I’m kind of a lukewarm, even conflicted, proponent of the death penalty, and, yes, I’m aware I’m living in a state whose government recently abolished it.
But lately, I’ve kind of moved into the camp that thinks state execution is not the worst price a criminal can pay for his crime.
I’m a Christian also, and though some may find it strange, I don’t find a paradox in the two statements at all. What I am dismayed by is those who couch the pro and con death penalty argument in religious terms.
It’s not a religious issue. It’s a societal one. As a Christian, my duty to the Lord I serve is to a man’s immortal soul, to do my little part to save it as I was commanded to, even that of a man sentenced to die for a heinous crime.
But the death penalty and even a life sentence are earned for acts that have for a moment at least snapped the tensile fabric of our society. Society exists at all because of an unwritten, silent contract to which we all agree and are bound. The alternative is anarchy and chaos. To commit certain crimes is to endanger the society.
John Locke called it a social contract, whereby men are naturally free and equal as part of the justification for understanding legitimate political government as the result of a social contract where people in the state of nature conditionally transfer some of their rights to the government in order to better ensure the stable, comfortable enjoyment of their lives, liberty, and property.
But, you know, as I’ve aged, I’m not really sure that execution isn’t the easy way out.
I’ve mentioned before on these pages that I spend some time these days rummaging through old articles and such. After all, I’ve got a lot of years under my belt. And I recently ran across an article about the murder of an attorney that took place in a small middle Georgia town while my wife and I were living there. The man charged with the crime pled guilty to the murder. Thus, he escaped Georgia’s electric chair. Instead, he was sentenced to spend the rest of his life behind bars. He was only 19 at the time, so a life sentence for him could be a long, long time. Probably still is. Unless some of his fellow cons did him in or somehow landed parole, he’s still in prison I would think. Still alive and, I hope, still regretting what he did that threw his life away.
That old article set me to thinking, which is always a dangerous thing. And I’ve decided that in pleading guilty, that criminal got the raw end of the deal. He has wound up paying an awful price for his crime. I sat down and made a list of some of the things he has never had the chance to do again and never will. And I’m telling you, it’s a heartbreaking list. I feel nothing but remorse for that young man, especially as I look back over the blessed life I’ve led.
So since that fateful day when he took another man’s life, unless he somehow has managed to get parole, he has never and will never get the chance to
Drive a car, listen to the radio, and sing along.
Go to a high school football game.
Sit around a table with his buddies, sip coffee, and discuss that game.
Help his children put up a Christmas tree or get to see a Christmas parade.
Enjoy fireworks on the Fourth of July.
Sit at the edge of a lake or on a lake with a cane pole and watch the sun rise or set.
Snuggle up to his woman in front of the fireplace. Or kiss any woman.
Enjoy the deliciousness of being alone because he wants to be.
Sit around a campfire and swap tall tales with his friends.
Hear people say how proud they are of him.
Swim in the ocean.
Own a home.
Get to eat what he wants instead of what someone else prepares for him.
Go on a picnic.
Be regarded with respect or admiration.
See a dream come true.
Pick out his own clothes or decide how long he wants to wear his hair.
Grill hamburgers or hot dogs with friends on a warm spring evening.
Go to church — if he ever did — with his girl, his wife, or his family.
In effect, this man, whom it is impossible when I think about it, not to regard with pity, has more than likely never since that day and never will again do any of the things that make life worthwhile, beautiful, special — and worth the living.
Honestly, death doesn’t seem like the lesser of the two evils.
The author is a man of a certain age who has led an incredibly beautiful life to the extent that, along with Frank Sinatra, he can sing, “Regrets: I’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention.”