Konspiracy Korner - Capital Punishment
tinfoil hat engage, dept.


LOL.  :- )  One reply on the M's depth chart and the position battles, but 100-ish on my tepid mini-summary of Trump's appeal.  So, Punxsatowney Phil (Mariners version) scuttles his little haunches back into the hole and we provide you with a fresh KK stub.  As y'know, we live to serve.

LR wrote a couple of great comments, including this one directed to Matt:


If I might ask another question, I'm really curious if you come down on the conservative side of all these issues, as this was the idea behind my initial inquiry into whether you broke from any conservative principles. I've gleaned a few off your comments, but am curious about some others. I'll just list them. You don't have to explain each or any, just curious if you consider yourself outside mainstream conservatism on any of these issues. death penalty, embryonic stem cell research, physician assisted suicide, gun control, immigration, passenger profiling, seperation of church and state, and same sex marriage - See more at: http://baseball.seattlesportsinsider.com/comment/111559#comment-111559


SABRMatt replied, with respect to capital punishment:


On the death penalty, I am opposed to any government deciding who lives and who dies.  I see that as God's role, and I do not trust the state to accurately assess who deserves life and who cannot be redeemed.  I celebrated the recent Supreme Court ruling on Florida's implementation of the Death Penalty and believe we are only a decade or two at most away from ending it entirely in the US.  That puts me at odds with the GOP, but not with conservatism as I see it.  Conservatives should distrust all exercises of government power that deprive a man of his inalienable rights, and life is the first of those rights. As it happens, I am in agreement with the Catholic church here.  Mainstream conservatives support the death penalty because they believe that it is a deterrant to violent crime (it isn't), and because they believe it is appropriate justice for taking lives (it isn't...Jesus corrected that error in the way Old Testament folks build their law codes) - See more at: http://baseball.seattlesportsinsider.com/comment/111559#comment-111559



1.  We picked capital punishment out of LR's fine list because --- > in my view, both sides of the discussion are entirely reasonable.

1a.  It's interesting to me how times have changed.  Wikipedia says that American voters are evenly split over the death penalty vs. life imprisonment in the case of murder. 


2.  Judeo-Christian ethics aren't discussed much any more, much less their source material (the Old and New Testaments).  Prior to about 1975 it was a natural part of public discourse.  In this case I'll give my reading of the source material, on the chance that some might find it an illustrative part of an American political discussion ... 

My understanding is that the New Testament endorses capital punishment when fairly administered by society in the form of its government.  Savage murderers are compared to "natural brute beasts" (NT's words) who "flunk life" (my words) in the context of 2 Pet 2.  Also Rom. 13:1, 4, Acts 25:11.  If this be correct, then the NT sees 'God's role' as authorizing (or not) one of His three designed universal organizations (legitimate government) to punish evildoers, up to and including use of "the sword" (Rom. 13:4).

The Founding Fathers, of course, were not thinking of the death penalty when they wrote the Eighth Amendment.  Judeo-Christian heritage, at least in America, has generally regarded capital punishment as the duty of government.


3.  In this stub, I'd encourage us to --- > isolate the variable here and ---- > discuss capital punishment IN PRINCIPLE.

Let's suppose a savage murderer were videotaped in his crimes, confessed cheerfully to them, etc.  (This seems to be the modus operandi for ISIS ...)  The PRACTICAL concerns (is it racist, is the Washington State government competent, etc) would make a good second stub.  Before we can decide on the feasibility of it, first must come our values:  EVEN IF there were no practical problems, is this what we as a society would do?


4.  My own compassion for Charles Manson and Ted Bundy is, um, trumped by what I understand to be the value gained in justice and in making a statement about the value of human life.  "Who sheds blood, by man shall his blood be shed" (Gen. 9) is not based in vindictiveness.  It's about attaching a price tag.  Just starting the discussion off with my own view here.

Moses told the people of Israel, sympathetically, that it was natural to feel sorry for a murderer whose blood, however, was on his own head (Exodus represents murder as a suicide decision).  "Thine eye shall not pity, but thou shalt put evil away from Israel."


5.  Question:  if it is absolutely God's role to decide who lives and dies -- in principle -- what do we do about policemen, Servicemembers, and homeowners who have guns and ammo?


6.  Question:  if compassion is the issue, what do we do about the gigantic prisons to which the Jeffrey Dahmers are sent to be (a) caged, (b) raped, and (c) killed by fellow inmates?  In what sense is this more "merciful" than a lethal injection?  I know which fate I'd ask for.  The lethal injection would be far less cruel, to me, than being sent to a max-security prison for life.


7.  Thanks in advance for the dispassionate logic below.







War is not murder, nor is the justified self defense for which we arm or police officers.   God commands is not to murder.   Murder is the taking of life when not partaking in just war and when not defending one's own life or the lives of innocent others.  I don't believe the state killing a murderer is part of a just war or in self defense


I'm getting at the underlying premises here.  If [government-sanctioned, just, warfare] is not murder -- and I agree it isn't -- then WHAT was it about King Solomon's executions that made them murder?

You have defined "murder," in this thread, as "causing a death outside of just war, or self-defense."  From where was this definition derived?


There's nothing in the Ex. 20:13 Hebrew word "ratsach," thou shalt not "kill," that inherently contains the caveats you (reasonably) suggested.  "Ratsach" is a wide-encompassing word similar to "kill," with whatever intention or circumstance.

The English definition of murder is --- > "unlawful premeditated killing."  So, obviously, if capital punishment is legal in a state, it's not murder by the English definition.

So, how do we define murder?  ... :- )  


And, if we're going back to the source of our ethical heritage ("God's Command") what do you do with Acts 25:11 and Rom. 13:1-4?


A great discussion topic and kudos for the reasonableness.

When it comes to the death penalty, I agree with item #4 regarding the inherent value of human life.  In concept, it is appropriate equating of value. A compassionate position is to value the life of the victim.  "Compassion" on the murderer cheapens the value of the victim.

In practice, however, because the death penalty is so final, I am opposed to it in many cases.  Unless there is irrefutable forensic evidence AND reliable eyewitnesses corroborating each other, I see the price of innocent death based on a mistake to be too great.

From my (layman's) Christian point of view, human beings are God's treasure.  So much so that God did not pay a "proportionate" or "compassionate" penalty through His son, He paid the full price regardless of the degree of offense.  When scripture advocates for punishment by man, it does so with a clear view of the worth of humans and the need to remove evil.  To me, it's conceptually easy and pragmatically difficult...


Moses underlined and double-underlined, "If you have made inquiry, and the matter be sure, and the thing be certain ..."

I think the standard of proof in capital cases is very high, isn't it?


But you got into the practical holdups real quick there.  :- )

And I think EVERYbody would agree with you, that making capital punishment work correctly is a huge challenge.


When I post on forums in my university classes, I am accused of being too wordy.  I often tend to take way too long in developing my thoughts.  I simply do not have enough time to do that here. 

I would add, however, that once you drift back to the pragmatic and the challenge, you run the risk of pleasing no one.  We have an inherent sense of justice right?  How do we administer justice fairly when the criteria is so hard to reach?  What do you think the criteria was in the inquiries of Moses and Solomon?


That's a position I find *eminently* reasonable.  Never thought I'd see the day when Russ came off as thoughtful. ...


This sums up, nicely, the church's doctrinal stance on Capital Punishment:


Exec summary: scripture does not fully condemn the act - however, the church of Peter has long held that the sanctity of life and the dignity of the human person should be paramount.  From the scripture, we have:

"If the thief is caught while breaking in and is struck so that he dies, there will be no bloodguiltiness on his account. 3"But if the sun has risen on him, there will be bloodguiltiness on his account." (Ex: 22:2)

Which says that if you have no recourse and are acting in self defense, you are not guilty of murder, but if you have any way to spare a man's life, you are guilty of murder for killing him.  The way that the Catholic tradition treats capital punishment is to ask the question - is there a good way to protec the innocent from the killer that spares the killer's life?  If so, then capital punishment does not truly respect the dignity of the person.  That was, at least, Pope St. John Paul II's interpretation...an interpretation I happen to agree with.

NOW...the faith does not require one to reject capital punishment...there is no hard doctrinal prohibition.  It is a matter of judgment for all Catholics to think about whether they are respecting the sanctity of life in their view on this issue...and there are reasonable arguments on both sides.

What decided the issue for me is my lack of faith in our criminal justice system to get it right every time.  How many completely innocent men have we killed, believing them to be guilty?  If the answer is more than zero, it's untenable to me both from an Americanist perspective and from a Catholic one.


And I use the Catholic Encylopedia, such as this entry on the death penalty, as one of my go-to sources for nuanced logic on any such issue.  

Appreciate your "showing your work," i.e., summarizing the logic of the priests, which is the point at which this becomes useful to a general audience.  Personally I don't want to hear "Because the Dalai Lama said so," but I most definitely do want to hear the Dalai Lama's reasoning from his camera angle.

Get three or four of those camera angles together and you've really got something!  :- )


When a police officer shoots a perp in the year 2016 A.D., that's the first place they'll start:  what were his choices for gaining control of the situation.  A timeless principle indeed.  And I can see the relevance to capital punishment.  In a public debate that would be gristly-tough to beat.

Looks like you're in the Silentpadna school of thought here?


I agree wholeheartedly with SABR Matt's last point. Especially with DNA evidence, we have seen numerous examples of individuals who were wrongly or mistakenly convicted. We can release a wrongly convicted prisoner, but there is no coming back from death. 


But what is your reply to Mojician's post below?  Would like to see your response.


Your "no coming back from death" is a powerful idea.  :: daps ::


Well, it certainly is a comfort to know that we are not barbaric about it, and have a process worthy of a 21st century civilization. I am sure it is carried out with great decorum and civility. I’ll bet there are no four letter words in any of the briefs, although I would not bet against the appearance of an exclamation point or two.

It reminds me of one of my favorite Abraham Lincoln jokes, which in my version, goes like this.

A tin drummer, who had been caught in a compromising position, was tarred & feathered in consequence of the outrage of the town, and as he was mounted on the rail before being carried out, he was asked if he had anything to say.

Well boys, he said, if it wasn’t for the honor of the thing, I would just as soon walk.



Jesus said "Those who live by the sword shall die by the sword" and some interpret this as Jesus condoning the killing of a murderer.  It is manifestly NOT that.  It was a warning to his disciples.  He was telling them that if they took up arms against the government in His defense, the church would be crushed before it even began.  He was saying, as he said in other places, do not go looking for a fight, or a fight you shall have.


Fundamentally, the 1st-4th century Christians overthrew the Roman government with ideas rather than arms.  A Gandhi-esque approach.  

The New Testament contains many exhortations to be model Roman citizens while spreading truth and love, and it worked.  To be part of that philosophy, rather than ISIS', is a great comfort to a thinking religious person.


First, excellent post, Jeff.

it is natural for a Conservative to prefer limited government. But Government is instituted by men according to our founders to provide for the welfare of its people and to protect the human's rights to life, liberty, and property/pursuit of happiness.  Some would say it is the Creator God who institutes Government, and I would agree, but our nations founding was genius in allowing those whose appeal is to human reason alone to participate and assent to its development on pure human reasoning terms.  So, when the murderers in our midst illegally reserve for themselves the "right" to take innocent life, and the Government refuses to similarly arm itself in defense of its citizens, then what Government in reality does is disarm in face of the murderer. If Government is to be effective, it must be the strongest force in the game. Imagine a sporting event that allowed players angered by an umpire call to remove the umpire, but the umpire had no right to remove the player. It would be a version of anarchy. The Government must reserve for itself the right to be the most fully armed player on the field. BUT, it is limited by its requirement by the citizen to act within the law. That is enough of a restraint in its role of preserving the peace.

It is the role of every citizen to do this part to wield this awesome responsibility with great care: to evaluate the evidence, to balance rights, to be truthful on the stand, to insist on probity on the part of law officers. But for Government to be effective, it must not disarm. A citizen can't merely throw up his hands and say, "I can't trust this government to be fair, thus I refuse to allow it to do its job of dispensing justice and providing deterrent." (I emphatically disagree that there is no deterrent in an effective use of capital punishmen, albeit an ineffective use of it is another matter altogether).

So what we end up doing is put murderers together in confined prisons, and in time these become dangerous hellholes, putting non murderers, guards, administrators, in great danger daily.  When a person murders, he passes through a kind of gate, and suddenly becomes a much more dangerous person to society. Consider and compare the drug user who refuses to shoot heroin, with he who doesn't, and does it just once. Which of the two is more apt to try it again? We are all told that rape is not a sexual crime as much as a crime of exerting power over the woman. How much more power is exerted when a person demonstrates his power over another by his willingness to go the whole way - to take a life?

So, as Silent Pardna says, conceptionally easy, pragmatically difficult. But the answer is not to remove the easy part of the equation. It is to tackle the pragmatically easy part of it.


Once again, I find myself wishing that were published in a major newspaper rather than in the comments here.  :- )

Rick you're a monster, dude.


Me too :-). I'd be nice to have an editor & proofreader (I serve as an Editor, but it seriously is not my strength).

Doc at times calls me "Biology Rick", based on the news blog I edit here: http://news.isber.org/ - it's a volunteer gig actually, and it keeps me busy keeping up with science, which is definitely not my calling, but I co-own a software business that serves the scientific community: www.freezerworks.com - probably 90 percent of the content there is provided by yours truly.

Nathan H's picture

Apologies, it is likely that this introduction does not belong as a part of this conversation as Doc has adroitly bracketed the scope of this discussion to remain between the pillars of 'Judeo-Christian derived' and 'capital punishment.' However my indulgent nature is insidious and I find myself unable to maintain restraint with such an outlet for discussion made available before me.

I tend toward a more humanistic approach to eithics: my opinion is that the universe organizes itself outside of the fashion of human society and that human societal constructs are, generally, an improvment on the natuaral condition. My lack of belief in a named and individual (so to speak) divine entity has not, in my opinion, ruled out that ethics, as a human construct, should exist. A shared belief that certain actions are inherently bad or good or some shade inbetween depending on circumstances does not need to be based on divine dictum. Humans can make these decisions (indeed, I might argue that they always have).

I appreciate your allowing my that indulgence. Onward -->

Setting aside my feelings and accepting the premise of the discussion, from whence does God's fundamental ideas about such matters originate? I'm genuinely curious as I'm very likely not as studied in the literature as all of you and am very open to being corrected. Does the Word of God offer background as to why God feels the way he does about capital punishment? Is it because the human soul is to be held in the highest regard, whatever misdeeds the body has carried out? Clearly not as Doc has referenced God's allowance that a State sponsered death penalty may be enforced.

So what is it that causes God to support his position? And is God's position on this topic immutable? It hasn't been on other matters, why might it be on this one? Could he be pursuaded? I'm not trying to be inflammatory, here. There are genuine examples of God's opinion on a given matter being swayed through sacrifice, prayer, or circumstances (insert golden calf here). 

If God's opinion on such things are not immutable how can one assert that his opinion, as interpreted by people writitng in the context of a different time and culture, should be the basis of something as important as the life or death of an individual here and now?


1.  I wasn't always a Christian, and your position above was almost exactly mine before I was.  You stated yours better.


2.  "From where do God's ideas originate" -- I'll have to assume of course the premise that He revealed Himself to the world through Abraham, Moses and Christ; else there's no reason for me to offer an answer from my camera angle.


2a.  Remember that if there's a Transcendent Being, then he has access to all the facts in any criminal situation.  Not only does he have the Hidden Camera, but He has an imprint of our every brain cell, memory, attitude, thought, etc.  His jury "on these ideas" has a *perfect* understanding of the situation.

2b.  The point of this life is merely preparation for the next.  No one is too young / innocent / etc to die, because death is merely a doorway into the next realm.

2c.  *Our* paradigm is that we "deserve" 70 years of life, but ... where is the real basis for that?  Suppose we were used to lives that lasted 700 years, or 7 years, or 7 days like a fruit fly?  God's perspective on 35 years, vs. 70 years, is going to be different from ours.

2d.  The above necessarily implies that if a God existed, then for Him to transition a human being from the Earth to the next realm would not be "murder."  It's murder when man does it, because he lacks information, because he has a questionable attitude, and because he wasn't the one who gifted life "for free" in the first place.


From there the question becomes, "Does God transfer this right of decision to certain men?", which is a different question.


My understanding is that God's view of these things does not change; mankind has been given the Patriarchal, Mosaic and Christian epochs for the same reason we give children elementary school, high school and college.

Arthur C. Clarke viewed the Super-Aliens as having exactly that paradigm in Childhood's End.  Different interventions depending on where humankind was in its maturity.

Thanks Nathan.  That's just a start, obviously.  Looking forward to your reply.

Nathan H's picture




Where do we agree?

If the Christian God exists - he is perfect. - No. I find issues with his behavior. It doesn't matter that it might be outside of my limited scope. I can only base judgements on what I can comprehend. I reserve the right to later change my opinion as new information becomes (metaphysically) available. : )

I think it's easy to hand-wave away all of God's foibles in this discussion simply by buying the premise of God's existence. In the theology, God is perfect. Therefore, if you buy the premise of his existence, you must concede that he is perfect. Therefore, God wins. I think that's troublesome.

God is omniscient; therefore, everything he allows to happen does so within the scope of perfect information control. - No. If the Christian God were in such a position my assumption would be that he allows matters to take place as a natural course without intervention. I'd argue that gravity is a constant force that would continue without his active intervention. Otherwise, how could free will exist? If God were in perfect control, we would have no agency.

The point of life is to prepare thyself for the next phase, one that happens after death. - Possibly. How would we know? Reference?

Our paradigm of deserved life expectancy is flawed. - Agree...with a couple of thoughts. If we developed a technology that allowed us to live in perpetuity without the deleterious effects of aging, I would consider that to be a good thing. Then, age is a matter of perspective; cut down at 110 years would seem a travesty. I guess we would be catching up with God, then, and have a better understanding that Capital Punishment should be allowed. No (arguing with self), God's perspective would be informed by the eternal nature of the soul and that death is not an end. ... huh. 

God's allowance of death to occur happens based on his understanding that death is not the end - Yes. We've allowed for God, we can agree that, in this discussion, the afterlife must exist as well.

Humanity is allowed to go through epochs whereby certain values are held in primary. - Vehemently disagree. Why do you think this? Is there a reference to this line of thinking I could check?

So far, I have reached an initial conclusion that, in the scenario where the Christian God exists, he allows for Capital Punishment because death, ultimately, doesn't matter. Agree?



And, in the spirit of giving you the last word, but still giving you a hint at my responses to these super-complex issues:


1.  In the Bible, God encourages a thoughtful and fair evaluation of His behavior.  42 long chapters of Job (just for example) address man's protests over God's decisions.  Many other passages are simliar.  Jesus Christ Himself said, "If I speak evil, bear witness of the evil, but if well, why smitest thou Me?"  Jn. 18:23.

Nobody hand-waves away the concept of Justice as God dispenses it.  Some of us have spent decades pondering it.  That's not hyperbole.


2.  Deism vs free will - way too complex to address briefly :- )  Good thought amigo.


3.  Why would God put a harsher "jake brake" type law onto people who were going downhill in runaway depravity?  Well, could we agree that the Assyrians, putting prisoners of war onto pikes out in the field, had different sensibilities than we do?

We start with the question, "Has man generally become less barbaric as the millenia have passed?," as Bill James 'vehemently' argues that it has.  There's no culture any more in which pedestrians stroll past crucifixion victims along the road.

As man adapts and matures, wouldn't the Aliens' message to them change?  This is a universal theme in science fiction.

Good stuff,



... my two cents sidesteps all that stuff--valid and interesting though it may be--to wit:

If one innocent man is killed, the system is wrong, and rotten. Unfortunately, far more than one have been documented. We are still putting men (and the occasional woman) to death based on the most unreliable--and universally known to be unreliable--evidence of all--eyewitness testimony. 

In Psychology 101, we learned about this with the apparently extremely common example of four people on four different corners of the same intersection giving four wildly different stories. If Psych 101 and the common traffic cop knows this, then we simply must stop relying on it to end people's lives.

Of course, these are only two of several data-based reasons for ending the death penalty, but that's as far as I'm willing to go at this point. 

Gotta sleep. 'Nite!


Why wouldn't this apply to any other punishment also?

If ONE man gets sent to a "warehouse max security" hellhole in error, to live out his days as a rape victim, does that make the penal system wrong, and rotten?


From the start, the idea of capital punishment here is observed through the lens of Judeo-Christian ethics.  Which is certainly Doc's right to do.

But is that what we want to do as a country?  To determine the power to take life on the basis of religious belief?  If so, why the Bible?  Because that is the plurality religious viewpoint in America?  Were a Christian convicted in Iran, would he want his fate determined by the teachings of the Qu'ran?  

Just my opinion, but this  seems to fall under the concept of the establishment clause of the Constitution.

In other words, how would you approach your viewpoint/opinion without a religious component?

(FWIW, I consider myself a good liberal who fully supports capital punishment)


"Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.  It is wholly inadequate for any other." - John Adams, who co-wrote the Constitution.

There's nothing to say that America should prioritize Judeo-Christian heritage other than that the U.S.A. was founded on that basis :- )


The Founding Fathers --- > absolutely wanted to leave plenty of elbow room for non-Christians (such as Thomas Jefferson) to make their cases in determining public policy.  So do I.  But I don't always get the idea that irreligious people would allow me a voice in their society, if they had their way.

It's not a question of throwing Scriptures at unbelievers; I think it's a tragedy when believers attempt to do that.  The issue is that the U.S. Declaration of Independence defines our common *values,* which were largely but not exclusively derived from Jesus' teachings.


Nowadays, we are in a debate as to whether America should become something else.  That's fine, but let's be transparent about it.  

If we want to say "this people in 2016 A.D. has grown past the DOI and indeed past Jesus, and we want a new DOI and a new Constitution, based on Humanism," then okay.  But let's have that debate in a way so that --- > the man in the street can understand what we are doing?


I'm not suggesting a movment 'past' religion to a totally humanistic society.  But my concerrn is rather one that bypasses what has become the prevailing balance between church and state and toward a country that is distinctly MORE religious in the control and operation of government.

I know there is a popular meme that suggests a 'war on religion'...which is effective in motivating certain types of voters.

But this is the kind of thing I'm talking about:

1) Kim Davis.  Religious beliefs positioned before her legal responsbilities to carry out her governmental job.  (Not saying how this was handled was good or bad, but rather that many people supported her primacy of religion here.)

2) Marco Rubio, November 2015: “In essence, if we are ever ordered by a government authority to personally violate and sin — violate God’s law and sin — if we’re ordered to stop preaching the Gospel, if we’re ordered to perform a same-sex marriage as someone presiding over it, we are called to ignore that.”

3) Sam Rohrer, American Pastors Network, former state legislator and candidate for Governor and U.S. Senate: "Government leaders are charged with wielding the Word of God as an instrument of Justice, promoting God’s moral law as the foundation of right and wrong, encouraging those who do well biblically, and executing judgment on those who break the law."

Isn't this just a call for Sharia law in a different robe?

I'm not equating the religions...just suggesting that once you take that leap, you are on a very slippery slope--and that's even if all Chrisitans agreed as to exactly what God's law is.


We'd both agree that U.S. behavior and beliefs are more humanistic and less religious than they were in 1975, and that in 1975 they were less religious than in 1955, and that in 1955 they were less religious than in 1855, and that in 1855 that U.S. policy was less religious than were George Washington's policies.  You and I would agree on that.

So if the pendulum has been swinging inexorably left for all this time, and THAT movement is acceptable, why the aghast reaction at the prospect of it ever moving in a rightward direction?

I don't mean that question emotionally.  I mean it literally.  Why does the left seem genuinely ALARMED when Rubio brings Judeo-Christianity to bear on the question of sexuality?  Can you help me understand that?

It seems that the left climbs up the mountain of humanism, establishes a base camp, and plants a flag that says THIS is the minimum reasonable separation of church of state - THIS is what the Founding Fathers wanted.  Then it sets off again.  Please correct me if that's inaccurate.


Teddy Roosevelt would not have been aghast at Rubio's belief system - am I correct about that?  I don't believe even FDR or JFK -- even Jimmy Carter, for whom I voted -- would have been alarmed at Rubio's philosophy, would they?  

George Washington's idea of a separated church and state was nothing like ours.  He'd have been horrified to see what we mean by it.




Of course, from one point of view you can assert that the U.S. has moved to the left over time.  (I would say the right is still seeing the America of he 60's, which aside from some social issues, has moved distinctly right since the late 70's--but all that is a separate issue, right?)  But if anyone wants it to move back towards the right, no problem--you should shout it from the rooftops.  Isn't that what America is all about?  

But what I'm talking about is the cage fight, mano-y-mano aspect of it.  When it comes down to it, which should prevail--the established law of the land, or God's law (however that's defined)?

Which is more important?

With equal respect--from the base camp :)


In a public discourse about U.S. government, it is appropriate and necessary to frame the debate in terms of the law of the land.  In a private worship service, that's where it is appropriate to speak in terms of God's revealed law - which applies to those who volunteer to follow it.

From a Christian standpoint, I believe that to my core.  Moses put down theocratic laws for a primitive society that had a chain-link fence around it.  Since 30 A.D., Christians have been told to work within, cooperate with, the societal government in which they live.  Quite a contrast from Islam, no? 

Separation of church and state arose from the abuses in Europe during medieval times; I and most Christians deeply regret the role that Catholicism had in government during the Middle Ages.  I'm guessing our friend Matt would agree, and his belief system is night-and-day from what was believed in 1400 A.D. in England.

As you say, that is what America is all about.  Christians are allowed to push for their values in this particular society; in Saudi Arabia they're not, so here, we go ahead make our arguments.

Would cheerfully concede and reinforce your point there Diderot.  :: daps ::

Nathan H's picture

This is great stuff.

lr's picture

Sorry to butt into the middle of your convo, but I have a simple elegant answer to your question. Information. As more about the world and people is discovered, as technology shrinks the globe and expands minds, as science brings answers to centuries old questions and raises new ones at every turn, people slowly begin to turn away from religious explanations in favor of some form of naturalism/humanism. Pick any major shift in American attitudes you'd like over the last 100 or 200 years: Sexuality, morality, scientific understanding, you name it. Apply new information to any of them, and it's only logical that attitudes would mirror the direction of the information being consumed.


That is definitely a simple, elegant and appealing view of the situation LR.  The one in which the egalitarian Federation society has wiped out human misery through the application of science and enlightenment.

If I am mistaken about my view of the world, I hope Roddenberry's vision turns out to be the place we're headed.  Not sure the evidence is coming in that way so far, but ... :- )


In the last 100 years, I think that technology has been used for war as much as for peace.

You have guys like Edison and Tesla inventing the modern age infrastructure, then you have:


1. War planes

2. Tanks

3. Chemical warfare


Aircraft carriers -I think these were a Japanese invention for taking over the world.

Jet engines for war -A German invention for taking over the world

Missiles -A German invention for taking over the world

Better tanks -A German invention for taking over the world

Modern Computers -A British invention for spying on the German Military

high powered assault rifles -A U.S. invention for shooting Axis forces

Atom bomb -A U.S. invention for annihilating Axis cities

Eventually, many of these inventions were beaten into plowshares, and made useful.  But, how much has changed from the average Midieval siege, when armies lobbed diesel firebombs at each other then cut each other up?

lr's picture

It's a real shame that rather than always use technology and science for good, people just continue to point better and more advanced weapons at each instead because of tribalistic instincts.


lr, your belief (or hope) in progress to utopia through science is a long-standing dream, and one could say its glory years were in the 17th and 18th centuries led by the French Enlightenment and the encyclopaedists. For example, Saint Simon articulated a government based on science run by an elite of technicians in science, business, finance, engineering, etc., and his influence ran through Hegel, Marx, Russian Communism (a self-proclaimed godless society where poets were called the engineers of men’s souls) and even today as the conceptual foundation for comprehensive top-down government regulation and the bureaucracy created for its implementation. But that particular utopian ideological balloon was popped (or at the least seriously deflated) by the German Romantics in the 18th and 19th centuries. Utopia will never be achieved through science. Science can answer many questions, but it cannot answer the question of how mankind should live – this is ultimately a moral and political question, not a scientific one. Science can describe but it cannot tell us why things are the way they are. For that there is religion; if you don’t have religion, then you are on your own, and good luck with that.

We are still very much living with the influences of these two competing views today.

Probably the best overview of the origin of this conflict is in Isaiah Berlin’s Mellon Lectures in 1965, published under the title of “The Roots of Romanticism.”

lr's picture

My pointing out that new information drives culture change clearly wasn't an advocacy for science being the only voice worth being heard. I was just offering my opinion to Jemanji's question as to why flags keep being planted further and further to the left, with seemingly no reciprocal move ever being made back to the right. My opinion is that new information, led by scientific discovery, is the reason. I didn't say science has all the answers, that science can tell us what ought to be instead of what is. Surely there is a significant place held for philosophy (lumping religion into that) in how we go about understanding the world. Nowhere did I say utopia driven only by science was the goal, or even possible.


Sorry about that, lr, I read something into your comment that is not there. I must have been thinking more of Jemanji's reply invoking the Star Trek vision of progress in science will allow us to solve all the societal problems we have not solved yet - poverty, greed, homelessness, income inequality. And it is that vision that I believe is a mirage.


In a U.S. death penalty case, a person is convicted after receiving assitance from a highly competent attorney.  Then the appeal occurs, and winds its way through the state's appellate courts.  Then that appeal is reviewed by the supreme court of that state.  Then, a petition for certiorari is filed to the Supreme Court of the United States.  This is a request for the Supreme Court to exercise discretionary review over every decision of the state supreme courts. 

After this is denied, the convict files motions for post conviction relief, which is a complaint for conduct of his trial and appellate counsel that just defended him, or is based on new evidence, such as DNA exoneration.  This goes through the State trial court, then the various state appeals and supreme courts, until ultimately, there is another petition for review by the Supreme Court. 

If none of this works, there is a federal habeas petition suit that can be filed in federal district court that complains of violations of federal rights.  This federal habeas petition can then be appealed to the federal circuit courts, and once again, a person can petition the Supreme Court for review of the denial.  This procedure ensures, among other things, that the state laws condemning a person to death are not too harsh. 

This constitutes at least 9 full appeals for death penalty cases, in addition to a trial.  Check it out.

Further, each state governor retains full pardon, commutation, and stay power over the offender.

This system, guaranteeing the  rights of the accused, is the most elaborate in the world. 

On paper, the Constitutional standard that conviction requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt is the same in death penalty cases and minor traffic tickets.  In practice, a death penalty case is treated much more seriously by the courts and the jury, and the level of appellate review for capital crimes is incredible. 

I think that the death penalty is a much less of a morally wrong issue than other forms of societal killing, such as abortion and war.  This is because the criminal usually deserves to die more than the enemy combatant or the child, and receives much more due process and chance to set his affairs in order.  If the United States were to morally absolve itself of killing, it should start with the low hanging fruit. 

On the other hand, there is not really any reason to put a person to death, except to punish him.  Is revenge a legitimate societal goal? 


There's no reason to praise your calm delineation of the fairness of the process; your answer speaks for itself.  Yes, it's hard to imagine a way in which humans could make the process any fairer.  Contrast the death penalty process in Russia!


Brilliant riposte about the murderer "deserving" to die more than a battlefield combatant.


I'm not a hard-line pro death penalty guy.  My idea here is more the "Devil's Advocate" role, to set out logic which is almost never laid out in forums I visit.

But to answer your last question:  It is very, very important that revenge NOT be the motivation for ANY societal punishment.  (Anybody admire the bully cop who retaliates with citations because the citizen offended him?)  

The motivation has to be "attaching a price tag," which has direct and latent effects on the next generation.

Great post even by your standards.


As a Christian, vengeance belongs to the Lord, and I am called for forgive. Should someone ever murder my wife, a child, or a grandchild, I have no doubt this would be the toughest thing for me to do - to forgive.

But it is not right for me to insist on non-Christians to not be satisfied by vengeance. It is a primal need, and it is a matter of justice. I may try to persuade a non-believer to forgive, for his sake. But I don't have the right to insist on it. An atheist, pagan, or any non-christian has a right to expect justice under the law.

If a loved one of mine was murdered, I would forgive, with God's help. But I would also expect Government to provide justice, for the good of society. If Government does not provide justice, people will seek it apart from Government, and this is anarchy.

On a semi-related note, I am often told that "an eye for an eye" is barbaric. But I see it as civilized. It's a control on government and justice. Killing a man for stealing bread is barbaric.  The murderer usually commits barbarism by murdering for any number of things that do not equate to an innocent man's life - maybe as little as $50 from a cash register. Eye for an Eye is a sound principle from which to base law and justice, I'd say.


For me "justice" carries the idea of balancing a scale, of restoring an equality.  

"Revenge" often (not in your case) carries the connotation of enjoying the opportunity to inflict pain, has the idea of retaliating from a state of emotional pique rather than from principle.  Just to clarify - not to oppose your comment - I would firmly argue that there is NEVER a time when it is good to "enjoy" another person's misfortune or punishment.  We always regret the consequences of a criminal's actions, even as we apply the penalty to him.

The distinction is between wanting a bad guy to suffer, vs. wanting society to be okay.  "Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?" - Ezekiel 18:23.

Of course I'm not implying that you are misaligned here Rick.  Just following on.

"Revenge" can be used dispassionately, as a synonym for "justice," and there I'd agree.  Good stuff.


I saw a funny bit on TV the other day, maybe it was the Simpsons, where the punchline was something about the many words one could use for "revenge" - dang I wish I could remember how it went. But the way I always think of it is that it is the Government (or Batman, if Government is dysfunctional) who "avenges" (higher angel of our nature) so that joe citizen doesn't go about seeking revenge (baser angel of our nature).

But I am pushing the envelope here a bit because I believe "justice" or "vengeance" is man's way to deal with the need for revenge. And this need for "revenge" is real and is a valid concern that Government must try to address. So when I speak of revenge, I am talking about a real need for a wronged person to see justice. 

But...suppose a cruel human being who doesn't really care about the life he takes, or his own for that matter, takes a life of a person who does really care deeply about his life, his and others. Imagine a courtroom scene (we see it on TV dramas all the time) in which even during sentencing the murderer sneers and mocks the survivors. Well, I could certainly see the survivor hoping that before the perp's legally injected, or while he's in prison, he suffers intensely at the hands of *somebody*. And I guess I am suggesting that while this doesn't comport to the higher angels of our nature, this is a real and understandable reaction. Joe Q Public - whatever his beliefs in life - if he is a good citizen, has a need here (call it revenge) that Government needs to address. No, Government should not torture the creep in the same way the creep may have tortured his innocent victim: That's Dirty Harry's job, not the San Francisco Judge's. But yeah, Dirty Harry may be operating at a higher level here, albeit a higher "gut" level, than we often give him credit for (talking about Dirty Harry 1 - didn't watch the sequels). 

Alert: what follows is something that I respectully suggest our non-biblical scholars may want to just ignore......So long as we're studying Yahweh and the Mosaic law, what say you about that quirky story at the end of Judges in which a priest's concubine is raped and murdered, and the hoops the tribes of Israel go through to bring justice? I suppose that would be for another time, but talk about an extreme need for justice. And I can't quite remember where Yahweh stood on it, but it seems he was siding with the priest, who IIRC was pretty demanding. But the real fault lay, in Yahweh's viewpoint (again iirc) with the unwillingness of the tribes to even try to bring justice and vengeance into the situation. Anyway, an interesting take on how God may look upon Governments that don't take their role in providing vengeance seriously. 

RockiesJeff's picture

Rick & Jeff, there are so many excellent statements from differing positions through this entire thread but, at least as I write, let me allow the last ones here to be first. Great points on the reality that justice does not equate revenge. With many points through the thread of going back to questions of law, God's law, biblical law, natural law, etc., there are bound to be huge disagreements amongst any group. If there is truly a real distinction between justice and revenge (justice making such an idea as Cap Punishment foundational for a society versus revenge which would destroy a society mocking real justice), then there has to be a point of origin or a root beyond ourselves who never have all the answers....even with knowing who the bullpen should consisit of! For my two cents, there is the reality that all humanity can be reduced to those that worship the Creator versus those that worship creation (cf. Romans 1). Why shed blood of another human? Because humanity is made in the image of that God. One can talk about law, religion, trends, mistakes or whatever, but once you depart from that foundation, it is everyone's open evolving ongoing interpretation and opinions. Realizing true justice, as so rightly stated, will then require great care and diligence not being Trumpish in any way.

Jeff, I appreciate you taking the time and thoughtfulness to allow us guys who normally whine about why the Mariners didn't do this or do that....please don't get me wrong I thoroughly enjoy baseball...but to exchange aspects of real life as adults.

Thank you all for the respectful interaction that is all very worthy of reading. Bring on Spring Training but there are two parties I see on the nationasl news that would long to be so civil as has been witnessed here!

Real baseball starts for me on Saturday! Bring on the Spring please!!





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