Thursday, September 8, 2011

Take Not A Life Lightly

By now, the tumult has swept over the nation from corner to corner: a Republican Presidential candidate stands before a room as states he has had no trouble exercising the death penalty, and is lauded by the crowd with applause. For a moment, one might have noted the exuberant and keening voices of the Colosseum amid the clapping, for it was a spectacle best suited to that forgotten time when fighting men and condemned souls were made to dance in death for the approval of the crowd, and their Emperor dispensed his own brand of "justice," by making it a sport of blood.

You might think your author hyperbolic, but I report only what sensation comes to me when events transpire before my eyes and ears. It was a singular moment, like so few I have witnessed, that horrified and enraged me. Were I not better prepared for it from the commentary I read prior to watching it, apoplexy might have welled up from within me. For this moment, unlike many of late, sets the tale of this country in the starkest relief, casting a shadow across a nation that prides itself on equality, integrity, faith, and justice.

Governor Rick Perry of Texas was responding to a question from NBC's Brian Williams about potential struggles with the record number of executions -- 234 at last count -- that he had authorized. While Perry's answer is telling:

"No, sir. I've never struggled with that at all. The state of Texas has a very thoughtful, a very clear process in place of which -- when someone commits the most heinous of crimes against our citizens, they get a fair hearing, they go through an appellate process, they go up to the Supreme Court of the United States, if that's required. But in the state of Texas, if you come into our state and you kill one of our children, you kill a police officer, you're involved with another crime and you kill one of our citizens, you will face the ultimate justice in the state of Texas, and that is, you will be executed."
It was not the answer that elicited the response from the audience, but the question. Before Perry could even expound on his concept of frontier justice, the crowd had already bestowed approbation upon him for those actions.

Where Rick Perry is tainted by this is not just in the number of executions and his folksy, frontiersman take on "justice," but the fact that he did nothing to interrupt the applause. An avowed man of Christian faith, he stood mute, as applause rang out and Brian Williams waited to finish his thought, not acknowledging the accolades and taking that moment to chastise the crowd for being enthusiastic in their response to the idea of execution. When his response came, it rolled off his tongue, cool and assured. He has never struggled with it. Never.

In that moment, between the crowd's perplexing and perturbing enthusiasm, and the slick and savage response of the man, Rick Perry painted himself as a self-absorbed, self-aggrandizing, hypocritical, and cold man. The taking of a life, wrapped up in the trappings of a "fair and just" system, does not bother him, nor, apparently, many others in our nation. In that moment, one could only imagine a tear rolling down the cheek of a crucified Jesus, not for his own pain, but for the pain of knowing his gift to so many was being squandered by those who give lip-service to his name and no thought to his teachings. That a man, a man in a position of power, has no trouble executing the people he serves -- criminals though they may be -- should frighten us. It speaks to a lack of compassion, a lack of empathy, and, above all, a lack of thought. That he does not reflect upon nor seek guidance in the taking of a life, and is happy to hide behind the power of the State, is troubling.

A man so easy with such power and so free with human life is a problematic; how can we be sure that, upon a whim, he will not commit the nation to a course of action that is ultimately destructive, because he does not fear the loss of lives? How can a man be trusted, who is willing to flex executive power without due consideration to the effect or the consequence? How do we trust a man, who claims belief in a religion where he so easily violates some of its highest precepts?

What can be said, but that there is a vast gulf between those who support the death penalty and have agonized over their decision to support it, and the sycophantic, “Christian” masses on display at the “debate,” who allowed a crescendo of accolade to damn them in the eyes of a nation and possibly in the eyes of their God. We may wish to find a reasonable accommodation in our beliefs for the idea that some people are beyond redemption, that there can be no turning them from evil’s side, but even there, they represent a life, and taking that life serves no purpose. The guilty must live with the shame and humiliation of their guilt — there is no other way for them to be redeemed. To simply put them out of society’s misery condemns us, for if we believe in life and the soul and forgiveness, how can we countenance murder by our government?

To the eyes of any decent American, Rick Perry, through action and inaction, has removed himself from serious consideration as President. We cannot afford to hand the power to manage a nation to a man who cannot let his conscience be a firm guide in his judgement. To do so, would be to sentence our nation to an ignominious death.

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