Osama bin Laden is Dead and All I Can Think About are My (Still) Unresolved Convictions on Capital Punishment

It seems that this morning is an appropriate time to sort out my thoughts on concepts like “kill or be killed” and “deserving to die”.

Reading my Facebook friends’ comments the hour after Osama bin Laden was announced dead taught me two things: 1) They are glad someone finally caught him and killed him.  2) They are proud of our U.S. military for doing it.  As for myself, I feel the same way.  I also am somewhat comforted by the assumed concept that it’s morally okay to have wanted this man dead, and that we collectively as a nation do not feel any guilt for Osamba bin Laden’s death.

I would feel the same sense of relief knowing other antichrists were dead, had I lived in their era; the most obvious example being Adolph Hitler.  It’s my observation that while most American religious and political groups have no concrete collective agreements on capital punishment, it goes without saying that if a man is responsible for thousands of lives being lost in a war or political action which he led, then that man deserves to die.  And I agree.

What I am confused about isn’t whether or not we should want evil war tyrants dead.  The thing I have unresolved convictions about is the much smaller scale version of men like Osama bin Laden and Adolph Hitler.  What about serial killers who only kill 20 people, as opposed to 2 million?  How high does the body count have to get before the killer “deserves to die”?  Where is that conceptual line drawn that causes our American society to agree that a man needs to be killed?

I understand the inescapable concept of “kill or be killed”, as it applies to both war and self-defense.  What I find fascinating/confusing is knowing when it’s “okay” to kill a criminal, after he committed a horrible crime.  A month after a man killed and raped a dozen people, it is no longer self-defense or “kill or be killed”.   Once that murderer and rapist has been captured, can we kill him?  If not, would it be any different if he was a member of the enemy army in a war?

Probably, because it’s my observation that war justifies killing people who “deserve it”.  But when that same evil man who deserves to die is not fighting our nation as a whole, but instead is individually picking out individuals to kill and/or rape and he is not associated with al-Qaeda or Communism or a being a Nazi, we suddenly are reluctant to collectively agree to place them in the electric chair and remove them from our society to keep them from hurting anyone else.

Despite trying to understand my own beliefs and convictions on capital punishment and self-defense for over a year now, the death of Osama bin Laden doesn’t help much in removing the blurry haze clouding my mind on these issues. And maybe this is as clear as it will ever be in my head.  What do I believe?  I don’t know for sure.  What do you believe?

If this post was the least bit interesting or fascinating to you, I invite you to read its two prequels, by clicking on the titles below:

Capital Punishment, In Theory: Do You Support the Death Penalty Enough to Do It Yourself?

Self-Defense, In Theory

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America the Christian Nation: Are We Using God’s Name in Vain by Having “In God We Trust” on Our Money?

 

If a person has to say “I’m the boss” or proclaim that they are the one in charge, then it’s pretty obvious they are not. People naturally follow the real leader of the group by instinct. Followers ignore the sirens and the megaphones and the buzzers, and instead pay attention to the high pitch dog whistle. There’s no way around a natural leader rounding up his followers.

In the past year especially, there have been some ruffled feathers regarding comments made about our country no longer being a “Christian nation”. Is it true, is it not true? The fact is this: It’s not a matter of any one person making that decision… It’s up to those who are Christians and the true influence they have on those around them.

I can’t help but be intrigued by China. They are known as a Communist/atheist nation having less than 1% of the population professing to be Christians, but a common belief among many missionary circles is that there are just as many Christians in China as they are in America, due to China’s huge population and rapidly growing “underground Christian church” movement in recent years. Many missionaries also predict that within 20 years, Christianity will be the most popular religion in India. Aside from vague statistics and educated predictions, the bottom line is this: The government can not decide or label the official religion of a country- but its people do. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Christians_in_the_world.png

The pastor of my church has mentioned that in the past several years as more courthouses, schools, city halls, and other government buildings have removed the Ten Commandments, he has been approached by people trying to recruit him to participate in a march protesting the event. His response is always the same to the fired-up believer: “If you can name all Ten Commandments I’ll be glad to join you.” My pastor has yeet to have to join a protest.

Despite government buildings no longer displaying the Ten Commandments, despite each state’s own interpretation of the term “marriage”, despite public schools banning prayer in school, I can’t help but say to myself, “so what?”

A person living an immoral lifestyle which is contrary to the Bible won’t be helped by the courthouse letting them catch a glimpse of the Ten Commandments as they’re being led into their incriminating court case. Nor does it necessarily cause a judge to rule a case in a “more conservative Christian” way. The Bible and the Ten Commandments it contains are not magic relics that within themselves make the world a safer, more spiritual place.

A person has to actually read, study, and apply these teachings to their personal lives. And for that to happen, it often involves parents teaching the importance and relevance of them in the home and instilling those values in children who will make them essential in their adult lives. The reading of the Bible in the home is the key, not the reading of it in a public government building.

From the very first few chapters of the Bible, God Himself ordains the first marriage between Adam and Eve. But as it’s portrayed, marriage is a spiritual union, not a governmental one. Marriage does provide economic and legalistic benefits, but the Bible doesn’t paint marriage as simply a legal contract between a man and woman, it is a holy covenant between a man and a woman. That goes beyond what a government can even touch. No matter how a government recognizes it, marriage actually is what the Bible says it is, not changed by a nation’s laws. It’s the matter of governmental recognition of marriage that people tend to get emotional about.

As for prayer in schools, I agree with the bumper sticker: “As long as there are tests, there will always be prayer in schools.” Our modern nation was largely formed when Europeans fled their countries to escape a government which tied religious customs into the law. (I watched The Patriot with Mel Gibson.) While many of our heroic forefathers were Christians, they made a point to write the law so that no one religion would dominate the way our country is governed. It was only a matter of time that other major religions (Islam, Hinduism, atheism, etc.) would notice how Christianized schools and courts had become on the outside and want to celebrate their own beliefs instead, without being limited by the openly Christian culture infused into the government.

So take it all away on the outside. Does it actually change what’s on the inside? China has proven that even in the event the government makes the Bible illegal and Christianity punishable by death, Christianity still spreads and continues to grow.

Still, I have to admit I found comfort in the fact that “In God We Trust” is printed and/or engraved on our money. This practice was originally put into effect because of the popular demand of the American public as a way to counter the godlessness felt during the Civil War, then made into the official national motto by President Eisenhower as a stand against the Cold War. Like many people, I simply feel better having the motto on our currency.

But in the unthinkable event that in the near future the motto is removed, there is the other side of the coin (inevitable pun). There’s President Roosevelt’s perspective which he revealed in a letter to William Boldly in 1907:

“My own feeling in the matter is due to my very firm conviction that to put such a motto on coins, or to use it in any kindred manner, not only does no good but does positive harm, and is in effect irreverence, which comes dangerously close to sacrilege.”

He’s got a point. Going back to the Ten Commandments, we are told not to use God’s name in vain. Money is about as vain as it gets. The same cash spent on illegal drugs and prostitution by people who don’t know God, actually proclaims that they trust in God. Ironic? Little bit.

Who gets to decide whether or not we are a Christian nation? And which source should we pay attention to? Members of our govern-ment? National statistics? Or the actual influence of Christians in the country?

Stories in the Old Testament tell of God completely wiping out entire countries or handing them over to slavery because they as a nation were corrupt and had forsaken Him. Is that our true fear? The security blankets we mesh into our government don’t change the true spiritual condition of our own individual lives. And from everything I’ve read in the New Testament concerning how Jesus’ death and return back to life changed the Old Testament law, it looks like God is more concerned about our personal relationship with him that what our national religious status is.

We attribute so much of the nation’s success or failure to its collective relationship with God, but I have a feeling our God is much more personal than that. He looks beyond invisible borders that people fought and died to expand and name as their own land, and reaches into the lives of those who allow Him.