Friday, December 28, 2007

A Shift in My Own Personal Beliefs

I've been struggling for a long time with a special issue, one that never really challenged me before now. The issue is capital punishment. For the longest time, I was against capital punishment on many grounds, and before I say here what I have to say, it is important to understand that I am still against it in most cases.

That sounds strange, but let me clarify this. I know that our current capital punishment system is unfair and unbalanced. I know (as do all who study the facts) that poor people are more likely to be executed than people of means who can afford better defense attorneys. This one single point is enough to condemn the entire system: having more money should not mean that the law sanctions you differently than others. What we are saying is simple: having more money means that your life is somehow more protected or valuable than others who don't have as much.

This is unacceptable. Our system is innately flawed in other ways- we have convicted and killed people without perfect evidence being involved, only to find later that these slain people were innocent. The system expects people to be put at risk of the ultimate, irreversible penalty, and yet, it cannot promise to undo its terrible mistakes, should it make them- and we know that it makes them. We can also see that death doesn't even pretend to serve the purposes of rehabilitation: it is merely revenge, and it is grossly expensive.

We also know that it doesn't deter crime, in any way; countless studies have shown that the threat of death does not deter crime. There is no truly strong argument for capital punishment; it is, in most cases, a throwback to a primitive form of vengeance and violence, and it drags our system down to the same level, just about, as the people it is killing.

So, even now, I am against our system's approach to capital punishment. I find it unfair and lopsided, and even unconstitutional in ways.

But I am a father now, and I have changed in my views somewhat. The purposes for giving penalties to criminals should include protection for the rest of us- they are locked away in prisons to protect the rest of society from the dangers they pose, and they are (in theory) supposed to be given a chance to rehabilitate somewhat. Now, I understand from studying the system in-depth (I have an MA in Criminal Justice) that rehabilitation is almost a pipe dream in my country; our prisons are negative environments where rehabilitation is not to be found much, if at all.

But the theory is sound. I believe that some people can be rehabilitated, and I know for a fact that many forces, powers, and events can change even the worst people into better people. So I do, in principle, believe that even lawbreakers can change and become safe to release back into our population.

But there are certain offenders that we know resist change or rehabilitation. Child molesters are a good example- statistics show that they will almost universally offend again if given the opportunity. They resist rehabilitation in every form. I do not approve of the release of child molesters from any sort of prison or custody on any grounds, even though it does happen.

I have realized, after wearily examining the evidence, that people who can bring themselves to murder children are also impossible to rehabilitate. Children are the very image of innocence and potential; they are our hope for the future, whatever we may think. A man or woman who can be so callous or uncaring as to intentionally and viciously slay a child can have no place in our society- and I believe that even the death penalty is acceptable for them.

Now, before I continue with this, let me state that I think the standards of evidence should be flawless, before we execute anyone. Non-coerced confessions would be ideal, but any solid evidence is enough for my conscience. Furthermore, I'm not saying that children's lives are more sacred or important than the lives of innocent adults who have been heartlessly murdered; I'm merely pointing out what we already know- we all react with extra horror to the idea of the murder of children, and children- who are by definition more helpless and harmless than adults- deserve special protection.

Slain adults did at least have some time to live their lives and come to know themselves, and had more of a chance (however small that chance may have been) to protect themselves or escape danger. Children are the most vulnerable members of our society, and the ones that deserve greater standards of protection. This is my belief; I know that many will not agree with me.

The law protects us, even if it has its own issues. We must have laws, and we must all agree to behave within certain legal limits if we are to have a safe land. Certain deviations from the law cannot be tolerated. The destruction of the innocence of our children can be tolerated least of all, and not at all.

On Christmas eve, a few days ago, a heinous crime was committed in which a woman and her boyfriend murdered her parents, her brother, her brother's wife, and her brother's two children, ages 3 and 6. The full details of their confession can be found here:

The Carnation Killings

I warn you now, the story is chilling and almost more than decent people can bear. This story was also the final straw for me: I realized that I can no longer in good conscience say that some people should not be executed. How many stories like this did I need to see before I reached this point? I saw many, but it was seeing the light and innocence in my own toddler's eyes that revealed to me how precious life really and truly was, and how preciously it is embodied in our young.

To mention a spiritual perspective, drawing on the history of my Pagan ancestors might be good at this point. It is well known that both my Celtic and Germanic ancestors executed criminals, but not like we do now. To begin with, my Germanic ancestors were far more likely to encourage non-lethal punishment options, such as the man-price and exile, before death. This is a mark of greatness for them, but the reality is that they loathed blood-feuds, which cost society a great deal.

My Celtic ancestors, at least if we are to believe Roman and Greek writers, executed criminals in a distinctly religious manner and context- they were literally sacrificed to the Gods to answer their crimes. Think again about what this means- they were not executed for revenge, which is essentially all our system offers; a spiritual aspect was brought into the execution, and for a special reason.

When a person grossly violates both the sacred order of society, something taught to us by the Gods and embodied in the laws, a terrible imbalance to society as a whole is introduced, which requires a fix, an answer. To sacrifice the wrongdoer to the Gods, who represent the perfection of order and justice, is to return that imbalance to the Gods, thus making it whole and right again. There was a sacred reparation here, not vengeance. Also, laws are reflections of the sovereignty of a ruler, and through the ruler, the sovereignty of the Goddess of the Land and the Gods who uphold rulership. These sorts of sacred executions also restore the damage done to these things. These were people who were trying to heal their society.

The problem with executions today is that we don't have Pagan societies anymore in the west; we don't have rulers who embody the sovereign power of the Gods. We have given up those sacred systems and given away our lives to modern systems that place authority in the masses- a sad system, in many ways, for the idea of the sacred is absent. Our modern replacements for the sacred all involve Judeo-Christian religious ideals, which have no bearing on the wisdom of our ancestors, and no ability to transfer their wisdom and power to us.

The entire notion of sovereignty and rulership, as Pagans understood it, is now absent, only to be found in a very indirect form in the British Crown, that still exists in an unbroken line back the past, and in what other few nations still maintain their monarchies. But even these institutions are now firmly Christianized, and so the ideals I've been discussing here cannot be mediated by them.

I still believe that protection of society is sacred, regardless of how far we've gone from the wisdom of the past, and I've now adjusted my beliefs regarding the execution of criminals- those who murder children, and whose guilt can be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt, deserve death. Their lives need to be given back to the powers of the Underworld, for those powers are the true source of our lives. When the crime is an affront to the sources of life, returning the criminal and their imbalance to those powers will pay the debt, on a spiritual level.

My society will never execute people with this intention in mind, but I think it would be spiritually appropriate if they did. I would never suggest that we should be intending to take vengeance when we execute the degenerates that can murder children; we should be intending to bring about a spiritual reparation. This is why families should not be allowed to execute those who have killed their kin; they would, as all normal people, be doing it with a thirst for vengeance, and I think that would be encouraging negative powers within them.

People who murder are bad enough- they deserve to be separated from society for the rest of their lives, for the good of all, unless those murders were committed under the circumstances that have shown that they can be safely released later- such as murdering in the heat of passion. Under the influence of strong emotions, normal people can mistakenly or thoughtlessly do terrible things. But when children are involved, there can be no excuses, least of all when the murders are intentional. Death for those people would be acceptable and proper, so long as we are not cruel in our delivery of that final justice.

Such people can never be trusted again; whatever dark, giantish force could consume them to the point that they can overcome the natural human revulsion to the destruction of such innocent life has exempted them from any further positive participation in human life. And children, I believe, deserve extra protection.


Digital Dig said...

Enjoyed you thoughtful article a great deal. And generally, mostly agree. A few minor points.

In ancient cultures, as I am sure you realize, the entire connection with spiritual forces was far greater than we have today. Our very culture constitutes a big limitation on access to spiritual reality, much can be said on the reasons. When they executed a murderer they had more power than we to create reconciliation in the world of reality, the world of spirit. Their whole lives were a conscious participation with spirit for more than us. As you well indicated, an outward act may look similar but can have entirely different meaning in reality.

I truly enjoy and agree with your direction of balance with the gods and much more. You see what few do.

Few can even approach the "notion of sovereignty and rulership". They were far more advanced in that.

Hope time permits me to consider more your very worthwhile articles.

Anonymous said...

It is apparent that you put a lot of thought and soul searching into your article which is what made it particularly compelling. I do take issue though with your conclusion that capital punishment is devoid of spiritual significance because a great many of the people who support it cite biblical justification for so doing, and for those who feel they are supporting divine justice in supporting the death penalty there is certainly a sense of divine reparation--of reaffirming the sacred order. In fact, as I'm sure you know, one of the major arguments against the death penalty is that, in light of the dearth of hard evidence to justify it, supporters rely wholly on emotional/spiritual arguments and passages from the bible. "An eye for an eye" gets thrown around a lot.

I do agree with you however that a major purpose of the penal system in general is protection for the rest of us, but that raises an important and difficult question: are you willing to support a system that has the potential to execute innocent people in the name of protection?

Anonymous said...

This is rather off topic. What in your opinion is the problem that some people have with what you post. I have seen snide comments posted to things that you have posted to Live Journal and really can not see too much wrong with what you write. I might not agree with some things you may write but I do see the reasoning behind your words.

Anonymous said...

The Carnation murders were about 10 miles from where I live, so it's hitting pretty close to home.

I'm something of an anomoly: I support better gun control, but also support the death penalty. However, I agree that the death penalty is applied unequally, and that the more resources you have available to you, the less likely you are to be executed.

My belief is that there should be very specific criteria for applying the death penalty, and the same criteria should be used whether the defendant is white, black, purple or striped with dots.

Crimes involving the deaths of children should be high on that list.

As for cruelty, well, these crimes generally remove any sense of compassion I have for the perpetrators in the first place. for the most part, I believe their execution should take the same form as the crimes for which they were convicted.

of course, that begs the issue of then what to do with serial or mass murderers - generally a person can only be executed once.

Anonymous said...

Calling revenge primitive, and yet you believe the death penalty is going to protect children? Hmm... These are very mentally ill people, I don't know how far they can be rehabilitated.

What you say about child molesters would be true, though. I think paedophiles have it hard in our world, everyone hates them, and they have to live knowing this. If the world didn't hate them, there may be a chance for more of them to be rehabilitated.

Anonymous said...

Becoming a father was the single, most powerful force of change in my life. It's amazing how it makes you far more sensitive to any thing involving children as victims. Even when it is an adult that dies, finding out that they had kids makes me feel for those children. I think your arguements are dead on.