On the US Death Penalty

Let me begin with a correction. In today's paper Ms. Moore claims that, "In the United States, a defendant is eligible for the death penalty if it is proven he planned the murder." That statement is untrue. It may be true for MOST of the United States, but 18 states no longer have a death penalty. Pennsylvania, sadly, is not one of them.

Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1973, 130 people on death row have been freed when new evidence emerged to prove them innocent of the crimes they had been condemned to death for (click here).

The most important punctuation sign in the history of mankind is the period at the end of the seventh (or sixth) commandment: Thou shalt not kill. As I have said many times it is the most important punctuation mark in the history of mankind. The Old Testament then goes on to justify the death penalty in cases of murder, war, incest, idolatry, homosexuality. But these excuses were provided by humans—exceptional humans, to be sure, but humans nonetheless.

God did not pass on to Moses the commandment, "Thou shalt not kill, except in cases of murder, war, incest, idolatry, and homosexuality." Why not? Was this an oversight? Momentary stupidity? Certainly God knew the words for these actions and activities.

The major differences between the Old and New Testaments are the basic laws of punishment. In the Old Testament the fundamental law for those who violate the Ten Commandments is "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth": make the punishment fit the crime. In the New Testament it is "turn the other cheek." Jesus taught us to forgive.

The only people who practice this kind of forgiveness that I know of are the Mennonites and Amish, and the record for crime among them is lower than among the general population. That was shown most vividly in the case of the Amish schoolhouse massacre of October 2, 2006, when the Amish community took the path of forgiveness rather than anger. Many even came to the murder's funeral and to his wife to tell her all was forgiven (see the motion picture "Hope".)

But this forgiveness was fundamental to the success of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Nelson Mandela. The last mentioned sat in prison for 27 years and not only forgave his captors, but convinced the entire nation of South Africa it must forgive the decades of murder by the South African police and military.