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The Religious Politic was moved over to a dedicated site, now located at: http://ReligiousPolitic.com

Monday, October 12, 2009

In which I claim torture is not allowable

[This post can be found on the new site, here]

From the Associated Press comes the report that the CIA's harsh interrogation techniques likely damaged the brain of terrorist suspects. Generally, the response by professor of neuroscience Shane O'Mara seems to be only that the techniques used were primitive and relied on older understandings of neurology.

In London, a secret agent apparently reported that torture was being used within Britain, prompting William Hague, the foreign affairs spokesman of the opposition Conservative Party, to speak out: "Torture or complicity in torture is unacceptable, immoral, and counterproductive."

And last, the Iraqi reporter who threw his shoes at then-president George Bush, was finally released after being in jail for nine months. The reporter, al-Zeidi, claims to have been tortured during his stay in prison.

Proponents of waterboarding have argued that the information gathered from it makes it an acceptable thing. In fact, torture in general is arguably an effective tool for gathering information. Despite the arguments contrary, torture does actually produce useable results, especially when done carefully by experts who have advanced understanding of neuroscience.

Of course, we can't just say "It's effective, therefore acceptable." In an extreme case, we might argue that burning down an entire village is an acceptable cost, since a terrorist is hiding inside and no one knows where he is. Of course, in any thing we must view the Bible and attempt to apply it, so let us do so with torture:

There are two times, in general, where torture is used: Before and after a trial. In the case of pre-trial, which is where almost all cases of torture occur, the Bible is quite clear on the issue: Physical torture of any kind is simply not allowed. In Deuteronomy 25, the law is being recited regarding what to do in cases of disputes. In verse 1-3 it says:

If there is a dispute between men, and they come to court ... then it shall be, if the wicked man deserves to be beaten, that the judge will cause him ... to be beaten in his presence, according to his guilt, with a certain number of blows. Forty blows he may give him and no more... lest ... your brother be humiliated in your sight.(Deuteronomy 25:1-3)
From this passage we can understand three principles which should guide our view of torture:
1: Any beating (in this discussion, torture) is to be done after the judge finds the person guilty. In general, torture is carried out on people who are being held under suspicion, but who haven't been convicted of crime. This is not allowed.
2: The beating must occur within the rpesence of the judge. Even if a person were to be condemned by the judge, the beating must be applied on location. Again, general torture is taken place in rooms far seperated from any judge who may have delivered judgement. This also is not allowed.
3: The guilty person can only be beaten according to his guilt, with a maximum set number of blows. The goal of the beatings is punishment, the restriction is that the criminal is not humiliated. This would preclude almost any general form of torture immediately, even if the person was found guilty.

An argument in response might say that this law applied only to Israelites, therefore it isn't applicable to those outside one's nation, however, Leviticus 19:34 says that "The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you", that is, the Jew and Gentile are to be treated the same. Even more direct is Leviticus 24:22 "You shall have the same law for the stranger and for the one from your own country."

Additional arguments can obviously be made by either side, but I think the basic premise of the Law stands: A person cannot be beaten (tortured) unless duly convicted, and even then the beatings cannot be too excessive. This Law stands for citizens or non-citizens both. This alone will remove the legality of most uses of torture.


Saturday, September 19, 2009

Is "Natural Law" sufficient?

[This post can be found at the new site, here]

In the argument over homosexuality, people have argued to me that, since the act can be found in nature, it must be a natural thing. I think this argument is primarily a response to the argument I have heard many Christians make: Homosexuality is "not natural", therefore it must be immoral.

However, both of these arguments are essentially arguing for the same point: What is found in nature is the foundation for morality. The pro-homosexuality side says "because it was found in nature, therefore it is morally acceptable", while the anti-homosexuality side says "Because it was not found in nature, therefore it is not morally acceptable."

But the implied argument, often unrealized, from the anti side is that if it were found in nature, it would be morally acceptable. Of course, both sides of the party are in a veritable pickle: If all things found in nature were somehow morally justifiable, such things as murder and non-consensual sex would be also morally justifiable, since they are found quite commonly in nature.

If we, as Christians or non-Christians, use nature as our guide for what is moral or immoral, neither of us will have any ground to stand on when we discuss homosexuality or any other action. To be fully consistent, all of us must argue from a foundation of where our authority comes from to be able to call something moral or immoral, right or wrong.

For a non-Christian, that authority comes from another religion or from an implied social contract, but a Christian must argue from the fundamental authority of God's revealed Word, the Bible. I believe this is true whether we speak of general abstract morality, or specific actions being acceptable, or political views being reasonable.


Friday, July 10, 2009

The Law regarding homosexuality.

[This post can be found on the new site, here]

In the last post, I discussed the fact that the Bible views homosexuality as a sin. The act of homosexuality is a sin, and, like heterosexual lust, it is even a sin to lust in a homosexual manner.

Of course, whether something is a moral sin and whether it is an act of criminality are two different points. The Bible says that if I lust in my heart after a woman it is the sin of adultery, yet it would be impossible to enforce a law regarding one's thought life. The proposition that all moral laws are civil laws is an absurd one indeed!

The question proposed is this: Should homosexuality be illegal? If so, in what way? If not, should Christians be "doing something about it"?

Let me try to give context to the first verse I want to reference. The book of Leviticus is generally thought to be divided into a few sections, the first part being ceremonial laws concerning the sacrifices and purification rites. This section goes on until chapter 18, in which the laws concerning sacrifices end, and the general civil law begins. This next section of Leviticus deals with things requiring civil punishment, and speaks on issues ranging from general theft requiring restitution, through to where we are stopping. Here, couched between a list of other sexual sins including bestiality and incest, is the law concerning homosexuality:

"If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads." Leviticus 20:13 (NIV)
In my previous post concerning whether homosexuality was a sin, I said that this verse should, at the least, remind us that homosexuality was not considered something small. Now, even further than a personal moral law, it seems clear that this law is clear when it states that homosexuality is a civil offense requiring the death penalty.

The objection made by Christians at this point is generally the argument that the law is no longer valid, that when Christ came we entered a new era, an era of "love". However, if we are to take the Bible systematically, we cannot simply wish for some difficult part to be dissolved.

Unless you can show somewhere in the Bible where it says that the Old Testament law has completely passed away, that view (of a "new era") is simply not Biblical. This would be much like a child arguing that, since father had not told him he could not play in the street today, means that yesterday's command to not play in the street is nullified.

Now certainly, the death penalty for homosexuals seems a rather strict one, especially in an age where the sexually deviant are not only accepted but encouraged, but if we are to be honest Christians we must see what we can make out of this seemingly uncomfortable law.

First, how is such a law implemented? What restrictions are put on such a law? It would be a terrifying world, indeed, if one could get put to death by a person wildly accusing you of homosexuality! Can a person practicing homosexuality in the privacy of their home be convicted?

Thankfully, the book of Deuteronomy (the other book of law) does not leave us too much "in the lurch", but goes on to put a major restriction on the death penalty:
"On the testimony of two or three witnesses a man shall be put to death, but no one shall be put to death on the testimony of only one witness. The hands of the witness must be the first in putting him to death, and then the hands of all the people." Deuteronomy 17:6-7 (NIV) See also Deuteronomy 19:15
Here we find our first major restriction on any death penalty: There must be multiple witnesses. This point seems an obvious one in a country where a trial by jury and a slew of witnesses are generally required, however, this right has not always been recognized, and ancient Israel was quite the opposite of the surrounding countries which could kill you without reason or witnesses.

If this is not enough, later in Deuteronomy it speaks of the problem of false witnesses, that they are given the punishment which would have been (or already was) given to the person standing trial. Enacting this law alone would reduce lawsuits greatly, and would not allow "evidence" such as DNA and fingerprints to stand as a witness at a trial.
If a malicious witness takes the stand to accuse a man of crime, the two men involved in the dispute must stand before the priests and the judges who are in office at the time. The judges must make a thorough investigation, and if the witness proves to be a liar, giving false testimony against his brother, then do to him as he intended to do to his brother. Deuteronomy 19:16-19 (NIV)
The next point brought up, generally by the secular person although at times by the Christian, is that we will have people snooping around, spying in the windows. The claim comes down to an argument that "what stays in the private of home should be of no concern", at least as far as the law goes. As a blanket statement concerning all events, this argument is false: If a murder occurs in someone's home, it is certainly of concern!

It seems that this principle could be drawn out a bit more: Considering that the Bible requires the death penalty for homosexuality, it seems that it is something which, even if done in the privacy of one's home, is something at least "of concern". However, even though we are concerned with murder occurring in the privacy of a home, we don't set up security cameras or go peering in the windows of our neighbor's home at night. It seems that the same practice of respecting privacy should be applied in this area as well.

While this idea of respecting privacy is all fine, this section of Deuteronomy indicates that, even if an act is done in private, once it is found out it must be investigated:
If a man or woman living among you in one of the towns the Lord gives you is found doing evil in the eyes of the Lord your God in violation of his covenant, and contrary to my command has worshiped other gods, bowing down to them or to the sun or the moon or the stars of the sky, and this has been brought to your attention, then you must investigate it thoroughly. If it is true and it has been proved that this detestable thing has been done in Israel, take that man or woman who has done this evil deed to your city gate and stone that person to death." Deuteronomy 17: 2-5 (NIV)
While this command refers especially to worshiping other gods, it's first phrase "doing evil in the eyes of the Lord" seems to refer to any evil act deserving the death penalty. However, recall the first two rules required and apply them here: If you were bringing false witness, you would get the death penalty, and you would also need at least another witness.

In the dozen or more people who responded to the survey I sent out, the main part of which were conservative Christians, the major thought of the comments was that homosexuality should be illegal, at least in some general sense. I did not ask specifically whether homosexuality should be punishable by death, so we can let the comments speak on that.

Finally, even though many conservatives and many Christians feel that homosexuality should be made illegal, the question still must always come down to: On what basis do you argue this?

If the Bible is not the ultimate foundation for our law, than the only thing remaining is human thought. That human thought is the same which created legal systems which sent numberless Jews to concentration camps, which sent innocent Christians to be torn apart by lions for entertainment, and the same law which chops off the hands of thieves and only punishes the woman--refusing to punish the man--for cases of adultery.

Sola Scriptura


Saturday, June 6, 2009

Can a Christian be a homosexual?

[This post can be found at the new site, here]

Next post, I hope to discuss what the Bible has to say about the political side of homosexuality, specifically as it relates to marriage. Please, comment on this post, I am sure I left out relevant Bible verses and concepts. Have patience with this human being.

Can a Christian be a Homosexual?
By Tobias Davis
June 5, 2009

The issue of homosexuality is a divisive one, especially in America, where the recently passed "Proposition 8" in California outlawed homosexual marriage. In Iowa, a recent decision by the State's Supreme Court interpreted the law as allowing homosexual marriage, although the United States Supreme Court would likely rule the decision as not Constitutional for various reasons. New Hampshire legislatures signed in a bill on June 3rd which legalizes homosexual marriage, that bill will be enacted January 1, 2010.

The question I will pose today is not whether people agree that homosexual marriage is acceptable, but a deeper theological question, one which I have heard posed in various forms from many Christians: Can a person who claims to be a homosexual also truthfully claim to be a Christian?

First of all, for the benefit of those less studied, I think it is wise to establish what, if anything, the Bible says about homosexuality. I am not going into a full exegesis, so let me point out the major verses. Leviticus 18:22-24 states that a man shall not lie with another man as with a female, i.e., no homosexual actions. The same book, Leviticus 20:13, says that if a man lies with another man as with a woman, he shall be put to death. This should, at least, note that homosexuality was not something trivial, since it required the death penalty. 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:8-11 say quite clearly that homosexuality is a sin, that those who practice it will not inherit the kingdom of God. Romans 1:26-27 says that homosexuality is a "degrading passion", it is not a "natural function" and it is an "indecent act". Additional implicative verses can be found in Jude 6-7, Genesis 19:5-7, and more.

Is homosexuality different, in a moral way, from other sins like heterosexual adultery or murder? 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 places homosexuality in the same list as idolatry, theft, and general sexual immorality. This is why I think it is safe to say that homosexuality is like most other sins; it is condemned like other sins, and it is forgivable like other sins.

This leads to the heart of the subject: Since homosexuality is like other sins, shouldn't we treat it like other sins? When a Christian is practicing gossip, a sin on par with murder, why do we treat them differently than someone who practices homosexuality? Should we treat them differently?

One distinct difference (and then I will turn to the Bible) is an issue of something I will call "popular heresy": It is not so much homosexuality itself that is more despicable than other sins, it is the refusal of many churches to call it a sin, coupled with homosexual activists calling Christians like myself (who dare call it sin) "hatemongers" and the like. Christians should speak out against homosexuality in the same way that they should speak out against a church preaching heresy, being mindful that homosexuality is a sin into which they could be tempted as well.

In studying the Bible on the subject, I have found only one distinction of homosexuality as compared to other since, this is found in Romans 1:21-28, quoted here from the NAS, although most other translations are the same in the relevant terms:

"21 Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. ... 26 For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: 27 And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet. 28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind," Romans 1:21, 26-28
Paul speaks of the gospel and the righteousness of God, that certain people, "when they knew God" , were not regenerate but rather were "vain in their imaginations" and so God "gave them up to vile affections", i.e., God gave them up to homosexual desires. I have heard this passage to argue that homosexuals are not able to be saved, but I don't think that is the point: In a later verse, Paul says the people he refers to, "32 knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them."

The word "pleasure", in the phrase "have pleasure in them", is the Greek word suneudokeo (Strongs 4909) which has a sense of approval. So it seems Paul is not speaking of people who struggle and resist homosexual thoughts, but rather those who practice homosexuality and approve it, that is, they deny that it is a sin. (A slight aside: If you are a Christian, and you struggle with homosexual desires, take heed to Romans 1:21 " when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful", confess immediately any sin of pride, give all glory to God.)

So then, the Bible clearly says that homosexuality is a sin, and implies that it is even a punishment. Can a Christian be a homosexual? It depends on what you mean. We could divide all "homosexuals" cases into two general cases: Those who disapprove of the thing, who know it is a sin, and those who approve of it, who claim it is not a sin. It could be claimed that there is a third group: those who do not know. But those people are only waiting to be told the scripture, and then they will decide in their hearts.

The case of the latter, those who claim it is not sin, is the case of the condemned or reprobate. The question becomes: Does God allow a Christian to be "given over" to sin? Perhaps for a time, but not forever. Ephesians 1:13-14 says that, as a believer, you are marked with a seal (the Holy Spirit) who is a mark of the guarantee of our salvation, implying that a Christians salvation is guaranteed. 1 Peter 1:5 says that God, in His power, keeps us in salvation. Finally, John 10:28 says that a Christian can never be taken from God's hand.

The case of the first, the homosexual who knows it is a sin and calls it such, is much more hopeful: Homosexuality is a sin which can be repented of, just like murder. Can a Christian commit murder? Certainly, and they must face the consequences of that sin. Likewise, a Christian can be tempted by homosexuality, and even commit homosexual acts, but they will then face the consequences.


Friday, April 10, 2009

Obama's fetal stem cell policy.

[This post can be found at the new site, here]

Hooray! The Religious Politic is on track for a monthly release, starting with an introductory article concerning Obama's recent change to previous stem cell legislation. Comments on the first article especially would be appreciated.

Obama's fetal stem cell policy.
By Tobias Davis
April 10, 2009

On Tuesday, March 9th, Obama rescinded Bush's policy which banned federal funding of embryonic stem cell research and at the same time rescinded Executive Order 13435, which required funding for alternate methods of stem cell research.

These alternate methods included the "induced pluripotent stem cells" (IPSC), which can be retrieved from living adults, from skin, fat, and even some of the tissue hiding in the nose. The IPSC research has been the most promising, and avoids the ethical and moral issue of embryo destruction.

Obama's annulment of the federal ban on embryonic stem cell research has been met with a great deal of anger from the pro-life community, for understandable reasons, since the harvesting of embryonic stem cells almost always comes at the cost of the death of the still-forming baby.

Additionally, adult stem cell research has made huge contributions to medicine, contributing to significant and serious potential cures for things ranging from sickle cell anemia to fibromyalgia and paralysis. Many in the scientific community are presumably upset over the removal of federal funding, although the few I attempted to contact could not respond in time for this writing.

Overall, the annoyance of the pro-life party is focused on two things, namely, the approval of actual embryonic stem cell research, and the removal of funding for other alternate studies in stem cell uses: Adult stem cell research should be funded, they argue, because it is less ethically dangerous than embryonic stem cell research.

It is not my intention to disparage the pro-life movement, I support them in their mission of removing the abortion industry. However, while I am fully in agreement with the dispute against allowing and funding embryonic stem cell research at the cost of a human life, I am also against the governmental funding of adult stem cell research. The government has no authority to take my money to fund such research in the first place, and we as Christians should be pushing to remove federal funding from both embryonic and adult stem cell research.

The Bible does not give the government unlimited authority over it's citizens, in fact the role of the government is quite clear in many verses--the most-used verse being Romans 13 which says that the purpose of a ruler is to be a "terror ... to the evil" and that if you do evil you should "be afraid; for he bears no the sword in vain."

That is, the governments role is not of a provider, but of an enforcer. Enforcing the law of the Bible, laid out in the first five books, was the role of the government in the Old Testament and it is still the role of government, although it is monumentally failing at this role.

Many people oppose the idea of the Old Testament government system as a model for an ideal government, so let me explain a few details and thoughts concerning the subject.

Most Christians recognize that the Bible is a source of guidelines for our behavior, but question it's use in forming governmental decisions. The main question which I would have is, if the Bible cannot direct our political views, what should? Will it be the latest opinion of the political scientists? My point, which I hope is clear, is that if we do not rest our political views on true Biblical arguments our views will never last, and are often detrimental.

Throughout the entire Old Testament, from the very founding of civil government starting in 1 Samuel 14, through Israel's entire history, the government had a specific limited role and was not allowed to step out of that role. Quite clearly, the government stepped out of it's role at times, but always was required ultimately to answer to God. The establishment of the king was a planned even; 1 Samuel 12:14 says that if the people and the king follow God's Law they will be blessed.

When we in America, or in any other country, want the government to fund things such as medical research, we are yielding more authority than they should have. It is not the duty of the government to work for the physical health of the citizen, and every country that has tried this has failed to do so. It is, instead, the duty of the government to punish evil by using just punishment described in the Bible.

In my personal conversations with many pro-life individuals I have found that the goal of stopping abortion comes first, even before understanding or following any of God's laws concerning government authority. For example, while a majority of pro-lifers are Christian, they would be hard pressed to present a solid Biblical argument for or against the death penalty, in fact many would be hard pressed to present a solid Biblical argument on why abortion, the very thing they are fighting, is wrong.

I don't say all this to be hyper-critical, or to assume myself better, but rather as a calling out to the Christian pro-life movement. I have heard many an argument against abortion that boils down to "just being wrong", but if that is the strongest argument we pro-lifers can make we are very bad off. Even further, if we can only apply the Bible to our personal lives and not to guiding governmental policies, we don't have a leg to stand on when we argue things like homosexual marriages not being legally allowed.

Summary: Read your Bible with a view of politics as well. Know why laws and governmental actions are allowed or restricted, from a strictly Biblical sense.

Extra: My eyes were opened up to the very practical way the Bible guides government policy when I read R.J. Rushdoony's book, "Law and Liberty". If the ideas of Biblical government intrigue you, try reading this book as a primer to the subject. Each chapter is roughly 4-8 pages long, and can be read in a twenty minute stretch, twice that if you have to look up words in the dictionary.


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