Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Declaring the Ignoble.

I recently heard a character in an American TV drama (and bear in mind that this character was neither extremist nor fruitcake, but somebody whose view we were supposed to take seriously and respect) say in support of capital punishment:

What you must understand is that certain people just shouldn’t be on this planet, and they have to be executed.

Seriously? Shouldn’t be on this planet?

The first thing I would have to ask is ‘What person or group of persons is arrogant enough to believe they have the right to decide who should and shouldn’t be on this planet?’ Islamic jihadists upholding a belief system? American judges upholding a statute? Fascist despots upholding self-interest? They all believe they’re justified.

The second point is that this is a pretty dangerous point of view. If my memory of recent history serves me correctly, there was a group of people in Europe in the 1930s who believed that Jews shouldn’t be on this planet. Were they right?

Ah, but now I’m going to irrational extremes, aren’t I? Am I? So tell me where the line should be drawn. Should we in a supposedly Christian country draw the line on the wrong side of Jews, Muslims and atheists because their denial of Jesus’s divinity makes them undesirable? Should we arrange the secular transgressors such as traitors, murderers, fraudsters, pickpockets, football hooligans and internet trolls on a sliding scale, then stick a pin into the chart to mark the applicable level? Who but a megalomaniac could truly believe that he or she is qualified to do so?

It’s interesting that this statement was made in an American TV show. As I understand it, America prides itself on being the most Christian country on earth. It even puts In God we Trust on its banknotes. So wouldn’t it be reasonable to suppose that the overwhelming majority of Americans (those who are neither extremists nor fruitcakes) should take the view that there is only one Being in the whole of the universe who has the right to decide who should and shouldn’t be on His planet?

The most famous hangman in Britain was a man called Albert Pierrepoint. He spent the whole of his working life sending people to the drop, and a the end of his career, after reason and the weight of public opinion had persuaded the politicians to abolish capital punishment for murder, he wrote his memoirs. In it he expressed the view that after a lifetime of judicially killing people and ruminating on the fact, he had concluded that the only justification for the death penalty is revenge.

Fine. Even though I disagree with such an abject sentiment as the revenge motive, it does make a kind of sense. I think it would be heartening, therefore, if proponents would admit the fact and stop resorting to arrogant and self-righteous platitudes in the belief that their cause is somehow noble.

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