29 January 2008

Religion and the Death Penalty

[I]t can be said that the death penalty is more likely to be imposed by a religious people. The reasons for this are not obvious. It may be that the religious know what evil is or, at least, that it is, and, unlike the irreligious, are not so ready to believe that evil can be explained, and thereby excused, by a history of child abuse or, say, a "post-traumatic stress disorder" or a "temporal lobe seizure." Or, again unlike the irreligious, and probably without having read so much as a word of his argument, they may be morally disposed (or better, predisposed) to agree with the philosopher Immanuel Kant — that greatest of the moralists — who said it was a "categorical imperative" that a convicted murderer "must die." Or perhaps the religious are simply quicker to anger and, while instructed to do otherwise, slower, even unwilling, to forgive. In a word, they are more likely to demand that justice be done. Whatever the reason, there is surely a connection between the death penalty and religious belief.

European politicians and journalists recognize or acknowledge the connection, if only inadvertently, when they simultaneously despise us Americans for supporting the death penalty and ridicule us for going to church. We might draw a conclusion from the fact that they do neither. Consider the facts on the ground (so to speak): In this country, 60 convicted murderers were executed in 2005 (and 53 in 2006), almost all of them in southern or southwestern and church-going states — Virginia and Georgia, for example, Texas and Oklahoma — states whose residents are among the most seriously religious Americans. Whereas in Europe, or "old Europe," no one was executed and, according to one survey, almost no one — and certainly no soi-disant intellectual — goes to church.

From here by Walter Berns of the Weekly Standard.

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