on you, at least on this blog. And truthfully, I’m not really. I’m just trying to illustrate a point. Today’s discussion revolves around the death penalty.

The reason it came to mind today for me, is that Maryland’s governor, Martin O’Malley, recently signed a repeal of the death penalty bill, ending that state’s long association with murder by government, and becoming the 18th state to move to the side of life.

What is perhaps most interesting, or draconian, as you see it, is that at the same time, Florida moves to make the killing of its citizens more easy for the state to accomplish. Florida wishes all those on death row executed within 180 days of “a warrant being signed”–presumably from a valid conviction and sentence. This awaits the governor’s signature at a time that Florida ranks first in overturned death penalty cases, a stunning 24 people having been exonerated, since 1970.

When you look at a map of the country, it is easy to see that the 18 states who have abolished the death penalty, almost all reside in the north and east,  my own state of New Mexico being a happy exception. More and more, the killing is confined to the deep South, Ohio being the only exception to that rule. You can check out all the statistics in your state here.

In 2012, 140 countries had abolished the death penalty, 39 more have de facto eliminated it by not using it for a number of years. Fifty-eight still impose it, the US of course among them. Of the fifty-eight, there is not one single what we would call “modern” country, save Japan that does so. We are in the company of Syria, North Korea, the Congo, Cuba, Pakistan and Afghanistan with our penchant for murdering our own citizens. Only Iran and Saudi Arabia beat us in the numbers killed each year (China refuses to divulge such information and the numbers for them is thought to be in the thousands)

It confounds rational beings in this country that we continue this barbarism. In many countries, vigils are held at US embassies when an execution is imminent. Many countries will not extradite prisoners to this country because of its death penalty. Our claims about human rights violations are laughed at across the globe when we so viciously execute our own in the face of growing numbers of those later found innocent.

Yet we continue to do so, and it begs the question why? Why is the deep South, home of the Bible Belt, people by so many who advocate the death of their fellow citizens? Why do so-called Evangelical Christians, or Born Agains stand so steadfast for this legalized murder? How do they square all this with their manual of life, the Bible?

We can’t answer that question, because it is in fact unanswerable. These same people will argue that it is both right and proper for state legislatures to impose all kinds of controls on women to make sure that any fertilized egg is produced as a live birth. In fact, taking their arguments and legislation to its logical extension, absolutely nothing is “too far” when it comes to a fetus. They would allow for women to be imprisoned to insure that she is eating properly. They would allow for an investigation into the circumstances of any “miscarriage” to determine whether there was either deliberate or negligent causation of the loss.

They tell us that life is sacred, given by God. They say this of course, while we know that their interest begins and ends there. They are not generally willing to support that child once born. Many of them later will label that same child a “taker”, a 48%’er, a lazy, or other such appellation suggesting that they are unworthy of their charitable largess. And indeed they wish to reserve that right of “charity” to those persons deemed “worthy” as defined by them.

They engage in this ying-yang dichotomy of what God demands. God demands we preserve life at conception. God is ignored when in the guise of Jesus, He demands compassion and care for the least of God’s children. In the biggest effrontery of all, they accomplish this by proclaiming that God made his manual understandable to everyone, and therefore their self-serving interpretation is sacrosanct. They even have the gall to point to scripture for this proposition–beware of false prophets–everyone who tells them differently are of course the false prophets. It’s all neat and tidy.

However, the facts tend to get in the way. I offer the story of the adulterous woman from the Gospel of John, from Chapter 8.

The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, 4 they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. 5 Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6 They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. 9 When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, sir.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”

Note how the Scribes correctly state that the penalty for adultery is death. Stoning was never a punishment of pain, it was a death sentence. Yet Jesus precludes the use of the penalty, telling the woman to “go forth and sin no more”–an impossibility of course to any mortal human being. He forgives her. He in a real sense rehabilitates her. He sends her forth to resume her life, hopefully with a new outlook and a better approach to community living.

Yet these fundamentalists who insist that there is but one way to read the bible, and that is literally, seem able, as is always the case with them, to manage to avoid the obvious literalness of this passage.

They are quite happy to merrily go on judging others and condemning them to death. They continue to usurp the right of God (from their previous logic) to control matters of life and death.

It is why they forever deserve not only our ridicule, but our condemnation as Christians. They are simply users of scripture to accomplish their own personal desires. As such their opinions carry no weight.

So just jump in and rant away good readers!

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14 thoughts on “What Would Jesus Do?–Apply Only When Convenient

  1. All i can say is the death penalty sure keepeth folk from sinning no more. But it’s a huge expense and totally irrelevant as a deterant. If ya really want crooks to suffer, life without parole is fairly awful.

    • Glad you mentioned that Hansi. I did my law school thesis on the death penalty in Michigan, and the head of the prisons way back when was arguing that solitary confinement for life was killing prisoners faster than anything. They would go mad and die. He begged for them to be allowed time in the general population and yard time. It was that awful. In fact one of the arguments for abolition of the death penalty was that very fact–life was much worse. And that proved to be true. Eventually changes occurred in Michigan to allow prisons time out of their cells and interaction with other inmates. !END

  2. Ok….I was gonna write something pithy or so….with the God thing, ,,,,, but it is too sobering a topic to do so. I agree with Hansi
    //huge expense and totally irrelevant as a deterrent. //….
    yet… there seem to be some crimes so heinous … the killings at columbine and Sandy hook spring to mind…. that it sometimes seems that it would be suitable. And then I shudder at the thought and come to the conclusion that neither I , or anyone I can think of…..should be in a position to make that kind of decision. We are better off without a death penalty. A life listening to Lawrence Welk and Pat Robertson would be cruel and unusual… otherwise I would be all for that.

    • You hit the point perfectly Jim. We can always think of an exception, but then other people would have different ones, and eventually we are caught up in it again…deciding who lives and who doesn’t. I don’t appreciate the state killing in my name. I think imprisonment is enough. I wish we had real rehabilitation. I would rather people be “fixed” and released rather than languish in such a setting. !END

  3. Course….. I once had a discussion with Jesus…. told him I did not believe in him. He laughed heartily, said he wasn’t sure he believed in me, either. Then he bought the next round.

  4. Oregon’s governor has stirred up some controversy over his decision to refuse to kill any death row inmates… even the one stirring things up by wanting to be offed. http://tinyurl.com/85x4lec

    The whole thing of the loony fundamentalists is way beyond my understanding.

    • Yeah, well I can understand someone coming to the conclusion that death is better than a life in a cage. I don’t know as I would choose that, but I can see how others will. Being the governor and all, and having the “last word” I can see why some might decide to avoid the whole thing. I’m not sure if that’s courage, fear or unwillingness to get in there and really argue the issue. But it’s better than nodding to the executioner I suppose. !END

  5. Thank you for this post. This is one of my biggest problems with religion, or, rather, certain type of people following a religion (any one) who claim to follow its literal interpretation exactly. These people seem to just use the Bible (or Koran, or Torah) to find something that supports their whatever pre-existing opinion on anything, and because the Bible is full of contradictions, there’s justification for pretty much everything. And, of course, it’s so easy to forget or omit something that doesn’t fit conveniently in one’s world view – like not eating shellfish or not working on Saturdays.

    • Of course you are perfectly right. But the truth is the loudest voices (the fundies) arent the mainstream of faith in any tradition. Most of us,Christian, Jew, Buddhist, Muslim, etc don’t treat scripture as some manual for life. We see it as a guide, the wisdom of past generations if you will. Some of that wisdom is wrong, some no longer applicable, and some of it is dead on. Our fundamentalist friends are psychological studies in how a mind can be used by others by instilling and then ramping up as necessary, fear. these people are ultimately prone to demagoguery. They have a mindset that when not corrected, leads them into some very strange places, i.e, support of the fetus, and support of death row. They cannot perceive a conflict like the rest of us do. !END

  6. I have enormous respect for my friends who come from the Quaker and United Church of Christ traditions, for whom cherishing life does not involve meddling with a woman’s reproductiev rights, but rather opposing the death penalty, opposing war, alleviating poverty, etc.

    • I very much agree Ahab. That is a mind that is rational and at peace with itself. I totally agree. I have listened to the sermons form some United Church of Christ ministers and have been always impressed with their love and common sense. !END

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