Thursday, 25 June 2009

Does the death penalty prevent reconciliation with God?

Now on to jc_freak's objections.
Now in the case of the death penalty, rehabilitation clearly does not apply.
I don't see why not in principle. Convince him that he should not murder again.
I think that Christians should no longer support retributive capital punishment. I agree with you that we cannot expect worldly governments to live by Christian principals. Indeed, I agree with you that it may not be wise for Governments to act like churches at all, since, to some degree, governments need to interact with worldly people (war comes to mind as something that Christians should avoid, but governments need to often pursue).
I think God has expectations for governments and that they are best to govern according to God's desires. They will be judged on how they governed. The government is not the church. God has requirements for the church and requirements for government. They need not be the same. The church perhaps should not pursue war, but that doesn't necessarily mean that members of the church cannot fight in war.
But I think that Christians need to avoid supporting the death penalty because of our call to evangelize. We, as Christians, need to remember that when the government kills a convicted murderer, there is a very good chance that that person is going to Hell. This is not something we should pursue, but something that we should be actively avoiding. The longer we can keep those men alive, the more opportunities we have to reach them.... I also understand the principal that the threat of death may cause a criminal to seek salvation, but this also assumes a Christian justice system that actively works to teach criminals the gospel. This we do not have, so the concept doesn't really apply.
But we can still evangelise. The state is required to do her role and the church is required to do hers. I don't think the justice system has to be overtly Christian (though it should be godly) and teach the gospel; I think the church should evangelise within the jails.

But to your main point which is the key to this discussion. Now I agree that we should not pursue men going to hell, but I take issue with your assumption that the longer men are kept alive the more opportunities we have to reach them. This sounds somewhat reasonable but is it true? C.S. Lewis asked the question whether a man condemned to death in 30 days is any less likely to seek God than the man incarcerated for 30 years. And I think Lewis has a valid point. People need to face their own mortality. A murderer who has been caught and knows he is to die in a month is forced to face his mortality. He is forced to look thru to eternity. He is likely to ask if there will be any reckoning for his actions. Whereas the man who gets incarcerated for the rest of his life does not necessarily have these issues placed in such stark contrast. He may adapt to life in prison and continue to live a life avoiding God. I am not convinced that a longer duration of life, even if it gives more potential opportunities to witness, makes a man more likely to respond to the gospel. I wonder if facing a short life may be as or more effective in the path to repentance.

There are a couple of other issues that arose in the discussion. I said
And if a murderer murders in prison, or arranges one from prison, does the state bear some responsibility because they did not execute him. And what of the victims who are hell bound because they died before they heard the gospel
to which jc_freak responded,
Let's take the second one first. If a murderer kills an unbeliever, and that person is hell bound now, then why would that influence the way the now treat the murderer? Should we be less inclined to see that person in heaven? I dont really understand here.
That may be because you separated my comments out.
As far as the criminal killing while in prison, I did say that I support incapacitation as a reason for the death penalty, which is what you are talking about here. If a person is too dangerous to keep alive, then it is understandable to kill him.
Murderers have murdered in prison and they have arranged contract killings from within prison. The point here is that by not executing the murderer after the first crime (so that they may respond to the gospel) we have allowed him to be in a position to murder a second time and the victim of the second murder may not have heard the gospel.

My issue is that not whether the death penalty is present, but why it is present and how it is being used.
Bad laws and misuse of the law—yes those are very real issues, but side issues. We must establish the legitimacy (or not) of the death penalty as a punishment. Is it intrinsically allowable for the state; is it expected of the state? If it is, there may still be reasons to oppose it on pragmatic grounds. Disregard for the law and excessive numbers of innocent people being executed for example.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Reasons for sentencing criminals

In response to my post defending the death penalty a few months ago jc_freak raises some issues and several objections. Firstly he gives some helpful philosophies surrounding reasons for sentencing.
  1. Retribution. When someone does something wrong, they are responsible for their actions, and must pay it back.
  2. Deterrence. When someone does something wrong, punish them in such a way as to make anyone else who may commit that crime afraid.
  3. Rehabilitation.When someone does something wrong, punish them in such a way to convince them the act was wrong so that they would never do it again.
  4. Incapacitation. When someone does something wrong, prevent them from ever being able to do it again.
One must remember that sentencing is something done in the course of carrying out justice. Thus while each of these positions may have validity, and in fact more than one can be ascribed to, there is primary philosophy which the others need to accommodate.

Sentencing is about retribution (as defined above). Justice demands that wrongs be righted. A thief must return what he stole, and perhaps cover the costs of the victim being without his property. The object is owned by the victim and not the thief, even while it is in the possession of the thief. One can hardly advocate rehabilitation while the thief retains the stolen property.

Deterrence is also a secondary reason in sentencing. Forms of deterrence can be draconian. Hanging men for stealing food and amputating limbs of thieves are effective deterrents, both for the criminal and citizens. But this is hardly just. The talion limits punishments to the level of the crime, thus justice is primary over deterrence.

Incapacitation is related to retribution, it is the last step for a recalcitrant criminal. The criminal's history is such that his future is predictable. One could say he is being punished for the crimes he is bound to commit.

Thus retribution (and incapacitation) are primary, and deterrence and rehabilitation secondary. That being said, the message of the cross is rehabilitation. Mercy triumphs over judgment. Note Ezekiel's message to the Jews,
But if a wicked person turns away from all his sins that he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the transgressions that he has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness that he has done he shall live. Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord GOD, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? (Ezekiel 18)
A primary reason need not be the most important reason. Jesus offers us rehabilitation; yet he still deals to the issue of retribution via the crucifixion.

I will deal with the objections in my next post.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Untying the binding

I noticed an interesting parallel in one of Jesus' illustrations. Now for some readers this may have been patently obvious, but perhaps a reader or 2 may have been a little oblivious like yours truly.

In Luke we read how Jesus healed a woman with kyphosis.
Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And there was a woman who had had a disabling spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not fully straighten herself. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said to her, "Woman, you are freed from your disability." And he laid his hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and she glorified God. But the ruler of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the people, "There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day." Then the Lord answered him, "You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?" As he said these things, all his adversaries were put to shame, and all the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him. (Luke 13)
I had previously read this as comparing compassion for an animal with that for a person: you treat animals well, how much more so a person. There is some warrant for this in the passage and in a similar scenario. When Jesus healed the man with a withered hand he specified this comparison:
He said to them, "Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value is a man than a sheep!"
But what I had not previously noted in the passage was the comparison with untying the animal. Paraphrased:
  • In the same way you untie an animal for water on a Sabbath day that you had tied up only a day before,
  • so I am untying this woman from infirmity on a Sabbath day that Satan has kept tied up for 18 years.
The contrast is striking. Jesus shamed the Pharisees and they should have taken the rebuke, instead they conspired to kill him.

I suspected the term for "untie" and "loosed" may be similar in Greek. They are in fact the same.
  • Loosed (λυω, luo) from the manger; compare with
  • Loosed (luo) from the bond.

Ox or Donkey
Woman with disabling spirit
Daughter of Abraham
Bound 1 day
Bound 18 years
Bound by owner
Bound by Satan
Unbound for water
Unbound for wholeness

Friday, 12 June 2009

Libertarian quiz

Young Mr Brown at Marmalade Sandwich points to this quiz on libertarianism. Unfortunately it is somewhat Americo-centric. This meant I had to hedge my decision and go down the centre for several answers. And as typical for these things, does not allow for nuanced views. Questions I may answer one way for a certain reason are likely to be interpreted another way suggesting to the examiner I think differently than I do. And hypotheticals as to what I think will happen as opposed to what I think is desirable may be incorrectly conflated. Further, agreeing with concepts does not indicate their relative importance (here is a quiz that takes your priority for your opinion into account (I scored libertarian on foreign policy)).

Some examples
The market is the only meaningful means to combat the state.
Pro-market people would be expected to agree, socialists would be expected to disagree. I am pro-market, but I don't agree as it is not the only means nor the only meaningful means. There are other meaningful means, and Christians think there are bigger battles at play in national and international politics. Slavery abolition did not come about thru the market. Though freer markets may have made employed labour relatively cheaper than slave labour and helped the abolitionist cause.

And I mean, what sort of question is?
State intervention tends to enable big buisiness [sic] and capital at the expense of labor and consumers.
State intervention tends to favour special interest groups, whether they be unions, or big corporations, or friends of the politician. It is not about big business versus labourers and consumers, it is about special favours for anyone at the expense of others.

How does one answer?
The outcome of a truly free market would essentially entail the elimination of large bureaucratic corporations.
It may or may not. But one's opinion on the likely outcome may say nothing about whether he approves of that outcome.

I consider myself an environmentalist.
Well, yes; but not a greenie or a watermelon.

Nevertheless, it is just a silly online quiz you say. These are my results. Because of similar top scores I was faced with a tiebreaker. My top 2 scores are accurate.

You Scored as Minarchist

Minarchists are libertarians who advocate a strictly limited government and usually a more decentralized form of it. Minarchists may vary in the degree to which they think that government should be limited, although the bare bones position is essentially nothing more than police, courts and the military. Minarchists tend to think that some minimum level of government is a necessary evil, or at least an inevitability. The contemporary libertarian movement in America is dominantly minarchist, although it has had a long history of dialogue and debate between minarchist and anarchist libertarians.



"Small L" libertarian






Libertarian socialist


Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Running for Jesus

I like this article for several reasons. Firstly I am impressed by the journalist who wrote a good and accurate article about a Christian, and for not adding any negative slant.

And for the courage of Anna-Lisa to say that she sees her ability as a gift and seeks to use it for the glory of God.

"I'm a Christian and my religious faith is very important to me," [Anna-Lisa] Uttley said.

"That's why I am running. It is a gift I have been given and I have committed my running ability to God."

While I do not really understand the pleasure of exercise, many do. Another athlete Eric Liddell (who she admires) said, "When I run it is in His pleasure."

What ever we do we should do for the glory of God.

And she is by all accounts an excellent athlete, breaking the local 3 km record on 2 occasions; previously unbroken for > 20 years! While she may not always have the words to answer her sometimes sceptical questioning classmates, this may be for some of them a more powerful testimony.

Monday, 8 June 2009

Random quote

In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.

George Orwell

Saturday, 6 June 2009

A Sushi Model of Capital Consumption

Robert Murphy is an economist of the Austrian school who writes for the Ludwig von Mises Institute as well as authoring the blog Free Advice. He wrote this story, a simplified model of the economy, to explain how consumption can increase even during times of malinvestment. It is because of time considerations.
Without further ado, let's examine a hypothetical island economy composed of 100 people, where the only consumption good is rolls of sushi.

The island starts in an initial equilibrium that is indefinitely sustainable. Every day, 25 people row boats out into the water and use nets to catch fish. Another 25 of the islanders go into the paddies to gather rice. Yet another 25 people take rice and fish (collected during the previous day, of course) and make tantalizing sushi rolls. Finally, the remaining 25 of the islanders devote their days to upkeep of the boats and nets. In this way, every day there are a total of (let us say) 500 sushi rolls produced, allowing each islander to eat 5 sushi rolls per day, day in and day out. Not a bad life, really, especially when you consider the ocean view and the absence of Jim Cramer.
He then introduces a bubble that leads to increased consumption despite several of the islanders becoming involved in fruitless work. But while the bubble may appeal, it will and must burst.
That's why the boom is unsustainable, but it also explains why consumption increases at the same time. It's true that this is impossible in the long run, but in the short run it is possible to increase investment in new projects, and to increase consumption at the same time.

Monday, 1 June 2009

First day of winter

Winter last year here was probably average, the year before that was very cold. The recent summer was reasonably warm with moderate heat waves over the country in late December early January. Late Autumn seems wetter and colder than usual.

All this is my subjective assessment based on memory. I have not checked the averages over the last few years and made comparisons. It is likely to be a reasonable assessment though, and I am happy to be corrected by locals who disagree.

I am going to make a prediction for this year's winter. It may seem somewhat suspicious being so close to winter, especially given the recent cold snap, but I have been thinking about this since summer.

So I predict a colder than usual winter for this year.

My reasons for this are unrelated to anthropomorphic global warming because I remain a global warming sceptic. My reasons are
  • Sunspot minimum
  • La Nina
  • Pacific Decadal Oscillation
Not only are we in a sunspot minimum, we are in a particular long one; reminiscent of the quiet periods in late 19th century, though not to the extent of the Maunder minimum.

If the southern Pacific ocean temperature anomaly is greater than 0.5 °C for 5 periods it is an El Nino, if it is less than –0.5 °C it is a La Nina. Temperatures that show less excursion are neither. El Ninos and La Ninas are of variable duration but about 1–2 years. The last cycle was a La Nina ending mid 2008. The current anomalies are less than –0.5 °C for the last 4 cycles, so if the anomaly for March-April-May is also less than (or equal to) –0.5 °C then we are in another La Nina.

The Pacific Decadal Oscillation has a cycle of about 20–30 years. It has been in a warm phase since 1977. It (probably) switched to a cool phase in 2008.

All 3 features are associated with temperature. The ocean patterns may be reflective of temperature rather than a cause of it, but even if we don't know the cause we can recognise the correlation. The current conditions of each of them individually suggest cool temperatures. All 3 of them in cool mode suggests to me that this winter is going to be colder than average.


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