Mixed-Up Kids Who Maim and Murder at Marathons
Mark Shea. How to Show Mercy to Mixed-Up Kids Who Maim and Murder at Marathons. Boston: Consistent Press, 2015.
Okay. I admit it. There is no such book as How to Show Mercy to Mixed-Up Kids. I made it up. There is not even such a publisher as Consistent Press — at least as far as I know. I did try to make the title sound like a Mark Shea book — specifically like his excruciating popularization of four-fold Scriptural exegesis, Making Senses Out of Scripture: Reading the Bible as the First Christians Did. Boy, did I need a drink after that one!
So I’m really reviewing a book that doesn’t exist. But the urge to write such a book exists. Maybe Mark Shea will write it. If so, I hope he uses my title and I hereby grant him my permission. He doesn’t even have to name me in the acknowledgments.
At any rate, it’s the urge to write the book, not the book itself, that I’m reviewing.
I know the urge exists because Mark Shea expresses it on his blog. In a post entitled “Good to See a Consistent Prolife Ethic,” dated May 20, 2015, Shea praises the comment of yet another blogger, Jayson Bradley, who is disturbed by the sentence handed out to Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. The basic idea is that, in order to be “consistently pro-life,” we have to oppose the death penalty. Mark Shea says this sort of thing all the time — and generally fails to argue for it, instead relying on tendentious diction. He refers to condemned criminals, for example, as “penitents,” as if his opponents on this issue were standing outside the Confessional with submachine guns, ready to mow down little Billy as he runs through the Ten Commandments in his head. In the same way, Shea refers to the marathon bomber as a “kid.” Poor kid! He doesn’t need to be executed. He needs a lollipop — or maybe a big brother.
Oh, wait. The big brother was the one who got the poor kid into trouble in the first place, wasn’t he?
As an alternative strategy, Shea repeatedly tells the reader that a “clear teaching” of the Catholic Church compels us all to be against the death penalty. Hey, who needs reasons?
The Church doesn’t actually teach this, of course. On the contrary, the clear teaching of the Church has always recognized capital punishment as a legitimate option for the state. All the major theological authorities support the death penalty. Let’s take a voice vote! St. Paul? Yea! St. Augustine? Yea! St. Thomas? Yea! To which I add: Yay! That’s quite a trio to oppose.
Moreover, categorical opposition to the death penalty has been formally condemned as heretical. The Waldensians — a very nice bunch of heretics, as heretics go — taught that the state did not have the right to impose such a sanction. In order to be reconciled to the Church, they had to renounce this proposition. So there.
None of this makes any difference to someone like Shea. Facts, shmacts! This is a guy who once wrote that Julius Caesar’s Commentaries on the Gallic Wars constituted the only evidence of the Roman conquest of Gaul. Extensive contemporary reference? Bosh! Widespread archaeological evidence? Meaningless! The existence of a Romance language called French? Don’t make Mark Shea laugh! Rules of evidence don’t apply here. It’s whatever Shea happens to say.
The very slender basis on which Shea rests his “clear teaching” argument is a recent trend in papal preference — which is also expressed, though not in categorical terms, in The Catechism of the Catholic Church. These papal statements are all rooted in a prudential judgment that the death penalty is no longer necessary — because we can defend society from the criminal without resort to killing him.
It’s a pleasant thought — but not one rooted in reality. I’m pretty sure none of the last three popes has known controlled custody from the inside. No one who’s been in prison, or even in a tough jail, thinks that prisoners in custody are harmless. Prisons are full of really dangerous people. They regularly assault and kill other prisoners. They assault and kill guards. If they have the right sort of contacts on the outside, they conspire to assault and kill people on the outside. A criminal is not neutralized when he is condemned to life in prison. To imagine such a thing is to be naive with a grave and perilous naivete.
Besides, the current occupant of the Petrine office is also against sentencing criminals to life in prison. He is against keeping them in isolation. It is hard to know what he would accept as a just punishment for Tsarnaev’s crimes. Take away his video games? Make him sit in the comfy chair? Poke him with the soft cushions?
To be honest, though, this complex of prudential concerns is not what irritates me about the opponents of capital punishment. I’m still stuck on lex talionis here. In his post, Shea tells us that executing Tsarnaev will not consitute justice. And death penalty opponents almost always say things like this. But they never address the question they need to: what does constitute justice in capital cases? If we’re not going to execute Tsarnaev, what are we going to do with him?
Guys in Shea’s camp tend to circle back at this point into the region of self and societal defense. Put him in prison for life, they say. That way, he can’t hurt anybody else. As indicated above, this just isn’t true. What’s more, life sentences also might not be available — if Pope Francis I gets his way. And, at any rate, life in prison doesn’t supply justice.
C.S. Lewis makes this distinction quite neatly. Society has no right to punish anyone for something he might do in the future. Society has no right to condition people to render them harmless. In justice, society can only punish deeds that have already been done. And the punishment has to fit the crime. What punishment fits Tsarnaev’s crime, O opponents of the death penalty? I’m all ears. Please enlighten me.
Until they do, I shall continue to believe, as most of humanity has throughout history, that the proper penalty for a murderer is execution. It just looks so symmetrical to me. Though it lacks the picturesque beauty of the punishments meted out in Dante’s Inferno, it does present the same sort of balance. I believe that the balance is what constitutes justice in the first place. If not, what does constitute justice?
This is not to say that there are no good reasons for opposing the death penalty. I can think of one possible good reason off the top of my head — and that is, radical distrust of the state. Associated with this distrust is the fear that innocent people might wrongfully be executed. Oh, yes. Death penalty opponents have some good points to make.
They somehow prefer to make foolish points. Probably the most offensive of these is their insistence that executing a criminal convicted of a grave crime is the same thing as slaughtering an innocent baby. This is the level of babbling idiocy conveyed by the slogan “consistent pro-life ethic.” It is directly refuted by Augustine, who states that capital punishment “in no way” violates the commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.” In his post, Shea makes this goofy point first, telling us that many inconsistent pro-lifers cheered for the pro-abortion AG, Loretta Lynch, when she supported the death penalty for Tsarnaev. He doesn’t give any examples.
Shea closes with some adulation for Elie Wiesel, who nobly opposed capital punishment even for the Nazis under whom he suffered. Actually, Shea is the same old predictable lazy ass here: rather than find his own Elie Wiesel quote, he just lifts Jayson Bradley’s. Hey, it saves time….
Oh, glory of a consistent pro-life ethic! Oh, wonder of a mind and heart that can satisfy the yearnings in Shea’s self-congratulatory soul! There’s just one problem here. Elie Wiesel is (like Loretta Lynch) a pro-abort. He said so in an interview with On the Issues, a radical feminist magazine that not only supports abortion but is associated with a venerable New York abortion mill on the side. So, in a sense, the quote from pro-abort Wiesel (for whom Shea cheers) really does balance the quote up above from pro-abort Lynch.
There’s justice for you.