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Week of: August 12, 2001

Capital Punishment: An Act of Mercy

by F.R. Duplantier

How can anyone take a position on the issue of capital punishment without considering the spiritual implications of death and judgment?

DEAD MAN SQUAWKING*
As their days of departure draw nigh,
You may hear death-row denizens sigh:
"I'm not certain still
That it's so bad to kill,
But I personally would rather not die!"

Sister Helen Préjean is the Louisiana nun whose book Dead Man Walking was made into a feature film starring Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon. Reeking with false compassion for convicted murderers awaiting execution on death row, both the book and the movie offered an emotional appeal for the prohibition of capital punishment. Ironically, Sister Helen has conceded in at least one interview that some of the condemned men to whom she has ministered have experienced conversion as a direct result of knowing the certain date of their departure from this world. Nevertheless, she seems unable to recognize that salvation is a greater good than life itself, and persists in opposing the one means available for rescuing especially hard cases from certain damnation.

Professional genius Marilyn vos Savant once devoted half of her "Ask Marilyn" column in Parade magazine to a consideration of the pros and cons of capital punishment, without once mentioning the possibility of an afterlife and the correlation between reconciliation and the prospect of eternal punishment. Marilyn conceded that she considers "capital murder far more abhorrent than . . . capital punishment" and for that reason "reluctantly support[s] the administration of the death penalty." She insisted, however, that she could find "nothing positive about the concept of capital punishment." Apparently, Marilyn hasn't searched hard enough.

Anyone seeking a deeper understanding of the positive effects of capital punishment would be well advised to read The Consolation of Philosophy, by Boethius, or Herman Melville's short story "Billy Budd." One is a factual, the other a fictional, account of a man unjustly condemned to death who nevertheless overcomes his bitterness and self-pity and, recognizing the blessing in his misfortune, seizes the opportunity to save his soul. Atheists and agnostics, depending on their temperament, view capital punishment either as just or vengeful. Only the faithful, however, can see it for what it really is: the ultimate act of mercy.

Assuming that eternal life -- in heaven or hell -- awaits us after our brief sojourn on earth, anything that redounds to our salvation must be counted as more valuable than human life itself. Far from being inhumane, then, a death sentence is one of the greatest blessings we sinners can receive. By focusing the mind on the mortality that most of us ignore, it provides a compelling incentive for reconciliation. This applies even to those rare few who've been falsely convicted.

How many "victims" of capital punishment (not to mention terminal illness) might have been damned without the knowledge of their imminent demise? Do they share our mortal squeamishness in paradise? Not likely. They undoubtedly conclude, and rightly so, that we place too much emphasis on this life and too little on the next.

*From Politickles: Limericks Lampooning the Lunatic Left, by F.R. Duplantier.

 

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