Mandeville, LA – The abolition of capital punishment, I mean, is one of the products of humanitarianism—that is, of the belief that man’s cleverness will suffice for all purposes, without need for knowledge of the transcendent and the divine.
The rejection of capital punishment in any circumstances thus is becoming an attitude which belongs to the intellectual and moral era that is passing. – Russell Kirk
Yet humanitarianism is now a decayed creed, worthless as a defense against the ideologues and the terrorists of our age, insufficient even to induce men and women to perform the ordinary duties which are supposed to bring the rewards of ordinary integrity. In a world that has denied God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost—why, today the Savage God lays down his new commandments. The gods of the copybook headings with fire and slaughter return. The humanitarian who finds nothing sacred except (mysteriously) human life (so long as it is a criminal’s life, not the life of an unborn infant) soon goes to the wall, throughout most of the world, in our time.
Flannery O’Connor, a woman of humane letters, was no humanitarian. She was aware that this brief existence of ours—in her case, a brief life of physical suffering—is not the be-all and end-all. She did not mistake physical death for spiritual destruction.
One of the many consequences of the widespread decay of belief in the resurrection of the flesh and the life everlasting has been the revulsion against capital punishment. But our understanding of the human soul begins to revive—encouraged, strange though it may seem to some people, by the speculations of physicists. No longer does it seem absurd to deny the suppositions of materialists and mechanists; no longer is it a mark of ignorance to declare that man is made for eternity. For a popular treatment of this renewed awareness of the realm of spirit, I refer those interested to Morton T. Kelsey’s recent book Afterlife: the Other Side of Dying; I might cite also a score of other serious books, among them certain studies of what time is and of what energy is.
The rejection of capital punishment in any circumstances thus is becoming an attitude which belongs to the intellectual and moral era that is passing. If the deprivation of life by human agency amounts only to opening the gate of another realm of existence, Death has lost his sting. – Russell Kirk, Criminal Character and Mercy, Modern Age, Fall 1980.