Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The 5th Commandment, part 2: The Death Penalty

Continuing to share the series that I am in process of writing and which appear in our parish bulletins each week. Heading bravely into unpopular ground, we take a deeper look at the 5th commandment.
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Living our faith in the real world
The Fifth Commandment: You shall not kill.1
Part 2 — The Death Penalty
 Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.
Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkein
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Do I indeed derive any pleasure from the death of the wicked? says the Lord God. Do I not rather rejoice when he turns from his evil way that he may live?
Ez 18:23
— • —
It is only natural is to want to remove a murderer from society where they will never harm another person and also to exact punishment. Executing a murderer is an obvious and simple solution. Equally natural is the desire to ignore the Catholic Church’s teaching that, whenever possible, a murderer must be imprisoned rather than killed. On the surface, this does not seem either practical or sympathetic to the victim’s family and friends. As with so many instances, however, this desire tends to be largely emotional. We must look past our emotions to understand the Church’s teachings about the seamless garment of life.

Clearly, the first concern of society is for the common good of its members. Punishing any wrongdoer is necessary both to repair the wrong and to teach the offender to change their ways. The Catechism puts it thus: The primary scope of the penalty is to redress the disorder caused by the offense. When his punishment is voluntarily accepted by the offender, it takes on the value of expiation. Moreover, punishment, in addition to preserving public order and the safety of persons, has a medicinal scope: as far as possible it should contribute to the correction of the offender.

Note that, while there is a primary goal of righting wrongs, there is always a similar concern for the well being of the offender. Atonement offers not only good to the victim, but also acts as medicine for the offender’s soul.

Obviously it is impossible for a murderer to repair the wrong they have committed. This places a severe strain on the victim’s loved ones for recovery and to extend forgiveness. However, this is the call that Jesus places upon us in the Our Father, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”2 From the Cross itself Jesus gave us the example by forgiving His own murderers, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”3 It is natural to not want to forgive anything so heinous. However, Christ calls us to go beyond what we want and instead do what He commands. It is good not only for the criminal we forgive, but for our own souls as well.

The Church leaves it to individual societies to determine how extreme the punishment must be because some have no other way to protect the general population than the death penalty. Our society has the means to incarcerate a murderer and safeguard the community. Therefore, it is always preferable to give the criminal the opportunity for conversion and the salvation of their soul. To do otherwise is to deny the sacredness of life as well as denying Jesus’ direct command, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”4 Which of us, having committed a terrible crime, would not want the opportunity to repent and cry out to Jesus, as did the penitent thief who hung beside him on Calvary?5 This is the same opportunity we are called upon, in turn, to give criminals in rejecting the death penalty in our society.


— • —
Little by little I was led to change my ideas. I was no longer certain that God did not exist. I began to be open to Him, though I did not yet have faith. I tried to believe with my reason, without praying, or praying ever so little! And then, at the end of my first year in prison, a powerful wave of emotion swept over me, causing deep and brutal suffering. Within the space of a few hours, I came into possession of faith, with absolute certainty. I believed, and could no longer understand how I had ever not believed. Grace had come to me. A great joy flooded my soul and above all a deep peace. In a few instants everything had become clear. It was a very strong, sensible joy that I felt. I tend now to try, perhaps excessively, to recapture it; actually, the essential thing is not emotion, but faith.
Light over the Scaffold and Cell 18: The Prison Letters of Jacques Fesch
Jacques Fesch was a young murderer whose conversion on death row
 was so dramatic that the cause for his beatification was opened in 1993.
— • —
Footnotes
1-Ex 20:13; Cf. Deut 5:17. 
2-Matt. 6:12
3-Luke 23:34
4-Matt. 22:39
5-Luke 23:39-43

Sources
Catechism of the Catholic Church • Evangelium Vitae (1995 encyclical) by Pope John Paul II • Catholic Christianity by Peter Kreeft

21 comments:

  1. Well said!

    However, the death penalty should be applied, and cruelly so, to whomever invented television reality shows and to my wireless sort-of provider.

    ReplyDelete
  2. The Catechism has huge problems on this topic.

    My take: Early Draft

    The Death Penalty & the Catechism
    Dudley Sharp, contact info below

    Review of: 2258-2267, ARTICLE 5, THE FIFTH COMMANDMENT of the "Catechism of the Catholic Church": PART THREE: LIFE IN CHRIST, SECTION TWO: THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, CHAPTER TWO: "YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF", The Roman Catholic Church, http://www.vatican.va/archive/catechism/p3s2c2a5.htm

    ---------------------

    The biblical foundation for the death penalty is found in Genesis and is based, specifically, upon "shedding blood":

    "If anyone sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed."(1) Shall. This passage is part of the Noahic Covenant, which is, biblically and theologically, for all peoples and for all time.

    The Catechism recognizes this in 2260 "This teaching remains necessary for all time.".

    2265: "Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for someone responsible for another's life. Preserving the common good requires rendering the unjust aggressor unable to inflict harm."

    Again: "the common good" "requires" that an unjust aggressor be rendered "unable to inflict harm".

    Such a requirement is only met with execution. Only dead murderers are "unable to inflict harm" - a rational truism.

    The definitions of "require" and "unable" are clear in meaning and in context.

    2266: "The State's effort to contain the spread of behaviors injurious to human rights and the fundamental rules of civil coexistence corresponds to the requirement of watching over the common good."

    The "common good" "requires" an unjust aggressor be rendered "unable to inflict harm."

    2266: "Legitimate public authority has the right and duty to inflict penalties commensurate with the gravity of the crime."

    Biblically, theologically and traditionally, the death penalty is a proportionate sanction for murder. There are numerous passages within the New and Old Testaments where the imposition of the death penalty, in the Words of God, Jesus, or in the context of the Holy Spirit, appear to be mandatory, proportional and appropriate. (Reference 2, below)

    Such passages speak of man's imposition of the death penalty on murderers, in terms of God's mandate, wherein "shall: is the most common context. The meanings of such words appear to be clear.

    NOTES

    2266: "the primary scope of the penalty is to redress the disorder caused by the offense. When his punishment is voluntarily accepted by the offender, it takes on the value of expiation."

    The first sentence refers to justice. The second, to expiation. Expiation, a gift from God, must be seized by the guilty party. It is arguable, as per Aquinas and Augustine, that the death penalty is better apt to provide that correction and is, therefore, more in tune with the eternal aspects of the wrongdoers salvation. (see paragraphs/references 3 and 4 within Reference 2 and also 5, below)

    ReplyDelete
  3. Additional NOTES

    2267: "The traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude, presupposing full ascertainment of the identity and responsibility of the offender, recourse to the death penalty, when this is the only practicable way to defend the lives of human beings effectively against the aggressor."

    That passage could hardly be more misleading. The traditional teachings of the Church neither exclude recourse to the death penalty nor so restrict it as to make it useless, as this newest Catechism wishes. Much more often, biblical instruction and tradition insist on the death penalty being imposed, describes those many sins/crimes for which it "shall" be imposed and, otherwise, reviews the legitimacy of the death penalty (see paragraphs/references 1-4, 7, 9, 11, 13, 15, 16, within Reference 2 and see also 5, below).

    There is an obvious conflict between:

    (a) the ill conceived "the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude . . . recourse to the death penalty, when this is the only practicable way to defend the lives of human beings effectively against the aggressor." and

    (b) the "common good" "requires" an unjust aggressor be rendered "unable to inflict harm", which is in concert with "If anyone sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed." "This teaching remains necessary for all time.", both of which contradict (a).

    The contention that the new limitation in (a) above is a product of evolving doctrine is in error. It is, instead, a doctrinal disaster which conflicts with well known teachings. (review all of Reference 2, starting with 1-4, therein and see also 5, below).

    The verbal, moral, rational and biblical strength of a required protection overwhelms the limitations wrongly put forth in the Catechism, which eviscerates that protection.

    Such obvious conflicts shouldn't exist within the Catechism and show how poorly considered and constructed this subject was.

    2267: "If, instead, bloodless means are sufficient to defend against the aggressor and to protect the safety of persons, public authority should limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person."

    Consider this newest recommendation: "If bloodless means are sufficient" in this eternal context: "If anyone sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed." (1) "This teaching remains necessary for all time." (2260)

    Then this: The "more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity with the dignity of the human person." are a humanist base, not a biblical one.

    Can the death penalty, per se, conflict with "the common good and with the dignity of the human person.", when the sanction is God invoked? No.

    NOTES

    Even within humanism, execution is more in keeping with the common good and more supportive of human dignity.

    NOTES

    2267 "Today, in fact, given the means at the State's disposal to effectively repress crime by rendering inoffensive the one who has committed it, without depriving him definitively of the possibility of redeeming himself, cases of absolute necessity for suppression of the offender 'today ... are very rare, if not practically non-existent.'[John Paul II, Evangelium vitae 56)

    The restriction of the Catechism, that the death penalty should only be used "if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor." is barely a footnote in the overall biblical, theological and traditional death penalty teachings of the Church (Reference 2 and 5 below).

    NOTES

    This is such a poorly considered prudential judgement as to negate its "prudential" moniker.

    ReplyDelete
  4. All villages, towns, cities, states, territories and countries have widely varying degrees of police protections and prison security. Murderers escape, murder in prison and are given such leeway as to murder and/or harm, again, because of "mercy" to the murderer, leniency and irresponsibility to murderers, who are released or otherwise given the opportunity to cause catastrophic losses to the innocent when such innocents are harmed and murdered by unjust aggressors. (4) Incarcerated prisoners plan murders, escapes and all types of criminal activity, using proxies or cell phones in directing free world criminal activities. All of this is well known by all, with the apparent exception of the authors of the Catechism. (4)

    Some countries are so idiotic, reckless and callous as to allow terrorists to sign pledges that they will not harm again and then they are released, bound only by their word, a worthless pledge resulting in more innocent blood. (4).

    The Catechism, as does EV, avoids the many "possibilities', whereby the unjust aggressor has too many opportunities to harm again. Do the authors of the Catechism have no grasp of reality? (4)

    The only known method of rendering a criminal "unable to inflict harm" is execution. "Unable to inflict harm" has the same meaning as "impossible to do harm".

    Has a prudential judgement ever been placed in a Catechism, before? If not, the current one would seem to make the reasons clear and would denounce any possible repeat of that error.

    NOTES

    Inexcusably absent from consideration, within the Catechism, is any specific discussion of harm to "innocent" murder victims and potential murder victims and the effects on their earthly and eternal lives when we give known murderers the opportunity, too often realized, to harm and murder, again. These are not just "possibilities". Executed murderers cannot harm, again.

    Why has the Church chosen to depend upon widely varying and error prone incarceration systems, when the reality is that so many innocents are caused further suffering by known unjust aggressors, because of the failings in those systems?

    It appears the Catechism's (& EV) authors never considered reality. (3&4)

    Here are the known realities of all unjust aggressors: murderers and other violent offenders. They can morally/criminally/spiritually (a) stay the same, a bad result for them and others; (b) become worse, a more severe, negative outcome which puts the unjust aggressor and all others even more at risk or (c) improve, which can mean everything in a spectrum from still quite bad to sainthood.

    The only way to, humanly, make a criminal "unable to inflict harm" is to execute them. Rationally, factually, there is no other way.

    There are at least four Church recognized foundations for criminal sanction; 1) defense of society against the criminal; 2) rehabilitation of the criminal; 3) retribution or the reparation of the disorder caused by the transgression and 4) deterrence.

    There is a 5th, biblical instruction, which must guide the 4 others. It isn't mentioned, because it is a constant.

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  5. The traditional teachings of the Church find that, with murderers, all of those foundations are better met with the death penalty than by lesser sanctions, just as reason concludes.

    The Catechism provides little time for justice, which must dominate the utilitarian aspect of protection.

    NOTES

    "While punishment does serve the purpose of protecting society, it also and primarily serves the function of manifesting the transcendent, divine order of justice--an order which the state executes by divine delegation." " . . . it may be argued that such a conception of punishment, rooted in the restoration of moral balance, always presupposes an awareness of the superordinate dignity of the common good as defined by transcendent moral truths." (5)

    "Yet the presence of two purposes--retributive and medicinal justice--ought not obscure the priority of assigning punishment proportionate to the crime (just retribution) insofar as the limited jurisdiction of human justice allows. The end is not punishment, but rather the manifestation of a divine norm of retributive justice, which entails proportionate equality vis-à-vis the crime." "The medicinal goal is not tantamount merely to stopping future evildoing, but rather entails manifesting the truth of the divine order of justice both to the criminal and to society at large. This means that mere stopping of further disorder is insufficient to constitute the full medicinal character of justice, which purpose alike and primarily entails the manifestation of the truth. Thus this foundational sense of the medicinality of penalty is retained even when others drop away." (6)


    NOTES: Use more and better analysis.

    Justice is the soul of sanction. All other results - protection, safety, rehabilitation and deterrence - although beneficial and desired, are a result of sanction, not the reasons for it.

    REwrite NOTES

    "The Roman Catechism of the Council of Trent" (1566)
    "The just use of this power (execution), far from involving the crime of murder, is an act of paramount obedience to this Commandment which prohibits murder. The end of the Commandment is the preservation and security of human life. Now the punishments inflicted by the civil authority, which is the legitimate avenger of crime, naturally tend to this end, since they give security to life by repressing outrage and violence. Hence these words of David: In the morning I put to death all the wicked of the land, that I might cut off all the workers of iniquity from the city of the Lord."

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  6. "PARAMOUNT OBEDIENCE" to God vs the newer Catechisms references to man's accomplishments with the criminal justice system.

    There is this additional problem:

    2267: "without definitively taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself".

    The Church is, hereby, stating that the death penalty is "taking away from him (the executed party) the possibility of redeeming himself".

    The Catechism is stating that the God invoked sanction of death takes away the possibility of redemption. Think about that. There is nothing to defend such a claim, in such a context.

    All of our sins have us die "early". Is there a case, whereby God has erased the possibility of our redemption, solely because of our earthly and "early" deaths? Such an interpretation is, in context, flatly, against God's message and cannot stand.

    The universal blessing that God gives us is that we all have the same opportunity of redeeming ourselves "before we die". The death penalty does not take that away anymore than does a car wreck, cancer, old age or any other "early" death, meaning all deaths, because of our sins. We all die "early" because of our sins.

    It is as if the Church had, completely, forgotten the meaning of St. Dismas' death, his words exchanged with Jesus and the promise to come. (7)

    The Catechism, wrongly, finds that all "early" deaths, meaning all deaths, negate the possibility of our redemption. Such is an astonishing claim, if not worse.

    In God's perfection, we suffer an "early" death, because of our sins. The Catechism wrongly tells us that our "early" deaths takes away the possibility of our redemption. It can't and does not. God gives all of us the opportunity to redeem ourselves, in His grace, before our earthly and early deaths, no matter what they may be. The Catechism cannot rewrite that, even though it is trying to.

    Furthermore, a unique benefit of the death penalty is that the offender knows the day of their death and therefore has a huge advantage over the rest of us and, most certainly over the innocent murder victim.

    ". . . a secondary measure of the love of God may be said to appear. For capital punishment provides the murderer with incentive to repentance which the ordinary man does not have, that is a definite date on which he is to meet his God. It is as if God thus providentially granted him a special inducement to repentance out of consideration of the enormity of his crime . . . the law grants to the condemned an opportunity which he did not grant to his victim, the opportunity to prepare to meet his God. Even divine justice here may be said to be tempered with mercy." Carey agrees with Saints Augustine and Aquinas, that executions represent mercy to the wrongdoer: (p. 116). Quaker biblical scholar Dr. Gervas A. Carey. A Professor of Bible and past President of George Fox College, Essays on the Death Penalty, T. Robert Ingram, ed., St. Thomas Press, Houston, 1963, 1992

    St. Thomas Aquinas: "The fact that the evil, as long as they live, can be corrected from their errors does not prohibit the fact that they may be justly executed, for the danger which threatens from their way of life is greater and more certain than the good which may be expected from their improvement. They also have at that critical point of death the opportunity to be converted to God through repentance. And if they are so stubborn that even at the point of death their heart does not draw back from evil, it is possible to make a highly probable judgement that they would never come away from evil to the right use of their powers." Summa Contra Gentiles, Book III, 146.

    FOOTNOTES

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  7. Dudley, although I appreciate your efforts, surely your own blog is a more appropriate place for an extended commentary like this ... which, indeed, is so extended that I would be surprised if people actually read all of it.

    Your take on the Catechism, as far as I can tell, is actually not informed by the 2000+ years' worth of sources that went into the formulation of what is necessarily a somewhat succinct commentary, as it is meant for the average person to read and absorb.

    If you truly wish to debate this issue, I am not the person to do so and this is not the venue. However, I am sure that you can find someone worthy of your steel in someone like Catholic apologist Jimmy Akin online or possibly a priest at a nearby Catholic Church.

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  8. I have been re-examining my own position on the death penalty.

    At one time, I felt that it should be applied frequently and liberally. And, I am sorry to say that is truly how I felt.

    Recently, I have considered how very important it is to give an individual the opportunity to repent. Perhaps the individual in question will not have the opportunity to do penance.

    Does that mean horrific murderers such as Gacy and the BTK serial killer should have had a lengthier time for repentance? Or, even if they are capable of repentance?

    I don't know. At this point,on this subject, my thoughts tend to get stuck and I don't have a clear answer.

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  9. newguy, I think that is part of the point. For me it is anyway. I am not smart enough to know so I'd rather leave it to God and the individual and give each all the time necessary.

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  10. I greatly appreciate Dudley's response.
    Tom

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  11. Well, Tom, all I can say is that I hope that you and Dudley are not Catholic. Otherwise you've got tons of homework to do in order to properly inform yourself on this topic and the reason for the Church's teachings. I can say that I understand. I had to go through a similar period of study, thought, and prayer myself to understand that God's ways are not ours, especially in this matter.

    I also find it interesting that the quote from Jacques Fesch did not apparently give either of you pause to even express the tiniest doubt. In which case one wonders if the concern is with human souls or considering Christ at all. As I say, interesting.

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  12. Julie:

    Jacques Fesch was on death row when he had his conversion. Undoubtedly, it was the facing of his own death they may have been a force in his transformation.

    As I included:

    ". . . a secondary measure of the love of God may be said to appear. For capital punishment provides the murderer with incentive to repentance which the ordinary man does not have, that is a definite date on which he is to meet his God. It is as if God thus providentially granted him a special inducement to repentance out of consideration of the enormity of his crime . . . the law grants to the condemned an opportunity which he did not grant to his victim, the opportunity to prepare to meet his God. Even divine justice here may be said to be tempered with mercy." Carey agrees with Saints Augustine and Aquinas, that executions represent mercy to the wrongdoer: (p. 116). Quaker biblical scholar Dr. Gervas A. Carey. A Professor of Bible and past President of George Fox College, Essays on the Death Penalty, T. Robert Ingram, ed., St. Thomas Press, Houston, 1963, 1992

    St. Thomas Aquinas: "The fact that the evil, as long as they live, can be corrected from their errors does not prohibit the fact that they may be justly executed, for the danger which threatens from their way of life is greater and more certain than the good which may be expected from their improvement. They also have at that critical point of death the opportunity to be converted to God through repentance. And if they are so stubborn that even at the point of death their heart does not draw back from evil, it is possible to make a highly probable judgement that they would never come away from evil to the right use of their powers." Summa Contra Gentiles, Book III, 146.

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  13. God: 'Honor your father and your mother,' and 'Whoever curses father or mother must certainly be put to death.' Matthew 15:4

    Jesus: "So Pilate said to (Jesus), "Do you not speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you and I have power to crucify you?" Jesus answered (him), "You would have no power over me if it had not been given to you from above." John 19:10-11

    Jesus: Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, "Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us." The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, "Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal." Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." (Jesus) replied to him, "Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise." Luke 23: 39-43

    Jesus: "You have heard the ancients were told, ˜YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER" and "Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court". But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever shall say to his brother, "Raca", shall be guilty before the supreme court and whoever shall say, "You fool", shall be guilty enough to go into fiery hell." Matthew 5:17-22.

    The Holy Spirit: God, through the power and justice of the Holy Spirit, executed both Ananias and his wife, Saphira. Their crime? Lying to the Holy Spirit - to God - through Peter. Acts 5:1-11.

    The Word of God: Numbers 35:16-21. Note the words "shall" and "surely". What do you think they mean?
    ‘But if he struck him down with an iron object, so that he died, he is a murderer; the murderer shall surely be put to death. ‘If he struck him down with a stone in the hand, by which he will die, and as a result he died, he is a murderer; the murderer shall surely be put to death. ‘Or if he struck him with a wooden object in the hand, by which he might die, and as a result he died, he is a murderer; the murderer shall surely be put to death. ‘The blood avenger himself shall put the murderer to death; he shall put him to death when he meets him. ‘If he pushed him of hatred, or threw something at him lying in wait and as a result he died, or if he struck him down with his hand in enmity, and as a result he died, the one who struck him shall surely be put to death, he is a murderer; the blood avenger shall put the murderer to death when he meets him.
    Here is the full context http://nasb.scripturetext.com/numbers/35.htm

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  14. Dudley, you do not know that, at least without reading a further testimony of his book.

    As I read through your many arguments, I think of God, marking Cain and turning him free to go out into the world. Again, interesting.

    I am not going to argue all these points. Again I direct you to my previous comments with the link to Jimmy Akin or, possibly, to your parish priest. And, above all, to deep prayer and requesting the Holy Spirit to speak to you ...

    Certainly you have now earned the distinction, however dubious that may be, of being written into my prayer journal. May God bless you ... and have mercy upon me. :-)

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  15. It is not uncommon for anti death penalty folks to bring up Cain, while failing to mention the flood or all of the many intances when God caused great destruction and human death.

    Very much like the point you made about me not readong all of Fesch's book, you do the same with the Bible.

    Blessings to you, as well.

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  16. Dear Dudley, I have read the Bible many times, believe it or not. I just do not agree with your own personal interpretations. :-)

    Although I quake before someone who can completely judge someone based on a few sentences about him.

    At any rate, I have a serious question. Where do you stand on the abortion issue? Pro-life? Pro-choice?

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  17. Julie:

    I didn't presume you hadn't read the bible, once or many times. You did presume I hadn't read Fesch's book.

    You also presume I haven't read many aditonal solid catholic sources on this issue.

    You missed the point.

    You brought up one thing - God sparing Cain - while knowing full well that God had taken many lives, the flood and elsewhere, therefore, you knowingly presented an invalid argument, knowingly excluded the realities you knew existed in the bible, the floord, etc., from your many readings and other sources, as well.

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  18. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  19. Yes, yes, yes, you can never stop arguing and you always get the last word. Point taken.

    First of all you were assuming that I read those voluminous arguments you wrote. I did not.

    Secondly, you were assuming that I was in some way making an argument based on my short comments. I was not. Simply thinking out loud.

    Now go to Jimmy Akins and argue. If you care to have the last word, by all means do.

    However, this is my last word in this string of comments.

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  20. Julie:

    I did not assume that you read my posts. Your responses told me that you had not. Therefore your errors.

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  21. "Well, Tom, all I can say is that I hope that you and Dudley are not Catholic..."

    That is a powerful statement to make based upon my simple declaration of appreciation. I didn't say I agreed, disagreed, or proposed my own position, merely that I appreciated what Dudley wrote to contribute to the conversation.

    And you yourself wrote:
    "Dudley, although I appreciate your efforts..."

    Very strange attitude, Julie. It sounds rather haughty to me, frankly.

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