Killing human beings: Why abortion is immoral but capital punishment is just

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Summary: Society tolerates 2 forms of killing human beings: abortion and capital punishment. In leftist thought, putting serial murderers to death is considered barbaric, while killing unborn children is considered progressive. These two stances of the political left are inconsistent and immoral. Inconsistent because they take opposing sides on the question of whether life is sacred. Immoral because God is a God of both mercy and justice.

What I Learned from Executing Two Men appeared in the New York Times today. The author, an Oregon State Penitentiary superintendant and executioner of two death row inmates, argues the death penalty is too expensive, doesn’t effectively reduce capital crimes, and has a great emotional cost to executioners.

But these are all side issues. His main argument appears in the opening of the article:

After much contemplation, I became convinced that, on a moral level, life was either hallowed or it wasn’t. And I wanted it to be.

The man's essential argument boils down to the sacredness of life. All life is holy, and since destroying something holy is immoral, capital punishment must be immoral.

But if this is true, we must be consistent and concede abortion's inherent immorality since it also snuffs out human life. (Elevated: abortion takes a human life that has committed no crime.)

It’s no surprise to see an article opposing capital punishment appear in the leftist New York Times. But it highlights a chink in the leftist armor: opposition to capital punishment based on sacredness of life undermines the left’s position on abortion.

Inconsistency of the political left

The left argues we ought to oppose capital punishment because human life is hallowed. The left sees capital punishment as savage and uncivilized:

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In the same breath, the left argues that people should be able to take the life of an unborn child for any reason at any time during pregnancy.

Some leftists go even further, claiming a woman’s choice should include taking the life of a child immediately after birth: what humanity has long deemed murder and infanticide. This May 2016 article from the leftist publication Salon claims society “needs to have a conversation about infanticide” and all but argues for a woman’s right to practice it.

It’s logically inconsistent to oppose capital punishment while remaining in favor of abortion for any reason. The argument goes like this: Oppose capital punishment because sacredness of life, but favor abortion because a person is too inconvenienced by the consequence of their own sexual choices.

Such a policy makes the implied statement that human choice to end innocent life is more important than life itself. Such a policy makes human life out to be discardable; not sacred at all.

This immoral position produces a society which favors sparing the lives of mass murderers while taking the lives of children who have committed no crime.

Opposing abortion and favoring capital punishment is moral and consistent

We religious people in the Judeo-Christian tradition – a tradition tried and tested in the furnace of 3500 years of civilization – understand that all life is indeed holy.

In theological terms, humans are created in God’s image and are the pinnacle of all living things. Thus, we’re holy; distinct from and above all other life forms.

If that was all there was to the story, we’d agree with the New York Times, the political left, and our executioner author: human life is holy. Capital punishment, then, is wrong. God is a God of mercy. Many religionists who are driven by leftism go no deeper than this.

However, faithful Jews and Christians have also come to understand that mercy without justice is also an immoral position. All mercy and no justice produces pushovers, and evil people are emboldened without fear of retribution. God is not a pushover; God is a God of both mercy and justice.

This means that while human life is indeed holy, a once-holy life can be rendered unholy and corrupt through grievous crimes. A serial murderer may have once been a holy life, but by his actions he is rendered corrupt and wicked.

And the answer to that extreme level of corruption of something holy must be the highest order of justice we can enforce: ending that life humanely. A fate far better than that of his victims.

This is how Jews and Christians oppose abortion but generally uphold capital punishment: all life is holy, but grievous crimes blot out sacredness.

The divine standard: mercy and justice

The left bases many of its positions on feeling and emotion. Opposition to capital punishment and favoring gay rights are two such issues: it feels good to pardon a person’s life, even if that person is a mass murderer. And it feels good to grant newly-minted rights, even if there is no divine origin for the so-called right. The left is filled with permissive mercy.

But God is a God of mercy and justice.

Mercy: Like a mother who never corrects her children, a God who practices only mercy and never justice is unjust. The children grow unruly and wicked, and the wicked are emboldened without fear of retribution.

If You, Lord, kept a record of our sins
My Lord, who could stand?
But with You there is forgiveness,
So that You may be revered.

-Psalm 130

Justice: Likewise, a God who only never shows mercy and only executes justice is a harsh law-giver without compassion. Like a father who is always disciplining but never forgiving, a God who practices only justice and never mercy is also unjust; there is no room for repentance, restitution, and forgiveness.

Our practice as disciples of the Messiah must be reflective of God’s character: showing both mercy and justice.

God has told you, humanity, what is good,
And what the Lord desires from you:
To love mercy,
To practice justice,
And to walk humbly with your God

-Micah 6