If only he'd considered the words of a revered writer from antiquity, California governor Arnold (the Terminator) Schwarzenegger might have made a more humane decision about death row inmate Tookie Williams.
I know, we don't typically think of Jesus Christ as a writer. Whatever words we have of his have reputedly come down to us from accounts left by his disciples. Christ was a writer, though at least according to the New International Version of the Bible. It even depicts him in the act of writing.
The incident will be familiar to many. At the time, Christ is portrayed as a great orator, a healer and, notably, a kind of radical outsider. His relationship with the Temple has been fiery. An adulteress is brought before him. Normally, she would be stoned to death for her crime, but the people ask him what they should do with her.
It's at this point that Christ considers his answer so important that it must be written down. Being the poet he is, he uses his finger to write in the dust, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her" (John 8:7).
This is Christ's unequivocal rejection of capital punishment and in his defence of a woman and sexual freedom the most revolutionary aspect of his ministry. It is also, it must be noted, a fate he could not prevent for himself.
He suffered capital punishment just as public and brutal as that from which he saved the alleged adulteress. His execution was perfectly legal at the time. He received due process and, like many before and after him, was crucified. If he'd been born in the modern U.S., he would likely have been executed by gas, electric chair or, like Tookie Williams, by a lethal overdose.
Depending on what other modern society he lived in, he might have been eliminated by firing squad, beheading or hanging. As far as I know, although the methods of modern-day legal execution are many and varied, nowhere in the world is state crucifixion still practised today.
Sadly, the same cannot be said for stoning, a horrible fate that is still applied to adulterers and prostitutes in Afghanistan and Iran. Last year, at least 3,797 people were executed in 25 countries among them children. These are only minimum figures; the true count is certainly higher.
This year, therefore, I will mark the birthdate of Jesus by making a donation to the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty (http://www.worldcoalition.org).