If a mass murder is a “senseless tragedy,” then the murderer is just another victim of it

Without comment, because this is so disgusting it’s beyond comment, here is the beginning of an AP article :

BLACKSBURG, Va. (AP) On the edge of the Virginia Tech Drillfield stands a semicircle of stones—33 chunks of locally quarried rust-grey “Hokie” limestone.

There is one for each of Seung-Hui Cho’s victims.

And there is one for Cho.

Each stone is marked with a paper “VT” adorned with the student’s or professor’s name, and each is bedecked with flowers. Cho’s is fourth from the left, between those for victims Daniel O’Neil and Matthew Gwaltney.

The article was sent to me by Premise Checker, who as his name suggests is a fan of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. These introductory remarks were included in Premise Checker’s e-mail:

Before you conservatives out there start cranking up your moan machine, reflect whether the 33rd stone represents Christian forgiveness. Then reflect how the liberalism you aim your moan machine against is a continuation of Christian civilization and not its diametrical opposite. If you do crank up your moan machine and say liberal guilt is at work, explain how this differs from Christian forgiveness.

I was wrong when I said that Jesus would forgive everything but blaspheming the Holy Ghost. The version in Matthew means that, while in this world and the next one (the Millennium), there will be no forgiveness, there can be after the Battle of Armageddon:

Verily I say unto you, All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme: But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation.—Mark 3:28-9

Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men. And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven unto him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come.—Matthew 12:32-3

And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven unto him: but unto him that blasphemeth against the Holy Ghost it shall not be forgiven.—Luke 12:10

Cho didn’t do anything that bad.

I replied:

To: Premise Checker

If you wrote this introduction to the AP article,

“Then reflect how the liberalism you [conservatives] aim your moan machine against is a continuation of Christian civilization and not its diametrical opposite,”

then you are arguing against a straw man, since it is a staple of conservative thought that liberalism is secularized Christianity. To say that secularized Christianity is a continuation of Christianity would be like saying that atheism is a continuation of belief in God. Just as atheism is the opposite of belief in God, secularized Christianity is the opposite of Christianity.

In traditional Christianity, any possible “forgiveness” for a mass murderer who died unrepentant in the midst of his murders would be left, at best, to God; the human society against which he committed his monstrous deeds would express no forgiveness for him. Christian civilization can make these distinctions because it distinguishes between the secular realm and the spiritual realm, which liberal society cannot do. Since liberal society believes in the moral equality of all human beings and denies the spiritual realm, forgiveness must be made equally manifest for all men in the secular realm, and so we end up with the nihilistic horror of Cho Sueng-Hui being memorialized along with his victims.

Rather than saying that the 33rd stone for Cho is a continuation of Christianity, it would be more accurate to say that the 33rd stone for Cho is a continuation of the Ayn Randian atheist libertarianism to which you subscribe (or used to subscribe, I’m not sure). Rand says that there is no God or truth above man, and that we don’t need God to have morality because there is an inherent morality in existence itself, a morality discernible by human reason. However, with no moral truth apart from what man can discern with his unaided reason, it is inevitable that over time more and more people will come to believe the liberal idea that each man’s notion of right and wrong is equal to all other men’s, from which it follows that society has no right to pass moral judgment on anything, except of course on violations of liberal equality, which under liberalism is the ground of all belief and therefore the one absolute. Since Cho only violated God’s command, “Thou shalt not murder,” but did not violate liberal equality, there is nothing preventing liberal society from forgiving him and including him among the victims.

- end of initial entry -

A reader writes:

Your response to that libertarian who wishes to lay at Christianity’s door the grotesque display of “equanimity” and moral equivalency was good beyond mere words of praise.

Ben W. writes:

Concerning the VT memorial to Cho possibly being categorized as “Christian forgiveness,” there is no passage in Scripture that indicates an unconditional forgiveness regardless of act.

Consider the following three references (KJV).

Paul refers to the policeman with a sword (in his day) as “a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.” This does not speak of forgiveness!

Romans 13:3-4 “For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? Do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same:

For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.”

Now take a look at 1 John 5:16 wherein the apostle John advises people not to pray for sin that is deadly:

“If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it.”

Finally there is Jesus himself who was under no illusions that people died in their sins without mercy:

Luke 13: 1-5

“Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem?

I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.”

To be consistent with Paul, John and Jesus, Cho was in Christian terms under the reach of the weapon of the police in God’s anger, was not to be prayed for, and died in his sins. There is no sentimental view of his death from the New Testament’s perspective. But as usual the liberal distorts the Bible.

LA replies:

The only passage quoted by Ben that seems directly relevant to the question of society’s forgiveness of a murderer is the one from 1st John about not praying for people who have committed mortal sins. The distinction between mortal and venial sins and the way they are treated is useful. However, mortal sins according to the Catholic Church encompass a very broad range of acts, not just things like murder. I feel we need expert help if we are to use this passage in a way that would be helpful in this discussion about whether society should forgive wrongdoers.

Other examples Ben has quoted have to do with society’s punishment of a murderer, and no one has suggested that society not do that; and the story of the tower of Siloam has to do with accidental death, not with forgiveness of sins.

A further problem with this topic is that Jesus’ own statements on forgiveness in the Gospels are contradictory and do not, at least without informed intepretation, provide a practical guide. In one passage he tells his disciples to forgive a person who has said he was sorry. In another passage, Matthew 18:21, he says to keep forgiving, virtually forever, without any reference to repentance of the sinner:

“Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.”

Now I suppose that Jesus’ comment could be taken by liberals as a mandate for virtually unlimited and unqualified forgiveness, in the absence of any repentance.

However, it seems to me that Peter’s reference to “my brother” implies that the reference is to the kind of ordinary offenses people may give to each other in the context of a personal relationship, not to mortal sins or criminal acts. If a friend has done something inconsiderate or hurtful to me, I have it in my power to “forgive” him, that is, I remove the account, I have no account against him any more; the matter is done with. It seems to me that that is the kind of thing that Peter and Jesus are speaking of here. A criminal, on the other hand, has not merely committed a personal sin or offense, but a crime against society. Do individuals have any right to say, “I forgive so and so for mass murdering my fellow students and my teachers?” The very idea seems terribly off base.

A further distinction that has to be clarified is the difference between, on one hand, personal forgiveness, as in “I forgive you, I cancel the account on this bad or hurtful thing you did to me,” which applies to a personal relationship and is not necessarily restricted to a Christian context, since, obviously, any person can forgive any person in a personal situation; and, on the other hand, forgiveness and remission of sins through the Church, which restores a Christian to the state of grace. Both types of forgiveness, forgiveness by a human being and forgiveness by God, are referenced in the New Testament, but it seems to me that we often conflate them.

Obviously there is room for a lot of confusion in this area and, given the way the idea of forgiveness is thrown around today, a need for public Christian teachers to educate society on this subject—and they would need to be traditionalists, not mealy-mouthed liberals preaching potato love.

Also, let’s remember that ordinary people announcing that they “forgive” some criminal have nothing to do with Christianity, they are using a general idea of Christian forgiveness to justify what feels good to them. That’s a further example of something I’m always saying about liberals, that they want the benefits of spiritual truth (in this case, forgiveness) while denying the truth itself. Of course, such liberalism only arises in a Christian or formerly Christian society; but, as I said to Premise Checker, that is not the same thing as saying that this liberal forgiveness is a continuation of Christian forgiveness. Rather, it is a perversion of it.

I had asked Ben W. about his religious background, and he replies (apparently without having seen my posted comment above) :

My Christian background is that of a layman. I grew up as a Baptist, my father’s religious affiliation. In college, yearning for a more rational framework and context for my own faith, I started reading C.S. Lewis and Francis Schaeffer. Essentially I have always been what can be described as an “evangelical” (though not a fundamentalist). Currently I belong to a church that is evangelical in nature but has an independent standing as an organization.

My understanding of divine forgiveness is that it is offered when asked for (examples: Luke 18:10-14, Matthew 6:12, Acts 2:37-38, 1 John 1:9, Luke 15:18, 21). One may even forgive another from a personal standpoint without forgiveness being sought. There are two sources of forgiveness—God and man—and the two are not necessarily the same although they may overlap.

When Jesus told Peter to forgive 70 X 7, the answer was in response to Peter’s question, “How many times do I forgive my brother?” Peter was asking about a brother, not a stranger or an alien. Are all men Peter’s brothers? The first epistle of John defines who is a child of God, who is a member of God’s family and therefore who are brothers and sisters (see also Gospel of John 1:12).

1 Corinthians 5 also shows that forgiveness has dependencies. As Paul says there, get rid from your midst the one who is behaving offensively. “Deliver him to Satan.”

Are forgiveness, mercy and grace unlimited and indistinct? John 3:18 states that “he that believes not is condemned already.” Hebrews 6:4-6 puts limits around grace and repentance. It doesn’t appear that grace and mercy are unlimited, without boundaries, and completely unconditional.

Alan Roebuck writes:

In regard to your discussion response to Premise Checker about Christianity and forgiveness, Christian apologist Greg Koukl (pronounced “coke-ull”) has an essay discussing the issue of Christian forgiveness. It is titled “The Sin of Forgiveness?”, and is a response to an article of the same name published by Dennis Prager, in which Prager argues against the kind of automatic forgiveness that so many call for. I bring this to your attention mainly because it represents a theologically informed account of the issue, coming from a well-trained Christian teacher, and can accordingly be regarded as an accurate picture of Christian teaching, not just a layman’s opinion.

I’ve included some quotes from Koukl’s article, but you should read the whole thing.

The basic problem is Christians calling for promiscuous forgiveness of unrepentant murderers they don’t know and who did not harm anyone they know. On this point, Greg says:

Human beings bear God’s image and therefore belong to Him. So the crime of murder is first a crime against God, and therefore the most important forgiveness must come from Him because He is the principal One wronged.

And later, he adds:

It does seem, though, that the Luke 17 passage qualifies those other verses such that repentance is an important requirement. It doesn’t seem to be that God has commanded us to forgive everybody without qualification, because we see these occasions when the qualification is made. (Incidentally, even God doesn’t forgive everyone without qualification.)

On the other hand, Koukl acknowledges that forgiveness in the personal, psychological sense is legitimate, even necessary, as a way of not remaining captive to the evil that was done.

And this issue has a public dimension. Koukl writes:

I think the biggest offense that someone like Dennis Prager feels about this is the apparent denial of the harm done and the immediate focus on forgiveness instead of on the appropriate punishment, which would be a function of justice.

In New York a while back a woman almost died when she was badly beaten and raped in Central Park in an act of “wilding.” The young men who had committed the crime were caught and jailed. Later they were visited by the Catholic Archbishop and told that God forgave them.

Now, the Archbishop should have mentioned that forgiveness is available from God on God’s conditions. But this should have come only after another truth was made clear: As the writer of Hebrews said, “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Hell is a real place where moral criminals are punished for their crimes against God and man.

That’s what should be told those criminals who did that terrible crime. Only then should they be told about the mercy that God will offer, on His conditions. First the bad news, then the good news.

I find Koukl’s article to be very clarifying.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at April 29, 2007 02:22 PM | Send

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