Religion and the Death Penalty: A Call for Reckoning

Religion and the Death Penalty: A Call for Reckoning

Religion and the Death Penalty: A Call for Reckoning

Religion and the Death Penalty: A Call for Reckoning


Foreword by Jean Bethke Elshtain

This important book is sure to foster informed public discussion about the death penalty by deepening readers' understanding of how religious beliefs and perspectives shape thiscontentious issue. Featuring a fair, balanced appraisal of its topic, Religion and the Death Penalty brings thoughtful religious reflection to bear on current challenges facing thecapital justice system.

One look at the list of contributors reveals the significance of this book. Here are recognized leaders from the academy, government, and public life who also represent a wide range offaith commitments, including Jewish, Christian, and Muslim. Like many people of faith and goodwill, the authors disagree with one another, variously supporting retention, reform, orabolition of capital punishment. As a result, the book presents the most comprehensive and well-rounded religiously oriented discussion of the death penalty available.

Contributors :
Khaled Abou El Fadl
Victor Anderson
Jeanne Bishop
J. Budziszewski
John D. Carlson
Mario M. Cuomo
E. J. Dionne Jr.
Avery Cardinal Dulles, S. J.
Eric P. Elshtain
Richard W. Garnett
Stanley Hauerwas
Frank Keating
Gilbert Meilaender
David Novak
Erik C. Owens
George H. Ryan
Antonin Scalia
Paul Simon
Glen H. Stassen
Michael L. Westmoreland-White
Beth Wilkinson


There isn’t very much in the writing of political philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau with which I agree. But I concur heartily with his conviction that the person who would separate politics from morals fails to understand both politics and morals. Too much of the same territory is claimed by each. Our political and moral lives are unthinkable absent attempts to wrestle with the big questions: What does it mean to live a good human life? What are the bases for order in a body politic? How do we hold people accountable for their deeds? Are people always fully accountable? What is the purpose of justice? Is retributive justice really a form of justice or simply vengeance disguised as something more dignified? What are the occasions that justify putting citizens in harm’s way (as in war) or taking a human life (as in capital punishment)?

For some — committed pacifists, for example — the last question in that daunting series of queries is readily answered: there is no occasion that justifies the intentional taking of human life, whether in war (whatever its cause or intent) or in the penal system (however heinous the crime). For the vast majority of us who are not pacifists, however, such a blanket response is hard, if not impossible, to come by. Most of us look at German National Socialism and say that it would have been better had the world responded with force to Adolf Hitler sooner rather than later. But we might also believe that not every threat to the comity of nations or to one’s own polity warrants a response with force. One works it out on a case-by-case basis with a set of fundamental principles at hand. This, at least, is the way the Christian just war tradition works when addressing such matters.

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.