Sunday, March 2, 2014

Killing Them for Their Own Good

People like those I have described are evil and un-repentant. I am Christian and I believe in redemption, yet God’s grace is something that has to be requested. Facing death at the hands of an executioner might just drive home one’s mortality and hasten the individual’s request for God’s grace. Convicts have plenty of time to get right with God, so I have no problem with the timely execution of capital cases.
That's the last paragraph of a column by Gerald Gay, state representative for House District 36 in Casper, Wyoming writing in the Casper Star-Tribune ("Wyoming's News Source") in response to a column by Linda Burt, Executive Director of the ACLU of Wyoming, who'd argued that Wyoming should abolish the death penalty.

Gay's basic thrust is that the guys Wyoming wants to kill are monsters who've done horrific things, that they continue to do them in prison, and that it's an outrage that taxpayers (including some of those who survived their depredations) should be "paying for [their] every need." And he points to the two guys Wyoming's executed in his lifetime (one in 1966, the other in 1992 though Gay says it was '91), neither of whom, he says, had complained that their execution itself was cruel and unusual punishment.
I'm not interested here in responding to his arguments about discrimination (the four guys sentenced to death in his lifetime are all white, so there can't be any) or cost (that business of the taxpayer's dime) or whether lethal injection or the gas chamber (which they used to kill Andrew Pixley in 1966) is cruel and unusual or painful, or whether Wyoming is capable of running a prison where the inmates don't kill each other (Gay doesn't actually wonder about that, he just notes that the inmates do so).  Hell, I'm not even going to argue here that the guys executed, the ones who've gotten off the row (on "a technicality ruling by the Supreme Court" (the "technicality" was the U.S. Constitution and the fact that Wyoming's death penalty law was unconstitutional), and the guy who's on the row now don't deserve to be killed.

You want to know what I think about those things and how I'd likely respond?  I'm unalterably opposed to the death penalty because it's arbitrary and capricious, random beyond repair, terrible policy from almost every perspective (perhaps from every perspective), and deeply immoral.  There are other reasons, too, but enough.  Feel free to wander through the archives if you want details.

It's that paragraph that got me going.  They're unrepentant, but maybe when they're actually strapped to the gurney they'll get religion and ask god for forgiveness.  Which, of course, they'll get.  Because god is merciful to those who humbly seek her mercy.  Or something.

Gay's not the first one to put forth that argument.  Hell, it's been part of the Anglo-American execution process since before there was an American to add as a hyphenate to the Anglo.  Of course, not every self-identified as Christian supporter of killin' folks shares Gay's views on how repentence works (or how it should; some just want these guys to rot in hell - which doesn't strike me as very Christian, but I'm more inclined toward the biblical Jesus who preached acceptance and generosity and foregiveness than the Paul who was out there telling people that purity was all.  Anyhow, I'm an atheist and not particularly interested in disputes among and between those who claim to know god's will.

No, what interests me here is a disconnect that jumped out at me when I read that paragraph.  God's mercy is available to anyone who seeks it.  Man's mercy . . . .  Not an option.

We have to kill them, you see, for their own good.  Because it's the only chance they have to be forgiven.  God will forgive them if they just ask.  We won't do it at all.  And of course, even god won't forgive simply because it's a good thing to do.  Because
I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me.  
Oh, wait, that's from Exodus (20:5).  It's the Old Testament god.  Before Christian mercy.


One more time.  Mercy isn't about them.  It's about us.   


  1. Hello Mr. Gamso, I hope you don´t mind if I´m writing down my own thoughts which do touch the Christian arguments as, on contrary to you, I am a Christian.
    I´m always astonished when I read those arguments by proponents who are referring to the eye for eye and tooth for tooth.
    I mean, most of those claim to be Christians, so the most valid word ought to be the New Testament - and looking up Matthew 5, 38, one finds Jesus Christ referring to that quotation: "You have heard that it was said: Eye for eye and tooth for tooth. BUT I TELL YOU....."
    Of course, faith is always a very personal thing but I´m always astonished how Christians refer to that eye-and-tooth-rule and simply ignore what ought to be much more important.....

    On one homepage I even saw a comment telling an opponent to start reading the bible from page 1, then he would see what God thinks about murderers.
    I didn´t answer there, that would have been useless.
    But I thought, how right you are, start on page 1 and the first story with a murder content is the one of Kain and Abel, where God announces sevenfold revenge to the one who will kill Kain (who was indeed a heinous murderer - killing your brother because of jealousy IS heinous, hè?)....Even the Old Testament isn´t unequivocal, as the death penalty is concerned.

    I do respect people who are for the death penalty and I do understand many of their reasons....
    But I don´t really understand how Christians could think the death penalty is justified by God. I don´t believe that.

    It´s not that I wouldn´t wish someone to be killed who, before, killed one of my loved ones.
    I just believe I don´t have the right to always do what I´d like to, and that faith sometimes (or even often) simply means to trust that there is a good reason why it´s forbidden to do it even if I don´t understand it.
    Therefore, I am just the happier that we don´t have the death penalty here and my state took a decision that I´d probably be too weak to make in the situation of being a murder victim´s relative: To spare the offender´s life.

    Well, probably everyone can guess that English is not my native language.....
    so if any other one here finds mistakes in my comment, he or she may keep them.

    Have a nice day!
    Greetings from the sunny spring in Germany (and wishing the USA that the horrible winter in some states will be over soon),