Last night I was thinking about the death penalty: I am generally opposed to it in the United States of the 21st century but perhaps there are times and places where the state must have recourse to it.
Some people argue against the death penalty by appealing to Christian morality: we should forgive our enemies, turn the other cheek, and not harbor poisonous feelings of vengeance in our hearts. All well and good, but these values have nothing to do with whether or not the state should reserve to itself the power to execute criminals. I might forgive with all my heart the pirate who stole my cargo and still in good conscience leave it to the state to decide whether or not incarceration or hanging is more conducive to public order.
Imagine if the judge took it upon himself to forgive the pirate on my behalf and let him go free in the name of Christian charity. I’d suspect that the state had no interest in either my well being or in the public order. In fact, I’d suspect that the judge was colluding with the pirate and splitting up the booty on the sly, as judges have been known to do when they fear neither God nor man. In other words, I’d suspect that the argument from Christian charity was being made in bad faith.
Bad faith arguments like this generally skip the middle proposition. Take, for example, this summer’s discussion of the refugee crisis in Europe:
- A Christian should welcome strangers and be kind to people who need help.
- Therefore you must let a million Arabs walk right into your country no questions asked.
Somewhere around step two our interlocutor failed to point out that 1) not all the million Arabs are in fact refugees, most of them are just young guys out looking for an adventure 2) there might be other ways of helping the real refugees besides letting them squat in my backyard, and 3) we might have other prior commitments that preclude us from helping them, since we are simply not capable of righting every wrong in the world. Oh, and I almost forgot, 4) some of them are terrorists.
Nota bene that many of the people making the argument from the perspective of Christian charity are not Christians themselves, they just want Christians to get with the political program. And of course, most of the people in power who are making the argument will never themselves suffer the consequences of the decision.
These arguments are bad faith arguments, which is why we find them so annoying.
Maybe the welfare state is a good thing, maybe not. It is a question of prudence. But what is left out of the above meme? How about:
- Are my taxes only being spent on helping people?
- Do government programs really help the sick and poor as much as it is claimed or do they simply shift the burden from local networks to a bureaucracy?
- Are the proposed programs really the best way to achieve the goal in this time and place?
- Do these programs have secondary effects, like increasing the power of the government through dependency?
- Should the government also cast out demons and preach the gospel as Jesus commanded his followers to do?
Because the argument is basically: agree with me or you are a bad Christian, with no discussion of the real nature of the problem, we can qualify it as a bad faith argument.
Like every other meme produced by the group calling themselves “The Christian Left” this pretty clearly designed not to convince anyone of anything, just express hatred for other Christians. The “bad faith” is in the fact that they don’t want the wicked short-haired conservative to undergo a change of heart, just shut up and get with their program, whatever it is.
And so people on the left don’t think I am picking only on them:
The context of this line is the dedication of Solomon’s Temple. The “people” does not refer to the United States of America but to the people of the covenant. If the line is to be taken as having a modern reference at all, both “people” and “land” should refer to the Church, not a nation.