Posts Tagged 'Death Penalty'

Do As I Say: On Role Models And Rainbows

It has happened more than once, I am mortified that one of my children is acting out and screaming and I want to communicate to them that this behavior is unacceptable. But instead of calmly telling them, I find myself losing my poop and screaming. Realizing the disconnect is simultaneously humbling and humorous. We all have these experiences as parents. Our intentions are good, but they just do not line up with our behaviors. “Do as I say, not what I do” never works. Our children learn from our example.

I was thinking about the idea of role modeling this week when reading Noah, this week’s Torah portion. After the flood Noah finally comes out of the ark and God gives him some directions. There we read:

But for your own life-blood I will require a reckoning: I will require it of every beast; of man, too, will I require a reckoning for human life, of every man for that of his fellow man! Whoever sheds the blood of man, By man shall his blood be shed; For in His image Did God make man. (Genesis 9:5-6)

God tells Noah that the penalty for murder is the death penalty. Overlooking the fact that the Torah does not spell out that killing is a prohibited until Exodus, what are the implications of the court’s of the state doing the reckoning? Like a parent trying to quiet a child by screaming, how can the state stop someone from killing with the death penalty? Is this effective?

I was thinking about this idea of capital punishment when watching an extraordinary TED talk by Byran Stevenson. It really is a must watch:

The topic of how we need to talk about an injustice is very compelling. For me the most brilliant part of his talk is how he framed the conversation about the capital punishment around identity.

Once Stevenson was giving a lecture in Germany about the death penalty. About this he said:

It was fascinating because one of the scholars stood up after the presentation and said, “Well you know it’s deeply troubling to hear what you’re talking about.” He said, “We don’t have the death penalty in Germany. And of course, we can never have the death penalty in Germany.” And the room got very quiet, and this woman said, “There’s no way, with our history, we could ever engage in the systematic killing of human beings. It would be unconscionable for us to, in an intentional and deliberate way, set about executing people.” And I thought about that. What would it feel like to be living in a world where the nation state of Germany was executing people, especially if they were disproportionately Jewish? I couldn’t bear it. It would be unconscionable. In America we clearly disassociate ourselves from the law. It is unconscionable how these laws are radically unjust to people of color. And for many of us who are not subject to this discrimination we have the luxury of being unconscious about the impact of this legal system. Our laws should manifest our attempt to bring about justice in the world. What would it look like if we identified ourselves by our laws? It seems that our laws are mostly punitive. What would our laws look like if they were framed as an expression of love?

Is the law given to Noah punitive or an act of love? It is unconscionable for the state to kill someone for killing. It just does not work.

This is even more complicated by the fact that God instructs Noah about the death penalty after God just destroyed the world. God just committed mass genocide and God is tell us not to kill. Are we supposed to learn from God’s instruction or God’s behavior?

It is easy to dismiss this on theological terms because God is exceptional as , well, God. That said, there is still a question of its efficacy. Despite knowing the consequence of murder human beings killing each other has been a leitmotif of our history. How might we change this behavior and end murder?

One way to think about it might be in terms of the humbled parent. Is it possible that in saying this law to Noah God has a similar realization which is humbling? Right after communicating these rules God says:

I now establish My covenant with you and your offspring to come, and with every living thing that is with you—birds, cattle, and every wild beast as well—all that have come out of the ark, every living thing on earth. I will maintain My covenant with you: never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth. ( Genesis 9:9- 11)

God goes on to establish the rainbow as a symbol of God’s promise that God will not destroy us again. There we read:

When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures, all flesh that is on earth. (Genesis 9: 16)

As much as we might take the rainbow as a sign for us, it seems more like a reminder for God. The rainbow actually serves as a mnemonic for God to remember to be a better role model. From this we learn that we can all strive to do better and live as examples.

-See another piece on Stevenson


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