Sunday, March 06, 2005

Thielike and the Supreme Court

Having heard all the hullabaloo about the Supreme Court's decision concerning the death penalty and folks who are under 18 years old, it seems that Thielike's book A Little Exercise for Young Theologians might apply. In this book T addresses both fledgling and experienced theologians. For our purposes, we only need to look at his instructions for the experienced ones.

Thielike urges theologians to always remember that it is the church that provides the conscience and that theology, appropriately done, is done in and for the church. In fact he will make a distinction between diabolical and sacred theology by evaluating the faith and faithfulness of the theologian.

This is not said to put theologians in straight jackets, but to have them remember that they are members of a community of faith that holds various principles as core beliefs and understandings. A theologian who goes beyond the faith and becomes overly academic or theoretical loses contact with the church and is in danger of becoming no more than a gong in an ivory bell tower.

Thielike's arguments it seems to me can be applied to almost any social undertaking and this is where the Supreme Court's decision has erred. If it is true that the decision has been made based on what other countries hold to be "normal," punishments, the majority erred in various points.

a. simply because other countries do not practice capital punishment on people below 18 years of age does not make the punishment cruel or unusual. It might make it rare, but that word is not the same as unusual.

b. the age of accountability is an arbitrary one and does not convey any cognitive, moral, or maturity value in and of itself. Any age chosen within a legal system is simply that - an arbitrary selection of an age at which various rights are conveyed.

c. the jurists need to remember that they practice their art within the American society, not a global one. American society is a unique one that holds personal responsibility in high regard, perhaps more so than other countries. If a state has decided that a seventeen year old, judged guilty of such a heinous crime deserves to die for that crime, that is reasonable within our history, our culture, and our forms of government.

The Supreme Court decision, if based on global standards of justice, is misguided.

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