Those who oppose capital punishment often do so on the grounds that they believe human life to be sacred.
To adopt a consistent respect for all life will cost us something. To move beyond the taking of life by capital punishment requires us to see all human life as sacred, and the concomitant need to defend life at every moment of its existence. [California Catholic Conference of Bishops]
Translation: If we see life as sacred, we will oppose capital punishment.
... a rising chorus of voices in the Catholic community has raised objections to capital punishment. Some take the absolutist position that because the right to life is sacred and inviolable, the death penalty is always wrong. [Avery Cardinal Dulles]
In light of the word of God, and thus of faith, life all human life is sacred and untouchable. No matter how heinous the crimes . . . [the criminal] does not lose his fundamental right to life... it is because of the [divine] image which, at creation, God impressed on human nature itself. [Father Gino Concetti]
The underlying implication is that if we value human life highly, we will NEVER take it away.
So how odd, then, that the bible, the book which supposedly informs the faith of these Christians, apparently disagrees with them, teaching the exact opposite -- because human life is sacred, and created in God's image, we must allow the option of capital punishment.
Whoever sheds the blood of
by man shall his blood be shed;
for in the image of God
has God made man. (Gensis 9:6)
Between the two arguments, I'm inclined to side with the bible.
Consider: If I steal X, the punishment for me is six months in jail. If I steal Y, the punishment is five years. Which would you guess is more valuable, X or Y?
The answer is obvious: We would conclude that Y was probably more valuable than X, because its theft warranted a greater punishment. If we care about justice, more serious crimes have more serious punishments.
Some of these are clearly too drastic. Even so, we are nonetheless saying that a human life is no more valuable than a certain amount of money or a building which burned down. We are saying it is no worse to rape someone than to kill them.
And criminals will understand this equation, even if we "enlightened" types can't: Imagine that a sexual predator knows he will receive the same sentence for rape or sexual assault as he would for murder. If so, why should he leave the victim alive, with more chance of identifying him? He will understand this calculus of ours all too well, even if we can't admit it to ourselves.
None of this is meant to prevent the possibility of mercy. But mercy is only meaningful when justice is first applied. If two men steal, and one repents, "mercy" is to reduce the sentence for the one who repented -- not for all thieves everywhere, regardless of contrition.
Last, there are those who argue the death sentence is "too good" for criminals. Perhaps, but I somehow can't imagine the European elites recoiling "in disgust", as they did at Saddam's execution, if he had been sentenced to life in prison instead. Clearly, they believe the death sentence is worse.
The paradox is that if we believe innocent human life is valuable, we must place highest penalty on those who take it unjustly. As with any crime, when we lower the penalty, we are also simply lowering the value of whatever that law was meant to protect.