Happy New Year

Not much to report today. Tommy and I woke up early, played 18 in the mud, scalped a couple of tickets to the Alamo Bowl, and watched Texas eke out a win over Iowa.

I'm not sure how I feel about Saddam's execution. If any man deserved to die for his crimes, it is Saddam - he was an evil dictator who modeled himself after Josef Stalin, from ordering the deaths of hundreds of thousands of dissenters to the way he wore his moustache. That said, since I heard the announcement of Saddam's hanging on NPR this morning, this passage from Tolkien's Fellowship of the Ring replays in my head:

What a pity that Bilbo did not stab that vile creature [Frodo declares] when he had a chance!"

"Pity? [Gandalf replies] It was Pity that stayed his hand. Pity, and Mercy: not to strike without need. And he has been well rewarded, Frodo. Be sure that [Bilbo] took so little hurt from the evil, and escaped in the end, because he began his ownership of the Ring so. With Pity."

"I am sorry" said Frodo. "But I am frightened; and I do not feel any pity for Gollum."

"You have not seen him," Gandalf broke in.

"No, and I don’t want to," said Frodo. ". . . Now at any rate he is as bad as an Orc, and just an enemy. He deserves death."

"Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends. I have not much hope that Gollum can be cured before he dies, but there is a chance of it. And he is bound up with the fate of the Ring. My heart tells me that he has some part to play yet, or good or Ill, before the end; and when that comes, the pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many -- yours not least."

If you asked me five years ago what I think of the death penalty, I would have replied that I supported it on practical grounds as a deterrent that reduced murder rates and actually saved lives in the bargain. Now, I'm not so sure. When it costs more in legal appeals to give someone the death penalty than to give them life in prison, that's not practical (The Iraqis streamlined the appeal process, apparently). When a poor man is much more likely to receive the death penalty than a rich man for the same crime because he can't afford to hire a good lawyer to defend him, it insinuates a real plutocratical bias in our legal system. And putting aside practical matters, is it morally tenable for the state to take someone's life, even if they have it coming. As Clint Eastwood said in Unforgiven, "It's a hell of a thing killing a man; you take away all he has, and all that he is going to have." At the very least, I think we need to look foundationally at how we administer the death penalty in this country, and if we can't do it right, we shouldn't do it at all.

Based on the Bible, I think you can take either side of the death penalty debate, though I think that Jesus was probably against it. That said, I firmly believe that there is a judgement worse than death for unregenerate monsters like Saddam, and the judgement of God is a fearful thing. However, to revel in his hanging seems sick to me, and as a someone who believe that there is no person beyond hope of the redemption that I've experienced in Christ, I wish he had taken what little time he had left to repent. In the end, I guess I do feel pity for Saddam, and I find that little fact strangely encouraging...

Happy New Year, and Godspeed in 2007, my friends.



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