Monday, May 04, 2009

Thoughts on Church, Torture and Capital Punishment

The Pew Forum surveyed four major religious groups and found that people who attend church most often are also most likely to approve of using torture. 62% of White Evangelical Protestants justify torture compared to 40% of those who are unaffiliated with a church. I would expect most Evangelicals to completely disapprove of torture. Since an Evangelical strives to be Christ-like wouldn’t all Evangelicals disapprove of torture?

Based on what I’ve been taught about Christ, Christ would not approve of torturing anybody for any reason. So why do most Evangelicals approve of torture?

There are more than 200 countries in the world. The Death Penalty is abolished in 113 of them and has never been used in another 4 countries. Of the 91 countries that have not abolished the death penalty 43 countries have not used the death penalty in more than 10 years and 25 have not used the death penalty in more than 20 years. In the first 4 months of this year alone the United States has executed 24 people. Texas has executed 14 of them; almost one per week. In the previous 10 years 636 people were executed in the US and 41% of them were executed in Texas. The population of Texas is 8% of the US population. Thus, the rate of execution in Texas is 5 times as high as it is in the rest of the US. The states with the highest execution rates are the Bible Belt states. The states of the Bible Belt were the slave states prior to the Civil War. The predominant religion in the Bible Belt is the Evangelical Protestant.

The United States in one of only 5 countries that executes minors – the other countries are China, Democratic Republic of Congo, Iran and Pakistan. The United States and Kyrgyzstan are the only countries that execute the mentally retarded. The United States Supreme Court banned such executions however Texas maintains its right to execute the mentally retarded and in 2001 Governor Perry, vetoed a bill that would have banned such executions.

GW Bush was governor of Texas from 1995 through 2000 during which Texas held 152 executions. Executions in Texas peaked while Bush was governor, increasing 25% in 6 years. Executions in Texas decreased 23% since Bush left the governor’s office. GW Bush claims that each case is reviewed in detail when he considers the final appeal, however, in the case of Terry Washington, a mentally retarded man, Bush met with his legal counsel Alberto Gonzales (the same scoundrel who was Bush’s Attorney General of the US) for only 30 minutes before denying the appeal for clemency. GW Bush is an Evangelical and he approves of torture. In fact GW Bush is the only US President to authorize torture.

The countries that have used the death penalty in 2008 and 2009 are: Sudan, Bangladesh, China, Iran, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Vietnam, Yemen, United States, Botswana, Egypt, Libya, Somalia, Afghanistan, Bahrain, Indonesia, Iraq, North Korea, Malaysia, Mongolia, Pakistan, Syria, United Arab Emirates, Belarus and Saint Kitts and Nevis.

The United States, which claims to be the Moral Leader of the world, which consistently attacks other countries for Human Rights Violations, uses the death penalty and torture (until the recent ban by President Obama). We are one of the most violent societies in the world. More crimes are committed in the United States than in any other nation. Only 4 countries have more murders: India, Russia, Columbia and South Africa.

The US is far less than it pretends to be. Insisting that we should not investigate and prosecute our own war crimes ensures that we will commit war crimes in the future.


Kansas Bob said...

I am inclined to agree with you on both torture and capital punishment Joe. Having ministered in prisons and jails for the past 7 years I have to admit that our penal system really sucks. It is uber-expensive.. it seems that it puts a huge burden on the tax payers. Any thoughts about what should be done and how we should treat those who commit murder?

Joe said...

I'm opposed to killing because it reduces us each time we do it. That's enough reason to stop but not the only reason. The death penalty isn't a solution for ending the violence in our society it is a product of our violent society. We know that many of the people in prison are innocent and we know that we have executed innocent people. We knowingly pursue a "solution" that has killed innocent people and will always kill innocent people. We do it not out of necessity but for satisfaction and convenience. We have executed children and the mentally retarded. A mentally retarded man asked if he could save the dessert from his last meal to eat it later because he was already full. While opponents of the death penalty sang "Amazing Grace" as the execution took place, the proponents of the death penalty drowned out the song with repeated screams of "kill the bitch."

We can't stop killing with killing. We can't become civilized by commiting uncivilized acts.

Ending Social Injustice should be our first priority. When it is I believe we will be on the road to reducing the violence in our society and the population in our prison system. But that is easier said than done. Ending injustice in our society will require a change in our very nature. It will take more than one generation. I suggest that we start by abolishing the death penalty.

Kansas Bob said...

I agree with your position Joe.

Any thoughts about what should be done to and how we should treat those who actually commit murder?

Do you think that life-imprisonment is humane and civil? Do you think that tax-payers should be burdened with the cost of this imprisonment? If you were in charge what changes would you make to the prison systems?

Joe said...

I believe murderers should be punished. I don’t believe that the punishment for murder must be life imprisonment. I think that many but not all criminals can be rehabilitated. I think it would be uncivilized to imprison criminals without also trying to rehabilitate them. If imprisonment does not include an all out effort to rehabilitate, then we are wasting the taxpayer’s money. The criminal deserves punishment and his or her punishment is a deterrent to others. The taxpayer deserves that the system rehabilitates the criminal so that s/he can be released as soon as the punishment is complete with a reasonable expectation that s/he will not return to crime.

Although we haven’t learned how to rehabilitate all criminals; not even most of them, I think the prison system’s capacity to rehabilitate criminals is increasing. The bad news is that Society’s capacity to generate criminals is also increasing and perhaps at a greater rate. Criminals that won’t or cannot be rehabilitated will always exist and then imprisonment is Society’s only recourse.

American Society must also address the causes of its criminal behavior. It cannot afford only to imprison an ever increasing number of criminals. The average law abiding citizen is tired of hearing that society is responsible for the criminal but it is nonetheless true. Social Injustice is a root cause of the ills of our society. If we accept shared responsibility instead of blaming the victims of Social Injustice, we can become a safer and more completely satisfied society.

I'm in Oslo, Norway for a few days working on an issue for Pepsi. I'll be working most of the night tonight but I hope to do some sightseeing tomorrow and Friday before flying home. The country is very scenic. The fjords were very impressive as I flew over the coastline yesterday morning.

Talk to you later.

Kansas Bob said...

I get what you are saying Joe.. just think that we need practical steps to change the culture.. until the culture is changed we need to focus on protecting citizens.

From my perspective our penal system seems to really focus on rehabilitating inmates.. just not sure (from my interactions with inmates) that many have the desire to change.. even the ones in our bible studies exuded an amazing amount of ego.. I sometimes wondered if they really understood why they were in jail when they complained about being forced to attend rehab classes.

Quick story: one of our prison volunteers took in a "rehabilitated" prisoner when he completed his sentence. It was a nightmare.. the guy who was angelic in our bible studies turned into Satan when he got out.

I shudder to think about letting violent folks return to society thinking that they are rehabilitated. Of course the system today does allow for some criminals (even murderers) to be paroled.. so life-imprisonment is not always for life.

Hope your trip back from Oslo was uneventful and enjoyable.

Happy Friday.

Kansas Bob said...

Got to thinking a bit and I linked back here (excerpting a bit of our comments) and started a dialog about criminal rehabilitation back at my place Joe. Thanks for the inspiration :)

Joe said...

Hey KB!

This post has become its own blog.

It takes three to make rehabilitation successful. A capable system, a willing convict and a forgiving society. One or two won't do it.

I'm not surprised that many prison converts revert to their old ways when giving the chance. Some people won't change. Some people can't. When I started working in a homeless shelter the first thing they told me was not to become personally involved with any of the individuals. Don't give them a ride. Don't lend them money. Don't invite them home. It sounds like they don't care but they are just being sensible. Most of our clients at the homeless shelter were not people who had been gainfully employed until they ran into a streak of bad luck. Some of our clients are mentally ill but neither homocidal nor suicidal, therefore they are allowed to live on the street if they chose to. Most of the others were mentally and physically capable of supporting themselves except for an addiction to alcohol or drugs. None of them succeeded in graduating from the street while I worked there.

I found it painfully disappointing that our system allowed mentally ill people to live on the street. I found it even more upsetting that so many others could not get off the street. No matter how capable some of them appear to be, I do not think that they are freely choosing to live on the street. How could an intelligent, mentally sound person choose to live on the street? I may not understand the forces that work against them but indeed I believe that they are victims no matter how capable they seem.

There are many convicts that have served their sentences and never ran foul of the law again. They may not be the majority but they do prove that rehabilitation does work for some. In most cases we don't have an option to keep prisoners in jail indefinitely. Most of them will satisfy the terms of their sentence which may include time off for good behavior. Then they must be released. Thus we need to improve our rehabilitation performance.

Free people of other countries are far less violent and criminal than Americans. What makes us different? How can be change?

I'll be heading over to "your place" to read what others have to say.