Friday, August 07, 2009

Capital Punishment, Part 3

What does it mean to "forgive one's enemies"? What is the purpose of civil authority? Is the State constrained to function on the level of the Gospel? All this and more HERE


River Cocytus said...

(10 Commandments) We saw this recently. The burning bush scene is downright eerie (in a good way.) Though I can see elements of the culture of that day worked into the movie, there is much about it that is quite astounding.

Great choice for a picture!

s-p said...

Even though some of the production might seem "cheesy" by modern standards, I wonder if a modern film maker would approach the narrative with the same "reverence" as Cecil. The CGI might make more dramatic effects, but the "eerieness" of the sacred would probably be it is in most of our culture. Which I think is why we, even as Christians who claim to have a sense of the sacred, do not have a clear sense of the "profane" and thus fall on the side of being anti-death penalty. Thanks!

Dion said...

Steve, you make a number of great points in this latest installment. The real problem is the Kingdom of God vs. the kingdom of this fallen world. The Gospel is the proclamation of the Kingdom of God and the Sermon on the Mount is the law of the Kingdom. It is impossible for the kingdom of this world to operate by the laws of the Kingdom of God because the world is fallen and their are evildoers that must be handled in order to maintain a civil society. It makes perfect sense why the death penalty exists in our fallen world. In order to be a citizen in good standing in this world there are laws that must be obeyed or there are consequences that will be suffered. But, as Christians, we are called out of this world to a new citizenship through Baptism and Chrismation; we are under a new law. This new law is foolishness to the fallen world. Indeed, it would be insane for any government to operate by the principles of the Kingdom of God.

When God was giving the law to Moses He was, among other things, setting up a theocracy in the fallen world. As you clearly pointed out in your podcast, He knew it was going to be run by broken people and that it would not be perfect. But, all this had to happen so Christ could come and proclaim the Kingdom. It is interesting to note that because Jesus was unjustly executed He was able to conquer death and save us.

So, in the meantime, we are somewhere in between the fallen world and the Kingdom of God. We are called to live by laws that make no sense in this world. We exist in the already and the not-yet. How do we, as Christians, live by the law of the Kingdom of God and maintain civil society? Can a Christian be engaged in activities that lead to bloodshed in the interest of maintaining society?

Father Thomas Hopko makes some interesting points in his lecture series on the Lord's Prayer, to which I am currently listening. He noted, in referring to the importance of baptism, that St. Ambrose, despite being the most prominent Christian leader in Milan, was not baptized until he was made a bishop because he was engaged in earthly authority which required him to punish criminals and otherwise be occupied with "acts which belonged to this world" which "you couldn't do if you were baptized." Once a person was baptized they were not allowed to be involved in secular affairs. He goes on to say Christians were not allowed to take communion during their time in the army. He cited St. Basil as saying that any person that shed blood during military or policing actions were not allowed to have communion for three years because they had "been involved in this age." So, at least it can be said that the early Christians kept themselved away from being involved in capital punishment. What implications does this have for us today who live in a society where it is commonplace for Christians to be involved in all kinds of bloodshed for the sake of civil order.

to be continued

Dion said...

I guess I say all this to ask this question: Given that we can see the sense in capital punishment and how civil authority is ordained by God, how does that lead to a Christian supporting capital punishment? I understand it, sure, but support it? Because people sometimes do terrible things in their marriages there is divorce, but I wouldn't say I "support" divorce. Don't get me wrong, I am very grateful to those who protect us from all threats, within and without our borders; but can Christians be a part of it? Or, at least if they are, should there be a burden to repent and pray for God's mercy for having to participate in "this age"? I say all this under the assumption that if one is in favor of something, then one would be willing to participate in maintaining it in some capacity.

Thanks for letting me spew. This topic brings up a lot that I mull over in my mind as a Christian in this world who is heading to law school this fall. It's a great topic and I'm glad your tackling it. For the record, the questions I ask are real and not rhetorical. Don't feel obligated to answer, just know that I am an honest inquirer and I don't pretend to be any sort of expert. I try to live in the reality that at any time I could be completely deluded.

PS: Happy birthday! Cool turtle!

s-p said...

Dion, You ask some good questions that will be dealt with in future podcasts. One "preview" of the upcoming installment: I'm not "promoting" capital punishment but I am "defending" it, there is a difference. In two weeks I will deal with "personal convictions" and our relationship to the State. The more I delve into the issue the longer the series gets, but its an important topic and unfortunately it has been distilled down to what I think are platitudes, slogans and "whereas/therefores" in official statements that amount to rhetoric with little substance. Stay tuned! (And God bless your foray into law daughter is entering her 3rd year. Hang on to your soul!)

Dion said...

Thanks for the good wishes. Yes, it is not a cut and dried issue. Anytime complex issues like this are boiled down into easy to digest (and easy to polarize) soundbites you can rest assured most of the content is missing. Darned if life just isn't that easy, but it makes for good material for TV news channel talking heads. I await your future podcasts.