I don’t consider myself to be a Jesus freak, mostly because I have a thing against sandals, but I don’t hate the guy or his teachings. In fact, I’m a huge fan of anyone who can turn water into alcohol, something I’ve yet to master. I’m not irreligious because I’m gay or because I have some deep rooted hatred towards the church. I’ve just never really connected to the Scripture and have an overly active brain that makes little time for religious thinking.
People sometimes wrongly assume that people who are not religious somehow lack the moral compass of those that believe in God or whatever Supreme Being they worship. I’ve found the opposite to be true in the sense that irreligious people develop a moral compass through experience through indoctrination. We learn empathy from those around us. But I will say that there are morals from the Bible that are worth subscribing to, the main one being that we should show compassion to people. My feelings on the matter can be best summarized with the following passage, Romans 12:17: “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.”
The other day Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, one of the two Marathon bombers, was given the death penalty, two years after the tragic event. My Facebook newsfeed became flooded with commenters on both sides, either cheering on the decision or wishing things had ended differently. I chose not to comment at the time because I didn’t want to engage with others in the matter. But now that I’ve given it a few days I’m feeling compelled to speak on the subject.
I do not personally know any of the victims or survivors of the Boston Marathon bombing. I cannot for one second put myself in their shoes and I hope that I’ll never face what they’ve faced. But at the same time, I cannot support the decision of the jury. I don’t think it is right to close the book on such a significant moment in our history with more bloodshed.
To me, prison serves a seemingly contradictory purpose: to punish and rehabilitate. People make bad decisions and mistakes, ones that they should pay for, but not for the rest of their lives. I think that most people are capable of being rehabilitated and I think that reintegration is possible. But it seems that not all people share this opinion. There are those out there who think prison is solely a place of punishment and that criminals should never see the light of day. I disagree because I am aware that we as people often get caught up in our emotions and circumstances. I also disagree because if you statistically look at who is incarcerated you’d realize that our justice system needs a lot of maintenance work. And lastly, I think killing someone actually defeats the entire purpose of prison. People want Tsarnaev to feel remorseful for his acts, but how is he supposed to do that if he’s dead? Do we really think he’ll start feeling guilty for the things he’s done if he’s counting down the days to his execution?
I don’t support people who have cheered on the sentence. I can’t understand people who can take such joy in a situation like that and think it’s actually a sign of missing empathy. If you are happy that he’s being put to death, you’re letting him win in a sense because you’ve let him strip you of your human compassion and empathy. By cheering you’re actually tarnishing the value of human life, which is something Tsarnaev did as well- just to a much, much greater extent.
I had hoped that Tsarnaev would spend thirty years or so in prison and be given the opportunity for parole. I genuinely think that under the right circumstances Tsarnaev could be rehabilitated. Perhaps I think that way because we are close in age, or perhaps it’s because I like to think that we are all fundamentally capable of redeeming ourselves and being kindhearted. I know, however, that this is not the case. So instead I hope that we are able to both remember these events and put them in the past. I hope we can move on and focus on creating a world where violence is never seen as an option. I hope we can put our prejudices to the side and embrace each other and show compassion even when we are not given it in return.