Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Love of Morning

Thank you for the comments on yesterday's topic. It was a difficult subject; thank you all for being thoughtful and considerate, and hearing what I was trying to say even if you didn't agree. Thanks for leaving politics out of it.

Our friend Karen in Tennessee, always with her heart of a poet, sent this gift along. In its own way, I think it fits what we were talking about yesterday.

The Love of Morning
By Denise Levertov

It is hard sometimes to drag ourselves
back to the love of morning
after we've lain in the dark crying out
O God, save us from the horror . . . .

God has saved the world one more day
even with its leaden burden of human evil;
we wake to birdsong.
And if sunlight's gossamer lifts in its net
the weight of all that is solid,
our hearts, too, are lifted,
swung like laughing infants;

but on gray mornings,
all incident - our own hunger,
the dear tasks of continuance,
the footsteps before us in the earth's
beloved dust, leading the way - all,
is hard to love again
for we resent a summons
that disregards our sloth, and this
calls us, calls us.
Art by Kathrin Burleson

1 comment:

Bruce said...

I have seen many people wrestle with the death penalty (during a long association with Amnesty International) and one thing stands out for me: nobody comes to a point of rest with this question except by a long, faithful and sometimes painful journey. My journey has not involved any personal contact with the issue. I know no victim. I know no offender. I have not suffered through the losses brought by these kinds of tragedies. But I am settled and confident that the death penalty must be opposed in all cases. Here's why.

In 1948 the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted by the UN's General Assembly (48 in favor, 0 againse and 8 abstentions). Although the UDHR is not a treaty with legally binding provisions, its legal status has steadily grown as an element of international common law and, together with its two companion (and legally binding) covenants forms the legal basis for international human rights law. The recent development of the International Criminal Court is fruit of this slow but important change. The significance, here, is that with the signing of the UDHR the basis asserted for a global standard on the limits of state power with respect to the dignity of the individual human being has changed. Human rights have often been thought of as mushy things, grounded in natural law and wide open to cultural interpretation. If they are God-given, then the shape of individual rights might just shift with our view of God. Be that as it may, as a practical matter we are all on firmer ground if we set aside the question of rights as a sacred gift and approach them as a matter of international agreement. My rights are grounded not in MY beliefs but in OUR contract.

Of course, the UDHR does not enjoy Universal agreement or contract status. It is criticised on many bases and its critics have many voices and speak (often with great intelligence) from many corners of the globe. Fair enough. But it forms a crucial basis for the possibility of justice in our world; a single international standard for human rights provides a focal point for human aspiration toward accountability.

Among the 30 articles in the UDHR, Article 3 enjoys, I claim, the most widespread agreement worldwide: "Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person." Use of the death penalty has been clearly and unequivocally interpreted for many decades as contrary to this Article. (Agreement is not nearly so widespread regarding this right as applied to the not-yet-born; this is a discussion for another day.)

This is more than enough for me. Our planet is in desperate need of a single minimum standard that marks boundaries for injustice on a grand scale. Impunity, to me, is a greater evil than death (which is, after all, in a family way with creation). We should submit ourselves and our states to the UDHR as a matter of asserting our intolerance for genocide, war crimes and poverty. As the death penalty is widely viewed as part of that standard, I call for its elimination. Now. As a matter of vanity and national character Americans are not likely to embrace an international standard where it appears to interfere with states' perogatives. No matter, as far as I am concerned.

Our criminal justice system is not founded on private justice. The desires and needs of victims' families play a real but limited role in the delivery of punishment. There are many ways of addressing the tragedy and loss due to murder and none of them is adequate. But imposing the death peanlty puts the government in the business of intentional killing. The UDHR places this outside an acceptable standard of human rights and, in order to support the tottering framework of an agreed-to international minimum standard of conduct, I must be against it.