Saturday, October 9, 2021

How Do We See War and the Death Penalty?


Humans with their cultures are forming a world order. This social hierarchical order: politics, economic systems, punishments are examples of this order in society. Many believe them necessary and adhere to them firmly. So begins an article in the Kyeongyang magazine by a member of The Christian Life Community.

The church is made up of people forming a community and expresses their opinion often differently on the world order in society. At times there is a collision and the church offers an alternative plan.

In God's plan, all life has its beginning in him. He loves all his creations and we need to love each other and coexist. Criticism of the world order is seen in the Old Testament with the prophets and in the New Testament with Jesus.

The encyclical Tutti Fratelli mentions that in the world order for a great deal of our human history war and capital punishment have challenged our gospel message. These two are not in the first place but are thought necessary for our world society and expressed as such in #255 of the Encyclical.

"There are two extreme situations that may come to be seen as solutions in especially dramatic circumstances, without realizing that they are false answers that do not resolve the problems they are meant to solve and ultimately do no more than introduce new elements of destruction in the fabric of national and global society. These are war and the death penalty."

War from ancient times has been frequent, bringing about good results at times but together with the death and suffering of countless numbers. Especially in the 20th century, twice we experienced world wars and fear of annihilation, as a result of the forming of the United Nations. But we continue to have wars and the suffering of many.

Nevertheless, some insist on the inevitability of war because of the need for self-defense from external violence. The word that justifies this is the "just war". Even within the Catholic Church this concept has been supported for a long time and refers to the war in which self-defense is exercised. The UN also supports the legitimacy of war. Just war seems to some extent inevitable.

However, Pope St. John XXIII experiencing the cold war after the two world wars said that war can not be seen as a solution. From this time on the church has been strongly against war. In the encyclical the pope stresses the deterrence through fear is not what we want. "In this context, the ultimate goal of total elimination of nuclear weapons becomes both a challenge and a moral humanitarian imperative... With the money spent on weapons and other military expenditures, let us establish a global fund that can finally put an end to hunger and favor development in the most impoverished countries so that their citizens will not resort to violent or illusory solutions, or have to leave their countries to seek a more dignified life" (#262).

The death penalty has long existed as a punishment for serious crimes, including murder. The church, however, from the times of the Church Fathers has shown opposition to the death penalty. But as in the past, we continue to use the death penalty for wicked inhuman acts that are rampant in society. Most of the public would be more against war than the death penalty.

"Fear and resentment can easily lead to viewing punishment in a vindictive and even cruel way, rather than as part of a process of healing and reintegration into society. Nowadays, in some political sectors and certain media, public and private violence and revenge are incited, not only against those responsible for committing crimes but also against those suspected, whether proven or not, of breaking the law… There is at times a tendency to deliberately fabricate enemies: stereotyped figures who represent all the characteristics that society perceives or interprets as threatening" (#266).


"Here I would stress that it is impossible to imagine that states today have no other means than capital punishment to protect the lives of other people from the unjust aggressor. Particularly serious in this regard are so-called extrajudicial or extralegal executions, which are homicides deliberately committed by certain states and by their agents, often passed off as clashes with criminals or presented as the unintended consequences of the reasonable, necessary, and proportionate use of force in applying the law" (#267). 

Today the Church's judgment on the death penalty is clear.


"Let us keep in mind that 'not even a murderer loses his personal dignity, and God himself pledges to guarantee this. The firm rejection of the death penalty shows to what extent it is possible to recognize the inalienable dignity of every human being and to accept that he or she has a place in this universe. If I do not deny that dignity to the worst of criminals, I will not deny it to anyone. I will give everyone the possibility of sharing this planet with me, despite all our differences (#269).

The voice of the Church against war and capital punishment is based on the same teaching that abortion, and euthanasia is based on, human life belongs to God and no one can take it away. 

If we want to believe in God's love and his order, the source of all life, and for everyone to live in harmony, believers need to reflect on it first. Because of our political beliefs, social circumstances, we selectively choose between the death penalty, war, abortion, euthanasia, and the like. We agree with some and disagree with others. When we respect the order of God's life here on earth and live according to the order we will begin to appreciate life in God's kingdom.

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