Against Capital Punishment

I’m opposed to capital punishment.

First, obviously, thou shalt not kill. Then, there’s the parable of the wheat and the weeds. (Leave the weeds; otherwise, you’ll hurt the wheat.) Put differently, if you destroy the bad, you destroy the good along with it. (Thank you, Nathaniel Hawthorne.)

But there’s another reason, broader and deeper. I’ve noticed that whenever a commandment is broken—for whatever reason—the consequences are disastrous. I’ve never known a marriage based on adultery to succeed, no matter how much the adulterous partners love each other. If you divorce your wife to marry another woman, the marriage will fail. The problem with sin is that it simply doesn’t work.

He said vengeance belongs to him. And that’s the problem with the entire concept of “punishment.” Punishment is vengeance. A penal system is a system for punishment by definition. As long as we retain a punishment system, we usurp the role of the Father.

A father trains up a child in the way he should go for the sake of the child and for the sake of the community. Fatherless children are not trained in the way they should go. That’s the single most serious problem in our society, resulting in hostility toward the father in the person of authority, any authority—law, law enforcement, even teachers and mothers. Society tries, via social workers and a myriad of government and civil programs, to substitute for the missing father, but there is no substitute.

The penal system is a last resort. But if an offender is placed in a society of other offenders, hostility is not extinguished but nurtured. Society must be protected from that hostility, but changing a good society for a bad one only worsens the problem. Instead, the offender should be alone, not as punishment, but simply because he is anti-social and a danger to others. Alone, he will encounter himself as one who is both confined and free. Confinement forces self-confrontation; freedom forces choice. He will choose either God the Father and submit to his will, or he will encounter another father and succumb to his will. In either case, he is not punished; he is separated from others for their sake and for his own.

There is no circumstance under which he should be killed. Destroying the weeds destroys the wheat. Society is injured by the willful murder of any one of its members, even those who would harm it. Allowing a mass murderer to live gives him–and us—a chance for salvation. Killing him deprives him—and us—of that chance. Sin doesn’t work, including, and especially, the sin of usurping that which belongs to God. And the consequences are disastrous.

Dena Hunt
Dena Hunt's first novel, Treason (Sophia Institute Press), won the IPPY Gold Medal. Her second, The Lion’s Heart (Full Quiver Press), won the Catholic Arts and Letters Achievement award. Jazz & Other Stories, her third book, has just been published by Wiseblood Books. She is the book review editor of St. Austin Review.

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