Is the murder of abortion-performing doctors like George Tiller morally wrong?

The Wintery Knight Blog strongly condemns all abortion-related violence, whether it’s committed against the born or the unborn.

The news story is linked here by Stop the ACLU, Sweetness and Light, Patterico’s Pontifications, Michelle Malkin, Hot Air and Gateway Pundit.

Can Christians condemn the murder of George Tiller?

Yes, Christians can, and yes, Christians do, condemn any and all violence against abortion doctors. And so do I. I believe that murder is objectively wrong, whether it is performed against born or unborn victims.

Morality is rational on Christianity because Christianity grounds the minimal requirements for meaningful morality. (The post also contains arguments and evidence for Christian theism and responses to the arguments against Christian theism)

The Bible says: “You shall not murder”.

So, anyone who murders the born or the unborn is not a Christian and is not being moral. I am a Christian, and therefore I strongly condemn any violence against doctors who perform abortions, including George Tiller. The murderer of George Tiller was wrong, had no justification for what he did, and he should get the death penalty.

UPDATE: My pro-life friend Neil from 4Simpsons reacts:

I subscribe to over 100 blogs.  Well over a dozen have commented on this.  I’ve yet to see one that didn’t condemn the murder, though I’m sure the MSM will ignore the clear and consistent principles of the pro-live movement and try to demonize and broad-brush us with this.

Now let’s see whether murder is wrong on the atheist worldview…

Can atheists condemn the murder of George Tiller?

The goal is to see whether humans ought to adopt the moral point of view, on atheism. Does atheism ground the the minimal requirements for morality? Is it rational to do the right thing on atheism?

Requirement 1) Objective moral values: NOT GROUNDED

On atheism, moral values have no mind-independent existence. In other words, they are purely subjective. Either you invent your own personal standard or you adopt the standards of the majority of your herd, in the time and place in which you live. Those herd standards change over time and in different places, of course. They are arbitrary conventions. And there is no reason why your preferences are better than anyone else’s preferences, even a murderer’s. On atheism, a murderer and a non-murderer just have different preferences.

Requirement 2) Objective moral duties: NOT GROUNDED

On atheism, there is no such thing as objective moral values, and so there can be no objective moral duties either. Atheism is committed to materialism, and objective moral values and moral duties are non-material. Atheists can only ground subjective moral values and moral duties. But a duty owed to oneself can be canceled when things get difficult. Even a social contract is arbitrary. There is no reason to limit your happiness because of an arbitrary social contract, so long as you can escape the social consequences of disobedience.

Requirement 3) Moral accountability: NOT GROUNDED

On atheism, there is no accountability after death for the decisions we make in life. So long as we can avoid the consequences for violating the arbitrary fashions of the time and place where we live, nothing will happen to us if we put our happiness above the needs of our feelings of “empathy” for others.

Requirement 4) Free will: NOT GROUNDED

On atheism, there are no minds or souls independent of the material that makes up the body. Therefore, everything that humans do is fully determined by the genetic programming and the sensory inputs. To expect moral choices or moral responsibility on atheism is like expecting the same from a computer. Physical systems don’t have free will. There is no “ought to do” for lumps of matter that are not designed by anyone for any specific purpose.

Requirement 5) Ultimate significance: NOT GROUNDED

On atheism, life ends in the grave for them. Scientists have discovered that in the future, the amount of usable energy, such as the heat and light emitted by stars, will run down to zero, the “heat death of the universe”. What this means is that the entire universe will become cold and lifeless at some point. Humans are therefore doomed to extinction. It doesn’t matter ultimately how an atheist acts – they end up the same no matter what they do. The only action that is rational on atheism is the selfish pursuit of pleasure and happiness.

Can atheist scholars ground morality rationally?

Let me cite the views of atheist scholars from a previous post. These are the people who are the most committed, authentic atheists, and who have thought through what it means to be an atheist at the highest level.

The idea of political or legal obligation is clear enough… Similarly, the idea of an obligation higher than this, referred to as moral obligation, is clear enough, provided reference to some lawgiver higher…than those of the state is understood. In other words, our moral obligations can…be understood as those that are imposed by God…. But what if this higher-than-human lawgiver is no longer taken into account? Does the concept of moral obligation…still make sense? …The concept of moral obligation [is] unintelligible apart from the idea of God. The words remain but their meaning is gone. (Richard Taylor, Ethics, Faith, and Reason (Englewood Cliffs, N. J.: Prentice-Hall, 1985), p. 83-84)

In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, or any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference… DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is. And we dance to its music. (Source: Richard Dawkins)

The position of the modern evolutionist is that humans have an awareness of morality because such an awareness of biological worth. Morality is a biological adaptation no less than are hands and feet and teeth. Considered as a rationally justifiable set of claims about an objective something, ethics is illusory. I appreciate when someone says, ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself,’ they think they are referring above and beyond themselves. Nevertheless, such reference is truly without foundation. Morality is just an aid to survival and reproduction, . . . and any deeper meaning is illusory. (Michael Ruse, “Evolutionary Theory and Christian Ethics,” in The Darwinian Paradigm (London: Routledge, 1989), pp. 262-269).

The late atheist philosopher J. L. Mackie said that moral properties are “queer” given naturalism “if there are objective values, they make the existence of a god more probable than it would have been without them. Thus we have a defensible argument from morality to the existence of a god.”

Conclusion

In my survey of atheist views, none of the ten respondents could oppose slavery on rational grounds, none of the ten respondents could perform self-sacrificial acts on rational grounds, and none of the ten respondents could explain why murder was wrong, on rational grounds. They may have chosen the right alternative, but only based on emotion, not on reason. Morality is not rational on atheism and there is no way to condemn immorality in others.

So long as an person can escape the consequences of his actions, there is nothing wrong with murder, on an atheistic worldview. Atheists can express what they personally like and don’t like, or what the customs are in their society in a certain time and place. There is no “moral ought” on atheism, no principled reason to act any particular way except to be “happy” and to avoid social disapproval from acting unconventionally. So, keep that in mind in the coming days as you discuss the George Tiller story with atheists.

Further study

You can get the full story on the requirements for rational morality in a published, peer-reviewed paper written by William Lane Craig here. You can also hear and see him present the paper to an audience of students and faculty at the Georgia Institute of Technology in 2008. The audio is clipped at 67 minutes, the video is the full 84 minutes. There is 45 minutes of Q&A, with many atheist challengers.

The video of this lecture is the best material you can get on this issue, and the Q&A from the hostile audience is vital to the lesson. More debates on atheism and morality can be found on the debate and lecture page.

You can find a post contrasting the morality of an authentic, consistent Christian with an authentic, consistent non-Christian here. A post examining how atheism is responsible for the deaths of 100 million innocent people in the 20th century alone is here. A post analyzing the tiny number of deaths that religion was responsible for is here. A post examining other ways that the secular-left kills millions of people is here.

The Wintery Knight Blog strongly condemns all abortion-related violence, whether it’s committed against the born or the unborn.

28 thoughts on “Is the murder of abortion-performing doctors like George Tiller morally wrong?”

  1. When I read the blog post title, almost instantaneously the fifth commandment came to my mind. That’s how Christians think, I suppose. Though I read through the entire blog post and agree with your views mostly, there is one part I have a small disagreement with. Now don’t get me wrong. I am not going to twist the “You shall not judge” verse here. What the killer did was both immoral as well as irrational no matter what his motivations were and he should go through punishment the law of the land decides to give him. He earned it in any case. But I just simply hope that unlike people like George Tiller who blew up their chances with God, this person realizes what he did was not right in the eyes of the Lord and reconciles with Him before he dies. But then again, I really don’t even know whether his motivations were Christian or not. I guess I would hope that just the same.

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  2. When I read the blog post title, almost instantaneously the fifth commandment came to my mind. That’s how Christians think, I suppose.

    If we assume that the killer would describe themselves as Christian – which seems a reasonable assumption – then it seems that no, that isn’t how Christians think.

    I’m assuming that you’re Catholic, by the way. Fifth commandment in the other sects is honor your parents, isn’t it?

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    1. Lots of people describe themselves as Christian. But then they don’t do what the Bible says, and so they aren’t. But the point of my post is, how can atheists say that anything is right or wrong in any meaningful way? They can’t. Yet their gut reaction will be to condemn some things as wrong – even though there is no concept of right and wrong grounded by their worldview.

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    2. Well a person who does not exactly practice Christianity (and by that I mean not following what God asked us to) cannot be considered a Christian. That’s what I implied.

      And yes I am Catholic but I never knew it is otherwise in other denominations! Doesn’t “Do not commit murder” come after “Respect your father and your mother” in the Old Testament?

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        1. May at points break with numbering system and wamder back into paragraphs…

          1. Okay will ignore.
          2. We are society, the lawful bodies we reside within. The countries we reside in. And except for pleasure and the avoidance of discomfort, not much does motivate us.
          3 & 4. Because we have kids or nephews/nieces we care for and derive pleasure and some vanity from assisting. And/or we expect at some time to be deriving support from those same progeny in our dotage.
          5. Avoiding the consequences of breaking with societal norms is difficult, by conforming to them you maximise the chances of comfortable existance through your lifetime. You should conform to the arbitary rules of here and now because the slighty random assemblage of atoms that is you exists solely in the here and now.
          6. Because 50 years ago North Korea managed to fight out a draw with South Korea. Re-run the fight today and it would lose.

          …but not apparently in this comment.

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    3. Jewish version
      1)I am the Lord your G-d who has taken you out of the land of Egypt.
      2)You shall have no other gods but me.
      3)You shall not take the name of the Lord your G-d in vain.
      4)You shall remember the Sabbath and keep it Holy.
      5)Honor your mother and father.
      6)You shall not murder.
      7)You shall not commit adultery.
      8)You shall not steal.
      9)You shall not bear false witness.
      10)You shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor.

      Catholic version
      1)I, the Lord, am your God. You shall not have other gods besides me.
      2)You shall not take the name of the Lord, your God, in vain.
      3)Remember to keep holy the Lord’s Day.
      4)Honor your father and your mother.
      5)You shall not kill.
      6)You shall not commit adultery.
      7)You shall not steal.
      8)You shall not bear false witness.
      9)You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife.
      10)You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods

      Protestant version
      1)You shall have no other gods but me.
      2)You shall not make unto you any graven images.
      3)You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
      4)You shall remember the Sabbath and keep it Holy.
      5)Honor your mother and father.
      6)You shall not murder.
      7)You shall not commit adultery.
      8)You shall not steal.
      9)You shall not bear false witness.
      10)You shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor.

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  3. Good point on morality.

    There’s no evidence that Tiller’s killer was a member of any pro-life group. He is a member of some anti-gov’t militia group.

    Pro-life groups are rightly condemning this murder already.

    My fear is that it will now be used for political reasons by abortion advocates. With the most radical pro-abortion president in power, this could not have happened at a worse time.

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  4. I was hoping some atheist would try to argue that murder was morally wrong. I think the best that they could argue is that by consensus of the majority it is considered to be wrong (with exceptions). In other words, might makes right, as Francis Schaeffer used to say.

    If we are all animals who will die and return to dust, I see no basis for “morality.” Do whatever you can get away with as often as possible. If some atheist decides that they would rather refrain from murder, for whatever reason, well good for them, but they cannot give a reason to justify their behavior. [Throws down the gauntlet.]

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    1. BINGO. I plead with you to bookmark my site and return here often to comment.

      We need to be on the offensive here. It’s not us who killed all those people for communism and abortion, or even in the politically correct DDT ban. We have reasons to be good, they don’t. We need to make them own up to the fact that morality is illusory on their view. Hang every atrocity you can on them and dare them to say why it’s wrong on rational grounds. Everything they fire at us should be sent back at them – ask them why it’s wrong.

      I was e-mailing my cousin last night. She is a radical pro-abortionist and a left-wing enviro-whacko. SHE COULD NOT SAY THAT MURDER WAS WRONG, even in the case of George Tiller. We need to grind them up with this until they see the need for at least a deistic God to ground morality.

      I love your anti-kool-aid image, by the way.

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  5. Here’s some atheist reasons for why murder is wrong.

    1. Objective morality are brute facts in the same way as the laws of physics are brute facts. “Murder is wrong” is one of those objective facts.

    2. If applied as a universal principle, murder would be a self-defeating strategy for any social animal, and humans are social animals.

    3. Murder is by definition wrong, in the conventional sense that the meaning of the word murder is unlawful killing.

    4. Suffering in the broad sense is by definition something to be avoided; murder increases the sum of suffering, and is therefore to be avoided.

    5. Your “minimal requirements” for morality are nothing of the sort, and a non-objective morality is sufficient for making moral judgments.

    So there’s four possible non-theistic arguments why murder is wrong – although of course there may be others – so please feel free to counter them.

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    1. 1.
      What is the being of these object moral values? On atheism, matter is all there is, so where are these brute facts.
      Also, the following requirements remain unanswered: moral duties, free will, moral accountability, ultimate significance.

      2.
      That doesn’t answer the question of why Kim Jong Il, as an individual atheist, should not murder when it is in his interests and he can escape the consequences. Why should an atheist give a rip about “self-defeating strategies” when it is in his interest to murder?

      3.
      Begging the question. Laws are based on the personal preferences of the majority. There was a time when slavery was legal. On your view, it would have been moral then to own slaves.

      4.
      Why is suffering bad on atheism? Why should an individual atheist A care about the suffering of someone else B when it is in A’s interest for B to suffer, and A can avoid the arbitrary social disapproval for causign B’s suffering?

      5.
      No – a non-objective morality means that everyone decides for themselves, just as everyone decides what foods and dress they like. That is not a moral judgment, a moral judgment made by A of B’s actions requires a standard that is independent of A and B but that applies to A and B. The personal opinions of A do not constitute the moral values and duties of B, unless A is God and created and designed B for a purpose.

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    2. On atheism, matter is all there is, so where are these brute facts.

      No, you’re confusing materialism and atheism. The atheist making this argument believes that moral facts exist in a similar way to mathematical facts.

      Also, the following requirements remain unanswered: moral duties, free will, moral accountability, ultimate significance.

      Moral duties follow from the moral facts; free will exists; moral accountability and ultimate significance are non-essential (you might believe them to be essential, but that’s your personal belief, not an objective fact).

      That doesn’t answer the question of why Kim Jong Il, as an individual atheist, should not murder when it is in his interests and he can escape the consequences. Why should an atheist give a rip about “self-defeating strategies” when it is in his interest to murder?

      Because if he murders everyone, there’s won’t be anybody to bring him his Hennessey VSOP.

      Begging the question. Laws are based on the personal preferences of the majority. There was a time when slavery was legal. On your view, it would have been moral then to own slaves.

      That’s not the argument that I’m making. We apply the term “murder” to a killing we believe to be “unlawful” in the sense of being unjustified – so pro-lifers use the word “murder” to describe abortion even when abortion is legal. So by definition, murder is wrong purely because that’s the sense in which the word is used.

      Why is suffering bad on atheism?

      Suffering is by definition bad.

      Why should an individual atheist A care about the suffering of someone else B when it is in A’s interest for B to suffer, and A can avoid the arbitrary social disapproval for causign B’s suffering?

      You seem to be confusing whether somebody cares about somebody else with whether a specific action is moral. Perhaps you’d care to explain why “caring” has anything to do with morality if you think morality is a purely rational exercise.

      No – a non-objective morality means that everyone decides for themselves, just as everyone decides what foods and dress they like.

      And that is sufficient. You might not feel that it’s sufficient, but that’s just your personal preference.

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  6. Ok, merkur, I’ll bite:

    1. “brute facts” the same as laws of physics. Only problem is they are not subject to proof. Gravity is demonstrably true. The speed of sound is likewise. So what an atheist might claim to be a “brute fact” is merely them saying it is so. This argument just boils down to “murder is wrong because I an atheist say it is wrong” which boils down to might makes right. Murder is wrong if enough of us say it is wrong, but if enough of us say it isn’t murder, then it isn’t. Which is where we are in the abortion debate of today. Killing a viable baby before it is completely out of the birth canal is “not murder.” Killing it after it is delivered “is murder.” Because one side has the votes.

    2. murder is a “Universal principle”, and if applied universally, would be self-defeating, blah blah. First, not all humans desire social contact. Ever hear of hermits? Or persons who prefer animals to humans? And even if I grant your point, so if some all-powerful tyrant kills all but 10, 100, or 100,000 of his favorite people, he gets to eliminate most of the competition, and keep people to socialize with. In my mind, he is better off, not worse off, so why shouldn’t he go for it. This in turn is just the “might makes right” argument writ large. If a guy can break into your house, kill you, and steal your stuff, and not get caught, why shouldn’t he do it? Because he can. He’s not concerned with whether it would be “self-defeating” to kill everybody because then he would have nobody to play with. He just wants your stuff.

    3. Murder is by definition wrong. Such a weak. That is just “murder is wrong because I say it is” or “because society says it is.” And that again boils down to might makes right. You better not murder because society says it is wrong. Except they didn’t in the Soviet Union and Cambodia and Red China. Ooopsy. Murder wasn’t wrong, it was for the good of “The People.” And those who protested, or who claimed that the murders were “wrong” or “immoral” were in danger of being murdered themselves.

    4. “Suffering is to be avoided.” Ha. Burning your finger on a lit candle “is to be avoided” but that does not make it immoral. And lots of murder can be painless. Several drinks, then some barbituates, and finally a little pillow over the face whilst you slumber. Does that kind of murder suddenly become not immoral?

    Finally, your statement that “non-objective morality is sufficient for making moral judgments” boils down to this. Non-objective “by definition” means subjective. Subjective means “murder is what I say it is” or “what society says it is.” And that again equals “might makes right.” If I or society are strong enough to imposed my/its will upon you, then murder is what I/it says murder is.

    The entire purpose of this is not to make you look bad, but to point out the end result of each of your arguments. They are creative thoughts, but in the end they all lead to the same position. Murder is only “immoral” so long as a person or group of persons is strong enough to impose their will upon others. And that ends up in mob rule. Shooting atheists who comment on blogs is no longer “immoral”, per Code of Virginia 8.01-666?

    But if an all powerful God says it,then “murder” is immoral no matter what the chinese communist dictator says is moral. Cheers.

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    1. 3. Murder is by definition wrong. Such a weak. That is just “murder is wrong because I say it is” or “because society says it is.”

      In fact the argument is that murder is by definition wrong, in the same way that my brother is by definition male. The idea that murder is wrong is contained within the actual definition of the word “murder”, in the same way that the idea that my brother is male is contained with the actual definition of the word “brother”.

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    1. The taking of another persons life is wrong,Unless in the defense of one’s own life,no matter who commits the act. I hope that Dr. George Tiller finds peace within his soul. I assume that he was in a church not through hypocrisy but through a search to find peace with his conscience. Godspeed.

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  7. I am a pragmatist and will bite.

    1. Atheism attempts to explain all humanity and all of its actions, not merely the bits that hove to one or another of the belief systems. Christianity as you describe it does not attempt to do this.

    2. By rationalising for the social good we can define murder as immoral.

    3. A society with a moral prohibition on murder is more powerful than a society which allows the practice of murder.

    4. Belonging to and having your descendents belong to a more powerful society is in the rational self interest of individuals.

    5. Whilst an individual might murder for rational their actions are immoral, because they are indulging in an act that harmful to society.

    6. Kim Jong Ill can and does practice murder through the state he controls. He might be an atheist or truly believe himself to be the living weathergod of the juche pantheon, either way he isn’t a christian and so pretty much counts as the same thing to you right? Nevertheless his actions can be seen to be rationally immoral, because N. Korea is a crappy little country with no friends and half the worlds nuclear arsenal aimed in its general direction. N. Korea is weak and brittle and is made so by the actions of its dictator, its dictators actions are immoral.

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    1. Good comment. You actually tried to do what I asked people to do. I numbered your statements for reference.

      When I think of a moral obligation, I am thinking of something that a human ought to do, which is not what they want to do, for some purpose that is really good. You stated that people should constrain their pursuit of happiness for the “good” of their society’s power. I respond below.

      1. Wrong and irrelevant.
      2. You begged the question. Who is “we”? Why does the consensus of “we” determine what is good and evil? What would the ontology of that standard be, on atheism? And why would any individual conform their actions to that arbitrary standard, except for pleasure or to avoid social disapproval?
      3. Why is it rational for an individual atheist constrain his individual pursuit of happiness to increase society’s power? Who cares what society wants? He has 75 years to be happy, why care about the power of a society doomed to perish in the heat death of the universe?
      4. Why should I limit my pursuit of happiness because of what happens to my society after I am dead?
      5. Why should I care about harming society, on atheism? If I can avoid the consequences, why should I limit my actions by some arbitrary social conventions that vary by time and place.
      6. Why should the atheistic communist dictator constrain his pursuit of happiness to make his country more powerful?

      Here is a list of things required for rational morality and here is my assessment of whether atheism can ground those requirements.

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  8. John Doe says above:

    Non-objective “by definition” means subjective. Subjective means “murder is what I say it is” or “what society says it is.” And that again equals “might makes right.” If I or society are strong enough to imposed my/its will upon you, then murder is what I/it says murder is.

    I concur with the statement, but disagree on the nature of power – power is an objective and not subjective quantity.

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  9. “The murderer of George Tiller was wrong, had no justification for what he did, and he should get the death penalty.”

    The death penalty is murder. How are you against murder, but for it a the same time? I don’t get it.

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    1. Holy Snark! Am I to understand that you do not see the difference between taking the life of an innocent person without moral justification and taking the life of a guilty person who has been convicted of a heinous crime?

      What is with you young people? Is that what you young people are learning in the schools these days instead of math and science?

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    2. Am I to assume that you, like many other Christians, treat the Bible as a buffet? What part of “vengeance is mine, I will repay” don’t you understand? God did not say that it is o.k. to murder a murderer, both of these men are murderers, they will receive their ultimate punishment from God if they are not repentant. Right now the best we can do is lock them away from society and still be right with God.

      So, to answer your question, yes, I see the difference people TRY to make, but I don’t see it as Biblically right.

      Further, I am not as young as you may think. ;0) But, in any case, why would you assume that a school taught me this?

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      1. Here is an excellent column for you, written by a Jewish scholar of great reputation, named Dennis Prager. It will help you to interpret the Bible. And here is a podcast version. And thank you for asking. I hope I wasn’t mean to you!

        Also, did you know that capital punishment is taught in the Old Testament? Yes!

        I just assume that all the young people are moral relativists because they learn values clarification in the schools, which basically says that the only standard you should have is your own standard, and there is no way to judge anyone else as wrong. It’s a very feminized way of looking at morality.

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        1. Yes, capital punishment is taught in the Old Testament, but, when Jesus came did He not make it clear that the old system changed and that there is a new one?

          By the way, I don’t need the help of a “scholar” to interpret the Bible. God gave me a brain as well and I am well aware of how to use it. I don’t need scholars to back up my interpretation of the Bible. The Bible in and of itself is a more than sufficient source of reference for me. Thank you for the offer though.

          As far as young people or any people are concerned, try not to assume anything about any one group of people based on one sole thing, try to deal with them as individuals. I went to public schools, and I rarely ever agreed with what children are taught in those places, which is why I choose to homeschool my own.

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  10. Am I to understand that you do not see the difference between taking the life of an innocent person without moral justification and taking the life of a guilty person who has been convicted of a heinous crime?

    I assume that you believe that everybody is a sinner, i.e. nobody is “innocent”. So how are you making a distinction between innocent and guilty?

    Also, how does being convicted by a temporal court – given that man is flawed and therefore justice is flawed – magically removes the right to life of the convicted?

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