‘What Do You Expect? They Are Only Pagans!’

We are ALL morally accountable beings:

Sometimes believers (often of the left), will say some rather unhelpful things – especially when it comes to the Christian in society, the culture wars, and so on. For example, how often do you hear some Christians basically making excuses for the behaviour and actions of non-Christians by saying something like this?
-‘Well, he is not saved, so what do you expect?’”
-‘He is just doing what pagans do.’
-‘He does not have the Holy Spirit so we cannot expect him to do any good.’

I hear this quite often unfortunately. It is as if the non-believer can just get off Scot-free from the consequences of his actions. Now, there is SOME truth in all this. Theologically speaking, the law of God was given, among other things, to show us our sinfulness and show us how we cannot save ourselves.

So yes, in terms of salvation, the pagan is hopeless in trying to please God or get right with him. We are all guilty under the law, and we can only cast ourselves upon the grace and mercy of God. But here I am speaking about something different.

We can be too willing to excuse the sins of pagans. They might cheat on their taxes or cheat on their partner. Or worse, abuse their children or kill their spouse. But the truth is, God still holds them all accountable for their actions. And we should too.

Consider how this plays out in the real world. Suppose Joe Pagan is caught running red lights – over and over again. The cops pull him over, and issue him a ticket or two. If the driver was a pagan and the cops Christian, would it make any difference if the law-breaking driver simply said, ‘Well, what do you expect? I am not a Christian you know?’ Would the Christian cops say, ‘Oh right, sorry – off you go’?

Um, no. Of course they would proceed with writing tickets, or even arresting the repeat offender. And it would be the same in a court of law. If a bank robber told the judge, ‘Hey, I am not a Christian and do not have the Holy Spirit, so what do you expect?,’ would the judge nod his head in agreement and let him walk out of the court?

Um, no. again. We expect everyone to obey the laws of the land – whether they are Christian or not, whether they have the Spirit or not. And this for various reasons. We know that everyone is made in God’s image, and we know that we are all morally responsible for our actions. And one day God will judge every single one of us.

The big difference is whether the sinner turns to Christ for the forgiveness of sins, or rejects what Christ had done on their behalf. But we are all still responsible for what we do. Certainly in this life any worthwhile cop or judge will not let criminals and lawbreakers off the hook, based on whether or not they are born-again Christians.

Case in point: Lucy Letby

Most of us read recently about neonatal nurse Lucy Letby in the UK who was found guilty of killing 7 newborns. And now there are reports saying there might be many other just-born babies that she harmed or tried to kill. Says one report:

Police believe Lucy Letby, the nurse convicted of murdering seven babies, may have harmed dozens more infants at two hospitals in the north-west of England, the Guardian has been told. A source with knowledge of the police investigation said detectives had identified about 30 babies who suffered “suspicious” incidents at the Countess of Chester hospital where she worked. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2023/aug/20/lucy-letby-dozens-more-babies-police-believe-chester-liverpool

She is truly evil, and human courts of law held her accountable for what she did, just as will the heavenly court. We all have a moral nature and we all know deep down there is such a thing as right and wrong. That is the clear message that Paul gives us in Romans 1 and 2. We all have a conscience, and we are all God’s image-bearers, and even though sin has greatly tarnished our conscience, it is still there.

Of interest, one presumably non-Christian columnist, based on what he learned about the UK killer, penned an opinion piece with this title: “I’m against the death penalty, but Lucy Letby has shaken my stance.” In the article he said this:

“No confession, no remorse. Letby did not even front the courtroom for her sentencing. The judge made an order for the victim impact statements to be delivered to her cell, but there is no guarantee she will ever read them. So, remind me again, why should such an evil monster be allowed to live out the rest of her life, even in prison?” https://www.smh.com.au/world/europe/i-m-against-the-death-penalty-but-lucy-letby-has-shaken-my-stance-20230824-p5dz8x.html

Sure, we might make all sorts of excuses for her (perhaps she had a really rough upbringing, perhaps she was abused as a child, etc). But what she did was still wrong, and she must pay for her crimes. And on a related note, as I have written before, we are all capable of horrendous evil, given the right circumstances, and under certain conditions: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2010/06/04/falling-down-and-mass-murder/

Nations are guilty as well

And guess what? This is true not only of individuals but of nations as well. Even a superficial reading of the Old Testament for example will bear this out. God holds pagan nations just as guilty of sin and evil as he did ancient Israel. The prophets of God spoke not just to God’s people, but repeatedly spoke to the surrounding nations as well.

Here are the main prophetic words given to the nations: Isaiah 13-21; 23,24; 34; Jeremiah 46-51; Ezekiel 25-32; 35; 38,39; Joel 3; Amos 1,2; Zephaniah 2; and Zechariah 9. Sometimes entire books deal with a pagan nation, such as Jonah (which deals with Ninevah), Obadiah (which deals with Edom), and Nahum (which deals with Assyria).

And when you read what the prophets said, you will find that the same sort of language, the same sort of rebukes, the same sort of sins, and the same sorts of punishments are used of the nations as they are of Israel. Sin is sin, regardless of who commits it, and God holds everyone responsible for what they do.

Since I am now reading in Jeremiah again, we see so much of this found there. Consider all the nations dealt with by the prophet:
Jer. 46 Judgment on Egypt
Jer. 47 Judgment on the Philistines
Jer. 48 Judgment on Moab
Jer. 49 Judgment on Ammon, Edom, Damascus, Kedar and Hazor, and Elam
Jer. 50-51 Judgment on Babylon

If not being in relationship with God excuses a nation from being held accountable, then why all these words of judgment on these pagan nations? And consider how basically the same sins that God judged Israel for were what the pagan nations were judged for as well: pride, idolatry, injustice, bloodthirstiness, oppression, violence, and so on.

Moreover it was not just the prophets who made this clear. Way back in the book of Genesis we find God holding pagan leaders accountable for what they did. He held them to the same high standards. Consider the case of the pagan ruler Abimelech as found in Gen. 20 – he too was under the law of God. The first 7 verses say this:

From there Abraham journeyed toward the territory of the Negeb and lived between Kadesh and Shur; and he sojourned in Gerar. And Abraham said of Sarah his wife, “She is my sister.” And Abimelech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah. But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night and said to him, “Behold, you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is a man’s wife.” Now Abimelech had not approached her. So he said, “Lord, will you kill an innocent people? Did he not himself say to me, ‘She is my sister’? And she herself said, ‘He is my brother.’ In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I have done this.” Then God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know that you have done this in the integrity of your heart, and it was I who kept you from sinning against me. Therefore I did not let you touch her. Now then, return the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, so that he will pray for you, and you shall live. But if you do not return her, know that you shall surely die, you and all who are yours.”

Yes, Abraham was at fault here as well – he did not fully lie however, since Sarah was his half-sister (see verse 12)! But the point is clear: even this pagan king was under the judgment of God, and he too knew that some things were wrong and should be punished.

And going back to the prophets, consider what Daniel said to the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar. In Dan 4:27 we find this: “Therefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable to you: break off your sins by practicing righteousness, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the oppressed, that there may perhaps be a lengthening of your prosperity.”

So some of the squeamish (and often woke) believers of today who say we should never call out pagans, or pagan rulers, or pagan nations, for their many wrongs, immorality and evil, because they are not Christian, are greatly mistaken. Yes we should uphold God’s standards to one and all.

A good cop or judge will not allow a person’s religious status to determine whether or not he or she gets justice. Neither should we.

[1614 words]

8 Replies to “‘What Do You Expect? They Are Only Pagans!’”

  1. Bill,
    Firstly, my condolences for your loss and admiration for battling through.

    I think I rambled a bit here but I hope it comes across alright.

    I do not think that in the instance where the unrighteous behave or act according to their nature we should be at all surprised. We should be surprised when they behave or act contrary to what is expected.
    The behaviour of some where they bemoan the actions of pagans is somewhat bigoted as we are all have fallen short and one should not judge et cetera. It is almost as if we are attributing the behaviour of a wild tiger to a human. That is their nature we say. “who can stop the sun from shining”
    It is when the redeemed act (in a pattern of behaviour – rather than a single instance) like those who are unredeemed that we should be concerned.
    Do we stand against the action that caused the offence or the actors who committed the offence? Is it really our role to tell the unsaved to act like the saved?
    Christians have always been lumped in with the squares, the puritans, the fundamentalists, the wowsers. Each generation has its colloquialism for those who stand out as beacons of righteousness only to be eventually sullied by misguided “purists” (most of whom start out in the right direction but who fall foul of some tangential error and then find themselves on their own path).
    We definitely should not excuse the actions of the unrighteous actors in our society, thus removing the need for consequential repercussions, but our burden lies in that we are aliens in exile living in the Kingdom but physically apart from it. This puts us in constant conflict with the world we reside in. We are heralds of the Kingdom and not judges of the Earth.

  2. Thanks Peter, and thanks for the condolences.

    If I may, a few things can be said in reply. It actually is our job to be salt and light and to offer a moral standard in a fallen world. God does demand of all people righteousness, and he will punish unrighteousness. So in that sense, I may not expect pagans to ‘act’ like Christians, but I expect them to know (as Paul insists in Romans 1 and 2) that their conscience condemns them when they fail to live up to the law of God written on their hearts. This is where I think too many believers seek to make cheap excuses for sin – and sinners – instead of seeking to want to defend God and his holy requirements. We should love God and his law, and even happily hold it up to the pagan world, and not be ashamed of it.

    So I do not see a distinction between the two matters mentioned in your last sentence. To be a faithful witness, to share the gospel, to be a herald of the Kingdom, IS to also pronounce judgement, not only in terms of giving people the bad news first (that they are sinners heading to a lost eternity) before giving them the good news of a Saviour, but also in terms of the culture wars and the like (standing up for the unborn, resisting the war against marriage and family, and so on). These ARE in my books part of our gospel witness. So to stand against abortion for example, just as Wilberforce stood against the slave trade, is in my eyes just as much part of my calling to be a herald of the Kingdom as it is to evangelise or pray.

    And all of God’s holy prophets and apostles and so many Christian leaders – including Jesus himself – were smeared as Puritans or Holy Joes and so on. So what?! Pagans will always hate God and righteousness, and will always hate those who seek to represent a holy God in an unholy, sin-soaked world. I would far rather be accused of being a ‘Puritan’ (a foolish, pejorative slur word anyway) than let sinners slide straight into hell because I did not want to hurt their feelings, offend them, or appear to be a “wowser” and so on.

    Lastly, I did say in my piece that believers, aside from the grace of God, can also commit gross sins, so yes, we always need to stay humble and grateful for God’s mercy, and not become Pharisaical. But one can remain humble and saintly while ALSO calling out evil in society. I believe we dishonour God and fail as believers if we refuse to speak out against the evils of the day, be it because of fear, or men-pleasing, or whatever. We are to represent God in both his grace and his holiness to a needy and dying world. I do not feel the need to choose one while ignoring the other. That is an unbiblical false choice some want to force us to make. I will fully affirm both.

  3. The subheading for the Melanie Phillips article is “The NHS, feminism and the nursing profession also have blood on their hands” but the article itself is behind a paywall -https://melaniephillips.substack.com/p/the-serial-baby-killer-on-the-wards – how much truth there is in these accusations I don’t know.

  4. Sorry Bill, here is the full text:

    The serial baby-killer on the wards
    The NHS, feminism and the nursing profession also have blood on their hands
    24 AUG 2023

    The case of Lucy Letby, the neonatal nurse who murdered seven babies, tried to murder six others and probably attacked even more babies in her care at the Countess of Chester hospital between 2015 and 2016, is unbearably distressing. The descriptions of the pain she deliberately caused these tiny infants and the agony of the parents whom she robbed of their children are extremely hard to read.

    As she was jailed for life and sentenced to die in prison, bafflement over her motives was superseded by fury over the behaviour of the hospital managers who had dismissed doctors’ concerns linking her to a number of inexplicable baby deaths. Those managers were thus responsible for enabling Letby to continue to attack and murder babies in the hospital’s care. Worse still, they actually turned on the doctors attempting to blow the whistle, found them at fault for accusing Letby of murder and forced them to apologise to her.

    Grotesque and appalling as these events were in themselves, three broader and interrelated factors need to be considered: the National Health Service, the nursing profession and the role of feminism. All three, we must conclude, have become in combination positively lethal.

    As has been all too apparent for many years to those with eyes to see, the NHS is a chronically failed institution.

    At the Bristol Royal Infirmary in the late 1980s and early 1990s, babies died at high rates after cardiac surgery. An inquiry found staff shortages, a lack of leadership, “an old boys’ culture” among doctors, a lax approach to safety, secrecy about doctors’ performance and a lack of monitoring by management.

    At Furness hospital in Barrow between 2004 and 2013, a “lethal mix” of failings at almost every level led to the unnecessary deaths of one mother and 11 babies in the maternity unit.

    From 2005 to 2009 at Stafford hospital, between 400 and 1,200 patients died as a result of shocking neglect of patients including leaving them unwashed for a month, putting food and drink out of their reach and ignoring calls for help to use the toilet, with the result that they were left in soiled sheeting or sitting on commodes for hours.

    Between 2009 and 2020 at the East Kent Hospital Trust, dozens of babies and mothers died or were injured during childbirth because of repeated failings in maternity care. The trust reportedly allowed huge tensions within its maternity workforce to continue, got rid of managers who tried to address the problems and in some cases even blamed mothers for the death of their child.

    Between 2000 and 2019 at the Shrewsbury and Telford NHS Trust, hundreds of babies were left brain-damaged or dead as a result of an ideological obsession with natural childbirth which prevented necessary caesarians from taking place, as well as insufficient provision of safety training for staff.

    In Nottingham, yet another inquiry is currently under way into 1700 cases after dozens of babies died or were left with serious injuries in maternity units at the Queen’s Medical Centre and City Hospital.

    Despite all this evidence and more of gross institutional failings in the NHS, it remains a sacred cow. No political party is prepared to state the obvious fact that it’s simply not fit for purpose. Obviously, there are many NHS staff in every field doing an exemplary job in saving lives and caring properly for patients. But as an institution, it is deeply and irredeemably dysfunctional.

    A key reason for this is its enormous bureaucracy which recruits useless and incompetent managers whom it routinely fails to sack but often moves to other NHS posts or even promotes to higher positions. It has created a vast empire of managers who are in the business of perpetuating themselves and their perks and covering up the evidence when things go badly wrong. Safeguarding its reputation rather than its patients, it regularly treats whistle-blowers appallingly. Its byzantine management structure ensures an almost total absence of accountability. Its remedy for its own ills is to reach out to management consultants, rearrange the managerial deck-chairs and recruit yet more managers.

    However, another factor feeds into this institutionalised dysfunctionality. A number of those managers are nurses who have been promoted to senior positions.

    An important but under-reported feature of the Letby scandal was that some of the managers who dismissed the doctors’ concerns were either nursing managers or former nurses. Their indifferent, contemptuous or even vengeful treatment of the doctors trying to blow the whistle was almost certainly infused with the resentment of the medical profession felt by many nurses, who loathe male doctors for allegedly looking down on them as their professional and social inferiors — not least, these nurses believe, because most nurses are women.

    Over many years, I have charted the corruption of the nursing ethic by a pernicious, man-hating feminist ideology. In October 2007, I wrote in the Mail about a scandal involving three hospitals in Kent, where at least 90 patients had died from a superbug infection caused by filthy conditions with unwashed bedpans, staff “too busy” to clean their hands — and nurses telling patients with diarrhoea to “go in their beds”. The previous year, an internal memo had warned the government that virtually every NHS trust was reporting superbug infection.

    I wrote then that a principal cause was a collapse of the ethic of caring first promulgated by the inventor of modern nursing, Florence Nightingale. Of course, there are still many dedicated and caring nurses of whom Nightingale would be proud. But in general, her ethic has been all but destroyed.

    With her strongly Christian perspective, Nightingale held that nursing was a vocation and its duties were moral acts putting the care and dignity of the patient before anything else. Accordingly, lowly functions such as washing, dressing and administering bedpans — where dignity was most fragile — were the functions that nursing invested with the highest possible significance. If a nurse declined to do these kinds of things for her patient because she was so concerned about her own status, said Nightingale, nursing was not her calling.

    This ethic of care was destroyed in the 1980s and 1990s when nursing underwent a revolution. Under the influence of feminist thinking, its leaders decided that nurses were treated like skivvies by doctors, who were mostly men. In America and Australia as well as in Britain, feminist theorists taught that nurses were the victims of a patriarchal society. Administering bedpans and bed-baths to patients was viewed as an affront to the dignity of nurses. In the Bulletin of the History of Medicine in 2009, Kara Dixon Vuic wrote about a book on American nursing and “second-wave” feminism:

    In short, second-wave feminism provided the language, rationale, and strategy with which nursing could end its historic ties to feminine deference and subordination, even if all nurses did not identify as feminists…

    As more nurses pursued higher degrees and developed a nursing theory that defined nursing’s intellectual foundation and basis as an academic discipline, nurses wrested control of education from physicians. The American Nurses Association began advocating for a broader educational foundation, the addition of courses on women’s history and electives in nursing specialisations, and a thorough purging of all stereotypically feminine indoctrination.

    To achieve equality for women, nursing had to gain equal status with medicine. So nurse training was taken away from the hospitals and turned into an academic subject taught in universities. I wrote in the Mail:

    This directly contradicted an explicit warning given by Florence Nightingale herself, that her “sisters” should steer clear of the “jargon” about the “rights” of women, “which urges women to do all that men do, including the medical and other professions, merely because men do it, and without regard to whether this is the best that women can do”.

    That, however, was exactly what the nursing establishment proceeded to do. Since caring for patients was demeaning to women, it could no longer be the cardinal principle of nursing. Instead, the primary goal became to realise the potential of the nurse, to deliver equality with the male-dominated medical profession.

    In her book The Project 2000 Nurse, Ann Bradshaw, a specialist in palliative care, described how this agenda removed caring, kindness, compassion and dedication from nurse training. Student nurses now studied courses such as sociology, gender studies, politics, psychology, microbiology and management. They were assessed for their communication, management, problem-solving and analytical skills. “Specific clinical nursing skills were not mentioned,” she wrote. In short, nurses became too grand to care…

    And that’s why nurses become managers, and preen themselves as expert professionals in meetings and seminars and conferences and away-days while patients in their hospitals are left to die in their own filth.

    And that was one of the reasons why managers at the Countess of Chester hospital refused for so long to take action against Lucy Letby and turned instead on the male doctors vainly trying to warn them. Letby murdered those babies — but the NHS, the nursing profession and man-hating feminist ideologues also have blood on their hands.

  5. We should never confuse explanation of sin with excuse for sin. We can explain their sin using their status as unsaved BUT that should never excuse it. We should still condemn it as strongly as we would a Christian who did the same thing. Being abused as child might EXPLAIN a person’s abusive behavior but should never EXCUSE that behavior. Explanations can be helpful sometimes because maybe you’re dealing with something bigger than you thought. A abusive adult who was abused as a child might need extra help in coming to Christ. A gay person who was molested at a young age might find getting help for that will aide him on his journey to Christ. But we can’t just tell the pagan abuser since you’re not Christian we can’t judge you. Or the gay man we can’t condemn your lifestyle because you haven’t come to Christ yet. We can tell them they are wrong and work with them to sort everything out. EXPLANATION – ok, EXCUSE – not ok.

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