Month: December 2009

The man and the flood

You’ve probably heard this story before:

A man, at home during a storm, hears an emergency broadcast over the radio that warns of an impending flood and instructs everyone to evacuate. But he’s a religious man, and sure that God will save him, so he decides to stay. The minutes pass, and as the waters begin to rush into his home he’s forced to move to his roof. 
A short time later, a boat pulls up next to the house and the crew shouts for the man to join them.
“No,” he shouts back, “I’m a religious man. I pray. God will save me.”
As the boat pulls away, the water begins to pour over the eaves. 
A helicopter then appears overhead and the pilot shouts down to the man, “Let me throw you a rope and pull you up!”
“No,” he shouts again, “I’m a religious man. I pray. God will save me.”
But as the helicopter flies away the waters swallow the house, and sweep the man away.
When he arrived in heaven, the man demanded to speak to God.
“Lord,” he said, “I’m a religious man. I pray. Why didn’t you save me?”
God looked down to the man and said, “I sent you a radio broadcast, a boat, and a helicopter. What more did you expect me to do?”

I heard this story again watching an old episode of West Wing a couple of weeks ago. The bulk of the episode followed the President as he agonized over the decision of whether or not to grant a stay of execution. Each of the three people he talked to over the course of the show told him that capital punishment was, for various reasons, wrong and that he should make the call. And while he agreed, he ultimately decided he couldn’t justify a stay based solely on his feelings.

Shortly after the prisoner was executed, the President sat with his old parish priest and expressed his frustration with God. “I prayed, Father, I really did. But nothing came.”

The priest, Father Cavanaugh, then told him the story you read above. When he had finished he said, “Mr. President, God sent you a Rabbi, a Quaker,  and a priest. What more did you expect him to do?”

A little more than three weeks ago, John Allen Muhammad – the “D.C. Sniper” – was executed in Virginia by lethal injection. His accomplice, Lee Boyd Malvo, will spend the rest of his life in prison. It’s been reported that Muhammad was silent throughout the process. He refused to acknowledge questions or the gallery; completely silent until pronounced dead.

Good riddance, you might say.

Me, I’m with Father Cavanaugh, the Rabbi, the Quaker, and the priest. I think the death penalty is just wrong. And while I could give you a host of logical, rational reasons why I feel that way, chances are the impact of those arguments would be very little if your beliefs swing the other way.

Meaning, if I were to show you data that unequivocally proves a black man is far more likely to be given the death penalty than a white man, for the same crime, that information probably wouldn’t change your mind. If I were to show you that an unattractive woman is more likely to be given the death penalty than a pretty, dimpled lass, that wouldn’t change your mind either.

In other words, the fact that our judicial system dispenses punishment unequally probably wouldn’t be enough to change your mind if you favored the death penalty.

So I’ve been thinking about hypocrisy.

Keep in mind, I’m fully aware this is a pretty massive generalization, but in many cases if you favor the death penalty there’s also a pretty good chance you’re pro-life. And I just don’t get it.

It’s okay to kill here, but not there. This is justified, and that’s a sin. One right and one wrong.

To be fair, I’m fully aware that the hypocrisy swings both ways. Like many of my ilk, I’m both pro-choice and anti death penalty. Again, like above, death is okay here but not here. My only explanation is that my beliefs for both are founded on the rational rather than the spiritual. Take that for what you will.

So I’d like your opinions. How do so many of us justify these contradictory beliefs?