PAGE TITLE: The Mail on Sunday
ARTICLE TITLE: killing no murder?
AUTHOR: Peter Hitchens
AUTHOR INFORMATION: Peter Jonathan Hitchens (born 28 October 1951) is an award-winning British columnist and author, noted for his traditionalist conservative stance. He has published five books, including The Abolition of Britain, A Brief History of Crime, The Broken Compass: How British Politics Lost its Way and most recently The Rage Against God. Hitchens writes for Britain's The Mail on Sunday newspaper. A former resident correspondent in Moscow and Washington, Hitchens continues to work as an occasional foreign reporter, and appears frequently in the British broadcast media. He is the younger brother of the writer Christopher Hitchens.
DATE: Monday 11 April 2011
Killing no murder?
I am here re-posting a couple of comments I placed on the 'General Debate' thread late on Saturday, on the assumption that quite a few people won't have read that far. The first deals (I think comprehensively) with the ill-informed objection to Christians supporting the death penalty, often raised by Atheists, on the grounds that the Commandment says 'Thou Shalt not Kill'.
This is annoying because the atheists themselves couldn't care less what scripture says, and are trying to catch Christians out - and because they so seldom seem to realise that the matter has many times been dealt with before, and is not as they think it is. This should now go into the index under 'Capital Punishment' or 'the Death penalty', and so should be easily found. Not that this will stop them.
At the bottom, I've appended a response I have made to 'Bert', after he responded to a criticism from me that his postings here are essentially frivolous, opposition for the sake of opposition. I still think this, despite Bert's protestations.
On the question of the Commandment 'Thou Shalt do no Murder', it is so rendered by Christ himself (Gospel according to St Matthew, Chapter 19, 18th verse, Authorised or 'King James' version).
This is why it is also so rendered in the service of The Lord's Supper in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.
Now, as this dispute is supposed to be about what Christians believe the Commandment to mean, and Christians believe that Christ is God himself, or they would not be Christians, this rather closes the debate. If God himself in his most recent appearance among us (as believed by Christians) says 'Thou shalt do no murder', then that is what the Commandment is, superseding and overriding any previous version, or clarifying it if you prefer.
Atheists can believe what they like. I cannot see why they should care one way or the other. But they really need to be better-informed before trying to tell Christians how to interpret their own scriptures, don't you think?
I might add that Christ himself was subject to the death penalty, and his sayings were recorded when sentence was passed on him and while it was being carried out, and He did not take the opportunities offered to condemn it in principle. I agree that arguments from silence are not always reliable. But in this case, the silence is pretty eloquent. He did say much on other subjects during this event. What is more, one of the two thieves stated from his cross that they were justly punished for their crimes, and Christ did not contradict him.
I might add that both the 39 Articles of the Church of England (Article 37), and the Roman Catholic Catechism, both conclude that the death penalty is justified in certain circumstances. Those who compile these documents do not do so without much study of scriptural texts, or without much thought.
Non-religious persons trying to make trouble will just have to accept that mainstream Christianity somehow manages to distinguish between lawless murder and lawful execution - even if Atheists appear to be unable to do so. Likewise it manages to observe that the destruction of a baby in the womb is the wrongful taking of life, which atheists also seem unable to perceive.
I am impressed that Mr Saunders is confident enough in himself and in our civilisation to say that the author of these words was an 'ignorant semi-savage'. I wonder how many of his words or deeds will be remembered by anyone 2,000 years hence, and what the people of that age will think of ours, especially the unpunished murders and the millions of massacred babies?
'Bert' contributes the following (I have interspersed my responses with his comment, marking them **): 'I have no personal hostility to you (more the converse, I’d say). I’ve never met you, and while I disagree with you about most things, I’ve no objection to you having your say in your newspaper and via this blog.'
**That is very generous of him. Not to object, I mean.
Bert: 'This is an internet forum where people are able to comment freely, using pseudonyms if they wish, whenever and on whatever they like. In my case, I sometimes choose to comment when I think that your posts do not match up to the high standards of rigour that you set for yourself and contributors. The unqualified assertion about crime at the start of this particular post seemed to me to be an egregious example of this. (And your post of 8 April at 10.44 am, while I agreed with it, was irrelevant to the point that I had raised.)'
**I don't think it was irrelevant at all. Why was it irrelevant?
Bert: 'Let me say that I could not do what you do: offer my view for public consumption, in a well-argued way, on a whole range of topics. If I did, I would quickly get shot to pieces. It is hugely to your credit that you often engage directly with posters. But you choose to colonise the high moral ground, and to adopt a sneering tone when it suits you with those who disagree with you. It’s your blog and that’s your prerogative. But you shouldn’t be surprised if, on occasion, some posters choose not to lie down before the weight of your prose.'
**No, I'm not. But I do get exasperated when this is done for reasons that appear to me to be unserious, namely a general oppositionism for the sake of it. This is just mischief, which wastes my time and energy, and does not conform to the high-minded purpose (of enforcing rigour) stated above.
Bert: 'You’re right: I’m not that bothered by the classification of crimes.'
**Exactly. This isn't something he cares about. So why get involved at all? I do care about it, a lot.
**Exactly. This isn't something he cares about. So why get involved at all? I do care about it, a lot.
'However, I am interested in the point of principle: if you can claim that crimes are being downgraded with little or no evidence, how should we treat some of your other claims – about the existence of dyslexia, or the “wickedness” of taking some drugs?'
**I like that 'little or no'. I have explained (irrelevantly?) the legal difficulties of stating in a public forum that a person has been convicted of manslaughter who ought to have been convicted of murder. I have stated that I have received (necessarily private, and I might add , deeply distressing in their details) letters from the relatives of victims of homicides , where the matter has been treated in this way. The writers of these letters have nothing to gain by untruth. No civil suit is affected, no claim for compensation contemplated. There is instead an unsatisfied thirst for justice and right. This I share.
Nor, it seems to me, is my analysis of the homicide figures unlikely to be true. On the contrary, it is highly likely given the nature of our criminal justice system and of our times.
This seems to me, under the circumstances, to be pretty compelling evidence. But 'Bert', dismisses it as 'little or no'. Well, it's certainly not 'no' evidence. But is it so 'little' that it can be dismissed as without worth? I would like him to tell my correspondents so, and see what he received in return. He dismisses it because he wishes to pick nits, on any possible occasion. I think a man who picks nits with the authenticity of the communications of the relatives of persons cruelly and unlawfully killed is more concerned with the nits than he is with the facts. In fact 'more concerned with the nits than with the facts' is a very good pithy summary of 'Bert' in general.
**As to this from 'Bert': How should we treat some of your other claims – about the existence of dyslexia, or the “wickedness” of taking some drugs?'
I reply **These are different sorts of statements, as 'Bert' really ought to understand. On ''Dyslexia' I am required to prove nothing. It does not exist, and its proponents cannot show that it does, (Indeed many of them simply do not understand the nature of proof, like the advocates of 'ADHD', who think that because they *think* that a thing that they have observed is 'x', then it must therefore *be* 'x'. (As in 'if you came and stayed in my house for a weekend, you'd know that 'ADHD' exists, once you'd seen my Timmy').
They will not accept the rather dispiriting conclusions for their activities which flow from the fact that 'Dyslexia' doesn't exist. As a minor industry has now sprung up around 'Dyslexia' (and quite a major one round 'ADHD'), and as it excuses decades of bad teaching and dud education theories (and in the case of 'ADHD' excuses even more bad teaching, and anti-boy discrimination, and bad but generally-accepted child-rearing practices), it is easy to see why there is so much resistance to this conclusion.
I simply challenge the proponents of the existence of 'Dyslexia' to provide an objective diagnosis for its presence in the human body. Or a 'treatment' for it, which wouldn't also 'treat 'illiteracy. I also provide a sound and rather neat alternative explanation for the mass illiteracy of children in countries with bad schools. It is curiously missing in countries with good schools, and also curiously missing in the pasts of countries which once had good schools, and now have bad ones. Can he guess what it is?
My view on self-stupefaction is based upon general Christian morality. Those who don't have a moral foundation for their views, and believe that 'do what thou wilt' is the highest law (and there are lots of them) will necessarily not agree with me about this, or many other things. Those who share my Christianity won't necessarily agree with me about my interpretation of it on this matter. So I cannot expect to construct a coalition for legislative change and proper enforcement of existing law on this view alone.
Generally, therefore, I argue from the practicality, that nobody can actively want significant numbers of young people to have their minds overthrown or their lives, and the lives of their families, otherwise ruined by the use of drugs. On that, we enter the realm of fact. And also the realm of obfuscation and misrepresentation which the pro-drug lobby ceaselessly use against me (see the latest ignorant (and/or false) suggestions that I have no proposals for the control of alcohol, and that this attitude is formed by my own vanishingly small consumption of alcohol).
These things are not the same as pointing out (after much study and thanks to direct, privileged personal communications from people involved) that claims that the abolition of the death penalty has had an insignificant effect on the murder figures are open to question from many directions.
I should note (since he asks) that I remain baffled by the contributions of Mr Aspinall, who seems to have taken a weird wrong turning at some point and cannot find his way back. I suggest he just stops. What is he on about? My reference to suspensions of the death penalty was quite clear. It referred to two specific occasions when it was suspended, and nothing that he has said has added to the understanding of the point I made. The fact that other people may have mentioned or discussed suspensions at other times has no bearing on this at all, unless those suspensions actually took place. They didn't.