Capital Punishment and the Christian Faith

So Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is sentenced to death for the April 15, 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing and for killing a police officer. After reading, “Religion and the Death Penalty: A Call For Reckoning” I’m convinced that there is no real tension between the Christian faith and the death penalty. Having a little discussion on facebook with one of my friends, Keith Pavilschek I made mention of what Gilbert Meilaender said:

“Evidently Christian sensibilities about forgiveness do not actually require forgiveness, since something called “punishment” is still permitted.”

Apparently some Christians (and yes, I’ve seen them in the media) believe that forgiveness requires no death penalty. But for some reason, it would require punishment. Hmmmm…thinking there is a contradiction there when forgiveness is your bottomline. Keith pointed out that,

“if the death penalty is ‘state sanctioned murder’ as some abolitionists insist, is imprisonment ‘state sanctioned kidnapping’?

and I pointed out

“And how about the ’emotional abuse’ one ‘suffers’ when one is stuck in a prison for the rest of their days”

Greg Boyd On Violence

This is was posted at today.

“On Friday, Greg posted a response to Obama’s speech about religiously-inspired violence. Here are some further thoughts on why violence in the name of Jesus—no matter whether we call it just, redemptive, or defending ourselves—is just another form of kingdom-of-this-world living.”

Let’s think about what is going on here. First, anyone who doesn’t agree with Greg on violence is what? Worldly. It is THIS type of judgment that he says in “Repenting of Religion” that we SHOULDN’T commit. So, anyone who believes in “just war theory,” a tradition that has deep roots in the life of the Church, is, well, worldly. Second, Greg has been saying this for YEARS now and he seems to have absolutely no understanding of just war theory. He certainly has never interacted with the material by the looks of it. All he does is look through a keyhole of the story of the Christ on the Cross and simply concludes from that that all violence is worldly. Third and last, his idea of love seems to be lacking. Why? Well, it seems to rule out ANY idea that even in war or violence, love can be the overarching motive. Which is to say that there can be no “just warrior.” This seems to go against what he said years ago on the Open Theism Boards as well as in “Repenting of Religion” where he limits “stop actions” to personal interactions. “Stop actions” as he has describes them, I’ve always applied to more than personal interactions. I’ve applied them to war as well. That is, a “stop action” can be put forth say in cases like the terrorist group ISIS.

So I grabbed this from the very beginning of the second chapter of Nigel Biggar’s book, “In Defense of War” entitled, “Love in War.” (Yes, can you believe that we can love in war?)

“The New Testament does not generate an absolute prohibition of violence, but it does generate an absolute injunction of love. Accordingly, just war doctrine’s claim to belong to a Christian ethic rests on its conception of the right use of violence as an expression of love for the neighbour. This makes obvious sense when the neighbour in view is the innocent victim of unjust aggression, on whose behalf the just warrior takes up arms. However, the innocent victim is not the only neighbour on site. Since love is an absolute injunction, applying always and everywhere, the just warrior is also bound to love the unjust aggressor. His love— as Jesus made plain— must extend itself to the enemy. But in what plausible senses can it do that?”

That first line says it all. There is NO ABSOLUTE prohibition against violence. Interpreting it through the eyes of the Passion and Crucifixion is not at all helpful if you at first you DON’T HAVE A PROHIBITION. All you done is theologize or extrapolate ethics from a text. I’m all for doing that sort of thing. But with something like violence, you would think there would have been something that EXPLICITLY says no violence under any circumstances ever. Second, love IS an ABSOLUTE INJUNCTION. But this is where just war theorists have problems with love of the kind that Greg speaks of. Greg seems to limit love to “no violence.” First, it seems that violence, as he understands it, is “swift and intense force or rough, injurious force, action or treatment.” But if that is the case, then physical violence should not be limited to war. One could think of psychological force of some sort, ie., being in prison. YET, at the same time, this seems to contradict his “stop-action” idea. And if a “stop action” is violent, ie., intense action or treatment against someone doing something evil or wrong, then Greg hasn’t precluded violent actions in lesser forms after all.

See, here’s the thing. I’m all for the anabaptist tradition. I don’t think it will ever go away. I don’t think it SHOULD go away. I agree with Richard Mouw that it serves as a reminder to those of us in the just war tradition to not be so quick to jump to violence. What is problematic about what Greg is doing is this whole judgment thing. Those of us who adhere to the just war tradition, though we might point out flaws in the anabaptist tradition, don’t say that those in the anabaptist tradition are worldly for not stopping aggression when we think it should be stopped. We may become frustrated by what WE think is the “do nothing” crowd when something of a more violent nature should be done, but we don’t call them worldly. And as far as I can see, Greg doesn’t think of his views as falling that much under the heading of tradition when in fact it is.

The Cosmic Importance Of The Red Circle

My son sent me a link to this picture which is suppose to count against the existence of God. You can see it here.

The guy who put the picture up said that it makes a “good point.” But it really only makes a good point if you are not thinking critically. First, the author is misguided in saying that every single action that Yahweh, Jesus, or Allah did in the Torah, New Testament or Quran occurred within the red circle. This is the claim that the author makes not the claim Christianity makes. The Bible speaks of God as not only the author of all existence (everything is dependent on God for it’s existence) but it also says that God PRESENTLY SUSTAINS all (thus, in human history, God is providentially at work) and lastly, God has a future for the whole earth. There is also the issue that whatever God did in that little red circle, God affected everything else in the cosmos. Lastly, I want to make a round-about response about this via a quote from a book by “Bo Jinn” entitled, “Illogical Atheism.” Bo Jinn says this:

“The “way the universe should have been,” as far as the new atheists are concerned is an ever- morphing tautology which can adjust to any set of altering circumstances.

As a tiny speck of ignorant nothingness floating about in infinite space, none of us are in a position to make any fleeting assumptions about how the universe “should be.” At any rate if we were going to proselytize on behalf of atheism by resorting to doom prophecy, I could have made it far worse for the theist than Mr. Hitchens did; because incidentally all of us, presently living, will be dead before the turn of the century. Or, at least the vast majority of us will. I’d have thought that would have been an altogether more pressing concern than the ultimate fate of the universe a few quadrillion years from now. As for the immense size and scale of the cosmos in relation to us; as the mathematician John Lennox points out, on a logarithmic scale the human being is about half way between an atom and the universe. So, I suppose if God thinks in terms of logarithms that would make us the perfect size for the universe we inhabit. But even if that were not the case, what does the size of the universe have to do with anything anyway? Perhaps a metaphor might better illustrate the point:

Suppose there were a small tribe of ten primitive humanoids in a cave some five hundred thousand years ago. Imagine that these were among the first human beings on the planet. They looked beyond their caves every day. They hunt within no more than a kilometer of their home. The Earth stretches for miles and miles beyond the horizon, across seas and oceans- domains they feel no primate human could ever possibly traverse. Between themselves and the ends of the earth lay vast expanses of land, desert and frozen glaciers battered by the elements- completely inhospitable to any kind of human life. Now, nine of these humanoids believe in a “Great Spirit” that created the world and everything in it, including the humanoids themselves. One humanoid, however, is an atheist. The atheist humanoid turns to his fellow proto- theists and says. “Why does the land and sea stretch so far beyond, so needlessly exceeding our purposes? Why is so much of our planet so completely unsuited to us? What kind of “Great Spirit” would create an Earth so large?! How wasteful! Could he have not made it a bit smaller perhaps? Some design!”

You see the point. These days we are more concerned by the fact that the Earth is too small, yet we take the same attitude the primate atheist took with regard to the cosmos. Speaking in terms of size and quantities is relative to the point in spacetime that we occupy, not that that should even matter at any rate. Precisely what size would Mr. Hitchens or Mr. Dawkins have preferred for our universe? One galaxy? Two galaxies? A few solar systems, perhaps? Or would they have preferred that Yuri Gagarin had had hit some kind a divine barrier between the Earth and the stars putting a halt to all science as we know it? How disappointingly uninteresting would that have made the universe? I am reminded of Robert Southey’s Goldilocks: One really has to ask; just what kind of universe would have been “just right” for the new atheists?”

How one cannot see how this diminishes human significance is beyond me.

On Racism

My buddy Tom Belt wrote an interesting piece on racism that you can view here.

I do have a couple of things to say about this though.

A. Dwayne and Tom see systemic racism to be a failure to truly love someone because of self-perception. I really don’t know if I would identify this as the “systemic” portion of racism. Of course, one could say the same thing about blacks against whites. One could also say the same thing about sexism. The list could go on and on. Not trying to say this is not true. As a matter of fact I do see this as a pretty plausible explanation. But an explanation that seems to have to fit into a wider view of justice.
B. Some Christians are fond of saying that Christian morality should not be forced on to others. Something like, “You can’t force non-Christians to love” through law. So, if this is a Christian understanding of racism, I would like to know how this could ever be reflected in law. Should such a view be encoded in law? COULD it be reflected in law? Sure, a non-Christian may not be able to love the way they should if the Spirit was guiding them, but I tend to think that the Spirit is still at work in unbelievers as well as I tend to think that if a view such as this was encoded in law, it may be able to be done without the Christian trappings. In other words, how could we all perceive ourselves as “one?” Forget law. Just put it in policing policies.
C. I do think that this explanation is helpful with regard to responding to the question that was actually proposed to me on Facebook: “Do you think the police want to kill others?”

I don’t think these question are irrelevant. I think the questions Tom raises is one side of the coin while my thoughts are the other side. Theirs is theoritical. Mine is trying to see this as an outworking in law and policing policy. I’ve been guided by a saying that goes something like this:

“Justice fulfills what love cannot.” You can start out with love–looking at what the problem is or what you think the problem is. You can come up with solutions, ie., deal with the self-perception issue, ., ie, we’re all one. But it also needs to have a practical outworking–justice.

The Existence Of God And The Argument From Beauty

Nothing big here. Just a quote I think is telling.

“…in experiencing beauty we feel ourselves to be in contact with a deeper reality than the everyday.” Anthony O’Hear from Beyond Evolution

Some Thoughts On Absolute Moral Principles

Ever since I can remember, probably as far back as when I was 10 years old I was interested in moral quandaries. When I made a commitment to Christ at the age of 13 years of age, even I though I had thought about graded absolutism, I didn’t really know what it was called nor did I have enough resources at my disposal to work through it ie., how to deal with objections to it. Even at that point, people were more into a Christian pious religion as opposed to thinking intellectually about faith.

Essentially, when I think of graded absolutes I think of a moral law that can be trumpeted over a higher moral law. So for example, in Matt 12:1-8 Jesus and his disciples are doing something unlawful on the sabbath and he appeals to a higher law such that that higher law overrides the lesser law. If such is the case then the question of moral absolutes is called into question. BTW, by absolute, I mean a law that transcends all times and cultures. Though many theologians take issue with the “objective” and “absolute” in the “objective moral absolutes” equation the fact that Jesus appeals to a “higher principle” or law is to say that there is something else to appeal to that IS absolute which is to say that the law that Jesus was over-riding was NOT absolute–“Loving God And man”–and that the caring for his fellow human beings was/is.

Still, there are other objections to moral absolutes. This was brought into perspective when Kevin Vanhoozer brought up objections to Walter Kaiser’s essay in, “Beyond the Bible” by talking about “principlizing.” In doing so, he spoke of David Clark’s book, “To Know and Love God: Method For Theology (Foundations of Evangelical Theology).”

Clark brings up other problems to the issue. For example, let’s say we have an absolute principle, that is, a principle which cannot be broken or should not be broken. It transcends all times and place. It is universal. The problem with looking for principles are:

1. Determining what the principle is in the first place.
2. The principles to be discovered are heavily influenced by the, “tacit plausibility structures of the interpreter’s culture.”
3. How do decide what dimension of a particular Scripture pas-sage counts as the transcultural principle and what does not?
4 Can every cultural element be extracted from scripture such that we have a transcultural eternal word that is left? If so, would this say that those principles are better than the Bible? Unless your head is buried in the sand and you’ve not known what has been going on in academic circles for the last seven to ten years then you wouldn’t be aware that if anything, postmodernism has taught us that this really can’t be done.
5. What are we left with when we attempt to remove all cultural elements? Can we “do” all theology through a model of principlizing?
6. Are the principles more important than the culturally mediated expressions of the Bible?

In the end, Clark isn’t so much against the idea of principlizing but against the idea of naive principlizing for he says, “Clearly, drawing out principles from the total teachings of Scripture is one of the important tasks of theology. But using this model only—seeing all theology as principlizing the Bible—is inadequate.” In doing so, one really doesn’t recognize that other communities ie., countries, races don’t have the see our principles in the same way as we do.

In the next post, what I want to do is discuss this last paragraph in the next post and try to clear up what I think could lead to some confusion which ultimately leads to saying there are no absolutes.

Red Letter Christians And The Rest Of Scripture

I have, for the most, part when doing theology (on the laymen’s level that I do it) have relied on two major sources, reading and talking to others. But there is also what is known as the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. Scripture, tradition, reason and experience. In other words, I use other authoritative sources to reach as much of a sound moral/ethical decision as I can. I am not a Red Letter Christian–giving Jesus’ words priority over the rest of scripture. That just sounds weird to me. Stan Guthrie wrote a critique about Red Letter Christians at Christianity Today here. Tony Campolo responded in the same online article–though I think Campolo can be easily refuted here. With just one word: Justice.

Let’s think about this for a second. Red Letter Christians ACTUALLY do give priority to Jesus and his words that you find in those older renditions of the Bible. The justification for this is rather simple. Let’s go through this.

Stephan Jarnick says this:

“Another thing some Christians say that needs to be challenged is “I read the WHOLE Bible” as if giving the Old Testament and the New Testament equal weighting somehow makes them better Christians. Jesus made it clear that the Old Testament is important when he said in Matthew 5:17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” but he also said several times “You have heard it said, but I tell you…” whenever he’s about to teach something that’s different from what’s found in the Old Testament. The law said “An eye for eye, and a tooth for a tooth” but Jesus said “Do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” I don’t want to accuse anyone of intentionally ignoring Jesus but it’s sometimes tempting to do an end run around him to find a sound bite in the Old Testament that will support our agenda. I often encounter this kind of thinking when talking to people about Jesus’ peace teachings. Reading the Old Testament to learn about how God interacted with people prior to Jesus coming on the scene is a good thing. Using it as an optional guide for how to live when we don’t like what Jesus has to say to us is…not Christian.”

Essentially, what Jarnick does is say that Jesus “peace teachings” is above the Old Testament law of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth (even though, pretty much, justice is not fully accomplished in this fashion: Do you think justice can be served by punching someone’s tooth out the same way that they punched yours out? For it to be a tooth for a tooth it would have to be done in the exact same manner and force and making sure you only knock one out and not others, etc. Not to mention, do you REALLY feel justice has been accomplished? Don’t you feel a just a little jaded? Really, the “eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth” was a VERY JUST law as it had to do with the concept of proportionality. Which meant that you didn’t go overboard with a DESERVING punishment. If this interpretation is correct, then the “eye for an eye or tooth for a tooth” is not really all that contradictory to Jesus words.

So when Campolo responds to Guthrie in the above CT article saying:

“While we, like you, have a very high view of the inspiration of Scripture and believe the Bible was divinely inspired, you are correct in accusing Red Letter Christians of giving the words of Jesus priority over all other passages of Scripture.”

He begs the question. How would not going overboard with punishment (thus being a just punishment) be contrary to Jesus’ peace teachings? If we WERE to ask, “WWJD?” could we not say that Jesus would say, “Hey, don’t go overboard with punishment!” So why would we give priority of Jesus’ words over this Old Testament law?

If I were to add the Ten Commandments into the equation, we might ask, how is say, “Not making idols” (graven images) NOT relevant to Jesus’ commands to love God with all our hearts first and foremost? It should be obvious that not only is there no contradiction but the Old Testament could give us a “filler” so-to-speak (explanatory power) to the words of Jesus.

But let’s go further. Campolo says:

“You got us RLCs right again when you suggested we were anti-war, pro-environment, and deeply committed to ending poverty primarily because we believe Jesus is anti-war, pro-environment, and deeply committed to ending poverty. The only mistake you made was to imply that thinking this way—or trying to influence our government according to these values—makes us the Religious Left:”

OK…this is where I have serious reservations with what Campolo is saying. The anti-war, pro-enviroment, deeply ending poverty are USUALLY the staple of the Left NOT the Right. I mean, after all, the right is more concerned with abortion and same sex marriage. So it really is not a far cry to say that Red Letter Christians fall to the left side of the spectrum. But, is not most in the evangelical community REALLY against war PER SE even though some on the Right may be more quicker to go to war than others on the Left?

However, let’s go back to that word I mentioned above–justice and it’s opposite, injustice. Is injustice not injustice no matter what? Let’s say, through some political educational policy, that we take taxes from citizens to pay for education because we as a society have seen fit to educate our children up to a certain age. However, let’s just say that someone wants to educate their kids according to their particular history or political science (as these last two are not neutral unbiased territory, who’s to say that the public educational system’s teaching on these subjects is the “correct” one?) or values or tradition. However, in order for them to do so, they must pay for it OVER AND ABOVE their taxes and in effect penalizing them financially for doing so as well as treating them like second class citizens. Is this not an injustice? And if it is an injustice, why would Jesus be any LESS concerned with this? Sure, we might prioritize “life issues” as more important than education but we would never say that it is not important and we especially would not say that treating others in society as second class citizens is not important.

So, what am I saying in bringing this up? I’m saying that all of these diverse issues are important as far as justice is concerned. Jesus would be concerned about war and whether we should participate in it. Jesus would be concerned about abortion. Jesus would be concerned about the enviroment. Jesus would be concerned about marriage. Jesus would be concerned about poverty and and homeless. And lastly, Jesus would be concerned about the ways in which we treat others as citizens. You do realize there is more than one way to treat people as second class citizens right? The human imagination for dehumanizing others seems to know no bounds!

So if it is the case (that Jesus is concerned about JUSTICE as a whole) then why the incessant need to differentiate between what Christ says in red and the rest of scripture? Should we not be concerned about reflecting idolatry (an Old Testament declaration of freedom) in our laws and policies? I don’t see how we should not be and thus I don’t see why we should prioritize one scripture over another.

In closing, I think this whole idea of being a Red Letter Christian is condescending. **I** follow the words of Jesus. While everyone else….what?


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