Capital Punishment

J.R.R. Tolkien on the death of Osama Bin Laden

‘It seemed to Frodo then that he heard, quite plainly but far off, voices out of the past:

What a pity Bilbo did not stab the vile creature, when he had a chance!

Pity! It was Pity that stayed his hand, and Mercy: not to strike without need.

I do not feel any pity for Gollum. He deserves death.

Deserves death! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give that to them? Then be not too eager to deal out death in the name of justice, fearing for your own safety. Even the wise cannot see all ends.

“Very well,” he answered aloud, lowering his sword. “But still I am afraid. And yet, as you see, I will not touch the creature. For now that I see him, I do pity him.”’

– J.R.R. Tolkien, ‘The Taming of Sméagol’, in The Lord of the Rings (London: HarperCollins, 1995), 601.

Blood on Our Hands: An Interview with Sister Helen Prejean


The latest issue of The Other Journal includes Shannon Presler’s interview with Sister Helen Prejean. Along the way, they discuss rejection, state executions, victims’ feelings, the ‘guilt in being middle class’, and embodying love. Here’s what Sister Prejean says about assisted suicide in the elderly:

‘Whenever life is at a vulnerable point, from the very beginning of life to the very end of life, we have to really watch when the state code of law allows the ending of human life, and we make it legal, because we need to build moats around the castle of life, especially with older people. Now, so many elderly people are put into homes and other places where very quickly the right to die can become the duty to die. There is just not the discernment, care, and presence that goes into that decision. There should be pain management but anyone in chronic pain, anyone who cries to die, it’s tempting to want to bring their death. The Roman soldiers used to break the legs of the people being crucified to hasten their deaths, not exactly a painless death.

Of course, with the management of pain you also have some qualifiers. You can have people strapped into wheelchairs, their heads bent over because they’re so drugged, they’re already in half-life, and then it becomes an easy, easy step to just take it all away. Just give them enough so that it finishes people off, simply because the person is old, or the person is sick—those stages where other people are in charge of those decisions, or where the dignity of the self has lost all agency.

Killing them destroys us. It deteriorates us as a society. We have to uphold the dignity of the human person. Pain management, especially with the drugs that are possible now, morphine and so forth, is possible in almost all instances. Things are always complex, but the bedrock is the dignity of human life. Once you put something into law that says “Well, you know, this person is asking to die, so here are our steps,” it can never codify all the possibilities and situations of human life; it never can. So once we codify certain conditions that allow for someone to take drugs that can kill them, at the patient’s request or at the family’s request, I think we have to be abhorrent of that’.

Read the entire interview here.

Eberhard Jüngel on Capital Punishment

‘To make natural death possible for all men means to scorn and threaten death in the world. To mock at death is certainly not to scorn life. To threaten death is to refrain from posing any threat to life. Since faith knows God and God alone as the boundary of man’s life, it is involved in social terms in a struggle against death. Hope in the God who in death shelters and surrounds us sets us free from egoistic concern about our own end. That which takes its place is a concern for the life of others. To every person a time is allotted so that in their own time they may also have their history. It is a matter for God and God alone to set life’s temporal limits. It is faith’s duty to protest openly against every attempt to claim the right to set temporal limits to human life. No man, no institution, no legal administration has the right to mark out the temporal boundaries of man’s finite life. The Christian has the duty to oppose actively every effort to gain control of death. In every sphere of life, to have death at one’s disposal is something thoroughly reprehensible. And if God has taken death upon himself in order to bind it to himself for ever, then death cannot any longer be regarded as a legal remedy. In the light of this, ‘capital punishment’ becomes a ‘crimen laesae maiestatis’, a ‘lèse-majesté’ against the crucified God’. – Eberhard Jüngel, Death: The Riddle and the Mystery (trans. Iain Nicol and Ute Nicol; Edinburgh: The Saint Andrew Press, 1975), 133-4.