Letter on Capital Punishment

The Netherlands, August 19, 1986

Capital punishment has come down to us from the far past as a retaliatory measure for serious crimes, in most cases for premeditated murder. It stands to reason that it must be possible to take strong measures for the protection of the innocent. On the other hand, it is open to question whether capital punishment must necessarily be one of these measures, and also whether it has a beneficial effect on society as a whole.

If the call for justice is a demand for retaliation, is this a right and helpful motive which can protect society against crime? Are we not merely opposing consequences instead of trying to remove causes?

During the last few years the death penalty has received increasing attention from various nations, and investigation has proved that the threat of death does not diminish the number of acts of violence. Moreover, psychological analyses demonstrate that we know very little as yet about the real human being: what he is, and what motivates him to perform noble deeds or acts of brutal destruction. These are still enigmas. Investigators in the fields of science, philosophy, and religion are probing deeper into human nature in an attempt to learn what part we human beings play in our ecosystem.

In a discussion about punitive measures in general, the Dutch criminologist, Prof. Dr. Hoefnagels declared:

My aim is to lay down what the science of criminology has brought to light. This scientific progress has to be made serviceable for society. Criminal law is a social service like any other institution. It is not so much a question of punishment as a matter of restricting the number of transgressions of the law.

These and other views represent an awakening approach toward the idea that we have a closer affinity with and responsibility to our fellowmen than we may suppose. Ultimately we are all inseparable from the powerful current of the evolutionary stream.

Another aspect comes down to us from the depths of the remote past: a person who has been executed takes with him feelings of bitterness, hatred, and other pernicious emotions into the so-called astral plane or astral light that surrounds and penetrates our physical earth. This aura surrounding the planet is composed of planes of varying nature, a storehouse of all mental and emotional energies, good and bad, as well as of the images of all events that have taken place. By execution a human life is ended prematurely. In contrast with the peaceful passing of natural death, it is an unnatural death, whereafter the person lives on in the astral sphere. He is in a condition which may be likened to a vivid and repeated nightmare -- a condition which theosophy asserts continues until the natural term of life would have been reached. During this interval his emotions are forcefully imprinted on the astral plane and reflected on the world consciousness. Being no longer limited to his physical form, these destructive energies range freely and are attracted to those susceptible to their baleful impact. For the sake of potentially weak characters who may be driven to committing acts of violence by the vengeful thoughts and still-active will of an executed criminal, would it not be wiser to avoid such a possibility by confining -- and seeking to rehabilitate -- the convicted person rather than risk endangering the public by forcibly removing his physical body and thus exposing all those left living on the earth to an even more subtle and dangerous influence? -- Wim Rinsma

 (From Sunrise magazine, October/November 1986; copyright © 1986 Theosophical University Press)

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