Abstinence Teacher, Death Penalty

I’m taking books back to the library tomorrow, so I want to make some last minute comments about them.

1. Source: Tom Perrota, The Abstinence Teacher (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2007). For more information, see Hard-Headed Practical Wisdom.

Ruth is a liberal sex education teacher who hates having to teach her school’s abstinence-only program. Tim is a recovering addict who attends the ultra-conservative church that has persecuted Ruth. The two meet when Ruth launches a crusade against Tim because he led his soccer team in prayer.

Ruth finds herself drawn to Tim, not just because of his looks, but also on account of his vulnerability. To her surprise, he doesn’t come across as a narrow-minded, judgmental, dogmatic prude, but rather as a humble sinner trying to get a fresh start and stay on the righteous path. Although Tim feels guilty that he did not “witness” to her, in a manner of speaking, he did.

This book is not Christian fiction, although the author says in his intro that he’s attended Promise Keeper rallies. He makes fun of abstinence-only sex education and presents gay characters in a positive light. But his Christian conservative characters are likable as well. Not only is there Tim, but there’s also Tim’s pastor, Pastor Dennis, who cares sincerely for his flock. Ruth usually knew him as an angry voice speaking against her liberalism at school board meetings, but she saw his tender, human side when he came to her door, looking for Tim out of concern.

One character who sticks out in my mind is Jay, whom Pastor Dennis leads to Christ at a wedding reception. Drunken Jay tries to beat up Pastor Dennis for speaking ill of his favorite porn star, but Pastor Dennis confronts him with his need for a Savior. Jay accepts Jesus and immediately feels a sense of peace–as if he is not alone and can make a fresh start at life. But Jay eventually finds that he cannot recover that feeling, and he becomes bored with the path of righteousness. Near the end of the book, he ditches a Promise Keepers-type rally and goes to a strip bar.

That got me thinking: Is the Christian life supposed to be fun? Many people view it as an adventure, in which God uses them to accomplish something significant and enables them to bring goodness to a distressed and sinful world. It gives them meaning in life. While some may “feel” God in the course of their journey, others wonder if he’s really there at all. Even a Christian as great as Mother Theresa felt this way! There are times when I feel like I’ve found my spiritual niche, and then there are times when I feel lost: as if I’m not accomplishing much for God, or God doesn’t know my address, or I don’t know what I believe, or the certainty and zeal of evangelicals appears foreign to me. Jay experiences this, as (eventually) does Tim, who relapses, ditches the soccer team, gets booted out of the house by his wife, and goes to Ruth’s home.

The book is good because of the religious and spiritual questions that it raises. My disappointment was with the end, in which Tim hangs out at Ruth’s house. Unfortunately, as with most stories these days, The Abstinence Teacher presents romance as the ultimate solution to life’s problems!

2. Thomas Cahill, A Saint on Death Row: The Story of Dominique Green (New York: Random House, 2009).

There is a strong part of me that supports the death penalty. When I watch a movie and see a character who is so callous, so selfish, so brutal and inhumane, I shout at the screen, “Kill him!” I noticed as I looked at the program description for tonight’s Lost that Kate will try to save young Ben Linus’ life. Ben Linus is a sinister, manipulative worm of a person, and Sayid shot Ben’s younger self. “Good thing we won’t have to deal with Ben Linus anymore,” I thought. So much for that wishful thinking!

In real life, there are indeed evil people, but the issue of capital punishment can be quite messy. There’s a criminal justice system that isn’t always just and fair, especially to poor minorities. There are prosecutors and defense attorneys who care nothing for the truth and work to suppress it. There are politicians who exploit the deaths of criminals for political gain. There are the innocent people who are executed, the guilty ones who have families and friends who care about them, and the convicts who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. And, believe it or not, there are the people on death row who have goodness in them.

I didn’t exactly find Dominique Green to be a “saint” as I read Thomas Cahill’s book, but I still felt sorry for him. Here is a young man who had a wretched childhood, and he was executed when he was much younger than I am. Even the victim’s family wanted the state to show him clemency, once it concluded that his trial was grossly unfair. When I acknowledge the humanity of those on death row, I’m reluctant to say “kill them” or to talk about “justice” with detached coldness. I don’t like cutting people’s lives so short, and I wonder if there’s a way to give them a second chance.

At the same time, I’m not sure if Cahill’s giving me the full story about Dominique Green’s experience (e.g., the denial of his appeals, etc.). I felt the same way when I watched the movie Hurricane, which noted examples of the system denying Hurricane Carter a fair trial and appeals. “Surely not all of the system is racist,” I thought to myself. And, sure enough, when I looked on the Internet, I saw that the system made a fairly legitimate case for its actions.

After reading this book, I am not as trigger-happy when I consider the death penalty, but I’m also not prepared to say that America should never use it. When I remember the thugs who killed James Bird, or the callous murder of Matthew Shepherd, I have a desire for justice.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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2 Responses to Abstinence Teacher, Death Penalty

  1. Greetings to one and to all:

    I was just reading this article dealing with the death penalty. I feel that we all, who have a conscious, I put it in this way, for as most will know, there’s many out there who do not have, anyway, those who do have, it bothers them quite a bit kicking this around within their mind. We all have our own independent thoughts on this subject of course. This one person has given his, so here I’m only giving my opinion on the subject.

    Many people trouble their mind constantly on thoughts of things similar to this, many of whom do not have one thing that they can do about it anyway. That is, the control is not within their power to change things, even if their thoughts is that there should be no death penalty. And as we know the death penalty has been overridden in the past, to only be reinstated.

    I suppose I should not make a statement like that as I’m not really a historian. At times in life I’ve had a good deal of interest in such and at other times hardly any at all.
    I know it has come up before and was almost overridden, but don’t know for sure that it was completely overridden is what I’m saying.

    I said all of this to make this one point. I’m a Christian and an Ordained Minister as well. So I fully know my opinion on such a subject would not fit within all peoples thought on the subject. We’re now living in some most pressured times, for many, as most will know.

    I personally think that all should live their own lives…that is…if we’re not in position to do nothing but let these thoughts run through our mind day in and day out. Many of these people are in this position because they’ve allowed their own mind to run wild, thinking on many things that obviously they should not have been thinking on. Within other cases they’ve allowed the pressures of life to press them in the wrong direction. As a result them making bad decisions.

    We also know that with many of these people it was a lack of proper training, within their childhood life, also at times their own parents setting the wrong example for them. These are the ones that make it very difficult to say one way or the other. Still, all in all, regardless of how they’ve gotten where they are today, many if set free would repeat themselves, having an opportunity to do so.

    To sum up what I’ve said on this subject: if we’re in a position where we’re obligated to give deep thought on this subject, we should do so. If not, why let our own mind be drawn into this messed up situation? Now, there again, I’m saying if there is nothing at all we can do to change the situation. As a Christian we can hold them up in our prayer’s. However, and though prayer does change things, if they’re on the death row…our prayer has come a little late. As for as prayer is concerned there should have been people praying for them while they were still very young and before they ended up in this situation to begin with. Even so, it is never to late for prayer to work, we all know that.
    Even so, its good to know that our God is in full control. Sorry to have chattered so very much on this subject, but it’s one that would be most difficult to solve. Only God would know what to do with this situation and I would assume it would be different with each case that would present itself.
    Warm Regards(I will leave a link to my latest book to be published for whom so ever will have an interest.)
    William Dunigan


  2. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Thanks for your comments, William. A lot of time, I don’t know how to pray for troubled youths. Should I pray for them in general? And would my prayers work? After all, bad things happen, and it doesn’t always look as if God intervenes.


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