Christian Leader: The Death Penalty Affirms the Sanctity of Life September 24, 2011

Christian Leader: The Death Penalty Affirms the Sanctity of Life

Despite the flimsy evidence that led to the death of Troy Davis earlier this week, Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wants everyone to know he still supports the death penalty. But how does he justify capital punishment with Biblical values?

“The death penalty is not about retribution,” [Mohler said] in a podcast Sept. 22. “It is first of all about underlining the importance of every single human life.”

Mohler, who has a Ph.D. in theology, said in Genesis 9, where capital punishment is mandated for murder, “it is precisely because the taking of one human life by another means that the murderer has effectively, morally and theologically, forfeited his own right to live.” “The death penalty is intended to affirm the value [and] sanctity of every single human life, and thus by the extremity of the penalty to make that visible and apparent to all,” Mohler said.

Right… so, in his logic, we punish only the worst criminals, the ones who take innocent life, so killing the killers is a way to show that we respect human life. Never mind the fact that the system is fucked up to begin with and the evidence against the criminals isn’t always as rock solid as some lawyers would have you believe.

Remember Mohler’s statement the next time a Christian says Old Testament laws no longer apply because of Jesus. (It’s not the first time Mohler’s made comments about this issue, either.)

Comment of the day goes to Desmond Ravenstone at Think Progress:

Update: After declaring that the death penalty “affirm[s] the value [and] sanctity of every single human life,” Southern Baptist theologian Albert Mohler piously explained how war is peace, freedom is slavery, and ignorance is strength.

It’s amazing how these people can talk on and on about their belief in forgiveness and grace… while simultaneously supporting wars, guns, and death. We don’t need to resort to the death penalty to show how much we appreciate life. If the evidence is there, lock the criminal up for life with no possibility of parole. We don’t need to resort to barbaric punishments to make a point.

For what it’s worth, not all Christians support the death penalty, but let’s see them speaking out against it — I’m sure they can find ample support in their holy book to justify abolishing it.

(By the way, if you haven’t heard it yet, go listen to George Carlin’s “Back in Town” album.)

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  • Kevin_Of_Bangor

    As an atheist I
    do support the death penalty when it can be prove without a doubt. Many people
    have admitted they did commit the murder and when they do I fully support them
    being put to death. If they admit it or it can be proven without a doubt they
    did commit murder with the intent of taking another’s life I have no problem at
    all with them dying.

    I’m also a
    member of the NRA and I have a concealed firearms permit. It is rare I walk
    outside without being armed. An atheist that is a member of the NRA shocks a
    lot of people but I have to be a member of the NRA to be a member of a local
    gun club.

    I’m not going
    to change my position on while I feel the death penalty is necessary if you
    choose to commit murder for no other reason than taking someone’s life.

  • Melody Hollis

    Eye for an eye…or is it turn the other cheek? I get confused.

    I’m always shocked at the comments on local news stories from people who offer prayers to victims then insist that the perpetrator be shot, beat, hung, drug behind a pickup truck or otherwise mutilated as punishment. 

  • Anonymous

    Your formatting sucks.  Don’t press enter except where you are making a new paragraph.

    An admission of guilt isn’t good enough as admissions can be coerced by law enforcement.  It must be backed up by evidence.  The evidence in this case wasn’t really conclusive and some witnesses recanted, claiming proprietorial coercion.

  • Kevin_Of_Bangor

    I write in Word and when I copy and paste it I always have to edit it because Disqus screws it up. You saw what I posted before I fixed it.

    When a convicted killer goes on a TV show and admits they murdered so and so for no other reason than they wanted to kill someone I don’t have a problem with it.

    As for Troy Davis he should not have been executed for the reasons you stated and I did not support his execution for those reasons but that doesn’t mean I don’t support the death penalty.

  • Julie S

    I have never understood the death penalty – it is simply state sanctioned murder. 

    The only way the death penalty can exist is as a pretence for punishment.

  • Philbert

    I would find this more convincing if the death penalty was more evenly applied. But even in states with the death penalty, it is only used in a minority of cases, and the selection of cases makes no sense. 

    Whenever the death penalty is debated, it just reminds me of the South Park episode “I’m a Little Bit Country”. People want retribution for murder, in the abstract sense, and politicians need it to look tough on crime. But when it comes down to it, we can’t bring ourselves to apply it most of the time.

  • I’d be okay with keeping murderers — especially serial killers — alive for study.

  • Kevin_Of_Bangor

    If someone was to kidnap, rape and then murder my 12 year old child and this sort of crime does happen I would watch them die with a smile on my face but the state I live in does not have the death penalty for said crimes.

    I would hope they would get life in prison without the possibility of parole, not a little 20 year sentence on the hopes they might be rehabilitated.

  • Prison life, even decades of it, has no gaurantee of suffering. What’s the lesson? You can murder an innocent person and live out the rest of your for free ? Not every inmate will ‘rot’; some even thrive.

    I am all about the sanctity of *innocent* life. Of course, this man said ‘every single human life’…which would be hypocritical in his case.

  • I think in a civilized society, the purpose of imprisonment should not be that prisoners suffer. The basic point is that they are not among the rest of us, doing more harm.  Nevertheless, I don’t think anyone has to worry that the inmates enjoy it like Club Med. 

  • Anonymous

    I absolutely support the right to bear arms. In a perfect world, no one would be violent, but it’s not a perfect world and criminals will always have weapons. I live in a rural area and it would take the police at least 25 minutes to reach my house, so waiting for the cops is not an option.

  • Unfortunately, we don’t live in a civilized society. Inmates do injure other inmates, and, in extreme cases, the wardens. They are perfectly able to do more harm.

  • I don’t see how that unfortunate fact supports, refutes or addresses the question if imprisonment is supposed to be about suffering or not.  They at least are not harming me, or my neighbors.

  • Anonymous

    You can’t have a rule of law that makes a distinction between “beyond a reasonable doubt” and “we’re really, really sure nobody made any mistakes, nobody framed the suspect, the confession wasn’t coerced, the confession wasn’t the result of shock and a desire to please interrogators, the confession wasn’t made out of a perverse desire for fame, the suspect is not suffering from an undiagnosed (or diagnosed, for that matter) mental illness that should’ve resulted in a not guilty verdict, the jury was made aware of all relevant evidence, the jury made a decision based on evidence and not prejudice or misleading testimony, and all witnesses told the truth and had perfect memory”.

  • It’s all about suffering. Just as Kevin_Of_Bangor put it, if someone were to kidnap, rape, and violently murder your child, I think your view point would change.

    And I think that’s a little selfish. They can seriously harm wardens–who, mind you, are doing their jobs by keeping these people away from you and your neighbors–but so long as you’re not touched, it’s fine.

  • Kevin S.

    As much as we like to deservedly ream the Catholic Church for many of their positions, they’re pretty ardently anti-death penalty (except when it comes to gay people, then they’re like “oh, yeah, we’re against all capital punishment, but whatever).  Pope Palpatine was one of the people calling for Davis’ execution to be stayed.

  • Whether or not my emotional response to someone I personally love being harmed causes me to want vengeance,  that is not a principle to guide a society toward a better level. This is why we respond to criminals according to prescribed laws rather than letting the families of victims act out their own vendettas.  Arguments about how I would feel in a given hypothetical extreme situation are immaterial to the question of  whether the main purpose of imprisonment should be to cause suffering to the prisoners.

    As far as the wardens and inmates being harmed, that’s about the wardens needing to do their jobs better. The wardens are hired to provide a service, and they are supposed to have training. Whether or not that training is sufficient or well designed, I don’t know. I certainly don’t think it is an easy job, but they have chosen the work, along with its risks.

  • SpaceViking

    So then the purpose of capital punishment is NOT justice, but revenge? That’s the point I’m getting from this.

  • Rich Wilson

    If they admit it or it can be proven without a doubt

    I’d change that ‘or’ to an ‘and’.

  • Rich Wilson

    If they admit it or it can be proven without a doubt

    I’d change that ‘or’ to an ‘and’.

  • Rich Wilson

    You’re far more likely to get the death penalty for killing a white person than for killing a black person.

  • Rich Wilson

    You’re far more likely to get the death penalty for killing a white person than for killing a black person.

  • Kevin_Of_Bangor

    If you desire to call it revenge that is your choice. I view it as a person that is no longer able to live because they choose to commit a horrific act and because they did their life was extinguished.

    This is debate you and I will never going to agree with for the most part. I support it, you don’t.

  • Fair enough. Personally, I don’t see how causing a murderer to suffer for their crimes is a sign of an uncivilized society…I do think that letting a criminal sit around for the rest of their life in what could be their element is a sign of a weak society.

    As far as your opinion on the wardens, I still believe that’s selfish. If someone murders a person on the street then they should be locked up. However, if that inmate murders an warden with something seemingly harmless (I know a warden who told me that a guard was stabbed in the back by a paper spear with a staple on the tip, released by a rubber band) then that warden was not doing his job right.

    You know the risks of driving to work everyday, but would it not be a tragedy if you were to die in a wreck? Or were you trained for that?

  • I cannot help but notice that the Bible prescribes the death penalty for homosexual and adulterous acts. At the risk of being snarky, perhaps Christian preachers may want to stop and think before supporting a biblical-based death penalty.
    I just hope none of them disobeyed their parents!

  • Kevin_Of_Bangor

    100% pointless.

  • I can understand what you are saying. By “civilized” I mean when we are primarily interested in protecting and healing the innocent instead of primarily interested in  wreaking vengeance on the guilty. I just don’t consider the desire to inflict vindictive vengeance to be a sign of “strength” in a society, and I don’t consider the principle of refusing to descend to the same base motives of criminals to be a sign of “weakness” in a society. That kind of “strength vs weakness” value spectrum is primitive. Hmm. Amanda, I think I might be over-characterizing your point of view to an unfair extreme, and I’m sorry if I am.

    I’m simply saying that we can do much better than inflicting pain for pain. We can respond to people with better principles than the ones they operate on.

    I know and accept the risks of what I do for a living,  and yes, the freeway is the only dangerous thing involved.  My risks are minimal in likelihood compared to some others’ jobs, which is why I also accept the lower pay and the lower level of appreciation for what I do.

     Please do not mistake my statements to mean that I don’t appreciate what wardens do. Wardens, police, firefighters, soldiers and many others who do difficult and dangerous jobs that help keep the rest of us safe deserve our appreciation and good pay. They deserve the best training we can provide, and when their stress wears them to a breaking point, they deserve the best healing and recuperative care we can provide.

  • “As an atheist I do support the death penalty when it can be prove without a doubt.”
    Aye, there’s the rub – I think it is very, very, very difficult for us to be 100% certain that a person committed a crime. BTW, I agree with what you say, but after reading many cases where ‘we were sure!’ turned into ‘DNA evidence proved he/she wasn’t the killer’.
    I also believe that for most criminals, life imprisonment is a terrible form of suffering. They might not admit, or might adjust to their new life, but never again will they be free. Their time is not their own, and their ‘experience tree’ is drastically altered.
    Finally, perhaps we as a society should aim for higher ideals, that killing someone – no matter what they did – is wrong. It could be argued that killing someone actually grants them a mercy they don’t deserve if they have committed extreme crimes.
    A complex topic to be sure, however we certainly do NOT need arguments based on delusion.

  • Kevin, may I put to you a question? As I mentioned on a previous post, I think mostly the same as you. However – how would you feel if this execution could only take place at your hands? You would have to pull the switch / administer the injection / fire the gun to kill the rapist / murder of your child. Would you be ok with that blood on your hands? With being responsible for killing another human being?

    The way I see it, if executions take place in our state / country, in one sense all members of the society have some blood on their hands. For me, I’m not completely ok with this – and I’m not sure that I would be ok with it even for the killer of my own child.

  • For what it’s worth, not all Atheists are opposed to the death penalty. From my experience in the movement, it’s not just a side issue, it’s one hell of a volatile side issue. It’s divisive, even. 

  • There is disagreement on the fundamental questions concerning life.  Namely
    1.  When does life start?
    2.  When does life end?
    3. Under what circumstances should a new life be started?
    4. Under what circumstances should an existing life be ended?

    What we, as atheists, can agree on is that the position you take on these (and other) questions should not be dependent on the opinion of someone who happened to write something down in the distant past that later on got defined as scripture.

  • Anonymous

    “I write in Word and when I copy and paste it I always have to edit it because Disqus screws it up.”

    Try first pasting it in Notepad, then copy and paste it from there. (There will be no formatting from Word, just plain text.)

  • TheBlackCat

    “As an atheist I do support the death penalty when it can be prove without a doubt.”

    How do you “prove something without a doubt”?  I thought that this was fundamentally impossible outside of mathematics.  Or do you really mean “prove beyond a certain level of doubt”?  In which case what is that level? 

     You mentioned confessions.   Are you aware false confessions are extremely common, and that in most cases there is no record of the tactics used in the interrogation?

    What about the prosecution withholding evidence?  Did you know that in the U.S. you cannot go after a prosecutor who intentionally withholds evidence, you have to depend on other prosecutors to prosecute him or her (which they almost never do)?  That means prosecutors who withhold evidence are rarely punished for it, and presecutors are rewarded for how many convictions they get, so there is a strong motive to cheat (especially in high-profile crimes where there is a lot of public pressure to punish someone).

    I am sure if you are a regular here you are aware how unreliable eyewitness testimony is..  

    So how do you decide how certain you need to be?  What percentage of wrongful executations are you willing to accept?  Your choices are “no executations” or “wrongfully execute people”.  Considering how law enforcement works in the real world, there are no other options.  So which do you pick, and why?

    I personally go with the former.  If you go with the latter, how many innocent people are you willing to let be murdered?

    Then add to the fact that the death penalty is not a quick procedure, the process often takes decades and costs society a huge amount due to the repeated automatic appeals that have to take place (which unforunately have the same flaws as any other human-run court)

  • I think the tension comes fom people not being clear what prison is for.  Is it for rehabilitiation, punishment, or revenge? It cannot be for all three, but all three are pulling in their own direction.

    Rehabilitation is the most high minded, obviously, but the least emotive, whereas for revenge it is the exact opposite.

  • Matthew 5:38 (Jesus speaking)

    Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a
    But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite
    thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.

    It could have something to do with Christians’ “black and white” views of punishment and reward (Hell and Heaven).

  • And more likely if you are black than white

  • Anonymous

    Prison isn’t a hotel. It isn’t fun and it isn’t easy. Especially in a maximum security facility.

    Theoretically, I’m not against the death penalty in certain circumstances. But there simply have been too many judicial errors. Too many innocent people who were sentenced to death and then freed. Too many innocents who were executed

  • I have a very simple, maybe even simplistic, view on this. If killing people is wrong, then killing people is wrong. State-sanctioned killing is in many ways more morally repugnant than the killer – to me, it is a bit like the Inquisition thinking that if people are guilty they deserve to die and if they are innocent then they just get to Heaven more quickly. You really cannot justify that sort of pre-meditated killing. Of course, self-defence (including defence of others, so long as it is really self-defence) has to be allowed, but the general rule must hold. It all follows from the one moral rule that has to underpin all others: “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. OK, this does assume that the person making that judgment is sane and competent to make that judgment, but even masochists know that what they want is not necessarily acceptable to the majority.

  • Anonymous

    Or how about this? Your child is murdered and the police turn their eye on you. You’re innocent, but with the flimsiest of evidence, they charge you. You’re tried, convicted and sentenced to death. You’d be OK with being executed? I mean, in the eyes of the law and many in the public, you’re guilty.

    If you’re argument is, “Well, that would never happen to me,” that’s the point. It very well COULD happen to you or someone you love.

  • I also do a copy and paste for purposes of first spell-checking my comment.  I typically use my email client program but convert the message to plain-text formatting before I copy and paste it into the comment-box here.  If I leave it as rich-text (HTML) formatted I always have problems in how the comment gets rendered (unexpected line-feeds).  

  • Anonymous

    You’ll never agree because you’re irrational and close-minded to evaluating the evidence people present? Or are you just so blood-thirsty that you don’t care if innocent people or political prisoners get executed too?

  • I really don’t care either way on the death penalty issue, but I do think that Mohler is one of the most intelligent morons on the planet.  He can take the most brain-dead position and dress it up in language that gives it a pseudo-intellectual air of respectability (kinda like Bill Craig).  I read every single one of his blog posts and a few of his books as part of my thesis and it is quite a pattern with him.

    Just some quick facts about him:  He thinks contraception is “early abortion” and that Muslims are motivated by a “demonic power”.  He’s an idiot and he’s considered the “reigning intellectual” of Evangelicalism. 

  • What he forgets or never knew or, most probably dishonestly neglects is that the Genesis passage he refers to was written to a nomadic, tribal people who had no prisons. I think it intellectual dishonesty to only tell part of the story when making statements like this. He has a PhD failure to consider the historical social context is either very stupid or very dishonest.

    As for the other statements; it is truly amazing how far these people will go to twist the Bible to fit their politics which ends up being their true god.

  • Bevidence

    Mercy to the criminal is cruelty to the people. Since I value the living so much as an atheist (believing this life is the one & only) & believe society demands that others value the living also (death penalty for murder) I accept the risk of a few innocents potentially receiving a death sentence (although statistics show this has not happened in the last 50 yrs). Life is a wager man. If we do not have a death penalty for all ill intentioned murderers (committed by rich/poor, criminal/policeman, etc across the board) then there is no severity in the message of taking life. My problem is that so many in the judicial system do not get the same sentence for ill intentioned murder (not accidental killing).

  • Bevidence

    That statistic may not be true: watch:  Death Penalty Debate (5/8): Hadley Arkes, Stephen Markman, Todd Gitlin (1997) 

  • It would be very interesting to have Christian arguments for and against social issues like these placed side-by-side. You could even create some kind of wizard asking how you feel about these issues that will then create your own edited-down Bible removing all the unfortunate passages that don’t agree with you.

  • Rich Wilson

    The statistic isn’t in doubt.

    The doubt raised by your clip is the explanation for it.  I think what Markam is saying is that a) ‘Blacks’ commit more interracial murders than ‘Whites’ and b) interracial murder is more likely to receive the death penalty.  I think this is a correlation/causation problem.  “Interacial murders are more likely to get the death penalty (oh, and by the way, those are mostly black on white)” sounds to me like just restating the statistic “You are three times (in CA anyway) to receive the death penalty for killing a white person than for killing a black person.  Why are interracial murders more likely to get the death penalty?  Shouldn’t the race of everyone involved be irrelevant?  We have a fixed pool.  Everyone has been convicted of murder.  So why the discrepancy in the punishment of the murders?

    The only argument I could see that might have any validity if the stats supported it (and I don’t know that they do) is “killing a police officer is more likely to get the death penalty than killing a civilian, and there are more white police officers than black police officers, so there are more white victims (police officers) in death penalty cases”

    Aside- Rev. Jackson fan sure hit the nail on the head at 12:15

  • Demonhype

    My feelings exactly!  That argument always annoys me as a death penalty equivalent of the “no atheists in foxholes” fallacy.  And guess what?  It can always be turned around.  “I bet you’d change your mind if you were sentenced to death for a crime you didn’t commit”.  Emotional arguments are worth next to nothing when making serious decisions like this.

  • Kevin S.

    Wait, what?!  No innocents have received a death sentence in the last fifty years?  Where on earth did you get that from?

  • I used to find this admirable, but then I realized that the Catholic church isn’t against the death penalty for the same reason I’m against it. According to their view, it’s not that taking a life is immoral, it’s that they think only God has a right to take (or command other people to take) someone’s life. So killing isn’t the problem; it’s just a question of who’s doing the killing.

  • Kevin_Of_Bangor

    Considering I carry a concealed weapon and have worked in LE many moons ago I am prepared to take another’s life if I must and the same goes if I had to execute the one that murdered my own child.

    I would not view it as blood on my hands at all. The person that choose to commit the act in the first place is the only person to blame. If I am the only one that can do it then I’m going to do it and I’m not going to feel bad about it.

  • Rich Wilson

    It is naive to think that we haven’t executed an innocent person. We stop looking after they’re executed.

    –Ron Safer, an attorney who has defended death penalty cases in Illinois

  • Kevin_Of_Bangor

    People such as you I refuse to debate with because it is pointless.

  • Kevin_Of_Bangor

    Maine doesn’t have the death penalty so what you just stated cannot happen.

  • Kevin_Of_Bangor

    Sorry but you are another person that is not worth debating with. I’ve done it before and the result is always the same.

  • Rich Wilson

    Not sure if you’re referring to me or the change, but to clarify I just don’t find confessions all that much different than eye witness testimony.  Give me a clear video record with an uncontested history and maybe some DNA.

    Although I do agree we’re getting into ‘agree to disagree’ territory.

  • Anonymous

    Both it is.

  • Bevidence   No one disputes that an innocent sentenced to death is a horrible result.
    Appeals and commutation/clemency deliberations are an integral and inescapable
    part of a criminal justice system that both anticipate error and provide remedy.
    Both sides of the death penalty debate are equally concerned about the moral
    implication of executing an innocent. Those of us who support execution
    recognize that any innocents sentenced to death or executed injure our

    A concern for the innocent will result in a rejection of a
    moratorium and more support for executions. Either by a moratorium, or by
    outright repeal, stopping executions will always put many more innocents at
    risk. Death penalty opponents knows this. Their alleged concern for innocents is
    but another distortion based campaign to end the death penalty.

    reason and all the facts prevail, support for executions will rise.

  • Bevidence

    Lies of Omission are the worst kind of lie.
    Precisely because the populace won’t even know they are being led into
    dangerous waters using the worldwide web for their stats. People will distort data and make it sound true to the naive to support whatever stance they hold emotionally. (Change a person’s mind against their will is of the same opinion still.) But I deal in facts. You have to go to true legal statistics and dig into the whole story…but if you research the record of jurisprudence in this nation, you will find the data that supports that an extraordinarily small percent of innocents have been given the death penalty.

  • TheBlackCat

    Of course.  No need to actually address anyone’s arguments.  If you don’t like the arguments, you simply ignore them.  

    But it is fine this way with me.  Someone who enters a discussion voluntary then refuses to actually discuss anything, usually isn’t worth discussing the subject with anyway.

  • TheBlackCat

    “Either by a moratorium, or by outright repeal, stopping executions will always put many more innocents at risk. Death penalty opponents knows this. Their alleged concern for nnocents is but another distortion based campaign to end the death penalty.”

    Right, of course.  Opponents of the death penalty secretly want innocent people to die.  How come I didn’t think of that?
    Paranoid much?

  • Kevin_Of_Bangor

    I have no desire to play a game that will never end. So I simply ended it.

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