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Good Morning Nanty Glo!

Monday, February 21 2005

Jon Kennedy, webmaster

Consistent life theology;
gun ownership and use

I've read, I think, hundreds of books over the past 10 years by Orthodox writers and about Orthodox history, theology, worship, lifestyle, and thinking/worldview. The current one, God With Us: Critical Issues in Christian Life and Faith by Fr. John Breck, may be creating the most disquiet in my intake of the material. The book about issues like abortion, cloning, stem cell research, rage, gun ownership and use, violence, alcohol as the drug of choice and other social conundrums, offers lots of good facts and opinions, in often-quotable phrasing, but at some points it seems to be straddling an ethical fence.

The most disquieting example of that is the author's repeated iteration of the church's historic position that abortion is to be treated as a subtype of murder, yet he stops short of weighing in on the kind of legislation he would approve to address most abortions. It seems clear he thinks late-term abortions (which he, I think correctly, equate with infanticide) should be illegal, but even though he defines all killings of fetuses, zygotes, and embryos as forms of murder, he stops short of saying a government that fails to act against these types of abortions is complicit in the murders.

And on the death penalty Fr. Breck seems to blaze a trail that deviates from both biblical and church history and tradition (he is, of course, in good company in this, as the Catholic Pope has been doing so also for some years). Though the Orthodox Church has never, to my knowledge, been a central player in the execution of wrong-doers to the same extent that representatives of the Catholic magisterium and some Protestant leaders have been, certainly in Orthodox countries the death penalty has been considered just and has been widely applied.

Though I (and, I think, most Christians) would agree with Fr. Breck that the death penalty is always up for review and should always be under intense scrutiny, to say that "a consistent pro-life" theology requires automatic opposition to the death penalty seems facile. The fact that first-degree murder is the most flagrant violation of the basic human right to life is what motivates most Americans to support the death penalty for that crime. That is consistent! And to discuss the issue without even raising how any other penalty can be considered "justice" falls short, in my humble opinion. Would that the author had at least referenced several of arguments on both sides of this issue found on this web page, or others like these.

And Fr. Breck's discussion of gun ownership and "rights" in the United States is also weak, cobbling together liberal shibboleths and straw men while avoiding the real heart of mainstream conservative thought on the issue. I am not, incidentally, either a gun owner nor an opponent of gun control, but on the other hand I do not consider it fair to dismiss the strongest arguments conservatives promote for keeping "the Constitutional right to bear arms" without addressing them. Fr. Breck never mentions the basic human instinct for self-preservation that probably motivates most gun owners. He passes the self-defense argument over by suggesting that police are better able to afford such protection than privately owned guns, an argument that isn't likely to help anyone whose house has already been broken into and is being reconnoitered by armed trespassers. (Though I don't own a gun, I wouldn't rule out the possibility of doing so if I had been the victim of such a break-in or lived in a remote, vulnerable location.) And on the more philosophical level, conservatives always appeal to the fact that in Stalin's Russia and Hitler's Reich, the first thing the totalitarian dictators did was confiscate all the privately owned guns. How can he dismiss this genuine concern? He seems to put much more confidence in liberal government than I and many other Americans do.

I'm not nearly through the book and may be pleasantly surprised that some of these questions are taken up later. I strongly doubt it, but if I'm proven wrong, I'll let you know and adjust my criticism to fit to whatever comes forth. Whether or not I redress either of these issues, I may find material for another Jonal in other topics Fr. Breck ably takes on.

Webmaster Jon Kennedy 

A complete index of Jon Kennedy's Jonals for 2001 - 2005

That time of year again

Did you ever notice: If you put the two words "THE" and "IRS" together it spells "THEIRS"?

Sent by Mike Harrison

Thought for today

All that changes in history is the name we give things.

Harry Truman   

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