Retribution is one of the arguments used to justify the retention of death penalty in most retentionist African countries, including Malawi.
One columnist once stated in his entries in the weekly papers that it is necessary to kill an offender so as to dissuade other people from committing the same kind of crime.
The columnist argued that abolition of the capital punishment would encourage offenders to continue killing without fear of paying with their dear lives.
While agreeing that the primary purpose of legal punishment is to deter crime, Association of Secular Humanism (ASH) executive director, George Thindwa, contended that one of the problems with deterrent argument is that the defenders of death penalty do not seem to understand what actually the greatest deterrent to crime is.
‘Retentionists believe the death penalty is an indispensable weapon in combating violent crime. But evidence has shown that death penalty cannot and shall never be deterrence to would-be criminals in Malawi and other countries where capital punishment is still intact,” said Thindwa.
A Catholic priest, Father Agostoni, seems to agree with the humanist.
In his book titled May the sate kill?, Agostoni notes that: “Making a case for the abolition of the death penalty does not in any matter attempt to underestimate the difficulty associated with healing victims of violent crimes such as rape, murder, and other unbelievable and outrageous crimes.”
He says since the purpose of death penalty is to kill convicted criminals, its very purpose lies in deprivation of existence; its inevitable result is the denial of human life.
“It is hard to see how this methodical deliberate destruction of life by governments can be anything other than breach of the right to life. The implementation of death penalty is also a denial of individual rights to dignity.
“Although the right to life is not absolute, it is still, the supreme right and the most fundamental’ of all human rights. Thus, sentencing to death and executing a person violates that person’s right to life since even a murder has indisputable right to life, which has to be respected. In additional, it is argued that deliberately killing someone violates the most basic of all human rights-the right to life- and has no place in today’s world,” he argues.
Many Christians believe that faithfulness to the ministry of Jesus requires them to oppose capital punishment although they acknowledge that the Old Testament mandated this penalty for murder, but Jesus changed everything.
Typically, their view is that the harsh and mean God the Father of the Old Testament established execution, but the loving and kind God the Son of the New Testament abolished it.
The doctrine of the Trinity affirms the eternal unity of all three persons of the Godhead, but such a fundamental disagreement between the Son and the Father would rupture this unity.
In fact, if Jesus had contradicted any of the Father’s principles, let alone such a well-established one, that very disagreement would have immediately disproved his claims to be the divine Son.
This was exactly the heresy the Pharisees were hoping to trap him into when they brought the woman caught in adultery to Jesus.
Religion scholar, Andrew Tallman, argues in one of his publications that the Bible is, in fact, in total support of death penalty.
Tallman cites Jesus Christ, who far from opposing capital punishment; he advocated it, as His unity with the Father required.
In Matthew 5:17-18, Jesus taught, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfil. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all is accomplished.”
And just a few verses later, Jesus extends the prohibition against murder to hatred and condemns haters to “the hell of fire” (v. 22), which is strange talk for someone who opposes capital punishment.
“It’s difficult to dismiss these verses because they occur smack in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, which is often mistakenly offered as the repudiation of Old Testament justice. If Jesus elsewhere opposes capital punishment, then he is not only contradicting the Father, but even His own words,” emphasises Tallman.
Later, Jesus scolds the Pharisees and scribes for teaching leniency toward rebellious children by quoting the Old Testament, “For God said, ‘Honour your father and mother,’ and ‘He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him be put to death’” (Matthew 15:4).
Subsequently, when the Romans come to arrest Jesus, Peter rather ineptly tries to defend Him by killing Malchus, but only succeeds in slicing off his ear. Jesus rebukes him with the warning, “Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword.”
Far from advocating pacifism, as this passage is often misused to do, Jesus here teaches Peter that using the sword (for murder) will only get the sword used against him (for execution).
Professor Michael Pakaluk of Clark University so perfectly expresses the point, “If no crime deserves the death penalty, then it is hard to see why it was fitting that Christ be put to death for our sins….”
“If we didn’t deserve the death penalty ourselves, then why would Christ need to suffer it on our behalf in order to satisfy the justice of God? Denying the death penalty directly assaults the justice of the Father—the One who required His own Son to pay precisely that price in our stead,” argues Pakaluk.
“Literally from beginning to end, the Bible teaches that capital punishment is authorised and required by God. If so, then why do so many people claim to oppose this practice on religious grounds?” adds Tallman.