Thursday, January 19, 2006

A Question for those who Oppose the Death Penalty

I followed with interest the ongoing discussion at Mr Wang Says So about the death penalty.

As with many of the previous debates, those who oppose the death penalty (for murder) cite reasons relating to revenge, deterrence and so on. Strangely, they seldom talk about justice. To all these people, I have a question:

What will you say to Mdm Kittiduangrat Ketkanok?

In case you don’t remember, she is the mother of 4-year old Sindee Neo, the girl who was reportedly pushed or thrown to her death from the sixth floor of a HDB flat in Telok Blangah Crescent on October 7, 2004..

I quote from the Straits Times report of 5th August 2005.

Weeping uncontrollably, she said through a Thai interpreter: “I bear no grudge. I only ask for justice for my daughter’s death.”

The heart of the issue is justice. It’s not about revenge. Referring to the case of the murder trial in Thailand (see below), even if Katherine Horton's mother is willing to forgive the 2 accused murders, the judges still have to do their job and uphold the law and make the murderers pay for their crime.

It’s is also not about deterrence. Many people quote studies to show that the death penalty is not effective in deterring others from committing murder. But of course, there are also many others, including myself, who question the reliability of such studies. Anyway, my view is that, even if capital punishment is not effective in deterring criminals from committing murders, it is still justified.

I think the Chinese idiom sums it up best: 杀人偿命,欠债还钱。

Mr Wang says that he knows of no religion that is proactively for the death penalty. That’s strange, because I thought 2 of the major religions, namely Islam and Christianity clearly support the death penalty.

Genesis chapter 9, verse 6 (in the Old Testament) clearly specifies the death penalty for the crime of murder. “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.”

Of course there are also Christians who believe that capital punishment does not apply to the New Testament and church age. But I think I leave it to the theologians to debate that one.

My Related Posts:

Biblical Stand on Death Penalty
Majority of Singaporeans Support Death Penalty
One Country Two Systems
Do Australians Really Oppose The Death Penalty?


Mr Wang Says So said...

You don't have to ask the theologians. You could simply ask the Pope. Here:

I think that this would be a more authoritative approach than quoting the Bible, since for everything you quote, I could also quote you a few things about "Thou Shalt Not Kill" or "Kenna slapped on one cheek? Ok, turn the other cheek."

On the Islamic position, here it is:

As you can see, it would NOT support capital punishment for drug trafficking or firing an arms or kidnapping etc. As for murder, the Islamic position is that you should leave it to the victim's family. You know the implications for this - if it were to be applied to the Katherine Horton case.

On justice -

in jurisprudence, we think of justice as having three broad parts:

the 1st two parts are irrelevant to our current discussion,

1st part relates to the passing of laws;

2nd part relates to fair trials and fair hearings;

and 3rd part is what concerns us - how to sentence appropriately:

here the jurisprudence identifies five (or six, depending on which textbook you read) considerations (usually competing, which is what makes things tricky) and they are:



individual deterrence (deterring that same offender from committing the offence against)

general deterrence (scaring other people off from committing similar crimes)

prevention (stopping the guy from committing crimes again - eg locking him up or giving him injections to subdue his sex urge)

restitution (compensation to the victim - eg apology or money).

Capital punishment for murderers is best explained on the retributive basis (see your own Chinese quote); however, increasingly retribution itself is seen as a lousy basis for sentencing people. It is viewed as primitive and barbaric.

Sleepless in Singapore said...

Reply to Mr Wang.

1) Thou Shalt Not Kill – The death penalty is entirely consistent with Commandment #6. Man (not animals) is made in God’s image. Hence if you kill someone, you forfeit your own life; and God empowers the society, your rulers to enforce the capital punishment. Hence, the hangman who carries out the execution has not violated commandment #6. Same logic applies to a soldier in battle.

2) Pope as an authority on the teachings of the Bible – Millions of Christians will not agree. I for one will not accept the teachings of a man who openly rejects the Genesis account of creation as recorded in the very 1st chapter of the Bible and expresses his support for the Theory of Evolution (Straits Times 25/5/96 – “Pope gives his backing to theory of evolution”) – I am referring of course to the previous pope, but I suppose their stands are the same.

3) Forgiveness - I contend that forgiveness and justice are 2 separate matters.

Let’s take a hypothetical example. One day, Mr Sleepless and Mr Wang have an argument in the car park and Mr Wang bashes Mr Sleepless into a coma (now he can have plenty of sleep). And Mrs Sleepless says, “I think my husband is a good Christian. He certainly would want to forgive”. Can the judge then say, “You are lucky, the guy you bashed up believes in turning the other cheek; so you can go free. If you had bashed an atheist, I would have you jailed and caned.”? Where is the justice?

Another point. Forgiveness can only be given by the party that has been wronged. In the case of Katherine Horton, how does her mother know that she is willing to forgive her rapists and murderers?

By the way, you have not answered my question; what would you say to Mdm Kittiduangrat Ketkanok?

Mr Wang Says So said...

Sleepless, so many points I would disagree with you - but I'll just pick one:

"God empowers the society, your rulers to enforce the capital punishment"

I think your faith in our leaders is ...... astoundingly naive. To think you regard them as some kind of direct agents of God.

But to take your argument a step further -

why is it that in some countries, like all of the EU, the "rulers" who represent God think that capital punishment is wrong, no matter how heinous the crime,

while in Singapore or Thailand, the "rulers" who ostensibly represent the (same) God think that capital punishment is right?

Or does your God have one set of rules for Europeans, and another set for Singaporeans & Thais?


Mdm Kitti - I may be wrong, but if I recall correctly, when she said she wanted justice, she meant that she wanted it to be proven that so-&-so was guilty of the offence. That meant justice to her.

And you will appreciate of course that conviction and punishment are two different issues.

Mr Wang Says So said...

By the way, can you quote me one thing said by Jesus that would suggest that he thinks capital punishment is ok?

Sleepless in Singapore said...

I don't think any of the European govts give a dime about what is said in the bible. If they did, they wouldn't have legalised same-sex marriages and outlawed caning of children by parents.

I definitely do not have that much faith in many of these govts. So if someone can convince me that a certain govt is simply not competent or honest enough to implement the death penalty fairly, and innocent people are being sent to the gallows; or worse still, abusing the law to get rid of their political enemies, I certainly would support the banning of the death penalty in such a society.

But I still believe in the principle that if you take someone's life wrongfully, you should pay for it with your own life. If the govt does not carry out this function, then whose responsibility should it be?

Heartlander said...

I think in all fairness, what Mr Sleepless has said holds much water, i.e. western governments do not embrace the bible and have become secular in many aspects of living. But on a bigger scope this tide of today is very much in line with what the Bible has prophesied that in the last days many are falling away...I can quote you this verse if you need me to...
However what I am keen on in addressing is the question that Wang Says So put forth for a verse in the Bible that Jesus says in support to the death penalty.

Jesus has never said anything in support to the DP as far as the canonization of the Bible is concerned. Though the various verses which He has said confirmed or implied that He was in full acceptance of the Old Testament as the rightful authoritative scripture. What we found in the New Testament are letters and gospel (record of news or blog if you will) written by the various authors like Paul, Peter, Matthew..and Luke etc. John (disciple of Jesus) has written the 5 books in the NT (new testament)

Jesus came to fulfill the Law requirement and the fact that He went to the cross to be crucified clearly shows that he was willing to do die on man's behalf in return that Man could have this right of not perishing in eternity. He paid the price in the place of Man.

DP is set up to penalize the one who committed murder for a precious life lost yet Christ was willing to die in Man's place in return that the latter could walk free.

Hope that helps...
Heartlander (25 Jan 06)