Morality, a Personal View and the Death Penalty

Morality, in a large sense is being able to distinguish between what is the right, or correct, thing to do and what is the wrong, or incorrect, thing to do and then actually acting on the situation.

A moral person chooses the good thing.

An immoral person chooses the bad thing.

And the amoral person does what he, or she, desires without knowing or caring about how the outcome affects others.

Where does Morality come from?

Some morality comes from a person’s (society’s) beliefs as taught by his God or gods. Some comes from our parents. Some from our peers, teachers, political leaders, and the writings and works of those we come in contact with during the course of our lives.

You don’t have to have a belief in God, a god or gods, to have a sense of morality. There are moral agnostics and atheists, as well as immoral people who profess a belief in a deity.

Judaism, Islam, Christianity — Morality?

Followers of all three major monotheistic (belief in one god) religions have engaged in wars, persecutions and massacres which they believe (or believed) were sanctioned by their god. The followers of Moses and Joshua attacked, killed and enslaved those who lived in Canaan because they believed it was their “promised land,” promised them by their god. (No matter someone else was already there.)

Islam sanctions jihad, holy war, against those who are not believers, including other Muslims who are not the “right” kind of Muslims.

Christians engaged in crusades, holy wars, in what we call the Middle East for two centuries (1095 – 1291) in an effort to take control from its Muslim rulers. Deus Vult, God wills it, was the battle cry of the Crusaders and resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of Jews, Muslims and Christians. And there have, of course, been crusades against Christians who have been the wrong kinds of Christians over the centuries.


Some people today may pooh-pooh the idea that we are like those people, but we are. Europeans of the 18th and 19th centuries believed it was their duty to civilize and help their “brown brothers” in Africa and Asia, even though some of their civilizations pre-dated those of Europe by millennia. And us? How about Manifest Destiny? America from the Atlantic to the Pacific — ignoring the peoples who had lived here since the last Ice Age. Of course, we also wanted to help civilize those “brown” peoples in areas we could wrest from them and the Europeans.

Vietnam — More than a million people died during that 30-year war and its aftermath.

Afghanistan, et al (the Forever War) — the total isn’t finished.

One of the major problems with morality is, I believe, that no matter the basic teaching, we twist it to benefit ourselves. For example, assuming I remember correctly, Jesus said: “turn the other cheek.” When someone wrongs us, do we turn the other cheek? Or do we fight back? If it’s a slap, do we ignore it? Or if it’s a plane flying into a building, do we unleash a decades long war?

Is God Moral?

I was raised in the Catholic Church and attended Catholic elementary and high schools. I learned doctrine, catechism, prayers and rituals in two languages — and I can still pull them from my memory — but lost any real faith sometime in the eighth grade. We were learning about Noah and the Flood. I thought: because people don’t bow and pray to him God kills everyone? Parents? Children? Babies?

This is moral? To my mind this is only moral from the standpoint of might makes right. God can do what He wants and, by definition, it is moral.

A plane crashes and three people survive. It’s a miracle! Thank God! And God purposely killed 173 other people? Run this by any disaster, accident, or “Act of God” you desire.

God works in mysterious ways. Bull—t! Rationalization. Use your brain (God-given though it may be).

Heaven — Hell

You live a decent life. You don’t kill or steal. You love your spouse and children and raise them to the best of your ability. Your life does no harm to anyone, but by the same token you’ve never gone out of your way to help anyone. Should you go to Heaven — forever?

Should a murderer go to Hell — forever? How about BTK, Genghis Khan, Hitler, Mao?

When the concepts of Heaven, Hell and forever originated, people counted on their finger and toes. Some of them knew of numbers in the hundreds and thousands and, some, understood the concept of much larger numbers. Forever was a limited concept.

Today, however, that has changed. The human concept of numbers has changed — radically.

I live in a city of some 200,000, a country of 330,000,000+, a world 7,000,000,000+. We have a national debt of $22,000,000,000,000.

A Googol is 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.

A googolplex is the number 10googol, or equivalently, 10(10100). Written out in ordinary decimal notation, it is 1 followed by 10100 zeroes, that is, a 1 followed by a googol zeroes.

These numbers represent only an infinitesimal fraction of an infinite forever.

Should a person, no matter the crime, be punished with infinite pain for this amount of time, again, and again, and again — ad infinitum? Is this what your church/religion teaches? What kind of being (God) would do this? What is the nature of this being?

I cannot answer that, but it is not the God/god I believe in.

The Death Penalty

Which brings me to the death penalty. For millennia, and maybe longer, people have executed those who have transgressed against their laws, civil, religious and otherwise. Steal a loaf of bread — hang him. Treason — shoot him. Decapitation, drowning, burning, crucifixion, draw-and-quarter. The list goes on and on. What does this say about us?

I used to believe that a person who murdered another deserved the death penalty; he or she had forfeited their right to life by unjustly taking the life of another. Why waste money keeping that person alive in a cell when the money could be better spent on housing, schooling and medical care?

I no longer believe this, but it has nothing to do with the murderer’s right to life. It is both the moral and practical thing to do.

If “God” does torture and punish a person for an infinite time, I want to keep that person out of God’s hands for as along as I can.

If otherwise? Well, I’d like to see us change. Let us distance ourselves from the beliefs of our ancestors. Let us not practice state-sanctioned murder of other human beings — even if we can justify it. Let us not seek justice or vengeance by engaging in a never-ending series of wars which kills tens of thousands as collateral damage.

Let us write a new moral code of which we can point to and say, “This is us; this is me.”

Perhaps, then, if we really appear before St. Peter and God, we can proudly say: “Sir, I’ve done my best.”

I wrote this after a week of considering California Governor Newsom’s, at least temporarily, ending of the death penalty in the state.

Trump must be impeached! — Carthago delanda est!

Some “Violence” Thoughts on an Easter Sunday

No violence here.

‘Tis a beautiful Easter Sunday here in SoCal. There is baseball on the boob-tube; Di is in her sunroom speaking with one of her sisters on the phone (sister is in England); we should be in NorCal with friends but Di lost a tooth early Friday morning and we had to cancel; Mist and Smoke are sleeping on the sofa beside me and I’ve had my second cup of coffee — wondering if I should fix another pot or just a K-cup — and trying to decide what to have for brunch.

I’ve read both papers; checked my email and trolled Facebook — and found some things that spawned a conscious thought or two — yeah, I know dangerous.

State-Sanctioned Violence

There were the usual Easter “He is risen” posts and cartoons and one that was a bit different: Judas, with his 30 pieces of silver saying something to the effect that without him today would be nothing but an ordinary Sunday.

This got me to thinking about what the world would be like without Easter. No Christianity? Probably, . . . without the miracle of the Resurrection Jesus becomes just another itinerant preacher wandering the Roman-occupied Middle East. Nothing to distinguish him from others unnoticed and unremarked upon and lost to human memory.

Jesus was a victim of state-sponsored political murder. Local authorities feared his influence, and the lessening of theirs, and convinced the local Roman government to kill him in the interests keeping the peace.

Death Penalty

Hmmm . . . state-sponsored murder. What would life be like if we had never had a death penalty for the commission of crimes — political or otherwise? Not “no punishment” — just no killing of criminals, and those falsely accused and convicted, by the state.

Think about it.

No crucifixion of Jesus.

Nor the drawing and quartering of William Wallace.

No beheading of Olympe de Gouges.

Nor the hanging of Eva Dugan.

No electrocution of William Kemmler.

Nor the gassing of Burton Abbott.

Yes, I know the arguments for the execution of those who murder others, either singly or in larger numbers; I’ve used and believed in them myself.

Could I, as an individual, put a bullet into the back of the head of a murderer? Throw the switch to his electric-chair? Open the trapdoor to hang him? Open the feed of the IV tube containing the drug to stop his (or her) heart? No, I do not believe that I could.

Could you? Would you if you could?

Could you hire someone else to do it? If we allow our criminal justice system to continue executing those convicted of murder, we are indeed hiring the executioner, if only through our votes and the taxes we pay.

Perhaps, just perhaps, state sanctioned violence in the name of justice is not the answer.

Our penchant for violence

On a related note, I wonder where we learn that violence is the answer to our problems.

Where do we first encounter violence by authority to enforce laws, rules, norms?

In adult life? Does your boss beat you when you make an error or lose a customer?

In school? Does your teacher/counselor/vice-principal swat/spank/cane you when you make a mistake or talk back to them?

As a child, did your mother slap you or take a hairbrush to your bottom; did your father spank you or take a belt to your bottom?

Did this teach you respect, as so many Internet memes would have it? Or did it teach you fear? Or did it teach you to sneak around to get away with whatever it was you wanted to get away with?

I’ll bet the real answer is not the answer we rationalize as adults in the here and now.

What did it teach you?

What does it teach someone who is two or three or five or ten years old when an adult in authority slaps/spanks/paddles them, no matter what the child’s offense?

It teaches the child that the answer is violence.

Companionship, not violence.