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Wednesday, December 14, 2005
A Bad Argument Against Capital Punishment

Steve Anderson, writing in the HuffPo:

When I asked the same guy about the Commandment: Thou shalt not kill, he responded that that was not the right translation. It should say 'murder'. When I pointed out that the Bible on the pulpit of his own church used the word 'kill', he quickly changed the subject.

It's kind of refreshing to see a liberal suggesting that government ought to pay attention to the Bible, but you know how it is: when the Bible is convenient for the argument, pull it out; when it's inconvenient, shriek about the need for separation of church and state.

But it's a bad argument for other reasons. First, and most obviously is the argument that killing is acceptable in some instances. We all accept that killing in self-defense is justified. If a policeman sees a chance to shoot a suicide bomber, we acknowledge his right to do so. And if a soldier is fighting in a war, no church would say he has committed a sin by killing the enemy.

There is another problem, and this reveals a central flaw in liberalism. It's that they see the Bible and its teachings as prescriptive to society, but not individuals. We hear this all the time from the "Jesus was a liberal" crowd. But in fact the Bible is prescriptive to the individual. The commandments read "Thou shalt not...", and not "The state shalt not...."

We all understand that society has to do the dirty work for us in a lot of ways. If I were to decide that my neighbor had stolen my car, nobody would defend my right to kidnap him and hold him in my cellar so that he wouldn't steal from me again. However, if society decides that my neighbor had stolen the car, we all understand they have the right to lock him up so he won't do it again.

La Shawn Barber has some related thoughts, of course expressed more eloquently than I can manage.

The Bible makes distinctions between individual moral responsibility and governmental responsibility. To believers Christ says, “If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also….Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” The Sermon on the Mount, from which these words come, is a presentation of Christian discipleship, not a call to pacifism. Jesus was referring to our individual persecution as believers. We’re to pray for those who mock or harass us for our beliefs, but we are not prohibited from defending ourselves or others against the threat of robbers, rapists, murderers, etc., as permitted by law.
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