Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Reply to Griffiths and Hart


By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed: A Catholic Defense of Capital Punishment received some pretty nasty reviews from Paul Griffiths in First Things and David Bentley Hart in Commonweal.   My response to Griffiths and Hart can now be read at Catholic World Report.
 
My three-part reply to the objections recently raised by E. Christian Brugger and Christopher Tollefsen can be found at Public Discourse.  My replies to the criticisms raised by Robert Fastiggi can be found at Catholic World Report

114 comments:

  1. I was very interested in what you would have to say to those two reviews. This is an outstanding response. Thank you.

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  2. Superb respones, although I had hoped to read about de Maistre in the article. He's an interesting figure and it's a shame he isn't discussed more often.

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  3. The best case Hart could make is that the early Christians refrained from serving the civil government and bearing the sword for it. But that is a different contention altogether from the notion that the civil government as such does not have the right. Some Protestants in the Anabaptist tradition are conscientious objectors, for example, but would not deny the state its role as a minister of God's wrath - they just believe Christians should not serve as soldiers, policemen, or jailers. In my own religious tradition, David Lipscomb argued in the previous century that "Paul declared the civil ruler was ordained of God for the punishment of evil-doers; a work which he expressly declared Christians could not do but which the kingdoms of the evil one were ordained to do. He declared the exercise of the civil authority, to be a bearing the sword to execute vengeance and wrath, he told the disciples they could not execute vengeance."

    The best case Hart could make is that this was the sentiment shared by early Christians.

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    1. And there might be some merit to the "best case" you propose. The Church Fathers who are quoted by both Hart and Feser do acknowledge the "in principle" licitness of the death penalty, but many forbade Christian involvement in killing, even if for execution because of the pollution that killing does to the soul. I'm not sure if Feser addresses this, but I think it is something we have to think about. If a criminal is executed, someone has to cut off the head, or pull the trigger, or inject the criminal. The criminal does not at the moment pose a threat to the executioner (or even necessarily society), so it's not like self defense.

      The problem, in terms of continuity of teaching, comes in when the state becomes a Christian state. There is a weird luxury that comes in when Christians are a persecuted minority. One can remain pure from the messiness of government, but if the now the politicians and the military are comprised of Christians, what should you do? Once the Christianity became the majority religion, it had to deal with the ramifications of its newly acquired status.

      I'm still not sure where the balance lies, but I think that John Paul II is closest, in some respects, to where it must be.

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  4. Great response, though I'm tempted to think, "do not cast pearls before swine."

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  5. I'm as big a Hart fanboy as you will find, but I thought his critique was extremely uncharitable and poorly argued. I have not read the book and I don't have a well-thought-out position on this issue, but even I could see that Hart's rhetoric, essentially calling Feser morally insane, was way over the top.

    And I respect the fact that Feser was actually quite restrained in his response. I would've been pissed off if I took the time to research and write a book in good faith only to be accused of moral insanity and tacit approval of bloodthirsty torturers.

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  6. "And I respect the fact that Feser was actually quite restrained in his response."

    I agree with Bob. Let the facts speak for themselves. Good job.

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  7. A very lucid response to these two critics. Nevertheless, I was somewhat disappointed to see no answer to Hart's question: "Do Feser and Bessette believe it theologically correct to burn heretics? Does that accord, in their minds, with all their earlier talk of proportional justice?" This is the only thing in Hart's article that struck me as remotely cogent, so I was disappointed that it wasn't addressed.

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    1. I agree with you, scattered. In this reply, Ed avoids the issue by commenting, "We don't say anything about the 'execution of unregenerate Waldensians' either here or anywhere else in the book." But the issue of execution of Waldensians and other heretics should be addressed.
      Ed does say in this article, "we do not advocate execution for lesser offenses [than heinous murders]" but it is not clear, at least to me, whether Joe and Ed regard heresy as a lesser offense than heinous murder. I can see a number of options here. One is that heresy, being directed at God, is at least as bad as heinous murder and that therefore capital punishment for heresy should be on the books for any nation that calls itself Catholic now or in the future. A second option is that heresy is at least as bad as heinous murder, and that therefore past executions for heresy in the Holy Roman Empire were not wrong but those days are past and we do not advocate their return. A third option is that Joe and Ed regard heresy as not meriting the death penalty and that the Church was incorrect to burn heretics, but that it was an error of practice rather than one of doctrine and thus does not affect the infallibility of the Church. A fourth option is that Joe and Ed disagree with each other on this issue.

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    2. I am not so interested in the specific case of the Waldensians. I think that Ed did a good job of showing that Hart was guilty of misrepresenting what the book said about them. A deeper problem is that no less of an authority than St. Thomas Aquinas taught that "For it is a much graver matter to corrupt the faith which quickens the soul, than to forge money, which supports temporal life. Wherefore if forgers of money and other evil-doers are forthwith condemned to death by the secular authority, much more reason is there for heretics, as soon as they are convicted of heresy, to be not only excommunicated but even put to death.". Arguably this *is* part of the traditional Catholic teaching involving the death penalty. Does Ed's defense extend to a defense of this (at least as a matter of general principle even if it wouldn't be good in practice)? Tangentially, Ed's defense of the traditional Catholic teaching on capital punishment even against ambiguous statements by the Pope reminds me of Michael Davies' defense of the traditional teaching against the enlightenment idea of religious liberty (c.f. his book on The Second Vatican Council and Religious Liberty). A lot of the same issues arise, e.g. about what is and what isn't a legitimate development of doctrine.

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    3. scattered,
      Thanks for that quote from Thomas Aquinas. Please could you give me the reference? It is likely that Joe and Ed agree with Thomas Aquinas on this point, which would suggest that they endorse either option 1 or option 2 of the options that I listed. However, Aquinas seems to be claiming here that even money forgers are rightly condemned to death; and I think that Ed and Joe would disagree with that claim. What is at stake is the question of whether "to corrupt the faith which quickens the soul" is worse, or at least as bad as, heinous murder. If so, the death penalty for corrupting the faith--"at least as a matter of general principle even if it wouldn't be good in practice" as you put it--would seem to follow. Options 1 and 2 reflect this.
      You have raised an important issue, and like you, I am disappointed it was not addressed. Perhaps Ed can give a brief response (or a full blog post).

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    4. From an online edition of the Summa: http://www.newadvent.org/summa/3011.htm

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    5. Tim Finlay: But the issue of execution of Waldensians and other heretics should be addressed.

      Why? That doesn't seem helpful to addressing the defensibility of the death-penalty in principle.

      I can see a number of options here.

      Yes, and none of them has to do with the principle.


      Scattered: Does Ed's defense extend to a defense of this (at least as a matter of general principle even if it wouldn't be good in practice)?

      No, because the application of capital punishment is not a matter of general principle, it's a matter of particular application.

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    6. There are additional options to consider besides whether heresy is as bad as murder (or counterfeiting).

      The first is that even if one decides that heresy should indeed be punished with death, that does not get you to "they should be burned at the stake". Obviously, burning at the stake is a worse punishment than being beheaded by single stroke of the axe. The modern popes who supported the death penalty in principle absolutely rejected torture, and one can certainly argue that death by burning is torture.

      The second is that one may argue that heresy is worse than murder, but we still should not execute for it, for other reasons having to do with OTHER goods and evil effects that run alongside such things. Some of them could easily be contingent, such as "in such a plural society as we have, 'heresy' is not as grave an evil to the body politic as it would be in a fully Catholic society". Or, alternately, one might argue that while heresy (in a fully Catholic state) is worse than murder, it is imprudent to treat it so, lest we drive it underground where it festers out of sight, instead of letting it be seen and disinfected.

      There are a whole host of possibilities for the latter, having to do with prudential matters rather than the basic principle of whether the crime justly deserves death.

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    7. In addition to which, even in the Church's most stringent and nasty pursuit of heresy, officials hardly ever went after heresy kept internal, but only started after someone whose outward actions seemed to promote heresy. This is not the crime of "holding heresy" but "intentionally promoting heresy", i.e. a grave crime against others because tending to destroy their souls. Christ says

      "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Instead, fear the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell."

      Arguably, at least, this is the crime deserving a punishment as severe (or more) as that of murder.

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    8. What's the hand-wringing about? Serious unrepentant teaching heresy is *indeed* very grave. Even if you don't think they should be executed it's at most a debatable case not some gripping issue.

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  8. Full Metal Feser, in full effect.

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  9. “Fancying himself a mind-reader, Griffiths dismisses this justification as “disingenuous.” Our real motivation, Griffiths alleges, was to stir up the reader’s emotions. However, telepathy remains scientifically dubious and the ad hominem remains fallacious. Awful luck for Griffiths, but there it is.”

    “But the ad hominem attack is the first refuge of those unable to marshal facts and logic in their defense, and character assassination is one form of killing Griffiths and Hart seem to approve of.”

    Some day when I grow up, I want to learn how to write as destructively as this.

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    1. Feser: character assassination is one form of killing Griffiths and Hart seem to approve of.
      Ceegee: Some day when I grow up, I want to learn how to write as destructively as this.

      That line's a classic. I truly love Dr. Hart's erudite and poetic writing; but Feser never disappoints in the writing department himself.

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  10. Wow, that was a pleasure to read! Talk about a conclusive rebuttal. Well done.

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  11. Dr. Feser:

    Sadly, absorbed in the argument and contra-argument game about "tradition" and "law", your replies so far have missed the point entirely. The nearest we get is - « Hart’s position seems essentially to abolish the natural order altogether, and entirely to replace it with the supernatural order.» But this scholastic distinguo between "natural" and "supernatural" is out of place.

    This is the punctus firmior: « Baptized Christians understood themselves as having been called to a form of life radically unlike that of the fallen cosmos. They belonged to a kingdom not of this world, and were absolutely forbidden to take part in the orders of force by which the powers and principalities exercise their sway. They were required now to live by a law of charity so uncompromising that it might lead to their deaths and the deaths of many others. » (DBH)

    Such are the high stakes. Divine life bearing upon a fallen world where there is no room for a “natural” law to subsist (old or new), neither the natural law of death. The only one exception is an absolute new one – the law of Caritas. The only law of the true and eternal life already given to everyone who believes and confesses the Lord, the giver of life.

    What has such a God to do with death and issues like “death penalty” is more than a moral impermissibility to think of – is an ontological impossibility. And not without significance the jewish commandment came to be read in (traditional) christianity - Thou not shalt kill.

    Meanwhile, you may be rest assured that the extant remaining of the much conditioned permissibility in the CCC will not ever more be evoked or supported - nor "at least in principle" - by any responsabile christian shepherd (bishop) in communion with the Sedes Sancta. This communion – with all the saints – is the truly Christian “state”. No “secular hand” will be at hand to comply with it no more; but to this hand the “death penalty” continues to be much convenient to “the powers and principalities exercise their sway”, just as it was in the times of the Sanhedrin and Pontius Pilate…

    We sincerely hope your philosophical work develops in a way more worthy of your manifest philosophical acumen, less preoccupied with things political and more with things divine, always on the side of those supporters of the sanctity of the human life, be it that of the most convicted and most criminal a man. And no other man is intitled to cut-off the human person from the possibility of repentance and conversion, till the natural end of her life.

    Please accept our best regards and wishes in Christ our Saviour.

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    1. Could you please explain the following paragraph as I have no clue what it means?
      "What has such a God to do with death and issues like “death penalty” is more than a moral impermissibility to think of – is an ontological impossibility. And not without significance the jewish commandment came to be read in (traditional) christianity - Thou not shalt kill."

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    2. Anonymous November 29, 2017 at 3:04 PM,

      No, it’s not me. Duarte Meira sounds like a person of the cloth, but who knows.

      If you want to know what I think about this issue, here some comments.

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    3. He sounds like he needs to have work on clarity of expression. As far as his meaning can be worked out, he seems to advocate the same simplistic, modern sentimentalism that both you and Hart do.

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    4. Duarte Meira: your replies so far have missed the point entirely.

      It seems pretty clear that Prof. Feser is hitting his own point. If you or Dr. Hart wish to discuss a different point, that's not Feser's problem.

      there is no room for a “natural” law

      What does that even mean? That Christians are not subject to gravity? Or merely that Christians are not subject to speed-limits?

      What has such a God to do with death and issues like “death penalty” is more than a moral impermissibility to think of – is an ontological impossibility.

      Well, God Who styles Himself the One Who kills and brings life might disagree.

      Meanwhile, you may be rest assured

      Hey, if some guy on the Internet says so, that's all the assurance I need!

      We sincerely hope your philosophical work develops in a way more worthy of your manifest philosophical acumen, less preoccupied with things political and more with things divine, always on the side of those supporters of the sanctity of the human life

      And I sincerely hope that your philosophical understanding advances past the materialistic notion that man's temporal life is of ultimate importance, and acknowledges that the next life is of infinitely more value.

      And no other man is intitled to cut-off the human person from the possibility of repentance and conversion, till the natural end of her life.

      Ah, well, the sort of heinous murderer Feser & Bessette discuss are almost always men, so we're OK after all!

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    5. Saint John Paul II and Benedict XVI both agreed with Dr. Feser that the death penalty is not intrinsically unacceptable. Both pontiffs agreed that it was not in principle immoral for the State to execute heinous criminals. They may have argued against the actual practice of capital punishment, saying that we should show mercy for almost every situation, true, but they agreed that the death penalty was not immoral in principle. Would you have spoken to them in the same manner you did to Feser? Would you have assured them that any responsible bishop would move against it?

      If anything, I'd bet that the Magistery of the Church will not change this teaching. Not just because I think it is correct, but also because past popes -- St John Paul II and Benedict XVI -- have kept it intact and explicitly confirmed traditional teaching, and I don't think pope Francis will go against that. I guess we'll have to wait and see, but I think it's safe to say the Magistery will not change the traditional view which Feser and Bessette have so aptly defended.

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    6. Duarte Meira:

      There are issues with your post, as others have noted. In the interest of offering a kind word, let me say that I think you truly have hit upon the central issue when you highlight the following from DBH: « Baptized Christians understood themselves as having been called to a form of life radically unlike that of the fallen cosmos. They belonged to a kingdom not of this world, and were absolutely forbidden to take part in the orders of force by which the powers and principalities exercise their sway. They were required now to live by a law of charity so uncompromising that it might lead to their deaths and the deaths of many others.»

      The issue, it seems to me, is that David Bentley Hart believes it is God's way for grace to entirely replace nature, and judges the interpretation of Scripture and Tradition in accord with this view.

      The Catholic view -- and to my mind, the necessary Christian view, inasmuch as the world was not created by a demiurge but by a God who declared it good -- is that grace perfects nature, without replacing it. God is not in competition with the created order.

      So Feser and Bessette are in agreement with Catholicism, but well outside the permissible bounds of DBH's philosophy, when they propose a world where an English bobby who becomes a Christian doesn't immediately have to give up carrying a truncheon.

      I wonder what DBH thinks of Jesus' words to the soldiers in Luke 3:14? Jesus bids them be content with their pay; He doesn't bid them quit their jobs. Perhaps DBH thinks this is divine condescension on Jesus' part, and that if the soldiers were baptized, Jesus would command them to change to a new line of work? For if Jesus were not to command them to do so, that would falsify DBH's view about the use of force by Christians.

      At any rate, you are correct to say DBH's arguments rest entirely on the truth of his peculiar view of Christianity, a view which is incompatible with the Catholic faith and, I think, with the attitudes of the Fathers towards the state. The Fathers treating treat the state as a permissible entity rather than an unconscionable abomination, and this, I think, renders DBH's worldview anti-patristic. What, after all, is a secular government, other than an organization in society authorized to use force to achieve its ends?

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    7. R.C., I think you are exactly right in this.

      The significant point, for dealing with DBH and his article critiquing Feser and Bessette, is that DBH already knows that his disagreement with Feser is FAR deeper than the specific interpretation of Genesis 9:6 or Romans 13:4. He already knows that they are working on fundamentally different views of how Christianity as a whole applies to "the world". They have debated these things several times in the past. Subjecting Feser's book, and argument, to DBH's differing conclusions about capital punishment, and critiquing Feser's conclusions from a standpoint that simply assumes DBH's foudational premises are correct and Feser's are wrong, is just bad criticism. It is quite fraudulent as scholarly critique, and in writing it for a general Christian magazine (where many of the readers may not be aware of DBH's and Feser's long history of interaction), without any mention of their long-standing dispute on fundamental premises, is entirely unreasonable.

      DBH's peculiar perspective is indeed anti-patristic, as well as being anti-Orthodox. And anti-Catholic, of course. In pushing a particularly strenuous sense of

      "Baptized Christians understood themselves as having been called to a form of life radically unlike that of the fallen cosmos. They belonged to a kingdom not of this world, and were absolutely forbidden to take part in the orders of force",

      he would necessarily depend upon governments to always be anti-Christian, even if they were composed entirely of Christians. It also smacks very strongly of that strain of Nouvelle Theologie that attempts to smear out, erase, and deny possible distinction between THIS age, in which we have the revelation of the Kingdom of God by Christ, and THE NEXT age, (after the resurrection of the dead), when we will be living in the Kingdom in its fullest sense. To them, "the Kingdom" is "the Kingdom" fully and without any differences, and since there will be no force in the eschaton there must be no force in this age either. It's nonsense on stilts, but they reject any other view.

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  12. Prof. Feser, glad to read your response to David Bentley Hart. Although I must say that I miss your Hart-themed puns. For your convenience, should you choose to write more posts about Hart, feel free to use any of these titles:

    "Total Eclipse of the Hart"

    "Cold Hands, Warm Hart"

    "Warning: Not for the Faint of Hart"

    "Be still, my Hart"

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    1. Thank-you, Anonymous, that made my day. Laughter is the best medicine and you just added days to my life. A sublime act of charity I must say!

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    2. "Heart to Hart"

      "Cold-Harted"

      "Getting to the Hart of the matter"

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    3. "Hart speaketh unto heart"

      "The Hart is deceitful above all things"

      "Bleeding-Hart liberalism"

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    4. "Not for the Faint of Hart" should be changed to

      "Not for the Feint of Hart". Gotta make use of multiple layers of punditry.

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    5. "The Hart wants what the Hart wants"

      "Listen to your Hart"

      "For the broken Harted"

      "Your treasure is where your Hart is"

      "Create in me a pure Hart"

      "A loving Hart is the truest wisdom"

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  13. Your patience in responding to a mountain of fallacies and uncharitable accusations is admirable, dr. Feser. I was not aware how important was the defense of the legitimacy of capital punishment until you published your book -- it is truly a pity to see so many otherwise smart and balanced men go crazy over a topic like this.

    I myself do not even have any position on whether or not the death penalty should be actually practiced. That is a practical issue that may even involve humanitarian concerns. But the suggestion that the death penalty would ALWAYS be immoral, for any crime and in any situation, is a real monstrosity. The idea that a State could NEVER execute a serial killer, for example, in any circumstance, is absurd, contrary to natural law AND common sense.

    Be assured that many people are grateful for your work, dr. Feser.

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  14. OK, so here are my two cents:

    First a superficial observation and then what I think is is core issue and really the one worthy of discussion:

    I find that Feser’s answer in some places does not deal accurately with Hart’s points and this does not help clarity. Here’s an example. In relation to the many executions (some in rather brutal ways) performed in the Papal states Hart wrote:

    On neither occasion do [Feser and Bessette] express the slightest alarm at, or disapproval of, either the number or the savagery of these killings.

    Feser finds that this is a misrepresentation, perhaps a deliberate one, and quotes from the book:

    Joe and I go on explicitly to add that “we certainly would not defend the harsher methods of execution employed in the nineteenth century” (p. 12)

    Only that quote from the book does not really falsify Hart’s accusation, it seems to me. Feser feels he is being unjustly and absurdly accused for he is not a bloodthirsty person, but Hart is criticizing the way Feser expresses an idea in the book and which Hart finds un-Christian.

    Which brings me to the core of the issue: We are made in God’s image and thus have a sense of the divine and of perfection. It is that sense that lights up in recognition when we read the Sermon on the Mount or the other amazing beautiful commands by Christ, commands He has Himself realized in His own life, and which are at the core of the good message. But we are also a product of a fallen world. Not to put too fine a point on it, we are intelligent social animals (purely biological beings), and thus carry in the makeup of our psychology and culture remnants of principles that evolved in animal society, including matters about order, authority, and proportional punishment as pretty concisely expressed in the “an eye for an eye”. Which at the time it was written in the OT was a big ethical advance for the going principle then (and even today in some contexts of government policy) was “a hundred eyes for an eye”. So here comes the embodiment of God and explicitly and clearly teaches against that principle. And even more commands us to not return evil but turn the other cheek.

    To many of us, including to many atheists, using our sense of perfection we clearly see that executions are always evil, even though we recognize that in some cases they may be a necessary evil. For a Christian who believes that Christ is the embodiment of God and that the Sermon on the Mount in its basic lines accurately transmits Christ’s message, the question about capital punishment is already answered. I think this is the thrust of Hart’s criticism. Given the image of God inside of us and the image of Christ in the gospel all other arguments are irrelevant.

    [continues below]

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    1. [continues from above]

      On the other hand Feser’s goal seems not to be the ethical truth concerning state executions, but the historical truth of the Catholic Church’s teaching about it. So perhaps Hart and Feser are talking past each other. Here is how Feser states what I take are his central claims:

      “Catholic teaching does not allow for the view that capital punishment is always and intrinsically wrong, wrong of its very nature and not merely because of circumstances.”

      “Joe and I have a lot to say about the way Scripture, the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, and the popes have clearly and repeatedly affirmed the legitimacy of capital punishment at least in principle.”

      Without being an expert either on Catholic teaching or on Christian tradition I have the feeling that Feser is probably right in both claims. It’s not like I weighted the quotes for and against, but I weighted the practical issues I know have existed throughout church history, starting with Paul’s epistles and down to modern times. Namely that the church is also an organization which has to take into account not only spiritual needs of the flock but also their physical safety as well the exigencies of worldly governance – in short the need to find accommodation with the earthly powers.

      An even deeper core issue I’d like to discuss concerns the very nature of good and evil. It seems to me that strictly speaking there is nothing that is “intrinsically” evil, “wrong of its very nature and not merely because of circumstances” as Feser clarifies. I say the evil does not lie in the deed but in the spiritual movement. Whatever it is (a deed, a thought, a desire, a belief, a feeling, a state of affairs) which moves the soul towards God is good, but if it moves it away from God is evil. Thus whether something is good or evil very much depends on the circumstances, including the state of one’s soul. For example in the same external circumstances it was good that Mary used the precious stuff to wash Christ’s feet, but it would be evil had Judas done the same (as it was evil for Judas to accuse her, and it was good for Mary that Jesus rebuked him). Strictly speaking good and evil are states of the soul and its movement, and not a property of anything peripheral to the soul.

      On this metaethical understanding are there circumstances where a state execution is good? Speaking for myself alone I cannot imagine a case where by taking part in a state execution my soul would move towards God. But I cannot judge about others. Question: Suppose the only way to stop a criminal from killing a thousand would for the state to kill her first – would the executioner’s soul benefit? I have no idea. Second question: Would I vote for a government which as matter of course proclaims that it will execute a criminal if that’s the only way to save a thousand innocents? I probably would, but would do so against what I hold to be my sense of perfection and my knowledge of Christ.

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    2. And for those who aren't inveterate sentimentalists? Your idea of Christ is simply inaccurate and pure, modern sentimentalism. You have had this pointed out repeatedly, in detail, and never properly respond.

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    3. Dianelos,

      "Not to put too fine a point on it, we are intelligent social animals (purely biological beings),"

      Aren't you Catholic? According to Catholic dogma, all human beings are endowed with an immaterial, rational soul. Since, biology as a science restricts its analysis to material life, humans cannot be considered "purely biological beings."

      "For a Christian who believes that Christ is the embodiment of God and that the Sermon on the Mount in its basic lines accurately transmits Christ’s message, the question about capital punishment is already answered."

      So pretty much all of the Church Fathers, who accepted the morality of the death penalty, either A) got this issue wrong or B) disagreed that Christ is the embodiment of God and that the Sermon on the Mount accurately reflects His message.

      Since neither option obtains, you must be wrong.

      "I say the evil does not lie in the deed but in the spiritual movement."

      No one cares what you say, because you don't speak for the Church.

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    4. He's Greek Orthodox. He's also made it clear that he will reject Scripture, let alone the Fathers and Church teaching, if it conflicts with his sentimentalist picture of Christ. Essentially for him Christ came to teach universal sympathy and nothing more.

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    5. "I say the evil does not lie in the deed but in the spiritual movement. Whatever it is (a deed, a thought, a desire, a belief, a feeling, a state of affairs) which moves the soul towards God is good, but if it moves it away from God is evil. Thus whether something is good or evil very much depends on the circumstances, including the state of one’s soul. "

      even assuming that evil does not lie in the deed but in the spiritual movement, I'm not sure your conclusion of denying "intrinsically evil acts" follows from your premises. At best, you are demonstrating that the goodness or evil of *some* acts depends on the circumstances, but you are not proving the case for *all* acts.

      As far as I can tell, no one here who holds to the notion that some acts are by nature evil believes that this is the only criterion for judging the morality of an act.

      But more important, the spiritual movement criterion that you propose doesn't really in any way oppose considerations of the deed in itself and in fact can be employed in the service of the idea of intrinsically evil acts. What we would claim is that certain deeds, by their very nature move one away from God, even though that same person may be well intentioned, even to the point of employing a rationale that sounds spiritually beneficial.

      For example, under what circumstance would adultery ever lead one to God? Probably none, because the act in itself breaks a covenant which God established. By its very nature, it is a deed which moves one spiritually away from God.


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    6. @Anonymous, November 30, 2017 at 2:56 AM

      “And for those who aren't inveterate sentimentalists?”

      I am not sure I understand your question. To love is a sentiment, and in Christianity we believe that God is love. And Christ’s last commandment is for us to love others the way He loved us, namely forgiving all and not returning evil. Faith, that what we need in order to follow Christ, is an emotion. To meet Christ is a very emotional experience. God is not like a machine. Neither is spiritual truth reducible to formulas.

      And even though natural law ethics is true in the sense that God is the author the natural order and the ground of ethical truth, and thus the two are basically compatible, the idea that by studying, say, the biological facts about reproduction one can deduce sexual ethics is very shortsighted and thus misleading.

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    7. @ Perilanda,

      Aren't you Catholic?

      No, but I try to learn from the wisdom of the Catholic church.

      And as I mention above it seems to me that Feser and Hart are arguing past each other; Feser’s point being the truth about what the CC has always taught about the ethics of executions, and Hart’s point being about the truth about the ethics of executions.

      According to Catholic dogma, all human beings are endowed with an immaterial, rational soul.



      Right, that’s what I meant by “we are made in the image of God”. But we are also animals, which are pure biological beings. In a sense we have two natures: that of an intelligent social animal and that of spiritual being having moral sense and the freedom to choose the good, and thus with the potential to become perfect like our Father in heaven. To understand ourselves we must understand what we are.

      So pretty much all of the Church Fathers, who accepted the morality of the death penalty, either A) got this issue wrong or B) disagreed that Christ is the embodiment of God and that the Sermon on the Mount accurately reflects His message.

      First of all Feser does not argue that the Church Fathers accept the morality of the death penalty, but only that the Church Fathers accepted that in some circumstances the death penalty is not morally wrong. Today the CC’s position is that such circumstances are extremely rare and non-existent in practice (Feser I understand disagrees with that last bit).

      As for the Church Fathers I am sure they pretty much saw what everybody who reads the Sermon on the Mount sees. But as I explained they also had to solve practical issues pertaining to the physical safety of the flock and the church’s relation to worldly powers. Even though all (or virtually all) Christians agree that consequentialism is a false ethical theory, in reality we do often take into account the consequences of our actions.

      No one cares what you say, because you don't speak for the Church.

      Very true :-) But neither does Feser, and nevertheless you do care what he says, don’t you? What we all really care is about the truth, for all truth comes from God. And we care about what the Church says because we trust in her speaking the truth.

      Incidentally that’s a very deep problem. We are all made in the image of God and thus we all have a sense of the divine. At the same time we are exposed to conflicted claims by the authorities of our church, by philosophers we admire, and so on. How to apportion our trust? It’s a difficult question. I my own life I had to make a decision whether to trust my own sense of the ethics of military service or my church’s teaching about the matter.

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    8. @ Mary Angelica,

      even assuming that evil does not lie in the deed but in the spiritual movement, I'm not sure your conclusion of denying "intrinsically evil acts" follows from your premises. At best, you are demonstrating that the goodness or evil of *some* acts depends on the circumstances, but you are not proving the case for *all* acts.

      Right, I see the problem. In metaethics philosophers want to know what it is that makes something good. On theism the answer is easy: All truths are grounded in God.[1] So my premise is that what makes a deed good is not something in the deed but how it affects atonement – our movement towards God which is the purpose and end of all creation. If something is such that as a matter of fact it always has a positive effect, it is still the case that it is not good in itself. You mention this example:

      For example, under what circumstance would adultery ever lead one to God? Probably none, because the act in itself breaks a covenant which God established.

      As you put it “probably none”. Suppose in fact none. Even then what makes adultery evil is that it moves the soul away from God. All other rationalizations are after the fact, or perhaps when trying to answer a question such as “why does adultery always move the soul away from God?” But such questions are I think wrong questions. The purpose of creation is moral (we see this in Christ’s teaching in the gospel) and thus the very fabric of reality is moral; there is nothing that goes deeper than, that for there is nothing that goes deeper than the character and will of God.

      Incidentally I am not here claiming something new. I understand the Catholic Church teaches that sin is what diminishes the charity in our soul (see among others 1855 and 1863 in the CC's catechism). Which is another way to say the same thing, since charity – the fountain of love - is the measure of our likeness to Christ (as the catechism 1856 says charity is what orients us towards our ultimate end).

      But more important, the spiritual movement criterion that you propose [snip]

      I was speaking about ethical truth which is a matter of ontology, not about the criteria for finding that truth which is a matter of epistemology. The two are of course related. In Christianity we have two accounts of ethical truth, Christ’s message in the gospel and the Christian insight that good is whatever increases the soul’s charity. So we have a method for testing: Does following Christ’s commands of the Sermon on the Mount increase the charity in our soul; does ignoring these commands decrease it? In my own experience I find there is a perfect fit - unfortunately mainly of the latter kind :-( The interesting point here is not only that the coherence of the Christian understanding can be confirmed, but also the insight that theological truth is amenable to testing even in this life. I wish people would not think of theology only as an abstract kind based mainly in the study of texts, for if theism is true then theological truths are of immediate and practical use - even more relevant than physical truths. In principle then theology is an experimental science, albeit one where the experiment is one’s life.

      [1] The details may be complicated though. For example, has God chosen to create the logical order or does logic necessarily exists as a necessary property of rationality which is a necessary property of the greatest conceivable being?

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    9. Dianelos Georgoudis:

      You say, "I am not sure I understand your question. To love is a sentiment, and in Christianity we believe that God is love."

      Whoa, whoa, whoa there!

      In Christianity, we believe God is love, yes. God is His love which is His power which is His goodness which is His knowledge which is His...et cetera. And in particular, the Holy Spirit is God, and is the endless spiration of love from the Father to the Son and the Son returned to the Father, and thus the Holy Spirit, who is God, is the love which is the inner life of the Trinity.

      Consequently, when we are graced by the Holy Spirit "both to will and to do His good pleasure," we know that this will involve both intending and, where in accord with right reason, doing that which achieves the good of the other.

      When we have that in mind, we can say that "God is love" without descending into sentimentalism.

      Or, to borrow the truism from an old D.C.Talk lyric: "I don't care whatcha say, I don't care whatcha heard, the word love (LOVE!): Love is a Verb."

      But Dianelos, you say, "To love is a sentiment."

      Surely you misspoke, there?

      If that were true, a man getting married could not even in principle make a promise to "love, honor, and cherish until death do us part." For of course feelings are as changeable as the weather, and we have the same level of control over them. One can't promise to go on feeling the same way "until death do us part."

      It is only at its lowest, closest-to-the-animals level that "love" is a sentiment. In that context we call it "feelings of affection" (or in some cases "feelings of erotic desire"). These feelings were invented by God and are thus good in their way. But they are in no way the fullness of even human love.

      The action of loving one another in response to God's command may often need to be performed in the absence of any such feelings, or even in the teeth of entirely-opposite feelings. One cannot love one's enemies by feeling affectionate towards them, save in very unusual situations.

      This is, I think, a high-school-level Sunday School lesson about what is meant by "love" when we are commanded to love. It is elementary Christianity. So I am sure you already know all of this.

      But, the quote above seemed to ignore or even deny it. So I felt it was important for me to "call it out."

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    10. Dianelos Georgoudis: To love is a sentiment, and in Christianity we believe that God is love.
      R.C.: Whoa, whoa, whoa there!

      And again, whoa! Love is the polar opposite of a sentiment. Perhaps the biggest problem with modern society is that it gets love completely backwards. If someone does not understand R.C.'s point that love is something you do, not something you feel, then it is impossible to understand Christianity at all.

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    11. @ R. C.

      ”When we have that in mind, we can say that "God is love" without descending into sentimentalism.”

      Interesting way to put it. Why did you choose the word “descend”? I think because you already think that sentimental love is lower than, say, intellectual love, one characterized by “right reason, doing that which achieves the good of the other”. I am pointing this out to demonstrate that sometimes words lead us. And secondly because I find that in the end of the day much of our rationality is governed by value judgments which are basic and not themselves grounded in reason. I became a Christian when I first read the gospels with an open mind and *recognized* the perfection of the divine in its message; that was a value judgment beyond any reasoning.

      Coming back to the matter of love. All discourse is based on the assumption that we share the same human condition, so I assume that you and I experience love in basically the same way. Now there are many ways of love, for example one may love money in which case “love” becomes a sentiment of greed and desire for power, and disposes one’s life towards their attainment. In the Christian discourse we speak of true love, love that God is, the love that Christ in His teaching and life realized and invites us to share. I say we all know that love too: it is what characterizes our dispositions towards our children, how it is like when we show a little kindness to a stranger, or when we truly forgive somebody. The concept of disposition entails action and so, as you point out, in its essential nature love is active (“love is a verb”). And, as our experience of life shows, love is self-transcendent. But having said all that the fact remains that love is a *sentiment*, one at the very core of what is valuable and beautiful in the human experience. Indeed one which has all the characteristics mentioned above. For it is sentiment which moves to action; reason is what we use in order to test the sentiment or to execute the action.

      Now probably the way you use the concept of “sentiment” entails images of weakness or irrationality (as in “she is government by her sentiments and not by reason”). Again, I won’t disagree with this. As there are many ways of love there are many ways of sentiment. But in the self-transformation which is what repentance is about, sentiment and love and will and faith are all purified and perfected. So I say when in the context of theology one speaks of love or will or faith or sentiment one means them in their perfected state, in that state in which they orient themselves (and thus oneself too) towards God.

      You and I love the gospel. So to clarify what I mean let me use one of the most memorable and significant and beautiful sentences in it:

      For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever has faith in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

      So here you have God - the greatest conceivable being creator of all that exists and ground of all truth - loving fallen humanity so very much that He becomes human in a fallen world to suffer with us and for our sake.

      Well, isn’t that sentimental! The very epitome of sentimentality! To move oneself to suffer because of the misdeeds of one’s children. Instead of justly punishing them and be done with them!

      My point here is this: God, and thus also theological truth, is not found in texts, or beliefs, or theories – but only in the *experience* of God. Which means, pure and simple, truth is found in one’s encountering Christ. To hold that theological truth is a matter of studying texts is an error, is to commit the sin of making unto oneself a graven image (I have a piece on this here). I think it is a very cunning spirit of deception that motivates people to study texts as if they contain truth. When texts are at best pointers towards truth. Windows that let in the light. But the truth is not in them, cannot be in them.

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    12. My point here is this: God, and thus also theological truth, is not found in texts, or beliefs, or theories – but only in the *experience* of God.

      The Truth is also found in Scripture, which GOD HIMSELF caused to be written for our enlightenment and salvation. Because Scripture is the word of God. And the Word is God Himself.

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  15. You and Hart are free to hold that the insights that strike you when you read the Sermon on the Mount are correct and there can be no further debate on the question of capital punishment. But that's not an argument which Feser is ignoring, because it's not an argument. People can be convinced that all sorts of incorrect views are obvious.

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    1. Greg,

      “You and Hart are free to hold that the insights that strike you when you read the Sermon on the Mount are correct and there can be no further debate on the question of capital punishment.”

      Well, “do not return evil but turn the other cheek, forgive all and pray for those who hurt you” are completely clear ethical commands which admit of no misunderstanding. Do you think there is a way to make these commands compatible with the dogma of proportionate punishment and even the execution of some criminals as just desert? For if you do then this is an insight for which I have never seen any justification.

      If one believes that Christ is God incarnate and the text of the Sermon on the Mount accurately transmits His ethical teaching then the Sermon on the Mount becomes the yardstick by which all other ethical claims or theories must be measured. I mean it’s not like there is another standard of the good beyond or besides God. And if one’s understands of what an apostle or saint or Father or bishop say contradicts the Word of God then that understanding is necessarily false.

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    2. Do you think there is a way to make these commands compatible with the dogma of proportionate punishment and even the execution of some criminals as just desert?

      First, there is no dogma of proportionate punishment.

      Second, the questions under discussion are of proportionate punishment and of execution in particular, but I take it that you would agree that if the Sermon on the Mount rules out proportionate punishment, then it also rules out punishment generally. It does not appear to make a distinction between the two; to do so, it would need to make some reference to proportionality.

      Third, if you agree on the last point, then I should like to hear what you think about the punishment of children by their parents. A boy hits his sister. Suppose that he does this repeatedly, even though his parents repeatedly instruct him not to. May they punish him?

      Finally, I will answer your question: Sure, those commands are compatible with the Church's doctrine on proportionate punishment and even with the execution of some criminals.

      Christians are called to suffer wrongs patiently. When a Christian is wronged by someone, he should not exact vengeance upon that person but rather should pray for him.

      But the administration of punishments is not the returning of evil for evil. When a minister punishes someone, he is not punishing the person because that person wronged the minister. Indeed, in cases where the criminal did wrong the minister, there is often good reason to find another minister, though this is not always possible (as in the case of parents or in, I suppose, the case where a criminal has effectively wronged everyone in a community). The reason for punishing is that the criminal broke a just law. Even in cases where the criminal did wrong the minister, the minister is not (or should not be) punishing him because the criminal wronged the minister; it is accidental to the administration of punishment as such that the one punished wronged the minister (as it is accidental to healing as such that the one healed is the doctor himself).

      This is a distinction with which we are all, I think, intuitively familiar. Suppose that a child is instructed not to play in some location, but he does, and he breaks one of his father's possessions. There is simply a huge difference between the father's reasoning "He disobeyed a reasonable instruction and broke something, so he ought to be put in time out" and the father's reasoning "He broke my possession, so he will pay". In the parental case, the cartoonish nature of the latter makes evident that these are two very different cases, and only one is returning evil for evil.

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    3. @ Greg,

      there is no dogma of proportionate punishment.

      Thanks for pointing out to me that there is a difference between dogma and doctrine in the Catholic Church. On the other hand I find it confusing that only dogma is supposed to be binding on all Catholics, but Feser writes about “doctrine binding on all Catholics” (for example here). Not to leave any possibility of doubt Feser says that as a matter of fact the belief that capital punishment can in principle be legitimate is a “irreformable teaching” of the Catholic church (here). So it seems to me Feser speaks of the doctrine he defends as if it were a dogma.

      But, again, I feel Hart and Feser are essentially arguing past each other: Hart discusses the truth about the ethical question and Feser discusses the truth about Catholic doctrine. For Hart (and for me) the truth about Catholic dogma or doctrine is secondary to the truth of the matter.

      I take it that you would agree that if the Sermon on the Mount rules out proportionate punishment, then it also rules out punishment generally.

      Yes I agree.

      if you agree on the last point, then I should like to hear what you think about the punishment of children by their parents.

      I have already answered this here.

      I would like to add that even though one sometimes uses the concept of “punishment” in the context of bringing up one’s children, the concept is only very superficially related to the concept of “punishment” in the context of state executions. The parent’s motivation is only love, her goal is only formative and has nothing to do with deterrence (as in “punish this one to deter the other child from hitting her sister”), the deed is not proportionate nor is it about just deserts. Perhaps it is for such reasons many parents prefer to use “chasten” rather than “punish” to describe their deeds.

      Finally, I will answer your question: Sure, those commands are compatible with the Church's doctrine on proportionate punishment and even with the execution of some criminals.

      I can’t help wondering if you would give this same answer to Christ.

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    4. My own view as a parent is that one should make certain one’s child experience the natural implications of her failures, as in “You weren’t dressed in time so you will not go to your friend’s party.”

      This is rather distant from an account of parental punishment, as one will notice if one thinks for a moment about any remotely representative set of children's failures.

      Take the example I brought up earlier: a boy hits his sister, and he does this frequently. There is no "natural implication" of his failure that you can point out to him, unless his sister hits him back--and then the parent's role in pointing this out is useless.

      More generally, even if the substantive philosophical claim that wrongdoing is not in one's self-interest were true, you would not be able to make that fact salient for a child in anything like every case, which is why no one parents in the way you recommend.

      The parent’s motivation is only love, her goal is only formative and has nothing to do with deterrence (as in “punish this one to deter the other child from hitting her sister”), the deed is not proportionate nor is it about just deserts.

      In the ideal case, the parent's motivation is love, but that need not be the case. It is easy to imagine a stepparent who does not yet love his stepchild yet still administers punishments. And parental authority to punish may of course be delegated to, for instance, babysitters, who certainly don't need to love their charges or to have their long-term formation in mind.

      And parental punishments are proportionate, in the sense that they are not disproportionate. It is not even a question for a good parent whether the child's formation might be better served by a more severe punishment (or, if you like, chastisement) than the child deserves. Parental punishments are perhaps often less than what the child deserves, but this is not a disanalogy with punishments administered by the state, since the state's punishments are often less than fully proportionate (and basically always less than fully proportionate in the case of murder).

      So I don't know what you mean when you say that the concept of punishment in parenting "is only very superficially related to the concept of 'punishment' in the context of state executions." In "He punished his son" and "The state punishes criminals," the word punishes is not equivocal. That parents generally have the formation of their children in mind, and that in liberal democracies it is thought that the government does not have the formation of its citizens in mind, does not show that there is different in concept in play here. (That said, punishment has become far more reformative in the age of liberalism.)

      The attempt to claim that parental punishment is not real punishment is simply desperate.

      Perhaps it is for such reasons many parents prefer to use “chasten” rather than “punish” to describe their deeds.

      If so, it's a convention that has escaped my notice.

      I can’t help wondering if you would give this same answer to Christ.

      I would sooner give it than try to convince him that parental punishment isn't punishment.

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    5. Greg,

      The attempt to claim that parental punishment is not real punishment is simply desperate.

      I see now I haven’t expressed myself well. I do agree that many parents punish their children while thinking it’s a good thing. Of course they do. I was rather speaking of what they should do. I was using “parent” in the ideal sense, as in theology we often use concepts in their ideal sense too (for example in the central case of “love”).

      And I think parents should not punish their children not only in the ethical sense, but also in the scientific sense. A huge part of psychology concerns human relations including the upbringing of children, and psychology is a science too, a sciene in which we use rationality to find out truths and spread them around. My understanding then is that parental punishment qua punishment is found to be counterproductive and its apparent good effects only superficial often hiding the actual damage. We have left the theological discourse, but let my try to answer your question about what a parent should do when a boy repeatedly hits her sister: First of all the parent should think why that aggressive behavior has obtained; many of the problems of children have their cause in a dysfunctional family life. I think the basic duty of the parent is to provide the good environment in which the psyche of her child will naturally mature (an environment characterized by loving attention and clear rules). When that environment is missing then children will react. For example children are biologically programmed to call the attention of their parents, so when they are starved for attention they will resort to that kind of behavior which they discover most probably will elicit a parental reaction. Whether that reaction is positive or negative turns out to be secondary. In such cases then the parent may punish the child for something which at its root is her own failing. But suppose that despite a good environment we have an aggressive behavior by the boy. What then? In this case too I think the parent should react not in a spirit of anger or accusation but in a spirit of love and sadness, and impose what is the natural consequence of the action. While having as the goal the reformation of her boy’s psyche – and not, say, to show who is the master here. So how should the parent respond exactly? The answer to this question depends on many factors and should be given by a psychologist – but let me offer some ideas just in order to clarify what I mean: I think that the natural consequence of violent behavior is ostracism; which in that case may be a physical separation of the boy and his sister. For example if they share the same bedroom then the boy’s bed is moved to the corridor. Or the boy has to eat to alone in the kitchen while the family shares the table. At the same time love is not denied to the boy and any change in his behavior is rewarded until things return to normal. - Again, that’s my understanding of the deliverances of psychology, which in my experience of bringing up a child have worked rather well.

      [continues below]

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    6. [continues from above]

      I would sooner give it than try to convince him that parental punishment isn't punishment.

      You notice though Greg that you did not give a straight answer.

      I am starting to become old and when a contemplate human life from the perspective of having spent the greater part of it I realize that all worldly victories, large and small (such as winning a debate) are vain. Indeed comically vain. The only thing that matters is what we end up carrying in our soul. And therefore the only thing that matters is our relationship with Christ. Who is a person, not simple and not theoretical or abstract. But complex and concrete, more concrete than any wall, and more liberating than any door. Moreover one’s experience and relationship with the divine ground of reality is both tortuous and joyful as all personal relations are. Thus (and here I am answering to Tony) as one cannot strike a personal relationship with a book or with an idea, in the same way the truth that is Christ is only found in one’s relationship with Him. “Personal relationship with Christ” perhaps sounds like a rare or sophisticated thing but is anything but; Christ is who makes all things so that relationship is realized in all we do in life. Even atheists have a relationship with Christ albeit they are unaware of it. I ask you to consider that in our daily experience of life there is a personal “thou” present behind all things. Philosophy, theology, prayer and the life in the church, all help us bring that “thou” into relief, help us realize the meaning and relevance of that presence. And thus help us make it more powerful; it’s like the difference between knowing about somebody there and actually living with somebody here.

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    7. My understanding then is that parental punishment qua punishment is found to be counterproductive and its apparent good effects only superficial often hiding the actual damage.

      All right, let's think about this then.

      [L]et my try to answer your question about what a parent should do when a boy repeatedly hits her sister: First of all the parent should think why that aggressive behavior has obtained.... I think the basic duty of the parent is to provide the good environment in which the psyche of her child will naturally mature (an environment characterized by loving attention and clear rules). When that environment is missing then children will react.

      You are overstating your case to take this as the central case of misbehavior in children. No family is perfect, and parents can be at fault for their children's misbehavior. But, at least after the Fall, there is no mystery about why a boy might hit his sister. She might have something that he wants, or she might have annoyed him, or he might be jealous of her. That his parents have not given him enough or the right sort of attention may or may not be the case, but there is no reason to think that's the default explanation.

      Anyway, let's move onto the case that matters.

      But suppose that despite a good environment we have an aggressive behavior by the boy. What then? In this case too I think the parent should react not in a spirit of anger or accusation but in a spirit of love and sadness, and impose what is the natural consequence of the action.... So how should the parent respond exactly? The answer to this question depends on many factors and should be given by a psychologist – but let me offer some ideas just in order to clarify what I mean: I think that the natural consequence of violent behavior is ostracism; which in that case may be a physical separation of the boy and his sister.

      I'm afraid that you're equivocating and that you've moved the goalposts, Dianelos. The original proposal was that if a child, say, doesn't obey an instruction to get dressed for a party, then rather than punish him, the parent should just observe that the natural consequence of his failure to get ready is that he will be late for the party. This is, first of all, mere observation and advice; there is no imposition. And the natural consequence of the behavior is just its causal result.

      In these respects, that proposal is very much unlike the one currently on offer. The "natural consequence" is not what results from violent behavior; it is something that the parent needs to impose, if it's going to occur at all, because otherwise it wouldn't happen, because ostracism is not really a typical causal concomitant of hitting one's sister. The parent is not merely observing to the boy that a consequence of the his violence is that his bed is going to wind up in the corridor, and he is going to eat alone; the parent is going to move it, and the child will not be permitted to eat with the family.

      These are examples of punishments. And the "natural consequence" has gone from being the typical causal concomitant to being... a punishment that fits the crime.

      I have this sense that if the Sermon on the Mount is a call to eliminate punishment, then it is not merely a call to find another word for it.

      You notice though Greg that you did not give a straight answer.

      I responded in that way because your musing presumed that I had answered in bad faith, and I thought that was tendentious. My answer is obviously yes.

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    8. Greg,

      All right, let's think about this then.

      Well, whether the punishment of children has good or bad effects on their development is not a matter of philosophy but of science. And I find it interesting that natural law theory when exercised on a primitive physicalist level not only contradicts the Sermon of the Mount but also the deliverances of psychology. Perhaps Thomists should reconsider this matter. On the positive side I expect science to discover that the realization of the ethics of the Sermon of the Mount is a good ultimate goal to be set by society. The future wellbeing or even survival of humanity might depend on it.

      And as I said in the context of our discussion on capital punishment the parenting of children is a bad analogy in any case, since the relationship between state and citizens is entirely different in nature than the relationship between parents and children. A better analogy for the latter would be the relationship between God and creatures.

      Still, in this context I would like to comment on this:

      These are examples of punishments.

      I have suggested that the parent in a spirit of love and care should make certain her child experience the natural consequences of its misbehavior. From the point of view of the child this will be an unpleasant experience, which you may wish to therefore characterize as “punishment”. I don’t, for the concept of punishment as normally used entails punishing somebody for punishment’s sake, namely for the sake of retributive justice. And punishment is very often justified by its effect as a deterrent for others, and thus converts the punished person into a means (thus violating another generally accepted ethical principle, indeed one I think is entailed by natural law theory).

      Coming back to the example you suggested, is ostracism the natural consequence of hitting one’s sister? I think it is. Violent people, indeed mean people, are normally shunned by others and end up living lonely lives.

      My answer is obviously yes.

      I am sorry to hear that, for it leads me to the thought that you are missing out on the greatest beauty of the message of gospel. Which is the kind of person Christ was, and wants us to become like.

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    9. Well, whether the punishment of children has good or bad effects on their development is not a matter of philosophy but of science. And I find it interesting that natural law theory when exercised on a primitive physicalist level not only contradicts the Sermon of the Mount but also the deliverances of psychology.

      I've ignored your huffing and puffing about science on this topic because you haven't cited a shred of scientific evidence in support of the conclusion you want to endorse. And you still have not.

      The problem is that when you were asked to apply your theory to an obvious problem case, it transformed into what is basically an account of proportionate punishment. And of course you had no psychological data on how best to treat boys who repeatedly hit their sisters, because none exists. You just mused about what you thought was fitting.

      But anyway, even if science showed that some proportionate punishments were harmful for child development, that would not settle any disagreement between you and me. There are lots of case, in law and in parenting, where less than proportionate punishments are applied. They are still punishments. And they would still be ruled out by the Sermon on the Mount, if it contains any blanket condemnation of punishment.

      And as I said in the context of our discussion on capital punishment the parenting of children is a bad analogy in any case, since the relationship between state and citizens is entirely different in nature than the relationship between parents and children.

      I am not arguing from analogy.

      From the point of view of the child this will be an unpleasant experience, which you may wish to therefore characterize as “punishment”.

      Nope, that's not the reason I gave for calling them punishments. It is that the consequences of the child's action have to be imposed on the child by those who have legitimate authority over him, and that the character of those consequences is limited by proportionality and desert.

      I don't care if science shows that tying your disobedient child to the roof of your car after he has done wrong is in fact a very effective way of ensuring that he acquires desirable character traits. I don't care whether you tie the child to the roof in the purest spirit of loving care for his future. If he doesn't deserve it, it's wicked parenting.

      And punishment is very often justified by its effect as a deterrent for others, and thus converts the punished person into a means (thus violating another generally accepted ethical principle, indeed one I think is entailed by natural law theory).

      I don't accept this ethical principle, because I don't see any clear way of making it out. Any clear way of making out what it means to treat someone merely as a means (you need the 'merely' in there, or else the principle is even more useless) should give you an alternative ethical principle which is must clearer.

      is ostracism the natural consequence of hitting one’s sister? I think it is. Violent people, indeed mean people, are normally shunned by others and end up living lonely lives.

      Another natural consequence of hitting one's sister is that one's hands hurt. Would you rap the boy's knuckles with a ruler?

      More seriously, the point was not to contest that violent people are sometimes ostracized; it was to point out that when the parent is imposing (your word) this result on a child who has misbehaved, he is doing so precisely because it is not a natural consequence of the behavior. The theory is only an interesting one if the meaning of 'natural consequence' slips from one application to the other.

      Note also that there is no guarantee that the natural consequences of one's behavior are proportionate to what the child has done...

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    10. I am sorry to hear that, for it leads me to the thought that you are missing out on the greatest beauty of the message of gospel.

      I'm sorry to disappoint, but given the untenability of your views, I confess I'm not too worried about missing out on what you take to be the greatest beauty of the gospel message.

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    11. Greg, I find I have nothing of value to add to what I have already said. Thanks for the discussion.

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  16. "Baptized Christians understood themselves as having been called to a form of life radically unlike that of the fallen cosmos. They belonged to a kingdom not of this world, and were absolutely forbidden to take part in the orders of force by which the powers and principalities exercise their sway. They were required now to live by a law of charity so uncompromising that it might lead to their deaths and the deaths of many others. ... you may be rest assured that the extant remaining of the much conditioned permissibility in the CCC will not ever more be evoked or supported - nor "at least in principle" - by any responsabile christian shepherd (bishop) in communion with the Sedes Sancta. This communion – with all the saints – is the truly Christian “state”. No “secular hand” will be at hand to comply with it no more;"

    Assuming the interpretation seemingly offered above is accurate and a categorical reflection of Hart's thinking, then:

    Paul nonetheless appealed to his Roman citizenship, in order to seek justice, did he not?

    I wonder to whom DBH would appeal if his door was being broken down by a gang of would-be rapists?

    Is it permissible on his view for him to defend himself? Does "charity" allow him to level fatal force against the predator attempting to sodomize his daughter [if he had one] ... or against a predator who would do the same to David Bentley Hart?

    Would Hart, assuming he survived such an assault and could gather up the strength to do it, consider a complaint to the secular authorities to be legitimate?

    Obviously no Christian - on 'Hart's view' so stated above - could take it upon himself to use force to defend the lives of Hart's offspring.

    Likewise it appears that any appeal to the "world" - even if the institutions of the local world are staffed with Christians - for defense or justice would be impermissible on the take outlined above, as well. And of what help could they possibly be other than in cheering on your martyrdom?

    I cannot see how a Christian society as represented by the author supposedly conveying Hart's views, could possibly survive a generation or two. Like a Marxist society, this "Christian" association seems to depend for its existence on a privileged parasitic status - living off of and at least indirectly underwritten by that [be it the protections of natural law, or the produce of a natural market] which it ostensibly condemns.

    If Hart [as posited above], has no obligation to defend himself or pursue justice employing ultimately fatal force, then what obligation could anyone else have to him to do so?

    Actually I don't imagine that the view outlined in such unqualified terms in the quote above could represent Hart's real view. But it does show the masochistic lengths to which some will take their antinomianism.

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  17. The issue of executing heretics is actually pretty relevant to this discussion, especially as it pertains to this reductio.

    1. If a sin is at least as grave as murder, the death penalty may in principle be inflicted as a punishment.
    2. Obdurate and influential heresy is a sin at least as grave as murder.
    3. Therefore, obdurate and influential heresy may in principle be inflicted.

    In order to avoid the consequences of this reductio, one must deny either (1) or (2). (2) is pretty difficult to deny, because it is worse to cause someone to lose their body than their soul. One may attempt to qualify (1) by saying the sin must be committed against another human being rather than God (who presumably can carry out his own punishment).

    But, of course, by posing the problem in terms of influential heresy, the sin is also against other people, who do not have the intellectual resources to resist it (such as children). Think of the folk who died under Arius' influence, not knowing any better.

    So there is a strong argument to be made that if murderers may be executed, so may heretics. Yet, I would argue that heretics should not be executed. (In fact, anyone who wants to be engaged in civilized discourse in the 20th century would have to accept that principle.) Therefore, neither should murderers.

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    1. Since you reject (3) and think (2) is very plausible, I take it that you reject (1).

      If that is the case, then I presume that you reject lifelong imprisonment as a punishment as well, as you will presumably reject the conclusion of this argument too:

      1'. If a sin is at least as grave as murder, then lifelong imprisonment may in principle be inflicted as a punishment for it.
      2. Obdurate and influential heresy is a sin at least a grave as murder.
      3'. Therefore, lifelong imprisonment may in principle be inflicted upon obdurate and influential heretics.

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    2. Of course, it doesn't have to be lifelong imprisonment that is in question; the modern sensibility will feel that obdurate and influential heretics cannot receive any 'temporal' punishment at all: any fine or imprisonment of any length.

      So I am not sure what I want to say in response to your argument, but it has much more to do about punishment for heresy and religious freedom than it does about capital punishment.

      On the other hand, one might also say that it is rather the case that to be engaged in civilized discourse in the 21st century, one must hold that obdurate, if not influential, heretics, such as those who refuse to bake cakes for same-sex weddings, should be punished with arbitrarily large fines.

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    3. Following on what Greg has said, isn't the whole reason you think this argument works is you hold it obvious heretics shouldn't be executed. But isn't this precisely because you don't think what they are doing is equivalent to murder. If you did, then would the argument really work as a reduction?

      One could use the example of witches as a parallel reductio - any force that would come from such an argument would be based on the very fact we don't think they are cursing their neighbours and are in league with demons and devils. But then there is no true parallel with murderers. They're either totally innocent or relatively harmless dupes like Wiccans. If we did think there were real witches practicing deadly black magic, then it might not be so absurd to execute them (assuming normal due process).

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    4. - reductio

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    5. Thomas M. Cothran: The issue of executing heretics is actually pretty relevant to this discussion

      Whether the death-penalty is justifiable in principle is relevant to whether it might ever be applicable to heretics in practice, not the other way around. And nobody is going to bring up the case of heretics as a purely intellectual question because he figures that everyone is in such sound agreement about all the foundational issues. It doesn't take a mind-reader to see that it will just result in more emotionally-laden name-calling.

      So there is a strong argument to be made that if murderers may be executed, so may heretics.

      There is, but you haven't made it. Your argument is extremely crude and simply ignores the multifarious details that would need to be addressed. (Overall, it rides roughshod over the distinction between principle and practice.)

      (In fact, anyone who wants to be engaged in civilized discourse in the 20th century would have to accept that principle.)

      Do I get to say "told you so!" yet?

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    6. This issue gets more interesting when instead of discussing intra-Christian heresies we deal with the heresy of atheism. Unlike various non-trinitarian heresies, say, atheistic blasphemy is a violation of natural law according to Catholics and the Noachic covenant according to Jews. Hence, a country need not be Christian, let alone specifically Roman Catholic, to punish atheistic blasphemy. I remember a successful prosecution of, and punishment imposed upon, a blasphemer in England as recently as the 1970s. So this is not entirely theoretical. If Ed and Joe accept the premise that aggressively promoting atheistic blasphemy (Tony above is right that merely holding blasphemous views internally would not be prosecuted) is a violation of natural law even worse than murder, then it seems to me that they should hold that it would be good for a nation to allow capital punishment for such an offense.

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    7. First, I'd like to congratulate Ed on his crushing reply to Hart and Griffiths.

      Re the death penalty for heretics, I'd like to comment on the syllogism:

      1. If a sin is at least as grave as murder, the death penalty may in principle be inflicted as a punishment.
      2. Obdurate and influential heresy is a sin at least as grave as murder.
      3. Therefore, obdurate and influential heresy may in principle be punished with the death penalty.

      The problem, as I see it, is that even if one accepts premise (2), the mens rea for murder and heresy are very different. For murder, the mens rea is, roughly, an intention to kill or to cause grievous bodily harm. For heresy, the mens rea is (a) a knowledge that the Catholic faith is true [or, for atheistic blasphemy, a knowledge that God exists], coupled with (b) an intention to convince someone of the contrary. While (b) could be be easily established in a court of law by citing the defendant's proselytizing activities, (a) cannot be established, as it would require us to "make windows into men's souls," as Queen Elizabeth I famously put it.

      In other words, inflicting the death penalty for heresy would require a court to establish that the defendant was insincere: a judgment which it is not qualified to make. Only God can do that.

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    8. Murder is a sin, so your first premise amounts to a tautology. I think excommunication and the threat of it would be enough, not capital punishment, with respect to dealing with heresy.

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    9. I'd reject premise (1), because I don't hold to a retributive view of punishment. Premise (2) is much more convincing if one believes that heretics spend an eternity in hell, and I'm pretty skeptical about anyone spending an eternity in hell.

      However, if one does hold to a retributive view of punishment, and if you hold the conventional Thomist line on hell and heresy, those aren't available outs.

      I think the rejection of 1) and 2) would explain why I don't think any legal punishment should be meted out for heresy, but I'd be interested if you had a counter there.

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    10. Vincent:

      The mens rea requirement for murder is more than simply the intention to kill. It differs by jurisdiction, but in the case of first degree murder, pre-meditation, an understanding of the factual situation one is in, an absence of an overriding passion (relevant to the reduction of manslaughter) would all be generally required.

      And there are all sorts of ways the mens rea requirements you mention could be shown: simple confession in an interrogation or admission under oath at trial would probably suffice to establish mens rea. There are at least some factual circumstances where establishing the mens rea requirements you describe would be straightforward. I'm happy to limit my argument to those cases.

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    11. Tim Finlay: This issue gets more interesting when

      Actually, it gets less interesting. Obviously the issues around heresy are less-well understood and less-widely agreed upon, so if we're having trouble sorting out the "easy" case, no progress is going to be made by trying to tackle a harder problem instead.

      instead of discussing intra-Christian heresies we deal with the heresy of atheism.

      Well, right there, atheism isn't a heresy. (Maybe apostasy in some cases.) Heresy (properly speaking, in this context) is not just "being wrong"; it involves an attack on the faith one has vowed to accept — it is a sort of treason. (And I don't believe that contemporary society has a particularly good understanding of treason either. (I mean, hey, only a monster would execute someone for bad-mouthing the President or cheating on your taxes, ergo capital punishment is, like, for total haters!!!))

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    12. Vincent,
      First, thank you for putting the syllogism into its appropriate form. I was less formal and I think that Thomas Cothran completely mis-stated the conclusion ("Therefore, obdurate and influential heresy may in principle be inflicted" cannot be what Thomas meant).
      Second, your point about mens rea was one that I had not considered and which may make my argument unsound.
      However, people have in the past been punished for blasphemy and heresy, so how did the prosecutors establish mens rea on those occasions.
      Mr. Green,
      I have no trouble at all sorting out the "easy" case--it is obvious that heinous murder merits the death penalty. Having sorted that out, why am I not permitted to tackle a harder problem?

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    13. @ Thomas

      I'd reject premise (1), because I don't hold to a retributive view of punishment.

      I'm not sure a retributive view of punishment is what is at issue here. If you had, for instance, a purely defensive theory of punishment, the conclusion would still follow, because the argument that heresy is graver than murder was made on account of heresy having a worse result than murder.

      However, I was under the impression that you accepted (2), since you said it is difficult to deny, but it's evident now that you meant that it is difficult to deny for orthodox Catholics.

      That said, Thomists aren't obviously committed to (2). (I am not sure whether Aquinas held it.) Your argument for it, at least, contains an assumption that Thomists would reject, which is that, because eternal damnation is worse than death, heresy is worse than murder. Aquinas rejects the principle behind that inference when he argues against the thought that it is better to murder a holy man than someone who lacks charity, because the former will go to heaven.

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    14. Aquinas also thought that "What [heretics] really intend is the corruption of the faith, which is to inflict very great harm indeed." But that this is an accurate account of the psychology of every heretic, or even of every obstinate heretic, is, to put it lightly, doubtful. On the other hand, death is intended in murder. If the harm is intended in one case and generally not in the other, the relative gravity of the sins is not determined by the relative gravity of the harm, and (2) is false.

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    15. Greg,
      You bring out another point that I had not considered--that the heretic may not intend the corruption of the faith and that therefore, the relative gravity of the harm done does not necessarily imply that it is a greater sin. If you (and Vincent Torley) are correct, then perhaps nations should not execute heretics. In that case, the Catholics, Anglicans etc. erred in either executing people for heresy or handing them over for execution on the charge of heresy.

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    16. Thomas,

      To put it another way, your argument says nothing about the legitimacy of the death penalty. That is absurd to execute heretics would only follow nif you reject 2). But then that just shows heretics don't deserve the death penalty, not that no one does.

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    17. Promoting heresy is indeed a graver sin than murder, taking it with respect merely to its species, for the death of the soul is worse than the death of the body.

      Yet it is not necessarily the case that heresy is a graver disturbance of the common good to which the state has the care. Notably, the state does not have, as its primary object, the eternal welfare of the souls of its citizens or subjects. The state is a community of the temporal order and has as its primary concern those matters of the temporal order.

      So it is possible that heresy is a graver SIN but not a graver civil crime. That it deserve a greater punishment does not mean it deserves a greater punishment from the state.

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    18. It is perhaps worth mentioning that I accept the retributive theory of punishment, and would reject (1). From action S's being at least as grave as action T, all that follows is that gravity cannot be a reason to punish T more harshly than S. But no one has ever held, as far as I know, that gravity is the only matter to be considered in punishment, and there are quite a few other things that could make the consequent false even if the antecedent were true -- human feasibility, greater intrinsic uncertainty, prohibitive risk to common good, relative appropriateness of the punishment (as compared to other punishments) to the content of the crime, etc. Any of these may suffice to make a punishment in principle inadmissible, if they apply to intrinsic features of the crime.

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    19. I wouldn't deny any steps of the syllogism: I believe #1, #2, and #3 to be true, whatever Mr. Cothran thinks that says about my fitness to be "engaged in civilized discourse in the 20th [sic] century."

      However valid the logic of #3 is, though, I believe there are overwhelming prudential reasons for a modern state NOT to execute defendants for heresy, or to punish them judicially at all. None of those prudential motives, though, are good reasons to withhold judicial penalties (imprisonment, fines, death penalty, etc.) for what we moderns define as crimes.

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    20. Thomas Cothran suggests above that "simple confession in an interrogation or admission under oath at trial would probably suffice to establish mens rea" for blasphemy or heresy. The confession or admission here would have to be that the blasphemer actually believed God exists or that the person propounding heresy actually believed the Catholic faith to be true, at the time of the offense. But even this is not enough: the offender must also intend to act in a way that threatens the salvation of the people listening to him. In the absence of such an intent, we cannot conclude that the offender was intending to subvert the social order, as a person who freely and knowingly murders does.

      Tim Finlay asks how ecclesiastical prosecutors established the mens rea for heresy in times past. Suffice to say that the bar was set a lot lower back then: if the accused had been baptized, then he was deemed to have received the gift of faith, and was therefore morally culpable for any subsequent lapse from the faith. Any public denial of a truth of the Catholic faith by the accused (reported under sworn testimony by a witness who was not a mortal enemy of the accused) sufficed to establish that a lapse from the faith had occurred, and persistence in such denial during a heresy trial (despite abjurations to return to orthodoxy) would suffice to convict the accused.

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    21. But even this is not enough: the offender must also intend to act in a way that threatens the salvation of the people listening to him. In the absence of such an intent, we cannot conclude that the offender was intending to subvert the social order, as a person who freely and knowingly murders does.

      Vincent, I don't think it works that way. The mens rea would be something along the lines of "to knowingly promote a thesis that I (at one time a professed Catholic) know contradicts the Church's declared teaching." There does not need to be any explicit advertence in my thought as to "threatens the salvation of others" or anything like that. The "knowing" implied in mens rea must lie in my knowing that my thesis that I am claiming contradicts Church teaching, nothing more.

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    22. Aquinas also thought that "What [heretics] really intend is the corruption of the faith, which is to inflict very great harm indeed." But that this is an accurate account of the psychology of every heretic, or even of every obstinate heretic, is, to put it lightly, doubtful.

      Greg, I suspect you didn't quite get that right. A person does not commit the sin of heresy if they think a proposition false that the Church has declared true, if they don't KNOW that the Church has said it is true. A person DOES commit the sin of heresy, in a formal and definitive way, if they know quite certainly that the Church teaches "X is true" and yet they definitively affirm "X is false". (Assuming, of course, that they are a baptized and confirmed adult Catholic. And assuming that they were not wrongly taught the thesis from infancy by their parents and teachers.) It is not part of the sin of heresy to intend "corruption of the Church's faith" in, an explicit sense, because they cannot actually AFFIRM "X is false" if they explicitly believe that saying "X is false" is corrupting the faith. Even a heretic cannot think "X is true" and "X is false" at the same time, the sin comes from abandoning the affirmation "X is true" when they have the testimony of the Church about it, and trusting their own judgment rather than the Church's. But when they choose to rely on their own judgment, they are not thereby thinking to "corrupt" anything (not directly, that is), indeed they presumably are thinking to correct the Church.

      I think St. Thomas must be read differently. He is speaking to whether heretics should be tolerated, and responding specifically to the objection that heresy is "necessary" for some good, and his reply is that this is a misapplication: what they INTEND is not a good, but a very great harm. But he does not mean that they explicitly intend great harm (as would someone who is, say, intent on torture), but that is the implicit intent when you explicitly intend to promote what you have sufficient grounds to realize is not true. So, I would say "what heretics really intend - directly - is to change what the Church believes for something else", and that this of course entails great harm, but that heretics do not directly and formally intend great harm.

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    23. Tony, I don't see that Aquinas has your distinction between what is explicitly intended and what is implicitly intended, unless all one meant by that were: what one explicitly intends is what one really intends, and what one implicitly intends is what is materially the same as what one explicitly intends, though one does not explicitly intend it, though it is really praeter intentionem, taking intention in the strict sense.

      Then one might want to say that when Aquinas says "what heretics really intend is the corruption of the faith," he means "what--i.e., that which--heretics really intend is the same thing as the corruption of the faith," though they don't intend the corruption of the faith itself. They just implicitly intend the corruption of the faith.

      But that isn't a plausible reading of II-II q. 11 a. 3 ad 2 for two reasons. First, the translation is not quite literal, and the Latin does not give the sense that Aquinas really means that the corruption of the faith is materially equivalent to what heretics really intend: "ex intentione eorum est corrumpere fidem."

      Second, Aquinas does make a distinction in that reply between what is intended in the strict sense and what falls outside of intention, but it does not line up with a purported distinction between believing-and-teaching-p-when-the-Church-teaches-not-p and corrupting the faith:

      The profit that ensues from heresy is beside the intention of heretics, for it consists in the constancy of the faithful being put to the test, and "makes us shake off our sluggishness, and search the Scriptures more carefully," as Augustine states (De Gen. cont. Manich. i, 1). What they really intend is the corruption of the faith, which is to inflict very great harm indeed. Consequently we should consider what they directly intend, and expel them, rather than what is beside their intention, and so, tolerate them.

      Aquinas wants to say that the corruption of the faith is not what is beside their intention; it is the only concrete thing that he names which can correspond to what heretics "directly intend" (id quod est per se de eorum intentione), which is the basis for excluding them.

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    24. Greg, maybe you're right. But let me pose a question. Suppose John has come to conclude p is true, even though he knows that the Church teaches ~p is true, a direct contradiction. Is there an important difference between these 2 cases:

      (1) John has, by definitively affirming p while knowing the Church teaches ~p, ceased to hold the Catholic faith. Therefore, he is no longer a living member of the Church. Yet he (falsely) imagines himself to be in good standing in the Church, he consciously considers himself "part of the Church", and in trying to get others to believe p, he imagines that he will be improving the Church. John teaches p to others because he believes p is true and he wants others to believe the truth. He imagines this will perfect the Church, which he desires.

      (2) John has, by affirming p, ceased to hold the Catholic faith. John accepts that the Church therefore says that he has separated himself from her, and accepts his status as no longer a living member of the Church. He teaches p to others because he wants them to hold the truth, to join him in rejecting the Church, and to be part of something else in opposition.

      Is (2) fittingly described as "intends corruption of the faith"? I would say so. In teaching others to hold p, John is trying to destroy the institutional Church because he believes it is itself corrupted and only those who hold his version of the matter (i.e. who hold p) hold the truth. Thus he both intends the destruction of that institution which insists on ~p, and intends the cessation of anyone believing in ~P.

      Is (1) fittingly described as "intends the corruption of the faith"? Maybe, but less obviously so. If John subjectively considers that by getting others to believe p he is making the Church better, and making their faith more pure, calling this "intends the corruption of the faith" is an odd thing.

      Maybe Aquinas only meant the kind of heretics in my (2)?

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    25. In II-II q. 11, Aquinas first defines heresy, in a. 1, in terms of intending to assent to Christ but choosing teachings other than those Christ taught.

      How one compares that to what the Catholic Church teaches is another matter. There's a sort of "all things considered" judgment about what the Church teaches, in which case the answer is always: the true Catholic faith. But there's also a judgment about what "the Church" visibly teaches right now. You and I would agree that the Church does not teach that capital punishment is intrinsically immoral, but to a lot of people it appears that the Church does.

      But with that distinction in hand, consider your (1). John teaches p, knowing that what he thinks is merely "the Church" in scare quotes teaches not-p; but he thinks that the Church, like him, teaches p. In teaching p, he takes him to be correcting "the Church," not the Church.

      I think it's right to say that John in such a case is not intending to corrupt the faith, when he is (say) incorrect about the tension between the Church and "the Church."

      But one gets Aquinas's view on heresy in terms of the visible Church in a. 2 ad 3, and there the idea is that someone who obstinately disagrees with what has been defined by the universal Church, whose authority rests in the pope, will be a heretic. One really does get the sense, reading Aquinas, that at that point there is necessarily some bad faith; this is probably rooted in a confidence that he had and which we find more difficult that there's a point after which there can be no more honest doubt about the relationship between the Church and the visible Church.

      This sort of consideration seems to me to be what is operative in slipping from Aquinas's definition of heresy--in which heresy seems to be a matter just of going wrong materially in the faith--to an imputation of ill will. Besides obstinate and non-obstinate defense of one's error, though, Aquinas doesn't seem to be distinguishing between different kinds of heretics. (The latter of course aren't really heretics.)

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    26. Tim Finlay: I have no trouble at all sorting out the "easy" case--it is obvious that heinous murder merits the death penalty. Having sorted that out, why am I not permitted to tackle a harder problem?

      I see; that wasn't clear. Yes, if we are starting from an established, well-defined position (such as Aquinas's view of the issue) and looking to understand it better, then that is different matter from trying to answer the question based on something else that people are still disagreeing about. And in fact the head of this thread was an attempt to argue against the death-penalty for murderers based on not liking it for heretics.

      It seemed closer to the latter than the former when you said: If Ed and Joe accept the premise [...], then it seems to me that they should hold that it would be good for a nation to allow capital punishment for such an offense.

      (No, all that follows is that we can't deny the possibility on those grounds.)

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    27. I haven't been able to keep up with this debate as well as I intended to, so I'll make some general remarks.

      I think the responses to the issue of heresy broadly fall into three categories: 1) those who accept, at least in principle, the execution of heretics, 2) those who are effectively limiting the set of heretics to which the argument could apply, and 3) those who are contesting the premises more directly.

      With respect to the first camp, I think I'm happy saying for the moment that the mainstream Catholic view would regard killing people for their beliefs or ideas to be a form of religious extremism. I don't have any real reason to attribute that extremism to Feser himself, though I do think it's odd he avoided the question in his response given what he says in his book.

      With respect to the second camp, which says that not every form of intentional and obdurate heresy is worse than murder, by saying further qualifications are needed. While I think that's divergent from the way heresy has historically been understood, I am perfectly happy to admit whatever qualifications others would raise, and reduce the set of those caught up in the argument to a sub-set. Because this argument is a reductio, I would regard it as enough to show that some subset of heresy is worse than murder, and that some subset of heretics should (by the logic of the argument) be executed. Put another way, I think the sanctioning (even in principle) of killing of anyone for their beliefs or dissemination of those beliefs to be sufficiently absurd for mainstream 21st Catholics to accept.

      I think the third category is the most substantial response. I take Greg, Tony, and Brandon to be accurately pointing out that there may be either qualifications to the retributive theory of justice or else countervailing considerations. I agree in principle, but I am curious if the price of those qualifications or countervailing considerations is one people are willing to pay. The reason is that the countervailing principles will generally be just as revisionary to Catholic teaching as the modern approach to the death penalty.

      I'll give one example: that of a religious right of consciousness. I accept an inviolable civil right to believe anything, and to publish arguments for those beliefs. If one agrees with me on this, then this countervailing consideration would exclude the teaching of heretics from any civil recriminations. Yet the evolution of the Catholic Church on the issue of rights of conscience is even more striking that its evolution on the issue of the death penalty. Take Gregory XVI:

      > And from this stinking fountainhead of indifferentism flows that absurd and erroneous opinion or rather nonsense, that liberty of conscience must be claimed and demanded for anyone whatever.

      Or, more relevantly to the issue at hand, this proposition is condemned by Pope Leo X in Exsurge Domine:

      > That heretics be burned is against the will of the Spirit.

      Anyway, the more I look into the history of executing heretics, the more it seems that the weight of the Catholic tradition on the issue of executing heretics is pretty close to the weight of the tradition for execution in general. In any case, the principles appealed to in salvaging the death penalty seem in the main to be at least as innovative as the modern Catholic opposition to the death penalty.

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  18. "The issue of executing heretics is actually pretty relevant to this discussion, especially as it pertains to this reductio.

    1. If a sin is at least as grave as murder, the death penalty may in principle be inflicted as a punishment.
    2. Obdurate and influential heresy is a sin at least as grave as murder.
    3. Therefore, obdurate and influential heresy may in principle be inflicted.

    In order to avoid the consequences of this reductio ... (2) is pretty difficult to deny, because it is worse to cause someone to lose their body than their soul."


    I believe you probably meant to say the reverse in that last passage.

    It's obviously a hypothetical syllogism of a prescriptive sort,

    If equally grave, then death
    equally grave
    Therefore death

    Modus Ponens.

    But why the equality should be conceded as substantiating the validity of a reductio ad absurdum is unclear to me. You apparently base it on your point 2. But I am unaware that the Church actually prescribed death for heresy; if that is, you are willing to distinguish between turning obdurate heretics (and thus disturbers of the good order of the polity) over to the secular powers to be dealt with, as opposed to doing the punishing yourself and for heresy per se.

    But then My interest in theology - as opposed to natural law and moderate realism, is scant to say the least.

    Perhaps someone else can give you a better comment.

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  19. I think Hart won the last round on animals in heaven, but here I think Feser has quite convincingly demolished Hart on capital punishment.

    I still respect both men and their work, despite their respective shortcomings.

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  20. Mr. Green:

    "It doesn't take a mind-reader to see that it will just result in more emotionally-laden name-calling"

    Ed Feser called "dishonest", making "unhinged remarks", guilty either of "misrepresentation or criminally negligent scholarship", though he grants that Hart "appears to understand English".

    On the other hand, I've presented a reductio, numbered the premises, and invited people to criticise the arguments. Greg and Vincent have both offered incisive counter-arguments. It should be clear which path I'm taking in these comments.

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    1. Thomas M. Cothran: Ed Feser called "dishonest", making "unhinged remarks", guilty either of "misrepresentation or criminally negligent scholarship"

      I wasn't counting that (it's a plain fact that Ed was misrepresented); but if you do count it, doesn't that strengthen my point?

      It should be clear which path I'm taking in these comments.

      It's not completely clear, because you didn't answer question (which, despite its facetious tone, was serious): did you mean, "Good luck trying to have a conversation like that in the current climate", or did you mean, "If you disagree with me you're barbaric"?

      Anyway, I appreciate that you raised this as a serious question, and did not mean that you would simply resort to name-calling. However, your starting point already disagrees with Feser's position and traditional Catholic teaching, so how can it be "relevant" to settling those questions? Surely we need to settle the basics (like what punishment is, etc.) first.

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  21. QUOTE: "So there is a strong argument to be made that if murderers may be executed, so may heretics. Yet, I would argue that heretics should not be executed. (In fact, anyone who wants to be engaged in civilized discourse in the 20th century would have to accept that principle.)"

    Why? Truth is not dependent on chronology. Who cares about "civil discourse in the 20th century".

    Furthermore, it can be argued that heresy can, in principle, be punished by death, and was justifiably done so in the past, but that now, with numerous non-Christian countries in existence, death for heresy is practically unwarranted, and instead, something like banishment can be used. Problem solved.

    Cheers,

    Man of the West
    www.manofthewest.net

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  22. RIP, Jerry Fodor.

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    1. As a lawyer-arm-chair-theologian convert, I am very much enjoying this blog and Dr. Feser's dismantling of the non-substantive, rhetorical responses coming from the opposing position. As an absolute amateur in regard to matters of philosophy and natural law, I cautiously offer one question that came to mind while reading Dr. Feser's response, namely, is there not a need to distinguish between the right to a thing and the thing itself, particularly in referencing statements made in the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution? In the death-penalty context, the gist of the idea is that a criminal does not forfeit his right to life, though he may forfeit his life. (I recognize the question itself may reflect some intellectual flaw I am suffering under; if so, guidance would be welcome.) The question was prompted by an article a close friend of mine co-authored a few years ago. The conclusion to that article states:

      "The Declaration of Independence rests the legitimacy of our polity upon natural inalienable rights. A coherent theory of natural inalienable rights requires at least two elements, elements that have been the focus of this article. First, the theory must distinguish between an inalienable right and the object of that right. The inalienable right to life is not life itself. Second, the theory must account for imposing inalienability on the holder of the inalienable rights. Inalienability precludes some rights in order to secure others.

      "Both of these elements presuppose a moral ordering, a law beyond that generated by human will. To distinguish between an object and a natural inalienable right to that object presupposes a moral order to define that right. If, as suggested in this article, a natural inalienable right is a right against the lawless violation of the subject of that right, some transcendent law order must exist to give meaning to the term 'lawless.' Such natural rights require such an order. Similarly, to impose inalienability at all presupposes a moral order able to negate the will of an individual dead set on alienating-or acting as if alienating-the inalienable right. Whether human nature, or the nature of a right, or some other structure outside human will, there must exist some normative and authoritative regime beyond human ordering for natural inalienable rights to exist at all.

      "All this is to suggest that full blown, Casey-esque human autonomy and natural inalienable rights cannot coexist. They presuppose two different universes. Either meaning, the universe, and human life have some ordering by virtue of something beyond what individual humans define for themselves, or they do not. But if not, finding inalienable rights will likely prove impossible. Perhaps some Hobbesian seed in a Lockean heritage is now bearing fruit as rights burgeon, and the foundation of inalienability is abandoned for merely positive law limits on natural rights-limits crafted, say, by the United States Supreme Court. Such an understanding, though, is not the understanding of inalienable rights claimed by the Declaration of Independence as the basis for our polity, the Declaration claiming for authority 'the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God.'"

      Craig A. Stern & Gregory M. Jones, "The Coherence of Natural Inalienable Rights," 76 U.M.K.C. L. Rev. 939, 991-92 (2008).

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    2. JD, I am having a lot of trouble understanding what you mean by "What [heretics] really intend is the corruption of the faith, which is to inflict very great harm indeed.

      What would it mean to "impose" a natural inalienable right? Doesn't nature do the imposing - doesn't the right rest in the person in virtue of their human nature?

      It is true that there is a moral order to the universe, and that this moral order entails that humans are moral beings that "fit" in the moral order. Is that all that you mean by the inalienable rights being "imposed"? I.E., the nature of created beings with intellect and free will implies that they have a moral structure as a "given" framework of their existence?

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    3. Tony, in regard to your question regarding the excerpt I quoted from Stern and Jones, I believe you are thinking along the correct lines. The inalienability is imposed from a source, nature or nature's God, outside human will. Stern and Jones are pointing out that the concept of "inalienable" rights, which are clearly recognized in the organic law of the United States, conflicts with the modern legal philosophy, which has more or less abandoned natural law as a source of law (whether approaching that from a traditional, new, or Lockean perspective) and focuses on human will as the source of the only law that matters in the legal context. I continue to puzzle over it, particularly the extent to which a judge can, should, or must take account of natural law when opining about the law or about the law's application in a given case. But that is all somewhat off the main reason I posted. I was more interested in any thoughts about whether the distinction between the inalienability of the right to something versus the inalienability of the thing itself holds up philosophically. There is a certain appeal to thinking that the right to life is inalienable (no human can give his right to life away), but that does not mean that life itself is inalienable (a human may give his life away for good, such as by falling on a grenade to protect fellow soldiers, or for ill, by committing murder and receiving the just punishment for that wrong). That thought appears to explain why the founders had no problem discussing the right to life as inalienable while at the same time stating that the state could take someone's life (not the right to life) provided the person was given due process.

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    4. There is a certain appeal to thinking that the right to life is inalienable (no human can give his right to life away), but that does not mean that life itself is inalienable (a human may give his life away for good, such as by falling on a grenade to protect fellow soldiers, or for ill, by committing murder and receiving the just punishment for that wrong).

      I suspect that part of the philosophical difficulty is that the term "rights" here is fairly troublesome as a notion. Here are two reasons to approach the term with caution: first, to speak of a person who is dead and has been dead in such terms as "they (DO) have a right to life" - present tense - when nothing in the world can give it back to them, is odd indeed. So, did the murderer take away their right, indirectly, by taking away their life? That would be odd also.

      Secondly, suppose that God has so arranged his providential order so that a person will fall on the stairs, break his neck, and die. Did he have a "right to life" that was inalienable? Presumably. Did he lose it (his life)? Certainly. Did God violate his inalienable right? Well... obviously we don't want to say something like that.

      One way to (sort of) solve these problems is to say that what we mean by saying a person has this "right" to life is that everyone else in human society has no "right" to take it away. Or, better: no other human person is doing right when they take it away. Nobody, by their actions, can affect MY right to life.

      But the murderer does "give up" his right to life. So, what we mean by inalienable IN THIS CONTEXT seems to be that a person's right to life is his own in such a way that no other human person can rightly take his life, but the man can alienate his claim on his life through his OWN actions, and then some human person can rightly take his life.

      When a soldier falls on a grenade to protect his squad, he is doing right to do so, but he is not "taking his own life" in doing so. He is accepting a (probable) death in circumstances God has placed him where it is morally better for him to take an action to preserve others' life than to preserve his own. He is laying his life down for others, but he is not "taking" his own life. Since it was God who put him in that situation, he never had a "right" not to be faced with concrete situation that made such a demand on him. (This is, again, why the "inalienable right" is limited to the matters of what other humans may rightly do to him.)

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  23. There's one definite point of superiority in Griffiths' article: he didn't misspell 'repellent', as Hart did.

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  24. In our highly sentimental, profoundly worldly, and spineless culture, capital punishment is viewed as evil, whereas a normal person would view it as self-evident and its abolition as criminal. A person who murders a human being has committed a mortal offense--in short his entire human life has been wasted because he has forfeited his possibility of gaining immortality. A murderer ought to feel the deepest contrition for his crime and the desire to save his soul by atoning for it. This, precisely, is what capital punishment offers to a believer. Contrition and atonement purify the soul and opens it to the priceless grace of salvation.

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  25. Uh oh, Ed. Leiter just endorsed Hart's review of your book, calling it "devastating." Stop the presses.

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    1. James Bond's friend Felix is commenting on philosophy these days?

      (That's an obscure way of asking, "Leiter? Who's that?")

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  26. Thanks for helping me along Tony. I suspect some of my problem arises from the definition side. "Inalienable" in a legal context appears to refer to acts of the individual's will (according to Black's, something that is "[n]ot transferable or assignable"). The common usage of "inalienable" apparently has a broader meaning (according to Oxford online, something "[n]ot subject to being taken away from or given away by the possessor.") But even settling on a definition only gets me so far.

    I work in a context where many say moral considerations are irrelevant to the judge or even to the law; others appeal to moral considerations selectively, usually on pet issues; and some are trying to do so comprehensively, but within the confines of the judicial role, which is itself changing, at least in practice. The death-penalty issue appears to be as good as any for working towards the truth of our situation as lawyers, and my particular concerns. Again, thanks for taking a moment to help me out.

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  27. I was thinking that the passage in the gospel of John where Jesus forgives the woman taken in adultery has relevance in the current discussion. My sense of it is that if torn between retribution because of the law or forgiveness because of mercy the latter is to be preferred whenever possible.

    Since repentance is the greatest good for the criminal and in the spirit of loving the criminal does anybody really think that denying mercy and moving for the criminal’s execution is the best for her soul? In which choice does the reader think we most closely embody Christ and most clearly transmit the gospel to the criminal? I am not asking the reader to weight arguments or quotes but to consider the sense of the divine and the voice of charity in one's soul.

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    1. This is just the foolish sentimentalism that is ruining minds in the West.

      This reader obviously feels he has more wisdom than the milennial authority of the wisest and saintly men in the Church. Try to use your intelligence to see that precisely capital punishment is the most charitable thing for a murderer. He himself should want it as his atonement for taking another's life. But men today have no spine, just recycycled paper.

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    2. Gregory,

      Atonement (in the traditional sense of making amends by paying some price to person wronged) is something one does out of one’s own free will. When the state punishes a criminal it is not like the criminal atones for her crimes. In front of God the only way to atone for one’s sins is by repentance.

      And the word "repentance" in the gospels has a quite different meaning from the current one. Repentance does not mean to be sorry for something one did but means to overcome one’s sinful nature - it is the transformation of soul in the likeness of Christ, the purification of the soul which takes place when one has faith in Christ and follows His commands. Indeed the word in the original Greek is “metanoia” which literally means “change of mind”. Therefore by executing a criminal one denies her any chance of repentance in the scriptural sense. Which is about the worse thing one can do to a person.

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    4. "Therefore by executing a criminal one denies her [!] any chance of repentance in the scriptural sense."

      Since the US reinstated capital punishment in 1976, only 16 women have been executed, whereas the DP has claimed the lives of 1,399 men. Yet you still insist on using the feminine pronoun.

      I bring this up because your whole schtick--your whole vibe--Dianelos, is obsequience and groveling to the secular/liberal Weltanschauung. Until you knock that shit off, you are never going to think straight. Ever. Moreover, you'll continue to pollute the purity of Christian revelation with SJW nonsense.

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    5. Perilanda: You are absolutely correct. If anything, I'd go farther; unless one is having a hard time with some of what one believes, and what the zeitgeist dictates, one should doubt whether one is thinking at all.

      I suggest we call the particular usage "the PC feminine". The funny thing is that it is only used where it is non-standard; where feminine pronouns are traditional, they must be suppressed. E.g., I absolutely refuse to go along with the growing practice - even by the Navy - of referring to ships as "it". To Hell with that.

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  28. does anybody really think that denying mercy and moving for the criminal’s execution is the best for her soul?

    Yes. There, is that clear enough. Yes.

    Numerous criminals have themselves attested to this: by facing death, they were brought to repentance, and they then embraced their punishment in expiation for their sins. They (some of them, that is) claimed that they probably would not have repented otherwise, for they had already spent years in prison and it did not bring about their repudiation of their evil ways.

    If you define mercy as refusing to apply the punishment, and if you define the criminal's best interest as in repentance, then denying THAT sort of mercy was, in fact, in the criminal's best interest. That's what their testimony says.

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