[ SOCIAL AND PASTORAL BULLETIN No. 135 / Dec. 15 .2006 ]
The Religious Community Network "Stop Death Penalty" to which the Jesuit Tokyo Social Center belongs has just published a book under the title "Religious People Speak out on the Abolition of Death Penalty". The new publication gathers together the views of 20 Buddhist, Catholic, Protestant and Anglican, Omoto Shinto writers in an effort to record their joint efforts for the last 3 years and a half. In this rare and valuable book religious leaders express clearly their opinions on the problems of death.
Many people, especially in Japan, are of the opinion that death punishment should be kept because of a number of deep emotional reasons. The main reasons are: (1) In case there is no capital punishment, the relatives of the victim could never become satisfied (2) There is no proof of repentance from the side of the criminal, thus the rehabilitation would not work (3) Terrible crimes bearing all kinds of social anxiety are on the increase, etc. Different from policy opinions discussing issues like, "Is really capital punishment an efficient way to stop crime?" or "What would be more costly, capital punishment or life imprisonment?", emotional opinions often try to avoid rational opposition.
It is to be noticed that the theories expressed by religious people in this book related to the emotional reactions with regard to death reach deeply into such dimension. For instance, American Sister Helen Prejean speaking on her experiences with both, prisoners under death penalty and families of the victims, questions seriously the social results of capital punishment. Religious chaplains, through interviews and statements, that are often in direct contact with prisoners of death sentence doze out their painful experiences, when they hear us saying, "There is no possible rehabilitation for such criminals". An American group of relatives of victims killed by crime that appeals for the abolition of death penalty has written a Report called, "The families of the victims are looking for revenge". The reading of this report forces us to reflect on our prejudices.
In all my commitments in the campaigns of the Religious Network and, again, in my participation for the editing of the book I often felt that there are no black or white stands with regard to opinions on death punishment; there is no simple answer to the issue. It is quite easy to express own views at the mass media covering death penalty.
But, when one listens to persons active with those in a death row or to relatives of the victims, when one listens to jail chaplains or jail officials, one comes to feel the complexities of the situations and of the human hearts and one becomes unable to express views pro or against death punishment.
In such occasions passages of the Bible and Buddhist sutras one has already read bring to our hearts new meaning. As a result of my commitments with the issues of death punishment I felt, for the first time, that neither Jesus nor Buddha look from Above on humans to make judgment on them. They live on the midst of us, in a world where sins and death prevail. They gave all of themselves so that we, sinners, could be saved. I felt quite confident at reading the messages recorded in the publication, realizing that Buddhist, Protestant and Omoto Shinto religious persons have similar views on the issue. That fact strengthened my thinking.
I am not of the opinion that persons advocating for death penalty will immediately change for the opposite on reading the book. But, I would like this publication to become an opportunity to reflect whether the actual situation in Japan, thinking as natural the death penalty to remain, is really working for true happiness of people living in Japan. Is, really, an illusion to think that Japan can survive without death penalty? Is there no other alternative but only opposition between victims and criminals? No healing possible for the relatives of the victims unless their criminals are executed? Or, in other words, by executing the criminal will the relatives of the victim receive real healing? Is it true that we can enjoy safety in society once we get rid of criminals? It would be wonderful if the readers could find matter for reflection regarding such doubts.
(Shibata Yukinori, Jesuit Social Center, Tokyo)
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