Gov. Jon Corzine, in explaining his state's abolition of the death penalty,
announced that he knew "from my heart and from my soul" that no
murderer should be put to death.
happens, I know from my heart and from my soul that not putting any murderer to
death is a cosmic injustice; it cheapens the worth of human life and greatly
diminishes the revulsion society feels toward murder.
does this mean? Does it mean two intelligent and decent people have very
different hearts and souls? (This question assumes that pro-capital punishment
readers will acknowledge Gov. Corzine's decency and that anti-capital
punishment readers will acknowledge my decency.)
that our hearts are either not the same or operate differently.
mystified by the hearts of those who wish to keep all murderers alive. While I
disagree with those whose values (as opposed to hearts) argue against the death
penalty for murder, I can at least understand them. But I have no clue as to
what type of human heart wants to keep all murderers alive. What type of human
heart knows the pain and horror of murder and doesn't want the murderer to give
up his life? It is a heart so different from mine that I admit a complete
inability to relate to it.
I presume that those whose hearts move them to spare all murderers' lives can't
understand my heart. That is why I am convinced that regarding capital
punishment for murder there is a gulf more unbridgeable than on almost any
other issue. I understand the hearts of those who want the state to take over
medical care, even though I oppose it -- my heart feels the same as theirs for
those who cannot afford health care. I understand the hearts of those who want
race-based affirmative action -- my heart feels the same pain over the
historical injustices inflicted on black Americans.
it comes to murder, my heart is entirely preoccupied with the terror and loss
experienced by the murdered and the endless pain of those who loved them. I
therefore find incomprehensible the compassion for murderers, as expressed, for
example, by anti-death penalty activists, when they have candlelight vigils at
prisons but not at the homes of the families of those murdered.
explanation is that those who oppose and those who support the death penalty do
indeed have similar hearts, but looking into one's heart is obviously not a
good way to determine one's stance on moral issues. Hearts can lead us to any
conclusion we want. If Gov. Corzine has a good heart and I have a good heart,
the heart is not a particularly effective place to look for answers to moral
questions. In fact, being guided by the heart may be one of the worst ways to
live a good life. The heart is very easily moved in wrong directions.
possibility is that we have similar hearts but different minds. So while our
hearts may feel similarly about murder and murderers, our thinking about them
differs. The hearts of opponents of the death penalty may yearn for taking the
life of at least some murderers -- such as torturer-murderers whose guilt is
confirmed by DNA -- just as much as pro-death penalty hearts do. But the minds
of the anti-death penalty people have concluded that the death penalty should
never be applied -- even to mass murderers whose atrocities are beyond doubt --
for reasons that go against their feelings.
people say they have rationally thought the issue through and concluded, for
example, that the state has no right to take the life of anyone not immediately
threatening innocent life. But this is not rational thought; it is an emotional
statement disguised as rational moral declaration. The state is simply acting
on behalf of the murdered. When people say "the state has no right,"
they really mean no one has the right. On purely rational grounds, it is very
difficult to justify allowing all murderers to keep their lives. By every
accepted understanding of the word "justice," it is unjust to be
allowed to keep your life when you have deliberately deprived an innocent
person of his life.
explanation is similar hearts but differing values. Some people's value system
holds that it is wrong to take anyone's life, even that of a person or an army
threatening the lives of innocent people. This is known as pacifism, a value
system that denies good and evil and that actually increases murder and unjust
suffering in the world. Others' value systems maintain that it is moral to kill
in self-defense or defense of another innocent person, but never otherwise,
such as when a murderer has been subdued and no longer threatens innocent life.
that this belief that it is wrong to kill any murderer, even one who has mass
murdered and tortured, is at bottom really a feeling -- of revulsion at taking
a human life. Pope John Paul II opposed capital punishment, and it is
difficult, if not impossible, to separate the horrific mass killings he saw as
a young man in World War II Poland
from his opposition to capital punishment. Likewise, the ancient rabbis of the
Talmud essentially undid the Torah's laws demanding the death of murderers
because of all the barbaric executions they witnessed among the Romans.
whatever the ultimate source of opposition among some opponents of capital
punishment, in the case of Gov. Corzine and many other abolitionists, their
hearts are the ultimate source of their opposition to taking the life of any
murderer. And in such cases, it remains fair to say that such hearts are indeed
different from the hearts of those of us who feel equally strongly that keeping
all murderers alive is a cosmic injustice, an insult to the murdered and an
ongoing nightmare to those who loved the murdered.