Saturday, December 10, 2005

death wish

This country has a strange relation with death.

We fear it, yet we're drawn by it. We punish with the same brutality those who inflict it, yet we defend its dominion over the unborn as an unalienable right. We live like we could avoid it, we shudder when it surprises us and yet we trivialize it and market it as game, song and film.

It's almost Christmas and death is in the air. On the air. Death in Iraq. Death in Nigeria. Death under a plane in Chicago. Death of an off duty cop in New York.

There is another typically American institutionalized death procedure - beside abortion - which has long intrigued our morbidity, troubled our conscience and strained our legal system.

There have been over 1000 applications of the death penalty in the USA since it was reestablished as capital punishment in 1977. Gary Gilmore was the first, approaching death by firing squad in Utah that year with a spirited, "Let's do it!". Virginia's governor, with warped modesty, declined to have execution 1000 take place on his watch and pardoned convicted murderer Robin Lovitt late last month. The short straw fell to 57 year old Kenneth Boyd, on death row in South Carolina for the 1988 murder of his ex-wife and her husband. He received a lethal injection last Friday at 2 am.

The debate now rages, quite publicly, over the fate of number 1003: Stanley "Tookie" Williams, cofounder of the Crips gang, five time Nobel Prize nominee and cold hearted killer of at least four people. He's scheduled to be put to sleep on December 13, in California, and the Governator has the weekend to decide for or against a stay. Good luck with that one, Aaahnold.

Some of the better known talk radio personalities who call themselves pro-life (Hannity, Ingraham, Limbaugh, etc...) have been advocating the death penalty and pushing for the elimination of Tookie Williams. This Williams character is apparently one heartless, violent sob. But how can anyone call themselves 'pro-life' and champion the death penalty? Are pain and outrage mitigating factors for a conscience that affirms of the sacredness of all life?

Pope John Paul II repeatedly denounced the death penalty, most notably in his 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae.

Jesus Christ had one of his rare moments of unambiguity when he launched into his 'love your enemies' monologue, abolishing the 'eye-for-an-eye' reasoning from Christian morality once and for all.

Christmas is around the corner and we debate the death penalty. We no longer understand what words like redemption and deliverance really mean. It is a shame. Because, in his own words, he came not to condemn, but to save.