CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

When Will This Hysteria Die Down?

May 1, 2015

I refer here to the hyper emotionalism and cloudy thinking of way too many Christians in the case of two convicted criminals who met their end recently in Indonesia. I certainly did not plan to say anything further on all this, but each new day I am utterly stunned to find what some Christians continue to say about all this.

Here is my brief reply to the latest: Um, no, sorry, but I will never countenance turning convicted drug smugglers into heroes and saints. That of course is exactly what has been happening all over the place, especially in all sorts of Christian circles. But count me out. I do not want any part of it.

think 1As I have said all along, if one or both have become Christians as a result of all this, they are now with Jesus and that is wonderful news indeed. Indeed, it is the best thing that could have happened to them. Had they not been busted they likely would still be pagans and still be selling drugs resulting in the deaths of many others.

So we thank God whenever someone really repents and turns to Christ. But a bit of a reality check is needed here. Are they in fact now to be canonised and turned into martyrs? This is already occurring in many places. Consider what I just read on one social media site:

This is quite beautiful. There should be more mercy and forgiveness in the world.
“Australian Catholic University has created two scholarships for Indonesian students to study in Australia named after Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran. The scholarships would be a fitting tribute to the reformation, courage and dignity of the two men. The scholarships had been created to recognise the university’s commitment to the dignity of the human person and the sanctity of human life.”

The person went on to write: “I think its purpose is two-fold. It’s a beautiful act of charity and it’s designed to train up Indonesians to one day abolish the death penalty in their country. Hopefully we’ll help educate a future Indonesian President.”

Um, a few problems here. First of all, God has ordained the death penalty. Secondly, since when is it our responsibility to intervene in another sovereign state in this fashion? Thirdly, since this guy was speaking as a Catholic, I had to remind him that the Catholic Church does not oppose the death penalty.

Indeed, I have found so much sloppy thinking by Catholics on this, that I have been forced to write an article laying out official Catholic teachings on such matters. For those Catholics unaware of what their own faith teaches on this, I offer this refresher course here: billmuehlenberg.com/2011/05/05/killing-and-catholic-social-teaching/

All this outrage over an institution God has ordained is really doing my head in. As I have often said, one need not agree at all with most of how the Indonesian government has carried this out. There is much to censure here. But my point all along has been for those who claim to be Christians to realise that capital punishment is morally licit in some cases, and has the backing of God himself.

So we can rightly disagree on what Indonesia is doing here, but I am staggered when I find Christians claiming to be more moral and loving than God as they insist that capital punishment is inherently wrong and should never be used. That has been my great concern all along; not to defend everything Indonesia has done.

Christian opposition to things like the death penalty seems to be overwhelmingly an emotional reaction. I find very little solid thinking here, or clear biblical reflection. But all that I have discussed in nearly 20 other articles so I will not repeat it here. But let me just add a few final thoughts. I quite like what one person wrote on his page about this:

Has anyone considered that if Chan and Sukamaran were not on death row, they never would’ve repented and turned to God and done so much good in the decade they were in prison? Perhaps the death penalty has facilitated them doing more good than they ever could have done if they had been sentenced say 5 or 10 years in gaol. They have passed now, not only carrying Christ with them, but giving Him to so many others. Perhaps the blind outrage we see is not the way we should be trying to end this story.

Exactly right. It does no good of course to speculate on various possible scenarios here, but we know that the death penalty certainly can have a sobering effect on people, resulting in a real change of heart and mind. I believe it was Samuel Johnson who once said that “nothing concentrates the mind like the knowledge that one will be hanged in the morning.” So there is a real possibility that the death penalty is the very thing that led to their conversion.

And consider the other possibilities here. Had they not been caught, they likely would not have considered Christianity at all. As Piers Akerman said today: “Had Chan and Sukumaran succeeded, they would doubtless have been smugly driving around in Ferraris or Porsches and thinking what a great life it was bringing drugs into Australia to sell to vulnerable kids.”

However I still keep getting the tired objection that capital punishment cuts short a person’s chances of repenting and receiving Jesus. But this objection really has no biblical merit whatsoever. The idea that we should never do anything to shorten a person’s life so that he might have more chances to hear the gospel is rather silly when you think about it for a minute.

If this were true, you then would have to argue that God is really rather immoral for allowing us all to die so relatively young. Why does he not allow us all to live to be 500, or 1000, or longer? After all, we would then have even more chances to repent. Sorry, but this is the thinking of secular humanism, not biblical Christianity.

All Christians should realise that God appoints the times and seasons of men. He gives life and he takes it away. Our times are in his hands. And that would include when the state uses the God-ordained institution of capital punishment to punish wrong-doers.

But let me conclude with a bit more of the article by Akerman. I do not know, but I suspect he is not a Christian. So he does not think much of the apparent conversion of one or both of these men. But I think he makes a whole lot more sense than many Christians when he writes, “Why turn drug smugglers into heroes for our kids?” He says:

The nauseating canonisation of executed convicted heroin smugglers Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran was well under way before their corpses had been returned to their families. At Castle Hill High, the words “merciless”, “barbaric”, “futile” and “weak” were plastered on the noticeboard on Wednesday by principal Vicki Brewer after students expressed horror at the executions of Chan and Sukumaran, and six others in Indonesia. . . . Judging by the responses on social media, a lot of locals would prefer Ms Brewer to concentrate on teaching the basics – reading, writing and arithmetic – rather than dabble in social engineering or encourage youngsters to think they are engaged in relationships with drug smugglers.
Keith thought that: “through this comment the school is promoting these two criminals as ‘heroes’. Gosh, wonder how many students in this school will engage in drug dealing over the next 10 years to emulate their ‘heroes’. Also, is it appropriate for the school to demean Indonesia in the public arena? Rightly or wrongly, these two criminals were caught organising drug trafficking in a country which has legitimately warned about the consequences for drug trafficking.”

Akerman continues:

Chan and Sukumaran — who were attempting to smuggle 8.3kg of heroin, valued at around $4 million, into Australia — were professionals who themselves showed zero regard for the sanctity of human life. It was Chan’s third run, one successful, one aborted, and, bingo, total failure. Sukumaran was more unlucky. It was his first attempt to make a big score. In 2010 Chan told SBS that he hadn’t given a thought about the consequences of his actions — it was all about the cold, hard cash….
Immediately after the executions were carried out, the Labor Party attempted to politicise the matter with absurdly false claims about directions to the Australian Federal Police. Victorian judge Lex Lasry called for a group of eminent persons to lobby governments in countries such as Indonesia and the US to persuade them to end their use of the death penalty.
It is estimated that China executes thousands every year, the numbers in Iran run into the hundreds, Iraq is believed to have executed more than 160 last year, Saudi Arabia 79, North Korea 70 and the US 39. Justice Lasry should take his campaign to Beijing. If Australia’s empathetic headmistresses and pseudo-celebrities want the Indonesians to stop executing young Australians, they should start by getting young Australians to stop taking drugs.

As I say, he may not be a Christian, so reports of their conversion do not sway him much. But as I have said repeatedly, if these were genuine conversions then thank God. And praise God they are now with their Saviour. But I am not about to turn them into some sort of heroes, nor push the foolish line that divine forgiveness means we are freed from the consequences of our actions.

Postscript

Since so many folks are appealing to the thief on the cross in this case, I wish they would actually read what Scripture teaches on this. Luke 23:40-4 says this: “But the other criminal rebuked him. ‘Don’t you fear God,’ he said, ‘since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong’.”

He was forgiven, but he knew that he deserved his death sentence. There was no ‘get out of jail free’ mentality here. No expectation that now that he had repented, he could somehow escape the consequences of his actions. No anti-death penalty crowds seeking to turn him into a hero. He rejoiced in his newfound faith, but accepted as fully just his death. Let’s try to stay biblical. There is far too much emotionalism here for my liking, sorry.

www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/opinion/why-turn-drug-smugglers-into-heroes-for-our-kids/story-fni0cwl5-1227328910475

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21 Responses to When Will This Hysteria Die Down?

  • Thanks Bill for putting it straight. God bless you.

  • the foolish line that divine forgiveness means we are freed from the consequences of our actions

    Forgiveness and punishment are two totally separate different things.

  • Paragraph 2267 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor. If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity with the dignity of the human person”.

    Speaking as a Catholic who has observed the secularised behaviour of the Australian Catholic University over the years, I am sorry to say that it should not be regarded as a good and faithful servant of the Catholic Church.

  • Yes the fact that they were drug traffickers seems to be lost on some. Thanks for keeping it real Bill. I really would have liked to have seen the two take an opportunitiy before their death to publicly denounce drug trafficking and the entire disgusting industry, instead of this being a focus on the rights and wrongs of the death penalty. The siblings of the two have declared that they will continue to fight against the dealth penalty instead of the very thing that got them there in the first place – drugs!
    Having said that – I feel so sorry for their parents. Not a nice thing to live through. I hope they can turn their eyes and hearts to Jesus and find healing there.

  • Thanks Mark. Just as plenty of secular left thinking has crept into some Protestant churches, sadly it seems to be doing its worst in some Catholic circles as well.

    And yes, I mention that part of the Catechism in the article I link to above.

  • Meanwhile, IS slice through Christian heads like a factory and the sustained outrage is…where?

    Most won’t talk about that issue but the politically correct controversies always seem to drag out a good portion of the church for ongoing discussion and debate.

    If only we felt that same zeal for righteousness regarding the murder and execution of non-criminals.

  • I too hope they truly found Christ and repented of their sins, rather than just trying it on because they got caught. I shall leave the Lord to deal with that question. I feel sorry for the families left behind because of their selfish, foolish, cruel and downright evil actions, how many people would have died from hotshots from the drugs they would have brought in? where is the horror at that?

    Also, as another poster put it, where is the outrage at all those innocent people, who by the way are not drug traffickers who have been tortured, raped, beheaded, burnt alive, buried alive? Oh that’s right, we can’t judge, unless of course they are criminals, then lets get on the judgment pedestal and yell merry hell. /rant off/

    Neil Waldron

  • I am soooo over schools pushing an agenda and using kids in this way! If a Christian school plastered similar messages about abortion, they would be shut down!

  • I am finally viewing Andrew’s and Myuran’s episode in a very simple manner, without the ifs and buts and all the cloudy justification for or against the execution of which I was guilty of earlier.
    Like many, we must respect the law of a sovereign nation even though we may not agree with it. Thus they were legally and rightly sentenced to death under Indonesia law.
    My contention is that they have been in prison for 10 long years and in that time they have been more than fully rehabilitated i.e. they are recognized by all accounts as valued assets & very positive role models for other prison inmates – surely this must be the most persuasive and deserving case for clemency or a pardon from President Jokowi. How else do you “deserve” a pardon? I am thinking “Would you smash and cast out a broken vase after it has been beautifully or divinely restored?”

  • I sometimes feel bad about being angry with some Christians, and even though I know they believe they are just for acting all loving and kind about certain issues, I won’t stand for them treating Jesus like some sort of fragile weakling who only said lovey dovey stuff during his ministry when we all know that he will be returning to kick some serious butt. That’s the God I worship. A God I can fear not see as a wuss who’s forgiveness and mercy meant you are free to sin and commit crimes as much as you like. I worship a God who deserves all my respect and adoration because of his ability to do the things most humans struggle to do like loving even your enemy. If they were converted, then great. Now they are truly free unlike their parents and family who must live with the consequences of their actions for the rest of their lives. Christians against the DP think it makes them righteous, but does it? These two are NOT martyrs or “murdered saints” they were convicted drug smugglers and were sentenced according the law of the country they were in at the time. How long before there’s a movie about them? Oh and how dare they use Martin Place for their vigil! That is reserved for brave hero’s of war who died defending us. No I am with you on this 100 percent. No “celebrities” made a video about all the true innocent Christians being savagely raped and murdered overseas, and we know the Greens don’t care. No news network have covered the barbaric killings 24/7, but let’s make a fuss about some drug felons instead. Makes me sick

  • Indonesia has a law for their country’s benefit. In this case, it must be respected and honoured in this case.

  • And now there is “christian” Guy Sebastian writing a tribute song to them!

    www.mamamia.com.au/entertainment/guy-sebastians-song-for-sukumaran-and-chan/

  • And meanwhile we have the death penalty in this country for simply wanting to be born – 75,000 or so per year.

    I’m not really into Christian Rap, but I come across the following, sorry its a bit long, but there’s heaps more to it. This guy preaches and he doesn’t pull any punches! This song perfectly describes the situation we have today.

    America [you can insert Australia here!] stop sinnin’
    turn around stop sinnin’
    Repent and start livin’ for Christ

    Verse 1
    We claim to be a Christian nation
    but we don’t follow Christ
    We condemn the innocent
    and fight for criminal’s rights

    A child’s right to life is questioned
    by those with liberal views
    And women murder their babies
    and call it their right to choose

    And if you choose to murder me
    they’ll fight to set you free
    You had a rough life ‘cause your
    shoes were too tight
    when you were three

    They make me sick with this
    and every day it gets more ridiculous
    They find some new means
    or way to justify their wickedness

    And Christians sit and listen
    while the country is slippin’
    Further from Christ we’re the light
    but we don’t glisten

    We’ve lost sight of the mission
    seek and save what is missin’
    We need to repent and pray
    for grace to obey His commission
    …———…
    And our children get molested
    and left dead in the streets
    While these predators get a place
    to sleep with three meals to eat

    And cable TV, to me there’s
    something wrong with that picture
    They should be six feet deep
    right along with the victim

    But some Christians don’t
    think it’s right to put people to death
    Evidently they don’t read much
    of the Scriptures I guess

    ‘Cause in Genesis 9:6
    God was clear when He said
    Whoever sheds man’s blood
    by man his blood shall be shed

    But now what God says
    is not said by preachers in churches
    They’d rather give people
    the gospel in a watered down version

    But they’re hurtin’ the person
    that they’re seekin’ to save
    They’ll see the error of their ways
    when they perish on Judgment Day

    From Eternal MOG

    David Clay
    Darwin NT

  • I absolutely agree! Everybody must respect the law in the country they travel to! There are signs everywhere about the death penalty for drug trafficking when you arrive to Indonesia. And now there are vigils at Martin Place for them… Thousands innocent people just recently died in Nepal, no one really cares much about – it’s just another sad news.. Well, I will not be surprised when these two executed drug traffickers become “Heroes” here soon!

  • “If the state executes a drug pedlar or a murderer, it is itself guilty of murder!” This is as senseless as saying that defending yourself from an assassin by shooting him, is murder, or being fined for dangerous driving is robbery.

  • Yes exactly right Spero.

  • I agree, it is important to get a sense of the proper priority here. I still have respect for these men though and had prayed they would be returned to Australia not because they were drug trafficker – they were rightly tried convicted and imprisoned, for that but because their repentance to me was true and proven, not fake, from my far away vantage point of course. Indonesia has the absolute right to put people to death for capital offences just like every other sovereign nation does, but what concerns me is that we know that it has been used as a political lever, I believe not based on biblical justice of course because their laws are not based on biblical justice and that it has been hypocritical in view of their own request for clemency when one of their own citizens was facing dp in another country, for what crime, I can’t remember now. That of course does not change Indonesia’s right to use dp as I said and in the end they are responsible before the Living God for how they use or misuse a god-given responsibility but I believe these observations should be part of a nuanced discussion of these things.
    Many blessings
    Ursula Bennett

  • Bill, I fully agree with you that “we can rightly disagree with what Indonesia is doing here.” And I agree with Ursula that Indonesia has used the executions “as a political lever, not based on biblical justice”, and has thus been “hypocritical”.

    So the question becomes: are ALL executions divinely ordained, including those that are used as a political lever and are not based on biblical justice? Has God divinely ordained all executions in corrupt, third world, Muslim countries which have little or no respect for Christian values? And if God hasn’t ordained every execution carried out or pending, how are we to know which executions are divinely ordained and which are not? It’s all very well to say the death penalty is divinely ordained. It’s another matter to ensure that every judge in every legal system in every country in the world is completely just and above reproach. Dream on.

    As for your assertion that “divine forgiveness doesn’t mean we are free from the consequences of our actions”, I fully agree. But the question is, who gets to decide what those consequences will be? Should it be a politically motivated, self-interested president like Joko Widodo? Did Joko receive a revelation from on high that he should impose the death penalty rather than a life sentence? To suggest that a life sentence would have been letting them off lightly is absurd. I totally agree with Richard that their complete rehabilitation, reformation and transformation warranted the death penalty being commuted. Life behind bars would not be “freedom from the consequences of their actions”. Rather, it would be an appropriate sentence in all the circumstances.

    Which brings to mind another question: Is the life sentence (like the death sentence) also ordained by God? If not, it might follow than everybody who is currently doing life should promptly be executed, because the death penalty IS ordained by God. This is just one of the pitfalls we encounter when we indiscriminately ascribe divine ordainment to any given penalty, or to any given state (such as Indonesia).

    And one last question. Which method of execution — if any — is divinely ordained? Does God prefer the firing squad? Beheading, as carried out by Islamic State? Hanging? Electric chair? Lethal injection? Burning at the stake? If God divinely endorses the death sentence, He must surely have a view as to how it is executed (so to speak). The Bible offers little help on this important matter. All suggestions gladly received

    Rowan Forster.

  • Thanks Rowan. But given some of your recent correspondence, it is not at all clear if these are honest questions, or just rhetorical questions, and whether your mind is already made up on all this. Either way, let me try to offer a few brief answers (although if you actually read my 20 articles on this subject, you would see that I have dealt with most of this).

    -No, I never said all executions are divinely ordained (that is, morally licit).
    -God has ordained the DP.
    -God had ordained civil government.
    -In a fallen world, there will be no perfect government, no perfect carrying out of justice, no perfect carrying out of anything.
    -Nobody in their right mind says therefore that we should just dump all government, all laws, all courts, all police, all everything. We simply make do with imperfections in a fallen world.
    -Some laws are better or more just than others.
    -Some judicial decisions will get it right, some will not.
    -Some penalties for crimes are better than others.
    -In a democracy we have the right to discuss such matters, and seek to make changes if so desired.
    -In a fallen world, we work and strive for better governance, better law, better parenting, better website comments, better Christianity, better everything. That we cannot reach perfection is no reason to throw it all out.
    -Governments of course decide how best to govern themselves, which laws to enact, what penalties are applicable to various crimes, etc.
    -In a democracy, the people hopefully have a voice in all this, and a big chance to influence this one way or another.
    -In less democratic countries, that is of course more difficult to achieve.
    -The dilemma is what do more free and democratic nations do about this, if anything? If they invade or interfere in another country, lefties make a big stink. If they do nothing, lefties make a big stink. So the West loses either way in the eyes of the left.
    -Life is always sloppy and messy in a fallen world.
    -It is always easy taking pot-shots at others, especially when you hold up some unobtainable ideal which can never be realised in a fallen world.
    -The Bible did of course offer plenty of detail on all this to ancient Israel. But we are not ancient Israel. But as I have stated often, the DP preceded the Mosaic legislation, and has never been rescinded.
    -If my take on all this is not to your liking, no one is forcing you to come here of course.

  • I am so over the coverage of this too. Clear thinking is definitely in short supply in this area. Good article Bill.

  • Now, if we could just get a fraction of this activity and thought applied to supporting and praying for the real persecuted church – you know, those that are currently suffering yet persisting under strict ungodly regimes, those running for their very lives from jihad, those that are on the frontline reaching out into their families friends and communites not counting their lives unto death, and of course the unborn who are slaughtered in their hundreds and thousands just a short drive from where we live.

    What a change that would make.

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