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Analyze the Effectiveness of Helen Prejeans argument on the Death Penalty

I would definitely appreciate some feedback here. =] Now, my teacher did not require proper citations or anything for this assignment. In fact, it was only supposed to be about two pages with no research necessary. I just had so much to say.

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Executions: Right in Our Budget

"The most important tactic in an argument, next to being right, is to leave an escape hatch for your opponent, so that he can gracefully swing over to your side without an embarrassing loss of face."

-Sydney J. Harris
The aforementioned opinion is exactly the bind Helen Prejean, author of the essay "Executions Are Too Costly-Morally," found herself in while attempting to argue how unjust capital punishment is. Despite an effort to dissuade the death penalty, Prejean went through great lengths to argue for the exact opposite of her intention. Prejean's essay, a feeble attempt at persuasion against an evidently appropriate practice, in fact gave emphasis to the biblical consent to the controversial topic of capital punishment by poorly constructing her essay and utilizing a very ineffective approach to argumentation as outlined in Deborah Tannen's essay, "For Argument's Sake: Why Do We Feel Compelled to Fight about Everything."

Although Deborah Tannen clearly defines the proper way to argue "both sides" of a topic, Helen Prejean manipulates that technique to sheer extortion, rendering it completely ineffective for her purpose. Tannen shares in her essay on methods of argumentation that "the best way to begin an essay is to attack someone." In retrospect, however, Prejean does nothing but emphasis the clergy's opinion toward the subject for almost an entire page of her argument, which is obviously in favor of execution. It is virtually impossible to realize that she holds a different opinion until the fifth paragraph, whereupon she briefly mentions a slight fallacy in an interpretation of a biblical passage. Therefore, Prejean does not immediately attack her opponent as instructed in Tannen's essay, making it a fruitless opening to her argument. A more useful approach would possibly have been to discredit the biblical approach to the issue rather than presenting it in such a solid manner. Due to the fact that the Bible is already such an authoritative source to so much of the population, it is unwise to initiate an argument giving scriptural proof of the appropriate nature of the death penalty. Tannen also mentions in her essay that "the best way to settle disputes is to litigate them." Prejean does a fantastic job of presenting a respected litigation in favor of the opposing view by including so many quotes directly from the Bible.

Helen Prejean continues to make a crucial mistake in her fifth paragraph by misinterpreting the Bible, proving her argument fallible. The exact quote she includes from Exodus 21:25 states, "You shall give life for life, eye for eye." Prejean, however, takes the responsibility to rewrite it as "only an eye for an eye, only a life for a life." It is unjust and erroneous to misconstrue the Bible in different words. The Bible is open to interpretation but clearly states what it intends to. If the word "only" had been intended, it would most definitely have been included. Continuing in that argument, Prejean mentions that "It was not uncommon for an offended family or clan to slaughter entire communities in retaliation for an offense against one of their members." The topic of this essay is not cultural revenge but the lawful appropriation of the death penalty. Of course it is not governmentally accepted to punish innocent people for a family member's crime. Once again, a horrible approach is displayed here as the author grasps at off-topic points in order to establish an argument. Furthermore, Prejean attempts to discredit the biblical view by mentioning other crimes which scripture deems punishable by death. It is only because of the desensitization of today's society that such an extreme punishment is no longer applicable. Based on the moral deficiency involved in all the mentioned crimes, it is understandable and admirable why the Bible considers these acts so obscene. It is true that "modern societies have evolved" since that time, revoking execution as a penalty. That fact, regardless, does not decrease the severity of these instances, but simply the reaction to them. Rather than strict government regulation, offenders of these crimes are socially harassed by a large majority. It is generally accepted to shun perpetrators of acts such as sorcery, bestiality, incest, homosexuality, and prostitution. Several of these mentioned practices already sustain a court-ordered chastisement. The severity is only drastically reduced by the modern civil rights efforts by individuals to practice some of these atrocious behaviors.

In paragraph 10, Prejean resorts to the typical, "What would Jesus do?" approach, inaccurately attesting her perspective. She claims that Jesus had an "ethical trust he gave to humankind: an impetus toward compassion, a preference for disarming enemies without humiliating and destroying them." This is an exceedingly debatable opinion, lacking substance and proof behind it. In fact, the New Testament includes a scripture in Revelation disproving this. Revelation, the final chapter of the Bible, is written after the life and death of our savior Jesus Christ, and therefore expresses the opinion of the Bible inclusive of his efforts. Revelation 13:10 states, "If any one is to be taken captive, to captivity he goes; if any one slays with the sword, with the sword must he be slain." It is common knowledge that certain principles of the Bible shifted with the birth of Jesus Christ. The New Testament expresses the word of God taking into account the redeemed compassion demonstrated by our Father. It is still clearly effective to say that capital punishment is acceptable after the teachings of Jesus. Prejean then proceeds to attempt to discredit the Christian opinion by alluding to corruption within the church. Prejean records that according to Elaine Pagel's book, Adam, Eve, and the Serpent, Emperor Constantine's entrance to the Christian church in 313 C.E. marks the initial acceptance of the death penalty. Pagel reasons that the new wealth and influence obtained by the church brought about immoral views to permit government control over punishments once again. What Prejean fails to mention is the actual release of the New Testament. Although scholars have not pinned a definitive date of the first circulation of this monumental literature, the best estimates are between 70 A.D. and 300 A.D. This time lapse would explain the delay that the church suffered before taking a tentative stance on the issue. As mentioned earlier in Revelation 13:10, the New Testament called for the acceptance of capital punishment. Furthermore, political control over reprimand is reinforced by Romans 13:4; "But if you do wrong, be afraid, for [governing authorities] is the servant of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer." The timing of the completion of the New Testament is coupled so closely with the Christian church's admission of government killing, discrediting Prejean's feeble attempt to invoke a feeling of mistrust among the readers.

In addition, Prejean fails to thoroughly analyze all aspects of the opposing argument. For example, a controversial aspect of the issue of capital punishment is the monetary disadvantages of a life sentence. Prejean argues that "government killings are too costly...financially." According to the South Carolina Department of Corrections, the annual cost per inmate for the fiscal year of 2007 is generated at $16,432. (doc.sc.gov) The cost of the dosage used in a lethal injection, however, is a mere $86. Not only is the death penalty an acceptable moral approach, but it is evidenced as more economically logical. The justice department goes through extensive investigations to assure that any convicted felon is truly the perpetrator of the crime at hand. It is the principle of the court to uphold a just punishment only in the case of irrefutable evidence.

Towards the finalization of her essay, Prejean pleads that "Allowing our government to kill citizens compromises the deepest moral values upon which this country was conceived: the inviolable dignity of human persons." The heinous acts committed in order to justify a death penalty, however, discredit any dignity or respect a perpetrator might already have. Although the list of capital crimes warranting the death penalty differs from state to state, they all contain ghastly demonstrations of injustice. For example, the state of South Carolina requires that a suspect commit "murder with 1 of 12 aggravating circumstances" in order to be tried for capital punishment. The following list includes the twelve aggravating circumstances resulting in a crime deemed too abhorred to be considered for a typical sentence: (deathpenaltyinfo)

Prejean speaks so avidly of the moral decency involved in the death penalty. It is difficult to believe how any person able to commit such a treacherous act able to warrant a capital punishment has any shred of moral decency in them. If a foreign country were to invade U.S. soil and take the life of a citizen, it would be only appropriate that America declare war, incurring the death of soldiers of the opposing country. Likewise, the current war on terrorism displays an innate intolerance of murderous individuals. The same basic idea applies to the subject at hand. The sole difference is that the indiscretion is committed by a neighbor, rather than a foreigner. It is only logical to take a stance against the felon, regardless of origin. It is the intention and the charge of the government to preserve the safety of its citizens that display a daily routine of acceptable behavior in society.

Utilizing Charles Simic's idea that "there are moments in life when true invective is called for," Prejean ends her essay with a faulty appeal to democracy and the principles of our nation. Invective, though, is only effective when supported by a reasonable appeal toward emotions, rather than an eradicate effort to criticize an institution as reputable as the United States government. She claims embarrassment that other countries "were watching us kill our own citizens." Being such an enthusiastic American, Prejean surely supports the Constitution of the United States. The Preamble states that the country's principles include to "establish Justice, ensure domestic Tranquility, [and] provide for the common defense." A perpetrator of any of the aforementioned obscenities, as listed under the SC aggravating circumstances, is undoubtedly upholding none of the principles of the United States. That man, rather, is creating a clear nuisance and inhibiting the safety of the citizens that do abide by the law.

Only with careful thought and deliberation do people make informative choices or opinions. Helen Prejean errs her own argument through poor structure, lack of support, and ambiguous interpretations. It is possible to counter every last argument included in her proposal, as well as discredit her as an efficient persuasive writer. Although Deborah Tannen legitimizes her outline for an effective argument, Prejean disregards any structural format to presenting an informed justification. While intending to sway a reader towards her negative approach to capital punishment, the author depicts such a viable argument towards favoring the topic that her conviction is drastically impeded. The fallible delivery of Prejean's argument renders any substance in her speculation questionable and quite undependable. It is with explicit and convicted support of capital punishment that any nation, specifically the powerful United States, can proceed to take a step towards domestic safety.

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