I am a big fan of Mark Shea. I read his blog regularly, and yesterday I finished listening to every episode of his podcast, Rock Solid. I’m also proud to say that he reads tdaxp. A bit ago we talked about my analysis of early Christianity as a political movement, and we agreed that because grace perfects nature, the rise of Christianity is an appropriate subject for scientific study.
However, Mark is less enthusiastic about my recent post on Mike Nifong, the disbarred prosecutor who knowingly, falsely accused three youths of rape. He writes:
Blog Entries Like This Are Why I am *So* Glad We Do Not Live in a Pure Democracy
The blogosphere is a daily reminder of the sinister moody mercurial power of the bloodthirsty mob.
Specifically, Mark objects to my contention that, had the laws allowed, Mike Nifong should be executed by the State of North Carolina. Or more generally, what is the appropriate Catholic view of the death penalty?
The answer: Catholics should support the use of the death penalty to the extent that it reduces crime. Christians not only may, but must, advocate the use of lethal punishment by the State.
Many Christians are bothered by the State’s penal apparatus. We pray to Our Father in Heaven that He “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who tresspass against us.” And certainly we should forgive: not just those who ask for it, and not just those who deserve it, but especially forgive those who do not seek and do not deserve forgiveness.
This shouldn’t keep the State from killing them.
It is prideful to confuse yourself with the State, but many Christians do just that when they confuse individual forgiveness with State clemency. We cause no harm when we forgive, aside from the odd Jonah perturbed by grace. But the State causes great harm when it releases criminals: it sacrifices the health, safety, and lives of innocents to criminals.
A prideful Christian, who forces the State to release a criminal because he has confused himself and the State, is condemning an innocent and releasing a criminal out of a misplaced feeling of self-righteousness. The prideful Christian who sacrifices the innocent out of concern for the guilty answers Pilate’s question, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” the same way the question was answered two thousand years ago.
This is why the Bible (Romans 13:1-7) supports capital punishment.
Now that capital punishment is supported, the next question is: should Mike Nifong be executed, if the laws would allow such a thing? The answer is yes. Corrupt officials are a particularly odious form of criminal, because they use the machinery and offices of the State to do their evil. Nifong attempted to condemn innocent youths into decades of captivity, rape, and misery, bankrupt their family, and inflame divisions in the community, and while ordering the police to do his bidding.
If the laws would allow Mike Nifong to be executed, Christians must ask themselves: Do we prefer to condemn guilty men or innocent men? Are we as grand as the State?
Sin (Guilty, Yes) and virtue (Innocent, No) give different answers to this question.