‘Christian’ Simpletons And The Death Penalty

Is there anything more annoying than someone making emphatic assertions that are obviously wrong? 

CNN runs an essay by a guest columnist/reverend named R. Albert Mohler, supposedly to make a Christian case for the death penalty.  It all boils down to this: 

On the one hand, the Bible clearly calls for capital punishment in the case of intentional murder.

In Genesis 9:6, God told Noah that the penalty for intentional murder should be death: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.”


What utter bullshit.  In the first place, it isn’t even clear that the quoted passage is a command so much as an observation.  In the second place, although ‘shedding of blood’ generally refers to killing, taken literally that’s not necessarily the case:  shedding blood isn’t always fatal.  The passage may not be referring to murder or the death penalty at all.

But what really makes it a poor argument from my point of view – indeed not just a poor argument but an ignorant one – is that any honest and remotely competent opinion on what the Bible says about capital punishment would have to begin by discussing the very first murder; yet that Biblical account would seem to completely rule out the death penalty.  That is, after Cain murders his brother Abel, this is the exchange between Cain and God:

Now, therefore, cursed shalt thou be upon the earth, which hath opened her mouth and received the blood of thy brother at thy hand.  When thou shalt till it, it shall not yield to thee its fruit: a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be upon the earth.  And Cain said to the Lord: My iniquity is greater than that I may deserve pardon.  Behold thou dost cast me out this day from the face of the earth, and I shall be hidden from thy face, and I shall be a vagabond and a fugitive on the earth: every one, therefore, that findeth me, shall kill me.  And the Lord said to him: No, it shall not be so: but whosoever shall kill Cain, shall be punished sevenfold. And the Lord set a mark upon Cain, that whosoever found him should not kill him.


I mean, how does anyone claiming to be knowledgeable enough to tell other Christians what they should think about the death penalty, based on the Bible, ignore this part of the Bible? 

We talk about religious subjects sometimes around here at Lawyers on Strike.  We don’t pretend to be Bible scholars, but we don’t need to be to see this particular gaping intellectual hole. 

In other words, we might quote the Bible from time to time, but we don’t thump it at anyone.



Filed under Media incompetence/bias

8 responses to “‘Christian’ Simpletons And The Death Penalty

  1. No one ignores Cain. He went on to be a great sinner, leading many others into sin. Ultimately, all progeny of Cain was wiped out in the great flood.

    Maybe there is a lesson there?


  2. My guess is that that piece was published as a troll job, click bait to rile up the crazies and drive traffic. CNN is disreputable enough to do that. I still watch it from time to time, mostly out of ennui, but over the years I’ve lost all respect for CNN and for most of its anchors and reporters. If I’m screwing around online, I rarely see any reason to visit its website, although it is interesting to hear about its latest online dipshittery.

    In my experience, biblically based opposition to the death penalty is consistently more intellectually and morally coherent than biblically based support for the death penalty, although both sides harbor plenty of activists who quote scripture in bad faith to support what are worldly political goals. This is not a kind of profanity that much bothers me, but I certainly don’t admire it. It seems unbecoming.

    The main reason I can discern for the abolitionists being more coherent in their use of scripture is that they include very few of the sort of authoritarian sola scriptura crackpots who dominate the religious right, or at least the Protestant and nondenominational constituencies within it. These people either don’t know what they don’t know about the Bible or won’t admit what they don’t know. Consciously or subconsciously, they inevitably end up cherry-picking Bible verses to support their positions, usually with little or no context. Their piss-poor contextual orientation should come as no surprise given that they regard as infallible and incontrovertible a book assembled from other books that themselves were the syntheses of antecedent oral traditions, and that this process of synthesis, inclusion, exclusion and so forth involved vigorous debate among the church fathers and senior rabbis of the day. Rational debate is nigh impossible with hardcore sola scriptura fanatics because they draw from a bottomless well of tautologies and don’t really feel comfortable thinking for themselves. This dovetails nicely with support for the death penalty, since the former and the latter are both much more supportable when one timidly submits to the unexplained pronouncements of authority figures. If one doesn’t laugh John Hagee off as a bumptious freak when he displays a diorama of Satan descending into hell in a rainstorm of blood, one’s support for the death penalty makes great sense as a matter of bloodlust and deference to any authority figure, no matter how vile.

    There’s wisdom in the Catholic Church’s discouragement of freelance biblical interpretation. The Bible is tricky enough for professional theologians and historians, and amateur interpretation ends up causing a lot of needless worry because the interpretations tend to converge on the obscurantist authoritarianism advanced by the loudest yahoos and cult leaders. Just look at what they’ve done to the Book of Revelation by refusing to consider it within the political and religious history of the Roman Empire.


    • I thought it might be a troll job myself, it was so poorly reasoned.

      Beyond that, though, I must say you understood this post perfectly. It’s only peripherally about the death penalty, about which I see good arguments on both sides – as long as you leave scripture out of it.


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