In his book Exile and Embrace: Contemporary Religious Discourse on the Death Penalty, Anthony Santoro presents a thorough intellectual review of religious debates on the death penalty. He examines this debate in different contexts – doctrinal statements, congregational study discussions, political campaign rhetoric, and the writings of and interviews with death row chaplains.
In this book Santoro suggests that people and institutions of faith understand the death penalty largely by how they view perpetrators – whether they are perceived as more like us or not like us. If we see the perpetrator as like us, we are more likely to have mercy in punishment. If the perpetrator is not like us, then it is easier to support death as an appropriate punishment. Santoro also argues that this same distinction helps to understand the broader cultural debates over capital punishment.
The author skillfully draws connections between Scripture, judicatory statements, vignettes in church discussions, political blogs, and campaign ads. Santoro examines the philosophical and theological underpins of these and other discussions, both public and private and finds this same underlying disparity of views about perpetrators – whether we consider them to be more like us or more not like us.
While Santoro deftly brings new analysis and insight to the question of faith and capital punishment, this is a challenging book that is based on his doctoral thesis. He routinely uses academic and religious terminology like “mimetic rivalry”, “deontological approach,” and “exegesis.” If one is not familiar with these terms, the reader can find oneself using online searches to understand the meaning behind those terms.
Those readers who do delve into Santoro’s work will be rewarded with a fascinating and illuminating context for understanding our social, cultural, and political discourse around capital punishment.