This Is The Problem With “Hate Crime” Legislation

This Is The Problem With “Hate Crime” Legislation

Dateline: Lucedale, Mississippi

 In the waning days of President Barack Obama’s administration, supporters of LGBT rights hailed the first federal hate crime conviction for the killing of a transgender woman in Mississippi. With President Donald Trump now in office, they worry about the future of such prosecutions.

writes Jeff Amy in this article at the San Francisco Chronicle that, to this social particular social commentator, appears meant to stir irrational fear rather than sober reflection. He continues,

Trump’s new attorney general, Jeff Sessions, opposed the 2009 hate crime law when he was a U.S. senator, saying it was overly broad and he thought it was unnecessary to include further protections for gay and transgender people. During his January confirmation hearing, Sessions told fellow senators they “can be sure I will enforce” the law, but some observers wonder about his commitment.

That’s true. The 2009 amendment is simply an encroachment of the federal government further into the affairs that occur within a state. Do we not, already, have such laws on the books. Let’s be clear, the law, named for Matthew Shepard and James Boyd, Jr, men who were supposedly killed for their sexual proclivities and race respectively, purports to aim to punish supposed “hate crimes”, even though there’s questions in regards to the legitimacy of the former being true. My assertion is that any crime is, ultimately, a hate crime.

Let’s think for a second: isn’t murder already a crime? Isn’t harassment already a criminal offense in most jurisdictions?

Why a crime is committed is, at some point, ultimately irrelevant when it comes to the fact that a crime has been committed. From what I know, the motive is only relevant in establishing the initial case. It is too easy to say that someone committed a crime for X-reason. It’s too easy to simply assert that someone acted out of one kind of bias, unless you’re reflective enough to admit that everyone acts out of some kind of bias.

Let’s ask a question in regards to the case mentioned by Jeff Amy: the death of a 17 year old “transgender”,

[…] Mercedes Williamson, who was born male but transitioned to a female.

This was indeed a tragedy in that such a young life was senselessly and brutally ended, but once we get past the nonsense of the added assertion, it was simply one person killing another unjustly for a nonsense reason.

But here is where the problem comes in: why does this person’s death matter, at all? What worldview provides the necessary preconditions to even begin to make any kind of sense of this?

The Christian worldview is the only one that can begin to unravel the depravity of the human heart that can cause a person who has been born a male to reject his gender, which is masculine, and embrace one that is foreign, which is feminine, in order to try to be something that he could never be: a female. It can also explain why a man might target such a person in order to take their life: they hate their Creator and, since they cannot get at him, they strike out at another one of his creatures.

Triggerman, that explains too much!

You’re absolutely correct. It defines all manner of things in regards to behaviors that have negative consequences. It means that, by definition, all crimes are hate crimes.

Amy writes,

[…]300 people were referred for prosecution, but hate crimes charges were never filed. In at least half those cases, there wasn’t enough evidence or prosecutors couldn’t prove intent, a key threshold.

If we’re going to be honest, that means that it is exceedingly difficult to prosecute these cases, and if we’re going to be honest, such laws definitely could be challenged on the basis of double jeopardy, something that was brought up during the case of George Zimmerman. Further, who defines what exactly hate is, and to what extent. The argument that is put forward is that such a law exists for the purpose of “sentence enhancement“, but it seems like a logical stretch to try to get people for what cannot ultimately be defended against in any meaningful sense.

I’m not a lawyer, but  I am a philosopher, so I look at the arguments, and the arguments for such laws seem to be begging the question, built on emotion rather that actual logical arguments drawn from any kind of consistent worldview.

The question in the article, does anyone engaged in the alphabet soup of sexual deviance have anything to worry about? No, because no one has any plans to legalize murder, except of the unborn.

For further reading about:

The incoherence of the Obergefell ruling

Fallacies in the so-called “love is love”movement

Questioning the logic of “equality”

The “Reproductive Rights” Bait and Switch


I’m not sure just how many times I’ve heard the mantra of “reproductive rights” and how they are curtailed or violated over the past few years. And it seems like a fairly straightforward concept that a person has, inherent in the right of self-determination, the right to decide whether or not to reproduce or not. 
The thinking person would agree on that principle that such a right could be argued and maintained successfully. But that’s the bait. The switch is that there are those who will try to argue that once a person actually reproduces that, following the same logic, that they have a contiguous right to prevent the consequence of the act from coming to fruition. 
Um, how does that follow?
It simply doesn’t. 
Allow me to explain. 
Human reproduction requires 2 participants. If we logically follow the assertion, the argument is that one has the right to engage in an act (sexual intercourse) which, barring any interdiction (i.e. contraceptive, sterility, etc) will result in the end goal of human reproduction: a new human being. And while one may have the right to engage, or not, in the act of human reproduction, it simply doesn’t follow that one has the right to intervene in that which has resulted from the act. 
Triggerman, why are you using such vague terms?
I was trying to be considerate to sensitive ones in the audience. 
Why not just say that you might have the right to, or not, reproduce, but that doesn’t mean that you have the right to kill your baby?
You just did.

 
Oh. 
Keep thinking clearly, friends. 

What Is Meant When We Say That The Bible Is “Inspired”

What Is Meant When We Say That The Bible Is “Inspired”

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Without a doubt, “inspiration” is probably one of the most misunderstood and misapplied doctrines in regards to Scripture. One of the problems that come from it is that it necessarily intersects with inerrancy so that–here comes the argument– if God is all perfect and all-knowing, then everything that he has made known is necessarily true. Before anyone calls me a denier of inspiration and inerrancy, let me be clear: I agree with the premise of the argument, though not its conclusion. Well, what does that mean?

Largely it means that Ken Ham won’t be sending me any birthday cards. Let me explain by asking a question, where do we get the term from?

The term comes from a passage of Scripture found in Paul’s second letter to his disciple and dedicated student, Timothy, where Paul writes,

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for  reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17, ESV, emphasis added)

This passage is part of a larger context where Paul, realizing that his days were close to ending, that he had “fought the good fight,… finished the race,…[and] kept the faith“, is encouraging his protégée (2 Timothy 4:7, ESV). Part of his encouragement to his young friend was to, “[follow] the pattern of the sound words that [he had] heard,” from him in regards to the faith, and to pass such along to, “to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also (2 Timothy 1:13, 2:2, ESV).” Part of the means by which the young pastor is encouraged to do so is by Scripture. 

The problem is that, in the vast majority of translations what exists in Greek as an adjective is rendered and understood in English as a verb, as I highlighted in the above quotation. Paul isn’t so much saying what Scripture is as much as describing the nature of Scripture. We see something similar in Matthew 22.

When being questioned by those who denied a bodily resurrection, Jesus quotes a passage from Exodus 3, and does so as if God himself had spoken it to them. It seems as though Jesus saw Scripture as the means by which God had ordained to speak to successive generations. He was holding his audience responsible as if they had heard what was said themselves, which they had since they read the texts, at least, weekly. Inspiration needs to be understood then as expiration. That God is then, rather literally, speaking through the text to the reader. That, of course, raises all manner of questions.

 

Dr. R.C. Sproul, in his commentary on the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy, titled Can I Trust the Bible? writes, in regards to this,

[Expiration] is a more accurate term than inspiration with respect to the origin of Scripture. But we use the term inspiration to cover the whole process by which the Word comes to us. Initially, it comes from the mouth of God (speaking, of course, metaphorically). From its origin in God, it is transmitted through the agency of human writers under divine supervision and superintendence. (p.24)

The fact that Scripture was “transmitted through human agency” bothers people because it means that God used men writing in specific contexts to specific audiences who had specific understandings of the world, which often leads people to false conclusions about the nature of scripture and the men who never considered where we would be today. That is the reason why critics, like Sam Harris, often falsely assume that the writers of Scripture were, pseudoscientists, (as he does in this abbreviated form of his podcast) when they were nothing of the sort. They were simply people, like us, operating under certain assumptions about the nature of the world and how it worked. But, then doesn’t that somehow affect inerrancy?

No, because inerrancy largely refers to the nature of the message, not the nature of facts under which they operated, and the direction of transmission. We recognize the fact that there are limits placed upon human knowledge, and that people can, but not always, make mistakes, which is why Sproul can say on page 31 of his commentary,

Finitude implies a necessary limitation of knowledge but not necessarily a distortion of knowledge. The trustworthy character of the biblical text should not be denied on the ground of man’s finitude.

The mistake that most people make in regards to inspiration, and how it leads to inerrancy, is that there are certain false assumptions, which is why when we run into something that looks superficially like a contradiction, it can become a problem rather than a benefit to us. Let’s make sure that we have a firm recognition of what Paul meant by describing Scripture as that which is “God breathed”, so that we don’t back ourselves into any corners or render our positions indefensible.

Dr. Michael Heiser discusses this issue in this excerpt from his podcast. 

Why, I Think, Paedobaptism Is Unscriptural

Why, I Think, Paedobaptism Is Unscriptural

 

In a fairly recent blog post written by G. Shane Morris titled “The Real Reason Evangelicals Don’t Baptize Infants,” he sets out the reasons that he believes that some denominations do not engage in the practice of infant baptism.

He begins,

Friends (especially those expecting children) ask me with surprising frequency why I believe in infant baptism. For a couple of years, I replied by giving what I think the best biblical reasons are. But I usually don’t take that route anymore, because I’ve realized that’s not what convinced me.

Indeed, there are those who make arguments on both sides from Scripture as to why or why not to engage in the practice. And, just as a point of disclosure, I sympathize with Shane in that I was raised in a denomination (Presbyterian) in which it was a regular sacrament and I, as an infant was baptized into. He continues,

For most evangelicals, what stands in the way of baptizing infants isn’t a lack of biblical evidence, but an interpretive lens they wear when reading Scripture. That lens–shaped by revivals, rugged individualism, and a sacramental theology untethered from the church’s means of grace–makes conversion the chief article of the faith. We should expect this, since American evangelical theology was forged on the frontier, in camp meetings, to the sound of fire-and-brimstone preaching.

There seems to be a lack of reflection on Shane’s own argument in that he is also reading Scripture through an interpretive lens. By saying that baptism is somehow “the church’s means of grace” makes me wonder if Shane is a Roman Catholic, in which case that would beg a whole new set of questions, but I find parallels in his arguments to my non-Baptist Protestant brethren so we’ll continue by saying, yes, it is the proclamation of the Gospel that brings repentance and faith. As Paul writes in his epistle to the Romans,

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:16-17, ESV)

and also later,

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? (Romans 10:14, ESV)

The evangelical that he is referring to, a Baptist like myself for example, will argue that it is the proclamation of the Gospel, not baptism, that is the means of grace because that is how God has decreed that man should come to knowledge of his condition and how he may enter into a relationship with his Creator and God. The outlet by which such proclamation is made is only relevant as far as it is fulfilling that end.

Shane continues,

The core assumption here is that you must have a conversion experience to be saved. You must turn away from a past life toward a new one, usually with tears and laments attesting your sincerity. And this view of Christianity works well in an evangelistic setting, where many have lived as open unbelievers. The problem is it’s an awkward fit when it comes to multi-generational faith.

I would argue that he has that backwards: one must be saved to have a conversion experience. It’s true that some or even most people do not have a dramatic conversion experience. However, most believers can point back to a time and admit that there was a change that occurred when something happened, when what they believed actually had an effect on them and became more than something dogmatic. But is there really such a thing as “multi-generational faith“? If so, how does it come about?

Shane says,

Anyone who was raised in a Christian home and still believes in Jesus knows that there wasn’t a time when he or she transitioned from “unbelief” to “belief.” We were never “converted.” It was simply inculcated from infancy, and for as long as we can remember, we have trusted in Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins, whether we were baptized as a baby or not.

Have you really? I was raised in a Christian home and there was a time when, even though I had certain things “inculcated” in me, I simply did not believe them. I accepted them as part of the reality of my family, but they had no effect on me. I could sing “Jesus Loves Me” with all my heart and had the Lord’s Prayer memorized, but I didn’t know him. Then one day I suddenly realized that I didn’t love Jesus and I was crushed by that reality. My need for a savior drove my 9-year old frame to the floor of our living room like someone had shot me through the heart. And when the Gospel was extended, I responded. The means that God used to save me was the family that I had been born into, but it was God that saved me. And I, in faith, made sure that my children would be in a position to be exposed to the truth and can say that both have made professions of faith and are living faithful lives.

Shane writes,

But because of the baptistic emphasis on conversion, many (if not most) raised in those churches found ourselves “converting” over and over, reciting the “sinner’s prayer” at countless altar calls during our childhood and teenage years, certain that each time, we were truly sincere, but always finding ourselves back at the altar. Some of us even asked to be re-baptized upon our fresh conversions. And everyone raised in evangelical churches will know what I mean when I say “testimony envy,”–that real and perverse jealousy you feel when someone who lived a nastier pre-conversion life than you shares their story.

I would argue that it’s a Scriptural emphasis, which is why I like the way the New King James renders Acts 3:19,

Repent therefore and be converted…

If we are all sinners in Adam, then it follows that we need to be converted. In fact, genuine repentance and faith implies that one has been converted. I do agree with the point that there seems to be a sense that we want the most salacious conversion stories, that the abusive drunk or the violent drug fiend gets the most attention, but that doesn’t make the person saved at the age of nine any less saved, rather it proves the necessity and power of grace to,

[…]save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through [Jesus]…(Hebrews 7:24, ESV)

that if they, the drunk and the drug fiend, were in so desperate a need for salvation, what does that say about you?

Shane continues,

This is where I think the chief difficulty with infant baptism lies, at least for American evangelicals. I don’t believe baptistic evangelicals really view their children as unregenerate pagans before their “credible profession of faith.” If they did, they wouldn’t teach them to say the Lord’s Prayer or to sing “Jesus Loves Me.” I think what’s really going on is a kind of alternative sacramentalism, where a dramatic conversion experience, rather than baptism, is the rite of Christian initiation.

Wait. How does engaging in infant baptism follow from the view of seeing ones children as “unregenerate pagans“? It simply doesn’t. In fact, and this is where Presbyterians have had to struggle with federal vision theology that undermines certain tenets of their confession. I love my Presbyterian brothers and find myself aligned strongly with them on many issues, and find myself turning to thinkers like Cornelius Van Til, Greg Bahnsen, and Robert Gagnon for thoughtful, gospel-centered materials, but this is simply setting up a straw man. Does he teach his children “Jesus Loves Me” or the Lord’s Prayer because they have been baptized or does he do so in spite of it, because he knows that apart from a clear and demanding proclamation of the Gospel and God extending grace to save them that all he did was get them wet?

According to the Paul, we (Christians) were all,

[…]dead in the trespasses and sins…, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— …[living] in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (Ephesians 2:2-3, ESV)

I think that is Shane’s problem: he doesn’t see children as “unregenerate pagans” who need the gospel proclaimed to them for salvation. He seems to not understand that salvation and regeneration is what makes a person a Christian, not baptism. This is one of the problems that I find in dealing with atheists who claim to have been Christians. They might have done “the stuff” that made them appear, outwardly, to be Christian. It’s the one who continues in the faith that will be saved not the one “initiated” into it. This, I believe, is the primary, demonstrable difference between religion and Christianity at its highest sense, because Christianity is not a club that you join, its heartbeat is a relationship. Shane seems to conflate the two. The Christian assertion, not Baptist nor Presbyterian nor Methodist nor whatever denomination (religion), is that it is conversion that changes those “dead in trespasses and sins” and “under wrath” to those,

[…]alive together with Christ…(Ephesians 2:5, ESV)

not an application of water.

Shane says, drawing a conclusion from his point,

Thus, children raised in this setting feel the need to manufacture tearful conversions over and over to prove their sincerity. And rather than their present trust in Christ, they’re taught (implicitly or explicitly) to look back to a time, a place, and a prayer, and stake their salvation on that.

I’m going to call that a straw man too. Neither of my sons had “tearful conversions” and there’s many I know that haven’t either, and they were not placed in a position to feel that they had to. Further, and this is simply anecdotal, given the number of churches that I have been a member in, I have never even heard of such a thing. However, there was a pronounced realization that there was something wrong and they were incapable of dealing with on their own apart from their trust in Christ. The reason for looking back to where you were is so that you can tell how far you’ve come or whether or not you’ve actually moved. If we take Paul as our example in Scripture, he was always looking back at that moment, which is what made him realize just how indebted he was to God for saving him and his response was to proclaim the Gospel far and wide. Having spent nearly 20 years in various Baptist churches I have never seen such an environment as he describes. Could there be some out there that have such emphasis unduly placed? Absolutely, and I would argue against settings where emotionalism is used. However, there’s a difference in response that cannot be denied and no one can use their experience as the standard for all experiences. By not baptizing our infants we are demonstrating and emphasizing exactly what he claims we aren’t: the reality of the unregenerate nature and the necessity of conversion. We aren’t going to confuse our children on the nature of baptism and its symbolism of death to sin and resurrection to new life (which is the fundamental difference between those who engage in baptism by immersion and those who engage in that other stuff [wink-wink]).

Shane asserts,

Infant baptism runs counter to this entire system. It declares visibly that God induces a change of heart and a saving faith in those too young to even speak or remember their “conversions.” It illustrates that the branches God grafts in to His Son aren’t sterile. They bud and blossom, producing new branches that have never drunk another tree’s sap. And most importantly, it matches the lived experiences of believers’ children, rather than continually imposing a system on them that was designed for first-generation converts.

Um, could we get some scriptural justification for that assertion? I’m not going to deny some of the premise, but it seems to be a misrepresentation of the sign itself. This again demonstrates the problem that I mentioned earlier that just because you have been baptized, it doesn’t follow that one has been regenerated, hence why such positions pose problems with claims of atheists and in regard to those who proclaim baptismal regeneration. He seems to be under the assumption that those who do not believe in infant baptism do not believe that God can save without baptism, which is either a sad misunderstanding or a deliberate straw man. Let me be clear: I believe, and this is speaking as a Baptist, God can save anyone at anytime. However, it simply does not follow, given the broad testimony of Scripture, that baptism somehow obligates God to do anything. I wonder how Shane feels about the millions of children who have been murdered by abortion: could God save any, or all, of those children even though they were cut off and unbaptized? His argument comes off as a desperate and emotional plea rather than one that has been justified by Scripture.

What does Jesus have to say about this? In John 15:1 Jesus says that he is the vine and his Father is the vine dresser. God is constantly tending the vine of the faith that is Christ, grafting in new limbs to him. That means that every believer is, by definition, a first generation believer. Citizenship in heaven is determined by ones relationship to God through Christ, not by ones relationship to another believer. Again, this does not mean that God cannot use me, as a parent, as a means by which to draw my children to himself but it is God’s business and it his choice to extend grace sufficient for their salvation. Nothing that I do can accomplish that fact. That is why, as an evangelical, and a Baptist, I do not believe that infant baptism is either Scriptural or efficacious for anything.

Shane means well, but his entire argument is steeped in emotional appeals, questionable premises, and assumptions that simply do not follow. Not once does he muster a meaningful attempt to justify his position, he simply asserts it as the default and has to set up what I perceive as a straw man to attack. Where are the actual arguments? Why not interact with someone who does not believe what you believe? As a person who comes out of that tradition I cannot rectify such assumptions with the commands of Scripture, namely the command of Christ to “make disciples” after which follows the command to baptize (Matthew 28:19).

Here is a fair, balanced, debate that handles the subject with grace and scholarly aptitude.

Just? What Is Just?

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A post over at the Godless Mom blog got me thinking about that question, especially when it comes to the biblical worldview.

Her post titled, “This Jesus Lover Is a Perfect Example of How Religion Eliminates Critical Thought” (the title begs the question somewhat) prompted me, as a religious person to think critically about her criticism and see if it reflects any actual critical thinking. She begins,

Unless you’ve been reading my blog with your eyes closed, you know I am dead set against the death penalty. So much so, that I consider myself an anti-death penalty activist.

I was curious if she was consistent with her position and so I searched for articles on abortion, but couldn’t find any that expressed a coherent, well-defined position. Now, you may ask what does one thing have to do with the other, which is an interesting discussion in itself, but it suffices to say, without going outside of the point of this post, that I find an inconsistency with people opposed to the death penalty but who support abortion, especially taxpayer-funded abortion-on-demand-for-the-silliest-of-reasons. But let’s continue this examination.

She sets up a thought experiment:

If there was a way to try and prevent most, or even some, violent crime, would you want to know, even if part of it was putting an end to the death penalty?

Clearly, if there was an effective means to prevent violent crime, I would want to know, but what does that has to do with the death penalty? Let’s see if she answers the question.

For most of us, the answer is yes, of course. For others, preventing more victims of murder is a secondary priority only to seeking out retribution and vengeance. More bodies is an acceptable side effect when it comes to what we love to call “justice”. Some of us love the death penalty more than we do the idea of reducing crime rates, fewer victims, less dead.

Her thought experiment seems to equivocate “violent crime“, which is a vague term anyway, with the death penalty, even though we could make a logical distinction between the two. As for the assertion that, “preventing more victims of murder is a secondary priority to seeking out retribution“–which is one thing–“and vengeance“–which is another–seems to be doing some logical gymnastics that I have never seen before. If “murder” is what “violent crime” is referring to, then we need a definition to work from.

Webster’s definesmurder” as

the crime of unlawfully killing a person especially with malice aforethought

So, there’s a distinction, implied by definition, between lawful killing and unlawful killing. This is why I brought up the issue of abortion, because, even if the unborn is a human being, which means that it has certain intrinsic value and rights, she would argue that it is legal to kill that person, because of their age and geographical location, but there’s others who, because of age and location should not be. All that I want to point out is that there’s a distinction but no difference being demonstrated there. But most people don’t think that critically or self-reflectively. And, let me be clear: I am not saying that Godless Mom is pro-abortion, she could be opposed to it, I simply could not find anything that demonstrates a position on the question from a search of her blog, rather I want to point out that those who are against the death penalty are, by and large, from my experience, pro-abortion. And I want to call them to consistency.

But what about the assertion that it’s simply about “retribution and vengeance” and not about “preventing more victims of murder”? I’m sorry, that’s simply an argument from emotion. She seems to be essentially saying that the person who opposes her doesn’t care. Who is she to judge the motivations of others? But let’s define our terms again by turning to our trusty Webster’s dictionary, which defines retribution as,

recompense or reward

and

something given or exacted in recompense; especially :  punishment

My guess is that Godless Mom believes that those who commit violent crimes should be punished, the only thing that she seems to disagree with is what that punishment should consist of, so she places herself right in the middle of those who desire retribution. But what about vengeance?

Our trusty Webster’s defines vengeance as,

punishment inflicted in retaliation for an injury or offense :  retribution

Wow! Who’d have thunk it? Again, if she believes that violent crimes should be punished, she believes in vengeance. So can we just call her a hypocrite and get on with our lives? We could, but we need to press on as she does, writing,

More bodies is an acceptable side effect when it comes to what we love to call “justice”. Some of us love the death penalty more than we do the idea of reducing crime rates, fewer victims, less dead.

I’m going to call that a straw man because I would argue that we do care about victims, both past and future. This is simply more emotional argumentation. We can look at crime statistics and deference programs and any number of examples of just how bad making an argument in that manner is. But the question comes down to what is just when it comes to meting out the punishment for an offense? That depends entirely upon the presuppositions brought to the argument. 

She goes after an article at The Gospel Coalition written by Charles Colson as part of a in-house debate. Colson’s argument comes down to a question of proportionality, boiled down in what is known as the lex talionis, summarized in the common phrase, “eye for an eye”.

Godless responds to what seems to be an acceptable proposition, saying,

You see, if anyone were to assert, to me, that the response to an offense needs to be proportionate, I would immediately ask why.

Good question. I like good questions.

What are the benefits of this? Does it act to reduce crime? Is there evidence that this does not increase crime, at least? I would not just accept the statement without question. I need reasons. I need evidence. I need to know why.

I agree with those questions. The problem is that she doesn’t like Colson’s answer, which is,

Justice in God’s eyes requires that the response to an offense—whether against God or against humanity—be proportionate.

She replies to his simple explanation by saying,

Essentially, Chuck, what you’re saying here, is that your belief in God has eliminated your need to know the reasons why. You said that at one point in time, you had all of these questions mulling around in your head. You were against the death penalty because you saw the flaws in the system and you had your doubts about it acting as a deterrent. But since finding Jesus, you don’t need those answers anymore. All you need is the divine command of god to tell you what’s what, even if it doesn’t make sense as it manifests down here, on mortal earth. You have surrendered your critical thought, given up your reason and your curiosity and your need to know what best suits our world, in favour of, as Hitch so eloquently put it, a celestial dictatorship.

The problem is that is not all of Colson’s answer, that was just the beginning, because he goes on to say,

The issue boils down ultimately to just deserts. Indeed, just punishment is a thread running through the whole Bible. … Punitive dealings provide a necessary atonement and restore the moral balance disturbed by sin. Purification, one of the most central of biblical themes, reveals to us both the temporal and eternal perspectives on humanity.

He goes on to say,

The death penalty ultimately confronts us with the issue of moral accountability in the present life. Contemporary society seems totally unwilling to assign moral responsibility to anyone. Everything imaginable is due to a dysfunctional family or to having had our knuckles rapped while we were in grade-school. We really have reached a point where the Menendez brothers plead for mercy—and get it!—because they are orphans, after acknowledging they made themselves orphans by killing their parents.

Seems to me like Colson has actually been thinking about the matter, being consistent with his Christian presuppositions, namely that as a bearer of the image of God man is held responsible for how he conducts himself toward his fellow image bearers by God either through his assigned agents (civil magistrate/government) or the natural consequences of the action. Has Godless Mom been thinking?

She gives us a definition of justice, defining it as

Justice, as it is defined, is the administration of fairness.

Well, technically, but Webster’s defines the term as,

the maintenance or administration of what is just especially by the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or punishments

as well as

the quality of being just, impartial, or fair

It seems as if she’s conflating definitions, but she gives us a scenario to apply her definition.

A loving, attentive mother is murdered, brutally, left dead and bloody to be discovered by her two young children who will forever suffer from the PTSD they have from that day. Her killer is caught, also a parent of two young children. Expedited through the justice system with guilty pleas and ample evidence, the killer is put to death in front of an audience, including his now teenaged children. One of his teenaged kids struggles for years with what he saw at the execution as the corrections officers and medical techs struggled to find a vein and his father writhed, foaming at the mouth, in pain. The kid eventually kills himself. As does one of the hard working corrections officers, who could never manage to fall asleep without seeing the face of a dying man and those of his children watching him leave this world. The officer also had two kids.

One crime. Four bodies. Six orphans. 

She then asks a series of questions

Was this “justice” fair to the corrections officer whose task was to be part of a team that ended a life? Was justice fair to the killer’s child who committed suicide? Was it fair to the reporters who witnessed the execution who went home with PTSD? Was it fair to the medical staff present who had to suspend their hippocratic oath to carry out the punishment? What if the killer had suffered from an untreated mental illness and, had he been treated prior to the crime, would never have committed it? Is it still fair to have carried out this punishment? What if, like Cameron Todd Willingham, evidence surfaced after the execution that he was an innocent man? Is that fair, Charles? Is it fair to fatherless children of the corrections officer? Is it fair to the fatherless children of the killer? Is it fair to all the other victims of crime in that state who need support services but can’t find them because funding was cut in order to keep death row kicking along? Is it fair to the law enforcement agencies in the state who continue to have their resources limited by budget cuts, while the state still spends billions on the expensive capital system?

I’ve just got one question that seems to be overlooked: What about the mother of those two children? Was it “just” for her to be murdered? We can sit here and ask a number of what-if questions, but my concern is for the woman who was murdered and her children have had their mother taken from them. Where’s their justice?

If her argument is that we don’t want to cause anyone any undue discomfort, let’s start back at the first link in the chain. Is she arguing that the man should not be punished for what he did? No, she’s not, she says,

[When] one opposes the death penalty, they are not advocating for no accountability. There are other punishments.

Then the question that needs to be asked is, are those “other punishments” just?

She goes on,

[There are] other ways to be made accountable for your actions. One does not have to die to face accountability.

I think that she’s, once again, setting up a straw man because she seems to be confusing accountability with punishment, something I think is clear here,

That, I’m afraid, is a solely theistic idea. If there is no god, there is no accountability after death. All you’ve managed to do, is stop a heart and begin oblivion for a killer. He’s not being burned for eternity thinking, “Well, shucks! Probs shouldn’t have done that!”. No, he’s nowhere. There is no reflection on his crime. There is no accountability, no lesson learned, no punishment.

Okay, quick logic check here:

  1. If there is no god, there is no accountability after death.
  2. (Her assertion) There is no god.
  3. Therefore there is no accountability after death.

Well, that’s a logical fallacy.

Now, let’s say that was a valid argument: it still would not follow that because there is no accountability after death, that one should not put a killer to death. The killer goes into oblivion. So what?  He doesn’t get to reflect on his crime. So what? They don’t, “learn a lesson”.” So what? He’s the end result of a mindless, unguided process with no intrinsic rights or values, just like the woman that he murdered. Why even bother with things like holding people accountable or punishing people especially since there’s no god? Darn those pesky presuppositions.

Colson, consistent with his presuppositions, rightly says,

Society should not execute capital offenders merely for the sake of revenge, but to balance the scales of moral justice that have been disturbed.

Godless Mom calls this “word salad”, remarking,

It has no real meaning; no way of manifesting itself in the real world. It’s a deepity: something that sounds really good coming out of your mouth, or being slapped down in a blog post, but when put to the test of rigorous thought and questioning, it bears no fruit. There is nothing to this sentence.

No meaning? Given the necessary presuppositions of your worldview, your statement means nothing. Colson isn’t arguing that. She goes on, saying,

The data is clear: the death penalty does nothing to reduce crime, with some criminologists claiming it can actually have the opposite effect.

straw-man

Thank you for finally pulling out your straw man and setting it ablaze for all to see, because neither Colson nor any advocate for the death penalty makes that argument. In fact Colson makes that point clear in his article, saying,

Personally, I still doubt the death penalty is a general deterrent…

Colson’s argument has nothing to do with whether the death penalty is effective in reducing murders, especially since, as Colson notes, that it is, “…so seldom invoked.” Colson’s argument is in regard to the in-house debate between Christians concerning the death penalty, not about whether it’s a deterrent, or what it should be applied to, but about the justification from within the Christian worldview.

Godless Mom belittles Colson, and by extension any Christian who agrees with him, saying,

[It] sounds like you were, at one point in time, a truly reasonable man. Now, you make the perfect poster boy for why religion is harmful. Before it, you were full of questions, curiosity, healthy doubt and skepticism. You were concerned with what was true, and not what sounded prettiest. After it, you became a good little soldier, marching along in time with your fellow believers, chanting the passages of a 2000 year old book as the reason you must deny your own doubt.

Well, Courtney, aka Godless Mom,

To be concerned about truth requires a starting point for truth. The Christian begins with the Bible, what God has made known by means of revelation as his (or her) starting point. If it is true that human beings bear the image of God, then everything that God prescribes after that necessarily follows from that presupposition. She’s right, it is “marching along in time”, it’s called being consistent with your professed worldview.

But she cannot resist firing up the straw man. Colson never denies the fact that he has doubts, in fact he discusses them right out of the gate in the essay. He’s not calling for the death penalty to be applied indiscriminately, but for every situation to be measured on its own merits. What Colson is clear about, and what Courtney seems to miss, is that he doesn’t let his doubts cover over what God says (yes, that’s present tense).

But, let’s think for a minute. In another post, she discusses how much is spent prosecuting a capital case in comparison to a non-capital case, and for good reason: you want to make sure that you do due diligence because of the “irreversible nature of capital punishment”. She argues that life imprisonment costs less than pursuing a death penalty case. For the sake of the argument, let’s say that’s true, and it can be demonstrated as such. Should we do away with the death penalty because of a few dollars? How, exactly, does that follow?

On average, the cost of housing a prisoner is $70(US) per day. That comes out to $25,550 per year. Let’s say that prisoner lives 50 years once incarcerated, that’s $1,277,500, providing that the cost of housing that prisoner doesn’t increase. That doesn’t sound like much. But when you consider that there’s approximately 160,000 serving life sentences (most of which top out at 25 years), that’s $639K per prisoner. Now, not all are there for capital offenses, but that’s $102 Billion dollars. If we take the average court cost of “half a million”, to prosecute a capital case, which makes that a bargain compared to housing someone for life, a 2 for 1 bargain. From a pragmatic, and utilitarian point of view, that’s a steal.

But here’s something that Courtney didn’t think about: who pays for that? It’s you and me, with our tax dollars. Now, if our murderer, in her scenario, was a young man, let’s say in his early 20s, and he lived for 50 years, that means that the government would be extorting money from the victims of his children to feed, clothe, house, and provide medical care for the murderer of their mother and the murderers of other peoples mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters. How is that just? 

This post is getting very long, so I need to wrap things up. Ultimately the question comes down to 2 points: what is murder and how should it be punished? God has spoken as far as I am concerned on both counts. Courtney wants to put this as a test for the existence of God and I am happy to oblige. If God does not exist, then there’s no such thing as “murder”.

But as to the question that her scenario begged: if such a scenario did occur, because God exists, that man, if he did not repent and trust in Christ, would pay the debt owed to God for every life taken in that chain, from the mother, to his own child, to the guard, because God is just when we are not. Can I prove that? I’d have to present some exegesis. But I think that I’ve pretty well demonstrated that Courtney, Godless Mom, really needs to lay off accusing people of not thinking critically when she is demonstrating that she isn’t.

how_to_shoot_yourself_in_the_foot

The Bible and Its Multitude of Contradictions

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Almost certainly everyone has seen the above chart which sets out all of the supposed contradictions that somehow, though the skeptical critic is at a loss to explain why, overthrows the authority of or belief in the truth of Scripture. One reason why this is a problem is that we have been taught that contradiction, especially logical or factual contradiction, invalidates a claim. And that’s true, in most senses.

For example, if someone says that there we 50,000 spectators at a (American) football game, and another person say that there were 47,952 spectators, that would seem to be contradictory and, technically, it is. But we would not call the person who said 50,000 a liar, we would say that he was rounding up his figures, and that would be completely true. Both 50,000 and 47,952 can be true depending upon the context in which they’re being used.  But skeptics use points like these in an attempt to demonstrate that, somehow, the Bible is false. But if they’re going to criticize the biblical writers for rounding numbers, and then not criticize any other writer for doing the same, that’s just hypocritical. Then there’s other number issues.

We, so often, take English (or any other language that uses the Latin alphabet) for granted because we have clear distinctions between written numbers (e.g. one, two, three, a hundred, a thousand, etc) and our Arabic numerals (1,2,3, 100, 1000, etc) without realizing that these, culturally speaking, are fairly recent inventions. Some ancient languages, like Hebrew and Greek, used letters to stand for numbers, for example: the Hebrew letter א (aleph) could stand for the number one, or it could be used in combination with other letters to make bigger numbers, add that to the fact that the photocopier wasn’t invented until 1949, and the printing press wasn’t invented until the 15th century, which means that every single copy was done by hand, then it’s likely that a scribe could omit a number, or copy a letter that changed the value of the number. It’s essentially our laziness that is causing the problem then.

Another problem that is often brought up is the issue of order. In one text something is placed before another, and in a parallel text they are reordered. Perhaps the best and most well-known example of this is Jesus’ cleansing of the temple which is placed, seemingly, at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in John’s gospel, and late in the other gospels. What’s interesting is that Luke is the only writer who is claiming that he is trying to put anything in any kind of order, which should cause the careful reader to ask if the others are making a similar claim. If they’re not, then there’s no reason to assume that there’s a contradiction. 

Just to close out this post, the vast majority of so-called contradictions are simply contrived, ignoring things that the ancient reader knew and expected to see. I know, to use a strong word like “contrived” seems harsh but when we look under the hood we can see that the main reason that we see them is not because they are actual logical or factual contradictions,  but merely seen because of translation and the fact that we are either ignorant of literary conventions or methods of transmission, or even the message that the writer was trying to convey. Most of the ones that people bring up easily resolved by reasoning through and carefully reading the text with the realization that the book we call the Bible is not a singular work, nor is it meant to be read that way. The rest require digging into textual commentaries. In other words: work.