August 27, 2015
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Thursday, August 27, 2015. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Aurora shooter given 12 life sentences without parole as statement on insufficiency of prison for full justice
The line from the Mikado that we remember is this – let the punishment fit the crime, the punishment fit the crime. And yet in a fallen human world, how do we make that possible? Just imagine what was heard yesterday in a Denver courtroom when a judge sentenced James Holmes to 12 life sentences without the opportunity of parole and then sentenced him to an additional 3,318 years. James Holmes is found guilty on 165 criminal counts, guilty on all counts in an attack in a Denver movie theater that led to the deaths of 12 people and to the injury of far more. The jury in his case found him guilty on all counts, but was unable to come to an absolute consensus on the issue of the death penalty and thus, he will not receive the death penalty. The question was how long would his prison sentence be? Life without the possibility of parole would mean that he would stay in prison until the end of his life with no opportunity for parole or early release. But he didn’t receive the sentence of life without the opportunity of parole. He received a sentence of 12 life terms without the possibility of parole and then added to the 12 life terms was an additional 3318 years.
Let’s just state the obvious – there is no way for him to serve 12 life terms in prison because he has only one life and then why the additional 3318 years? Well, the reason for that is quite simple and the Christian worldview expresses it directly, and that is that God is made us in his image and a part of being in his image is having a moral consciousness that cries out for justice and a moral consciousness that cries out that the justice must indeed be applied to the degree that the crime requires. But it doesn’t take much moral imagination to recognize that there is something almost irrational about applying 12 life terms and then coming back and adding over 3,000 years of additional sentencing. The question is why? And the answer comes back to the Christian worldview, reminding us that we have an innate, almost insatiable desire to see justice accomplished. What would justice mean in this case? The jury was unable to come to unanimity on the issue of the death penalty. The death penalty would’ve been a very clear sentence, but the jury was unable to come to the required unanimous decision to apply the death penalty. So then the judge had to consider what would be the rightful penalty. Remember, he entered a Denver movie theater; he killed 12 people and injured many more. The question is what in the world would an appropriate jail or prison sentence be for a crime of that magnitude?Show Full Transcript
The very fact that yesterday, a judge sentenced him to 12 life terms without the opportunity of parole and then went on to add 3,300 plus years of sentence indicates the limitations of human justice. Here too the Christian worldview is very clear. Final justice will never be achieved in our lifetime or in our court system. Final justice is possible only on the day of the Lord, when the Lord Himself as judge, judges righteously and rightly, judges in terms of perfect righteousness and justice and applies the penalty that only God Himself can apply, having achieved perfect justice in accordance with his own personal perfection.
So then we get back to that question, why 12 life terms? Only one is possible. The 12, however, are now a matter of legal record and why? And the answer is so that this judge could make a statement about the seriousness of this crime and about the fact that one life term even without the opportunity of parole doesn’t actually come anything close to representing an adequate sentence for the crime of 12 premeditated murders and the intended murder of many others. And furthermore, the addition of over 3,300 years of additional sentencing is something of a poetic statement at the very end of the sentencing process, whereby the judge says even 12 lifetimes without parole simply doesn’t come close. Here’s an additional 3,300 years. Let’s just state the obvious, if we were to rewind history from the year 2015, we would be more than 1,000 years B.C. in terms of when this sentence would begin after 12 life terms. There is a sense in which this sentence thus has a very real effect. This man will spend the rest of his life in prison, but it also has a poetic effect pointing to an ultimate fulfillment only God can bring. A judge can sentence him to 12 life sentences without the opportunity of parole, but he cannot make him serve 12 life sentences. He can add on over 3,000 years of additional years, but not one moment will be added to this man’s life in terms of the actual sentence he serves. In the end, only God, the perfect judge can bring about perfect justice. But the biblical worldview reminds us not only that he can, but most profoundly that he will.
Debate over life without parole, death penalty reflects devaluing of human life
Next, even as that decision was handed down yesterday in a Denver courtroom there is an ongoing controversy in this country that reveals the deep confusion that now is evident in a secular society, our increasingly secularizing society, over questions of justice. And in particular, now focused on the very sentence the judge handed down in Denver, life without the opportunity of parole. Here’s what we’ve seen in recent years, there is the argument that the death penalty needs to give way to a life sentence without the opportunity of parole. It has been argued for a couple of decades now that if juries are confronted with the opportunity of life without parole versus the death sentence, they will opt for that life without the possibility of parole, thus avoiding the death sentence. It has also been argued that life without parole is a far more humane sentence than is the death penalty itself. Now as we have noted over and over again, the decline of the death penalty is evidence of the fact that this society is losing a bit of moral conviction when it comes to the importance of murder as a crime. And what we been noting is that there are those who been arguing that the death penalty needs to go and that the replacement sentence should be what James Holmes received rather than the death sentence, life without the opportunity of parole.
But in this current issue of the Christian century, there is the article by Steve Thorngate in which he argues that life without the possibility of parole is just a disguised form of the death sentence. Just about a month ago in Nebraska the legislature abolished the death penalty and in place of the death penalty did exactly what so many have been arguing. They replace the death penalty with life without parole. But then Thorngate writes,
“It’s a familiar theme: executions are barbaric; Life without parole is the humane alternative. For 40 years, this idea has dominated the rhetoric and policy making of death-penalty opponents in the United States.”
He also notes very interestingly, that just a matter of months ago, Pope Francis suggested that life without parole was in itself immoral. Even as he had argued the death penalty was immoral. That raises the question – if the death penalty is immoral and if life without parole is immoral, then what is the possible judicial sentence for someone who has committed these horrifying crimes? The confusion over that question reveals an even deeper confusion at the worldview level. And it reveals a very deep confusion about the meaning of human life and thus about the moral significance of murder. Steve Thorngate’s article is very interesting. He says that at least some inmates on death row, as he says,
“Are far from unanimous in their enthusiasm for the life without parole alternative.”
“A 1991 survey in Tennessee found that half of that state’s death-row inmates viewed life without parole as a harsher sentence. In 2012, surveys were sent to 200 prisoners on California’s death row to gauge their opinions on a ballot initiative that would have replaced the death penalty with life without parole. Fifty responded—only three of them in favor.”
Now one of the reasons Thorngate argues this is true, is because those on death row have some enhanced legal protections over those are given a sentence of life without the possibility of parole. Thorngate also notes that not only Pope Francis, but also several American churches, most of them in mainline Protestantism have called for the abolition of the death penalty and in place they have called for life without parole. Thorngate now writes and his article now represents the fact that there are those who are saying, well, not only is the death penalty wrong, but life without parole is wrong.
The European Court of Human Rights has asserted that life without parole is itself a violation of human rights. Thorngate actually argues that it might be pragmatically necessary to argue first for life without parole to replace the death penalty, but he goes on to argue that that can’t be a satisfying place to end. There eventually has to be the abolition of life without parole, as well as the death penalty. But from a Christian worldview, the most important section of his article comes where he cites a statement made in 2013 from a group known as the campaign to end the death penalty. They said,
“The death penalty fails to recognize that guilty people have the potential to change, denying them the opportunity to ever rejoin society.”
But that sentence shows why the same logic is now being extended to life without parole because that sentence quite obviously also,
“Denies them the opportunity to ever rejoin society.”
But evidence sustains the fact that the majority of Americans, the vast majority would say that is precisely the point. They should never be allowed to rejoin society. You’ll remember that back in 2011, the year before James Holmes committed his crime in Denver, Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 people in Norway and for that crime of killing 77 people, he was sentenced to just over 20 years in prison. So just what is human life worth? We answer that question in more than one way. One of the ways every society answers that question is in terms of the justice which is the response to the act of intentional murder. There may be those who respond that 12 life sentences without parole and an additional 3,300 years is irrational when it comes to James Holmes, but I would respond that is more irrational for someone to have killed 77 people in Norway and then to have been sentenced to just over 20 years in prison.
On this issue, we also need to remind ourselves of a profoundly important theological point that has everything to do with the gospel of Christ. We believe according to the Christian biblical worldview that there is no sin and there is no sinner who is beyond the redemptive power of God when it comes to responding to the gospel and repenting of sin. That is profoundly important and we believe that because the Bible teaches it. But at the same time, there’s a distinction between saying that no one is beyond redemption when it comes to the work of Christ and affirming on the other hand, that there are people who are beyond rehabilitation when it comes to human society. A society that begins to continually step back the judicial penalty for murder is a society that is progressively diminishing the value of human life. While it is true that in this life we cannot achieve perfect justice, we do have the responsibility to do the very best that we can.
New York Times editorial board opposes Ohio Down Syndrome abortion ban on basis of sanctity of choice
On Monday’s edition of The Briefing we talked about a front-page article in Sunday’s edition of the New York Times having to do with the state of Ohio considering a ban on abortion when the sole cause of that abortion is the fact that the fetus has been diagnosed as having a likelihood of down syndrome. As we looked at that article, we were reminded of the horrifying fact that right now the vast majority of babies in the womb diagnosed with a likelihood of down syndrome are aborted, simply because they are believed to be not acceptable, not achieving an acceptable level of health and intelligence to be welcomed into the human family. We also noted as reporter Tamar Lewin said that one of the reasons why abortion-rights supporters are so opposed to the law in Ohio is as she writes,
“They also say that by focusing on the diagnosis of a fetal condition, it edges toward recognizing the fetus as a person, setting up a conflict between the mother’s interests and those of the fetus.”
Well that is exactly the point and that article pointed to the fact that there are those who are so adamant to support abortion rights that they will not, cannot, must not admit that the fetus is a morally significant individual at all, a morally significant issue at all, even a morally significant existence at all. But that was a news article in Sunday’s edition of the New York Times and then on Tuesday of this week, there came an editorial, an official opinion statement from the editorial board of the New York Times. The headline of the editorial,
“Abortion and Down Syndrome.”
The editors of the New York Times, speaking for their paper said,
“It is tempting to dismiss the latest anti-choice salvo from Ohio lawmakers, which would criminalize abortions based on a fetal diagnosis of Down syndrome, as a blatantly unconstitutional ploy that would never be enforced.”
They went on to say,
“That would be a mistake. The bill stands a disturbingly good chance of approval.”
And then they say,
“The latest bill would go even further, purporting to tell a woman that her personal, private reason for ending her pregnancy is not good enough.”
Honestly, there’s not much that shocks me on the abortion front coming from the mainstream media, but I have to admit this comes close to shocking me. There you have the editorial board of the New York Times and let me use their words again, complaining about a law that purports,
“To tell a woman and her personal private reason for ending her pregnancy is not good enough.”
So the obvious implication by reading that sentence is that the editorial board of the New York Times believes that there is no reason not good enough to end an abortion. Now even as that in terms of its shocking reality is coming from the editorial board of the New York Times, the Supreme Court of the United States in the Roe V. Wade decision in 1973 basically said the same thing, but especially in the first trimester of a pregnancy a woman’s right to an abortion is absolute, regardless of the reason even if there’s no reason at all. We will one day give an answer as a society for the carnage of abortion in general and for the abortion of Down syndrome babies, in particular. But shame upon us if we’re not morally shocked by an editorial statement coming from the most influential newspaper in the United States and perhaps in the world complaining about a law that would purport
“To tell a woman that her personal private reason for ending a pregnancy is not good enough.”
In other words, explicitly, there is no reason not good enough.
Clash between law and Indian sect suicide fast exposes clash between worldviews
Finally, as we remind ourselves over and over again of how much theology matters, consider another article that appeared in the New York Times. This one by reporters Ellen Barry and Mansi Choksi from Pune, India. The headline is this,
“An end-of-life fast clashes with Indian law.”
The reporters tell of a 92-year-old man Manikchand Lodha and they describe him in his house as being on a bed in a corner of a large sitting room surrounded by a crowd of reverent visitor.
“It was the culmination of an act of santhara, a voluntary, systematic starvation ritual undertaken every year by several hundred members of the austere, ancient Jain religion.”
The reporters go on to say,
“Mr. Lodha had begun the process some three years earlier”
He eventually gave up all food and water in a ritual case of religious suicide. As the authors explain,
“According to Jain doctrine, the ordeal, which generally must be approved by a guru and the individual’s family members, burns up the film of karma that clogs the soul, allowing the spirit to break free from the cycle of rebirth and death.”
Given their theological understanding of reincarnation and the entrapment of the soul in a series of successive bodies, it is this act of religious suicide whereby the individual has the hope of escaping the body and setting the spirit fully free. But the reason this article made the pages of the New York Times is because this ritual religious suicide is now considered by legal authorities in India to be against the law. But those who support the practice of this ritual suicide are claiming that the law, not the suicide is the problem. Because they claim to have the right to practice this ritual even as the law says they do not, and they blame the law because they say that India’s Penal Code goes back to British colonial administration and to the legacy of British imperialism. They’re claiming that this law is the problem not the ritual suicide.
The collision of worldviews is made very clear by Pratap Bhanu Mehta, a policy analyst is also a Jain who told the Indian newspaper, the Indian Express,
“Here, the narrowness of English and incommensurable ideas of death run into a head-on collision.”
We also have we need to note, a head-on collision here between the Christian biblical worldview and the worldview of the religion known as Jain. As the reporters write,
“Acts of renunciation are central to many of India’s religions, but no group practices it as radically as the Jains, who number around six million. Jains are prominent in Indian business circles — they dominate the diamond industry — but they also occasionally choose to cast it all aside to live as barefoot, wandering monks, renouncing family and business and relying on charity for food. Jain monks are forbidden to touch money, and they are expected to pull their hair out by its roots as a form of penance.”
But the reporters go on to the ritual suicide saying,
“No practice is more demanding than santhara, which was first mentioned in texts written more than 1,500 years ago.”
Now I’ll remind us again that the reason for this suicide is according to their theological and worldview understanding made necessary by the hope of the spirit escaping the body and thus ending the continuing cycle of reincarnation. So again we see just how much theology matters. It is always a matter of life and death when it comes down to the final analysis and to an eternal perspective. But it is not only eternity that’s hanging in the balance; it’s also how one understands the meaning of human identity and the meaning of human life. In one of the central theological collisions here is between the Christian understanding that God made us for his glory, not only in his image, but as embodied creatures and the fact that there are so many religions, especially those centered in India and the rest of Asia this suggests that the spirit is trapped in the body from which it is seeking to escape.
We also need to note that this worldview collision is not new. When William Carey at the end of the 18th century became the father of the modern missionary movement, he went to India you will recall, and there he was confronted by infanticide, the burning of widows after the death of their husbands and assisted suicide. Christian History magazine published by Christianity Today a few years ago ran an article about what William Carey found when he got to India in terms of the ritual killing of infants and of wives, in particular the practice of Sati, which was the ritual burning of a window after the death of her husband. That was in accordance with the Hindu belief that only by being burned alive could a widow reach eternal blessedness and make a similar kind of spiritual escape.
William Carey, who witnessed these things beginning in about the year 1799 and into the early years of the 19th century, he noticed that these horrifying events were being witnessed by the British who were doing nothing about it. William Carey as a Christian missionary, specifically as a Christian missionary, argued for the inherent human dignity of these babies and these widows as they were being offered up for the killing. He also opposed both infanticide and the ritual exposing of the sick, as they were near death to the elements in order to hasten their death. When William Carey got to India lepers were being routinely drowned. Eventually there was a moral awakening and there were many people involved in bringing an end, at least legally speaking to these moral horrors. But it’s important for us to recognize the William Carey understood this to be a direct collision of theologies, of worldviews, of the gospel of Jesus Christ over against the religious beliefs that led to infanticide, the drowning of lepers and the burning of widows.
William Carey understood that not only the gospel was at stake, but the very understanding of what it means to be human, whether an infant or a leper or a widow. It’s important for us to recognize this was understood by the man who was the forefront of the birth of the modern missionary movement none other than William Carey. It’s also important and humbling for us to recognize that this story in the New York Times tells us it’s not over. And once again, a profound inescapable truth is underlined – theology matters, it always matters.