Should Christians Execute Terrorists?

The drive to abolish capital punishment feeds into the culture of death.

By John Zmirak Published on April 10, 2015

Should the Boston Bomber die for his crimes? Should Timothy McVeigh have been executed? Did abortionist Kermit Gosnell deserve execution instead of imprisonment? Should the U.S. have tried to capture Osama bin Laden alive, and bring him to the U.S. for a years-long public trial, with the goal of imprisoning and rehabilitating him — as some Christians actually suggested, after his summary execution by U.S. troops?

All these questions turn on just one: Whether or not the death penalty — prescribed in the Old Testament and practiced by nearly every Christian society for some 2,000 years, affirmed and endorsed by popes (who employed their own executioner until 1870, and kept the death penalty on Vatican City’s law books until 1968) — is in fact evil and sinful.

There is a growing movement to convince Christians that 2,000 years of almost-universal teaching across the churches was deeply wrong, that we must now completely renounce the use of execution as a punishment for crime. This movement is dangerously wrong-headed, and plays into some of the most poisonous trends in today’s secular society. It is no accident that most of the politicians and activists who oppose the death penalty around the world also favor legal abortion. In fact, both positions grow from the same profound rejection of justice, sometimes in the name of what’s mislabeled “mercy.” In truth, what often hides behind that label is a jaded, cynical shrug at the eternal realities of good and evil, a lazy hedonist craving for life in a Brave New World.

Christians see human life as a cosmic drama of good and evil, where we must sometimes sacrifice our happiness or even our lives to save the innocent. Our sins are a serious business that can merit eternal death in the next life, or a lethal injection in this one. To the modern liberal, such talk makes us sound like drama queens — which is why some Hollywood moralists were willing to label “American Sniper” Chris Kyle a “murderer.” Distinguishing his combat heroism from the slaughters committed by ISIS requires that we accept a good bit of the Judeo-Christian worldview, particularly the part about “innocence” and “guilt,” two concepts that make many liberals profoundly uncomfortable. Who are we to judge?

The modern secularist views life not as a drama but as a farce — a snuff farce, where the whole cast dies at the end. Think of wildly popular comedies in recent years, such as Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm and Louie. What makes them so darkly funny is the fact that all the characters’ best efforts come to nothing, and nothing ever changes. So the shows make us laugh while confirming the grim truth that secular viewers always suspected: Given the wretched fact of our mortality, it’s hardly worth breaking a sweat.

As David Goldman writes in his stark, profound book Why Civilizations Die, the secular person has no rational reason (and too few instinctual promptings) to join the army, raise a family, or develop difficult virtues, since all his efforts will amount to is dust in the wind. So it’s no surprise that in the countries where the churches are empty, so are the kindergartens. In most of those countries, abortion is widely practiced, and the death penalty is completely forbidden. Is all of that an accident?

Given that for the liberal life is a farce, it also becomes a math problem: How do we maximize the limited number of pleasurable moments that we can enjoy, before we plunge like a match into Darwin’s toilet? Part of getting the equation right entails respecting the “right” of other people to grab their own share of happy moments, too. If we don’t, they might not let us enjoy ours, either. Besides, thinking of ourselves as fair-minded people makes us feel good, so it’s worth it.

To make this system work in a world of limited resources, we must choose which people have the right to enjoy themselves, and who is most likely to take advantage of it. The unborn are helpless, dependent and cannot speak for themselves. And recognizing their right to life might seriously cut down the number of happy moments for us adults — just think what an end to abortion would mean for our sex lives. The handicapped and the gravely ill are unlikely to enjoy themselves very much, and caring for them costs us money and time that we could otherwise spend on enjoying ourselves, so we must factor them too out of the equation.

None of these life and death decisions have the slightest connection to innocence or guilt. Those antiquated concepts are holdovers from the religious view of life, which causes unhappiness by making us question ourselves and judge people. A justice system based on the modern liberal moral code does not imprison people to punish them for crimes; it identifies primates whose behavior is causing social problems by diminishing the happy moments quota. So a thief or a killer is not a “criminal” meriting punishment so much as a buzzkill who’s hogging the bong and ruining the party. Have the bouncer remove him, but put him someplace comfortable. Give him a cell with satellite TV porn and lots of Prozac. Maybe the dude will calm down, and we can let him back in later.

If life is a drama with eternal stakes, people will act like Americans (and like medieval Christians). They will pray, fight, breed, blame, judge and execute. If life is a party they will waste their energy on none of these things. They will live like the Belgians, a nation where executions are unheard of, euthanasia is performed on children and has become a leading cause of death, the army is unionized, and the Muslims are taking over, one cradle at a time.

It would be tragic if Christians and other pro-lifers accidentally advanced the culture of death by opposing all capital punishment, dissolving Christian notions of justice and mercy in the stew of sentiments, lusts and confusions that we call the modern liberal “mind.”

In Part II of this analysis, I will examine the abuses of capital punishment worldwide that need to be corrected, and lay out the worthy motives of many Christian opponents of capital punishment.

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