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15 January 2008

Hierarchy of sins?

A question arose in philosophy class last week that has two aspects, a theological and a philosophical; i.e., one aspect that more clearly relates to Biblical teaching, and one that could be considered as a pragmatic or socially moral question by secular thinkers. Here it is.

I’ll present the theological side of the question first.
Are there degrees of sin? Is one sin worse than another? In what ways? In what ways is lust equal to adultery, as Jesus says it is in Mathew five:
27"You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.' 28But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

In what ways is hate as bad as murder, as Jesus says, also in Matthew five:
22But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca,' is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell.

In what ways is murder worse than hatred? It seems clear to me that the Scripture teaches that any sin, no matter how small, alienates the sinner from God. This is the reason for the universal separation of human beings from their creator, because “All have sinned.” A very kind, compassionate, even self-sacrificial person cannot go to heaven on her own merit any more because she has certainly had moments of pride, hatred, anger, and so on in her own mind—even if she has never externally manifest these wicked feelings. Therefore, what difference does more sin make? Is it better to sin less? If any sin at all is enough to damn me, then what difference does it make if I sin more or less? And why is a “big” sin any worse than another, in God’s eyes?

I believe that a big sin is, from one point of view, no worse for the non-Christian to commit; that is, it does no more harm to his soul, because his soul is already dead and condemned. However, “where there is life there is hope,” and each action (from another, more Lewisian or Schaefferean, perspective) does led the doer one step closer to Heaven or Hell. Perhaps a given soul is condemned already; perhaps that soul is even [pre]destined not to be saved. However, I do not know, and that person does not know, the final result of his life. Therefore, whether he speaks kindly and gives up some little pleasure for another’s sake, or speaks harshly and grabs all for himself does push him one way or another.

I am not advocating a works doctrine. There are choices that led us closer to or further away from God. I do not know the eternal path laid invisibly under someone else’s feet; I do not (with incontrovertible certainty) know my own. All I know is the direction in which I am heading now, and the external evidence that suggests which way my friend is heading. If she consistently chooses self over others, nihilism over meaning, autonomy over Sovereignty, and skepticism over relationship, then the evidence is strong that she is not walking towards God. It is then in my interest to help to guard her against any sins that might push her further and faster along that path. Will a one-night stand damn her more than taking the Lord’s name in vain? No. But it is likely to create more complex entanglements with intimate sins and sinners, with passions and pride and amorality, with apathy and moral callousness. I would rather she not profane God’s name. But if she comes to me using the Lord’s name in vain and saying she’s going to sleep with so-and-so tonight, even though she cares little for him and will never see him again, just for a bit of fun and a last fling, which will provoke my comment and advice?

So perhaps there are no degrees of sin when it comes to the bottom line of damnation or salvation, but there certainly are sins that have more grievous social consequences, and perhaps sins that more completely seal the direction one’s soul is taking.

Now let’s consider the same question from a philosophical point of view:
Do numbers matter? Is it ethical to make a decision based upon the numbers of people affected? What difference does a number make? In other words, if a given decision will save five hundred people at the cost of five, is it therefore ethical? Is it moral to, say, drop a bomb that will kill 150,000 people (including civilians) in order to prevent the deaths of maybe twice as many members of the armed forces? Does the inclusion of civilians change the balance? Why? Is it better to try, as the Resistance group of which Bonhoeffer was a member did, to assassinate Hitler than to allow him to continue killing millions?

In other words, is a deed more evil if it affects more people?

In essence, this is at issue in discussions of public and private morality. Some say (one of you readers said to me!) that what politicians do in their private lives should not matter when election time comes. The sub-text is “as long as that evil act does not affect anyone else, it should not influence our decision.”

Digression: that’s not what you said to me; you said something along the lines of “everyone is evil in one way or another and has made many mistakes. If one politician’s mistakes are not in areas that will clearly influence his policy-making, then we should not let those areas change or determine our minds.” Am I right?

End of digression. OK. If it’s true that “as long as that evil act does not affect anyone else, it should not influence our decision,” then it must be true that an action that negatively affect two people (at least) is worse than an action that negatively affects only one. Applying some kind of mathematical test to persons. But I don’t really see how. I don’t see how the same action, hurting two people, is a worse action than that which hurts only one. It still hurts. Or that an action which hurts two people is better than the action which hurts two. Let’s say a leader of a country has an affair. Nobody finds out. So only two people are hurt: himself and his lover. I am assuming here that an evil action hurts those who do it even if nobody finds out simply because it does harm to their souls. It compromises their integrity as persons. It damages their own convictions and their identities as keepers of promises, as strong-willed rational beings who can control their passions, as honest and transparent communicators with no lies to hide. But if nobody finds out, is that better than if somebody does (his wife, say, or her husband, or the other governing bodies), or than if everybody does? If this deed goes public, everyone is hurt. Is that worse?

I don’t really see how. Perhaps it’s the inverse of love. Love does not decrease when it is distributed. So if I love my mother and my father, I don’t give each of them half of my love; I can give each of them the whole. And I can still give the whole to both of my sisters and to my husband, and so on. Love doesn’t work mathematically. So perhaps with the pain caused by sin. Perhaps the whole of the evil can hurt the soul of the doer, but then the whole of the evil can hurt his wife, his constituents, and so on. Back to the bomb illustration. If the government goes in and shoots down a tyrannical oppressor, there’s a certain quantity of pain caused and/or guilt incurred, simply because the deed was a murder. But if they do not shoot him down, and the next day he orders the genocide of 100,000 people, then isn’t that totally quantity of pain and guilt distributed 100,000 times?

Therefore causing suffering to one person is more to be desired than causing suffering to 100,000 people.

But better to cause suffering to none. Never do evil that good may result. Do the good deed, and leave the unforeseen future consequences to the Great Disposer of future events.

You Star Trek fans: you remember that in the second movie, Spock gave his life to save the ship (and maybe the whole world, I don’t remember). His last line was: “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one.” Very heroic! But then in the next movie it turns out there’s a way to reunite is spirit to his body (convenient; and does that lessen his sacrifice, since he knew he could be resuscitated?), so Kirk et al go through great hazards, including the death of Kirk’s son, to resurrect Spock. When they have succeed, he asks why they did this for him. Kirk answers, “Because the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many.”

OK, my examples are becoming cheesier and cheesier as this post goes on. I’m sure you’ve heard the starfish story: a guy is walking along a beach after a storm. Thousands of starfish have been washed up on the shore and are slowly baking in the sun. he’s tossing them back in, one by one. Somebody mocks him, saying, “There’s thousands of them! You’re never going to make a difference.” He tosses one back into the ocean, and says, “It made a difference to that one.”

How have great teachers of the past chosen to live? For numbers? For individuals? For making a difference one little change at a time? For rallying thousands to their cause to make huge change? Have they served the many, or the few? Does it really matter, in the end? Consider this question from both side, the theological and the philosophical. If you do more good deeds, are you therefore a better person than someone who does one huge good deed? Or are neither good in the eyes of God? If you save one person at the expense of many, have you sinned against the majority? Or served the one?

Looking forward to your thoughts!

13 comments:

JC Masters said...

Hi Iambic,

I'd like to respond by using an analogy.

Let's say you just got a brand new white carpet in your house. And, you tell your kids, "Do not walk on the carpet with your shoes on."

(The carpet represents God's pure holiness, and shoes represent sin on that holiness, since sin cannot be in the presence of God.)

Now, let's say your son puts his shoes on at the door, but forgets his coat and walks along the carpet, leaving a small, but noticeable stain.
Now, let's say your daughter put on her shoes at the door, goes outside and plays in the mud. She comes back and walks right over the carpet to the kitchen, leaving an obvious mud trail.

Who gets in more trouble?

Now, let's say the son, who committed the lesser offense, did it intentionally, willfully disobeying you, whereas the daughter did it out of ignorance or forgetfulness.

Who gets in more trouble?

The good news is that Jesus' sacrifice for us covers all sins, not just the 'minor' ones.
The bad news is that we have to admit that we've sinned, which, in the example above, the willfully disobedient son wouldn't. And we have to believe that Jesus actually can cover the sin through his death and resurrection.

So, yes, there are degrees of sin, which lead to different degrees of punishment, both temporal and eternal. (I'm not talking about purgatory or any other such nonsense.)

As to the second question, Yes, numbers do matter. Since we live in a fallen sinful world, we have to do what's best for everyone, even if the individual suffers.

Good questions, and I hope you do well in your class.

Kind regards,

JC Masters, Author - "What the Hell? Simple Answers to Life's Most Burning Questions"
http://jcmasters7.blogspot.com

AVA said...

“Are there degrees of sin? Is one sin worse than another? In what ways? In what ways is lust equal to adultery, as Jesus says it is in Mathew five:”

I believe lust is equal to adultery because as human beings we are constantly acting out what is in our head/heart. If you’re on a diet that says no ice cream and you constantly think about the half gallon tub you got in the freezer, how long will you be able to obey your doctor’s orders to not eat ice cream?

Some people will argue that they’ve thought about doing something but didn’t, and wouldn’t that contradict the presupposition that “we are always acting out what’s in our head/heart”? but I don’t think it is contradictory. For example, let’s say there’s a guy who struggles with anger issues. He gets cut off while driving one day and thinks about getting out of the car and beating the other guy to pulp with his ever-handy-stored-right-under-the-seat baseball bat to the soothing soundtrack of his favorite four letter words. Then another thought pops into his head. The pastor of the church he recently started attending said that God says acting out of selfish anger is wrong. After another minute or two of thought, he opts for driving on peacefully and leaving it in God’s hands.

He thought about acting out in anger, but he didn’t. Why is that? I would say it comes down to what we want most at the time. Do we want to follow God or our way? Whichever of the desires is stronger will win out in the end, meaning that is the thought that will be acted on. That’s why it’s not good to think about how much someone makes you angry, because if you keep thinking about it, you will come up with a way to get revenge, and if you still think on it, you will act on it.

“In what ways is murder worse than hatred?”

The only difference between hate and murder is that you’re going farther along with giving in to your evil desires more often, making it that much more likely that you will act in a similar matter next time. Also, the effect it will have on others. Hate only in the mind affected yourself, but once you killed someone you brought your thoughts to light, so now your family and friends can see them, along with all the pain you caused the friends and family of the person you killed.

I think that Christianity isn’t a decision you just make and then you’re saved. By that I mean to me it seems Christianity is about making sure the right thoughts win out in the end, that we don’t become hard hearted by always thinking on our evil desires. To do this, it means that it is a constant decision to be like Christ, not just a once and done thing. Every day we’re faced with a choice to either live our life our way or God’s way. Making the same decisions time after time will help give one side the advantage so that it gets easier, but it is still a war.

“Therefore, what difference does more sin make? Is it better to sin less? If any sin at all is enough to damn me, then what difference does it make if I sin more or less?”

I would say it doesn’t matter. If I believe that we are all sinners, and that one sin will send us to hell, and I choose not to follow Christ, then I see no reason why I shouldn’t “rack up” my sins. Are there degrees of punishment in hell? Even if there is, I don’t think that it will matter…hell will suck regardless of any sort of ranking system in the pain and torment.

“In what ways is hate as bad as murder, as Jesus says, also in Matthew five:”

Again, the thought is the same as doing. If you think it, you will do it, unless another desire is stronger. I think with God, why you do what you do is more important that what you do. Like, I don’t think killing is always wrong, it depends why you killed someone. The same when it comes to lying. I think there are two categories: telling the truth and not telling the truth. But I don’t think right and wrong are as easy as that. I think God judges on motives rather than actions. I’ve seen people call others fat, stupid, ugly, etc, and they were telling the truth, but they were telling the truth out of a need to entertain themselves, or to hurt someone else, and I think that is sinning. There are also cases where people don’t tell the truth and I don’t think it’s wrong. Like with Germans who hid jews from the Nazis, they lied when authorities asked whether they were hiding jews, but I highly doubt God considers that sinning as they did it to save lives, something I think God would be in favor of seeing as He died to save us. I like to distinguish between not telling the truth and lying. Lying is not telling the truth with a wrong/selfish motive, not telling the truth would include lying but not be limited to it.

“Do numbers matter? Is it ethical to make a decision based upon the numbers of people affected?”

I don’t think so. Numbers didn’t seem to matter with God when He died for us, I don’t see why they should matter to us. If it’s wrong to murder one, then it’s wrong to murder thousands. Why should numbers affect the rules?

“Is it better to try, as the Resistance group of which Bonhoeffer was a member did, to assassinate Hitler than to allow him to continue killing millions?”

I would say that the resistance group had the right motives, and thus it wouldn’t be wrong to kill Hitler. The resistance group wasn’t out to kill Hitler because he had slighted them, or otherwise treated them wrongly even though he had. It wasn’t a personal you did something to me now I retaliate because I’m mad thing, they were doing what they did because they wanted to save the lives of millions of Jews and return sanity to Germany.

“everyone is evil in one way or another and has made many mistakes. If one politician’s mistakes are not in areas that will clearly influence his policy-making, then we should not let those areas change or determine our minds.”

I think it would depend what mistakes the politician made, how recent they were, how long they had gone on, whether he confessed them or someone found out and then he apologized, whether or not he seems to have changed and be consistent, etc. But I don’t think you can use the excuse that someone did something wrong to not elect them. I want someone who can be honest about their faults and failures in office over someone who seems perfect.

“How have great teachers of the past chosen to live? For numbers? For individuals? For making a difference one little change at a time? For rallying thousands to their cause to make huge change? Have they served the many, or the few? Does it really matter, in the end?”

I don’t think it matters to God how many people we served. I think He cares about our willingness to serve, as long as we serve the people he places in our lives, does it matter whether it was thousands or one? Is someone who meets thousands of people everyday and serves twenty of them any better than the person who sees only ten people a day but helps them all? I don’t think so…I also think that if you genuinely love one person, you can love them all, maybe the way it is appropriate to express it is different, (family, friends, spouse…) but the ability to is there. I think with God the attitude of our hearts is what is important. He’s concerned about how much of our heart he holds, not how much work our love for him gets done. I also think that with God, how hard we try is a lot more important than how much we accomplish. I think He want’s us to give Him our all, and then not worry about how much we accomplish for Him, it’s the fact that He holds our heart, not what we do for Him that He cares about. Yes, if we love Him we will do His work, because it’s our way of showing Him we really do mean it when we say we love Him, but just because we’re not Billy Graham doesn’t mean we love God any less. I mean, what can we do that God couldn’t do Himself?

hmmm said...

Well, I THINK all sins are equal in God's eyes...in the sense that all sin deserves the same punishment. OK, I'll try an analogy. There's two men standing before God on judgement day. The first man was a mass murderer. The second man had lived his entire life serving God, and had only committed one sin- he got angry at God and his wife when he lost his job. Both men deserve hell in God's eyes, I think. I am hesitant to talk for God, but He did say that the wages of sin are death, regardless of the amount or severity of the sin. In life, there seems to be levels of sin, because some sin recieves much huger consequences--on earth--then others. Do numbers matter? I'm not sure. I guess when it comes to such a thing as the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, then numbers do matter. I don't really think it was an ethical decision, though. It was a logical decision. If ethics is right and wrong, regardless of how many people died in the atomic bomb or a potential Japanese invasion, it would be WRONG. It wouldn't be right (ethical) to kill ANYBODY, and the murder of thousands using the atomic bomb wasn't right. But it was logical. Save as many lives as possible while taking as few lives as possible. It's logical, but not right or ethical.

little sarah said...

"Are there degrees of sin?" (from a theological point of view)

All sins are equally horrible in God's eyes. I don't think God has a scale that says which sin He'd rather us commit. I don't think God goes, "Oh, I hope Billy only hates Suzie today, I would much rather Billy hate Suzie than kill her." Here's another example-
Let's say a mother tells her son he should not do drugs. Would the mother rather her son smoke pot or shoot heroin? I would think the mother would stick to her original statement and tell him he should not do any drugs, even if pot is less harmful the heroin.

“Is one sin worse than another?” (theological point of view)

No. Any one sin is enough to send us to hell. We all need Jesus, I need a savior just as badly as Charles Manson does. We are all fallen people with the capability to commit all of the most disgusting sins. Theologically: hate = murder, lust = adultery, etc.
Somewhere in the Bible (sorry, I don't know where) there are 7 things the Lord hates listed. On the same list of things God can't stand there is a man who causes trouble with his brother and hands that shed innocent blood.
"In what ways is murder worse than hatred?" If murder = hate, then "I hate you!" = murder. To keep peace we have laws. If murder = death penalty then "I hate you" = death penalty. But as far as the death penalty goes, who should decide which murders get the death penalty and which murderers get life in jail or just a few years (or even months!)? Isn't the man who decided the murderer should be executed for his crime a murderer now himself? Do we have the right in the first place to control who lives or dies? Is it our place to take peoples lives to save the lives that we feel are more important? (i.e. the atomic bomb on Hiroshima) Isn’t it God’s job to judge who lives and who dies? I’m not trying to be controversial, I honestly don’t know whether the death penalty and war-related bombings are things that are just and fair…
Sorry, I went off on a tangent... back to why murder is worse then hate. I agree with AVA again, "Hate only in the mind affected yourself, but once you killed someone you brought your thoughts to light, so now your family and friends can see them, along with all the pain you caused the friends and family of the person you killed." To keep order we have made a scale of crimes based on their social effect.

"What difference does more sin make?"
On earth more sin means more punishment.

"Is it better to sin less?"
Yes. Sin is wrong, more sin is worse. On earth there are greater consequences when there are repeated offences (in court, at home, on the streets, etc.).

"If any sin at all is enough to damn me, then what difference does it make if I sin more or less?"
That is why we have a government and other people above us. On earth it does make a difference if we sin more or less, there are greater consequences, if it didn’t make a difference everybody would be stealing instead of purchasing and things like that (remember, after Hurricane Katrina when the looters in New Orleans had a free for all? That was because the police and the other people whose job was to keep order were busy rescuing victims of the disaster.) If we repent of our sins and genuinely mean it God will forgive us but we still have to live with the consequences on earth (and possibly in heaven, I don’t know.

“And why is a “big” sin any worse than another, in God’s eyes?”
It isn’t. I think an intentional “small” sin is worse then a “big” sin that is done unintentionally. God can forgive all sins but when we sin intentionally we are less likely to genuinely say we are sorry.

“However, ‘where there is life there is hope,’…Perhaps a given soul is condemned already; perhaps that soul is even [pre]destined not to be saved.”
Predestination? Maybe, but we could never know who is predestined. In a weird way it’s like trying to decide whether or not someone should play the lottery with the last $10 in his bank. It would be much more convenient for him if he knew whether or not he would win the million. If he did know he would win the money, he wouldn’t have to work to support himself. If we knew who was predestined wouldn’t we in our sinful nature take advantage of the fact that we are going to heaven anyway and do whatever we wanted? That is an example of selfish ambition. Another example of selfish ambition is justification by works. Justification by works is solely based on selfish ambition (if I do this, it will be better for me in the end).

“But if she comes to me using the Lord’s name in vain and saying she’s going to sleep with so-and-so tonight, even though she cares little for him and will never see him again, just for a bit of fun and a last fling, which will provoke my comment and advice?”
Sometimes we tend to get nit-picky as Christians, it turns unbelievers away because they see Christians as the high and mighty “I’m better then you” kind of people. I try not to be so quick to point out other peoples’ mistakes, (the pointing out the speck in his eye when I have a plank in ours thing). It’s not our job to correct everyone. We can help them by being a good example and praying for them. If someone asks me for advice on whether or not they should do or say something, I do my best to give my honest opinion (even if it hurts sometimes). So I would say both should provoke prayer first and comment second. Prayer for the friend and prayer that we will not become haughty about being “better” people because we don’t say “oh my God” or sleep around (we are all capable of all sins). Sleeping all over will bring more pain on earth then taking the Lord’s name in vain will, but as crazy as it seems I think that either sin without forgiveness from God will send us to hell.
“Do numbers matter?”
Yes. Does 5 dead = 500 dead? No! 500 dead means 495 more families and friends mourning. In many ways it is ethical to make decisions based on numbers. I would say that when Todd Beamer and the other passengers took over Flight 93 during the terrorist’s attempt to hit the Whitehouse was ethical.
“Is it moral to, say, drop a bomb that will kill 150,000 people (including civilians) in order to prevent the deaths of maybe twice as many members of the armed forces?” I don’t know… that’s a rough one.
“Does the inclusion of civilians change the balance? Why?”
Yes. Many of the civilians are innocent.
Is it better to try, as the Resistance group of which Bonheoffer was a member did, to assassinate Hitler than to allow him to continue killing millions?” Yes, but we have to be realistic…I mean, we can’t expect ourselves to be able to save millions of lives…God might as well have sent us to die for the world then and that’s just ridiculous. It’s a very heroic thought but it’s one of those decisions we will probably never have to make.
“In other words, is a deed more evil if it affects more people?” It depends on the deed-doer. But any deed that is evil to begin with is evil regardless.
“Some say (one of you readers said to me!) that what politicians do in their private lives should not matter when election time comes. The sub-text is as long as that evil act does not affect anyone else, it should not influence our decision. Digression: that’s not what you said to me; you said something along the lines of “everyone is evil in one way or another and has made many mistakes. If one politician’s mistakes are not in areas that will clearly influence his policy-making, then we should not let those areas change or determine our minds.” Am I right? Yes, that is pretty much what I meant, sorry, I guess don’t make much sense when I try to talk and run at the same time : ) A president’s job is to lead a nation, keep a stable economy, keep peace, etc. How we see a president should be based on the choices he makes for America not the choices he makes in his personal life. The fact that Clinton had an affair shouldn’t be more important to us than the fact that he vetoed the Partial Birth Abortion Ban. I think that as a whole it is worse for a president to support partial birth abortion than to have an affair. I’m not saying that having an affair is right or that it’s insignificant, I just think that vetoing the Partial Birth Abortion Ban affects America more than whether or not he had an affair.
The rest of the questions I think I answered in the all of this ranting and raving; I have to go eat a chocolate pretzel now I’m exhausted. I hope I made a little sense and at least one valid point.

Rosie Perera said...

Here's my belated contribution to the discussion (I've been busy):

"Are there degrees of sin?"

Yes, there are degrees of sin, even according to the Bible. One person can have a speck in her eye while another has a log. However, the consequences for sin (the wages of sin, i.e., death) are the same for the sinner, no matter how big or small the sin. Not that we all will receive the wages we deserve because of what Christ has done on the cross. Also, we are not to judge another's sin, regardless of its comparative size to our own, because we are all sinners ourselves. Finally, even though the cosmic consequences of sin are the same regardless of the degree of the sin, the earthly consequences differ, both for the sinner and for the sinned against. If a murderer kills someone, that victim and his or her family will suffer more greatly than if he only injures the person in an attempted murder. And if you tell a fib, your conscience might bug you, but you probably won't suffer as much anguish as if you had an affair, regardless of whether either sin were discovered. And of course in human governments, we have different levels of punishment determined for different severities of crime.

Some other references to degrees of sin:

* Hell in Dante's Inferno has different levels for the different categories of sin. Not that a literary depiction of hell is what it's really like, but it's interesting to consider anyway.

* In Catholic theology, there are mortal sins (those for which you would lose your salvation if you didn't repent and receive absolution) and venial sins (those for which you'd be punished in purgatory unless you did penance, but you wouldn't lose eternal life over them). According to Wikipedia, the criteria of a a mortal sin are:
1. its subject must be a grave (or serious) matter;
2. it must be committed with full knowledge, both of the sin and of the gravity of the offense;
3. it must be committed with deliberate and complete consent.
I don't believe their theological system on sin, but it's interesting to consider in the discussion anyway.

There is at least some basis in Scripture for a categorization of sins into those that are mortal and those that aren't: 1 John 5:16 says "If anyone sees his fellow Christian committing a sin not resulting in death, he should ask, and God will grant life to the person who commits a sin not resulting in death. There is a sin resulting in death. I do not say that he should ask about that." (NET Bible)

"Do numbers matter? Is it ethical to make a decision based upon the numbers of people affected?"

Sometimes. But we must understand that "numbers of people affected" has to take into account long-term consequences. If we bomb Iraq because we think it is better to kill a few thousand people and rescue that country from a tyrant who might kill tens of thousands, we are being shortsighted. The war in Iraq will have repercussions for generations, and many, many more people will end up dying from violence in that region than have died in the war itself (or as collateral damage). I think we usually don't have enough knowledge of the future to be able to tell how many people our violent actions will affect, so on the whole I believe that it is better to err on the side of non-violence. I might have made an exception in the case of taking out Hitler with a small-scale assassination attempt, because once the truth about what he was doing was out, very few of his former supporters would likely admit to really and truly believing in his program and thus would be unlikely to seek revenge. Hitler was a deluded maniac and had decived many. In his case, there weren't many other options. Even Bonhoeffer, who was a pacifist by nature, participated in the plans for the plot against Hitler. But all of this is extremely hypothetical. It would be very rare indeed to have to consider such a murderous action.

Regarding the death penalty, little sarah said: "Isn't the man who decided the murderer should be executed for his crime a murderer now himself? Do we have the right in the first place to control who lives or dies? Is it our place to take peoples lives to save the lives that we feel are more important? ... Isn’t it God’s job to judge who lives and who dies?"

This is a very complex issue. Many who support the death penalty base their support on Scripture, the Mosaic laws which called for the death of a murderer. But apparently they would have us apply those laws inconsistently. If we are to kill a murderer, then parents should also stone their children who are disrespectful. I don't hear many death penalty supporters calling for a return to filicide. And we Americans are horrified when we hear of how Muslim fathers carry out the ultimate sentence of Shari'a law upon their daughters when they disgrace the family by even so much as being seen with a male friend outside of the fmaily.

Jesus says "you have heard it said..." and then he presents a new and transcendant standard of ethics. Not a punishment driven one, but a higher standard which he knows (and we know) we can't live up to. And he presents himself as the solution for that, not the justice system. He doesn't overturn the law or earthly forms of justice, but they are not sufficient. So all the debate over the death penalty just doesn't get the point. Putting someone to death for killing another isn't a radical enough solution for redressing that sin. Only Christ's death on the cross can do that, and can bring forgiveness for the sinner and reconciliation with those he has wronged. Leaving him alive to experience that reconciliation seems to me the most congruent with Jesus' way. Families of murder victims who want vengeance are not being served by the death penalty. They may desire some "closure" to the event that took their child away from them, but putting the killer to death will never heal their wounds. Nor would it do any better a job of protecting others from that murderer than would locking him in prison without the possibility of parole.

As a Christian, I cannot find myself in agreement with those who support the death penalty, for the above reasons. But there are also other practical realities. (1) The death penalty is so ultimate that it requires an unusually careful review process, appeals, high security, and the eventual high-tech mechanism of death. It ends up costing the state more in the long run than a life sentence does, or so I've heard. (2) There is still the risk of putting to death an innocent person. (3) The U.S. claims to be one of the most advanced and ethical nations in the world (criticizing others for their human rights records from an assumed position of moral superiority). But we are the only developed Western nation that still uses the death penalty, and we get unfavorably compared to the likes of Saudi Arabia, Iran, etc. (4) The way we kill death row inmates is barbaric. We put our animals to sleep more humanely.

Jesus met the Pharisees who brought a case before him which they wanted to prosecute by means of the death penalty (which, according to their law, was the correct punishment for someone caught in adultery). He responded, "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone at her." And he also told her "Neither do I condemn you: now go and sin no more."

I think we need to ask ourselves seriously why our justice system is not succeeding in getting people to "sin no more." We (the U.S.) have a higher percentage of our population in prison than any other nation on earth, and more people incarcerated than even Russia and China which have higher overall populations (source). Systems of restorative justice (which bring victims, offenders, and communities together) do not use the death penalty, and they have a higher success rate, in terms of recidivism and making the community a better place. I think this is the way towards Shalom. Can't do it without Christ, of course, but Christian motivation is behind many of the programs of restorative justice.

OK, I don't know how I managed to get so far off the original subject of a hierarchy of sins.

AVA said...

“So, yes, there are degrees of sin, which lead to different degrees of punishment, both temporal and eternal. (I'm not talking about purgatory or any other such nonsense.)

As to the second question, Yes, numbers do matter. Since we live in a fallen sinful world, we have to do what's best for everyone, even if the individual suffers.”

I think all punishment in hell will be different for each person, kind of like a personal hell, that preys on what each individual person fears most. But how can you rate hell in degrees? I mean, isn’t hell, hell? How can it get worse than knowing you were wrong all along and having no hope of ever escaping the pain you brought on yourself?

And I don’t think I agree with the numbers mattering. What I mean by that is in the case of the atomic bomb, I don’t think we have a right to decide who lived or died. Weren’t we fighting that war to save innocent lives? How is taking them going to solve anything? Kill the people killing the innocent, yes, if necessary, but kill innocent lives to save other innocent lives? No. How can you claim to be better than what you’re fighting? If you stoop to their level, you have just become the very thing you were sacrificing so much for.

We weren’t killing the innocent people who theoretically would have died if the war carried on. They would have been U.S. soldiers who knew they risked their lives, and did so anyway. Killed by the enemy; not by our inaction. In no way would it be on our heads. But to kill innocent people on the enemies side to save our soldiers, than the fault is ours.

“This is a very complex issue. Many who support the death penalty base their support on Scripture, the Mosaic laws which called for the death of a murderer. But apparently they would have us apply those laws inconsistently. If we are to kill a murderer, then parents should also stone their children who are disrespectful. I don't hear many death penalty supporters calling for a return to filicide. And we Americans are horrified when we hear of how Muslim fathers carry out the ultimate sentence of Shari'a law upon their daughters when they disgrace the family by even so much as being seen with a male friend outside of the family.”

I don’t think the death penalty should necessarily be based on the Bible. Our entire nation doesn’t subscribe to Christianity, and thus making the whole nation play by those rules seems unfair. I wouldn’t like it if Muslim laws applied to me, so why should we make our Christian rules apply to others? If we choose to follow the rules, fine. But asking others to obey laws based upon my religious beliefs seems very selfish.

I think our national laws should be based on fairness. By that, I mean that there are some basic rules most of humanity agrees to follow. One of those is that you shouldn’t take another person’s life (which basically boils down to forcing your will on some else). It’s also understood that if you violate one of those rules, there should be punishment, or chaos would reign. If someone breaks a rule, than they shouldn’t be surprised when someone breaks the same rule and takes their life (as the death penalty does). I don’t know if it’s fair, but it does at least seem to me that it isn’t automatically wrong. Isn’t that what justice is, getting what you deserve? And if you kill someone else intentionally, don’t you deserve to die? The question seems to revolve around whether we have the right to administer justice as a nation, or whether it should be left in God’s hands.

Also, I don’t know where this fits in, but since we’re discussing ethics, I don’t think it will be to out of place. A morally upright but non-Christian friend at work brought this up the other week. If abortion is killing an innocent life, and Christians oppose that because God is the creator of life, then why does He forbid sex outside of marriage? I mean, if life is a good thing and we shouldn’t prevent it from happening by killing an already forming baby, then how is that any different from sleeping around to create life in the first place? Aren’t you still “killing” a baby by abstinence? Because life could have been created but wasn’t? Could this have any relation to the atomic bomb discussion?

And why wasn’t Jesus dying for us on the cross suicide? Didn’t he technically kill himself by not stopping the Roman from crucifying Him? Yet why doesn’t the bible condemn His actions then? Or is it only suicide if you let yourself die with the wrong motives?

Jo said...

"Are there degrees of sin?"

I don't think is, at least in God's eyes. The social consequences are obviously different and that's why we have this idea of "big sins" and "little sins." Any sin is enough to send a person to Hell and I don't think that certain people are more in Hell than others because they committed bigger sins.

"In what ways is hate as bad as murder?"

I guess that you can look at hate as the first step to murder; there's usually a reason why someone murders someone else and it usually has to do with hate, anger, revenge, something like that. Hitler's murder of six million Jews started with a hatred of the Jewish race.

"In what ways is murder worse than hatred?"

It has bigger social consequences; it hurts more people. The families and friends of both the murderer and the guy who was killed are going to be grieving. When a person is hated it usually only affects himself, but murder affects a larger group of people.

"What difference does it make if I sin more or less?"

The more you sin the farther it pulls you away from God. The first sin seperates us from Him, but I think that it is hard to grow closer to God when there is habitual sin in your life. In that case, sinning more or less does matter.

"But if she comes to me using the Lord’s name in vain and saying she’s going to sleep with so-and-so tonight, even though she cares little for him and will never see him again, just for a bit of fun and a last fling, which will provoke my comment and advice?"

obviously the one-night stand because it's going to have bigger consequences in this life; I guess when it comes down to it, there's eternal consequences and there's comsequences that will happen in this world. I can't change the eternal consequences (that's between her and God) but I can try to help her out now and hope that my advice will help her change.

"Is it moral to, say, drop a bomb that will kill 150,000 people (including civilians) in order to prevent the deaths of maybe twice as many members of the armed forces? Is it better to try, as the Resistance group of which Bonhoeffer was a member did, to assassinate Hitler than to allow him to continue killing millions?"

In the situations above, you have to choose the lesser evil. now the only problem is deciding which is the lesser evil..:]

Evil doesn't really change, regardless of how many lives are affected, it's still wrong. I agree with Sorina; I think that one person's suffering is better than 100,000 people's suffering, but that no suffering is best of all.

"How have great teachers of the past chosen to live? For numbers? For individuals? For making a difference one little change at a time? For rallying thousands to their cause to make huge change? Have they served the many, or the few? Does it really matter, in the end? Consider this question from both side, the theological and the philosophical. If you do more good deeds, are you therefore a better person than someone who does one huge good deed? Or are neither good in the eyes of God? If you save one person at the expense of many, have you sinned against the majority? Or served the one?"

I think you need to keep both numbers and individuals in mind. Some people's purpose in life is start huge worldwide organizations that help millions of people. That's a lot of good given to a lot of people. But even those world wide organizations started out with the goal of helping people in their city, then their country, continent, and so on.
I don't think it matters how much good we do, if we are doing it apart from God. Yes it might help some people out, but in the end God says that all our good deeds are like dirty rags.
I think that the ideas that there are degrees of goodness and degrees of sinning all come down to the fact that there are different social consequences depending on the action.
I've only said about half of what's been running around in my head, but hopefully I made some sense.

Iambic Admonit said...

AVA said: “I think all punishment in hell will be different for each person, kind of like a personal hell, that preys on what each individual person fears most. But how can you rate hell in degrees? I mean, isn’t hell, hell? How can it get worse than knowing you were wrong all along and having no hope of ever escaping the pain you brought on yourself?”

I totally agree with you: Hell will, somehow, be exactly the punishment that each person’s sins deserve. Somehow, it will be the product of God’s justice. I was raised in a church that thought perhaps Hell is not eternal; that sinners would eventually burn out of existence when once their term of punishment was fulfilled. They based this partly on the fact that faith gives eternal life (hence, perhaps an unsaved soul is not eternal) and that there’s some evidence the Greeks (not the Jews or the early Christians) “invented” or “discovered” the principle of natural immortality. It’s an idea to ponder. But however that maybe, we can rest assured that the punishments God will mete out will be just and fair.

AVA, you also showed great clarity of thought in your discussion of the atomic bomb. You are insightful to say that we weren’t killing the people who theoretically would have died in such-and-such a hypothetical situation.

One criticism, or clarification: You said, in a discussion on the death penalty, that “we choose to follow the rules, fine. But asking others to obey laws based upon my religious beliefs seems very selfish.” You quite rightly said that you wouldn’t like to be forced to follow Islamic rules for behavior, so we shouldn’t force others to follow our Christian rules for behavior. Here’s the problem: There is no such thing as a neutral set of laws. Laws can be based on reason, traditional morality, and so on, but laws will ultimately have to have a moral component, which means that someone’s morality will be legislated. If it’s not Christian or Islamic morality, it might be the morality of secular humanism, or atheism, which are religions. There is never a question of a government of no religion: it’s always just a question of a government of whose religion.

You said laws should be based on fairness. But who determines what is fair? You? Me? The majority? A chosen body of elected or appointed officials? The Bible? Whose interpretation of the Bible? You see, saying that laws should be based on fairness instead of on the Bible just pushes the question to a further remove and doesn’t answer it.

Now on to your discussion of abortion/abstinence. There are lots of Christians who believe that Christians shouldn’t practice any form of birth control, because contraception is preventing life. Your interlocutor’s point of view, that everybody should just have sex all over the place to make lots of babies, is another version of the same illogic. You see, there are two different questions in both case. Let’s take them one at a time.
1. A non-Christian thinks if you support “life” (i.e., are anti-abortion), you should just encourage everybody to have kids all the time with anybody, whether they’re married or not. Here’s the syllogism:
Premise one: Life is good all of the time
Premise two: sex makes babies
Conclusion: therefore all sex is always good.

But there are several problems here. One has to do with the teleology of sexuality. As we discussed in class, there are three purposes of sex, as created by God. First, it is to make babies (granted). Second, it’s to give pleasure to married couples. Third, it’s to bring a husband and wife closer, to enrich their relationship. But for the first, both the Bible and research tell us that children need to be raised in stable, loving, healthy homes by a mother and father. So we don’t want to create life just to create miserable life. We want to create life in homes and families where children will be loved and cared for and raised well—even if those aren’t necessarily Christian home. Second, casual, extra-marital sex violates the second two purposes of sex, according to a Christian worldview. It’s like saying, “Wine tastes good, so therefore you should drink as much of it as you can all the time in any company regardless of the results.”
2. A Christian think that all birth control is wrong, because the prevention of life is [almost, maybe] murder. Here’s the syllogism:
Premise one: God said “Be fruitful and multiply”
Premise two: Christian couples need to do what God said
Conclusion: Christian couples need to have as many children as God sends, without doing anything to prevent the conception of children.
I want to be careful and compassionate on this case, and not judge anyone who believes this. All I want to do is to show the logical fallacy. For one particular Christian couple, they may be convicted that they need to have an unlimited number of children. That’s their decision, before God, as long as they can afford the finances and time and energy to raise, educate, and love all those kids intensely and not deprive them of any nurture or material goods they need. So let me just deal with this as logic, and not as a rule for any of God’s people. There are a couple of logical flaws. One is the assumption that what God said to Adam and Eve in Genesis applies to all people, or at least all God-fearing people, everywhere. It may not. Obviously it was very important that Eve didn’t say, “Well, I think I need to be fulfilled in a high-power corporate career, so I’m not going to have kids,” because then the earth’s population wouldn’t have grown very much. The earth desperately needed the multiplication of the human race at that time. The second possible logical flaw is that being fruitful and multiply doesn’t necessarily mean not putting limits on the number of children. The Third logical flaw, given the other two, is the assumption that contraception is therefore sinful, because it is preventing a life that God wanted to send into the world. Put so starkly, that actually sounds like heresy: how could anything two little human people do prevent God from doing something He wanted to do. yes, I know God uses people. But that’s putting the emphasis where it should be.

And speaking of putting the emphasis where it needs to be: killing even one person is (according to a Jewish teaching) killing all of the descendants that person may ever have had. And that’s totally different than not bringing a person into the world. Use a simple analogy. Let’s say I walk into the National Portrait gallery in Washington, D.C. with a big knife in my hand, walk straight up to a portrait of George Washington, and shred that painting into little strips of meaningless canvas. I’ve just destroyed a work of art. But let’s suppose that I could have been at home writing a poem during that time, but I couldn’t come up with any good ideas for a poem that day, so I didn’t write one. Did I “destroy” the unwritten poem? Maybe I did, in a Platonic sense, if the poem already exists in the World of Pure Forms, and was waiting for me to write it down. But in that case, the poem still exists there, and just won’t make it into the physical world. This is getting kind of weird!

Finally, the same kind of logic, but with a different application, is working in the objection that Jesus’s death on the cross was suicide. As the omnipotent God, He could have stopped the Roman soldiers, and He didn’t. So you might be comparing His death to someone who commits suicide so that his starving family can gets his life insurance money. But the analogy is flawed. Rather, you should compare Him to someone who sees a terrorist about to shoot a hostage, and puts himself in the way of the bullet, knowing that help is on the way and the other hostage will be freed—or any other of the many, many classic examples in art and literature of someone sacrificing his life for another. Because Jesus wasn’t dying to die, nor was He dying to give some benefit to someone else. He was dying in the place of someone else—or in the place of many others. And that makes all the difference. In the case of a suicide, nobody had to die. In Christ’s case, we were already dead (or the devil was waiting to take us to eternal death as soon as we died physically), and He gave us life.

Finally, Jo said, “In the situations above [atomic bomb], you have to choose the lesser evil. now the only problem is deciding which is the lesser evil..:]” To that, I want to say my final word in this long post: I would warn everyone in the strongest terms: Do not do evil so that good may result. You are responsible for your own actions. In the book lent to me by “Don,” there’s a thought experiment I’m going to reproduce here. A soldier has been ordered by his superior officers to rape, then kill, a prisoner. He knows that if he doesn’t do it, he will face capital punishment for disobeying orders, and somebody else will still carry out the brutal murder of the prisoner anyway. He reasons that if he does it, he can do it in the least painful and cruel way possible, killing her quickly and sparing her the pain others would inflict. In a godless world, that logic might suffice. But in the world ruled by the Almighty, Merciful, Just God, he must not do that. He must do what is right, and pray for the consequences. He cannot assume in his limited knowledge that his own brutal actions, which are immortal, are the best possible actions in the situation. He cannot see all things. He must simply refuse to commit the dreadful acts, and take the consequences. The terrible reality is that she may not be spared what he wanted to spare her, but that is not his concern. I am not recommending a kind of moral superiority, in which you must keep your conscience clean at the expense of everyone else: no. But he cannot do a terrible evil to someone else because he thinks it would be the least of all the terrible evils that might befall. He must do right. And so must you!!

ava said...

“One criticism, or clarification: You said, in a discussion on the death penalty, that “we choose to follow the rules, fine. But asking others to obey laws based upon my religious beliefs seems very selfish.” You quite rightly said that you wouldn’t like to be forced to follow Islamic rules for behavior, so we shouldn’t force others to follow our Christian rules for behavior. Here’s the problem: There is no such thing as a neutral set of laws. Laws can be based on reason, traditional morality, and so on, but laws will ultimately have to have a moral component, which means that someone’s morality will be legislated. If it’s not Christian or Islamic morality, it might be the morality of secular humanism, or atheism, which are religions. There is never a question of a government of no religion: it’s always just a question of a government of whose religion.”

Yeah, I guess. What I was trying to get at is I don’t think we need a government to make or keep a lot of rules. I think the individuals should decide for the most part on how to live their lives. The only rules I think the government should make and enforce are ones that prevent someone from forcing their way on someone else (like murder, rape, stealing, etc). But if someone does force their way on someone else, than I think that gives the government a right to take steps to prevent that person from doing it again.(like the death penalty and jail).

“You said laws should be based on fairness. But who determines what is fair? You? Me? The majority? A chosen body of elected or appointed officials? The Bible? Whose interpretation of the Bible? You see, saying that laws should be based on fairness instead of on the Bible just pushes the question to a further remove and doesn’t answer it.”

Fairness is just giving everyone the same equal opportunity. In this case, it would look something like this. “Don’t force your will on anyone else”. Because if we all forced our will on others (like we tend to do whether consciously or not) then we violate their right to live how they want.

Basically i think everyone should live how they want. But to be fair to everyone, you have to add the clause “unless it affects someone else living how they want”. Not forcing your way on someone else doesn’t mean that you can’t help a friend who wants it, but if they refuse your help, I don’t think you should insist. That probably sounds cold, especially in certain cases like you knowing a friend wants to commit suicide, but in the end, is stopping your friend from committing suicide going to be any better for them? Won’t they just attempt it again later? If you’re really their friend, shouldn’t you give them what they want? I don’t mean that I wouldn’t try to talk them out of it and give them a lot of reasons to live or anything like that, but if in the end they still wanted to die, I don’t think I would stop them. I would disagree strongly and be broken, but I don’t think I have any right to decide for anyone else how they should live their lives.

Rosie Perera said...

ava wrote: "Basically i think everyone should live how they want. But to be fair to everyone, you have to add the clause 'unless it affects someone else living how they want.'"

That is precisely how people lived during the period of the Judges in Israelite history -- "In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes." (Judges 21:25) Sugar-coating that kind of life by adding "as long as it doesn't prevent other people from living the way they want" isn't sufficient. The main problem with the situation in Judges wasn't that people's rights were being violated. It was that people were living with complete disregard for God, which is the end result when we just live however we want. Left to our own devices, we would all choose to disregard God. We need something external in order to reveal his will to us. That's not to say we ought to impose it on everyone, but we cannot just live how we want and expect to arrive at a state of Shalom (peace and wholeness).

"Not forcing your way on someone else doesn’t mean that you can’t help a friend who wants it, but if they refuse your help, I don’t think you should insist. That probably sounds cold, especially in certain cases like you knowing a friend wants to commit suicide, but in the end, is stopping your friend from committing suicide going to be any better for them? Won’t they just attempt it again later? If you’re really their friend, shouldn’t you give them what they want? I don’t mean that I wouldn’t try to talk them out of it and give them a lot of reasons to live or anything like that, but if in the end they still wanted to die, I don’t think I would stop them. I would disagree strongly and be broken, but I don’t think I have any right to decide for anyone else how they should live their lives."

I have to disagree with you here, at least on the suicide thing. People can reach a point of suicidal despair which is not their own personality or choices in operation, but an illness: clinical depression. I have a very good friend who was extremely depressed and suicidal for a while and would have thrown herself in front of a bus if people (her husband in particular) hadn't intervened. She was in such a bad way that she had to be hospitalized and given medications. It was not her will to live that got her through. Someone else stopped her from killing herself, for her own sake and the sake of her children. Once she got through the worst of it, she took over the commitment to getting better with the help of medications and therapy and a year off from work. But she is now back and thriving and very happy that she didn't go through with her suicidal plans. That was a delusion. Please don't think that if someone truly wants to kill themselves you can try to dissuade them but in the end have to let them do what they want.

There are a lot of things that can come in the way of us knowing what we would really want if we were in our right mind. Mental illness is one, brainwashing is another, but sin is one of them too...

ava said...

“ava wrote: "Basically i think everyone should live how they want. But to be fair to everyone, you have to add the clause 'unless it affects someone else living how they want.'"

That is precisely how people lived during the period of the Judges in Israelite history -- "In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes." (Judges 21:25) Sugar-coating that kind of life by adding "as long as it doesn't prevent other people from living the way they want" isn't sufficient. The main problem with the situation in Judges wasn't that people's rights were being violated. It was that people were living with complete disregard for God, which is the end result when we just live however we want. Left to our own devices, we would all choose to disregard God. We need something external in order to reveal his will to us. That's not to say we ought to impose it on everyone, but we cannot just live how we want and expect to arrive at a state of Shalom (peace and wholeness).”

What do you mean by “Sugar-coating that kind of life by adding "as long as it doesn't prevent other people from living the way they want" isn't sufficient”? I don’t think I understand the point you’re trying to make.

“. The main problem with the situation in Judges wasn't that people's rights were being violated. It was that people were living with complete disregard for God, which is the end result when we just live however we want.”

I said what I said in the context of the government imposing their will on us, although it also applies to the individual. Why shouldn’t people be allowed to do whatever they want as long as it doesn’t violate that same right in someone else? I guess I don’t understand why people should be expected to follow a God they don’t believe in. If they don’t believe in him, they won’t follow him, with the end result of complete disregard for him. In the end, we are only responsible for our actions, so why is someone else not following God’s rules our problem? Not that we can’t tell them what we believe and why, but if they aren’t interested, there is nothing we can do, so we let them live their life their way. Attempting to make them follow rules given by a god they don’t believe in seems to be outright stupidity in my mind. They live their life how they see fit, I do the same. Presumably, everyone won’t end up with the same belief systems, if we did, we wouldn’t be human.

“That's not to say we ought to impose it on everyone, but we cannot just live how we want and expect to arrive at a state of Shalom (peace and wholeness).”

Maybe we’re using different terms here?!? Not sure…I’ve come to believe that the Bible is true, and so I live my life according to God’s rules. So when I say “live my life how I want” I mean that living my life how I want is following God’s commands as presented in the bible, not my natural sinful desires. Maybe I wasn’t clear and so the debate got confused, I don’t know. But I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect others who haven’t reached the same conclusions to live their life by following God’s rules.

1. “That's not to say we ought to impose it on everyone”

Does that mean we should impose it on some? Which ones then? I would say that to raise your kids according to what you believe is fine, but once they reach an age where you are no longer accountable for them, trying to force them to follow your beliefs is no longer right. That also doesn’t mean you only expose them to your beliefs, but that you operate by your beliefs under your roof.

2. “but we cannot just live how we want”

I think we have a responsibility to live out our beliefs. If I we all will be judged for what we believe, then we better live them out. I can respect others who’s life matches their beliefs, even if their beliefs aren’t the same as mine, but not those who say they believe one thing and then live out another.

3. “That's not to say we ought to impose it on everyone, but we cannot just live how we want and expect to arrive at a state of Shalom (peace and wholeness).”

Are you saying that everyone’s goal in life is to try and reach a state of peace and wholeness? And if so, the way individuals will go about trying to accomplish that will be radically different, some looking to sex, drugs, achohol, others to family, friends, some to knowledge or popularity, talent, etc. So different view points are still in place, meaning different actions will result, with different morals at the core.

“I have to disagree with you here, at least on the suicide thing. People can reach a point of suicidal despair which is not their own personality or choices in operation, but an illness: clinical depression. I have a very good friend who was extremely depressed and suicidal for a while and would have thrown herself in front of a bus if people (her husband in particular) hadn't intervened. She was in such a bad way that she had to be hospitalized and given medications. It was not her will to live that got her through. Someone else stopped her from killing herself, for her own sake and the sake of her children. Once she got through the worst of it, she took over the commitment to getting better with the help of medications and therapy and a year off from work. But she is now back and thriving and very happy that she didn't go through with her suicidal plans. That was a delusion. Please don't think that if someone truly wants to kill themselves you can try to dissuade them but in the end have to let them do what they want.

There are a lot of things that can come in the way of us knowing what we would really want if we were in our right mind. Mental illness is one, brainwashing is another, but sin is one of them too...”

“I have to disagree with you here, at least on the suicide thing. People can reach a point of suicidal despair which is not their own personality or choices in operation, but an illness: clinical depression. I have a very good friend who was extremely depressed and suicidal for a while and would have thrown herself in front of a bus if people (her husband in particular) hadn't intervened”

Maybe I should clarify what I meant by “Not forcing your way on someone else doesn’t mean that you can’t help a friend who wants it, but if they refuse your help, I don’t think you should insist.” In your example, the person “reached a point of depression which was not their personality”. It seems to me in that case then, the person wasn’t totally themselves, and thus you have a responsibility to make them follow the beliefs that their usual self would be following. So when I said “not forcing your way on them” I meant a healthy, normal human being who is mentally sound, not undergoing an illness. Even the best of people lose hope sometimes, and refusing to allow them to kill themselves in those times isn’t wrong, but if the person is mentally sound and continues to want to kill themselves after they’ve had time to think out all the consequences and such, and still wants to do it, then I don’t think I have any right to stop them. In other words, rash or irrational or impulsive suicide I would prevent, but if the person considered all angles and still wants to go ahead with it, I don’t think I have any right to impose my will on them.

little sarah said...

AVA said before-"Basically I think everyone should live how they want. But to be fair to everyone, you have to add the clause “unless it affects someone else living how they want”."

Well suicide most definitely affects others. If you think about it the way it is, suicide is the irreversible/permanent way for the committer (for lack of a better word) to escape his or her pain on earth. Once someone kills himself he no longer has to deal with that pain, instead he is handing all his pain to all of the people who cared for him on earth. If there really was someone in the world that nobody cared about, than he or she could kill himself without causes any pain and keeping it all "fair". But I am pretty sure that that is a hypothetical situation (as there is always someone out there that cares for you), which would mean that suicide is never "fair".


"Is stopping your friend from committing suicide going to be any better for them?"

It would be better for your friend's family and for his friends. It would be better for your friend's doctors and teachers and so on, and so on. So many people are affected by the loss of one life. If a father commits suicide his wife and children have a much higher risks of committing suicide.) There are counselors and doctors that quit their jobs because they felt that they failed when their patient killed himself. In that case all of the other patients that this counselor was seeing were now without a counselor (or a stable counselor at least). Suicide has a ridiculously long chain of affects.


Won’t they just attempt it again later?

Sometimes they will, yes. But it is almost impossible to know for sure. The only time that I think someone should back off and leave the decision of suicide to the killer is when there have been many, many attempts over a long amount of time. In those cases (this sounds weird) you are actually saving pain. Someone with a constantly suicidal friend or family member will get so emotionally and physically exhausted from trying to prevent his friend’s death. Every time the friend attempts suicide everyone is affected all over again. And the family members are constantly living in fear that they won't be able to save their child, wife, etc. in time. This is very morbid, I am almost done...but I have a friend whose brother recently killed himself. She loved him so much but when she called to tell me I could hear the relief in her voice. She finally, after 8 years could take a deep breath. She is no longer her brother’s keeper who "kept him from dying for so long". She will never have to go through wondering if her brother is going to live through this ER trip and guessing how many months until he'll try again. It's sad...but maybe it was the best thing. : (


Rosie said, "People can reach a point of suicidal despair which is not their own personality or choices in operation, but an illness: clinical depression."

I don't think that I would say that it is not their own choices in operation...clinical depression can't make choices. Clinical depression is not a person. There is always a reason for clinical depression it is usually something that happened to the patient. When someone commits suicide it is because he wants to at that point in time. The majority of people who failed at their attempt are happy they are living, those who are not happy will stay miserable, their state of mind will only worsen (and it will continue to distress those he encounters), and they continue to try until they get what they want.

AVA said...

“AVA said before-"Basically I think everyone should live how they want. But to be fair to everyone, you have to add the clause “unless it affects someone else living how they want”."

Well suicide most definitely affects others. If you think about it the way it is, suicide is the irreversible/permanent way for the committer (for lack of a better word) to escape his or her pain on earth. Once someone kills himself he no longer has to deal with that pain, instead he is handing all his pain to all of the people who cared for him on earth. If there really was someone in the world that nobody cared about, than he or she could kill himself without causes any pain and keeping it all "fair". But I am pretty sure that that is a hypothetical situation (as there is always someone out there that cares for you), which would mean that suicide is never "fair".”

I agree with everything you said. In the end, it seems to come down to “If there really was someone in the world that nobody cared about, than he or she could kill himself without causes any pain and keeping it all "fair”. I’m pretty sure people don’t kill themselves if they think someone else cares, so then the question becomes:

Who is seeing correctly? The person who thinks life is hopeless and wants to kill himself, or the person who believes everything will work out right in the end? Did the person who wants to escape the pain just accept what everyone else spends there whole life denying, or do they have problems with skewed views of reality? And what if they can’t change that messed up view of reality? Should they live a life they feel is worthless on the word of someone else? Especially when everything in their gut screams they’re lying?

“If there really was someone in the world that nobody cared about”

With this, it’s not that people don’t seem to care, but when it comes down to it, you can always pass someone’s ‘caring’ off as something else. An example would be with a father who spends time with his kids. The kids think the dad cares. But the dad’s just doing it to keep up “the family man” image so he looks like a good person at work, so he can get a raise, so he can get more money, so he can go one living a selfish life. The father doesn’t really care about the kids, but about what seeming to care for the kids can do for him. If a person constantly got this from the people who were supposed to care the most, how long before he assumed everyone was the same way? How many people REALLY care about the other person, and how many are just using that person to get something they want (whether it be sex, security, shelter, money, etc.)? After so many expieriences, it would seem natural for a person to conclude that everyone was just using others to meet their own needs, and to assume that nobody genuinely cared for them just because they were who they were. Either that or the caring is always conditional. A “if you do…then I will…”, never ‘I will care regardless of anything you do’.

“Rosie said, "People can reach a point of suicidal despair which is not their own personality or choices in operation, but an illness: clinical depression."

I don't think that I would say that it is not their own choices in operation...clinical depression can't make choices. Clinical depression is not a person.”

But clinical depression will change how someone views the world, and a person’s world view will affect everything they do, so the result is the same in the end. That person’s worldview will be skewered by the depression, thus changing their personality and the choices they would make under different circumstances.