Death Penalty Not for Common Good

Once it was pointed out to me that deterrence for the ‘common good’ was a utilitarian argument for the death penalty, I had to reject such an argument. As it stands, then, the only theoretical appeal I have in favour of the death penalty is purely the concept of retributive justice, because it seems that no other reason is biblically tenable.

It’s essential that the Church reject all utilitarian argumentation, especially in the preaching of God’s holy word and in church meetings in which is decided a church’s mid– to long-term future direction. As well in matters of eternal life and death as in matters of temporal life and death – for eternal life and death is in body as well as mind – we cannot embrace even the strange doctrines that all the world seems to hold.

What the true God teaches is that evil is evil, and no number of good deeds without the gracious forgiveness of God can be effectual to the cancellation of sins. No excuses whatsoever.

Church involved in State’s models of justice

Thus, the government cannot morally execute a prisoner for a certain calculus of the common good, but only for justice – of course, to do this it must have a theory of justice. Merely saying to kill people as they deserve, after all, can only elicit the reply that none of us really deserves to exist. And whence comes an acceptable theory of justice but from the Church, who speaks the word of God who rules all?

Yet if the Church is involved, its theory of justice cannot be a ‘straightforward’, mechanical account of merit. The very being of the Church must acknowledge instead that justice is cruciform, that salvation (that is, the Way, the 道) is based on the reality of grace, on the reality of Man’s utter dependence on God, on the reality of relationship (and, after the Fall, restoration) as a fundamental cause of human life and of Christ’s kenosis (emptying).

We cannot afford to leave the State’s theories of justice to the pagans, nor can we afford to apply a mechanical lex talionis (the law of an eye for an eye) to civil justice. But all of this hinges on what we say about Christ’s atonement.


2 responses to “Death Penalty Not for Common Good

  1. what if the person was underaged? (under 18 or 16 depending on the state)


    • First I shall give a disclaimer: my opposition is to utilitarian use of execution, because I think utilitarianism is ultimately without foundation. I do believe strongly that there is such a thing as the common good, just not the parodies that people offer up as the real thing. Utilitarianism, in fact, has no coherent idea of the common good. Therefore I strenuously oppose this and other false notions of the common good while upholding what I think to be a true notion of the common good.

      As for punishment of underage criminals, I think the decision to spare their lives is a matter of prudence and not of justice per se. If they be guilty of murder, after all, and not of voluntary manslaughter or the like, the malice aforethought is enough to condemn them for their evil deeds, be they adults or not. To commute their sentences or to pardon them, then, should be an option but not a legal requirement.


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