Saturday, December 30, 2006

Some Thoughts On Saddam Hussein

After consulting a friend of mine, I have been informed that the death of a notable world figure DOES, in fact, count when identifying a "celebrity death trifecta," regardless of the manner of death. Saddam's execution, therefore, completes the current death trifecta: James Brown, Gerald Ford, and Saddam Hussein. Wow. Poor James Brown.

I've never seen Fox News so happy. Well, not for a long time - they've finally got some "good news" to report. But is it really "good news?" Is our world any safer? Is Iraq better served? What will George Bush do without Saddam Hussein to kick around any more?

Yes... Saddam was a brutal dictator, and he was personally responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi citizens. But does that mean I agree with his execution? Nope. Sorry.

You see, I consider myself to be an actual Christian. Not a political Christian, nor a condescending, judgemental Christian. Here's what Christians SHOULD believe regarding execution:
"But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions." Matthew 6:15

"You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.' But I tell you, don't stand against an evil person. If someone hits you on the right cheek, then turn and let him hit the other cheek too." Matthew 5:38-39

"Judge not, that ye be not judged." Matthew 7:1

"Thou shalt not kill." Exodus 20:13
What strikes me as equally interesting is that those who defend Gerald Ford for his compassion in showing mercy to Nixon are the very same individuals who are thrilled at the execution of Saddam Hussein today.

What's been CRAZY is listening to any of the news channels today as they switch back and forth among their different "lead stories"... as I have it on in the background, it becomes very confusing to follow who they're talking about. CNN, at one point, had a split screen, following the James Brown funeral in Augusta, the arrival of Gerald Ford's body and the motorcade, and people celebrating the death of Saddam in Dearborn, Michigan - all at the same time. They have pundits then commenting on each one, and if you're not listening closely, it's possible to come up with some hysterical foul-ups, including at one point where I thought that they were reporting that MC Hammer was going to be attending the funeral of Gerald Ford.

What a crazy way to end what has been a horrendous year.

Posted by FleshPresser at 12:11 PM /


  • Blogger Nick Payne posted at 11:05 AM  
    I'm with you 101%

    I cannot reconcile the deliberate ending of an unsaved life with any attitude Christ displayed.

    Do I believe Saddam Hussein was an evil man? Yes. Does that give me the right to cut short his life and speed him to eternal judgement, denying him any possibility however remote of being convicted by the Holy Spirit and repenting? No.

    If it were within my power to have decided upon a sentence, it would be to make him spend the rest of his days eating only staple foods and personally repatriating the graves of the people he had massacred under his regime - digging the individual graves and wherever possible have him be made to confront the consequences his actions had on others.

    Perhaps if he had been punished in that way, there might have been hope that a glimmer of remorse could be kindled into a flame of repentance. We will never know now because people chose to hate the enemy so much, they resorted to the enemies ways.

    I believe you either stand for life or death, I don't think there is a grey area on this one.

  • Blogger FleshPresser posted at 11:52 AM  
    Well said, Nick! Thanks for the thoughts - Happy New Year!

  • Blogger Steve Hayes posted at 12:40 PM  
    Right on!

    Hanging Saddam Hussein will be as good for Iraq as hanging PW Botha would have been good for South Africa.

  • Blogger Targuman posted at 1:15 AM  
    FP since you wondered whether or not I could post on multiple topics (I do, often, just not always here)...

    I should being by saying that I am conflicted about whether or not Saddam Hussien should have been executed. Most of my reasons for believing it was appropriate actually revolve around politics, not American, but Iraqi. I think it is better for Iraq that Saddam is no longer able to become a focal point or a rallying point for Bathists and others who might look to him as an icon for a renewed regime of totalitarianism. But I am not sure that the rushed manner is helpful either. It would have been best, IMHO, if he could have stood trial for all of the other charges as well.

    Now to your theological arguments. I find it interesting that you say, "You see, I consider myself to be an actual Christian. Not a political Christian, nor a condescending, judgemental Christian." It makes me wonder what is the definition of an "actual Christian" (do you believe and affirm the Apostle and Nicene Creeds, the hallmark of "true Christianity" for nearly 2,000 years?) and who gets to create this definition? Your phrasing has the benefit of making any Christian who does not agree with you on this issue not an "actual Christian." Now THAT is being judgmental and condescending!

    To the hermeneutical points you raise, starting with the easiest first. "Thou shalt not kill." Exodus 20:13 This is, in fact, a mistranslation. It should read "You shall not murder." This is not a subtle difference but a real one grammatically and contextually. The Hebrew is not the same as "to kill." This command refers to a premeditated and willful act against someone who is not deserving of their fate. The context makes it clear that the authors of the text and their community not only approved of certain forms of killing (genocide for example, that whole conquest of Canaan thing) but "state" execution as well (for children who disobey their parents, no less!). So this is a case of you picking a passage out of context and misinterpreting and misapplying it.

    The others are, of course more challenging. I have often said in class that Christianity's biggest "problem" with regard to war is that its founder was largely a pacifist. You are probably aware that there is a large and long-standing body of literature, theology, and philosophy that wrestles with just this question, beginning with Paul (see Romans 13 passim). Many very learned, sincere, and I would suggest "actual" Christians have come to a very different conclusion than you and many other learned, sincere, and "actual" Christians.

    I could tackle each of the other verses you present to demonstrate how they need not be read in the manner you seem to imply they should be interpreted, but (1) such readings would not necessarily be my own and (2) I am not sure if it is a conversation for this list. If so, by all means let me know.

    I will offer one general comment, which is that all three of your Matthean quotes may and are often viewed as referring specifically to the acts and attitudes of the individual rather than the state. In fact, this is true of most of the NT and is one key characteristic that sets its apart from the Tanakh when it comes to discussing "legal texts." The NT doesn't really have them because earliest Christians, by and large, were not in positions of power and authority! In other words, there are some dicta which may apply to the individual ("thou shalt not kill") that may not apply to the society ("when someone does X after due process they shall be executed"). [BTW, this does not contradict my earlier point, this is merely by way of illustration, on the main, according to the Torah an individual was never to kill someone unless sanctioned by the community.]

    Perhaps the greater challenge to many is found on the bracelet: WWJD? I am not sure that he would call for or condone SH's execution. I really don't know. I do know that Jesus more than any other speaker/writer in the NT (outside of Revelation) spoke of the condemnation of those who disobeyed God, referring often to their eternal torment. Ouch. But it was always in the context of God's FINAL judgment, so that doesn't help us much either...

    So, would you say I am an "actual" Christian since I cannot give you a firm answer on the question of capital punishment? Or might the question of the divinity of Jesus and the nature of his sacrifice be more important to defining Christians and Christianity?

  • Blogger FleshPresser posted at 2:52 PM  
    Hey CB! I'm not sure if I should be concerned about you or flattered - receiving your comments here at 1:15AM on New Year's Eve/New Year's Day - either way, hope it was a great one!

    Look, I'm not going to get into an argument on theology with a theologian.... I'm woefully unprepared to do so.

    I will say this - I believe that Saddam's execution, on a political level, was a mistake for exactly the reasons you mentioned.

    I do believe, however, that the death penalty is wrong in general.

    Perhaps I was being a bit provocative with my "real Christians should believe this" statement (he said with a sheepish grin), and I'll be the first to admit that. Just because all too often I find Christians making political statements that call my Christianity into question on the basis of a public policy issue does not mean that I should make that same leap.

    I won't make the leap into defenses of translations and semantics because (a) I'm not equipped to do so, and (b) I think it's simply not possible to come up with a clear, concrete factual answer - everyone can find a translation to suit their specific needs, after all... right?

    Your last paragraph probably speaks loudest to me - WWJD? And you bring up good points for both sides of the coin. Keeping in mind the pacifist nature of Christ, and the ultimate judgement of man by God... well, ultimately, doesn't it rather need to be "WWJHUD?" Translated - "What Would Jesus Have Us Do?" By this I mean, wouldn't there be a distinction between Christ condemning man to death and man condemning man to death?

    I can't give a solid answer, either. I guess, as with most things theological, it ultimately winds up being a matter of faith over fact.... yes?

    My beef with the "judgemental, condescending Christian" as I put it in a knee-jerk fashion, is that too often I find particularly conservative (and yes, Republican if we have to label it to a political party) Christians using their faith to defend their political beliefs, and then labeling everyone else as somehow inferior if they don't share those same beliefs.

    Still,in the same way that it would be improper for me to decide who gets to live and who gets to die, it would also be wrong of me to decide who gets to officially wear the label of "Christian."

    I guess we'll all find out, in the end.

    Happy New Year.

  • Blogger Targuman posted at 4:12 PM  
    Thank you for a thoughtful response to my response! I can say that I agree with everything you have now said with two (minor) caveats.

    (1) "I won't make the leap into defenses of translations and semantics because ...(b) I think it's simply not possible to come up with a clear, concrete factual answer - everyone can find a translation to suit their specific needs, after all... right?"
    No, not always. While there are translations for just about any reader's whims that does not mean that some translations aren't better than others or that there are not translations that are just "right" (as well as "wrong," of course). This is one of those cases where you can find varying translations ("kill" versus "murder") but it is a darker/paler shade of gray than others. The best translation really is "murder." As the classic Biblical Hebrew lexicon has it "murder, slay, with premeditation; c. acc. pers., unawares."

    We can be concrete more often than not and, while I am not accusing you of this, far too often people will try and make a theological point (and often on Ex. 20.13) and then when challenged hide behind "we can't really know." Again, I don't think you meant to do this, I just find this occurring often with people who know better (i.e., folks in religious contexts). It is not all about "faith," there is a lot of knowable and discoverable fact out there.

    (2) "...Christians using their faith to defend their political beliefs, and then labeling everyone else as somehow inferior if they don't share those same beliefs."
    This is not just Republicans, although I will certainly grant that they have had the bully pulpit longer than the Dems as of late. As an Episcopalian I often here similar arguments made by people from the left. I don't think I need to provide scenarios and examples.

    This thread coincided nicely with some reading and research I was doing today, so I hope you will not mind my giving this link to a blog entry I wrote related, tangentially, to this thread. "There was no rejoicing over the destruction of the wicked before Him on high"

  • Blogger FleshPresser posted at 1:33 PM  
    Winding our way back to the political side of the execution, I found this very interesting. On the 29th, the White House issued a statement following the execution of Saddam, congratulating the Iraqi people.

    I was reading the New York Times yesterday, and came across this lovely little article (, which in part reads that:

    The American decision to confirm that they had opposed the quick execution came after days of silence from the American Embassy and the United States military command in Baghdad, which appeared to have been shocked, like so many others, by the unofficial video recording that showed the bedlam at the gallows.

    With some Iraqi politicians raising fresh demands for Mr. Maliki’s dismissal, the Americans, in offering to have a senior official discuss the matter in a telephone interview with The New York Times, appeared keen to protect the Bush administration from a fresh surge of criticism for its handling of events in Iraq.

    The official said that among American officials in Iraq who had tried to stop Mr. Maliki from rushing Mr. Hussein to the gallows, the reaction to the scenes of abuse had been one of dismay.

    “Well, yes, when I think of the behavior of the people who were there, I’m disappointed and distressed, that’s true,” the official who spoke in the telephone interview said.

    Just thought it to be an interersting political spin, as always.

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