Dennis Prager

A second 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.

A third 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.

These 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.

The fourth 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.

I suspect 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.

Nevertheless, 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.

Dennis Prager

Dennis Prager is a SRN radio show host, contributing columnist for and author of his newest book, “The Ten Commandments: Still the Best Moral Code.”

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