Here’s a post by David Gibson which links to a piece by Christopher Hitchens, which in turn claims (in his usual free-wheeling style) that the reason that the United States continues to permit capital punishment is because of the country’s religiosity. Gibson disputes the assertion by citing some numbers from other countries that aren’t particularly religious, but his point seems to be that whether religion and capital punishment are linked will depend on which religion one is talking about.
I suppose that’s true, but I think it may miss something much larger. The most fundamental reason (historically, at least, though not only that) to punish people is retributivist — that those who commit crimes are morally culpable and so deserve punishment. The contemporary rarification of punishment theory tends to obscure the fact that ideas of retribution are ancient and have at least a large part of their historical root in religious traditions and concepts — especially the monotheistic religious traditions which, again historically, have been most prominent. So it should not be surprising that there is a connection between religious traditions and capital punishment, since there is a much broader and deeper connection between religion and the prototypical justification of punishment. — MOD