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!