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3.27.2007

The (Alleged) Evolution of my Social Politics

Awhile ago I surprised some of my close friends (at least the ones I talk about politics with) by telling them that my stance on capital punishment may be changing. This may not shock any particular reader, but believe me my friends were surprised. For the longest time I was a staunch supporter of the death penalty, in fact I was in favor of extending it to 1st degree rape. Then several things happened.

First there was the death of Pope John Paul II. Now I am not Catholic, in fact I was raised Southern Baptist so I obviously have no particular attachment to the Pope. However, through all of the coverage of his death and funeral there was much made of his consistent view on the defense of life. Of course the MSM pushed this as anti-war, which of course he was, but the thing that got me thinking was his unity of mind on the subject. This kicked off my examination of my stance on life. My pro-life stance was starting to feel artificial. My death penalty views and my anti-abortion stance seemed to be in conflict, and it had started to bother me.

The second thing that really started me down the path to opposition to the death penalty was a discussion with a good friend of mine about the legitimate powers of the state. This is where I am currently stuck: should the state have the power to take life? Philosophically the argument can be made that only that which can grant a right to an individual has the authority to deprive the individual of that same right. Obviously the state does not grant an individual life, so can it take it away? However, the alternative stance would be that the state has the authority based on the social contract granted to the state by people themselves. Of course this would only apply to democracies or republican forms of government, but it is still a valid point.

The third thing happened a few days ago. I was re-reading Les Miserables (my pick for best novel in western literature) and I stumbled upon a certain passage. The speaker is the bishop from which Jean Valjean steals silver candlesticks, and when caught the bishop gives them to him. This bishop is held up as the paragon of Christian virtue and righteousness. He is mumbling about an execution he had just witnessed:

'I did not know that it was so monstrous. It is wrong to become so absorbed in the Divine Law that one is no longer aware of human law. Death belongs only to God. What right have men to lay hands on a thing so unknown?'

This passage solidified a thought that was hazily forming in my mind. This expressed both my theological and philosophical concerns about capital punishment.

Now I am not 100% committed the anti-death penalty camp, but I am certainly on my way.

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