Monday, April 16, 2018

A Death Penalty Religion

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While there is a trend toward remaking Jesus into a thoughtful sage rather than someone considered dangerous to the state, let along the saviour of the world, the reality is that Christianity is a death penalty religion. Whether you consider Jesus as God incarnate or a profound teacher he died an excruciating death on the cross. It was one of the grisly forms of execution used by the Roman Empire and it was meant as a deterrent for those with revolutionary ideas, along with pesky common criminals. We know too that followers of Jesus, including the apostle Paul were executed as well.

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Amnesty International just published its Death Penalty Report for 2017. It appears that the planetary trend is toward fewer capital punishment deaths. Fewer executions were carried out around the world in 2017 than the year prior and the number of people sentenced to death also went down. This is encouraging, although there were still nearly 1,000 verified executions, and no one knows how many people China put to death. Given that China employs the death penalty more than any other nation, this is a significant gap in knowledge.

The report also reminds us all that statistical evidence shows that the death penalty doesn't act as a deterrent: "For example in Canada, the homicide rate in 2016 was almost half that in 1976, when the death penalty was abolished there." I remember well the outcry during the debate about abolishing the death penalty with the argument that murder rates would soar. A few years after the abolition  I worked as a chaplain intern at Kingston Penitentiary. I listened to many convicted murderers and I can't recall a single one suggesting that they carefully considered the consequences and possible sentences for their crimes.

Even today many would like the death penalty to be reinstated in Canada as a punitive measure. I don't get the sentiment. Sure there would be the possible immediate terror of dying, but when you're dead you're dead. Long-term incarceration can be a living hell, so why kill the perpetrator? Of course, there is always the possibly of a change of heart, which does happen even though it doesn't change the sentence

According to the Amnesty report, for the 9th consecutive year, the USA remained the only country to carry out executions in the region. The number of executions (23) and death sentences (41)  in the USA slightly increased compared to 2016, but remained within historically low trends of recent years. For the second year in a row, and the second time since 2006, the USA did not feature among the top five global executioners, with its position in the global ranking dropping from 7th to 8th.

I have my days when my anger rises and I figure barbaric world leaders such as Assad of Syria or those who kill children should be executed. I come back around to "do not repay evil for evil" which shows up a couple of times in the New Testament. Not to mention the question on the button below, one which I wore years ago.

Oh yes, crucifixion is still a possible form of capital punishment in Syria and Saudi Arabia

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