Thursday, September 22, 2011

Nothing To Say

Georgia executed a man whose guilt was in doubt. Most of the witnesses against him had realized they might have been mistaken, and had recanted their testimony. The Supreme Court of the United States, to no one's surprise, gave the OK to the execution.

There is so much to say about this. So much controversy. So many moral, religious, political, sociological, economic, and racial issues. But it has all already been said, many, many times over the years.

There just isn't anything new to say. But does that mean that nothing should be said? Or should I and others who continue to be disturbed by killings like this just keep harping on the same old arguments, hoping that someone who is new to the issue will be influenced, or that someone whose mind is already made up will see things in a new way?

One of the many commandments in the Torah says that Thou Shalt Not Be Indifferent. Does it necessarily mean that on issues like the death penalty, about which there seems to be a permanent divergence of opinion within our country, Thou art destined to be frustrated and ineffective? Does it mean that Thou art supposed to be concerned, but not necessarily required to do anything? Does it mean that Thou art required to try, but you don't have to feel bad if you don't succeed?

Rabbis have been reading and commenting on the same Torah for a long time. Over the course of every year, they read through the whole scroll. Leaders in other religions also go over the same teachings of their faiths yearly, or every couple of years. Is the notion that there is always something new to learn from the same old passages? Is there a more practical consideration, that many people don't attend services every week, so they are likely to miss lessons unless the lessons are repeated regularly? If so, why go over the same story of The Binding of Isaac every Rosh Hashanah or the Birth of Jesus every Christmas at the one service that most people do attend annually? Do they really need to hear the same thing over and over, or would it be better for them to learn some of the other stuff?

Everyone talks about how it is necessary for people to compromise if we are going to reach agreement on issues. Maybe we could all agree that there would be just one person executed each year. That way, once a year, Georgia and other states would have the same opportunity that religious leaders do to teach us a lesson. We could have a national execution day, when all the news outlets could call attention to the killing so it would have maximum exposure and impact, just like Christmas. We wouldn't have to be so concerned about whether the person was guilty or not. We could skip all the appeals, and just choose the person to be executed by lottery among all those who have been sentenced to die. I bet a lot of the people on death row would sign on for the deal.

Some people, reading the preceding paragraph, might think it was a reasonable compromise. Others would reject the very notion of compromising when people's lives are at stake. They read their Bibles as containing absolute commandments, not suggestions to be used as the basis of compromise. And therein lies the problem that keeps us from reaching agreement on the death penalty and other issues. We are caught between conflicting religious and moral teachings that are phrased as absolutes and a pluralistic society that depends upon compromise. There is no solution. So we keep arguing. Which may be what we are supposed to do. So long as we are arguing, we are not indifferent.


  1. There is an old short story about that called The Lottery.

  2. There is a solution:
    Do as I say.