As defined by James (2003) capital punishment is the execution (killing) of an individual by the state because of a crime that he/she has committed.It is also referred to as the death penalty. Capital punishment denies the person moral reforms. Punishment of any kind should hold the offender responsible, that is, demanding that he/she respond as only moral agents can by re-evaluating their behavior.
Death terminates the possibility of moral reforms. Capital punishment can be applicable to some religions that believe in life after death, whereby the offender will be judged by God. Conscious life is terminated by death and cannot elicit the moral response from the offender. This shows that capital punishment is immorally incorrect and unjust. Dead criminals make their response to God rather than the community that punished them, punishment should make a moral response possible.
A biblical stance on capital punishment is that, those who take life must also have their life taken. That is why God is demanding Noah to keep reproducing (give life) rather than taking life by murder. That is murder is not the same as reproduction. Secondly man alone was created in the image of God, so murder alters/affects the image of God. (James, 2003) This means that taking away life is like taking away one who is created by God. Life is sacred because we are created in the image of God. Arguments against capital punishment is that offenders are not really punished rather they escape from the punishment since they do not get to pay back to the society. The death penalty is just an easy way out for the criminals. But this is not the case, imagine the prisoner counting down his days until he/she is executed, his/her last meal, prayers and the feeling of knowing that he/she will die because of an action that he/she committed and cannot take back, hoping that he/she can get a second chance. It is not easy.
The second argument against capital punishment is that Jesus is against it. Jesus does imply that retaliation is a sin. Jesus wants us to forgive but not to excuse someone. We should forgive but justice must also be done. Justice means that wrong should be made right. Executing someone for a wrong done makes us more of a wrongdoer than the victim. We should forgive but not excuse sin and crime.
The Buddhist perspective on capital punishment can be clearly traced from the religious literature. These have been used to give a perspective about the death penalty. The first and most important is the panca-sila, which is abstaining from taking of life. Abstaining from taking life encourages compassion (karuna) for beings. Life is to be treasured no matter how small that life may appear to be. Treasuring lives of those who have not valued the lives of others is considered to be an act of spiritual courage. The second is dhammapada, chapter 10 (the initial verses) speak about how every one fears death and therefore one should not kill or cause to kill. The third, janasandha-jataka is a story told by a Buddha about a king who destroyed all execution places. The fourth, rajaparikatha-ratnamala states that punishment or exile is preferred than the death penalty, criminals should be banished without torturing or tormenting them. The fifth avanatamsaka-sutra the passage encourages people to give up evil. Compassion is emphasized in the passage. These passages are all against capital punishment. Compassion is highly preferred in the Buddhist perspective. Compassion deepens the respect of all form of life. Society should give the criminals a chance to acquire their inherent good by rehabilitating them. One cannot rehabilitate a dead criminal.
There is evidence that a good number of individuals are convicted and undoubtedly executed. Errors in the criminal justice department make it possible for an innocent person to be executed. This is due to legal technicalities. For instance since 1973, 88 inmates on death row were released after evidence showed that they were innocent. This also helps to show that the criminal judicial systems checks and balances works. (Robert and Stuart, 1995)
It is also noted that a small number of convicts who are on death row are executed, and those who are executed either do not have the necessary resources or poor representation. These are mainly the minorities. For instance African Americans made up only 13 percent of the total population of the United States in 1999, while they made up 43 percent of the number of inmates on capital punishment and more than a third were executed that year.(Ted, 2005) Race is mainly the cause of these differences.
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Hugo A. and Paul, G. Cassell. Debating the Death Penalty: Should America Have Capital Punishment? New York: Vintage Books, 2005
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