A wedding and an execution


Gun barrelThe last days of Andrew Chan spoke more powerfully than words can about the meaning of execution. On Monday he married Febyanti Herewila. On Tuesday he was taken out and shot. In the wedding service he may have heard the words, 'What God has joined together, let no man put asunder.' A few hours later men had sundered man from both wife and life.

If you look at life in a purely calculating way executions may have a point. Do the crime, cop the punishment; an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth; drugs cost lives, and drug runners forfeit theirs.

But there is more to human beings and society than can be caught in calculation. A wedding expresses a commitment to another person that goes beyond the limitations and circumstances of either person. It expresses a love that transcends the merits of either person. It expresses a hope for giving and receiving life that rises above all the things that make for death.

It is a new beginning, a twining of two people with society. If the conventional trappings of weddings are heavenly, almost mythical, that is so because they image the inalienable value of the two human beings that enter marriage and the possibilities of their union. They suggest that hope will be victorious over the abrading of experience, a hope needed in any decent society.  

The execution of Andrew Chan so soon after his marriage shows what is at stake in the killing of each of the ten prisoners. Killing ends all living commitments that bind the victims and those who survive them. Killing reduces people to the limitations and circumstances of the time of their crime.

It denies the humanity of those killed.  It is an ending, a separation of the person from society. Its trappings are cheap — a board, a painted heart, rope ties, a blindfold and a few bullets. These image the lack of worth perceived in the victims, and the conviction that death is the ending of hope for them.

So, what is gained by an execution? For the executed newly-wed, only the secret knowledge that his own love, dreams and hopes are far more noble than those of the society that scorns them. For society, the passing satisfaction that it can do worse to wrongdoers than they do to society, and the comfortable illusion that killing one lot of people will deter others from crime.

What is lost by an execution? In a word, humanity. All that is good in the human life of the victim will be lost to society — the love, the creativity, the reflectiveness gained during imprisonment, the dreams of a better life given to others, the possibilities of family and of nurturing, and the irrepressible gift of humanity that flowers in all these ways.

Also lost is all that blesses a society, all that might take it beyond calculation, might make it entertain possibilities, might embrace forgiveness, might move beyond retribution to reconciliation, might face fears and build trust. Having scorned the fire of relationships and of possibility, society is left with the ashes of what can be counted and of delusion that out of killing will come life.

Of course in religious tradition out of an execution did come life. But that life was found in the victim, not in those who killed him. And life will be sustained by honouring the memory of the slain.

Andrew HamiltonAndrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street.

Image courtesy Shutterstock



Topic tags: Andrew Hamilton, Andrew Chan, Myuran Sukumaran, Balie Nine, death penalty, Indonesia



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Existing comments

Superbly said. Vale.
Peter Goers | 29 April 2015

A beautiful piece of writing Andrew.
Geoff Freeman | 29 April 2015

Joan Seymour | 29 April 2015

The whole article by Andy is a profound piece of writing and the second last paragraph in particular. Facing imminent death, Andrew Chan chose to marry, to say to another human being "you are the light of my life and my hope". Marriage teaches us about love, commitment and trust even when we are at our worst or in the worst of circumstances.
Pam | 29 April 2015

What has transpired leaves a poor legacy for future relationships between Indonesia and Australia however we should save our condemnation because our government is dealing a terrible legacy for those imprisoned in off-shore detention camps. Andrew Chan had 10 years of hope and growth, a transformation of consciousness; he personally embraced new found values and ideals that enabled a dignified attitude towards his inevitable death. Tony Abbot’s consciousness is blind to what is lost on Nauru; notions of ‘the love, the creativity, the reflectiveness gained during imprisonment, the dreams of a better life given to others, the possibility of nurturing a family’ which Chan may have pondered are denied to the refugees because our government has taken away all form of hope for a future in our country that claims in its Anthem “we have boundless plains to share.” Perhaps we could re-direct some of the 600 million dollars we give in aid to Indonesia to re-settlement of refugee families in Australia.
Trish Martin | 29 April 2015

Thank you Andrew; great sentiments that reflect what many of us think at this moment. Repaying crime with evil is no solution to anything. May the saints and angels receive their souls and present them to our merciful God.
Eugene | 29 April 2015

Thank you Andy.
denise | 29 April 2015

Beautiful indeed... But am I the only one feeling sad that (having in mind John Milton's wonderful capturing of death as 'all passion spent') we who are still here on this weekday morning are not committing to spending our own passion on working peacefully and respectfully towards an end to the death penalty? Spending a little of my own passion this morning in explaining to my 9 year old grandson amidst the before school chaos that in both Australia and my own country (England) the abolition of the death penalty is well with in my adult memory. Could we please stop casting stones at indonesia and work towards a world where Alastair can say to his grandson that within his life time the death penalty has been abolished world wide?
Margaret | 29 April 2015

A heart wrenching day. Your writing was so beautiful.
Kerry | 29 April 2015

How sad only a few of us will read this beautifully expressed piece. Thank you.
Jennifer Raper | 29 April 2015

I don't advocate throwing stones at Indonesia, but I think a bit more aggressive public statements from our leaders aimed at Indonesia (the government, not the people) cold have been a last resort tactic. Apart from the polite comments from the team our lawyers, I'm not sure the Indonesians could really feel the passion for these two guys' leaves.
AURELIUS | 29 April 2015

This is a well thought-out article on Andrew Chan, Fr Andrew. I read an article in the Courier Mail this morning on these Indonesian executions. It really spoke to me of how our Good Shepherd finds all of his lost sheep (so many of us). Journalist P Rothfield asked Andrew Chan "How do you handle ur situation ?" Andrew Chan answered "Honestly jesus ...10years ago I was going to kill myself ...something happened, something I never believed in my whole entire life, that there is a god, and he existed and he is real"
John Cronin, Toowoomba Q | 29 April 2015

Requiescant in pace :"In the still night air of Nusakambangan island, eight condemned prisoners joined together in a chorus of Amazing Grace just after midnight, before their song was cut off by the crack of gunfire. As details began to emerge of the final minutes of the group, who included the Bali nine pair Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, it was revealed all eight prisoners rebuffed offers of blindfolds, opting instead to stare at their executioners while they broke out in song. Pastor Karina de Vega said the voices of all eight members of the group cut through the air. "They were praising their God," Pastor de Vega said. "It was breathtaking. This was the first time I witnessed someone so excited to meet their God." [Brisbane Times]
Father John George | 29 April 2015

Andrew's grasp of what is at stake in this execution expresses poignantly the radical difference in richness, scope and depth between a sacred vision of life and one that is merely secular and state-dictated. A religiously based one remains the strongest defence of the dignity and redeemabilty of human life.
John Kelly | 30 April 2015

There's a radical disconnect in our society's moral framework. Two Australians are executed for crimes which in all probability resulted in the ruin of many lives, if not deaths. Response: outrage, and an impassioned plea to respect the sanctity of life. Yet thousands upon thousands of unborn, who are completely innocent of any crime whatsoever, are cruelly executed every year in Australia. Not the slightest protest is made, except by a few denigrated "extremists" peacefully praying outside the killing chambers.
HH | 30 April 2015

Portia: The quality of mercy is not strain'd It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest: It blesseth him that gives and him that takes. ’Tis mightiest in the mightiest, it becomes The throned monarch better than his crown. His sceptre shows the force of temporal power, The attribute to awe and majesty, Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings; But mercy is above this sceptred sway, It is enthroned in the hearts of kings, It is an attribute to God himself, And earthly power doth then show likest God’s When mercy seasons justice.
Frank Sheehan | 30 April 2015

HH: As I understand it, it was largely media pressure inspired by vocal minorities that produced a changed emphasis in the Catholic Church's public stance on capital punishment during the pontificate of Pope John Paul. - a stance restated by Poe Francis.
The argument used was the very "disconnect" or inconsistency which you identify, with emphasis on the need to apply effectively the inviolable right-to-life principle beyond the issue of abortion only.
Practically, it will take media pressure to expose the current anomaly and redress the imbalance. This will be no easy task, of course, given the erroneous and convenient notion enjoying increasing currency in the journalistic world and infamously expressed by a former federal senator that the fetus is not human.
John Kelly | 01 May 2015

Thank you Fr.Andrew, The death penalty is barbaric, State sanctioned murder.Drugs are an evil scourge but these men did repent and their lives were a real testimony to grace, their deaths in the end an inspiration to all including their fellow victims. Margaret M.Coffey
Margaret Coffey | 01 May 2015

A heartfelt reflection from Andrew. These executions do not solve anything. It is time to remember that the executioners have to live with themselves for the remainders of their lives. On the day I was born in 1956 not much happened except the passing of the bill to abolish capital punishment by the House of Commons in the UK. May the eloquent arguments enunciated in that debate filter down to the country in question. Time to let go and let God.
Ron Rumble | 04 May 2015

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