In what I think is a twisted irony, I’m about to become the bad guy by saying that we are not animals and we should not engage in retaliatory killing.
In recent news, a man in Texas was reported to have beaten another man to death for allegedly sexually abusing his daughter. As soon as I saw the headlines and the initial comments that people – in fact Christian people – were making, I had the sinking feeling that I was going to have to say this. The comments I was seeing were along the lines of – when children are involved, all the rules are out the window, this guy should be given a medal, not a conviction. The rationale that I was hearing was “he was just defending his daughter.” I suggested that maybe there’s a difference between stopping someone from molesting or sexually assaulting a child on the one hand, and then, having done so, attacking that person and beating them to death. Nobody would hear it.
As I anticipated with some sense of gloom, the grand jury of this man’s peers likewise disagrees with me.
No charges will be laid against this man. Notice that they’re not even saying “Yes he committed a felony, but the charge should be reduced because he would surely have had a reduced capacity to respond rationally under those circumstances.” No, the jury has said that there isn’t even a case to answer. He has done nothing, literally nothing, to raise the eyebrows of the courts.
Yes I’m a conservative in most respects (or at least that’s what I’m told), but my fellow conservative Christians, this brings out the ugliest and worst in you. Here’s a summary (from the above link) of the facts that nobody disputes:
There were seven people in attendance in total, including four members of the family, two acquaintances and a stranger to the family, who was the alleged molester. According to McMinn, the alleged abuser was a legal worker from Mexico.
His 5-year-old daughter had gone off toward the barn, to feed the chickens, the child’s grandfather told CNN affiliates KSAT and KPRC.
Then her father heard screaming and ran. He found a man sexually abusing his daughter, according to Sheriff Micah Harmon.
The father stopped the alleged abuser, and then pounded him repeatedly in the head, killing him, authorities said.
The last sentence is obviously the key here. He stopped this man from abusing his daughter – and of course he stopped it successfully. Nobody was going to continue committing such an act after interrupted by the father. What then? What more could he do to stop the harm? Nothing, sadly. You can’t undo the past, you can only help the victim in whatever ways necessary in the present and future.
Now we have a man who was caught in the act standing before us. You’ve stopped him, and there he is, right in front of you. Pray tell, my fellow conservative Christians. What should happen now? The daughter should be seen to, yes of course, she would be seriously traumatised. That’s priority one. What else? Can you think of anything? As far as defending the girl from a sexual attack goes, it is done. Oh I know, how about we attack the person who did this and beat them senseless? Actually they will die, but that’s not what we planned so it’s all good, right? Well sure, you could do that, but that wouldn’t be a defence of your little girl. Nobody – no reporter, no juror, no police officer, no member of the family involved, no blogger, no Facebook commentator with his or her sense of righteousness about what this person deserved – nobody believes that this farm worker was about to go in for another attempt now that he had been stopped. Nobody, not one single person, I guarantee it, sincerely, being ruthlessly honest with themselves, believes that to fly into an uncontrollable attack on this child abuser, would be an act in defence of your daughter. Not one of you. I say that realising that some of you might even look me in the eye and deny it, claiming that you think it was a defensive act. Forgive me, but you’re a liar. Revisit the facts as detailed above. Nobody believes that. You’re not being honest with yourself, because the truth is that just like the stereotypical Texan (and it’s a stereotype I know, some of the most beautiful I know are Texans), this man was a no good fer what he dun did, and he dun got what was a comin’ to him. He deserved it, you think, so you look the other way and call it something that it wasn’t.
As I have said in the past, I believe that provocation should be admitted as a partial defence in homicide cases, but it’s only a partial defence. It doesn’t mean that we can act like nothing happened. This would certainly be a case of provocation, but hear this: The horrendous evil of another person does not dissolve our duty to refrain from evil. It does not mean that “all bets are off,” and it does not give us a free pass. We’re not animals. To start to think and speak this way is to lose our humanity, and it smears and diminishes that which sets us apart, the very image of God.
I’m no pacifist, and I don’t think my Christian commitment means that I should be one. I know full well that there are passages of Scripture that justify defence, and there are passages that justify the state’s use of force against evildoers like this child abuser. But in the case of the state’s use of force, the fact that the state can legitimately use force in this way is the very reason the Bible gives for us not doing so to take retaliation into our own hands.
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.
Romans 12:9 and 13:1-4
If you’re a Christian (actually if you’re a person at all, but I especially appeal to my fellow believers here), please do not get swept up in the “good for him” crowd. Be different. Please stand out from the group by speaking out for what is unpopular because it’s right.
- Censorship and kiddie porn
- The smacking referendum – my summary
- The Provocation Defence Needs to Remain
- Facism is Alive and Well in Germany
- David Bain, reasonable doubt and defamation
87 thoughts on “To my fellow believers: On the killing of child abusers”
You’re right Glenn. I think that: “provocation should be admitted as a partial defence in homicide cases, but it’s only a partial defence.”. I think that the Government has over reacted to the Sophie Elliot murder by removing provocation. Weatherston’s provocation claim was not believed and had no bearing on his conviction and sentence.
He caught the fellow with his pants down on top of his screaming five year old daughter for goodness sakes.
And when he realized the guy was dying did all he could to save him and he is full of remorse for how it turned out.
The whole sordid affair is bad enough for that family without throwing the law at him – he is not a criminal – he is a father
“he is not a criminal – he is a father”
Andrei, I didn’t realise that these were mutually exclusive. And I honestly can’t see that you’ve interacted with what I have said in the least. It just looks like you’ve seen that you disagree, so gone in with a response. At least pause to chew and digest what’s written here. Which part(s) in particular do you take issue with?
(On a side issue – remorse isn’t a defence.)
Glenn, I am totally with you. We are not animals. This reminds me of John Grisham’s novel Time To Kill.
Leaving the legalities aside for the moment, I think what people are aware of is the fact that finding one’s child being molested would induce absolutely blind rage in any father.
Now, that rage may not last for more than a few seconds or a minute, but it’s during that period that the “disproportionate” response takes place.
For anybody to claim that a person (justifiably) in that state ought to be able to carefully calibrate his response is simply absurd. Humans under acute stress do not act that way.
Here here. Spot on Glenn, that said I can understand how one can get carried away, I’ve been in a particular situation where my anger has overcome any form of rationality. Its scary and I imagine something similar occurred here, are his actions understandable (as in an immediate violent response)…perhaps, was the outcome (the man’s death) his intention? Most probably not from what I’ve read of it. Horrible situation.
“..Nobody, not one single person, I guarantee it, sincerely, being ruthlessly honest with themselves, believes that to fly into an uncontrollable attack on this child abuser, would be an act in defence of your daughter.”
These are weasel-words.
I very much doubt the father himself would claim that the beating was in defence of his daughter, hence the remorse. If he believed it was necessary to defend his daughter, there would be no remorse.
No, the uncontrollable attack was the result of huge, overwhelming rage at what the man was doing. The rage lasted past the point where he had pulled the alleged perp off his daughter and of course that’s a matter of physiology–part of the human brain has flooded the muscles and other parts of the brain with chemical signals that don’t simply disappear in an instant.
KG, those are not weasel words. In fact you agree with them. I am talking about the people who I have actually seen – numerous of them, today – claiming that this was, in fact, an act of defending his daughter and apparently that even if it was not, it was a good act. I do not believe that these people, on reflection, can defensibly maintain that stance.
But I think we might agree, which is good. As I said – provocation, reduced capacity and all that. But not defence. And not justified. And as for: “For anybody to claim that a person (justifiably) in that state ought to be able to carefully calibrate his response is simply absurd.” I do not know whose claim you are referring to, but we can both see that it’s not mine.
Under the laws of Texas this man committed no crime – the matter was put to a Grand Jury who agreed no crime had been committed under Texan law.
Most people think justice has been served, including me.
Whatever we all face the final Judgement and if you are unhappy with this result you can console yourself with that thought
Andrei, I do not labour under the assumption that juries are always right (obviously), I don’t know what most people think (not sure how you do), and I do not think that most people must be correct. But if you think I’ve said something wrong, I am open to hearing the specifics.
Glenn, you wrote: “..I suggested that maybe there’s a difference between stopping someone from molesting or sexually assaulting a child on the one hand, and then, having done so, attacking that person and beating them to death..”
You certainly suggest a period elapsed between pulling the man off his daughter and then “beating him to death”. You don’t know what that period of time was, but I’d surmise that the pulled the perp off his daughter while hitting him and continued to do so. Neither of us knows how many times he struck the man and it may have been just one blow of several or many which killed him.
“Beating to death” is emotive and quite possibly inaccurate.
Second, the act of defending his daughter isn’t a nicely defined and calibrated act or series of acts that can be switched off or terminated at will by an enraged man. He simply behaved like almost any father would under those circumstances, his actions can be seen as part of the act of defending his daughter given his physiological state and what was obviously a short, sharp encounter where events become confused and compressed.
I rather doubt you’ve ever found yourself in a highly stressful life-threatening situation.I have. Repeatedly. And I can tell you that 20/20 hindsight and pontification is very nice, but it has little to do with reality. Especially when it’s a reality that the person isn’t trained for and didn’t choose.
Human Law is fallible, Glen and true justice has to wait for the next world.
In this case, on all the facts as known, justice has been done and seen to be done.
And that is as good as it gets in a fallen world filled with human frailties
KG, there’s something simmering in your comments that’s not helpful. I did not say that there was a wait between stopping one attack and beginning another. Saying that this was a beating to death is accurate if he beat him so badly that he died. What did he do, tickle him to death? And the one thing you keep going back to is that the father was enraged. I know he was. That’s why something like provocation applies, reduced capacity etc. I’ve granted that. Repeating this seems like a straw man, as though it is a response to me. But it’s something I have already agreed with. So that’s three issues that really aren’t issues.
You certainly haven’t justified the confrontational stance you’re taking. I am not “pontificating,” and you have not said anything to show that anything I have said isn’t correct. I welcome discussion of the issues, provided it is done respectfully. This isn’t Facebook.
This post doesn’t profess to describe what anyone would do. It is about what a person should do.
Failure to draw that distinction has led KG to misunderstand the whole thing.
As for Andrei… I assume that he/she never speaks out against legal abortion. Hey, the court says it’s OK, so let’s keep quiet. After all, there’s a judgement day…. right?
Glenn, you knew this would be unpopular. But it’s right as well.
First of all, and before anything else, as Christians, we are not to condone sin. And, of course, murderis a sin. So, no, the man should not have done that. That said, as a father myself under the same circumstances, I can’t in good conscience say I wouldn’t have done the same. I would hope I wouldn’t, but in the emotion of the moment it would be almost impossible to control myself. So I am not unsympathetic to the man. And here’s the important part: neither am I unsympathetic to the rapist. I worked for five years in social services for kids. I know what sexual abuse does to them. One of the things it tends to do is turn them into sexual preditors themselves. I saw 7-year-olds that were already preditors. My best friend in College was abused as a kid. Consiquently, he had sexual urges he could barely control. After college, he ended up in prison for exercising his urges. I have heard him agonizing with the guilt and regret he feels, but the urges are still there, and will probably never go away. I said at the beginning that we are never to condone sin, but neither are we to condemn people. Many of my fellow social workers had a smoldering rage towards the men that sexually assaulted the children we were caring for. All I could ever think was “but for the grace of God…”. If we are Christians, we are sinners saved by grace. We had no capacityfor self-sanctification apart from the work of Christ.
Abortion is an abomination, I have said so many times and campaign against it.
I do not trust man’s law or man’s justice, they are flawed as our abortion laws show.
Any violations of God’s laws that have occurred in this case I will leave for to him to judge – the temporal outcome satisfies me and 99.99% of those who know the facts of this case.
“I did not say there was a wait between stopping one attack and beginning another.”
I didn’t say you did.
What I said was “you certainly suggest a period elapsed…”
“And the one thing you keep going back to is that the father was enraged.”
Because it’s crucially important. I don’t think you understand the dimensions of pure rage. Irritation at being served a lukewarm latte’ doesn’t constitute rage, real, killing rage. “reduced capacity” doesn’t even begin to cover it.
“Confrontational stance”? Get real. If the business of killing in defence of children or one’s loved ones doesn’t justify a very sharp disagreement with one who finds it distasteful, then you need to get out a bit more and stop playing with words.
My position (being the simple man that I am, and not a nuanced academic) is pretty straightforward, as I pointed out on my own blog.
I see you’ve just read it, but I’ll put it up here for others to see, since it’s part what I’m saying.
“I’m no longer a parent, Andrei but I know my first responsibility is to protect my wife (and my children if they were still around.)
I would kill. I would kill at the time, or a week or ten years later in revenge, but I would kill.
And be happy to answer for it in the hereafter.”
As for “respect” I show respect to those I believe deserve it.
‘As for “respect” I show respect to those I believe deserve it.’ – KG
I’m glad Jesus didn’t work by that rule, none of us deserves grace.
“Because it’s crucially important.”
KG, I agree. But you seem to think that this guy’s rage is an argument against something I have said. And yet it isn’t. I have acknowledged that the horrible circumstances justify a partial defence of provocation and could easily bolster a claim of diminished capacity. So again, this isn’t a reason to reject anything I have said.
As for your apparent stance that I simply deserve no respect, I think that is a helpful explanation of what has transpired. Thank you. But do also bear in mind the blog policy: “I generally expect that authors of comments will attempt to engage the issues in good faith, in an irenic and polite manner, with the utmost civility.” This does require respect, and if that’s not something you’re willing to offer at all times, then you should not comment here.
Just for the record, I did try to offer a further comment at KG’s blog, but he banned me because he believes that the person in my gravatar image (the portrait that appears next to my comments) is a “murdering bastard” (I think he takes it to be a famous communist leader), and his blog has a policy of banning everyone with a liberal/progressive outlook.
About as wise in history as in tact and grace, I suppose. For those who don’t realise it, the person in that picture is me.
Glenn – I have to disagree with you (rare though it is!). I’d have two points to make (and see how they float),
1) Would the father’s response not be justified based on his worst-case estimate of his daughter’s situation? As a former US Marine, when we went to Afghanistan we kept telling our guys that if they felt legitimately threatened, they were authorized to use force proportional to the threat they perceived. In this case, the father could have perceived a lethal threat against his daughter – how many child rape/murders have we read about in the news -and reasonably concluded that his child’s life was at risk – even after the first assault, as long as the perpetrator was mobile and near his daughter. In such a case, the three outcomes that I would accept of the altercation are the perpetrator being restrained, unconscious, or dead – not merely off of my daughter. What if he were armed, so after I separated them he attack me? I think that it is artificial to separate the situation of the perp being on the daughter to the perp being off – it’s a threat situation either way.
2) Going into a fight for your life (which, as a father walking on this situation, I would assume that I were entering) – you have to hit first, hit hardest, hit longest. It’s not over until the other guy is on the floor and not moving. If you are unwilling to do so, you risk losing the fight. And in a fight for my daughter’s safety, that’s not a risk I’m willing to take.
I think that maximal force was authorized, and if it resulted in the perp’s death than so be it. I’d have killed the guy seven days a week and twice on Sundays – but I recognize that it may not be Christ-like.
I’d like to note, however, that while I disagree with Glenn, I’d ask above posters to show more respect. While we may not agree, it’s a thought-stimulating discussion and Glenn is making excellent, rational points, trying to find what Christ has called us to do. This is highly admirable, so support him in it as a brother!
The image you’ve chosen for an avatar certainly looks like one Che Guevera; the man who served the Castro regime as its chief executioner. If your intent is to identify with Che, then you’ve lost all credibility as a conservative Christian methinks. Che absolutely deserves the moniker of “murdering bastard”, so why would any Christian deliberately choose to emulate him?
Thanks for your comments, John. My own take is that people shouldn’t act like soldiers in daily life, but beyond that:
1) I have not yet encountered the claim that the father believed that the girl was about to be killed. In fact the way the report reads (and I have assumed that it is accurate unless someone has grounds for saying otherwise), the attack on the girl was stopped (and hence further harm stopped) well before the abuser would have been out cold or killed.
2) As far as I can tell just from the information that has been made known, the child abuser did not attack the father and there’s no evidence (again, just from what was reported) that the physical violence was anything other than a one-way beating with no real fight back at all. If – and granted, this is an if – the account in the report conveys the relevant information, the threat to the girl and any potential threat to the father was addressed well before the actions that caused death. Is this not what you gleam from: “The father stopped the alleged abuser, and then pounded him repeatedly in the head, killing him, authorities said”?
GunRights, well now you know. It’s not Che, and I’m actually fairly conservative. If you’re really interested, the photo was taken at a fancy dress evening, and people thought it was funny because I’m about the furthest from being a communist that they could imagine.
Still, it’s best not to get hung up on such things and address the issues in discussion, in my view. Now let’s the discussion back on track.
Conservative Christian? I don’t think so, spouting this stuff. Heck, you’ve got military men in this thread (counting me, John, Maybe KG, maybe even GunRights4US) who have probably shot better conservative Christians than you are.
Someone messes with your children, you don’t think twice about ending their life, Christian or otherwise. Self defence, revenge, you call it what you want. Taking away that right is about as far from “conservative Christian” as I can shoot. And that’s a long way.
Stats tell me I’m getting a few visitors from KG’s blog. I figured I’d leave the comments there for the sake of contrast.
The report indicates that the father was immediately remorseful over having beaten the perpetrator to the point of death (crying on the phone with the operator, apparently trying to preserve the perps life, etc.), which suggests to me that ‘retaliation’ was not his intent. I think ‘retaliatory’ comes off as a loaded word in the post. He wasn’t clearly beating the man to punish him for raping his daughter, or anything like that. He freaked out, understandably, and gave the man a thorough beating.
However, if I understand you correctly, Glenn, your concern is with the sort of bloodlust that is apparent in comments made about the incident. Of course that’s wrong, but that seems obvious. That this father’s actions were unjust seems correct in a mathematical sort of way (they were unjust in the sense of being unharmonious or disproportionate to the situation), but the actions do not also seem to be ‘retaliatory’ in any sense involving a clear intent. I think John is right to say that the way that you repeat the events of the story does involve an unnecessary ‘spin’ that is friendly to your more salient point, which is that comments after the fact along the lines of ‘good for you for killing that guy’ are morally repugnant.
I suppose New Zealand conservative is a bit different than American conservative, but I’m not sure. The American Conservative mixes (quite liberally, yuk yuk) their politics and religion, and these sorts of comments have quite a bit to do with a high value placed on personal autonomy which is confusedly believed to be a “Christian” value. I think the notion that “justice has been served” in this case are a sort of shorthand for “… by the man and not the state.”
At any rate, good post. Thanks for chiming in on this issue.
Glenn I agree with you in regards to “NOT” being swept up in the “good for him” crowd. As a father of three girls I can definitely understand the instant rage that must have been pulsating through this mans veins while not agreeing with the outcome. A little girl was robbed of her innocence, a father had to witness his screaming child helplessly pinned under a half naked man while he had his way with her, this man is now dead and this father will have to live with the fact that he committed one evil while in the act of stopping another. Its a bad situation all the way around!
Now as far as the decision of the grand jury is concerned, unless one has access to exact same evidence and testimony that the grand jury had, I’m not quite sure how anyone can object to their findings. What we read in the paper, internet or see on the news is one thing while what is actually contained within the grand-jury and police reports is another. Far too often here in the United States we convict people in the court of public arena based on media reports and not on the facts. Looking at what limited information we have so far, it seems as though this father acted as judge, jury and executioner of his daughters attacker. This may be the case, it may not but if we take up our torches and pitchforks against this father without having all the facts, I fear the we also will be guilty of acting as his judge, jury and executioner.
Now we have a man who was caught in the act standing before us. You’ve stopped him, and there he is, right in front of you. Pray tell, my fellow conservative Christians. What should happen now? The daughter should be seen to, yes of course, she would be seriously traumatised. That’s priority one. What else? Can you think of anything? As far as defending the girl from a sexual attack goes, it is done. Oh I know, how about we attack the person who did this and beat them senseless?
I think given the stress of the situation (in general terms), this chronology is unlikely. I don’t think it is realistic that one would take stock of the situation until well after the attacker has been rendered sensless.
I don’t think it unreasonable to render a physical attacker(for instance if the Father had to remove the attacker from the victim)incapacitated in the act of stopping the attack. If there is however, a separation of events as Glen suggests, and a retubution attack occurs, then this is another matter.
“Going into a fight for your life (which, as a father walking on this situation, I would assume that I were entering) – you have to hit first, hit hardest, hit longest. It’s not over until the other guy is on the floor and not moving. If you are unwilling to do so, you risk losing the fight. And in a fight for my daughter’s safety, that’s not a risk I’m willing to take.”
I agree with John here because in the absence of all the evidence we have absolutely no way to determine if the father was outmatched as far as height and weight is concerned. We have no way to determine how many blows were given(its not uncommon for someone to die from one or two death-punches). We have no way to know if the father used a weapon or his hands, a closed fist or one, two or three head kicks. All we know is that the father was alerted to the cries and screams of his helpless daughter as a half naked man had his way with her. Just before he heard her first scream, was his blood already pumping with fear and concern as he was already in the act of searching for her? Did his protective instinct kick his adrenaline into overdrive as he frantically searched? Just before he saw the horrible image the he surely will never forget, were the cries of “DADDY DADDY” in those screams? Was the father certain that he could stop and restrain this man? Did the father have immediate back up? If so was he aware of this back up or was he so caught up in the rush of the moment that he felt he had to stop the attack all by himself while praying that the attacker didn’t turn on him, overpower him and finish them both off with his bare hands or some farm tool? All we have to work with is what we have read in the paper, internet or seen on the news and as someone that has worked for a major southern Californian paper for the last 18 yrs, I know there usually is always more to a story than what is reported. As John has pointed out, for all we know, this father believed that he was walking into a fight for not just his daughters life, but his life as well. The thing is this, until ALL the facts come out we in the court of public opinion don’t really know anything.
Jojo, we do not need omniscience in order to make use of the facts we have. Generalities about the limitless set of things that we don’t know are, in my view, uninformative. I have tried to explain why the facts that we do know, combined with good ethics, justifies what I have said.
Ciaron, in the first place, the minimal facts supplied by the unnamed “authorities” in this news story do suggest that the father interrupted and stopped the man, and then beat him. However, even if he stopped him in the act by pounding him the head repeatedly while he was abusing the girl (which seems unlikely), it doesn’t follow that beating him repeatedly in the head *is the same thing* as stopping the attack. There seems to me to be no sensible way to argue that this is the best or the necessary way to interrupt such an attack. But as I indicated in the blog entry, it’s not believable that the abuser would have just continued even when interrupted by the father. I doubt anyone really thinks that.
One further general comment – not just to Ciaron, but to readers in general. I have not claimed here that I would certainly have reacted better than the father. I have four children, three of them are girls. I know what it’s like to love them and I can only imagine what it would be like to discover someone hurting them like this. But the measure of a person’s wisdom and character cannot be limited to what they would do after long and careful weighing and reflection. That is not realistic. I think it is incumbent on all of us to consciously and continuously cultivate moral character so that we respond appropriately to circumstances in real life. If we have the kind of ethics that only produces good results as we sit at our desks and think about it, then we don’t have real ethics. Morality is what we live, not what we only think about. It means that – precisely because we know we wil be prone to react unreasonably in real life – we work on ourselves daily to foster praiseworthy instincts. To respond by stopping the attack and then beating and killing the offender reveals, in my view, that insufficient cultivation has been done. Even worse, to join the mob of those who defend and even encourage this sort of response and to shout down those who say otherwise shows that we have virtually no interest in doing this sort of cultivation. I want to see Christians fighting very hard against this sort of thing, and it’s unsettling to see the opposite occurring.
Ok Glenn, if thats how it went down then that is a different matter (as I said in my last sentence). I was asuming that the father had surprised the attacker and began his action before the attacker had gotten off the girl.
My daughter was gang raped in 2000 by the Skaf gang.Now lets be clear on the facts…..there were 14 rapists , ages from 14 to 20.They raped her over a 6 1/2 hour period in three different locations and put a gun to her head at the end.When you consider the lousy sentencing they recieved I have no problem with the father killing this paedophile.What would the courts have given the rapist? Five years max? It’s time we did take the law into our own hands as the courts certainly don’t give a damn about victims but by goodness they will protect criminals.I learned that courts and judges can’t be trusted.If I had a chance I would kill my daughter’s lead rapist Bilal Skaf and I wouldn’t feel any guilt as the world would be a better place without him.
Victims receive the life sentence NEVER criminals.
Ciaron – but even if that is what happened, it still doesn’t follow that stopping the attack required continually pounding in the head of the attacker.
That’s something people seem not to appreciate. The fact that an action does defend another person does not imply that it was required in order to defend another person. This is what I mean by the phrase “free pass.” That another person is harming another does not suddenly invalidate every single normal rule of justice, giving you limitless reign over another person to do absolutely whatever comes naturally to you. And again, I can’t see how anyone truthfully says that continually pounding in another person’s head was actually required to stop the attack.
D.T., I am very sorry for what your daughter endured. At least I can see you are honest. You say “It’s time we did take the law into our own hands.” You really do reject the biblical ideas that I proposed in my post about who should take vengeance. You’re intellectually entitled to that. I am, however, trying to appeal in particular to those who will not overtly reject biblical teaching.
Glenn, you’re brave to post this.
You’re up against a difficult problem, however. Some people have alluded to the idea that this man due to simple biology was determined by forces outside of his control to do this (something that I think you respond to very well with the notion that we need to cultivate moral character ahead of time so that when horrendous circumstances arise we respond well – very eloquently stated!).
However, many of your commenters here are just as much a product of forces beyond their control. Someone has already admitted it, but only gently, brushing the issue away as “culture.” But that’s an incredibly powerful force. The moral landscape of your interlocutors has been ossified thus:
1) They are American.
2) They are conservative and the product of their conservative culture.
3) They are product of a certain variety of a Christian subculture.
These factors create a particularly strong hold on the mind. The people you are addressing didn’t choose these things, and they cannot break free from them without a concentrated period of hard intellectual work. I doubt this will happen for many of them (where is the motivation? As far as they are concerned, this is just the normal way to think). But one of the offshoots of the above three things is that concepts like liberty and justice get mashed together with another overriding theme: Violence. Not just force, but violence, and plenty of it.
Theirs is a culture that simply thinks of violence as part of the lifestyle of an honorable person, so it is literally unthinkable (I mean that literally: They are unable to think it) that a person who has been wronged could be doing wrong by responding with violent retaliation – no matter how violent, it seems.
I think your mission of persuasion is therefore doomed, but valiant nonetheless. Indeed – stand out from the crowd and say what is right because it is right, even though you know that your voice will be ignored.
I also agree with Glenn.
In order for us to say, “The man’s actions are excused by the situation he was in”, we must first agree that the actions NEED excusing — which is to say, they were wrong.
I’m sorry Glenn, I have to disagree with you on several points and with several of the other commenters.
First of all Joel, it is not murder. It is obvious he didn’t intend to kill this man, and his reaction to save the creep shows that his intention was not retribution either. Murder requires intent. This father had no intention to kill this piece of scum. At worst, it’s manslaugter – accidently causing the death of another.
Ciaron has said what I would have said… “As far as defending the girl from a sexual attack goes, it is done.” Rubbish. It isn’t unreasonable to render a physical attacker incapacitated in the act of stopping the attack. Firstly, in the heat of the moment, you have no idea if the attacker would have kept trying to attack the girl, or if he’d have turned on the father or someone else. It is quite justified to incapacitate a violent attacker – especially one who has gone after a defenceless child.
And secondly, you don’t understand paedophiles. they don’t stop, they keep going after children. Obviously this father didn’t mean to do so much damage, but even in situations where someone did mean to permanently incapacitate, you need to look at why they did it. the person may have had someone close to them sexually assaulted repeatedly over a period of time, or they may very well have been a victim themself. They may genuinely see the only way of defending their child is to make sure the abuser can’t do it again.
That’s why they have trials for, and pleas of not guilty due to temporary insanity. Someone who has been repeatedly abused and no one could stop their abuser, they will genuinely see a permanent solution to an abuser as the only way to defend their child. They are mentally unwell in that case, not murderers. They need help not punishment.
Either way, in this case, I can’t agree with those who say this guy needs a medal, but he doesn’t deserve any punishment either. he didn’t mean to kill this guy, he WAS defending his daughter (even if some of you are too blind to see it), and he is the one who has to live with this guy’s death (not murder) on his conscious as well as the pain of living with what his daughter went through. He did not murder this man, but even killing someone accidently is a hard thing to live with.
This man deserves understanding not criticism and certainly not any legal punishment.
Julie, a few things:
“It is obvious he didn’t intend to kill this man” A number of people have pointed this out. It needs to be stressed that while this is relevant, it isn’t a complete defence against all homicide charges. It is a defence against first degree murder. I certainly would not support that charge being laid against him. As I’ve stressed a few times, I do accept the partial defence of provocation and of course I can see that this man would have had greatly reduced capacity in his judgement under the circumstances. So I hope nobody thinks I would have this guy convicted of murder. I would also stress that while I do believe some charge is appropriate, the crucial issue that I have tried to draw people’s attention to is moral, not legal.
It is also hasty and unwarranted to brush off the comments about stopping the attack as mere “rubbish.” Such dismissiveness is not appropriate. As I tried to say in the blog, I don’t think anyone sincerely believes that the child abuser, once interrupted, would have again tried to rape a girl right there in front of the father. To claim that the act of repeatedly pummeling the man in the head was the way in which the attack was stopped (and the only plausible way in which it could have been stopped) is the more contentious claim, and I see no reason to just adopt it. It doesn’t fit any plausible reconstruction of events. I am trying hard to encourage people to see that we should be training ourselves differently, recognising that this sort of immediate violent reaction is the one that would come most naturally to us.
Next, and I want to be nice about it but still make the point – It’s never wise to speculate on what someone knows about pedophiles. When speaking to someone you don’t know, I would suggest steering very clear of doing that. However I take the point that “they keep going after children,” even after they are dealt with by the courts. But this is an admission. It tacitly admits that what was done here by the father, rather than simply stopping the attack, was to step in an administer the justice that the courts fail to administer in order to really stop this man from going after other children. In fact you then admit this explicitly: ” They may genuinely see the only way of defending their child is to make sure the abuser can’t do it again.”
Please try to see that this is the issue here. Of course, that father would not himself have gone through this process of speculation about what the abuser might do in the future, but you have used it as his defence, and it’s key to realise that. You are saying, in effect, that the father has the right to impose the punishment that a court would fail to administer. And this is where your position goes against the biblical principle that is made explicit in Romans 12 and 13. Do not avenge yourselves, but give place to the wrath of God – here represented by the force of law. I understand the urge to dish out personal, vengeful, angry justice. But that doesn’t make it right.
He did defend his daughter, granted. Nobody has denied that. But he did more besides. He beat up somebody well beyond the point where he posed a threat. Is he a murderer? No, I don’t think so. But for the jury to say, in effect, that nothing of significance transpired in the taking of this man’s life, and for people to effectively cheer him on – something I trust you don’t condone – this is something that Christians should call each other on. It mustn’t happen.
I’m sorry Glenn but I think you misunderstood what I was saying on a few points.
Maybe it’s different because you’re a man and I’m a woman, but if I see a guy sexually assaulting a young child, I am going to assume if I drag him off, he’s going to physically assault me, or even try to sexually assault me, and as such, I’m going to attempt to temporarily incapacitate him so he cannot. As a man, you might not fear for your safety, but other men may, and they will seek to temporarily incapacitate an attacker in genuine self defense.
That is what I meant by it’s rubbish to say “it is done” – because all too often it’s not done to simply drag someone off a child they are sexually assaulting. Sometimes you need to defend yourself or the child or others further.
And I never spoke about vengeance. I spoke about DEFENDING other children from future attacks. It has nothing to seeking to avenge yourself, or even avenging others. It is the perception that if you do nothing, then someone else is imminently in danger. It is neither personal, vengeful or angry, nor is it seeking to “punish” the abuser. It is an overwhelming need to protect a defenceless vulnerable person from abuse. It is about protection and defence. While the thinking may be false logic by the person thinking it, it definitely has nothing to do with vengeance.
What I’m saying is that a person who thinks like that is mentally unwell not immoral. There is a huge difference.
As a Christian, what is the difference to you between defending someone and murder? If I push a home intruder down the stairs and he dies, is that murder or is that self defense? I did not intend to kill him but in the moment I didn’t know what else to do. Or if I shot him in the leg to get him off my daughter… and he ends up dying. Is that murder or self defense?
Was us going to remove Hitler by force murder or self defense? Especially since the verse you quoted means that since God put Hitler in authority, everyone in Germany was to obey him. Furthermore, since God put him in authority, who are we to then play God and remove him by force? I’m wondering where you draw the line, based on that verse?
As someone who does not believe a Christian is ever justified by joining the military, defending someone else (not oneself) is justifiable but never glorifiable.
It should shock us that none of us deserve life and yet, God even loves and seeks to redeem the child rapist.
What this father did can be understandable, but we should never cheer and think he did the right thing. He did the only thing that came to his mind. As a Christian, I mourn for the evil man (more so for the victim,but I mourn still) that it came to that.
Yet our faith and ethics on violence only make sense if Christ was crucified and rose from the dead. Violence makes this world turn on its axle, only the love of God our savior brings us out of that. We still live in a dark world but we should seek to point away from this evil age. This includes violence, though with what is told of this man (he tried to revive him, emotional wreck) we should embrace him.
What he did was not the right thing, it was the only thing. We mourn it ever came to this. The greatest blight that can fall on such an act is to forgive the man.
Christianity is offensive and bizarre by common perception.
Christianity is indeed offensive and bizarre. Along those lines, since the child rapist died (and assuming he was not a believer), God didn’t seek to redeem him anyway. He only sought to redeem the elect, if Calvinism is true. God doesn’t love, in the best sense possible, whoever dies without being saved. Even if God did love the rapist while on earth, he doesn’t anymore, now that he is dead and judgement has been set to receive the full wrath of God, either forever or until the person passes out of existence after hellish punishment (again, assuming he was not a true believer). Christianity is indeed offensive and bizarre… assuming Calvinism is true. And if Calvanism is true, none of this could be avoided anyway. It was God’s will for this to happen, so who are we to question it?
Mike not all Christians believe Calvinism is 100% right just as Cal, not all Christians believe that joining the military is wrong.
In fact, one of the best pastors I have ever had was in the army many years, first as a soldier, and then as a chaplain. And no it was not some weird denomination. It was a normal average bible-believing Australian Baptist church (as opposed to the American Baptists who tend to be quite a bit different).
I hope you are right and Calvinism ISN’T true! I don’t know if it is but around half of Christians believe it is. If it is true, than what I said, sadly and tragically, is true. I too know many people in the military… many of whom used their time there to be a witness to others about Christ. I guess though we’ll never know what was right and what was wrong on every issue until we die.
“Calvinism” isn’t a single belief. It has many, many components. I simple don’t believe in predestination – God knows before the world was created what our choices will be, but He still gives us the choice to choose to follow Him or reject Him.
I don’t think what you stated is actually Calvinism though. Just about all Christians (except open theists) believe God knows what will happen before it happens. Calvinism goes MUCH further than that. Calvinism doesn’t involve any choices on our part. From our view it looks like it does but from God’s view, it is all Him. So the rapist has no choice but to rape the girl and the father had no choice but to kill the offender. Glenn has no choice BUT to write about it. It’s basically… whatever happens IS God’s true will… otherwise it would not happen.
Julie has already made all the points I was going to make. As a lawyer, I’ve worked on cases involving self defense and defense of others. In one, the security video shows an initial unprovoked attack followed by the victim putting the aggressor on the ground and hammering nearly 10 punches into the side of the aggressor’s face in under 3 seconds. Totally justified. The law of self defense in most common law countries — except England — is that a victim is permitted a proportionate and reasonable response to the threat to their bodily integrity or that of another. Someone commits a battery by grabbing you on the shoulder, you may reasonably respond by employing a countergrab, wristlock, or simply brushing the hand away. Someone acts in a way that would place a reasonable person in the victim’s shoes in fear of imminent death or bodily injury of themselves or another, the victim is entitled to use whatever force is necessary to stop the attacker and it does not matter if the aggressor dies as a result of being stopped.
On the facts of the article, Glenn is wrong. There was an attack on another — in many jurisdictions, rape is deemed on par with deadly threats. The father (also in many jurisdictions an attack on a child is deemed an attack on the parent, which expands the right to respond even more) stopped the rape and beat the attacker to death. He is justified in doing so as long as the threat was not neutralized. In the case I started this response with, the victim punched until the aggressor stopped trying to get up and then ceased and backed away. The aggressor suffered multiple fractures of the jaw and occipital bones, but it was still ruled self defense because the line between “threat ongoing” and “threat neutralized” is not clear. The victim in strong self defense jurisdictions has a lot of leeway in what constitutes a reasonable judgment of the amount of responding force necessary to neutralize the threat. In the Texas rape case at hand, the father legally had extraordinary latitude in responding to and neutralizing the threat to himself and his daughter. It’s not about provocation, it’s about the severity of the threat and the reasonableness of the father in understanding proportionate response and when the threat was neutralized. On these facts, I lean heavily toward the grand jury’s conclusion.
All of this, however, is different than the question that Glenn posed. Under Glenn’s hypothetical, the father saw the rape, stopped the attacker, and then beat him to death. I believe this does not conform to the facts of this particular case, but the question Glenn raises is nonetheless important. As Julie correctly points out, paedophiles and rapists don’t just stop at one. The question Glenn posed is whether Christians may properly support the father stepping in and assuming the state’s monopoly on violence in response to criminal actions.
@Kevin – that’s kind of a caricature of Americans, conservative Americans, Texans, and American conservative Texan Christians. For instance, if you look at data on concealed weapons permit holders, for instance, you will see that there is a startling reluctance to resort to violence by people who regularly carry a firearm on their person in public life. Several of my closest friends have been shot in the line of duty as police or soldiers, and all of them are highly cognizant of the lines were violence is or is not an appropriate response. They think more about that go/no go decision than normal people ever will.
But even ignoring that subculture, it is hard to imagine your sweeping characterization applying to any group of Americans other than the pathologically insane. I’ve been in as many violent and potentially violent public encounters in Europe and Asia as in the United States, which is remarkable given how comparatively little time I spend outside the US. Should I suggest that — with the exception of the English, for whom violence generally and violence with guns specifically is totally unthinkable — Europeans and Asians are incapable of thinking other than in violent responses to an American accent? With all that, if what you meant to say is that many Americans are more willing than many Europeans and south Pacific common law countries to consider violence as part of the menu of legitimate reactions to an unprovoked violent attack, I’ll buy that with reluctance and then suggest that it’s still sweeping, still a generalization.
On the other hand, one contextual factor no one has yet mentioned that may have affected the grand jury’s reasoning is the ongoing debacle with the George Zimmerman self defense case in Florida. Because of that, I believe that a greater percentage of Americans than normal are right now aware of the opportunities for prosecutorial misconduct and overcharging in legitimate self defense cases. Were I currently on a grand jury impaneled for a similar case, I would be highly suspicious of the prosecutor and generally sympathetic to evidence of legitimate self-defense claims.
@Mike – God’s love and judgment/wrath are not necessarily incompatible. By analogy, it is entirely possible that the rapist’s mother loves him but nonetheless condemns his actions.
Calvinism is pretty broad. You take issue with scholastic, decretal theology that is affirmed in Westminster. Not all Calvinists agree with Westminster in every dimension. In fact, not every “Calvinist” agrees with TULIP. I think it starts in the wrong place.
1) Don’t handwave predestination as a term so easily! I agree and reject what some mean by it (Everything that comes to pass is from God) rather God predestined to save us in Christ, before the foundation of the world. The Incarnation was before man was even created and rebellion or not, He would be amongst His people.
2) Just because you have a Christian friend in the military doesn’t mean its not a bad place to be. I have friends who would disagree with me, but I just don’t see how its possible in walking like Jesus.The Early Church almost unanimously thought military service abominable, not only because of idols, but because of promulgating violence. This from the mouth of someone who was about to join the USMC when King Jesus rescued me.
Mike I think it depends on your definition of humanity’s “choice” vs God’s will. I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive. Like if I say to my daughter “are we going to catch the bus or walk to the shops”. Regardless of what method she chooses to get there, we are still going to the shops.
On a lot grander scale, in a lot more complicated way, that’s how I see God’s will and human choice interacting. God’s will IS what will happen regardless, but He allows us choices in how it’s done. We are not robots. Just because God’s guides us and everything is His will, doesn’t negate mankind’s choices. Free will and God’s will aren’t discrete variables. They interact in ways that no human can fully comprehend – all we can do is try which is why there are so many different beliefs amongst Christians on the topic.
@ Cal – my first response got caught in a captcha error, so hopefully I won’t get a double post out of this. Your statement that the early Christian church “almost unanimously thought military service abominable” is contrary to my reading of the original sources and history. There are passages in Tertulian and Origen that speak well of Christians because they participate faithfully in the functioning of the empire, including specific references to military service. That’s late 2d / early 3d century. Constantine clearly had Christians in his army, almost certainly at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, but definitely later in his career. And Augustine developed his theory of the just war in the early 400s. And Christ’s interaction with the Centurian actually uses the example of being under authority in military service to illustrate the nature of faith.
I’m not saying that this was a universally accepted position or that it didn’t wax and wane — Augustine wrote on the just war partly in response to critics claiming that Christians were pacifists and therefore responsible for the troubles faced by the empire in the early 5th century. I’ve seen versions of your claim elsewhere, but I’ve never found proof that this was the case. And as the examples I cited above show, it’s not fair to say that the opinion was anywhere near unanimous.
Glenn if you’re correct and if what you believed happened actually happened the way you are suggesting it has happened then I would have to agree with you all the way. The problem that I’m having is that in the absence of all the facts, I’m very uncomfortable with saying that this father should be charged with anything. As I said in my earlier post, with what very few facts we do have available to us, it does appear as if this father may have acted as judge, jury and executioner of his daughters attacker but for us to call for action against this father when we ourselves don’t have all the facts, in my view, would place us in danger of acting as his judge, jury and executioner.
You pointed out that you don’t think anyone sincerely believes that the child abuser, once interrupted and stopped, would have again tried to rape a girl right there in front of the father. I certainly agree with this but would you agree that after stopping the attack the father also had the right to further insure their safety by doing what he was necessary to neutralize the suspect? I’m not saying he should have killed him but neutralized him, do you agree? If you agree that the father had the right to insure their safety, how many hits would you say would be justified before it went from defending, protecting and insuring their safety to “Repeatedly pummeling the man in the head”? How many hits did this father give? The thing is we don’t know if he beat him until he was exhausted and just couldn’t strike anymore or if he hit him four, five, or six times. We don’t know if the father was outmatched and felt he had to hit until this guy was incapable of bringing further harm to humor his daughter. From what I understand it was just the father, the attacker and the child until other help (witnesses) finally showed up.
Whereas I can agree that the child abuser, once interrupted and stopped, would “NOT” have again tried to rape the girl right there in front of the father, I cannot say with any level of certainty that the child abuser would not have done whatever he could have possibly done to avoid prison. I doubt after the attack was stopped, this man would have just quietly submitted to a citizens arrest and waited for the Texas Rangers. I would never underestimate ones desire to stay out of prison or what they might be capable of, especially when they’re only three hrs. away from the freedom of the Mexican border. I’m pretty sure this rapist wasn’t looking forward to be a convicted child rapist in a Texas prison. I don’t know if all this was going through the fathers head. I don’t know if the father continued to hit him an “unknown” amount of times because he was concerned for safety of him and his daughter. For all I know you could be right. Maybe this is a case of stopping, defending and avenging. If so, I would agree with you 100% but the thing that makes this difficult for me is that I just don’t know the full story.
Second paragraph second to last sentence should have read-> “further harm to him or his daughter.” 🙂
I’d debate your references to Tertullian and Origen.
Tertullian most of all, a man who hated Rome and thought soldiers, along with gladiators, false gods and emperors would burn forever. I only think of a quote by him, “When Christ disarmed Peter, he unbelted every soldier”. I’m not sure your sources.
I know Origen, in his response to Celsus that Christians were lackluster, traitorous and unpatriotic, stated that Christians were doing the Empire better service by prayer than the legions on the frontiers. He didn’t say “No, we do serve in the military”, that was what Celsus hammered the Christians for. Not serving when barbarians threatened every corner of the empire.
A lot of early Christians made parallels to use the metaphor of being a soldier for Christ. I don’t know if who your reading is skewing the quotes this way. There were Christians in the army, that is for certain, but very few (first being in the 4th century) took pride in such service. Many tried to leave as soon as possible. The irony of Martin being a saint for the military is that he threw down his military honors, asking instead to leave. There are other stories of Christians throwing their belts at their commander saying they are servants of Christ.
Regardless if true, Maximilian of Tebessa illustrates this story well. He is told to enlist as his father is a soldier (sons were compelled to enlist in order to maintain a certain legion service honor of land), he says he will not and can not. If he does not, he will be put to death (his failure to fulfill his father’s duty was equivalent to abandoning the army). He is asked why, he says he is a Christian. He is told other Christians serve, his reply is fascinating. He says he knows and they know best for themselves, but he can not do wrong.
Now that could mean that it was a matter of conscience or they were in error. There are plenty of early Christian voices who refused to receive soldiers and Christians who went off to serve in the legions were not welcomed back. I don’t think that’s necessarily right, but that’s the extent some despised the military. Condemnation of the military came from voices that also praised the empire (Lactantius). They accepted civil service was fine, but military was not open.
Eventually by Constantine, there were voices calling for the army (like Augustine) even though most qualified that a Christian could not fight and kill a Christian. Then once the door was opened, combined with the Constantinian fusion of sword and cross, it inevitably changed.
However, I’m of the view that the lure of power and the weariness caused by continual persecution (not necessarily killing, but constant stress) created a new theology of making the state sacred. Such thinking was predicted in Revelation and an abomination.
Anyway, sorry for the long derail, but I thought it important on talking about Christians, violence and its glorification/justification.
Glenn there seems to be a real confusion amongst commentators here between an (a) act being a killing motivated by extreme provocation and hence one we should not harshly punish or blame a person for doing, and an (b) act being justified as necessary to defend another person from rape.
You have argued the latter is false by pointing out the attempted rape had been stopped and yet after that the pounding continued. Obviously if it had been stopped it was not necessary for defense.
Your critics keep coming in and saying things like “But in that sort of extreme situation a person is likely to act with extreme fear, rage, etc etc so its unfair to blame him” which is of course correct, but that’s an argument for (a) not (b) and you have stated you accept (a). Your beef was with (b).
What I don’t understand is why so many people can’t understand this basic point despite it being repeated over and over.
Glenn, I love love love this post! I do agree with you, but quite apart from that, you’re calling us to criticize our instincts and strive for the highest, best way. That is always right.
@ Matthew Flannagan:
Being a lesser mortal who having not been trained in formal logic often struggles to comprehend the sometimes subtle nuances of arguments presented here, I think a lot of confusion wolud have been avoided if something to the effect of your post had come earlier. Also I think that this being such an emotive topic, we dont always see the wood for the trees 🙂
@ Matthew Flannagan:
You’ve said “the attempted rape had been stopped and yet after that the pounding continued. Obviously if it had been stopped it was not necessary for defense.”
Not necessary for defense? Does this not assume too much to suggest that just because the rape was stopped that the father should have believed that he and his child were free and clear from all danger? The child rapist already demonstrated what he was capable of when it came to satisfying his sick urges. Is it not unfair to assume that the father had no reason to believe that after the attack was stopped, the attacker would not have acted just as horrifically if it meant securing his freedom? We know a child was raped. We know the father stopped the rape. We know that the father continued to strike the attacker after the attack was stopped. We know he tried to get the attacker medical attention, even to the point of trying to take him to the hospital himself. What we don’t know is why the father continued to strike him or even how many times he struck him. Here we could only guess.
I think it all comes down to a matter of the facts in the case. If the father, having clearly neutralized the threat not only to his daughter but to himself — and by “clearly neutralized,” I mean that either he recognized, or any reasonable person placed in that crisis situation should have realized, that neither he nor his daughter was in any immediate danger — deliberately decided to beat the perpetrator to death, then what he did was wrong. To this extent, I agree with Glenn. People who allow their entirely appropriate moral outrage at the crime to distort their sense of justice into a form of vigilantism may have a consistent ethical stance, but I think that it is not one that could ultimately be reconciled with the teachings of Christianity. (And to echo a point several have made, I’m not sure I would have exhibited Christian restraint myself.)
For a variation on the scenario, suppose that he should have known that the threat was neutralized, but he did not deliberately choose to continue his assault on the perpetrator; instead, in the heat of the moment, he unthinkingly continued pummeling the rapist, landing (say) five or six blows to the head after the man was no longer a threat. This is a wrong; but it is largely extenuated by the circumstances. The level of self-awareness required to pull back at that point could not be expected of most fathers in a crisis situation of this kind.
If, on the other hand, the father took immediate action to neutralize the threat to his daughter and to himself when engaged and, in the course of that neutralization, involuntarily killed the perpetrator, then what he did was not wrong. For him to defend his daughter was commendable (I think everyone in this discussion agrees with this), and his use of potentially deadly force in the act would be fully morally justified. Rape is a case where it would be inappropriate to engage in the use of physical force without being willing, if necessary, to carry it to the ultimate extreme. If the only way I had of stopping someone from raping a child were to kill him instantly, I believe that I would be fully morally justified in doing so. (I might hesitate, but this would be for psychological reasons, not for moral ones.) And if the only way I had of saving her were to hit him as hard as I could, as many times as necessary in order for him to stop being a threat, that would be justified.
Perhaps someone with extensive martial arts training could, even in a crisis situation, have drawn a fine line between neutralizing the threat and just hitting the guy as hard as you could over and over until it is clear that he has stopped moving, even though that carries the possibility of killing him. It’s not a line I believe I could draw if I were in the situation myself.
The details of the story are not altogether clear, but my impression is that the latter description is pretty close to the truth. Unless it could be plainly established by detailed evidence that the former description is true, I think it more prudent to give the father the benefit…
… of the doubt.
Ciaron, but I did stress that I was allowing for a case of reduced capacity, provocation etc. I’m sure I said it at least three times, and yet people kept coming back with that issue as though I was overlooking it. So the distinction was there all along.
Tim, but “until it is clear that he has stopped moving” is not permissible. Where do people get the idea that stopping a threat means having permission (in a moral sense) to pummel a person until they are inanimate?
Let me add how much I appreciate the respectful tone that has come to dominate this thread. 🙂
“and by “clearly neutralized,” I mean that either he recognized, or any reasonable person placed in that crisis situation should have realized, that neither he nor his daughter was in any immediate danger — deliberately decided to beat the perpetrator to death, then what he did was wrong.”
Not far enough, Tim. If he had neutralized the threat – stopped the attack, then what gives him the right to beat the abuser *at all,* let alone to death? Surely attacking him at all after thinking that he had stopped the attack is the issue here. Glenn never claimed that he deliberately killed the guy, so be careful not to misrepresent him.
In the US there are degrees of murder of course, but here in NZ there aren’t, so my answer is based on NZ. Murder is premeditated. As I have clearly stated, I do not believe that this was murder (so I’m not 100% clear on why you’re asking me this).
Self defence – or the defence of another – is where a person does up to and including what is necessary to defend another person from immediate harm. For example, responding to a very minor assault by decapitating someone is not legitimate self defence. Nor, in my view, is stopping an attack and also beating someone to death. But the accusation of “murder” was never made by me. The was manslaughter at most, due to the presence of obvious provocation and reduced capacity.
But again, as I have repeatedly tried to get people to realise, my concern here is not primarily legal, but moral. I have said this multiple times, but please, readers, let me say it again:
My concern here is not primarily legal, but moral.
It does appear to me that the most substantial concerns that people are raising do seem to overlook what I have said (such as my clear claims that I do not regard this as murder).
“Does this not assume too much to suggest that just because the rape was stopped that the father should have believed that he and his child were free and clear from all danger?”
jojo, it seems to me that you’ve reversed the burden of proof here (or at least the burden of proof as I think it should be). When someone kills another person, they have the duty to argue that it was justified (obviously). And killing isn’t justified just because people are a possible risk. Of course there is a risk. But that a person has just abused a child and now been stopped does not show that they are about to do grievous bodily harm to you. But having stopped the attack (I think we all see this was accomplished) without repeatedly pummeling this man in the head (and I do not think you believe that the farm worker kept hurting anyone after this began), a person in my view bears a very heavy burden of proof on moral grounds to demonstrate that they actually needed to beat a person beyond restraining him, to the very point of death. You must surely accept this on moral grounds, right? You must surely see that the father was reacting out of shock and anger at what he had just seen, rather than thinking that he was stopping the farm worker from attacking someone.
Dan, I think we should agree that whether you are right about me being “wrong on the facts” stands or falls on your claim that “He is justified in doing so as long as the threat was not neutralized.” (Well, at least we can say your claim falls if this claim is false. Whether it stands overall will depend on several things.)
The question of course is – what actual threat? The threat of the daughter being further sexually assaulted? That’s a tough sell. I say that threat was no more. The undefined threat of possible response or flight from the perp once stopped? Well… what is that threat, exactly? The thought that OF COURSE the man would now violently assault the father unless pre-emptively beaten?
That may be the kind of thing that could be successfully argued in a trial, but for a jury to say that no such argument even needs to be made is disturbing. And of course, since my point is primarily moral and not legal (in other words, I would make this claim whatever the law said), I am, naturally, not bound by legal precedent. 🙂
Again, it is a matter of the facts in the case. If the time span between the father’s first laying a hand on the perpetrator and the final blow were, say, two minutes, we would reasonably wonder whether hitting him that long was necessary, and the phrase “beat the abuser … to death” might be warranted.
However, if the whole thing were over in under ten seconds, then it is much more plausible that there was not time for the father (assuming that he was not highly trained in martial arts, with preternatural self-possession in combat) to draw what I have called the fine line between neutralizing the threat and knocking the guy senseless.
If you will read my post again, you will see that I have not done so. The difficult area, morally, lies in the variation on the first scenario, as I described it. Did the father continue to hit the man “after thinking that he had stopped the attack,” where the attack consists in physical danger to either him or his daughter? Did he continue to hit him after he should have thought that he had stopped the attack?
Glenn, you write:
For most of us, in a brief scuffle, determining that the other person is no longer a threat is not a simple business. The key to the moral question here is not, as you seem to be suggesting, whether the perpetrator was in fact no longer a threat: it is the epistemic question of whether the father should have known that he was no longer a threat. I submit that if the fight was brief, then it will be difficult to make the charge stick that he should have, multiple blows to the head notwithstanding.
Still, if he went on beyond the point where he should have known that the man was no longer a threat, then, as I said, it is a wrong; but it is largely extenuated by the circumstances.
Dan is an expert in the legal reasoning on cases like this (and thank you, Dan, for your long and thoughtful post), and I think that the legal analysis he gave represents sound reasoning on the questions of defense of another, the level of threat constituted by rape in progress, and other such issues.
Tim: ” I submit that if the fight was brief”
This is the first time anyone has introduced this characterisation of events, so let me press you: Are you now saying that this was a fight between two men, a fight that was lost by the child abuser?
@ Matthew Flannagan:
No confusion, simply a third option:
an (c) act being justified as necessary to defend one’s self or child from physical assault.
The media here in Australia repeatedly has stories of men stepping in to stop a woman being raped, and then being killed (bashed, stabbed, shot) once they pulled the perp off the woman. Not all perps want to run away – some will turn on the good samaritan coming to the rescue. Some are just violent thugs, some are hyped up on drugs, some just want to make a clean get away and dispose of any witnesses before running.
It’s something you can never be sure of. Especially if the perp, the father and the child were the only witnesses. Nowhere does it say the perp tried to run.
And also, nowhere have I read the definition of “beaten to death”. There is a big campaign here in Australia called “one punch can kill”. Because it can. There are frequently news stories that use the term “beaten to death” to describe incidents when the attacker punched their victim ONCE. Just the one punch either triggered a pre-existing medical condition, or the victim hit their head on the ground, or similar.
How many times did this father hit the rapist and over what time frame? “Beaten to death” could mean anything from a single punch to a savage beat down over a long period of time with many blows.
It sounds to me, in everything I’ve ready so far, the father punched this guy only a few times, and the guy died. The media will hype such a situation as “beaten to death” but that’s all it would be – hype.
Until we’ve sat on that grand jury, listened to the evidence, or otherwise been involved in the case and seen the evidence for ourselves, we cannot know.
Actually Tim, don’t feel obliged to answer my question about whether or not this was a “fight” between two men. You will no doubt gather what I think of that claim, and I can more or less see how this disagreement will play out.
We will probably just have to disagree about what seems to be indicated took place by the facts that we are aware of. I think my understanding of what those known facts tell us is adequate to form a general moral point of view, others think not. Due to what I take to be the background factors surrounding existing intuitions about how much violence is justified in life, I don’t see myself making headway on that with many people.
We may also (and this does bother me a little more – if it’s true) have to disagree about whether or not we should form moral judgements based on what we think is morally best, as opposed to what is should (very arguably) be defensible in some legal contexts – and not just moral judgements about what people should do, but judgements about what people should encourage. Although for what it’s worth (given that this has been my emphasis throughout), I do hope that maybe I’ve given you a nudge on that issue.
Julie – according to the news story, authorities claimed that the man punched the abuser in the head “repeatedly.” That couldn’t mean once, and doesn’t suggest twice. I don’t think it’s hype to say that this was a beating to death. But that’s just the way it looks to me. Given that there’s not going to be a trial, this man will never have to make his case for what he did, nor will it ever be made known precisely what he did (unless he chooses to make it known).
And I see no problem with Christians who join the military with several provisos.
The mention of “just wars” came up, as well as other military-like issues like policing etc.
It’s the same issue as defending someone being abused vs being the aggressor. The purpose of a good military is to defend one’s country and to protect the abused elsewhere in the world. The problem is when militaries go past this and become the aggressors themselves.
Without defence forces, we would quickly end up like europe was when the Nazis were out of control. Many Christians joined the fight against the Nazis because they felt it was their duty as a Christian.
Brave men like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and many others who ultimately gave their lives to fight the Nazis.
It is not wrong to join a military who fights justly for just causes. The only problem arises is that when you’re in the military, you cannot choose what wars you fight. That is why it’s so important for other Christians to participate in politics, to vote, to lobby politicians – to keep our governments doing the right thing when it comes to the military.
I feel like I may need to do a podcast now to stress to people that I do think pacificism is wrong. 🙂
My very first comment in this discussion was that the proper moral evaluation depends on the facts — on what actually happened. I don’t think you disagree with that.
My best guess as to what actually happened, based not only on the one story I’ve read but also on my general knowledge of what Julie has so aptly called “hype,” is that either (1) the father could not reasonably have known that the perp was no longer a threat until he had hit him hard enough to kill him, or that (2) his failure to stop when he could reasonably have known that the perp was no longer a threat was morally wrong but continued only for a few seconds and, therefore, was to a significant extent extenuated by circumstances.
I think you disagree with my assessment of the facts in the case. But since the moral rather than the factual issues are the real point of interest here, it’s not worth wrangling about the best take-home message from the wording of the news story.
So I am most interested in your answers to two questions:
(1) If the father could not reasonably have known that the perp was no longer a threat until he had hit him hard enough to kill him, would you agree that, so far as the killing of the man is concerned, he is morally in the clear?
(2) If his failure to stop when he could reasonably have known that the perp was no longer a threat continued only for a few seconds, would you agree that, although it was morally wrong, it was to a significant extent extenuated by circumstances?
I should add that my understanding of what one can reasonably be expected to know in a combat situation is influenced by David Grossman’s empirical work on the physiological and psychological effects of combat situations, particularly On Combat.
As a Texan, I can with the utmost assurance state that your Texas accent is spot on. I pick up a bit of East Texas/SE Gulf Coast in the pronunciation.
Good post, btw.
I won’t go deep into this, as I don’t want to derail further (but I’m passionate about this!):
By what standard do you judge when a country is “good” or “evil”? What is a “just cause”? What makes you different from liberation theology or crusader mentality or “making the world safe for democracy” progressive theology? Those proponents really believed they were doing the just thing.
Just because I’m renouncing violence (as I believe Jesus would have us do) doesn’t mean I don’t fight evil like the Nazis. Even so, you conflate the two by citing Bonhoeffer. He wasn’t a soldier, he was actually a pacifist and his attachment to the bomb plot was loose. Even so, he didn’t think himself justified but was heavily guilty (like all Germans) and fell on the Son of Man to have mercy on him.
Tim: There are a number of points that I have repeated here. However, probably the point that I have repeated more than any other – to the point where I worried that my repetition would become annoying, specifically to ward off misunderstandings, is that while I think this man’s actions were morally wrong, there are mitigating circumstances that mean he was not a murderer. I’ve repeated my reference to the partial defence of provocation, and I’ve repeatedly harped on about my acceptance of the claim that he had diminished capacity to respond in a rational manner. With all due respect – but with the desire to stress how much of the problem is that people genuinely aren’t listening to what I say, this means that I have answered your question 2) at least four times explicitly now and won’t do so again. It bothers me that people are still even asking this (and I’m sorry that you got the brunt of that complaint, it’s the straw that broke the camel’s back).
As for question 1), I think it’s almost like cheating to add the word “reasonably.”
Here’s why I say that: I think it’s a fair test – not just a legal test, but in terms of general moral culpability – to ask not just whether or not a person themselves acts like X is true, but whether or not a reasonable person would believe that X is true. Now, what would you think if someone said: “Don’t you agree that if the 9/11 hijackers reasonably thought that crashing the airliners into the World Trade Centre would avert the wrath of God on humanity, they would be morally in the clear?” The problem of course is that a question like this just asks the other person to accept that the belief in question could have been reasonable. So my response is this: I do not accept that it is reasonable to believe that repeatedly pounding a person in the head until they’ve stopped moving is required in order to stop a rape on a girl and to pre-emptively ensure that the abuser will not turn on and attack you. I reject the reasonableness of that belief-action combo, and I especially (and here is the point) reject the claim that this belief-action combination is the morally best one to hold and enact under the circumstances.
I think a crucial distinction to draw here is this: I agree that it is reasonable for us to think that the killer would have assumed the worst and reacted in the worst way. That is what’s reasonable in this equation. But that doesn’t mean that he acted on beliefs or thoughts that were themselves reasonable. Indeed I would say that acknowledging his reduced capacity under the circumstances – as we all do – means that we should be more cautious about assuming that he was acting on reasonable beliefs.
Remember: Bad-tolerable-better-best. I’m trying to get people to desire the best in themselves and to call for the best in others, not to simply admit what is understandable on the part of others.
I’m sorry you feel your patience has been tried. It was not my intention to suggest that you didn’t agree; in fact, I rather suspected that you did. However, my question (2) is not quite the same as what you’ve summarized here; it says nothing about murder. For all that your claim about its not being murder entails, you might have said that in the circumstances described what he did was not murder, but that the guilt of manslaughter was unmitigated. I’m guessing that you also think the guilt of manslaughter was mitigated. But that is what I wanted to know.
I’m also sorry that you feel it is cheating to insert the word “reasonably” in question (1). I think it is absolutely essential to the question, that the failure to include it will inevitably lead to a warped or incomplete moral assessment of the situation, and that your reason for rejecting it is unconvincing. You write:
Now we’re getting down to the kernel of our disagreement, and the curious thing is that it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with morality or Christianity; it is a claim about what it is possible reasonably to believe.
Earlier, you asked me:
I think it almost certain that there was a brief fight — probably only a few seconds long — tangled up with the process of getting the perpetrator off of the girl. It is unrealistic to suppose that the abuser made no attempt to fight back, as this is a natural male reaction to aggression. Humans don’t do the possum thing well.
The phrase “repeatedly pounding” may be doing work here that is not licit, since it makes it sound as though there were a protracted beat-down in progress, which is an assumption contradicted by the terms of my first question. An average healthy middle-aged male with adrenaline dumped into his system can hit someone five times, hard, in two or three seconds. And that adrenaline changes brain chemistry in ways that affect sensation and information processing, which in turn affects what the father could reasonably have judged. On this subject, I strongly recommend Grossman’s work to you.
If you want to persuade your readers that it is inconceivable or even profoundly implausible that the father could not reasonably have realized that the threat was neutralized until the perpetrator was mortally injured, then I think you need to make an argument for that claim. Given what we know from empirical research about combat situations, that will, in my judgment, be…
… very difficult to do.
Tim, manslaughter is killing in cases where there is mitigation, making it not murder. At least that’s how the term is used in NZ. So yes it was manslaughter (the killing of a man), but the mitigation here means that it’s not murder. The mitigation includes provocation, reduced capacity etc. I take this to answer 2), hence my previous comment.
As for the rest, “repeatedly pounded,” according to the story, is what the authorities claimed took place. A pound, I take to be a heavy strike, and “repeatedly” I take to be decent number, more than just (say) three. I don’t really see how it’s not licit – but I see how it bothers those who want to defend the actions, because it more forcefully draws our attention to the actions, which really are hard to defend.
As for whether or not it is I who needs to now make a further argument, I aver otherwise. I think I am prima facie correct, since on the face of it, pounding a person’s head until they’ve stopped moving isn’t reasonably thought (i.e. never mind what we would reasonably expect to be thought by this guy (we are in a position to be reasonable, after all), but it’s not what would be thought by a reasonable person) to be necessary in order to stop an attack (which is essentially over) and also warranted because i) you reasonably infer that you’re about to be attacked and ii) you need to do more than just stop the attack but you also need to, well, do what is really enough to kill the guy.
When I see the suggestion that I somehow have a a burdensome case to make, it sounds to my moral senses like people are speaking another language. I think they need to make the case for that claim, but they don’t (seem to). My intuitions are that the mountain of a burden rests with anyone who says that these actions were morally required. This is why each time someone says that I need to make a case, I don’t. “What case?” I think. And as long as this is people’s stance, I think the moral facts are simply against them and that is that.
This is why I said, in my previous comment, that we’re probably going to have to (sadly, in my view), not just differ over what the likely facts are, but also over what is actually good in terms of defensible action in those circumstances. You have intuitions that endorse a way of thinking and acting that fundamentally clash with mine, which may even suggest a different view on the way God sees people, I don’t know. I don’t see a lot of headway being made.
I have really appreciated some of these comments, but I’m going to bow out now. People are welcome to continue the discussion. I’ll just leave this as my thought for the day:
I’m no pacifist. Not by a long stretch. But I have recently gained a new appreciation for the frustration they must feel at people’s natural instincts about the righteousness of violence.
You write: “manslaughter is killing in cases where there is mitigation, making it not murder.” Technically, I believe this is not the proper definition; manslaughter is the crime of killing a human being without malice aforethought, or otherwise in circumstances not amounting to murder. Mitigating circumstances are only one way for the killing of a human being not to be classified as murder. Negligence, for example, might lead one to the reckless discharge of a firearm that kills someone. And though the crime is not murder, there may be no circumstances that mitigate the negligence.
I’m sorry that you do not think that you need to provide an argument for the position (which I take it you are endorsing) that it is (at least) profoundly implausible that the father could not reasonably have realized that the threat was neutralized until the perpetrator was mortally injured — something that, as I have indicated, could have taken place in just a few seconds. This is a question that cannot reasonably be settled without taking account of the empirical facts regarding the effects of combat situations on the human mind and body. Those effects, which are extensive, are well documented. If you do not want to engage with these empirical issues, then there isn’t much left to discuss.
Tim, that’s very, very bad form. Shame. Glenn was clear in explaining why he believed any reasonable person should think that the attack on the girl was over. He explained that he thinks the burden of proof rests with those who endorse the killing to argue that a reasonable person should suppose that this level of violence was necessary. And now, after Glenn very gracefully bows out, you goad him by sneakily implying that he has not defended his position. That’s low. Glenn has been incredibly patient with this sort of thing, much moreso than a lesser person might have been.
Kudos for your handling of the responses, Glenn.
Glenn & all who want to answer:
Why is pacifism such a dirty word? It’s something that has a full spectrum to it. You have pacifists like Ghandi and pacifists like Yoder and the foundation of their position is worlds apart (quite literally).
If you haven’t read Yoder’s Politics of Jesus, read it and then critique Christian-pacifism.
Cal – I don’t think it’s a dirty word, for what it’s worth. I have only said that I think pacifism is a mistaken view. I regard many views as respectable and understandable, but mistaken. I will likely comment on pacifism specifically in future.
And to all – I’ve had a change of heart since my last comment, and I have decided to close the comments. (Sandra, for what it’s worth, I don’t really think your comment to Tim was necessary, and I’m trying to stem the tide of that sort of thing given that I won’t be following the conversation. I think those who have spoken have had their say now – and I have given them the last say to be as fair as possible in closing comments.)
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