The way I hear it, Jesus was unjustly condemned to death, and was brutalized and jeered by a mob who mistook their bloodlust for righteousness, and was finally executed alongside a pair of criminals.
The meaning of this story, assuming I understand it, is that we know not what we do when we refuse to be merciful and hospitable: God is, as Kierkegaard said, "attired in unrecognizability"...and who is less recognizable, as God and as neighbor, than the poor, the sick, the insane, and the imprisoned? The message of his resurrection - the one that interests a bystander like myself, anyway - is the impotence of worldly power at the precise moment that it presents itself as all powerful.
In the topsy-turvy victimology of Bill Murchison, however, it's not the death penalty that threatens the innocent, but the innocent who threaten the death penalty:
[G]rowing numbers of Americans [are] working to put capital punishment itself to death. The technique is, object to everything about the death penalty -- fairness, pain, cost, international opinion, the prospect of executing the innocent. Death by a thousand cuts is the prescription for the death penalty.Objecting to everything about the death penalty...that's a daring new tactic for abolitionists, alright.
Murchison's love for the death penalty - his faith in it, and therefore in the human judgment that crucified his God - is nothing new in his circles. I wouldn't bother bringing it up, if he didn't go on to insult his own faith to a degree that actually surprises me:
Considerable help [in "killing" the death penalty] would come from liberal Christians, including evangelicals of the Jim Wallis/Sojourners stamp, with their worldly concerns for "social justice."The quotes around "social justice" are a fairly standard tactic, of course. What really impresses me is the use of "worldly" to describe a belief in mercy and redemption. It's an inversion I'd call Satanic, if I found it possible, let alone necessary, to believe in an entity more deceitful than the average hard-right Christian blabbermouth.
What about capital punishment? Does it suddenly, after all these centuries, make no sense? The principle, I mean, not every application, as in the burnings-alive of the Reformation era -- none of which we're likely to imitate as a society.If nothing else, Murchison has demonstrated that it's possible to get from false premises to false conclusions. Putting aside his assumption that the death penalty made sense previously, what strikes me about this argument is that it's precisely the one Murchison set out to attack. He began by sneering at the idea that pain should be "a central consideration in the legal equation"; here, he objects fastidiously to burning people alive. The debate over methods of execution, and the amount of suffering they cause, seems to be a legitimate one after all.
Murchison claims that we execute murderers in order to affirm the "human worth" of their victims, who have a "unique place in the created order." He uses some astonishingly weird examples to make this point:
It would have made sense to spare the lives of Goering and Himmler rather than visit on them personally and publicly the consequences of their war crimes? What of Hitler himself, had he survived the war?Murchison doesn't seem to realize that all three of these men committed suicide as a final act of defiance. Would justice have been done if we'd prevented them from making that decision, and then executed them? More to the point, is justice even conceivable here, in human terms? What could those three corpses possibly signify, next to six million?
The thing that Hitler and Goering and Himmler - and Timothy McVeigh, to use a more recent example - demonstrate, once again, is the impotence of the death penalty; like the saint, the criminal can always call the state's bluff, as it were, and die in a state of acceptance. Or fulfillment. Or holy martyrdom. Some of 'em may even have this in mind right from the start.
All of which confirms me in my belief that what makes fundamentalist Christianity so ugly and dangerous isn't its otherworldliness, but its smug, stupid, rationalist materialism. From its obsession with the body - that vapor, that husk - to its cheerful quasi-Skinnerian belief in the power of pain and pleasure to produce "good" behavior (or to be experienced as pain and pleasure, for that matter); to its belief in that supreme denial of human worth and uniqueness that masquerades as "closure," this ideology is as worldly - in the proper Biblical sense of the term - as it's possible to be.