Monday, September 12, 2016

Reply to Mark Shea on capital punishment


Crisis magazine has reprinted the first of the two articles that political scientist Joseph Bessette and I recently wrote for Catholic World Report putting forward a Catholic defense of capital punishment.  (The articles merely summarize briefly some of the lines of argument we develop in detail and at length in our book By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed: A Catholic Defense of the Death Penalty, forthcoming from Ignatius Press.)

Commenting on the article, Catholic writer Mark Shea says that he agrees with its central thesis that “the Church cannot reverse its teaching on the death penalty and say that what is not intrinsically immoral is intrinsically immoral.”  Apparently, he is also willing to admit that even opposition in practice to capital punishment is “not a binding dogma.”  Shea simply thinks that capital punishment nevertheless is in practice “unnecessary” and that “its abolition [is] the wisest thing to do in civil law” – a positon Joe and I certainly acknowledge is one that a good Catholic might take (as recent popes have), even if we do not share it.  As we noted in our article, then-Cardinal Ratzinger stated in 2004 that “there may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about … applying the death penalty,” so that even a good Catholic could be “at odds with the Holy Father” on that particular subject.

As Pope St. John XXIII once wrote:

The Catholic Church, of course, leaves many questions open to the discussion of theologians.  She does this to the extent that matters are not absolutely certain…

[T]he common saying, expressed in various ways and attributed to various authors, must be recalled with approval: in essentials, unity; in doubtful matters, liberty; in all things, charity.  (Ad Petri Cathedram 71-72)

What Catholic could disagree with that?

Well, Mark Shea, apparently.  For no sooner does he acknowledge the truth of what Joe and I wrote than he proceeds bitterly to denounce Catholics who have the effrontery actually to exercise the right the Church herself has recognized to hold differing opinions on the topic of capital punishment.  After acknowledging the truth of our basic claim, he writes: “So what?” – as if Joe and I were addressing some question no one is asking.  This is followed by a string of remarks like these:

When it comes to taking human life, the right wing culture of death asks “When do we get to kill?”

The Church, in contrast, asks, “When do we have to kill?”

The death penalty supporter looks for loopholes and ways to enlarge them so that he gets to kill somebody.  The Magisterium urges us to look for ways to avoid killing unless driven to do so by absolute necessity

The term for that is “prolife”. You know, from conception to natural death. It’s what we are supposed to actually mean when we say “All Lives Matter”. Even criminal ones.

So it comes back to this: If you stop wasting your time and energy fighting the guidance of the Church, searching for loopholes allowing you to kill some of those All Lives that supposedly Matter to you, you find that you have lots more time and energy for defending the unborn that you say are your core non-negotiable. Why not do that instead of battling three popes and all the bishops in the world in a struggle to keep the US on a list with every Islamic despotism from Saudi Arabia to Iran, as well as Communist China and North Korea? Why the “prolife” zeal to kill?

Be more prolife, not less

“I want to kill the maximum number of people I can get away with killing” is, on the face of it, a hard sell as comporting with the clear and obvious teaching of the Church and perhaps there are other issues in our culture of death that might use our time and energy more fruitfully, particularly when the immediate result of such an argument is to spawn a fresh batch of comments from priests scandalously declaring the pope a heretic, wacked out conspiracy theorists calling the pope “evil beyond comprehension“, and false prophets forecasting that “Antipope Francis” will approve abortion.  This is the atmosphere of the warriors of the right wing culture of death.  It does not need more oxygen.

End quote. 

Well.  What on earth is all that about?  And what does it have to do with what Joe and I wrote? 

Let’s consider the various charges Shea makes.  As to the “So what?”,  Joe and I are by no means merely reiterating something everyone already agrees with.  On the contrary, there is an entire school of thought with tremendous influence in orthodox Catholic circles – the “new natural law theory” of Germain Grisez, John Finnis, Robert P. George, and many others – that takes the position that capital punishment is always and intrinsically immoral and that the Church can and ought to reverse her ancient teaching to the contrary.  Many other Catholics, including some bishops, routinely denounce capital punishment in terms that are so extreme that they give the false impression that the death penalty is by its very nature no less a violation of the fifth commandment than abortion or other forms of murder are.

In our article we cited cases in which even Pope Francis himself has made such extreme statements.  We also suggested that the pope’s remarks should be interpreted as rhetorical flourishes, but the fact remains that they certainly appear on a natural reading to be claiming that capital punishment is intrinsically wrong – a claim which would reverse the teaching of scripture, the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, and every previous pope who has addressed the topic.

Since Shea agrees that the Church cannot make such a change, to be consistent he would also have to admit that the more extreme rhetoric from the pope and some bishops and other Catholics is misleading and regrettable.  He should also agree that “new natural lawyers” and others who hold that the Church should completely reverse past teaching on capital punishment are taking a position that cannot be reconciled with orthodoxy. 

The late Cardinal Dulles, among the most eminent of contemporary Catholic theologians, has (in remarks quoted in our article) gone so far as to say that a reversal of traditional teaching on capital punishment would threaten to undermine the very credibility of the Magisterium in general.  Our primary motivation in writing our book was to show that the Church has not in fact reversed past teaching on this subject, and thereby to defend the credibility of the Magisterium.  Accordingly, Shea’s charge that Joe and I are in the business of “fighting the guidance of the Church” is unjust and offensive.  So too is Shea’s casually lumping us in with those who characterize Pope Francis as a “heretic” and “antipope.”  In fact we explicitly said that we do not believe that the pope wishes to reverse past teaching, and we proposed reading his statements in a way consistent with the tradition.

As to Shea’s other remarks, it is simply outrageous – to be frank, it seems as clear an instance as there could be of what moral theologians would classify as an instance of calumny – to suggest that Joe and I are really just “look[ing] for loopholes and ways to enlarge them so that [we get] to kill somebody,” that we “want to kill the maximum number of people [we] can get away with killing,” that we have a “zeal to kill,” etc.  There is absolutely nothing in what we wrote that justifies such bizarre and inflammatory accusations.

Like Shea, we agree that capital punishment should be administered only if necessary for saving innocent lives and achieving the common good.  We simply disagree with his prudential judgment that it is not necessary.  We believe, and argue at length in our forthcoming book, that capital punishment properly administered actually saves many innocent lives, and that its abolition would cost many innocent lives. 

(Shea casually asserts, as if it were uncontroversial, that capital punishment entails a significant risk of executing the innocent.   As we show in our book, though this claim is commonly made, the evidence does not in fact support it.  Regarding Shea’s specific remark, Joe responds:

[Shea’s] statement about "support for killing innocent people roughly 4% of the time” is a gross distortion of the study he cites.  There the authors claim that over time about 4% of all those sentenced to death would eventually be legally “exonerated,” not that 4% of all those executed in the United States in recent decades were actually innocent.  For the authors “exonerated” means being permanently removed from death row through the legal appeals process and either having the charges dropped or being acquitted at retrial — not necessarily that the defendant was actually innocent of the murder for which he was originally convicted. Indeed, the authors of the study explicitly deny that they are arguing that 4% of all those executed in the United States in the modern era were innocent:  “We do not believe that has happened.”  Did Shea bother to read the very study he cited?)

Regarding Shea’s remarks about being “more pro-life, not less,” their fallaciousness should be obvious.  Is someone who favors imprisoning kidnappers insufficiently “pro-freedom,” and merely “looking for loopholes to maximize the number of people whose freedom we can take away”?  Is someone who favors fining polluters or confiscating the money of drug traffickers insufficiently “pro-private property” and merely “looking for loopholes to maximize the number of people whose property we can take away”?  Obviously not.  Those guilty of serious enough crimes thereby lose their right to their freedom or their property.  To punish them by depriving them of these things is precisely to affirm the value of the freedom and property rights of the innocent, not to deny it.

Similarly, as Pope Pius XII taught, someone guilty of the gravest crimes “has deprived himself of the right to live.”  And as the Roman Catechism promulgated by Pope St. Pius V teaches, the execution of such a person therefore “far from involving the crime of murder, is an act of paramount obedience to this Commandment which prohibits murder.”

Shouting the phrase “pro-life” – a slogan that has its origins in U.S. political discourse, not in Catholic moral theology – no more settles anything than shouting the slogan “pro-choice” does.  The trouble with “pro-choice” rhetoric is that the fact that choice is in general a good thing simply doesn’t by itself entail that one ought to be allowed to choose in the particular case of abortion, because special circumstances prevent that from being a legitimate choice.  To ignore the special circumstances that prevent a general rule from applying in a particular case is to commit what in logic is called a “fallacy of accident.”

Similarly, the trouble with Shea’s idiosyncratic use of “pro-life” rhetoric is that the fact that refraining from killing is in general a good thing simply doesn’t by itself entail that it is a good thing where the question is whether to execute mass murderers and the like.  Here too, to suppose otherwise is to commit a fallacy of accident.  One might as well claim that being “more pro-life, not less” requires a Catholic to become a vegan or a Jain.  Political rhetoric has its place, but its place is not in moral theology, where dispassionate analysis, careful distinctions, rigorous argumentation, etc. are what is called for.  And if anything, if the death penalty does indeed save innocent lives – as Joe and I argue it does in the book – then it is our position, not Shea’s, that is the one that is “more pro-life, not less.”

As to Shea’s grouping Joe and me in with “Islamic despotisms,” “Communist” tyrannies, the “right wing culture of death” (whatever that is), etc., this no more merits a response than do his unhinged comments about our allegedly “looking for loopholes” so as to kill the maximum number of people we can get away with killing.” 

Suffice it to say that the position Joe and I defend is merely the one taken by St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Peter Canisius, St. Alphonsus Ligouri, St. Robert Bellarmine, Pope St. Pius V, Pope Pius IX, Pope Pius XII and (as the reader of our book will discover) many other saints, popes, and eminent moral theologians of the past, including the six popes of the 19th century who authorized more than 500 executions in the Papal States.  Indeed, ours is a milder position than the one they defended, since most of them would have allowed for capital punishment in more cases than we would.  Needless to say, it is not open to any faithful Catholic to accuse such men of being comparable to Islamic despots, Communist tyrants, promoters of a “culture of death,” etc.  And in defending their position we are, again, simply exercising the liberty that then-Cardinal Ratzinger – the Church’s chief doctrinal officer and later Pope Benedict XVI -- explicitly affirmed that Catholics have.

Here is something that is doctrine binding on all Catholics: In its commentary on the eighth commandment, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says (at sections 2477-2478):

Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury.  He becomes guilty:

- of rash judgment who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor…

- of calumny who, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them.

To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor's thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way:

Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another's statement than to condemn it. But if he cannot do so, let him ask how the other understands it. And if the latter understands it badly, let the former correct him with love. If that does not suffice, let the Christian try all suitable ways to bring the other to a correct interpretation so that he may be saved. 

End quote.  Now, I would hate to jump to rash conclusions myself, but it does seem to me that someone who, on the basis of what Joe and I wrote, characterizes us as “want[ing] to kill the maximum number of people [we] can get away with killing,” lumps us in with Islamic despots and Communist tyrants, accuses us of “fighting the guidance of the Church,” associates us with the “culture of death,” etc. – someone who does all that is not plausibly “ready to give a favorable interpretation to another's statement,” is not plausibly showing “respect for the reputation of persons,” is “assum[ing] as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor,” and so on.

176 comments:

JohnD said...

Ed,

Keep up the great work. Looking forward to your upcoming books.

Drew said...

Mark Shea is an interesting character. Every once in a while I come across something he has written and think "that was pretty insightful" but most of the time he just seems to be uncomfortable with Catholicism in any kind of traditional sense. God Bless him.

Thanks for the post Dr. Feser!

Tony said...

Well, what do you expect, Ed? He is Mark Shea. Of course he is going to say Mark Shea sorts of things. Sadly.

But anyway: Great going! We have been (almost) breathlessly awaiting your full-length work on this. Can't wait to read it, and repeat all your excellent arguments in conversation, making me look even intelligenter. :-)

entirelyuseless said...

Mark Shea has consistently engaged in that kind of calumny against everyone that disagrees with him for a long time now, at least since he returned to blogging again. He banned me from his blog for pointing out his lack of charity.

Don Wachtel said...

He said to his disciples, “Things that cause sin will inevitably occur, but woe to the person through whom they occur. It would be better for him if a millstone were put around his neck and he be thrown into the sea than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin.

If the murder of new life in the womb had been a capital crime, (not by drowning, of course, we have better ways now) very few executions would have been necessary (a few dozen ?) to have saved 50 million lives. A good return.

Robert Byers said...

UNNECESSARY? That has nothing to do with the moral demand, or moral rejection, of killing a murderer.
The murdered person is the only relevant matter. What is their worth as a human bneing made in gods image?
It is the greatest worth. to take their life from them is just evil. So the murderer not only takes the greatest thing from someone, but did a great evil too boot.
How can justice for the victim be met? Can they be restored to life? Can jail time give them justice? Does jail time demonstrate the victims worth? Does the killer deserve to enjoy life when to took that from someone?
Anything other then execution for a murderer is the nation saying the victims life was not that important. The nation kills people in war, or protection before someone is murdered. WHY bother if after the succcessful murder its not that important?
Indeed why jail murderers? Certainly not for the murder as it would be saying thats all the victim was worth. So its really to not have any more and then they soon let them out.
Anything other then execution is injustice to the victim.


Brandon said...

As I read Mark, the claim is not that the Crisis argument suggests that you and Bessette are guilty of these things, but that you are enabling them. That is, the structure of the argument is that you are technically right (first paragraph) but that it is in fact just a technicality (first and second) and that by putting so much emphasis on a mere technical distinction rather than substance you are giving "oxygen" to "the right wing culture of death". This is obscured a bit by the fact that one of Shea's recurring weaknesses is sliding quickly to what he sees as the more general issues rather than sticking to the immediate argument and position at hand; once one recognizes this quirk, I think the structure of the argument becomes much clearer and less objectionable as far as accusation goes.

Of course, an enabling argument only works if it is already established that we are dealing with a useless precision, which, as you note, is pretty clearly not the case here -- even setting aside general respect for truth and accuracy, the issue concerns things that can cause confusion about the nature of both Church teaching and rights, neither of which is a minor matter in being a pro-life Catholic.

Edward Feser said...

Hi Brandon,

One problem with that reading is that Shea says thing like: "The death penalty supporter looks for loopholes and ways to enlarge them so that he gets to kill somebody." That's a sweeping statement about death penalty supporters in general. And of course, Joe and I are death penalty supporters. Hence the natural reading is that he intends his remarks to apply to us too, not just to some other people he fears we might give aid and comfort to.

Another problem is that it is, of course, quite ridiculous for him to suggest that the only reason one might say something positive about the death penalty is EITHER to make a narrow technical point about what the Church can't strictly change, OR to support the "culture of death," "look for loopholes to kill as many people as possible," etc. -- as if there were no such thing as a more sober pro-death penalty position that bears no resemblance to this absurd cartoonish target Shea likes to attack exclusively.

A third problem is that while I am well aware that this is standard Shea shtick, I fail to see how this makes it "less objectionable." "Oh but Shea says this kind of ridiculously over-the-top and irrelevant-to-the-actual-topic-at-hand stuff all the time! So, really it's not that bad." No, what that shows is not that it's not that bad, but rather than it is that bad and has now become habitual.

Finally, I wouldn't call the habitual knee-jerk demonization of people with whom one disagrees a "quirk." A "quirk" in a writer would be something like using italics too frequently, being long-winded, making too many pop culture references, etc. Casually characterizing one's fellow loyal Catholics as moral monsters falls instead into the sort of territory described by the passages from the Catechism I quote in the post.

Simon Kissane said...

In comment on your original article (as opposed to Mark Shea's response to it): I have some doubts about your use of then-Cardinal Ratzinger's memorandum on this topic. How binding is that document and its contents? It does not appear to have ever been formally published – as I'm sure you are aware, at its most formal the CDF adopts declarations in a formal session and then presents them to the Pope for approval after which they are formally published. But this memorandum appears to have never been adopted by the CDF at a formal session, nor presented to the Pope for approval, nor formally published. It appears to be a private communication between two Cardinals, which has then been published by EWTN (or possibly other parties first – I have seen no explanation of how EWTN obtained this document.) I am going to assume the publication is accurate and was made with then-Cardinal Ratzinger's foreknowledge and consent. However, what are we to make of the fact that he never had this document formally adopted and published by the CDF? And furthermore, as Pope, he had many more formal channels available to him than he ever had as prefect of CDF to promulgate these opinions officially, yet as far as I am aware he never did. It seems to me that his failure to have this teaching declared more formally and publicly is a sign that it is not as binding on Catholics as more formal teachings of the CDF or Popes are; it also seems plausible that he may have viewed his own views on this topic as tentative, which might explain why he did not promulgate them in a more formal way. Another possibility, is there may have been serious differences in opinion in the Curia with respect to this topic, and he may have avoided making a more formal pronouncement in deference to those differences. Given all these possibilities, I have substantial doubts as to whether this document is binding or correct, and I think I have legitimate grounds to have those doubts.

Furthermore, then-Cardinal Ratzinger's memorandum is brief and lacking in necessary detail. It mentions a "legitimate diversity" among Catholics on the topic of the death penalty, but never discusses the bounds of that legitimate diversity in detail. I don't doubt that there is some scope for legitimate disagreement here (as there is indeed on many other doctrinal and moral questions), but broader and narrower views about the bounds of that scope are possible, and some will no doubt argue that your own views are outside those bounds.

Sandymount said...

I am persuaded by your arguments for the justice of the death penalty but in this year of Mercy, I do wonder at the necessity of it or why people go to great lengths to defend it.

Whether it has a positive or negative effect as far as that can be measured on the future incidence of crime is very ambiguous. Europe does not have the death penalty and I note our incarceration rate is many magnitudes lower as is general crime. Furthermore, giving someone that has deserved the death penalty the time to reconsider their actions for the remainder of their life in jail (removed from the general population so unable to cause further harm) is merciful and may lead, as it has in many cases, to contrition and/or faith and/or to the extent possible reparation/sincere apology to families of those their crimes affected.

Anonymous said...

Brandon, I think the problem is that Shea writes like this all the time that one gets "desensitized" and doesn't appreciate how malicious the man is.

Anonymouse

Mike in KC, MO said...

Shea has been spiraling down for quite a while. He has reached the point where he doesn't see the difference between his personal opinion and the teachings of the Catholic Church. He acts as though disagreement with the first is also an automatic rejection of the second.

This really started in earnest back after Sandy Hook where, if you disagreed with one or two political proposals he took a personal fancy to (not even disagreeing with his principle, just how aspects of it were implemented) he would instantly accuse you of being indifferent to the slaughter of children and actively supporting a "death cult".

This stupid election cycle has seen him degenerate even faster. I own a couple of his books and they are quite good, and I used to go to his site to read views on Church news and apologetics. But now his entire page has transformed from Catholic blog into just another "I hate Trump" screed. Yeah, I find the man to be totally odious too, but if I want to read about how terrible he is, I can go literally anywhere and do that. I came here to read about Catholic news and opinion.

He has also pretty much banned anyone from his Facebook page or blog that doesn't agree with him 100%, which means he's now screaming into an echo chamber full of nothing but back patting and 'attaboy's. It's just going down hill from here.

Which is really sad. I got to know two separate Catholic bloggers, not big name people, who went the same route that Shea is traveling now. Both left the Church because, at the end of the day, it didn't measure up to their personal standards. It was the classic BS line "I didn't leave the Church, the Church left ME!". Mark my words, that's where he looks like he's headed. Everyone needs to pray for him. A lot. He's a great apologist otherwise, and it would be a terrible shame to lose him.

Anonymous said...

Mike,

I remember years ago discussing the issue of interreligous dialogue with him on his blog. I argued that, while it has its place, certain aspects of it (such as Assisi) were unwise if not scandalous. He would bring in the most extraneous stuff (the Vatican allowing Jews to pray on its property in WW2) and wound up implying that I was prejudiced toward Jews.

At some point Shea convinced himself that von Balthasar's optimistic universalism was church teaching. Not only were his opponents wrong, but of course they wanted to see people burn in Hell.

Anonymouse

DDT said...

He's a great apologist otherwise, and it would be a terrible shame to lose him.

What Shea demands conversion to at this point seems Catholic in a tertiary sense at best.

Greg said...

Shea represents a sort of terrible caricature of the worst aspects of contemporary Catholicism. On the topic of, say, the Church's recent debates over sexual ethics, he is all about mercy and non-judgmentalism: never assume that, say, an unmarried Catholic couple who are cohabiting are culpable of mortal sin. Fair enough. That's good.

But then when any conservative view is voiced, he is certain of his interlocutor's intentions and ill will. Catholic proponents of the death penalty aren't really interested in the damage that error on the death penalty can cause (whether directly or indirectly, through confusing people about what makes human life valuable). Really, they just delight in killing as many people as possible. When they say otherwise, they should be assumed to be dishonest.

This is how he expresses himself across the board. If you oppose "common sense" gun regulation, you make idols of guns and hate children. If you oppose a higher minimum wage, you hate the poor.

I think he is in a rather pitiable condition to which the internet has exposed him. Notice how, in this blog post, he links to comments over at Crisis. That is also typical of him; he is absorbed by the internet's bottom dwellers and worries constantly about how they will react to things. But he is mainly concerned with bottom dwellers on the right than on the left; the worst of the leftist commentariat is made up of victims of American culture, whose extremism should be viewed through the lens of mitigated culpability, while the worst of the right express attitudes entirely typical of everyone on the right, to whom such ill will can justly, and indiscriminately, be applied.

Brandon said...

Ed,

That's a sweeping statement about death penalty supporters in general.

While that's a certainly, as you say, a natural reading of the sentence, I again don't think it's actually the point when considered in context. It's the "right wing culture of death" that's in view here. This could be read as you and Bessette being examples of the "right wing culture of death" he has in mind, but it seems to me that you are the occasion of a rant, not the object of it. The enabling argument is at least made quite explicitly in the final paragraph, for instance, and would make very little sense if the earlier point had been simple identification. The post could just be that incoherent, but it can also be read another way.

DDT said...

It's the "right wing culture of death" that's in view here. This could be read as you and Bessette being examples of the "right wing culture of death" he has in mind, but it seems to me that you are the occasion of a rant, not the object of it.

Suggesting Mark Shea is *not* including a defender of the death penalty in the 'right wing culture of death'?

Bold move, let's see if it pays off!

By the way, does anyone know if Shea still rants about 'homosex' to balance out his leftist screeds, or did he get the memo that that's not acceptable cover anymore?

Mike in KC, MO said...

OK, I went back and reread the whole thing Mark wrote that Edward was commenting on here.

TBH, I think it just reinforces why the Register severed ties with him.

Greg said...

@ Brandon

While that's a certainly, as you say, a natural reading of the sentence, I again don't think it's actually the point when considered in context. It's the "right wing culture of death" that's in view here. This could be read as you and Bessette being examples of the "right wing culture of death" he has in mind, but it seems to me that you are the occasion of a rant, not the object of it. The enabling argument is at least made quite explicitly in the final paragraph, for instance, and would make very little sense if the earlier point had been simple identification. The post could just be that incoherent, but it can also be read another way.

This reading has some plausibility; it is also common with Shea that everyone (on the right, at least) feels targeted for the lambasting of extremists.

His last paragraph, though, seems to suggest that Feser and Bessette are intended targets of much of the foregoing screed:

That doesn’t mean “Never disagree with the Pope”. But it does mean that you better have a pretty darn good reason for doing so. “I want to kill the maximum number of people I can get away with killing” is, on the face of it, a hard sell as comporting with the clear and obvious teaching of the Church and perhaps there are other issues in our culture of death that might use our time and energy more fruitfully, particularly when the immediate result of such an argument is to spawn a fresh batch of comments from priests scandalously declaring the pope a heretic, wacked out conspiracy theorists calling the pope “evil beyond comprehension“, and false prophets forecasting that “Antipope Francis” will approve abortion. This is the atmosphere of the warriors of the right wing culture of death. It does not need more oxygen.

Consider the really long third sentence. “I want to kill the maximum number of people I can get away with killing” is a "hard sell." He recommends that time would be better spent arguing other things; whose time? Feser's and Bessette's, surely, as they are the people arguing against the death penalty, whom Shea takes to be making a technically correct but practically unimportant point, the making of which has other negative consequences.

But the belief “I want to kill the maximum number of people I can get away with killing” is ascribed to the same people to whom that latter advice about time allocation is given.

So I think it's right that Shea is not attributing all the nasty stuff, like calling Pope Francis an antipope, to Feser and Bessette; that is the enabling argument. But he does seem to be attributing to them a delight in killing and in finding exceptions to prohibitions against killing.

Again, this is all par for the course in reading Shea. If you are conservative, it will probably feel as though you are his target. But he is probably, instead, making sweeping claims about "the right" alongside pointing out specific instances of extreme internet commentary.

DNW said...

Shea comes off as a very emotional, if not histrionic, fellow. And that business about some traditionalist saying to himself, " 'I want to kill the maximum number of people I can get away with killing' ", is very peculiar. That kind of imagining, is more than histrionic, it's hysterical.

Has Shea met many who've said this to him? Is he psychic or telepathic? Is it instead, an inference? If the latter, based on what evidence?

I know plenty of men who kill things. Lots of them. I have myself. Yet I have never met such a man as Shea posits; and I have no interest in, nor any desire to, kill any men by any means, much less the maximum number possible through the artifice of juridical homicide.

Another muddle, more generally speaking, occurs when Catholics like Shea begin talking inside the Church baseball as if they are somehow talking public morality at the same time. Insofar as the Church makes claims that are intended as universally applicable expressions of the entailments of natural law, or, adverts to a religious claim that amounts in the final reduction to the same thing, then fine.

But why American Evangelical Protestants say, should care at all about the trends in emotional commitments among the sensitive types of the professional Catholic class - as if their quivering sensibilities had the same status as natural law propositions, or even the undisputed dogmas of a faith claiming universal moral jurisdiction in some supernatural sense - makes no sense.

Probably Shea did not really intend that anyone not a professional Catholic should take what he is saying seriously, nor credit his value judgments as valid outside of certain hothouse limits.

Nonetheless, and as a general observation, I think some of these people need to get out more, outdoors maybe; and for a time lead somewhat more vigorous physical lives. At that point, they may come to appreciate the costs in time and energy and effort involved in actually traversing space, in making and building useful and necessary material things, and then in preserving them for themselves and others against assault. That is to say, they may come in the barest of ways to minimally appreciate the costs involved in actually walking the sociopolitical road they demand others physically travel on their behalf. As it is, they seem to live mostly in their own heads.

Of course now, if Shea is willing to be shackled to a psychopathic killer, and feed and house him and keep him away from the society of productive people forevermore, then I guess I would be willing to grant Shea all that he wishes for in the granting of "mercy". For himself and those like him only, though.

DNW said...

Here's another Shea quote that is typical of blogging and combox snark.

"Clearly, the US needs to reinstitute crucifixion as a form of capital punishment. After all, St. Dismas said it is just. It’s been all downhill since the modernists took over the late Roman Empire and banned this blessed form of death for criminals."

I suppose the guy is possibly a serious man. But, reading this kind of thing just reinforced my impression to the contrary.

joe jones said...

Shea is an insult to any 12 year old who can put together a rational argument.

Brandon said...

Hi, Greg,

I don't think it hugely changes much of anything, since Shea's argument itself is not appropriate to the context of a carefully reasoned argument like that of Feser and Bessette. But the point made at the beginning was that even if it is not intrinsically immoral, as he conceded, that does not mean that it is necessary or good. And this in mind, the line of reasoning in the final paragraph is:

(1) While papal pronouncements of the kind that have been made against the death penalty do not require that one agree, they do set the bar high so that if one does disagree, one must have very good reason.

(2) Killing as many people as it is permissible to kill is not something that fits well with Church teaching.

(3) There are issues that are more important, especially since this kind of argument is in fact enabling things that shouldn't be enabled, as shown from the actual comments on the piece.

That is, you are reading (2) as a specific attribution, but it makes more sense in the overall post to read it as a general claim that reiterates the original idea: merely because it is not intrinsically immoral does not mean that it is necessary or Christian to do it. Yes, it's an extreme version, but that's the point: Shea is trying to treat the argument as a trivial technicality that can be dismissed as a waste of time, because it's not as if anyone can seriously hold that killing people on the ground of a technical permissibility is a Christian thing to do. The claim that it's pointless is certainly wrong, but I think it's fairly clear that it's what he's claiming.

DDT said...

I don't think it hugely changes much of anything, since Shea's argument itself is not appropriate to the context of a carefully reasoned argument like that of Feser and Bessette.

On the one hand, you're rejecting and downplaying criticisms of Shea's manifold failures of charity, argument and perception on the grounds that he's not trying to make a carefully reasoned argument anyway.

But then your defense of his post involves running his chimpout through the what-someone-trying-to-make-a-reasoned-argument-would-say filter.

And let's highlight this:

because it's not as if anyone can seriously hold that killing people on the ground of a technical permissibility is a Christian thing to do.

That doesn't accurately capture what's been conceded. The concession is that the situational use of the death penalty can be regarded as entirely Christian.

Thursday said...

Mark Shea's gotta Mark Shea.

David M said...

"Finally, I wouldn't call the habitual knee-jerk demonization of people with whom one disagrees a "quirk." A "quirk" in a writer would be something like using italics too frequently, being long-winded, making too many pop culture references, etc. Casually characterizing one's fellow loyal Catholics as moral monsters falls instead into the sort of territory described by the passages from the Catechism I quote in the post."

Bravo, Ed. You really do have a delightfully incisive and felicitous way of putting things.

Brandon said...

On the one hand, you're rejecting and downplaying criticisms of Shea's manifold failures of charity, argument and perception on the grounds that he's not trying to make a carefully reasoned argument anyway.

No, this is simply wrong. My explicit argument -- there's no need to make things up, as I have been quite explicit about what I am saying -- is that the actual evidence of the argument shows that the argument attributed is likely not the argument intended, but a different one. The argument I think Shea is making is still wrong; but evidence is evidence, and the only thing that answers it is evidence.

That doesn't accurately capture what's been conceded. The concession is that the situational use of the death penalty can be regarded as entirely Christian.

I have no idea what this means in context. That is certainly not the claim Shea is making, which is what the sentence you are quoting is about.

David M said...

Brandon: "the [straw man] argument attributed is likely not the [straw man] argument intended, but a different [straw man argument]" - yes, well; and there is evidence of this, you say? It's hardly clear, is it?

Brandon said...

David M,

I've already pointed out my reasoning. If you have any actual reasoning rather than vague rhetorical questions and feelings, by all means state it.

DDT said...

No, this is simply wrong.

Yet...

I don't think it hugely changes much of anything, since Shea's argument itself is not appropriate to the context of a carefully reasoned argument like that of Feser and Bessette.

Stand by your words, or surrender them, or try to clarify them if you think you can. But don't accuse others of making things up when the quotes are easily available and straightforward. Really, considering one of the themes of the dispute here centers on charity, you dive for gimmicks like this way too fast.

I have no idea what this means in context. That is certainly not the claim Shea is making, which is what the sentence you are quoting is about.

It's hard to make it clearer. "Technically permissible but unChristian" doesn't get near to describing the concession, as if the view is regarded as incompatible with Christian belief and morality but nevertheless permissible. (To who? Non-Christians?) It's regarded as, in fact, compatible with Christian/Catholic thought. Shea adds "technically", as if that's supposed to harm the compatibility. Oh well, it doesn't.

Now, I recognize that that makes it difficult to argue against supporters of capital punishment in Shea's preferred way (chimping out and pure grandstanding, rather than anything close to reasoned argument), but that's the turf he and his supporters have to deal with, like it or not.

Brandon said...

DDT,

First, notice your own distortion immediately, by comparing what you quote with what you actually claimed I said:

Shea's argument itself is not appropriate to the context of a carefully reasoned argument like that of Feser and Bessette.

he's not trying to make a carefully reasoned argument anyway.

The claim I made was, quite explicitly, that I didn't think the particular point at dispute between me and Greg mattered much because Shea's argument is an inappropriate response to the carefully reasoned argument to which he was responding, anyway. This is not at all the same as claiming "rejecting and downplaying criticisms of Shea's manifold failures of charity, argument and perception on the grounds that he's not trying to make a carefully reasoned argument anyway".

"Technically permissible but unChristian" doesn't get near to describing the concession, as if the view is regarded as incompatible with Christian belief and morality but nevertheless permissible.

Again, I have no idea what you are saying. Shea explicitly concedes that it's not intrinsically immoral; he then explicitly states that this doesn't mean that it is necessary or Christian to do it. There is no mystery here; it is right there in the first and second paragraph. My claim in the passage to which you are responding was (explicitly, again, I might add) that he is making the same point in the final paragraph, as well. So, yes, 'technically permissible but not necessarily Christian' is entirely an accurate description of what Shea himself is conceding. If you have evidence he is conceding anything else, you need to provide your evidence, because otherwise I don't know where you are getting it from.

David M said...

Brandon, now you the one pulling out the straw man arguments.

Brandon said...

David M,

Then show it. That's how fallacies work: they're not labels to be thrown about to win arguments but classifications to be proven by evidence.

Matthew Bellisario said...

Unfortunately, I would not expect a substantial comment on this from Shea. I wrote an extensive article on capital punishment several years ago similar to yours and I was called, "maximum death Matthew." So I would not hold your breath for a scholarly response. The only response I ever got from him was ad hominem attacks. Keep up the good work and I look forward to the new book. Any ideas when it will be available?

DDT said...

The claim I made was, quite explicitly, that I didn't think the particular point at dispute between me and Greg mattered much because Shea's argument is an inappropriate response to the carefully reasoned argument to which he was responding, anyway.

Once again: I don't think it hugely changes much of anything, since Shea's argument itself is not appropriate to the context of a carefully reasoned argument like that of Feser and Bessette.

You're treating Shea's rant as not making an attempt to provide a carefully reasoned argument. As far as it goes, that's fine. It's a chimpout, and I agree with that.

But then you go on to try and distill a reasoned argument by way of this-is-what-he's-really-saying out of his rant anyway.

Shea explicitly concedes that it's not intrinsically immoral; he then explicitly states that this doesn't mean that it is necessary or Christian to do it.

Shea: Three popes and all the bishops of the world say that while the death penalty is not intrinsically immoral and the state, in theory, has the right to execute people under remote circumstances, the need for the death penalty is so rare as to make its abolition the wisest thing to do in civil law.

"Is so rare" straightforwardly concedes that this need (on Christian grounds!) can and does exist. The best that Shea can do with a concession like this is argue in terms of pragmatism: that even though capital punishment is not just compatible with Christian morality, but may even be the most just response given it (!), for practical considerations prudence weighs against its use.

Capital punishment is not "technically" permissible but unChristian on that concession. It can be and is (even if Shea thinks 'rarely') a morally righteous act, even a Christian act. So technically allowed but unChristian is no apt summary. You've added "necessarily" in this latest reply, but there's a gulf of difference between not Christian and not necessarily Christian. Just as there's a big difference between "a medical procedure isn't necessarily Christian" and "medical procedures aren't Christian".

David M said...

"the point made at the beginning was that even if it is not intrinsically immoral, as he conceded, that does not mean that it is necessary or good. And this in mind, the line of reasoning in the final paragraph is:
(1) While papal pronouncements of the kind that have been made against the death penalty do not require that one agree, they do set the bar high so that if one does disagree, one must have very good reason.
(2) Killing as many people as it is permissible to kill is not something that fits well with Church teaching.
(3) There are issues that are more important, especially since this kind of argument [i.e., (2), right?] is in fact enabling things that shouldn't be enabled, as shown from the actual comments on the piece."

Since Shea refers to Feser and Bessette, then lists (1), followed by (2), *rather than* any of the apparently 'very good reasons' actually offered by Feser and Bessette, and since (3)'s "this kind of argument" would naturally refer to (2), it seems that the enablers Shea mentions are indeed accused of holding position (2).

Greg said...

@ Brandon

That is, you are reading (2) as a specific attribution, but it makes more sense in the overall post to read it as a general claim that reiterates the original idea: merely because it is not intrinsically immoral does not mean that it is necessary or Christian to do it.

I find it a strain to read (2), as it is introduced, as a mere reiteration of the point that what is not intrinsically evil may still be evil in concrete circumstances. As I read it, it goes beyond that to a specific claim about the will of death penalty supporters. He introduces the idea behind (2) here:

Three popes and all the bishops of the world say that while the death penalty is not intrinsically immoral and the state, in theory, has the right to execute people under remote circumstances, the need for the death penalty is so rare as to make its abolition the wisest thing to do in civil law.

When it comes to taking human life, the right wing culture of death asks “When do we
get to kill?”

The Church, in contrast, asks, “When do we
have to kill?”

The death penalty supporter looks for loopholes and ways to enlarge them so that he
gets to kill somebody. The Magisterium urges us to look for ways to avoid killing unless driven to do so by absolute necessity. (Emphases Shea's.)

The death penalty supporter, for Shea, is someone eager to kill. He is not interested in justice; he is interested in killing, and takes some kind of pleasure in it. This seems to be the intended connotation of the questions he puts in the mouth of "the right wing culture of death." It is borne out, further, in the last paragraph quoted here; the "death penalty supporter" is not someone whose aiming to implement justice. He is rather someone who starts with the end of killing and looks for ways to rationalize it.

When he repeats this thought in the quote in the final paragraph, he sees the death penalty supporter as trying to "get away with killing." That's a psychological attribution that posits a motive and cognitive bias in people supporting the death penalty; it is not plausibly read as the mundane point that what is not intrinsically evil may still be ruled out concretely.

Shea thinks, to be sure, that it is a mere technicality that the death penalty is permissible in principle. The connection of “I want to kill the maximum number of people I can get away with killing” to that mere technicality just is its attribution of ill will and rationalization: the idea that these days, the only ones who could care about that mere technicality enough to write a pair of articles at Catholic World Report is someone who wants to "get away" with killing as many people as possible.

It's right that Shea is not reasoning carefully here. The way he has chosen to characterize Feser and Bessette's view still reveals that he thinks their interest in the in-principle permissibility of the death penalty could only be one rooted in ill will and rationalization. (This is true even if I'm wrong, and we regard “I want to kill the maximum number of people I can get away with killing” as nothing more than a reiteration of the mere technicality about the death penalty's permissibility in principle.)

David M said...

Brandon: You implied that I asked vague rhetorical questions. I actually asked a very clear real question: Your alleged evidence is hardly clear, is it? Why dismiss this as vague and rhetorical? (I also added some relevant square brackets ("[straw man]") to your statement which I think actually imply the inadequacy of your defense, but if you can't see that, fair enough. I may be mistaken.)

DDT said...

When he repeats this thought in the quote in the final paragraph, he sees the death penalty supporter as trying to "get away with killing." That's a psychological attribution that posits a motive and cognitive bias in people supporting the death penalty; it is not plausibly read as the mundane point that what is not intrinsically evil may still be ruled out concretely.

Exactly how many popes, not to mention saints, are bloodthirsty people who just want to kill, kill, kill! by Shea's reading?

Brandon said...

DDT,

You're treating Shea's rant as not making an attempt to provide a carefully reasoned argument.

No, again, this is simply false. My criticism of Shea is not so amateurish and moronic as you are suggesting. (And note that it is a criticism, not as you falsely suggested, a way of downplaying criticism.) It doesn't matter how carefully reasoned Shea's argument is, and only an idiot would think it did; he could spend the next twenty years trying to build the perfect version of it, and it is not the right kind of argument to be an appropriate response to a carefully reasoned argument like Ed and Bessette are giving, for reasons I previously noted in response to Ed.

'Is so rare" straightforwardly concedes that this need (on Christian grounds!) can and does exist. The best that Shea can do with a concession like this is argue in terms of pragmatism: that even though capital punishment is not just compatible with Christian morality, but may even be the most just response given it (!), for practical considerations prudence weighs against its use.

It depends on what you mean by 'compatible with Christian morality'. If you mean 'under rare circumstances, it is compatible with Christian moral principles', then yes, Shea is explicitly conceding this. If you mean 'it is always fine in Christian moral terms', Shea is explicitly denying this. If you mean 'there are no Christian reasons to avoid it whenever it is avoidable', Shea is also explicitly denying this; and if you mean 'it is compatible with actively working toward Christian moral ends', Shea is also denying that this is usually the case. And his argument for these is pretty clearly not prudential: it is an argument from authority, with the primary point being obedience to the Church; it is not, unlike the enabling argument itself, from pragmatic considerations.

So technically allowed but unChristian is no apt summary. You've added "necessarily" in this latest reply, but there's a gulf of difference between not Christian and not necessarily Christian.

'Technical permissible but unChristian' is your phrase, not mine; I was correcting it back to what it should be. What I said was that (Shea is claiming that) no one can can hold that killing people on the ground of a technical permissibility is a Christian thing to do. If you are going to be pedantic, be pedantic with yourself first.

Brandon said...

Since Shea refers to Feser and Bessette, then lists (1), followed by (2), *rather than* any of the apparently 'very good reasons' actually offered by Feser and Bessette, and since (3)'s "this kind of argument" would naturally refer to (2), it seems that the enablers Shea mentions are indeed accused of holding position (2).

No, for the reasons I already stated. (3) also does not, as it is found in Shea's post, naturally refer to (2) but to the not-intrinsically-immoral argument he is criticizing. (1) and (2) together are for the support of the idea, important for (3), that the death penalty's not being intrinsically immoral.

And, needless to say, evidence for what the argument says needs to come from Shea's own text, not strained readings of my summary of his line of reasoning, particularly since whether my summary is accurate is itself the point under controversy.

You implied that I asked vague rhetorical questions. I actually asked a very clear real question: Your alleged evidence is hardly clear, is it? Why dismiss this as vague and rhetorical? (I also added some relevant square brackets ("[straw man]") to your statement which I think actually imply the inadequacy of your defense, but if you can't see that, fair enough. I may be mistaken.)

Your actual statement was, "yes, well; and there is evidence of this, you say? It's hardly clear, is it?" Yes, I do say there is evidence of it, because I had just finished saying it, as you well know since you quoted me saying it. When you ask a question to which everyone knows the answer, that is what is called a 'rhetorical question'. Questions about whether something is clear are indeed vague; and 'is it?' is also how assertions are turned into rhetorical questions.

Also, none of this appears to have anything to do with straw man arguments. Straw man arguments are fallacies of irrelevance in which a caricature argument is put in place of the real argument for purposes of refutation.

DDT said...

No, again, this is simply false. My criticism of Shea is not so amateurish and moronic as you are suggesting. (And note that it is a criticism, not as you falsely suggested, a way of downplaying criticism.)

I rightly noted that you were noting (rightly, in my view) that "Shea's argument itself is not appropriate to the context of a carefully reasoned argument like that of Feser and Bessette." And then turning around and trying to extract a carefully reasoned argument from his rant. Which seems, what's the word. Idiotic? Let's go with that.

Technical permissible but unChristian' is your phrase, not mine; I was correcting it back to what it should be.

You did a bad job of correction, then. It happens.

What I said was that (Shea is claiming that) no one can can hold that killing people on the ground of a technical permissibility is a Christian thing to do.

And I've been driving home why that's not going to work here: because it treats 'technically permissible' as divorced from 'Christian'. But it is, in fact, quite Christian in some cases, and this has already been conceded. Just to highlight this, let's quote you again: If you mean 'under rare circumstances, it is compatible with Christian moral principles', then yes, Shea is explicitly conceding this.

"Technical permissibility", in those circumstances, just is "a Christian thing to do", on ground already conceded. Phrasing it as "technically permissible but unChristian" just doesn't work for those cases, and at least sometimes, those cases are a reality.

Brandon said...

Greg,

As I see it, he starts out making the permissibility-doesn't-imply-necessity-or-goodness point and the claim that it is still Catholic to try to abolish it (paragraphs 1 and 2), has a contrast between the "right wing culture of death" and Church teaching (paragraphs 3 through 5), restates the claim that the not-intrinsically-moral argument is a useless waste of effort (paragraph 6 and 7). Then he has his "just a reminder" of Church teaching (paragraph 8), which leads into the final paragraph, which sums up and concludes by saying that one should not give oxygen to "the right wing culture of death". There's no question that he thinks that the argument to which he is responding is egregiously misguided; in a short post he gives at least three obvious indications (the so what? of paragraph 1, paragraph 6, and the final paragraph), even aside from general tone. But there's a difference between, on the one hand, saying that a line of argument wastes effort, interferes with work that needs to be done, and enables scary things, and, on the other, saying that the line of argument itself shows the people putting it forward to be part of those scary things.

As I noted to DDT, I don't think it matters whether he's carefully reasoning or not; it's not the right kind of argument for what he is trying to do with it.

Alexander said...

If I might attempt to explain Shea's rather visceral dislike of death-penalty-supporters:

Whenever I see someone expending any amount of energy arguing that a certain person should be killed, I can't help but feel repelled. It doesn't matter how fine their argument, or how well-justified their support for the death penalty may be - the notion that anyone would choose to spend their time passionately arguing for the killing of particular persons just seems unhealthy and bloodthirsty. Obviously this may not be the case - but it is, I think, an understandable reaction, especially when defending the death penalty seems a waste of time that would be far better spent elsewhere. Even if justified, capital punishment should surely be considered something of a necessary evil, and I just can't imagine feeling sufficiently comfortable with it as to passionately defend it.

In any case, I suspect these sorts of feelings are those which motivate Shea's emotional reaction to supporters of the death penalty - I am not trying to justify his tone, but I hope this makes it more explicable to someone who doesn't sympathise with Shea's views.

Brandon said...

DDT,

I rightly noted that you were noting (rightly, in my view) that "Shea's argument itself is not appropriate to the context of a carefully reasoned argument like that of Feser and Bessette."

No, this is not what you noted. What you said, explicitly, and I quote:

you're rejecting and downplaying criticisms of Shea's manifold failures of charity, argument and perception on the grounds that he's not trying to make a carefully reasoned argument anyway.

And as I already pointed out to you, (1) I didn't say that Shea's argument wasn't carefully reasoned; (2) on my account it is irrelevant whether one considers the argument carefully reasoned or not: it's not the right kind of argument either way; (3) it was actually a criticism of Shea's argument, not a rejection and downplaying of criticisms; (4) it was specifically about the point in question (interpretation of the final paragraph). You literally got nothing right.

"Technical permissibility", in those circumstances, just is "a Christian thing to do", on ground already conceded.

No, that's precisely what Shea is not conceding. You're perfectly free to argue that he can't consistently do this; but he very explicitly denies that this follows from what he actually concedes.

Seamus said...

Furthermore, giving someone that has deserved the death penalty the time to reconsider their actions for the remainder of their life in jail (removed from the general population so unable to cause further harm) is merciful and may lead, as it has in many cases, to contrition and/or faith and/or to the extent possible reparation/sincere apology to families of those their crimes affected (emphasis added).

This looks like an argument for solitary confinement for life, which I would submit is much more inhumane, unmerciful, and contrary to human dignity than capital punishment.

Seamus said...

Also, as C.S. Lewis has pointed out, it's not at all clear that a murderer is more likely to repent in the years or decades before dying of old age in a prison hospital than he is to repent during the mind-concentrating fortnight before being hanged.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

All Christians agree that the nature of God - and thus the nature of truth - is revealed in the life and teaching of Jesus Christ as recorded in the Gospels. And is revealed in a sense that adds to whatever one may discover by reasoning alone, including by A-T philosophy.

To me it is blindly obvious that He who called us to love our enemies, forgive those who hurt us, and turn the other cheek – does not agree with capital punishment in any circumstances.

Therefore, in my judgment, the only worth in Feser's argument in defense of capital punishment is to find out what is wrong with its logic. In any case I trust that A-T philosophy does *not* imply that capital punishment may be employed in some circumstances, for if it does then A-T philosophy is wrong. The same goes with the teaching of the Catholic church or of any Christian authority: if it contradicts the revelation in Christ then it can't be right.

The trouble here for the Christian is this: Suppose I find that the teaching of my church (the Greek Orthodox in my case) does contradict my own sense of Christ. What then should I trust more? According to my tradition one should in humility trust the church's teaching and not one's own sense. I understand this teaching, for – besides one's propensity for error - pride is a thing to be feared. Happily enough it seems to me that all great Christian churches are careful in their dogmatic teaching. And in any case my way of life is so vastly different than Christ's that any differences in matters of belief are rendered quite irrelevant.

Greg said...

@ Brandon

But there's a difference between, on the one hand, saying that a line of argument wastes effort, interferes with work that needs to be done, and enables scary things, and, on the other, saying that the line of argument itself shows the people putting it forward to be part of those scary things.

Sure, there is a difference; I just think that Shea is doing both of these things (with the qualification that he doesn't indicate that every death penalty supporter is part of every scary thing he lists).

And that is, again, just because, to the extent that we are reading his “I want to kill the maximum number of people I can get away with killing” as "an extreme version" of "the original idea" that "merely because it is not intrinsically immoral does not mean it is necessary or Christian to do it," we are reading him as associating the taking of the latter position with ill will and rationalization. Those two things are separate; his choice of diction connects them.

I doubt that Shea has done this consciously. Perhaps if he were struck by the way he has come to habitually characterize the motives of an entire class of people who hold and defend a particular proposition, he would not speak that way. But it's there.

I don't necessarily have any beef with your general characterization of the structure of Shea's post. But it is just that: a general characterization. It doesn't rule out the possibility that the way he has chosen to characterize today's defenders of the death penalty's in-principle permissibility suggests that they are ill willed.

Anonymous said...

Great work Mr. Feser; unfortunately Mr. Shea has become increasingly absorbed by politics and can't seem to be charitable to his opponents indeed he paints all of them with the same nasty harsh intolerant brush. I've been kicked off his site twice for making sensible charitable comments that disagree with him. He's too smart to be acting this ugly and it's very uncatholic i dare say for him to be so quite frankly rude.

DDT said...

Alexander,

In any case, I suspect these sorts of feelings are those which motivate Shea's emotional reaction to supporters of the death penalty - I am not trying to justify his tone, but I hope this makes it more explicable to someone who doesn't sympathise with Shea's views.

It just so happens that Mark Shea happens to feel this way about almost every political topic nowadays. It's not like he's getting unusually animated. This is just Mark Shea being Mark Shea. And he's deplorable.

Brandon,

And as I already pointed out to you, (1) I didn't say that Shea's argument wasn't carefully reasoned;

Spin those wheels, sir. I'm sure it will work eventually.

Next time, to avoid this rut: keep it holstered.

No, that's precisely what Shea is not conceding. You're perfectly free to argue that he can't consistently do this; but he very explicitly denies that this follows from what he actually concedes.

You still fail to comprehend my point. Here's a hint: whether Mark is willing to admit to what I said isn't my concern. What follows from what he has already conceded, is. The so-called "technical permissibility" cannot be divorced from the concession that, in those (however rare) instances, the use of the death penalty is justified and Christian.

So yeah the Church cannot reverse its teaching on the death penalty and say that what is not intrinsically immoral is intrinsically immoral. So what? It can still say that it is unnecessary and need not be done.

He's clinging to prudence, because that's all he has. That and his appeal to "fighting three popes". Unfortunately for Mark, there's a lot more Popes standing against him on this. Let's rumble.

David M said...

Brandon:

Since you're reconstructing Shea's argument, and I'm criticizing your reading of Shea's argument, your reconstruction is a perfectly legitimate object of criticism ("needless to say," I would have hoped). The fact that it's not the only possible one or that it's not the precise argument you wanted criticized is kind of arbitrarily pressed as a general ground for rejecting my critique. Anyway, I don't think it's worth pursuing.

"Your actual statement was, "yes, well; and there is evidence of this, you say? It's hardly clear, is it?" Yes, I do say there is evidence of it, because I had just finished saying it, as you well know since you quoted me saying it."

Right, and you well know I know it, and knew it, since I had just noted the fact...

"When you ask a question to which everyone knows the answer, that is what is called a 'rhetorical question'."

Right, so that applies to the first question ("you say?"). But not the first (indeed, your language suggests a negative answer).

"Questions about whether something is clear are indeed vague;"
Sometimes. But maybe the question was also ambiguous. To clarify: I was just asking if you think your evidence is clear. That question is clear, isn't it?

"and 'is it?' is also how assertions are turned into rhetorical questions." - False (in general that's neither necessary nor sufficient).

"Also, none of this appears to have anything to do with straw man arguments." - False.
"Straw man arguments are fallacies of irrelevance in which a caricature argument is put in place of the real argument for purposes of refutation." - True.

Thursday said...

To me it is blindly obvious that He who called us to love our enemies, forgive those who hurt us, and turn the other cheek – does not agree with capital punishment in any circumstances.

We are to forgive wrongs to ourselves, but that doesn't mean we cannot act in a way that protects others. We are not entitled to forgive on behalf of those others.

David M said...

Brandon, speaking of clarity, it's not at all clear what Shea means by "the right wing culture of death," is it? Is that clear to you? What does he mean? Is he not referring to a straw man? And is there a natural reading of what he says whereby Shea can legitimately be interpreted as not meaning to include these ninnies, Ed and Joe ("so what, fellas?"), in this 'right wing culture of death'? (It's sure not real obvious, anyway, given that his most fully developed rebuttal of their actual arguments seems to be "so what?")

Brandon said...

Since you're reconstructing Shea's argument, and I'm criticizing your reading of Shea's argument, your reconstruction is a perfectly legitimate object of criticism ("needless to say," I would have hoped).

You didn't criticize it, you simply reinterpreted it. There was no new evidence, there was no actual analysis, not even an actual reference to Shea's actual argument; you simply took the summary and said things that were false about it in context. And as I said, it was not a tenable reinterpretation for reasons I had already given.


Right, and you well know I know it, and knew it, since I had just noted the fact...


Hence 'rhetorical question'.

"and 'is it?' is also how assertions are turned into rhetorical questions." - False (in general that's neither necessary nor sufficient).

It was intended as either.

"Also, none of this appears to have anything to do with straw man arguments." - False.
"Straw man arguments are fallacies of irrelevance in which a caricature argument is put in place of the real argument for purposes of refutation." - True.


Holy moly, it's like discussing with a kindergartner. Then where is the irrelevance fallacy involving the caricature argument substituting for the real argument in a refutation, and why is it so?

And is there a natural reading of what he says whereby Shea can legitimately be interpreted as not meaning to include these ninnies, Ed and Joe ("so what, fellas?"), in this 'right wing culture of death'?

I've already given my reasoning above, as I had already said. And this is pointless. I haven't claimed that Shea's argument is clear in every respect; I've said that I think it's fairly clear that he's claiming one thing in one spot in the argument. If you have any actual reasoning to respond to any of my actual reasoning, by all means bring it. I'm still waiting.

Brandon said...

It was intended as either.

Sorry, that should be: It wasn't intended as either.

Brandon said...

DDT,

Here's a hint: whether Mark is willing to admit to what I said isn't my concern. What follows from what he has already conceded, is. The so-called "technical permissibility" cannot be divorced from the concession that, in those (however rare) instances, the use of the death penalty is justified and Christian.

You see, contrary to what you claimed above, it was quite easy to explain what you meant. This is not an obvious reading of your original claim that I had failed to describe accurately what he was conceding, but I have no problem with the above formulation; it also has nothing to do with my own argument, which is only about interpretation and not about consistency.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Seamus,

I was going to point that out. One of the best arguments for a (relatively swift) death penalty is that it can make him who is to be executed radically reconsider the state of his soul. I don't think that this is as likely for those facing decades in prison.

Thursday,

Indeed. Isn't there a saying that sins can be forgiven but crimes must be punished? Christ certainly calls us to mercy, but I don't see where he suggests that all rigour and justice in the state, including the death penalty, must be surrendered to mercy. This doesn't seem to be his explicit teaching, nor Paul's and the apostles, nor the conclusion of the Fathers. It will take more than a vague, sentimental appeal to show that this conclusion does follow from Christ's teachings.

Tony said...

(1) While papal pronouncements of the kind that have been made against the death penalty do not require that one agree, they do set the bar high so that if one does disagree, one must have very good reason.

Let's take a specific "pronouncement" and see how that plays out:

It is clear that, for these purposes to be achieved, the nature and extent of the punishment must be carefully evaluated and decided upon, and ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society. Today however, as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent. (EV 56, my emphasis for the "pronouncement" I wish to discuss.)

While I accept the principle that there are papal pronouncements that require not theological assent, but a lesser kind of assent, or (in some cases) a special kind of respect, it is also legitimate to ask: Is this an instance?

Let me be more clear on what I am asking: the Church has a gift, by which the Holy Spirit guides her to truth. In that large sphere of unfolding in the life of the Church, the Holy Spirit allows the Church to reach for the truth in different ways. Some of them result in pronouncements that require theological assent, and others require lesser kinds of assent - but still require assent of one form or another. At the same time, the Church teaches that the magisterial gift is given to the Church (and, in a special way, to the Pope) regard matters of faith and morals, and does not extend to everything. Further, that the Church (and the Pope) are limited in what pertains to their special gift: not every thing they think or say is "gifted" with the special gift of the Holy Spirit, not everything they think or say is within the special ambit of the gift: for some matters, they have no special claim to guidance by the Holy Spirit, the statements are outside the parameters of the charism. Matters for which they can claim no special guidance.

So, for the "such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent", is it protected by the special charism, or is it one of those statements that for which the Pope has no special claim to protection from error? Or, if you like, is there some middle ground?

We know the sorts of things that the Pope is capable of pronouncing with the authority of his gift of a magisterial capacity: the pronouncements of moral principles, general truths that apply always and everywhere, truths which do not depend on matters of fact and matters of grayness, truths which do not depend on minute prudential discernment of "cases". Or, in a lesser way but still applicable, statements of moral matters that weigh so closely on matters of principle as to be strongly implicated in maintaining the principle itself. Or, matters of faith: matters attested to by revelation either in God's written word, or in Tradition from the Apostles themselves and handed down through the Church, and exposed to our enlightenment through the action of the Holy Spirit for the perfection of our faith.

Is the "Today, however..." statement an instance of these? Manifestly not. It is no statement of general applicability, it is explicitly limited as to both time and circumstance: matters of prudence. It is no statement of a moral matter which touches so closely upon matters of principle as to require assent to protect that principle. (Nothing critical to moral principle rides on whether conditions of prisons in Georgia, or Albania, match with this thesis.) It is no statement of immemorial faith handed down from ancient days, it is a new matter: due to recent "improvements".

Tony said...

So, we have a legitimate question here: is there here ANY SPECIAL HIGH BAR or hurdle which requires an extra special level of (something) before one has a right to be willing to doubt, or (!!!) actually disagree with the Pope here? For instance, does this statement by Pope JPII claim any greater deference than if it had come from the pen of Cardinal Kasper? Or Archbishop Lefevre? Or Bishop Bruskewizc? Or Father Murphy? Do we owe it any greater weight than to consider it honestly, and make our own judgment?

Prof. Feser laid out the different kinds of assent due to Church pronouncements and the various kinds of statements to which they attach, here:

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2015/11/papal-fallibility.html#more

This is, clearly (rather easily, at that) in the 5th category: a matter for which it is "legitimate" for good Catholics to disagree with the Pope.

Now, this "legitimate" could be understood in 2 ways. (A) It might be meant as "legitimate, but ONLY AFTER you have accorded the pronouncement special layers of respect, and have taken special care to investigate and made special effort to conform your conscience to it, and only after all that if you remain convinced that it is wrong, you licitly may disagree. Doing so will not involve a sin."

The other is simpler: (B) Because this is a matter of which the Pope has no special claim to guidance, you are free to disagree.

Mark Shea is representing that the correct understanding is (A). I question this.

The Pope's statement rests on 2 different levels of supposition, 2 different layers of judgment. First, there is the sheer matter of concrete fact: WHAT explicit conditions obtain in today's prisons? How crowded? How safe from escape? How safe are the inmates from each other? How safe are the guards from attack? The claim, at an absolute minimum, has to represent knowledge of concrete conditions in prisons around the world. This is a matter for which the Church (and the Pope) has no special charism, and no special source of facts: my brother-in-law's cousin who works at a prison might have better facts than the Pope.

Secondly, the thesis represents in a general way what MAY be true of some but not of others. Would it require a sheer majority of prisons to match the needed level of "improvements", or more like a large majority, or even an overwhelming majority? Probably the latter, since that is needed for "rare or non-existent" to obtain. But manifestly, different prisons even in the developed West attain to different degrees the ideal of safety (safe from escapes, safe from internal violence, etc). It is, manifestly, a judgment call that is attempting to compare (based on those facts the Pope has) the relative level of achievement of most prisons, to the level of achievement that would render using the death penalty unnecessary. This is, AGAIN, a matter for which the Pope and the Church has no special charism: it is a matter of political prudence (and several other sorts), outside the ambit of guidance by the Holy Spirit.

Even apart from those (rare?) murderers who intend to go on murdering in prison and who, presumably, are the reason the Pope left that tiny window, it remains true on a statistical level that the more murderers you leave alive (in prison) the more likely it is that ONE of them will flip and kill or gravely harm someone even though there was no clear reason to suspect it specifically of that one. The Pope has no special claim to say whether statistically 1 murder or serious injury (inside the prison) per 100 prisoners renders a prison unfit for the claim that "the death penalty is 'unnecessary' for safety", or whether it would be rather 1 per 1000, or 1 per 10,000. Which one is "safe enough"? The prudential judgment is a political one, not a moral or religious one. "Safe enough" is relative to the common good as weighed in the temporal order: a matter of political prudence.

Anonymous said...

Quote

It is clear that, for these purposes to be achieved, the nature and extent of the punishment must be carefully evaluated and decided upon, and ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society. Today however, as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent.

End quote.

What is the pope getting at here? If, as is sometimes argued, that now (as opposed to 100 years ago) we can lock people up for life, that seems obviously untrue. Consider the Tower of London, for example. Michigain abolished the death penalty in 1880 or so. I imagine they had a way of keeping people safely locked up for life.

Incidentally, it doesn't appear that the Pope supported life without parole. On a couple occasions he urged leaders to commute or reduce sentences. He didn't make an exception for people who received life sentences.

-Neil Parille

Tony said...

The Pope's claim is unspecified as to what conditions he means. It might even be intentionally vague, we don't know. But he might be claiming "improvements" not just in the last 100 years, but (say) in the last 200, or the last 1000. But then, what of prisoners in the Bastille in the 1600's? What about the Romans and their prisons: are we able to say the Romans could not manage to render a prisoner unable to do harm to society? But perhaps these were narrow, "special conditions" that did not obtain widely? We DON'T KNOW what he meant.

Nor do we know whether he was accounting for violence committed on other inmates - which is very common indeed. Nor whether he was accounting for violence perpetrated on prison guards, which is a real problem. Nor do we know whether he was accounting for murderers who, while in prison, maintain ties to international gang organizations and continue to either direct further violence, or carry out such violence at the direction of others. He does not even ATTEMPT to substantiate the claim, either here or any where else that I have heard of. It is, thus, a bare assertion, subject to many layers of critical analysis, and many reasons to doubt or dispute, without ever ONCE doubting matters of faith or morals.

Timocrates said...

It is simply inhuman to equivocate between the life of an innocent unborn child and the life of a serial murderer as Mark Shea does. It's impossibly inhuman. It's deeply perverted, actually. These folks are setting themselves up for total failure. They cannot and will not seriously believe and put meaningfully into practice a philosophy that says the life of villains is equivalent to the life of innocent people.

Mark Shea forgets that we have a Church mandated civil duty to defend innocent life and resist injustice, even if this should cost us our own lives. Hence to the degree of the evil being committed we are bound to respond proportionately to prevent and resist that evil because we also have a duty to uphold justice and defend the innocent: in the practical sphere, this may even necessitate a disproportionate response because we cannot control the circumstances, conditions or resources (including time) available to us to prevent an evil or, in other words, the circumstance we come across evil in presumably always has some morally ideal circumstance or situation we could deal with that evil proportionately to the evil, offense or injustice being committed. But as it happens we have to make do with what we have. For instance, a taser would presumably be a better way of stopping or warding off a very large man from committing grave injury to some hapless person or ourselves but we may only have a baseball bat available.

Now we may not even have available to us the minimum resources necessary to reasonably prevent some evil being committed. A gang might be busy beating some poor soul to death and we have no choice but to call for the police and possibly wait. We might try to distract them or something but depending on the number of villains this might be vain, as for example they may be able to set apart two or three of their number to deal with you while continuing to commit grave injury to some person. In other circumstances we might be credited with heroism if we could successfully intervene in such a wise that our own lives were not unnecessarily put into danger but also facilitated the capture of the wrongdoer and the rescue of the victim.

I find it simply perverse to pretend that, e.g., serial murderers aren't worthy of death. That being said, their death is not always necessary to prevent evil or injustice. To be sure, however, I do think the death penalty absolutely requires a demonstration that it, too, is necessary for preventing proportionate evil. I mean that the death penalty might indeed drop the burglary rate to virtually nothing overnight but the application of the death penalty would be to add evil unto evil in such a situation, injustice to injustice because the penalty is disproportionate to the crime or injury. If, however, it can be shown that nothing but the application of the death penalty as a punishment can eliminate some intolerably grave evil then, in my opinion, it would be morally legitimate and justified, assuming a sound legal system and process.

David M said...

Brandon writes: "Holy moly, it's like discussing with a kindergartner."

Oy! I'll just let this one go, brother.

Anonymous said...

"While papal pronouncements of the kind that have been made against the death penalty do not require that one agree, they do set the bar high so that if one does disagree, one must have very good reason."

Reasons presumably to include volumes of papal pronouncements to the contrary.

David M said...

Good points, Tony. Any time we consider 'authority' in the context of doctrine there has to first be a clear doctrine which can serve as the object of magisterial authority: "*this* is what is to be believed or held." Any teaching which appears to be a mere casual assertion without any supporting explanations as to what it concretely means or why it is held to be justified seems a poor candidate for commanding any kind of assent. (Another recent example of this: the alleged intrinsic value of biodiversity.)

DNW said...

So, now, does the Pope believe that some have a duty to physically defend and protect others? But he gets to say not only that it must be done, but when, and how it is to be done?

Does Pope Francis himself for instance, have a personal duty to go out and interpose himself between rapists and their victims? Or does he get a pass for some reason, possibly due to say, his constitutional weakness?

Do we have an obligation to place people in prison? To even build and maintain prisons? Do murders have a right to your tax sacrifice and support in prisons? What if I live in a community that does not want to maintain prisons? Not everyone lives in a village where you just assume you are stuck living with the same people your ancestors have been stuck living with for the last thousand years.

Does someone else then always have a duty to protect both the Pope and the potential victim of rape or murder? And are the protectors of the weak not only obligated to spend part or all of their lives protecting the weak and thus forgoing more personally rewarding or liberating options, but doing it in a way which gratifies the sensibilities of the weak; specifically as regards the feelings which these weak types entertain for those malefactors who would, without the interposition of the strong, put an end to the very lives of the weak?

You see the dynamic here. Everyone becomes in effect the eternal slave of the lowest common denominator, of the most insistently and determinedly dysfunctional and perverse of our supposed "fellows" and is dragged thereby into his domain and world.

Unless men have the right to protect themselves in a final sense relative to a particular predator, and in a way that actually liberates them from the threat and burden which the hostile predator imposes on them not only through his past acts, but also through the constant menace and/or costs which his continued presence imposes, then the entire purpose of human association is undermined and values upended. The weak become enablers of their own destruction and oppression.

I don't doubt that a lack of love or innate intelligence or some organic defect brain or otherwise is responsible for much of the criminal acting out we see. There probably are not many nihilist philosophers who become gas station stick-up artists. That type migrates to academia and tries to work up a lynching of innocent lacrosse players.

But most people, even including nihilist philosophers, religious masochists, and the more mundane variety of hand-flapping idiot, should be capable of grasping the concept that others do not exist for their use and convenience and that, "Thou Shalt not Murder or else".

Most people other than religious philosophers, and people lacking impulse control and a sense of boundaries, that is. Because they don't believe it. They believe to the contrary that you do exist for their use and enjoyment.

And this has not even not even touched on the matter of right and wrong.

Timocrates said...

@ DNW,

Great post.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Ed,

I have to say that I'm completely in agreement with you on this one. Well said.

Kurt said...

Let me say first off that I admire Mr. Feser's work when it comes to combating the ignorance of internet "new atheist" types. With that being said:

There are some grossly wrongheaded arguments up here. To paraphrase Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park "They're so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should."

Sure, you can rationalize the death penalty with talk about public safety. Sure, you can use arguments that point out the money wasted to maintain the lives of criminals, problems with the prison system, etc. and that we should just kill them outright. Is all that acting in our best self-interest? Maybe so. But Christ didn't call upon us to act out of self interest. Quite the opposite, he called on us to take up crosses, to make sacrifices, even for our enemies and sinners. When he says "The last shall be first and the first shall be last", he is holding out hope even for the redemption of the sinner while at the same time cautioning the self-righteous.

The reason "most people, even including nihilist philosophers, religious masochists, and the more mundane variety of hand-flapping idiot, should be capable of grasping the concept that others do not exist for their use and convenience" is precisely because this is the mindset and logic of the world, but not of Christ's kingdom which is not of this world.

Justice and mercy will always exist in some sort of tension, but all this rationalization of the death penalty amounts to following the letter of the law at the expense of the spirit of the law. I am convinced that the unfortunate "eye for an eye", "Code of Hammurabi" talk I'm hearing on here is precisely the mindset that Christ was trying to shake humanity out of with his Sermon on the Mount and other teachings. Christ's moral teaching was radical in 30 A.D. and evidently it remains so to this day.

"Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy."

Tony said...

"Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy."

Kurt, the Church has taught for many centuries that one of the ways God exercises mercy on obdurate sinners is to KILL them before they make their eventual level of punishment in hell even worse. While I am not proposing that we take on God's role in deciding eternal punishment, I propose caution in using language that would seem to suggest that in EVERY case of a murderer who is deserving of death, what we ought to do is mercifully give him a lesser punishment.

For that is what I take your comment to imply. If you didn't mean that (and I see that you did say that "Justice and mercy will always exist in some sort of tension"), and you are willing to see us SOMETIMES, with a sorrowful and merciful heart, even put a murderer to death, then we STILL have to have a sound philosophical and religious understanding for when and why that is the right way to act. And that understanding will have to delineate the right way to understand things like the New Testament teachings that include "Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy" as well as St. Paul's

For the one in authority is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God's servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.

Arguably, there is room for mercy that often leaves even a murderer alive, and mercy that peacefully and without pain kills a murderer whose continued life leaves the state unsafe. Thus the punishment is administered in justice and mercy, together.

Crude said...

The reason "most people, even including nihilist philosophers, religious masochists, and the more mundane variety of hand-flapping idiot, should be capable of grasping the concept that others do not exist for their use and convenience" is precisely because this is the mindset and logic of the world, but not of Christ's kingdom which is not of this world.

"Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. 2 With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet.

3 Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? 4 Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.”

5 When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. 6 Then some young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.

7 About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 Peter asked her, “Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?”

“Yes,” she said, “that is the price.”

9 Peter said to her, “How could you conspire to test the Spirit of the Lord? Listen! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.”

10 At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11 Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events."

Stricken dead for bilking the Church. By God, no less.

I could go on, complete with examples of condemnation and criticism of sinners, warnings of the hellfire that awaits them - yes, the sinners, not the people condemning the sinners, but the sinners - from Christ. Christ preached mercy. Christ did not preach the Great Forgiveness Olympics, where true holiness is judged by a bidding war in seeing who can undercut a sentencing for a wrong.

"This man killed and raped a whole family. He's unrepentant. Bidding starts at the death penalty."

"Life in prison!"

"20 years!"

"10 years!"

"3 years minus time served!"

"Mandatory Therapy with release upon an estimated clean bill of health!"

"Mandatory Therapy at a walk in clinic!"

"Elective therapy!"

"Elective therapy, full scholarship to an ivy league school, and five years of a guaranteed income!"

"Going once... twice... SOLD! To the most merciful Christian who truly knows Christ's heart. We'll send a check to your neighbors, who will be delighted to know they will pay on your behalf."

...No, that's not the most merciful Christian. No, that person is not following Christ's example, much less the Church's teaching. I wonder if people have stopped to think that may the people constantly competing in the Great Mercy Olympics may be the new pharisees.

Scott W. said...

Well said crude. The death penalty administered by humans is explicit in Scripture (both old and new) and approvingly so.


I think the mercy auction (more like the mercy dollar auction. Google it.) is from the same stock as the empty-headed "empty Hell" meme.

The blogger "Bonald" put it this way:

Who would I send to hell if I were God? Would I really throw someone in hell just for missing Sunday Mass? Imagining oneself in the place of the Almighty is never a useful exercise, but since everyone is implicitly doing it when they talk about God seeming “cruel”, let’s do it anyway. I myself respond very differently to sins of weakness as opposed to sins of outright defiance. I have nothing but pity for cowards, and I feel no anger but great sympathy for people who engage in sexual sins in a proverbial moment of weakness. That faggot in the CDF who’s demanding the Church alter her teaching to accommodate his vice is obviously a different case–a man satanically defiant against God and His law. On the other hand, torturing him for eternity does feel extreme. So does torturing for eternity the fellow who skipped Church, or even the adulterers. Then again, I wouldn’t even torture for eternity with fire child molesters or serial killers, or for that matter even any of history’s great perpetrators of genocide. Punish them severely, sure, but hell just seems in excess of what anyone could deserve for a mere one lifetime of wickedness.

Do I feel this way because I am more merciful than God?
No, I feel that way because I lack His justice, His understanding of the severity of sin. My inclination for an empty hell is a defect of my imagination, not something to be proud of. Certainly not something to boast of before the Almighty.

DNW said...

Kurt said,

" 'The reason "most people, even including nihilist philosophers, religious masochists, and the more mundane variety of hand-flapping idiot, should be capable of grasping the concept that others do not exist for their use and convenience' is precisely because this is the mindset and logic of the world, but not of Christ's kingdom which is not of this world.

Justice and mercy will always exist in some sort of tension, but all this rationalization of the death penalty amounts to following the letter of the law at the expense of the spirit of the law. I am convinced that the unfortunate "eye for an eye", "Code of Hammurabi" talk I'm hearing on here is precisely the mindset that Christ was trying to shake humanity out of with his Sermon on the Mount and other teachings. Christ's moral teaching was radical in 30 A.D. and evidently it remains so to this day.

"Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy."


Kurt, your view is obviously shared by many persons within the church. But without addressing the matter as you frame it, allow me to address the problem as I implicitly framed it. As one of public justice, or even mere prudence relative to some Catholic's ideas.

Out of the box, I grant that Feser's post-up was intended as an inside baseball discussion for members only; and that I dragged it out of that context.
I also however contend that I have brought up through implication two relevant (within a Catholic context) issues.

The second of the two issues has been delineated and then highlighted through an apt scriptural quotation by Crude.

It concerns the presumption of free choice and liberty to moral actors, on the part of the Church. There was never presumed to be a mandate concerning every action in life as ending in complete self-abnegation, but some real freedom and autonomy and, importantly, a legitimate recognition of self-interest was assumed. Crude's excellent choice of a scripture (excellent 'cause I like that one myself) reveals this. To completely spiritualize existence, would be to make its continuince impossible through contradictory actions. The brutish would rule in no time as had been shown historically over and over again; and as we are seeing play out now before our very eyes, as civilization slowly collapses under the weight of the consciences of the hysterical.

It is even funny: What will we do, when those la di da subversives who have let the barbarians in the city gates, scream and beg for refuge in the last keep as their charity cases advance on them? ... cont

DNW said...

Cont ...

The earlier issue mostly alluded to rather than made explicit in my ramble - call it a rant if you want - was what could be called a positive liberty overflow, or reciprocity, or unequal burden, problem. That was an issue I now see as embodied earlier by Byers in the final sentences of his comment. Though I did not read his comment till after I made mine.

The Catholic church of course, unlike Lon Fuller, does not pose reciprocity, at least direct reciprocity, as the core of naturally ordered relations or natural law justice. But neither does it envision man in Marxist species-being terms; though some Jesuits I knew seemed to think it was so, or possible to believe it as so. Complementarity is I believe, the Catholic notion.

But getting back to the cue given us which the problematic of a positive liberty justice system provides, or cue provided by adverting to the notion of natural law reciprocity, we see that the problem is:

1. that those who have been damaged, and the damage they suffer, and the injury to their lives, see it as objectively devalued relative to the life and continued satisfactions of predator.

2. and furthermore that someone is demanding - and where is the justice in their demands? - that the natural liberty and right of self-interest recognized by the Church in the case of Ananias and Sapphira, is allowed to be trampled by a competing notion of charity which is itself not unexceptionable in its formulation.

This is a "charity" which operates in much the same way as the idea of "positive liberty" does: by imposing an onerous and unexamined burden on the assumed provider; while masking this imposition under the rubric of another concept entirely. And by the way, in so doing subversively transforming the entire definition of say, liberty or rights, or justice, or even of man.

The predator is objectively - though it may not be the conscious intent of the merciful - elevated, and granted a privileged social and existential position; the life of his victims are objectively devalued relative to his. What is the point of such a social scheme?

I'm not even talking about punishment here. Personally, punishment doesn't interest me. Nor really, does the death penalty. From my subjective point of view, I would be perfectly content to settle for the permanent expulsion and alienation of the murderer to some remote location where he is left completely to his own devices. But it seems that the merciful, cannot even bring themselves to remove the lamprey from their own necks.

A2 said...

@Edward Feser

I don't understand the obsession with capital punishment in the U.S.A. among some Catholics/Radical Traditionalists.

In theory the state can administer lethal force, even punitively. A good example is the assassination of Osama Bin Laden or putting Jihadi John on a hit list. I think it is insane to have CP as part of the ordinary means of punishment available to the criminal justice system in the modern first world context. I think it is an entirely valid and Christian development in our understanding in this area to remove the death penalty from the ordinary criminal justice apparatus.

Catholic doctrine is not one and the same with the American political right. For example, gun ownership is a civil, not a moral, right. I think a lot of people outside of the U.S. who agree with you on most other matters will find the desire for CP unattainable when there are other options. There is also far too much incarceration in the U.S.A. One wonders if some prison terms are somehow linked to private prisons and deals they have cut with judges and lawmakers (and yes, this has happened before).

A2 said...

@Feser

Both Mark Shea and you can apply a degree of vitriol and hyperbole. Although in differing degrees and ways. We all have shortcomings and faults. I am sure all of us have some awareness of our faults and take them to confession and try to make amends/reform(those of us who are catholic), as we are not perfect.

A2 said...

One final thought. I think Mark was trying to address problems from some elements that are supposedly Catholic. If you are unfamiliar with some of the fundamentalist false prophets of doom ( I know of them firsthand) at the moment I fear it would be difficult to contextualize what he was saying.

Also, having an attitude that goes too far in support of lethal force can be questionable. A perfect example is a leader too quick to go to war, or a gun owner too trigger happy to validate who he is about to fire a gun at. Maybe in both cases they may have had some valid reason to think what they did. That however is only half the story or the considerations required in the decision making progress. Lets say that war was over a Chinese goods ship and the person that was fired at was the postman. Well, there was more to consider.

Greg said...

@ A2

I don't understand the obsession with capital punishment in the U.S.A. among some Catholics/Radical Traditionalists.

The interest stems from a couple factors. First, tradition overwhelmingly seems to support the view that the death penalty is permissible in principle. Though lots of Catholic opponents of the death penalty will grudgingly admit this, some will not, and others (less inclined to be explicit about their commitments) will at least speak in ways that strongly seem to deny this. So is tradition wrong on this point? Is it okay to depart from tradition on this point, and if so, what about on other points? Those are important questions, and they shouldn't be flippantly disregarded.

Second, and relatedly, if the death penalty is in principle permissible, then that invites the theoretical question of why that is so. What makes it impermissible to kill the innocent intentionally but permissible, in some cases, to kill the guilty intentionally? The answer to that question has important implications for casuistry and understanding of the ethics of killing in other places. It also has implications for the justice or injustice of accusing pro-death penalty Catholics of hypocritical inconsistency. Those who want to avoid calumniating their brother Catholics will want to make sure that they do not accuse them of hypocrisy for treating, say, abortion and the death penalty differently. If what makes application of the death penalty wrong in the present context is not what makes abortion wrong (and how could it be, if the former but not the latter is permissible in principle), then it is unjust to accuse supporters of the death penalty of hypocrisy.

That said, I think there is a serious case to be made that the death penalty can justly be applied today, if it is granted that it is permissible in principle. There are not many action types that are, in themselves, not evil and yet are still always (in today's circumstances, at least) ruled out by circumstantial considerations. That is just a strange outcome, and if it is really the case, it demands explanation and defense. The explanations and defenses given are somewhat questionable; that is, is our society really so different from those of the past, or is that just the hubris of the present? If the death penalty can justly be applied today, though, then perhaps there are arguments that, in justice, it should be applied today.

I think these are interesting and important questions. I think it is more charitable to consider that a supporter of the death penalty is interested in them before casually assuming he is a victim of some subrational Americanist "obsession."

In theory the state can administer lethal force, even punitively. A good example is the assassination of Osama Bin Laden or putting Jihadi John on a hit list. I think it is insane to have CP as part of the ordinary means of punishment available to the criminal justice system in the modern first world context. I think it is an entirely valid and Christian development in our understanding in this area to remove the death penalty from the ordinary criminal justice apparatus.

The question is, what is the principled basis for taking this collection of positions? Why is it sometimes okay to kill the guilty but not in other times? (Saddam Hussein may be a better example than Osama Bin Laden, since the latter could plausibly have been considered an enemy combatant.) Why is it obvious that we can kill some people guilty of heinous crimes but "insane" to think that we can kill others also guilty of heinous crimes?

DNW said...



"For example, gun ownership is a civil, not a moral, right."

How do you know that?

DNW said...

"The question is, what is the principled basis for taking this collection of positions? Why is it sometimes okay to kill the guilty but not in other times? (Saddam Hussein may be a better example than Osama Bin Laden, since the latter could plausibly have been considered an enemy combatant.) Why is it obvious that we can kill some people guilty of heinous crimes but "insane" to think that we can kill others also guilty of heinous crimes?

September 15, 2016 at 9:45 AM"


A quick response then I'll drop it, since I am not really arguing from within the tradition.

But, it is my impression that opponents of the death penalty - or juridical homicide - who admit that it is in some cases allowable, tend to make these allowances on the basis of what they view as practical considerations in the way of options.

Thus, it is permissible to kill a murderer for his crime if there is no other "practical" way of dealing with him.

The problem for them of course becomes what defines practicability. I for example have previously stated that I would be willing to allow one person at least a reprieve from the death penalty sentence, if Mark Shea would agree to become his full-time keeper, warder, and caretaker through mutual shackling. Is this absolutely impossible? Probably not.

Is it a cost to his own life and self-determination and advantage which Shea is willing to bear? Probably not.

Abortion has been referenced here. Since most commenting are probably Catholics they will have no problem in unequivocally condemning abortion in all but the most secondary effect cases.

But what of those milder and supposedly "consistent" pro-life positions wherein sparing killers the death penalty is based on the present availability - or demand for - reasonable alternatives? Do we see then institutional alternatives to the expense of the mother's raising the child being proposed as being legally mandated; on the grounds that they are more civilized alternatives to abortion at the sole discretion of the "affected" party? No, obviously not.

Their arguments fail on principles, because their principles are a rhetorically induced illusion.

Son of Ya'Kov said...

I'm sorry people but Pope Francis can be as anti-death penalty as he sees fit and Professor Feser (& myself) can be pro-death penalty. Both are within the bonds of the Faith and nobody should presume the bad faith of either of them.

I debated an apostate right winger now ex-Catholic on this issue who claimed Pope St John Paul II changed the Church's teaching on the death penalty. I have also told Shea he was clueless.

Augustine's principle rules here.

Anonymous said...

"I don't understand the obsession with capital punishment in the U.S.A. among some Catholics/Radical Traditionalists."

Who are these "some?" I wouldn't rate the permissibility of capital punishment among the five most-talked-about issues in Traditionalist Catholic circles.

But to the extent it is more talked about in the USA than elsewhere, it's because capital punishment is more widely practiced in the United States and is a source of division in American society and within the American Church that it isn't elsewhere. There's nothing at all strange about this, unless there is also something strange about the fact that European Catholics "are obsessed with" Islam in a way that Catholics in South America aren't. I'd submit there's nothing odd about it in either case, unless you are determined to ignore the particulars of the societies in which these discussions are taking place.

Greg said...

@ Anonymous

Who are these "some?" I wouldn't rate the permissibility of capital punishment among the five most-talked-about issues in Traditionalist Catholic circles.

A2 gives us an indication of whom he has in mind:

I think Mark was trying to address problems from some elements that are supposedly Catholic. If you are unfamiliar with some of the fundamentalist false prophets of doom ( I know of them firsthand) at the moment I fear it would be difficult to contextualize what he was saying.

Go back to Shea's blog post and look at the last paragraph, where Shea links to the combox at Crisis, where people are calling Pope Francis an evil antipope and saying other unsavory things.

As I was saying earlier in this comment thread, Mark Shea is very concerned about the conservative bottom feeders of the internet. You can, of course, find people saying all sorts of things on the internet, and often the nastiest are the loudest. I think Shea is largely a polarizing figure because he focuses so much on such people and takes them to be typical and worthy of response. Because his condemnations are generally phrased in general terms, he winds up being very divisive and bothers conservatives who read about how they supposedly hate the poor or love killing people and think, "How mean-spirited, judgmental, and presumptuous!"

Crude said...

I think Shea is largely a polarizing figure because he focuses so much on such people and takes them to be typical and worthy of response.

I have another explanation: he's got poor impulse control (he's got an ever growing 'Oops!' list, with his blogging termination at NCR being only the most recent entry), and he shifts between cartoonishly sanctimonious and just plain cartoonish. All that, plus he's yet another 'my left-wing politics must be made into Christian dogma' sort, which tend to compensate for their passive support of the baby-butchers with histrionics.

Anonymous said...

Ben,

I don't want to give Shea too much attention, but he has the "I'm the last honest man on Earth" approach that I've seen before in others. You know, there's a "left wing culture of death" (one million abortions a year) and the "right wing culture of death" (100 or so murders executed) but I Mark Shea can see that the former and latter are part of "dissent" which, at its root, is the same.

-Neil Parille

Son of Ya'Kov said...

>Go back to Shea's blog post and look at the last paragraph, where Shea links to the combox at Crisis, where people are calling Pope Francis an evil antipope and saying other unsavory things.......I think Shea is largely a polarizing figure because he focuses so much on such people and takes them to be typical and worthy of response.

One of Shea's critics who had the nerve to rebuke him (who shall remain nameless) called Pope Francis an anti-Pope over at lifesite. Shea has many valid points that get buried by his own intolerant extremism.

By all means he should call out the bottom feeders but do not lump the rest of us in with them.

Son of Ya'Kov said...

@Neil Parille

Right on bro!

Timocrates said...

"Radical traditionalists/Catholics"?

If your sister were being raped in front of you by a bunch of hooligans who are infested with STDs, drunk in wild rage and passion; and if you did not believe they deserve death, then you hate your sister and are not even human.

The left-wing culture of stupidity needs a reality check. If Mark Shea saw his daughter raped and was terribly concerned with the welfare of the man who raped his daughter, then he is not worthy to be called a man.

I understand the ideals proposed by those who rightly detest that we live in a world where violence and death are deemed necessary to deal with crimes against humanity. The young idealist is not wrong for pointing to things like the death penalty and saying, "This should not be." Quite right. But neither should have been the crime he or she committed that was recompensed with death.

Idealism is not stupidity. Idealism is what the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had; and it cost him his life. He knew it might well. Because that is reality.

The left-wing fantasy that evil and evil people do not exist is a recipe for a dystopia; not a Utopia.

Anonymous said...

There are some problems with the initial post;
1- The arguement, oft repeated, that taking from someone their life is logically identical to taking Liberty or property pre-supposes that most would see these as equal is simply wrong. Very few, given the choice would give up life rather than property. Not being a logician perhaps it could be argued I am wrong, however I would suggest that this is an instance where pure logic fails.
2-Prof Feser suggests that the death penalty can lead to good...the saving of innocent lives. If that is the case then any morally or ethically questionable act...harvesting organs from prisoners...is also okey-dokey if innocent lives benefit.
3- If the Church has not ruled absolutely on the question of capital punishment does that mean it's an open question...forever?
Just asking

Timocrates said...

@ Anon above,

"taking from someone their life is logically identical to taking Liberty or property."

What? Who said that?

"Very few, given the choice would give up life rather than property."

Not true. Men will give up their lives and have repeatedly in history for their property. Because property is an extension of their lives. If my property is robbed from me, not only can I no longer fend for my own self, but I can no longer support my family or community or nation. So the Marxist or the idiot will say that the man who dies defending his property is necessarily selfish and obsessed with wealth; whereas, in reality, it is because that property sustained that and those he loved.

Nation is an extension of property, in this sense: it gave to us and we return. It gives to us. Regardless if it fails after time to give even what is due, I owe at minimum what it already gave. Now my first loyalty is to my family, which is easy in my case, because my family built this and that nation, as history proves. Still, even when my nation stops not only giving, but giving injury, I must love it. Now my nation is much removed from my own property, yet I am bound to give my life for it.

Again, men will give their lives over worthless property happily if and when that property is the testament to their own natural right to fulfill their duty before God to return the love given them to their family, their community and their nation.

Anonymous said...

@Tim...
In the post the arguement was made that some opponents of the death penalty do so because taking a life for some infraction is wrong. Prof. Feser drew an analogy with taking away Liberty from those imprisoned, and seizing property from drug dealers. I simply suggest that this analogy does not hold unless it can be proven all three are of equal weight. I doubt this.

Greg said...

@ Anonymous

Prof. Feser drew an analogy with taking away Liberty from those imprisoned, and seizing property from drug dealers. I simply suggest that this analogy does not hold unless it can be proven all three are of equal weight.

Feser is not drawing an analogy there. Here is the post:

Regarding Shea’s remarks about being “more pro-life, not less,” their fallaciousness should be obvious. Is someone who favors imprisoning kidnappers insufficiently “pro-freedom,” and merely “looking for loopholes to maximize the number of people whose freedom we can take away”? Is someone who favors fining polluters or confiscating the money of drug traffickers insufficiently “pro-private property” and merely “looking for loopholes to maximize the number of people whose property we can take away”? Obviously not. Those guilty of serious enough crimes thereby lose their right to their freedom or their property. To punish them by depriving them of these things is precisely to affirm the value of the freedom and property rights of the innocent, not to deny it.

He is not saying that deprivations of life and deprivations of liberty are analogous and therefore should be treated similarly. (Much less are they "logically identical"!)

Rather, Feser is disputing that the injunction "Be more prolife, not less" suggests that one should oppose the death penalty. That is, he is providing counterexamples to the principle that, if one is to be maximally "proX", then one should never deprive anyone of X ever. That is wrong where X is liberty or private property; so it is wrong to suppose that being prolife involves never depriving someone of life.

This is, of course, to take the term "prolife" overly seriously. It's a term of political advocacy, not of ethics or moral theology. Like the term "proliberty" would be, it is inadequate for making the distinctions required for casuistry.

Timocrates said...

@ Anon,

"Prof. Feser drew an analogy with taking away Liberty from those imprisoned..."

If Prof. Feser did this, then there is a problem. Because I am not sure what country you live in where they take away Liberty from those already incarcerated.

To be sure, we are living in a sort of prison camp. I am personally rather tired of whatever happens to be shown on CNN dictating what people will believe, how they should vote, etc. It's actually lame. I watched Wolf Blitzer on live television threaten a man, his livelihood and his family with no repercussions. Wolf still works at CNN.

My only point being this: Yes, it is true that given human nature people are sometimes stitched-up as pedophiles, rapists, etc., who are because most human beings are moral and, as a consequence, their lives will at minimum be ruined. That being said, it does not change the objective fact that:

1) People who are responsible for the above (whether in fact or a knowingly lying accusation of the same) are themselves worthy of death or;
2) Those who actually commit such crimes are worthy of death.

Tony said...

3- If the Church has not ruled absolutely on the question of capital punishment does that mean it's an open question...forever?

Anonymous just asking:

Fortunately, the Church HAS ruled absolutely on the question of capital punishment: It is NOT an inherently evil act, it IS morally licit in the right circumstances, and no later teaching can reverse this teaching. It's not an open question. We don't have to wonder.

Glad to help you out. Your life is better now, isn't it?

Thomas Hamilton said...

If the Catholic position is that Scripture tells the truth and only the truth (as is the Catholic position, articulated in Dei Verbum among other sources), then the Catholic position is that Genesis 9 tells us the truth about a word God spoke to Noah. And this word is that "Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in His own image." Since God does not command that which is intrinsically immoral, the death penalty is not intrinsically immoral. One might argue that such a provision belonged to the old covenant rather than the new. This seems to me to be hopeless, given that the Council of Acts 15 drew from exactly this passage in distinguishing between those commands only binding on Israel under the old covenant and those commands eternally binding on all humanity- that this was given to Noah, not Moses, indicates that it belongs to the universal moral law and not the ceremonial law of Israel.

But even if one granted that this could be a provision of the old covenant, God never commands that which is intrinsically immoral. So the death penalty is not intrinsically immoral.

Anonymous said...

@Tim...
I did not mean to imply the absurd that we take liberty from those already in gaol, but understood (mistakenly I guess) that Prof Feser was using the argument that somehow draws a parallel between depriving someone of life, or liberty, or property was somehow all of a type.
@Tom...
If what you say is the case why all the brouhaha? Liberals, even the Pope and all the magisterium, cannot make capital punishment something opposed by Catholic doctrine. Everyone else can rest safely in this knowledge. I concede that the argument may be about the ability to change doctrine rather than capital punishment per se.
@Tim...
I am Canadian...Go Habs Go!!!

A2 said...

@All

I appreciate the replies and that there are those who disagree. I would ask however that you do not offer a false dilemma in your replies to me.

I also made several arguments and offered reasoning for my thinking. There is obviously a privation ontologically when taking any life. So it is not merely a practical concern, when deciding whether the courts should have such easy access to the death penalty with all its finality (and yes it is final in a way a life sentence is not, if we are being intellectually honest): There is no longer possibility of reform or restitution from the person. As I alluded to, there are many factors that should be weighed in such a decision. I see far too many unjust executions (cases where people should not have even been convicted, never mind executed) in the U.S. to not have serious ethical misgivings about preserving the status quo.

Fair enough, maybe it isn't that strange that a nation, which still has the death penalty, may have people who do not want that to change. However, I do find it strange in the sense that there is disparity between such people and the rest of the Catholic Church. I can sympathize with gun owners in the U.S., even though it would be madness to allow the same law here. I don't get caught in my countries own political narrative in a way that prevents me from seeing things objectively.

I also made clear that, in principle, the death penalty can be administered by a state. I simply reject the notion that it is a good if it is part of the normal punishment that a court can request. There are so many problems with that I don't even know where to start... maybe with the possibility of Hillary as president??

I also was not in favor of the Irag war (as someone brought it up in a reply). A view that has been vindicated many times. I do not believe in regime change as a sensible foreign policy in the middle east.

Sorry if I have worded anything in a way that is overly polemic. It is just I struggle to understand. I just want conservative Americans to reconsider their position. A broader input from outside of American political thinking might help people thing through on their own a more nuanced view of the death penalty.

A2 said...

I have similar misgivings about French Catholics who have a very extreme idea of "private morals" and the separation of Church and State. Again, people sometimes cannot read outside their immediate and historical influences.

Tony said...

I don't get caught in my countries own political narrative in a way that prevents me from seeing things objectively.

An excellent goal. One each one of us can all respect. And, each person can reflect on the possibility or degree to which we don't measure up to objectivity.

One of the advantages of being a Catholic and having respect for its traditions, is that one has access to 2000 years of political and cultural perspectives on which the saints and Fathers and Doctors have spoken, most of which differ from the US in the 21st century in a great many ways. In drawing on that history and those traditions, we more or less naturally have readiness to make a step forward in getting outside our own immediate political narrative. Those progressives who care not a whit for history are doomed to simmer in their own pot. In an effort to achieve objectivity apart from our own "political narratives", we should be reticent to adopt the stance of those who never cite (or read) a Church Father or Doctor, who never consider diverse political milieus like those of a 1000 years ago, who spend much time congratulating themselves on an assumed "progress" simply because they observe a change, and who can't be bothered to even ask if "every other civilized nation has gone this way" is an argument troubled by worries of being captured by "our political narrative".

To put it another way: Some people have proposed that we (in THIS current political milieu) cannot use the death penalty because our society is so screwed up about life and death that it cannot even tell that abortion is, always, intrinsically evil - so we are not in a position to apply the death penalty properly. How is it that these very same people insist that "we have advanced culturally a great deal, nearly all civilized nations have put the death penalty behind them as a bad idea from the past." How can the same culture be both benighted on life and death issues AND "culturally advanced" on the same issue? The narrative is really one of self-congratulation about one part of our current political narrative while being oblivious to the possibility that this very facet of our recent culture is does not spring from an advance of culture, but springs from the very same disordered sources as the disordered abortion culture: a cultural repudiation of moral principles that supercede our own preferences, with an iron-bound cultural narrative that "the good" means entirely "the good in this life" as if there were no other to consider.

Greg said...

@ A2

I just want conservative Americans to reconsider their position.

A constant operative assumption of your posts is that they have not, but how do you know that? Feser has written a book on the topic, to be published next year. I actually am not fully confident in his argument (a version of which is also defended by David Oderberg), as you'll be able to see in my comment on one of Feser's earlier blog posts (the comment was on July 24, 2016 at 9:12 AM).

But it's the view that the death penalty is impermissible in principle that I find really challenging, philosophically. Since I agree with Feser that that view is very tough to square with tradition, I am particularly interested in his argument for the death penalty's permissibility in principle.

On the other hand, I typically find the reasons given in support of the permissible-in-principle-but-ruled-out-in-all-actual-cases rather unconvincing. It is true, for instance, that the death penalty "is final in a way a life sentence is not, if we are being intellectually honest," just as it is true that a life sentence is final in a way that a non-life sentence is not, if we are being intellectually honest. So what if it's final? We need an argument in terms of first principles as to why that is a relevant difference in one case and not in another.

Such an argument is also going to rely on empirical data. These are both possibly true, contingent facts about human psychology:
a). People guilty of heinous crimes sometimes, when given the death penalty, will repent of their crime in a way that they would not if given a life sentence or treated leniently.
b). People guilty of heinous crimes sometimes, when given just a life sentence, will worsen in moral character while in prison.
Both of those could be wrong. But they both could be true as well, and supporters of the death penalty can adduce arguments in support of them (as I think Feser and Bessette do in their articles, and as one can find in some places in the Catholic tradition). The idea that the death penalty is unacceptably "final" in a way that a life sentence is not relies on their falsity, though.

In short, I find very little obvious about this issue. Foucault was, of course, a dweeb, but he did have an knack for pointing out the contingency of what we sometimes find obvious today. The idea that the only legitimate forms of punishment are imprisonment, fines, and community service is incredibly novel on the human scene. That isn't to say that it is wrong. It isn't to say that if we don't have time to reflect, we should not follow our consciences concerning what seems obvious to us. But it does mean that if we do have time to reflect, we should think about whether we moderns are correct on the question of the proper extent of penality. This is especially true of Catholics who value a tradition that has, at times, thought about punishment in radically different ways.

...

Greg said...

...

Ethical issues like these should be debated on their merits. It is just not charitable to continue to suppose that your interlocutors hold their ideas not because they have been philosophically and theologically convinced of them but rather because they are conservative Americans. One could psychologize from the arm chair about the rest of the West's opinions on punishment in the same way; if American attitudes about the death penalty are an outlier among those of other Western nations, then those of other Western nations are outliers among most other societies.

This is true even if you are talking to someone who is, in fact, "caught up in [his] own country's political narrative." Dialogue is pointless when people assume bad faith, and you should always be arguing against the best possible version of your opponent's position, even when your opponent's position is fallacious or held non-rationally.

Craig Payne said...

I wonder if a country's becoming anti-death penalty has a correlation with the country's becoming non-Christian? Several European countries come to mind.

Brandon said...

the death penalty with all its finality (and yes it is final in a way a life sentence is not, if we are being intellectually honest)

This is the sort of thing that leads to people glibly treating life sentences as if they weren't really serious punishments; in reality, they destroy, and they destroy irrevocably. And the harsher sentences are not really that much different from death. The real intellectual dishonesty is in the repeated refusal of society to face this fact squarely. Life-without-parole is a truly terrible punishment, not significantly different from a death sentence except for not being deliberately shortened; which is why it can only be reasonably justified for crimes for which there is no possible restitution at all.

Anonymous said...

This is the sort of thing that leads to people glibly treating life sentences as if they weren't really serious punishments; in reality, they destroy, and they destroy irrevocably.

It's an empirically verifiable fact that societies which shrink with such horror from the death penalty as to abolish it entirely, also shrink for the "terrible punishment" that is a true life sentence. The abolition of the death penalty always comes with extravagant promises about the harsh and "irrevocable" nature of the punishments to be substituted in its place. Those promises are never kept. And they aren't kept because of the same wilting infirmity of that society's moral sense that leads it to shrink from capital punishment in the first place.

Notably, the United States is condemned not only for its use of the death penalty, but also for the harshness of its sentencing in general, to include the handing down of such inhumane and terrible and irrevocable and horrible and unimaginably awful punishments as an actual life sentence. On this as on many others topics (such as gun control), those on the "conservative" end of the debate have been given ample reason to distrust the cross-my-heart assurances of their opponents.

meunke said...

"I can sympathize with gun owners in the U.S., even though it would be madness to allow the same law here."
- I confess I don't quite understand this outlook. I'm not one who thinks all countries should be exactly like the US and do everything the way we do it, but...

I'm not sure this is totally what you mean, but your statement seems to be based in a view that seems your fellow countrymen as being made up of a large number of psychopaths, that the only thing keeping them from mass murdering and turing your streets into rivers of blood is that it is a little more difficult than in other places to get a firearm, OR, that a large number are to feeble minded and/or incompetent to learn safe handling of a simple machine.

Like I said, I don't think YOU actually think exactly that, but it seems your statement would require something like that to make sense, at least in the way you use it. Now, I don't know which country you live in, so that statement may honestly be true, or, perhaps you live in a nation that is a major corridor for arms trafficking to other nations, etc.

Here in the US, since the late 80s, the argument has been used again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, indeed anytime a loosening of the laws is considered, that if such and such comes to pass, madness, mass murder, rivers of blood, dogs and cats living together, MASS HYSTERIA will be the result. Such results have never been the case. Perhaps that's why such a statement strikes me automatically as discordant.

A2 said...

@meunke
You see, the problem right there is you read that in an interior American context. I live in Ireland, and organised terrorist organizations and paramilitaries are a thing. I personally can see the pros and cons of allowing gun ownership in the states in the second amendment. I don't think you can get rid of them now they are there (i.e. the criminals would keep theirs if there was a nationwide gun amnesty).

@others
I never said life imprisonment wasn't a bad experience.

I also was making the point that there is a problem that American Catholics read things in interior political terms. Even genuinely intelligent people don't stop to consider the additional side of the argument. Just because a liberal says X doesn't mean it isn't true. So I think the blinkers come down when people challenge CP on grounds of proportionality, possible injustices (often actual) and a Christian understanding of mercy. Jesus didn't cast that stone, he did however ask her to sin no more.

A2 said...

I also didn't say a life sentence is never necessary, before someone reads that into what I typed.

meunke said...

@A2

"I live in Ireland, and organised terrorist organizations and paramilitaries are a thing."
- I can understand that... but we kind of have versions of those too.

It was my understanding that the IRA for example, back when it was really active, didn't have a problem getting weapons, including high-yield explosives, when they wanted them.

Availability assumes also that certain legal precautions are taken with background checks and what have you. Even in the US, I don't advocate for an anarchic approach to weapons.

With Ireland/England/US, we all share some very common roots though. I do wonder if your lack of "Black Hawk Down" style violence is not so much linked to lack of additional firearms, but rather a cultural inclination to not constantly murder each other anyway?

Good to hear some perspective from those outside the US though. Take care!

Greg said...

@ A2

I never said life imprisonment wasn't a bad experience.

Right. You said that the death penalty was "final" in a way that a life sentence was not and that that distinction with respect to finality was relevant to showing that the death penalty should be ruled out while the life sentence might not be. You flagged that point with "if we are being intellectually honest," as though there were any indication that anyone here would deny that the death penalty is final in some way that a life sentence is not.

It is always an easy matter to find a difference between two distinct things. It is less often attempted to say something about why that difference is, say, a morally relevant and morally decisive one.

I also was making the point that there is a problem that American Catholics read things in interior political terms. Even genuinely intelligent people don't stop to consider the additional side of the argument. Just because a liberal says X doesn't mean it isn't true. So I think the blinkers come down when people challenge CP on grounds of proportionality, possible injustices (often actual) and a Christian understanding of mercy.

Yes, we know you were making general and sweeping claims about American Catholic supporters of the death penalty. No one here (I think) has said anything as silly as that the death penalty is good because liberals don't like it.

This is a really bizarre comment to make here. Feser and Bessette can hardly be accused of failing to "stop to consider the additional side of the argument." They are not "putting down the blinkers" in the face of arguments rooted in proportionality and purported abuses. They are addressing the arguments head on.

And unlike Mark Shea, their argument does not consist in throwing around epithets like "right wing culture of death" (see the first post too). They calmly and thoroughly lay out their case, acknowledging the several objections and saying why they don't think they are adequate. There is no serious indication that the true wellspring of their position is that they read everything in "interior political terms" or that they hate American liberals. Of course things will be covered even more thoroughly in the book.

Since you've directed this paragraph to "others," which I take to include me, I'll point out that I find it a sickeningly poor and downright evasive characterization of the arguments I made in my most recent post. No part of my post at September 16, 2016 at 7:53 AM, dwells on "interior political terms," and it takes time to dwell on several sides of the argument (even acknowledging that I, too, do not quite accept Feser's argument, and just think that the positions of folks like you and Shea lack consistency, at least at those rare times when they are stated determinately enough for that to be assessed).

Stephen Spencer said...

Mark Shea has simply forgotten how to argue rationally or as a Christian. He attacks the person, rather than the argument, constantly. It is as though he entered the Church to recreate the division and bitterness that he encountered as a Protestant.

He posts long apologies from time to time, but there is no change of behavior--except that he seems to get worse.

But who does he divide? Orthodox Catholics: that seems to be his target. To turn those who believe in the fullness of truth against each other. To be fractious.

Can you imagine how much good he could do if he put that time and energy into evangelization? And how much time of others that he wastes with his calumnies?

It is sad, but what he is doing, and his defenders, is really spiritually wrong and damaging. It is evil.

Brandon said...

I never said life imprisonment wasn't a bad experience.

But, as Greg says, the point was never to suggest that you were saying it wasn't; the point was that (1) if you look closely at the difference between death and life without parole, the idea that there is all that much morally relevant difference is difficult to support (for instance, yes, it is true that before it is completed a sentence of life without parole is technically revocable -- but a death sentence is also technically revocable before it is completed, and in both cases the completed sentence is as final as you can get, and for exactly the same reason); and (2) it really is much more a matter of intellectual honesty to recognize this rather than to accept uncritically the common notion that death is somehow obviously in a special moral box by itself. Courts always have access, at least under certain conditions, to some very nasty penalties beside death.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@NDW

“To completely spiritualize existence, would be to make its continuince impossible through contradictory actions. The brutish would rule in no time as had been shown historically over and over again; and as we are seeing play out now before our very eyes, as civilization slowly collapses under the weight of the consciences of the hysterical.”

When reading Christ in the Gospels it becomes completely clear that what He calls us to do is indeed to “completely spiritualize” our life. I mean He couldn't be more clear on this point. I can't imagine what He should have said to make it more clear. One core message is that our life in this world is not for this world but for the Kingdom.

Reason can take us far in theism, but Christianity itself is about God's revelation in Christ. It doesn't make any sense to discuss a Christian Church's teaching in some ethical matter in way that is divorced from Christ's commands.

Now of course the Christian trusts that God who is the foundation of reason does not contradict His revealed truth. It seems you think that if more people would take Christ seriously and make the effort to do what He asks of them then the result would be that the “brutish would rule”. I will not discuss the relevance of this belief, but wish to dispute it. First I find that human nature is such that in real life true humility is victorious. Second it seems to me that the brutish can rule only when the people they rule over do not do as Christ asks of them. And indeed that's why the brutish still rule.

Anonymous said...

Where in Shea's article do you suppose your words to have been personally implicated, so as to give rise to a charge of calumny. Say what you will about Shea, he's been on this particular warpath a long time. He's battling against an ideological current he sees, not inherently attaching you to it. There are obviously plenty of hard core pro death penalty, anti abortion folk. Certainly some are Catholic. Certainly some are smug and should contemplate their ideological attachments with more equanimity. Shea names no names, nor to my reading does he even implicitly implicate any specific individuals, which would seem a necessary pre-requisite for upholding a charge of calumny. The empirical case for the death penalty can never be strong. The average murder rate in 2014 for death penalty states was 4.5 per 100,000; in non-death penalty states 3.3. Of course, this is not dispostivive, but it should make one think.

A2 said...

@Greg
There was too much to reply to hence the "others" reply.

Several people have in fact made the point that life imprisonment is equal to or worse than the death penalty. So, in relation to those comments I reaffirm what I have already said. People have denied that the death penalty is uniquely final or harsher than life imprisonment.

I was not implying people were for the death penalty because liberals were against it. I do however think people ignore arguments made by their interlocutors because of who is making the argument.

Yes I accept the correction that my use of language was overly generalized. I apologize for not making the distinction that it was a general theme among CP proponents who are both Catholic and American i.e. that political polemics and the cultural divide shape their position more than a broader reading of the ethical considerations in a Catholic context.

Tone down your replies a little.

I should have been more careful in my wording to make it clear that I wanted to let people understand how most non-American Catholics (who are not radical traditionalists) see the advocacy for the death penalty among American conservatives. I likewise, for instance, find it interesting that conservatives in the U.S. are often so pro-Capitalism that large corporations are excused for major moral transgressions (I have seen no such argument here - I am just saying it is something that is present among political conservatives in the U.S. in way it isn't in the same way present elsewhere).

@Brandon
I do not embrace the completed life term way of looking at them being similar. Although I appreciate what you were trying to argue. After beginning the punishment one is final, the other is not. This has huge ethical implications. I reiterate the fact innocent people have been executed and found innocent later. People have also been executed on completely unjust grounds or because of an unjust law.

Death and physical torture do have a difference in kind, not only degree, to incarceration. This is the biggest problem with CP.

@meunke

Yes, terrorists may find a way, but we don't want to make it too easy. Apart from all that there is not the historical precedent that there is in the U.S. for gun ownership here. Think of how Italians, Spanish and the French treat win culturally. Then compare that to the Russians, the Irish, the Scottish and the English. Well I think in a similar way widespread gun ownership would not work here culturally.

A2 said...

*wine

Tony said...

Where in Shea's article do you suppose your words to have been personally implicated, so as to give rise to a charge of calumny. Say what you will about Shea, he's been on this particular warpath a long time. He's battling against an ideological current he sees, not inherently attaching you to it.

Oh, come on. Shea linked the article by Feser and Bessette right in his first line. He doesn't have to explicitly say "and I accuse Edward Feser of these acts" in order to personally implicate him: that's what "implicate" means. Look up the definition of implicit and explicit, already.

Shea says "The Church, in contrast, asks, 'When do we have to kill?' "

The question should be (both for the Church and the state, too) is "When is killing the guilty the best thing to do?". If killing the guilty is the best thing in a given circumstance, then we ought to do it, for the love of God and man.

It is presumptuous and wrong-headed to assume, before you even get into the thicket of facts and circumstances, the stance that "we will only kill when we 'have to'. " Because in that approach, there is no principled place to stand to determine 'have to'. You could, like the Quakers, say "well, we NEVER, EVER have to, no matter what the circumstance", but the recent Popes have implicitly rejected that (without any sort of full rationale). You could propose that the ONLY real basis for "have to" is for safety, but there is no principle to hang that hat on, and even there, setting it up this way leaves you with no principle upon which to say what is "safe enough". You could always say "well, we willingly give up a little bit of safety for this (worthy) cause". Unless you are willing to compare the good of safety to other non-negotiable, core goods that are constitutive of the common good, and come to a determination like "safety is less important than justice" (or vice versa), you cannot even say whether we "have to" kill a guilty criminal to do the best thing. And you will find not one iota of reference to or discussion of that difficult question in any of the highest Church documents on the death penalty. Not one.

We ought to do the best thing. Absent proof to the contrary (and so far there has been no offer of such a proof), the death penalty is going to be the best thing in SOME circumstances, and we ought to use it in those circumstances. When something else is the best thing, then we ought to do that something else. A presumption that the death penalty is NOT the best thing, even when death is the only punishment that is proportionate to the crime and guilt, could only be justified if something else were presumptively better than justice for the common good. And such a position could be taken only if there were an argument made to ESTABLISH that something else, normatively, IS better than justice. We have had no such argument, no attempt attempt at such an argument.

Greg said...

@ A2

Several people have in fact made the point that life imprisonment is equal to or worse than the death penalty. So, in relation to those comments I reaffirm what I have already said. People have denied that the death penalty is uniquely final or harsher than life imprisonment.

I agree that the death penalty is graver than life imprisonment, though for contingent reasons it may, in a sense, be less grave (for instance, if, as I postulated above, people are more likely to repent when faced with a death sentence than with a life sentence). I also do agree with Brandon that the death penalty has more in common with life without parole than it at first seems. They are both reversible to a point, though not past that point. They both ensure that one will die before one leaves prison. The death penalty directly ends a life, though, while life without parole does so indirectly and, as it were, per accidens, so there will inevitably be some sense in which the former is "more final" than the latter. It just has to be argued that that truth a). is compatible with the death penalty's permissibility in principle and yet b). rules out "normal" recourse to the death penalty in 21st century Western societies but did not rule out "normal" recourse to the death penalty in other times in Western history. To put it that way is to recognize how remarkable a conclusion it would be, if it could be established that that distinction in respect of finality is morally decisive here.

I do however think people ignore arguments made by their interlocutors because of who is making the argument.

Agreed.

Yes I accept the correction that my use of language was overly generalized. I apologize for not making the distinction that it was a general theme among CP proponents who are both Catholic and American i.e. that political polemics and the cultural divide shape their position more than a broader reading of the ethical considerations in a Catholic context.

I appreciate it. When one is declining to name names, I think it is important to qualify the scope of one's remarks appropriately. As I said earlier, this seems to me to be part of the reason why Mark Shea infuriates so many people; they read him and feel as though he is targeting them and lumping them in with all sorts of malicious people, who are always just a few clicks away on the internet.

Tone down your replies a little.

Will do.

DNW said...

I originally wrote (now with paragraphing)

"It concerns the presumption of free choice and liberty to moral actors, on the part of the Church. There was never presumed to be a mandate concerning every action in life as ending in complete self-abnegation, but some real freedom and autonomy and, importantly, a legitimate recognition of self-interest was assumed. Crude's excellent choice of a scripture (excellent 'cause I like that one myself) reveals this.

To completely spiritualize existence, would be to make its continu[a]nce impossible through contradictory actions. ..."


Then,
Dianelos Georgoudis commented ...

@NDW

“To completely spiritualize existence, would be to make its continu[a]nce impossible through contradictory actions. The brutish would rule in no time as had been shown historically over and over again; and as we are seeing play out now before our very eyes, as civilization slowly collapses under the weight of the consciences of the hysterical.”

When reading Christ in the Gospels it becomes completely clear that what He calls us to do is indeed to “completely spiritualize” our life. I mean He couldn't be more clear on this point. I can't imagine what He should have said to make it more clear. One core message is that our life in this world is not for this world but for the Kingdom.

Reason can take us far in theism, but Christianity itself is about God's revelation in Christ. It doesn't make any sense to discuss a Christian Church's teaching in some ethical matter in way that is divorced from Christ's commands.

Now of course the Christian trusts that God who is the foundation of reason does not contradict His revealed truth. It seems you think that if more people would take Christ seriously and make the effort to do what He asks of them then the result would be that the “brutish would rule”. I will not discuss the relevance of this belief, but wish to dispute it. First I find that human nature is such that in real life true humility is victorious. Second it seems to me that the brutish can rule only when the people they rule over do not do as Christ asks of them. And indeed that's why the brutish still rule.

September 17, 2016 at 1:50 AM


Hi. I can see that this conversation will go nowhere fast as we are working from completely different assumption sets. Yours is theological, and within a particular Eastern Christian tradition which has different emphases than does the one best known to me. Nonetheless I will try and explain what I meant by the casual use of the term "spiritualize" and its entailment.

I had in mind just that impulse which is often seen as emphasized in some of the Eastern Churches (or at least the writings of their authorities**) which is often one of passivity, the stressing of mildness and acceptance, the direction of the intellect away from life toward contemplative matters ... even to the extent it seems, of allowing the ultimate destruction of one's own family and kind.

This is not unknown in the west either, but seems to be less mainstream. One may respond that they are attempting to be a light unto the world, a sacrifice upon the altar, and a willing victim and so forth, but what that plan - based on a wrongheaded interpretation I think - results in, is wandering monks in a sea of Muslims, raped daughters, Janissary sons, falling or squeezed faith populations, and an enervated, dead-end result, which ultimately converts no one to anything.

Thus I was thinking particularly of Quietism in its Christian version, in particular.

I am sure that this is not an accurate or fair characterization of "the Eastern Churches" over all, but that is the dynamic, and the terminology I had in mind as I wrote.

Regards,

** See, The Eclipse of Christianity in Asia, Lawrence Browne, Cambridge 1933

Brandon said...

After beginning the punishment one is final, the other is not.

This is not true. When you are sentenced to death, your sentence is actually to be held in custody until you can be executed; people on death row have already begun their punishment, and it is simply absurd to suggest otherwise, as you are doing. When you are sentenced to life without parole, your sentence is to be held in custody until you die. In both cases, the sentence is not completed until you are dead; in both cases, the sentence begins before then -- and even with a death sentence your imprisonment after sentence will usually last for years and may last literally for decades. A death sentence is entirely a form of life without parole. The sole morally significant difference between the death penalty and life without parole is responsibility for the death: in a sentence of life without parole, we wait for you to die on your own; in a sentence of death we take on ourselves the responsibility to kill you. All of the greater gravity and seriousness of the death sentence comes from this and this alone: whether we end up emphasizing the point by taking, in principle, active responsibility for their death or whether we will simply decide to wait until it inevitably happens anyway.

A2 said...

@Brandon

With respect, I think your argument fails. I appreciate your attempt to argue your case, but at a very fundamental level there is a clear difference. Your argument is more nitpicking what I said. I am not going to make an airtight comment under a blog post. You will have to accept that what I was saying is that once the death has actually taken place and the actual life incarceration there is a difference.

I also want to make it clear to everyone that I accept the death penalty by the state, in principle. I just don't think it should ever be something within the ordinary criminal justice system. Other means that are fitting to the demands of justice should be exhausted since Christian mercy is not in opposition to it. There must be a very specific reason and situation that calls for the death penalty, so much so that another punishment just could not in reality be administered. These kinds of situations are so rare and so peculiar I do not believe it should be simply an option within the ordinary apparatus of the courts.
My view is nuanced, I confess, but I hope you can appreciate exactly why I am in disagreement. There are some horrific circumstances in which people have unjustly been put on death row. This happens too often. Even when people are guilty I fear that the punishment doesn't consider that not everyone is a lost cause.

Brandon said...

With respect, I think your argument fails. I appreciate your attempt to argue your case, but at a very fundamental level there is a clear difference.

If there is a clear difference, you should be able to prove it. But all you've actually done this entire time is say over and over again, "It's obvious," or give gerrymandered junk arguments like we get in the last sentence of your paragraph, in which you are saying that there is a difference between a completed death sentence and a not-completed life sentence. True, but there is a difference between a completed death sentence and a not-completed death sentence, as well, and it's the same difference, as I've already noted. All of this I have argued; you have merely given an absurdly long list of assertions -- that it is clear, that it is what has to be held to be intellectually honest, etc., etc. I don't know what it is about people recently, but opinions about whether an argument fails are useless and irrelevant; you need to give the reasons that show that it fails.

Tony said...

I just don't think it should ever be something within the ordinary criminal justice system. Other means that are fitting to the demands of justice should be exhausted since Christian mercy is not in opposition to it. There must be a very specific reason and situation that calls for the death penalty, so much so that another punishment just could not in reality be administered.

A2, you have repeated this, but I have not seen an actual argument for this, just your pet preferences. Well, I don't share those specific preferences, so your comment is unhelpful.

In general, justice is a basic goal of the government, it is part of what constitutes the common good. In general, retributive punishment is ordered to justice by imposing proportionate punishments on guilty criminals, to restore justice. In general, the government should seek proportionate punishments, and it should be an exception to step away from that: typically, the rationale for passing up justice would be an exceptional situation where pursuing full retribution would cause the loss of some other, even more important good; or the unusual case where we could achieve some good even greater than retributive justice by another response than proportionate punishment. To pass up justice, to pass up what is for the common good, to pursue something lesser, is irrational. So, you have to make an argument that what good you think we are achieving by passing up justice is better than that justice for the common good. So far, I haven't seen it an attempt to argue that.

The theory that mercy is better than justice is problematic, for at least 2 reasons. First, because leniency in punishing the criminal is a mercy to him, not to the state. It is a way of giving to the criminal something better than he deserves (that's the definition of mercy), but it is not giving to the state something better than it deserves. So, it is not in any sense something that balances the STATE'S loss of justice.

Secondly, because rule-based leniency does not actually operate as mercy. If you have a system of laws that says "we will impose proportionate punishments up to a point, but after that we will use lesser punishments", and apply this across the board, the psychological effect on the people will be to say, in effect, that "we don't think those even harsher punishments are just - the LESSER punishments are just." People will come to think of the penalty of "life in prison" is the JUST punishment for cold-blooded, pre-meditated murder, not a mercy. They will not be affected by it as receiving a favor, a grace, a benefit that they didn't deserve. It will not have the effect on them of being thankful for that benefit and blessing, as mercy ought to evoke, because if it happens by uniformity of rule, then it becomes what they perceive as the norm - what they OUGHT to be able to expect. And, as a result, that mercy will do nothing special to lead them to repentance, which is what the mercy of a lenient penalty ought to do. No, mercy needs to be individual, not an institutionalized rule. It therefore needs to be not the taken-for-granted rule, but unusual.

George LeSauvage said...

@A2:

I'm afraid I am unable to find the nuance in your position. In a system of law (at least of the kind America inherited from England), saying "These kinds of situations are so rare and so peculiar I do not believe it should be simply an option within the ordinary apparatus of the courts." would seem to amount to outright abolition.

I also have to agree with Brandon & Tony; we haven't seen actual arguments put forth, or even much in the way of illustration, but merely assertions of your position.

Note too that no one I am aware of holds that capital punishment entails the view that the one executed is "a lost cause". Historically, the prisoner has always been afforded the rites of the church, in hopes precisely of his salvation. That's a different matter entirely.

I seem to be missing something.

Jonathan Watson said...

As a longtime reader of both Feser and Shea, I cannot believe that some of you guys are parsing Mark Shea like this. His writing is political and rhetorical, almost never philosophical. He and Feser have almost nothing to say to each other, and they shouldn't say it.

Tony said...

that no one I am aware of holds that capital punishment entails the view that the one executed is "a lost cause". Historically, the prisoner has always been afforded the rites of the church, in hopes precisely of his salvation. That's a different matter entirely.

Indeed, Pope JPII explicitly pointed out the beneficial effect of the just punishment borne willingly by the sinner, as expiation for his sins, which applies particularly of the death penalty because there is no later chance to reverse the offender's good will in willingly suffer his punishment. A man who goes to his hanging or firing squad having made his peace with God in confession, who attempts insofar as he is able to align his will with God's at his known and pre-set moment of death, can be reasonably certain of gaining heaven (and, with some reason to believe his sin may be _fully_ expiated via that death). A man who at first willingly accepts his life-in-prison sentence, but eventually changes his mind about how just it really is, or allows himself to backslide into various old and new attachments to sin, cannot be any more confident of gaining heaven than any of the rest of us who don't know when our death will occur. Nor can he have any strong reason to think that he has in this life borne the suffering necessary for the expiation of his crime. The view that the death penalty treats a man as a lost cause altogether does not reflect the possibility of confession and forgiveness available from the Church.

Tony said...

Jonathan, shouldn't even political writers and polemicists be held accountable for what may be offenses against rash judgment or calumny?

Even if Mark Shea were to agree with you that his writing is of a different kind than that of Professor Feser, I doubt that he would accept as an "explanation" of his writing that he is philosophically sloppy, facile, or just plain wrong in some small details, as if that made it OK to write the way he has written. I suspect that he would criticize ANOTHER blogger who claimed such an excuse for getting things awry.

Greg said...

The recurrent tone (and, often if not usually, explicit content) of Shea's polemics is: All I'm doing is following the manifest teaching of the Church, while those who disagree with me are engaging in mental acrobatics to justify their right-wing neuroses. If he tends to reason poorly in this exercise, then that should be pointed out thoroughly and charitably, as Feser has done.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@DNW

“we are working from completely different assumption sets.”

I don't see that at all. We are both Christians. Further as it happens our churches agree on 99.9% of theology. The matter we are discussing in this thread is of tertiary importance – the practical solution being that in order to be on the safe side we should never exercise capital punishment, at least in the context of peace. Our discussion then has mainly theoretical value, but is important since it concerns ethics and perhaps meta-ethics. And concerns good governance, an especially critical matter in today's world, since for the first time in history humanity has the power to do irreparable damage to nature.

“Yours is theological, and within a particular Eastern Christian tradition which has different emphases than does the one best known to me.”

On theism everything is theological at bottom, even reason itself. Now the Eastern tradition is in some interesting senses different than the Western tradition – more mystical and more practical perhaps. We do agree on the importance of tradition, and there is here some ground for learning from each other, but I don't see how such differences affect the ethical matter we are discussing.

“which is often one of passivity, the stressing of mildness and acceptance, the direction of the intellect away from life toward contemplative matters”

Christ's central admonition not to return evil can be misunderstood as the way of passivity, which it's anything but. Mildness and acceptance (as in “forgive and even love your enemies”) are excellent theistic virtues, after all we live in a reality grounded in and infused by God. As for the direction of the intellect towards contemplative matters this mainly concerns the monastic tradition, which is a glorious way for some but not for all. (Incidentally orthodox monks believe that solitary prayer has momentous power to change the world – if they are right then monastic life is not a passive one.)

“even to the extent it seems, of allowing the ultimate destruction of one's own family and kind.”

That's what actually interests me in our discussion. I can see that on a superficial level the “return no evil” command would appear to lead to self-destruction. Not to mention the “consider the lilies” rhetoric. But why think it is actually so?

My question is this: Suppose more Christians would take Christ's commands seriously, which is to say literally (that Christ meant His commands literally is proved by His own life). Such a choice among Christians would certainly affect to some degree the flow of history and the evolution of our societies. On what grounds do you reason that such a choice would affect society for the worse?

“results in, is wandering monks in a sea of Muslims, raped daughters, Janissary sons, falling or squeezed faith populations, and an enervated, dead-end result, which ultimately converts no one to anything”

I don't see this at all. After all the most glorious and productive period in Christian history was when Christianity had no official power and Christians were thrown to the lions. I believe that if more people would follow Christ then history would take a turn for the better. As a Christian it strikes me as pretty obvious that He by whom “all things were made” would not command us in such a way that should we follow Him then all things would turn for the worse. It strikes me as incoherent in a fundamental way. For surely Christ came for the Kingdom which is not of this world, but not to damage this world in the process.

I am curious to hear your arguments for the belief that by literally following Christ's commands we would end up hurting our societies.

A2 said...

@ Brandon, Tony and George

Not everything was an argument. Where I expressed an opinion I expressed an opinion. Where I made an argument, I made it in much the same way as you yourselves did.

Capital Punishment is a severe sentence. It is severe enough to be a different kind and degree of punishment than others. Any such punishment should be considered, if we are Christian, in the dual demands of justice AND mercy. Once acted upon there is no chance of reform. Time in jail or another punishment allows for the process of reform. The finality of death closes the door on any further recourse to review of an unjust sentence or law. I already made the argument that Jesus himself COULD have administered the death penalty to the woman caught in adultery and did not. Others brought up versus mainly about Peter's authority in response (with the assumption that the events were causal and not just timing according to providence for the sake of teaching).

Human laws and legal institutions imperfectly participate in justice and imperfectly act according to natural moral law. Human legal institutions and apparatus should have the maximum safeguards to review and correct unjust legislation and judgements. Thus, there are and will always be the possibility, and most probably actual, miscarriages of justice, and these in themselves should rule out the death penalty under normal circumstances as an option within such systems. Unless of course it is unreasonable to defend the innocent from death or even murder along with executing the guilty, as long as the state can punish with maximum severity (in some court rulings I consider it so obvious that the person was innocent or that the death penalty was more than inappropriate murder sanctioned by the courts).

I have argued my case. I have also expressed opinions. Not much different than you have.

Of course there is a difference between a death sentence completed or uncompleted. The entire point is, once the process has happened you can not rectify a mistake or reform the person. Your very point argues for my position. You could halt the execution before it is acted out, not afterwards. You can free someone from prison before and after they are put behind bars. The time frame isn't unimportant, if it were, then maybe there would be some validity to comparing both sentences having been completed. That just avoids the fact that between commencement of incarceration and death in prison someone could reform or be released. Once the death penalty has commenced, the person is dead. Also the death penalty implies that the person is moving towards a final judgement, from which there is no return.

As I say, lets wait to see who the next president is. Maybe the thought criminals who do not bow to the every whim of the Leftist thought police will be put to death.



A2 said...

@Greg
I rarely read Mark Shea myself. I remember one other time there was a big uproar about something he said. Although on that occasion he was vindicated in content if not in tone. That was the whole Fr. Corapi thing.

We all make mistakes, unfortunately. I can only hope that we can all learn from our own mistakes. I suppose that takes a tumble now and again to bring us to our senses.

A2 said...

*verses

Yes I know, missing punctuation and typos fill that comment before the last one.

Seamus said...

As a longtime reader of both Feser and Shea, I cannot believe that some of you guys are parsing Mark Shea like this. His writing is political and rhetorical, almost never philosophical. He and Feser have almost nothing to say to each other, and they shouldn't say it.

Well, to be fair, Shea started it, and Feser is simply defending himself against Shea's attack.

Florentius said...

"Bizarre and inflammatory accusations."

Sadly, in those four words you have accurately summed up much of Mr. Shea's writing over the past couple years.

Tony said...

Human laws and legal institutions imperfectly participate in justice and imperfectly act according to natural moral law. Human legal institutions and apparatus should have the maximum safeguards to review and correct unjust legislation and judgements. Thus, there are and will always be the possibility, and most probably actual, miscarriages of justice, and these in themselves should rule out the death penalty under normal circumstances as an option within such systems.

A2, this is at best a kind of probable argument. As such, it isn't terrible, but neither could it be definitive.

The possibility of miscarriages of justice will be available whether the death penalty is available, or ruled off limits. Take, for example, a case where a murderer's guilt is known as certainly as we get in human terms: the act was witnessed by multiple witnesses, he confessed to it, and we have it on videotape. And, suppose that the criminal is unrepentant, given over to evil, embraces the evil of the act. And, suppose that the act was especially heinous: not only murder, but aggravated by torture and rape, and performed specifically to incite followers to start a riot to cause hundreds of more murders. So, we have (a) certainty of the guilt, (b) assurance of the malice, and (c) intent of harm to the common good for which mere life in prison cannot even approach to redress.

To take the death penalty off the table as a legal option is to say that the remote possibility of a miscarriage even in this most grave and certain case would be a worse evil to the common good than the evil of retribution unmet, redress not addressed, punishment disproportionate. This is an incredibly implausible judgment. It is, frankly, unreasonable. At some point, the probability of a miscarriage of justice by being too reticent to act upon evidence is greater than the probability of a miscarriage of justice by acting on the evidence.

If it were valid, it would undermine ALL human judgments of punishment: A sentence of 10 years in prison? Oops, that might be 1.3 times the just amount, we MUSN'T do that! In fact, we aren't absolutely, definitively, positively, mathematically certain that ANY time in prison might not be in error - so let him go." No: moral certainty is enough to operate on even in grave matters (otherwise it would be impossible to avoid mortal sin), and having a case where the death penalty is the just penalty "beyond a reasonable doubt" is, per se, a case where rejecting the death penalty out of fear of making a mistake is UNREASONABLE.

Demand that the death penalty be restricted to directly witnessed crimes, I won't be upset. Demand that it be restricted to cases of real malice, rather than lesser evils in the will, I can live with that. But if you say the death penalty should not be a legal punishment, should be written off the books, then you condemn the state to repudiating justice in a really critical, elemental sense - and you undermine justice itself as a common good.

DNW said...

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@DNW

“we are working from completely different assumption sets.”

I don't see that at all. We are both Christians. Further as it happens our churches agree on 99.9% of theology ..."

Daniel let's make sure we are on the same page before proceeding further ...


"The Orthodox Christian tradition is broad, long, complex, and variegated. It honors not only princes who gave up their lives rather than resist evil, but also warrior-saints ... As I searched the sources of Eastern Orthodox tradition for material regarding war, I began to see that these contained none of the traditional components of the western just-war theory. ... Virtually absent in the tradition is any mention of a “just” war, much less a “good” war. The tradition also precludes the possibility of a crusade ..."


If Russia did not exist, would there still be any Orthodoxy in the lands of its origin, to even moot this question?

DNW said...

Hey Daniel,

While considering whether to bother to link to the New Advent entry on "Quietism" or to the Fr. Alexander Webster (Orthodox) interview on the tension within the Orthodox Church over the issue of a just war and the permissibility of self-defense, I came across this web page, which seems to - in exaggerated form perhaps - present the essence of the Eastern (in this case Coptic) view.

Note the language of Coptic Bishop Raphaeil here ...

Maybe, he thinks that it would be the best thing if Christians were exterminated to the point they no longer even reproduced? What a state of world transforming holiness would ensue!

Oh how lucky you are, Mary, you who are beloved of Christ. They tore your body because of the Cross. Yet they offered you the greatest service and gave you a name of honor as one who attained the crown of martyrdom.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

The Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church share the same scripture, the same Fathers, the same saints, the same Ecumenical Councils, the same ecclesiastical mysteries – all that came into being in the critical first centuries of Christianity. Indeed the schism between the two churches only happened in 1054 AD and mostly for political reasons. That's why I think it is right to say that we share 99.9% of theology. Indeed the major theological difference concerns the so-called filioque, an obscure matter with zero practical relevance in the life of the Christian.

There are of course many differences also, albeit of an almost exclusively non-theological nature. So there may be differences how the two churches view the issues of capital punishment, just war, contraception, abortion, and so on – but if they are such differences I personally have the impression that they are minor. On the whole I think the general teaching of the Orthodox church in these matters is similar to what the Catholic church teaches.

Incidentally the Coptic Church you refer to in your last post (sometimes called “Oriental Orthodox Church”) must not be confused with the Eastern Orthodox Church. They are quite different, here the schism happened much earlier, and indeed the theological differences between the two are perhaps more significant, even though still quite obscure.

There is much to be discussed here, but I really don't see why we must first discuss these matters before you justify your claim that if more Christians were to understand Christ's commands in a literal sense then this would change our societies for the worse.

I can see an argument why such a choice would put one's own or one's family's worldly wellbeing at risk. After all that happened to Christ, but also to many of the first Christians who testified for Him. But I don't see why, as you seem to imply, society would suffer. It seems to me that society would greatly benefit, while the personal risks are today much smaller.

And, by the way, my name is Dianelos and not Daniel. People make this particular error even in my native Greece :-)

DNW said...

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

The Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church share the same scripture, the same Fathers, the same saints, the same Ecumenical Councils, the same ecclesiastical mysteries – all that came into being in the critical first centuries of Christianity. Indeed the schism between the two churches only happened in 1054 AD and mostly for political reasons. That's why I think it is right to say that we share 99.9% of theology. Indeed the major theological difference concerns the so-called filioque, an obscure matter with zero practical relevance in the life of the Christian.

Yeah. Look, I'm not trying to make the schism into a chasm; but what I am trying to do is figure out what the assumption set we bring to the discussion is.

Allow me another side stepping question here, which I think might help.

What is the current Orthodox stance on natural law and rights?

I'm asking this question because there is something in our tacit or assumed anthropologies, or worldviews that is at variance in a way I cannot quite put my finger on. It's some assumption you are either making or not making, or I am making or not making that is at deep variance.

Since I have never given any thought at all to the Orthodox worldview, I cannot claim to understand their predicate assumptions in the way I do, say, Marxists or libertarians.

But there is something related to the idea of natural man, or natural liberty, or natural rights, or personal honor - within the context and allowable confines of Christianity - or something along those lines, which I cannot get to - fathom - wherin it concerns your basic assumption set. This makes it otiose to even try and discuss the practicalities of what, I fully admit, initially looks like a straightforward implementation and outcome question.

"I can see an argument why such a choice would put one's own or one's family's worldly wellbeing at risk. After all that happened to Christ, but also to many of the first Christians who testified for Him. But I don't see why, as you seem to imply, society would suffer. It seems to me that society would greatly benefit, while the personal risks are today much smaller."

Earlier,

"My question is this: Suppose more Christians would take Christ's commands seriously, which is to say literally (that Christ meant His commands literally is proved by His own life). Such a choice among Christians would certainly affect to some degree the flow of history and the evolution of our societies. On what grounds do you reason that such a choice would affect society for the worse? "

Well, I really don't see anything there to object to. Being nice to people generally pays off, and engenders good feelings all around. And assuming that trespasses are usually inadvertent or correctable is a better policy than calling the annoying one out and dueling at dawn. Even though that might be much more appealing at first glance.

Cont ...

DNW said...

Cont ...

The problem comes about when it, trespasses, get to be a pattern, or a policy ... eh?

Recall Crude's reference to Ananias and Sapphira. Note the premise, and how it assumes the legitimacy of self-interest.

"Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal?"

Here is something else I have quoted before From Bede ...



" ... in the province of the Northumbrians, where King Ceolwulf reigns, four bishops now preside; Wilfrid in the church of York, Ethelwald in that of Lindisfarne, Acca in that of Hagustald, Pecthelm in that which is called the White House, which, as the number of the faithful has increased, has lately become an episcopal see, and has him for its first prelate.

The Pictish people also at this time are at peace with the English nation, and rejoice in having their part in Catholic peace and truth with the universal Church. The Scots that inhabit Britain, content with their own territories, devise no plots nor hostilities against the English nation. The Britons, though they, for the most part, as a nation hate and oppose the English nation, and wrongfully, and from wicked lewdness, set themselves against the appointed Easter of the whole Catholic Church; yet, inasmuch as both Divine and human power withstand them, they can in neither purpose prevail as they desire; for though in part they are their own masters, yet part of them are brought under subjection to the English.

In these favourable times of peace and calm, many of the Northumbrians, as well of the nobility as private persons, laying aside their weapons, and receiving the tonsure, desire rather both for themselves and their children to take upon them monastic vows, than to practise the pursuit of war. What will be the end hereof, the next age will see."


What the next age saw of course, was the sacking of Christian lands and institutions, including Jarrow, the slaughter of the Christian people and enslavement of the survivors, by those from across the North Sea, who did not cease to practice war and to whom your turning the other cheek meant nothing more than a windfall victory.

In the same author and work are found the story of the travel of Arculf to the Holy Land as well as mention of a Saracen invasion of Gaul.

Interesting reading.

Tony said...

There is much to be discussed here, but I really don't see why we must first discuss these matters before you justify your claim that if more Christians were to understand Christ's commands in a literal sense then this would change our societies for the worse.

I can see an argument why such a choice would put one's own or one's family's worldly wellbeing at risk. After all that happened to Christ, but also to many of the first Christians who testified for Him. But I don't see why, as you seem to imply, society would suffer. It seems to me that society would greatly benefit, while the personal risks are today much smaller.

Dianelos, it seems to me that taking Christ literally includes all of what he said and did. It includes both accepting the Cross willingly at the Father's will, and it meant taking on the money-changers in the temple and violently throwing them out. At one remove, it also includes St. Paul's Roman comments about the "rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God's servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer." Although there were in earliest Christian times those who claimed complete pacifism in the face of violence, across the board, it is my understanding that these were always in the minority. I thought that most Fathers have held that although a man generally has full freedom to pacifically accept evil and violence to his own person without resistance, those who have the care of others do not have the same freedom: they often have a positive duty to act, even with force, to protect the innocent from unjust harm. This, indeed, is part of the role of Paul's "ruler" bearing the sword.

Do you suggest that in the Eastern tradition, there is no such similar teaching as to a positive duty to protect the innocent even with force at times? That even parents and state authorities would be "following Jesus literally" if they _never_ resorted to force to resist evil? Would a parent take literally the Bible's admonition to parents to punish with "the rod" for the good of the child? Do you suggest complete non-resistance to force is the prevailing stance of Eastern theological teaching as the most true to the New Testament?

DNW said...

Just to make sure I am not misunderstood - which I now see as likely given the way I wrote:

When I wrote, " ... who did not cease to practice war and to whom your turning the other cheek meant nothing more than a windfall victory." ...

I should have realized that it might have been read as if the possessive pronoun "your" referred polemically to my correspondent, who was in good faith arguing for Christian understanding; rather than, as was the case, to some hypothetical follower of a certain Biblical injunction during a particular historical period and in a particular place.

It might therefore be misread as the equivalent of a "your bright idea" style retort.

I should have used "one's" instead of your; i.e., " ... and to whom [meaning the Danes] one's turning the other cheek meant nothing more than a windfall victory.

R.C. said...

Whoa.

Is it true that "Germain Grisez, John Finnis, Robert P. George..." all say that the Church CAN and SHOULD reverse her teaching and claim that capital punishment is intrinsically immoral?

I had no idea.

I had never heard that anyone other than the half-catchized persons with an inclination to emote their way to all their opinions -- which is to say, conservatively 75% of all American Catholics -- actually held such a view.

But Grisez? Finnis? George? These are names I respect. They are men who value thinking. And most of the time they actually show serious thought in what they say. They aren't half-catechized skulls-full-of-mush. If they're saying something so out-of-bounds, I may have to find out what they think and why.

I've no illusions about their infallibility, of course.

But I also have no illusions about mine. I've long felt comfortable thinking that of course there's no serious argument that the Church could flip about in such a way and still make any claims about the infallibility of her own ordinary Magisterium.

It seems perfectly clear: If the Church were to suddenly "make gay okay" or ordain women or declare capital punishment intrinsically evil, I would have to conclude that Jesus did not provide the world an infallible Magisterium. But He seems to have promised exactly that. So how could He be God? So in that case I'm not sure I could remain a Theist; but if I did, I'd either have to find some way to reconcile myself to joining some Eastern Orthodox group or other; or maybe just return to a Protestant Indifferentism.

But Jesus is God, and keeps his promises. Therefore the Catholic Church will never do this...and a competent and clear-headed theologian, if he believes in Magisterial infallibility, will be confident that the Church could never do this.

At least, that's what I thought.

This kinda shakes me. Sure, people are foolish, even smart ones. But all three of those guys? Have I been wildly missing something, that the permissibility of capital punishment isn't a no-brainer? What gives?

Tony said...

R.C., another possibility is that the "new natural law" theory that these three men share is to blame, being both in error of itself, and clouding their judgment as to the implications of it (infallibility-wise).

Mayhap that the new natural law theory is extremely attractive because it fits so well with 96% of Catholic doctrine, and it is only when you play it out in all of its implications do you discover "oh, hey, but it also means that the Church would have been wrong all these centuries on an irreformable teaching on capital punishment", at which point people have already become ennamored and enmeshed with delight in the theory. So people spend enormous amounts of emotional and mental energy trying to square the theory with infallibility, twisting this way and that to see if the theory can escape absolute censure, all the while remaining generally committed to the Church, but holding in reserve as "undecided" whether the new natural law theory is fully compatible with magisterial teaching - because after all it has not been formally and directly denounced.

Who knows, maybe some strong thinker will come along and, from all the prior twisting and turning, come up with a revision of the new natural law theory that alters it just enough to say "oh, yes, the death penalty IS morally permissible, after all, in this theory." That would leave men like George with an emotionally satisfying avenue of "keeping" their theory - as long as they accept the revision as valid WITHIN the theory - while remaining faithful to the magisterial teaching that the death penalty is morally permissible.

Tony said...

In any case, the Church is right. There have been brilliant men in the past, serious men, men committed to thinking well, who went astray. Those who could not accept the Church's correction became the "great" heresiarchs, those who could accept the Church's correction usually became unknowns who continued to do good work in the Church.

Greg said...

Grisez has long advocated "no intentional killing." In his 1986 Fundamentals of Ethics, Finnis attempted to carve out a spot for capital punishment in his theory but was later convinced by his colleagues that it is not possible. So yes, they now argue that the Church can and should change its teaching on capital punishment.

Christian Brugger, whom Professor Feser mentions in the CWR articles and will mention in the book, has done most of the historical work in trying to show that the Church could teach that capital punishment is impermissible in principle.

Nate Winchester said...

Well Shea went and posted a reply.
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/markshea/2016/09/reply-to-dr-feser-regarding-the-death-penalty.html

And seems to prove he didn't bother reading a damn thing Ed wrote.

Greg said...

What tripe.

meunke said...

LOL! @Nate, this surprised you?

Meunke (AKA Pete the Greek)

DNW said...

Nate Winchester said...

Well Shea went and posted a reply.
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/markshea/2016/09/reply-to-dr-feser-regarding-the-death-penalty.html

And seems to prove he didn't bother reading a damn thing Ed wrote.

September 22, 2016 at 4:55 AM


Greg said...

What tripe.

September 22, 2016 at 5:34 AM



Did I earlier say or imply that Shea seems very emotional for a man, and seems to pretend to powers of clairvoyance it is unlikely he actually has?

Yeah, I think I already said that.

By the way, was that extensive quote of Shea's from "Steve Greydanus", linked to or dated? Some of the Crutcher affair assertions, off of which Shea springboards, seem curiously out of date and suspect.

meunke said...

"linked to or dated?"
- Doesn't matter. The Truth of any of that doesn't matter. Shea mentions in that same post that the Tamir Rice incident was a case of 'cold blooded murder', so the man is either woefully inept at keeping up with actual events or is a liar. I really, honestly, hope that it's the a case of the first.

Greg said...

@ DNW

It wasn't linked or dated. It could have been something that someone posted on his Facebook. (Its style would suggest that. Greydanus uses asterisks for emphasis, and puts his sources in quotations.)

I was a bit surprised when Shea said that his reasons were "severalfold," since he hasn't really attempted much to give reasons responsive to Feser's argument. But my confusion evaporated after I started reading that 700-word red herring.

Note that he repeats the inference from "4% of people on death row are innocent" to "if you support capital punishment, then you don't mind killing 4 innocents for every 96 guilty," entirely neglecting Bessette's response. Just irresponsible and disingenuous.

Nate Winchester said...

LOL! @Nate, this surprised you?

Meunke (AKA Pete the Greek)


Pete! My good man, it did not surprise me at all, just noting it for posterity. I am more surprised that your charity towards him had run out. Though with his repeated misinformation and refusal to be corrected it's inevitable I suppose.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ DNW

“What is the current Orthodox stance on natural law and rights?”

I don't know. Neither do I see what its relevance is to the question at hand, which is a factual one as it concerns how individual choices affect one's society. We are discussing what might justify the claim that if more Christians were to understand Christ's commands literally and make a serious effort to follow them then things in society would take a turn for the worse. Whatever the Orthodox stance may be does not affect the truth in the matter we are discussing.

“Being nice to people generally pays off, and engenders good feelings all around.”

Christ explicitly said that being nice to those who are nice to us is not the issue. The issue is to be nice to those who are mean to us, those who hurt us, those who try to steal from us.

I understand your misgivings since I can see that such the ethics of not returning evil appears to be absurd and may well lead to self-destruction. But the question remains if – beyond one's own fate – society as a whole would benefit or not.

“The problem comes about when it, trespasses, get to be a pattern, or a policy ... eh?”

I was not discussing the effects of policy makers taking Christ's commands seriously. This is an important but separate issue. I am curious about common people (like you and me) who are presumably not asked to define policy or to exercise state power.

As for the story you quote I don't find any modern source according to which some policies inspired by the literal understandin of Christ's commands led Northumbria to its doom - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kingdom_of_Northumbria

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ Tony

“At one remove [taking Christ literally] also includes St. Paul's Roman comments about the "rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God's servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer."”

Right. What St Paul seems to be saying here is that Christians should not resist state power. Which does not strike as a contradiction or an addition to Christ's teaching. More like a clarification.

“Although there were in earliest Christian times those who claimed complete pacifism in the face of violence, across the board, it is my understanding that these were always in the minority.”

You're probably right, but the opinion of the earliest Christians is not the issue here. Perhaps they thought that Christ's commands are not to be taken literally, and perhaps they were right in thinking in this way. The question which interests me is a factual one, namely what would be the effect on society if more Christians did take Christ's commands literally.

“I thought that most Fathers have held that although a man generally has full freedom to pacifically accept evil and violence to his own person without resistance, those who have the care of others do not have the same freedom: they often have a positive duty to act, even with force, to protect the innocent from unjust harm.”

I am not sure how you mean that. We have full freedom to follow or to not follow Christ's literal commands, the question is whether we should. At a time when Christians were sacrificing their lives for their faith I can't very well imagine that the Fathers held that a Christian need not take Christ's commands literally.

Nor am I sure how what you mean by “those who have the care of others”. After all a father has the care of his family. And there are some bits in the Gospels that appear to speak exactly about this issue. From Luke 9:

And He said unto another, “Follow Me.” But he said, “Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father.” Jesus said unto him, “Let the dead bury their dead, but go thou and preach the Kingdom of God.” And another also said, “Lord, I will follow Thee, but let me first go bid those farewell who are at home at my house.” And Jesus said unto him, “No man, having put his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the Kingdom of God.”

It's hard to see how somebody who does not mean what he says in a literal sense would speak like that.

“Do you suggest that in the Eastern tradition, there is no such similar teaching as to a positive duty to protect the innocent even with force at times?”

No, I am not suggesting this at all. What I do know is that when the troops march out to war the Orthodox priests are there to bless them.

Glenn said...

Dianelos,

We are discussing what might justify the claim that if more Christians were to understand Christ's commands literally and make a serious effort to follow them then things in society would take a turn for the worse.

Try as I might, I cannot find where DNW has made any such claim.

I do not speak for him, and I'm sure he'll correct me if I'm off base, but in a nutshell, or to put it into oversimplified terms, I read DNW's concern as having to do with the cumulative consequences which might arise -- and at times have arisen -- from people carrying on as if Jesus had said, "Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore harmless as doves," rather than, "Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves."

Glenn said...

(s/b "...from people constantly carrying on as if...)

Tony said...

Perhaps they thought that Christ's commands are not to be taken literally, and perhaps they were right in thinking in this way. The question which interests me is a factual one, namely what would be the effect on society if more Christians did take Christ's commands literally.

Dianelos, I truly do NOT understand what you think you are getting at with "take Christ's commands literally". Do you mean ALL of them? Including "pluck out your eye" and "If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters--yes, even their own life--such a person cannot be my disciple"? Take those literally too?

I would put my answer this way: If everyone took literally the commands Christ meant literally and as applicable to all everywhere, and if everyone took figuratively the commands Christ meant to be taken figuratively, society would be much better. Much, much better. If everyone took literally EVERYTHING Christ said, including the things he meant figuratively, that would be worse than the first-mentioned society. Would it be better than this one? Who can say? I would be skeptical of any claim that it would be a better thing to "just take everything He said literally."

In some places Christ enjoins strict observance of the Law when He was teaching the Jews. In other places he rejects strict observance. WHICH ONE of these are you suggesting would be "followed literally"? Some commands he gave were commands spoken to specific persons. Did he mean them as GENERAL commands, for all to follow? Probably they were not intended for everyone everywhere: if everyone had become celibate missionaries, society would die out.

We have full freedom to follow or to not follow Christ's literal commands, the question is whether we should. At a time when Christians were sacrificing their lives for their faith I can't very well imagine that the Fathers held that a Christian need not take Christ's commands literally.

Well, no. I can imagine very well indeed the Fathers held that a Christian needed to take literally the commands Christ meant literally, and NOT take literally the commands Christ meant otherwise.

Right. What St Paul seems to be saying here is that Christians should not resist state power. Which does not strike as a contradiction or an addition to Christ's teaching. More like a clarification.

I can't make that work out at all. If every Christian were to take Christ's command literally - at all times - to turn the other cheek at violence, then there could be no Christian ruler to wield the sword as God's servant. Are you saying that the Christian ruler, even while wielding the sword to bring punishment on evildoers, would be following Christ's command to turn the other cheek to violence? It don't add up! It just don't add up!

Tony said...

Nor am I sure how what you mean by “those who have the care of others”. After all a father has the care of his family. And there are some bits in the Gospels that appear to speak exactly about this issue. From Luke 9:

And He said unto another, “Follow Me.” But he said, “Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father.”


I meant the "the care of others' safety." Whose enjoined duty is to PROTECT others from harm, including from violence. Like fathers, and also police - who wield the sword of the state.

There is no record or tradition I have ever heard of that any of the Apostles whom Christ called were fathers who had young children at home.

I maintain that Christ did not mean us to "take literally" every command, as applicable always and everywhere, and I maintain that the "turn the other cheek" is just one such case. In the Old Law, if a woman was raped out in the countryside, where nobody would have been within shouting distance, she was to be treated as not complicit. But if she was "raped" in the midst of town, where had she shouted she could have had help from others, she would be treated as complicit (assuming she did not actually shout for help). The underlying assumption is that OTHERS WOULD COME AND DEFEND HER from her attacker. They would not simply come and "turn the other cheek" to the violent attack. I find it incredibly implausible to imply that those who defended a woman from rape would be in the wrong for failing to comply with Christ's command.

And, if it would be wrong for a father or policeman to stand aside and let the rapist continue because he were "turning the other cheek", I think it eminently reasonable to say that society would be much the worse if everyone took Christ's command literally in such instances.

A2 said...

@All

Mark Shea clearly read through the comments here. Including my own. A bit of advice for Mark is to lower his tone. That is always where you trip up first and foremost. I say that as one who erred in like fashion.

I agree with much of what he said in his reply. I wouldn't have worded it anything like Mark. I understand what he means by the Church "changing" a position. Unfortunately a little more precision would word it as a development of doctrine and a greater prudential precision.

I think it is perfectly reasonable for Prof. Feser as a philosopher to write about and think through his position on the death penalty, or even write a book on it. If he does so often enough Mark he might even change his position.

You may both disagree, but let others see how you love one another also. (Tertullian)

Nate Winchester said...

A bit of advice for Mark is to lower his tone. That is always where you trip up first and foremost. I say that as one who erred in like fashion.

That may be where he starts, but he quickly follows it up by deception (mostly of himself) and foolishness.

Ironically when rebuking a commentator, Shea ended up describing his own self more aptly than I ever could: "[he] clings to lies because [he] is desperate to believe." Which wouldn't be so bad if he didn't refuse correction so vehemently.

bill bannon said...

There are Biblcal warnings about answering Shea ....one involving pork and pearls. I'd simply add that ccc #2267 makes deceptive sense only in affluent dominated countries or states...Europe and New England. In poor domnated countries, the death penalty saves tens of thousands of murder victims per year through deterrence ( which SCOTUS affirmed in general in 1976 )...and we know this deductively by a recent survey of world murder rates by a U.N. commission. Catholic, non death penalty
northern Latin America is the most murderous large region of the world and largely death penalty Asia is the safest large area of the world vis a vis ordinary murder. China has a murder rate of 1.1 per 100,000 and Brazil, the largest Catholic country, non death penalty, has a murder rate of 24+ per 100,000. Can you see why China does not want Catholic teaching to be influential in this area. Brazil had 50,674 murders in 2012. If they had China's murder rate, that figure becomes c. 2000? with 48,000 victim lives saved.

DNW said...

Dianelos,

I won't belabor the specific issues which and Glenn and Tony have addressed well enough as far as I am concerned. You did say something remarkable however. You said:

"I was not discussing the effects of policy makers taking Christ's commands seriously. This is an important but separate issue. I am curious about common people (like you and me) who are presumably not asked to define policy or to exercise state power."

The fact is that although commenters here come from all over the English speaking world, as well as other places, I am an American.

Thus as an American I define policy and exercise state power through the free exercise of my natural and political rights without higher authority; and no higher secular authority exists which is conceptually entitled to deference in any but the most formal and conditional way.

When a progressive say, characterizes the overturning of old precedent as now being "settled law", and insinuates that they are entitled to see it deferred to long term, they are wrong. Abolish the death penalty or bring it back: In procedural terms it is just as justifiable either way.

In this country, as Dicey described it, the people are sovereign when acting through the states - there is no other political sovereignty to respect of defer to and no class of functionaries or temporary representatives has any more innate moral authority to declare principles, than any other citizen in the age of his majority does.

The people you [apparently] refer to, are people elected to do our will, functioning as administrative hirelings or delegates ... not as a class of persons with a special moral standing in formulating and directing pubic policy.

Thus, the distinction which you appear draw from Biblical references, does not quite obtain to the extent which it seems to me that you envision as you refer to those "who are presumably not asked to define policy or to exercise state power". (Because I believe you are speaking more broadly than merely referring to the job of a warden in a prison with a gas chamber.)

Having then no political superior to tell me, or capable of telling me, that the death penalty is "wrong", or to take on himself a special and personal moral responsibility for "allowing" it under certain circumstances, the pattern seemingly assumed, simply does not obtain.

Therefore, the only real question is your original one regarding intra-Christian forbearance between peers. Any implied question respecting a deferring to secular authorities as anything more than temporary functionaries (much less invasive and subversive aliens), being rendered irrelevant: Any such deference constituting a betrayal of our moral rights and civic duties, not a virtue.

We have no Caesar to render unto.

We just argue over who administers the law for this or that period of time. Any deference is purely formal and of the nature of allowing the selected operator to carry out his assigned responsibilities lawfully. He does not get to manufacture them or decide what they are. If he does, he becomes the enemy himself. It is therefore just an explicitly contingent, and conditional, and revocable, allotment of administrative responsibility.

That is the thing about migrating to a place where there is no secular sovereign authority preexisting. Anyone trying to establish himself as one, has the same moral status as the wolf - or as any novel usurper would have in a country with an already established secular moral authority.

Yes, Christians should be forbearing as Christians; but here, there is no secular authority to whom we commend ourselves or render tribute, or engage with deferential and self-sacrificial humility. To do so would be a dereliction of duty.

That person or class of persons presumed simply does not really exist. If they try to arise, they can be justly put down as the enemies of the real sovereign political power, they are.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ Glenn,

"Try as I might, I cannot find where DNW has made any such claim."

Well, this has been a long discussion. Please search above for “the brutish would rule” and for “wandering monks in a sea of Muslims”. In these sections I understood DNW as claiming that we should not understand Christ's commands literally or applying in general, since if we did then some very bad implications would result.

I understand his belief since it does strike one as commonsensical, and I myself have felt its pull. But on further thought I could not substantiate it. Therefore I asked DNW about how he or she may justify it.

DNW said...

For what it is worth, imagine what it means to turn the other cheek with "neighbors" like this. ...

Then imagine that they are not your neighbors, and that you have to invite them into your polity first. As a citizen is it your Christian duty to arrange to become a crop they harvest and pillage?

"For this reason, the Sahābah (radiyallāhu ‘anhum) disliked entering the land of kharāj (taxed land) for the sake of agriculture, because it distracts from jihād. ...

It was said to one of them, “Why don’t you keep a farm for the family?” So he responded, “Wallāhi, we did not come as farmers, rather we came to kill the farmers and eat their crops.” 1

This and the previous narration are forms of tarhīb (warning against sin, disliked matters, or wasteful actions). They are not to be taken literally, as farming is a mubāh (permissible) form of work. But the message conveyed is that a believer lives by performing jihād and then taking from the agriculture of his kāfir enemies, not by dedicating his life to agriculture like his enemies do."

Dabiq 4


And ...


"Have you considered, if we take them [as slaves] and share them out, what will be left for Muslims who come after us? By God, the Muslims would not find a man to talk to and profit from his labors. The Muslims of our day will eat [from the work of] these people as long as they live, and when we and they die, our sons will eat their sons forever, as long as they remain, for they are slaves to the people of the religion of Islam as long as the religion of Islam shall prevail

"The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise ..." Fernandez Morera; excerpt taken from "The Jews of Islam, Bernard Lewis.

Book text above copied from the Internet instead of my physical copy of Morera's work.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ Tony,

“I truly do NOT understand what you think you are getting at with "take Christ's commands literally". Do you mean ALL of them? Including "pluck out your eye" and "If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters--yes, even their own life--such a person cannot be my disciple"? Take those literally too?”

No, when I say “literally” I refer to Christ's ethical teaching as revealed in the whole of the Gospels, and not to every single word that appears in them. The Gospels were written in a haphazard manner in the decades that followed Christ's bodily presence, and it's practically certain that not every word quoted was uttered by Christ. On the other hand everyone with an open mind who reads the Gospels receives a clear and coherent understanding of Christ's ethical teaching. I think this much is certain.

For the current discussion I think it suffices to use the summary in John 15:

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.

DNW said...

Hello Dianelos.

My view is that the injunctions of Jesus as presented in the Gospels must be understood in the contexts in which they are presented. Obviously some are in the form of categorical commands, and some, according to scholars, are didactic lessons expressed within and properly understood as relevant to particular social conditions which the Jews found themselves as a people subjected to foreign authority and demands; having lost political and even some physical autonomy.

Now, as far as I am aware, the Catholic Church (cannot say regarding the Orthodox) holds that the Gospels are not so much compendia of Divine commands, as works written by Apostles in some cases and disciples in others, in order to satisfy the desire of early Christians to know more about the life of Jesus life as a man. The preface of Luke even says so, I believe.

We see further in the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles, which were earlier than the Gospels (it is usually stated), how the disciples of Jesus understood and applied the teachings which they were transmitting orally. And in some cases we see records of communal sharing, and in others, we see acknowledgements - even if backhandedly or incidentally - that the natural right of a person to own and dispose of property for his own benefit was recognized. In some cases we see injunctions to feed the hungry, and in others we see that if these able bodied hungry do not work, then neither shall they eat. And in still other cases we see expressions of tolerance and loving kindness, and in others yet (John), mention of sins which need not be forgiven and cases in which the restoration of fraternal relations is abandoned.

And this dynamic sits upon the strata wherein I think the trouble in understanding or the divergence of opinion between us lies; and why I broached the subject of natural rights to you, and tried to tease out of you whether you imagined an individual had a right to his own life at least equal to the right another had to impose on and extract from it at will.

In fact, what I probably should do is scan and present some passages from the third and revised edition of the old Baltimore Catechism which address just what is meant by, "charity" and loving one's neighbor as one's self, and how those concepts are to be understood in at least a 1940's and 50's American Catholicism had just recently been confronted by two monolithic totalitarian adversaries which intended to wipe the Church out completely.

What reason could a Christian have had on some of the most extreme queitist interpretations, to even resist evil at all, or to try and raise a family and propagate the faith, if it were better just to be a doormat, and then die?

Glenn said...

"Try as I might, I cannot find where DNW has made any such claim."

Well, this has been a long discussion. Please search above for “the brutish would rule” and for “wandering monks in a sea of Muslims”. In these sections I understood DNW as claiming that we should not understand Christ's commands literally or applying in general, since if we did then some very bad implications would result.


I appreciate that you had initially misunderstood what DNW was saying; it's hardly the first time someone said something which was misunderstood, or that someone misunderstood something that was said.

Nonetheless, those sections are prior to DNW's very explicit statement that he "was thinking particularly of Quietism in its Christian version[.]"

Given that Quietism involves an abandoning of one's will, how might an expression of a concern that deleterious consequences may result -- and at times have resulted -- from abandoning one's will when dealing with the realities and exigencies of the natural world be tantamount to claiming either that "if more Christians were to understand Christ's commands literally and make a serious effort to follow them then things in society would take a turn for the worse" or that "we should not understand Christ's commands literally or applying in general, since if we did then some very bad implications would result"?

I don't see it.

- - - - -

For the current discussion I think it suffices to use the summary in John 15:

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.


Fine and well.

But I don't see why His command to us that we love others -- as He has loved us -- entails that we should indulge in willful blindness, toss common sense out the window or behave imprudently.

Suppose there is one group of virgins who take lamps with oil, and another group of virgins who take lamps without oil. Suppose further that at some point the second group of virgins says to the first group of virgins, "Our lamps are not lit. Give us some of your oil," and the first group of virgins responds, "No. If we do that, there may not be enough for both of us. Go and buy some for yourselves."

Think ye that Jesus might say of the first group of virgins that they were foolish, selfish, or unloving towards the second group?

Glenn said...

Sorry; that was to have been addressed to Dianelos.

dudleysharp said...

Mark Shea, as many Bishops, simply, parrot anti death penalty claims with no fact checking

All of Shea's several reasons to be in opposition to the death penalty are based within fiction. If you look at the full picture, with all of Shea's incomplete claims, it details why we should support the death penalty, as with links below.

The Death Penalty: Saving More Innocent Lives
http://prodpinnc.blogspot.com/2013/10/the-death-penalty-do-innocents-matter.html

The Death Penalty: Fair and Just
http://prodpinnc.blogspot.com/2013/12/is-death-peanalty-fairjust.html

The 4.1% "Innocent" on Death Row: More Nonsense
http://prodpinnc.blogspot.com/2015/04/the-41-innocent-on-death-row.html

Catechism Death Penalty Problems: Section 2267
http://prodpinnc.blogspot.com/2015/03/catechism-death-penalty-problems.html

Tony said...

No, when I say “literally” I refer to Christ's ethical teaching as revealed in the whole of the Gospels, and not to every single word that appears in them. The Gospels were written in a haphazard manner in the decades that followed Christ's bodily presence, and it's practically certain that not every word quoted was uttered by Christ. On the other hand everyone with an open mind who reads the Gospels receives a clear and coherent understanding of Christ's ethical teaching. I think this much is certain.

For the current discussion I think it suffices to use the summary in John 15:

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.


Ah, so, when you say "take Christ's commands literally," what you mean is "be a REAL Christian, instead of a being a lukewarm, so-so, half-hearted Christian." Or, in short, be a saint. No doubt, the world would be a much better place if everyone were to be a saint. This would of course entail there being no crime, and therefore no punishment for crime.

If we were instead to limit the requirement merely to everyone in government being a saint, a different result would come about. I have absolutely no reason to think that if everyone in the government, from legislators and judges on down to prosecutors and jailors were saints, that they and the entire system would be arranged to do away with the death penalty. I think they would, to a man, put to death the right persons, the persons for whom death as just punishment best served the common good, and they would refrain from using the death penalty on all others. And there is no body of thought that I have yet seen offered by ANYONE claiming to prove that it is always better for the common good to refrain from using the death penalty. Even JPII thought that there would remain unusual cases where it was needed.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ DNW, Glenn

Thanks for detailed feedback.

I think a problem here is that we are discussing various questions in parallel:

1. Do the Gospels give us a clear and coherent understanding of Christ's ethical teaching?

2. Is Christ's ethical message to be understood relativistically (in relation to the conditions at the times and places He lived, in relation to the people He spoke to, in relation to what He meant by “neighbor”, in relation to the state of knowledge then, and so on)? Or in an absolute/literal sense?

3. Is Christ's ethical message a fundamental part of the Gospels or are the Gospels mainly an account of the life of Christ and the meaning of His incarnation? Or, similarly, is what we do with Christ's commands critical for our salvation?

4. If more Christians were to make a greater effort to follow Christ's ethical teaching in an absolute/literal sense then would society take a turn for the better or for the worse?

The question that really interests me is #4, and I think the answer does not depend on how one answers #2 and #3, and depends on #1 only in the sense of defining what one means by “Christ's ethical teaching”. Incidentally question #4 is not really a theological or ethical question, but basically a scientific one in the fields of sociology and psychology. But still an important one because it touches upon the coherence of the Christian worldview, and in a more pragmatical sense because Christians have always wondered about this. Actually I think it is quite probable that Christians have been wondering about this question since the very beginning, as evidenced by the story of the wealthy youth who wanted to follow Christ but could not part with his money, or the mention of the lilies of the field. Also, as you have pointed out, there are some places in the New Testament where it is clearly suggested that we should not follow Christ's commands in an absolute/literal sense. As is in some of the future teaching and practice of (I suppose) all great Christian traditions.

#4 is certainly a question which bothers me personally. And will particularly bother any Christian who answers #1-3 with “Yes”, “Absolute/literal”, and “Critical”. (Incidentally in the context of the last point the much discussed dichotomy between works and faith strikes me as a superficial one, since one can't have works without faith nor faith without works - the one leads to the other, and the one strengthens the other.)

[continues bellow]

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

[continues from above]

I understand and agree with the examples you gave, in the sense that literally following Christ's commands appears to give power to evil people, appears to lead to injustice and loss (the text taken out of a jihadist magazine is particularly suggestive), and in general appears to be an imprudent and evil foolish idea. But the question is whether it's in fact so. But suppose more people would not value superfluous material goods (in short chose to follow Christ's message of poverty) then such goods would have less value and there would less of the evil that is committed when people strive to accumulate wealth. Or suppose more people would forgive those who hurt them instead of branding others as evildoers and asking for their punishment – it is at least conceivable that such a policy would be more effective in decreasing evil than the current retributive system. I think a common theme in Christ's ethical teaching is that we have no work fighting the evil in others, but only the evil in ourselves. Which leads to the thought that fighting other peoples' evil often works as an excuse for not fighting our own. Perhaps it is wrong to assume that the evil out there is independent from the evil inside of us.

In general I think it's true that hate engenders hate, violence engenders violence, exclusion engenders exclusion, distrust engenders distrust, and so on. To not return evil does strike us as an imprudent principle, but to return evil is clearly not a fine thing and may be equally imprudent. To mention one traumatic event of recent history, the 9/11 terrorist attack was committed by people who believed that they were returning evil. They really believed that, and were motivated by that belief. Poverty is often extremely unjust, and young people from terribly poor backgrounds may also feel that by resorting to crime they are returning the evil visited on them. I think it is clear that the common “do return evil” principle has the potential to lead into a vicious circle – which can be stopped either by abandoning the principle (and the more prudent side will do so first) or else through the annihilation of the other side. Finally, it is hard to see how the “do return evil” principle can be implemented without resorting to and thus *adding* evil.

Now I am aware that the reasoning above is too vague and not at all a scientific answer to a scientific question. But at the very least it does give me a defeater for the common belief that if more Christians would obey Christ's crazy commands then their societies would suffer. It gives me grounds for suspecting that this common belief is based on superficial impressions or hasty generalizations, and is in fact false.

Tony said...

In general I think it's true that hate engenders hate, violence engenders violence, exclusion engenders exclusion, distrust engenders distrust, and so on.

What of Christ plaiting a whip out of cords and driving the money changers out of the Temple?

Apparently, whether it is true that "violence engenders violence" or not, sometimes it is the right thing to do. So, if one does it not out of hate but out of love for the highest good and for all other goods in their proper order, violence so used for God's sake is righteous, and any "return violence" that it might engender is intended by God, not a proof that it was unrighteous to begin with.

Either that, or it simply begs the question to assert "violence engenders violence" without distinguishing between the violence from hatred and that from love.

Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them. Proverbs 13:24

Hopefully, proper discipline of young children out of love for them does not "engender violence".

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

Tony, you've given me food for thought. Thanks for that. I will respond presently.

DNW said...

I half-promised to post something up from the old days on the issue Dianelos and several of us were discussing. And yes, I realize that the text quoted here was for "... Catholic children of the upper grades "(And apparently for A.S. Protestant men marrying Catholic women, way back in the 1950s)

A couple of you might get a kick out of it. When I was a small boy I did.

I discovered it in the bottom of a box among my father's college stuff, took it out and developed a habit of reading it ... but for the wrong reasons apparently. I used to like to laugh at the strange names of the children used as exercise examples. Oscar? Adrian? Valentine? har har. My mother stopped me reading his old clinical psychology texts for much the same reason. Anyway, 307, 308, and 397 are the relevant ones.

For fun, and instruction:

304. When we say that we must love our neighbor, who is meant by "our neighbor"?

When we say that we must love our neighbor, by "our neighbor" is meant every human being here on earth, also the angels and samts in heaven, and the souls in purgatory.

305. Must we love those who treat us unjustly?

We must love even those who treat us unjustly, for Our Lord tells us: "Do good to those who hate you . . ." (Matt....).

306. Is it sufficient for true charity merely to do no harm to others?

It is not sufficient for true charity merely to do no harm to others; we should also strive to do good to thern, at least by praying for them.

307. What do we mean when we say that we must love our neighbor as ourselves?

When we say that we must love our neighbor as ourselves we do not mean that we must love others as much as we love ourselves, but we mean we must love them in the same manner as we love ourselves—that is, in a supernatural manner, desir­ing their eternal salvation.

308. Are we bound to love all our neighbors equally?

We are not bound to love all our neighbors equally; we should
love those more who are nearer to us by relationship or religion or nationality.



397 Has the Pope any direct temporal power over citizens of any country outside the Vatican City State?

The Pope has no direct temporal power over citizens of any country outside the Vatican City State; over citizens of other countries he has only spiritual jurisdiction which he can exercise in temporal matters only in as far as they are intimately connected with spiritual and religious matters.


4. Benjamin, a Jewish boy, Aquinas, a Catholic boy, and Adrian, a Protestant boy are sitting around their campfire ... And no, this was not the intro to a joke ...


Father Connell's
The New BALTIMORE CATECHISM

No.3

BEING THE TEXT OF THE
OFFICIAL REVISED EDITION 1941
OF THE BALTIMORE CATECHISM No. 2
Amplified Wifh Supplemental Questions,
Answers and a Glossary
by
Rev. Frncs J. Connell, C.SS.R., S.T.D.
Associate Professor, Faculiy of Sacred Theology,
The Cafholic Universify of America, Washington, D. C.
Enriched With Study Helps
AND EXERCISES
by
Rev. Thomas A. Chapman, C.SS.R.
formerly Catechist, School of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, New York

The Father Kinkead
Memorial Edition
BENZIGER BROTHERS, Inc.
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