Thursday, April 19, 2012

Worth Checking out: Mohler on the Anders Breivik trial and the Post-Christian Condition

Albert Mohler recently posted on the horrifying case of Anders Behring Breivik, the man who went on a killing spree July of 2011, killing 77 people. Breivik stood in an Oslo courtroom this week and declared: “I admit to the actions, but not to the guilt.” All I could think when I read that was, "wow..."

Here are some excerpts from Mohler's excelent article. You can read it all here.
The horrifying case of Anders Behring Breivik has opened a window into the reality of Scandinavian justice — and that window also reveals the shape of justice in a post-Christian world.
The rejection of the Christian worldview and the loss of biblical moral instincts produces a very different system of justice. Norway abolished the death penalty in 1902. Later, the nation abolished the sentence of life in prison, claiming that it was too extreme. As Newsweek’s Stefan Theil has reported, “Normally, even murderers are fully eligible for parole after just a few years in prison.”
As for the “prisons” themselves, Theil explains:
“Take Halden Prison, a maximum-security facility for murderers and rapists a few miles from the Swedish border. Completed last year for $280 million to house 250 inmates, its living quarters are bright and airy, with mint-green walls and IKEA-style furniture in varnished natural wood. Looking more like a college dorm than a maximum-security jail, each cell comes with a flat-screen TV, a private bath, and a large unbarred window. Inmates take cooking classes and work out with personal trainers; there’s a deluxe gym with a rock-climbing wall as well as a professional music studio for prisoners’ bands. Half the guards are women, which prison governor Are Hoidal says creates a less aggressive atmosphere. For the same reason, the guards don’t carry weapons and freely mingle with the inmates. Prisoners even fill out questionnaires to rate the level of service.”
At one point, Theil declares the obvious: 
Norway “considers the idea of punishment barbaric.”
Here is where Mohler finds his stride.
The loss of the Chistian worldview often comes with a diminishment of both personal responsibility and the sense of punitive justice. Add to this the redefinition of human life and its value. The result is a nation that takes pride in a notoriously lax system of criminal justice — a nation that considers punishment itself to be barbaric.
Standing in that Oslo courtroom, Anders Breivik stated that he would prefer the death penalty to a “pathetic” sentence of 21 years. He, at least, seems to understand the scale of his crimes. “There are only two just and fair outcomes in this case,” he insisted in court, “Acquittal or capital punishment.”
The biblical roots of the death penalty for murder are found in texts like Genesis 9:5-6.
Rooted in God’s covenant with Noah, the text reads: “And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man. ‘Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.’”
As Claus Westermann, one of the most famous Old Testament scholars of the twentieth century explained, this text indicates that God expects murderers to be punished with death. “The execution of the death penalty by humans is the carrying out of the command of God.” Every human life is sacred precisely because every single human being is made in God’s image. Murder is, Westermann explained, “a direct attack on God’s right of dominion.” He commented further: “Here in Genesis 9 murder is something utterly on its own; nothing can be compared with it. Throughout the whole sweep of human history, the murderer by his action despoils God.”
And yet, in another statement from his commentary on this text, Westermann points straight to the reason that a post-Christian culture loses its moral confidence in the punishment of murderers. He states: “A community is only justified in executing the death penalty insofar as it respects the unique right of God over life and death and insofar as it respects the inviolability of human life that follows therefrom.”
Once those convictions and moral intuitions are lost, the death penalty no longer makes sense. Eventually, even the idea of punishment itself loses all cultural credibility. The world is watching closely as the trial of Anders Behring Breivik takes place in Oslo. The trial is now an international spectacle. But, much more than Norway’s justice system is on display. That Oslo courtroom is also revealing what remains of an understanding of criminal justice and criminal responsibility when the Christian worldview fades away. The post-Christian condition is fully on display in that courtroom. The man who committed the worst single-handed mass murder in Europe since World War II is on trial — and the maximum term to which he can be sentenced amounts to less than 3.3 months for each of the 77 people he murdered.

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