Religion and the Death Penalty

Religions all across the world have mixed stances on the issue of death penalty. Much has been left to legal experts and for us to figure out. Welcome to the debate on one of the most controversial topics of the world history...
OpinionFront Staff
The debate on capital punishment is intensified when we turn towards major world religions to seek some proper answers and explanations regarding this supposedly brutal form of punishment. If death penalty, on the whole is a controversial issue in our civilized society, several groups of people are at loggerheads when it comes to religious views on death penalty.
Why Include Religion in Debate on Death Penalty?
Most of our laws, rules, customs and traditional practices have been derived from our holy books, as they are the words of wisdom and contain teachings of our ancestors. To avoid emergence of a chaotic and a violent society, all laws, rules and constitutional amendments have been written keeping in mind the deepest values of our respective religions and cultures. In the debate on death penalty, it is obvious to include religion because it forms the basis of our culture and its rules. Since religions talk about faith in the "eternal power" and "creator" who has the ability to create life, we look forward to scriptures in search of what it has to say, when it comes to taking away life. Since religious texts are the ultimate books of wisdom, legal experts, ethicists, and opponents or supporters of death penalty use it to prove their point.
The general belief is that the decision to end a life must come from a force greater than us and that is 'eternally divine', like those mentioned in our religious textbooks. Therefore, when there is a clash of views regarding any controversial topic, humanity turns to religion for seeking more rational, faith-based answers in the pious texts that have been regarded to be amongst the most sacred books of wisdom and knowledge of life.
Religious Views on Death Penalty
Two of the world's most popular religions - Buddhism and Hinduism, both oppose any form of violence and preach the path of ahimsa (non-violence). But both religions don't have any specific rules or laws regarding capital punishment. Christianity has mixed views on death penalty and Islam has almost total acceptance of death penalty but if forgiveness is possible, it is preferable, as per the teachings of the Holy Qur'an. Almost all the major religions of the world have no fixed stand on the view of capital punishment. It is all ambiguity at the core and this makes the debate on religion and the death penalty more complex, requiring deeper analysis and scholarly research from unbiased experts. If you are in search of a unified theory regarding death penalty and its conjunction with religions, you may end up being confused. Let us look at what various religions have to say about death penalty.
Religion Views on Death Penalty
Buddhism Since its inception, Buddhism has gone through numerous transformations in terms of sects and teachings. There are so many organizations of Buddhism spread all across the globe, that it is indeed not possible to give views of the entire religion with respect to death penalty. When we focus on the teachings of Gautama Buddha, the founder of this religion, we find that he despised violence as a measure to seek justice. "All fear violence, all are afraid of death. Seeing the similarity to oneself, one should not use violence or have it used." - so says the Buddha. Going by teachings and philosophies of Buddha, ideally, capital punishment must not be in practice. Nonetheless, many Buddhist countries like Thailand, Japan still retain death penalty due to several legal and moral reasons.
Hinduism Regarding Hinduism, it is said that it is one of the most tolerant religions in the world, with a wide acceptance of everything that life has to offer. Although, religious literature in Hinduism is extensive and includes the Holy Vedas, Upanishads, and many other works, there is hardly anything regarding death sentence in them. But just like Buddhism, Hindu countries like India have imposed death penalty. However, it is a fact that in India, death sentence has been rarely granted to anyone. The highest judiciary body in India, the Supreme Court has advised Indian judiciary to give death sentences, in rarest of the rare cases. Even a religion as diverse and deep as Hinduism has no specific literature dedicated to death penalty leaving law makers and scholars confused as to what should be the ideal law.
Christianity Christianity has quite mixed and often contradicting views on capital punishment. Since centuries, many Christian Churches have been in support of death punishment. Both the Old Testament and the New Testament have instances of capital punishment. In the New Testament, the crucifixion of Jesus Christ has been mentioned, which is probably, one of the well-known examples of death execution in the world. Some Christian groups believe that it is only the right of God to create and destroy life. Some are also of the view that Christianity as a religion, is based on forgiveness, compassion and selfless love, so death penalty is quite derogatory to human life.
Islam The one religion that seems to have a strong view about death penalty is the Islam. Although, the way of execution may vary in different Islamic countries, the common belief amongst Muslims is that, depending on the severity of the crime, a person must be awarded some strict earthly punishment before he is punished by God. In most of the Islamic countries, death penalty is given with extreme care and awarded only in cases of intentional murder, physical harm of another person and intentional harm to the country, in an attempt to destabilize or weaken the country.

Going through the OpinionFront article, death penalty statistics, you will come to know that death executions have been significantly high in countries like China. An Amnesty International report published in March 2011 has revealed that although many countries have abolished capital punishment, it is a fact that the major countries that have been following it rigorously, haven't yet considered to abolish it. So can religion answer the question of death penalty? Is it possible to be in a world without death punishment? This is certainly the most challenging issue that policy makers of all countries have to think about, deeply.