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Scholar Argues There's Little Evidence Jesus Died On A Cross


Neon Genesis
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A biblical scholar is arguing that there's little evidence Jesus actually died on a cross and that Jesus may have died through other execution means. If this is true, what sort of impact do you think this will have on Christendom and Christians' understanding of atonement and the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus? Do you think this discovery will cause Christians to rethink their faith and the way they see salvation? http://www.aolnews.com/nation/article/little-evidence-jesus-died-on-a-cross-says-swedish-scholar/19530666?icid=main|aim|dl1|link1|http://www.aolnews.com/nation/article/little-evidence-jesus-died-on-a-cross-says-swedish-scholar/19530666

(June 27) -- The crucifix is the defining symbol of Christianity, a constant reminder to the faithful of the sacrifice and suffering endured by Jesus Christ for humanity. But an extensive study of ancient texts by a Swedish pastor and academic has revealed that Jesus may not have died on a cross, but instead been put to death on another gruesome execution device.

 

Gunnar Samuelsson -- a theologian at the University of Gothenburg and author of a 400-page thesis on crucifixion in antiquity -- doesn't doubt that Jesus died on Calvary hill. But he argues that the New Testament is in fact far more ambiguous about the exact method of the Messiah's execution than many Christians are aware.

 

"When the Gospels refer to the death of Jesus, they just say that he was forced to carry a "stauros" out to Calvary," he told AOL News. Many scholars have interpreted that ancient Greek noun as meaning "cross," and the verb derived from it, "anastauroun," as implying crucifixion. But during his three-and-a-half-year study of texts from around 800 BC to the end of the first century AD, Samuelsson realized the words had more than one defined meaning.

"'Stauros' is actually used to describe a lot of different poles and execution devices," he says. "So the device described in the Gospels could have been a cross, but it could also have been a spiked pole, or a tree trunk, or something entirely different." In turn, "anastauroun" was used to signify everything from the act of "raising hands to suspending a musical instrument."

 

The manner in which Jesus died is further thrown into question by Samuelsson's discovery that crucifixion may have been an unusual form of punishment in the Roman Empire. Descriptions of crucifixions contained in the thousands of Hebrew, Aramaic, Latin and Greek manuscripts he examined most commonly referred to dead prisoners being placed on some form of suspension device, or living captives skewered on stakes. The first century Roman philosopher Seneca the Younger, for example, wrote about seeing a great many prisoners of war on "crosses" after one campaign. But the scribe then describes how a large number of the dead had been impaled.

 

"If you search for ancient texts that specifically mention the act of crucifixion [as we understand it today]" he says, "you will end up with only two or three examples."

 

That revelation stands in stark contrast to claims that appear in many books on the historical Jesus, as well as more general surveys of life under Roman rule, which state that prisoners were routinely nailed to crosses. (The Encylopaedia Britannica, for example, says crucifixion was an "important method of capital punishment" in Rome.)

 

Of course, this lack of hard evidence doesn't mean that the Roman Empire was a crucifix-free zone. Samuelsson suspects that crucifixion was simply one of a great many methods of execution employed across the empire. He notes that Flavius Josephus -- a Jewish historian and adviser to three Roman emperors in the 1st century -- recorded how Roman soldiers were allowed to use their "wicked minds in various ways to execute" prisoners captured during a Jewish uprising. This suggests that the method of Jesus' execution may have been decided by legionnaires stationed at Calvary, and not by the state.

 

"If we put this on the table, and think that the execution of Jesus was the result of the wicked mind of the soldiers at that very point, we can't know how he could have been executed," Samuelsson says. "The executions of that day could have taken a completely different form from ones the day before."

 

The Swedish scholar isn't sure exactly why the crucifix went on to become the dominant Christian motif. But this symbol only seems to have become fixed in followers' minds long after Jesus' death, as the first T and X shaped crucifixes appear in Christian manuscripts around the 2nd century AD.

 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Samuelsson's thesis has caused something of an unheavenly row. While fellow theologians have complimented his highly detailed research, many critics in the blogosphere have claimed that he wants to undermine Christianity. Samuelsson -- who believes that "the man who walked this earth was the Son of God, and that he will return to judge the living and the dead" -- says this accusation is simply "stupid."

 

"I'm really just a boring, conservative pastor and I start everyday reading the New Testament," he says. "But my suggestion is that we should read the text as it is, not as we think it is."

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I think it might affect the organizational structure of the Church, which lies on the importance of dogma, but not on those Christians (progressives) who have faith in a live and personal God within. The Progressive Christians seem to have an internal enlightened experience called love.

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Some Christian sects, like the Jehovah's Witnesses, have been teaching this for quite a while. I don't see what kind of impact this could have on Christian theology. Only fanatics would find their faith threatened by questioning the exact method of Jesus' execution. (I seem to remember some parody articles about this at landoverbaptist.com :rolleyes:)

 

This is evidenced by the fact that the scholar who did this study is a conservative pastor.

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I linked this to one of my Catholic friends. She finds it interesting but doesn't think it would have any major relevance to atonement theology because it's not the method of Jesus' execution that matters to atonement theology. She said that fundamentalist Christians who insist on Sola Scriptua might feel threatened by this though because that would mean the crucifixion was sacred tradition rather than scriptural based.

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Guest billmc

The Progressive Christians seem to have an internal enlightened experience called love.

 

Such gentle sarcasm. I love it. :P But I think you're right, Soma, the more conservative Christians tend to see Jesus execution as something God did in order to have Jesus purchase forgiveness and as long as blood was shed, they probably wouldn't bark too loudly. Progressives tend to see Jesus' death as more of a symbol of self-sacrificing love. It wasn't a requirement. And that makes the offering that much more meaningful.

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Progressives tend to see Jesus' death as more of a symbol of self-sacrificing love. It wasn't a requirement. And that makes the offering that much more meaningful.

 

Bill, you've articulated something very beautiful here that has helped solidify my own understanding.

 

Thanks,

Mike

Edited by Mike
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"...it might affect the organizational structure of the church"

I don't think so. It won't suffer one whit.

 

The 'Cross' has long been fundamentaly understood to be a stake, or a post, or a tree trunk, or even as a cross similar to the Christian logo.

The non-Christian may find this 'breaking news' to be revolutionary, but, it's hardly news to anyone who fundamentally understands what's in the Bible. Samuelsson's 'thesis' may have been news to the AOL reporter, but it's not news in Christiandom.

 

I agree with Mike that only fanatics would be threatened.

-

 

Most progressives may tend to see that Jesus' death was an act of self-sacrificing love; but, every Christian that I know, fundamentally knows that Jesus' death was an act of self-sacrificing love. (John 15:13,14)

 

To really understand its meaning, the answer to know is... why? Why is Jesus' death thought of as an act of self-sacrificing love?

 

That question should probably remain rhetorical on this thread.

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I like what Crossen says ... The specifics of how or why he died are not particularly inportant ... what is important is that Jesus's message didn't die with him. That the people were so touched that they risked the same treatment, whatever it was, to continue the movement.

 

 

steve

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As Crossen sees the Jesus 'movement' as valid in terms of it's righteous, why does he? What is it that makes Jesus' 'movement' more righteous than, say, Hilter's? Adolph certainly thought of his as being righteous, and he had a lot of people who thought so, too.

 

We can't just shrug off the question of why, by mindlessly saying it's "not particularly important". Why is critically important. If we have no answer for the question of why (?), then we have no answer.

 

We all seem to agree that Jesus' message of truth and love is unique in it's importance. But why is it? Against who's measure?

 

By whose authority can we say Jesus' death should be thought of as an act of self-sacrificing love? Is it by yours, or mine? Whose then?

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As Crossen sees the Jesus 'movement' as valid in terms of it's righteous, why does he? What is it that makes Jesus' 'movement' more righteous than, say, Hilter's? Adolph certainly thought of his as being righteous, and he had a lot of people who thought so, too.

 

We can't just shrug off the question of why, by mindlessly saying it's "not particularly important". Why is critically important. If we have no answer for the question of why (?), then we have no answer.

 

We all seem to agree that Jesus' message of truth and love is unique in it's importance. But why is it? Against who's measure?

 

By whose authority can we say Jesus' death should be thought of as an act of self-sacrificing love? Is it by yours, or mine? Whose then?

Hitler may have believed his movement was righteous but believing something is righteous does not make it so. To simplify the righteousness of Jesus' movement to being defined by a doctrine which says Jesus must be offered up as human blood sacrifice to appease a vengeful god trivializes the life and teachings of Jesus to me and ignores the impact Jesus had on peoples' lives while he was still alive. The details of Jesus' death are certainly important from a historical standpoint but the death and resurrection of Jesus are more than just a factoid that may or may not have happened in a distance past. It is a spiritual transformation Christians must undergo in their daily lives. Christians can believe in the "orthodox" understanding of Jesus' death and original sin all they want, but if they're not following the teachings and example Jesus set in his life, what difference is it making? What difference does Jesus' death make if you overemphasize the death of Jesus at the expense of his life and teachings? Is it the death of Jesus that transforms people or is it the teachings of Jesus?
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Sorry, Steve, in my haste, I didn't catch this.

 

Crossen sees the Jesus 'movement' as valid in terms of it's being righteous, why does he? What is it that makes Jesus' 'movement' more righteous than, say, Hilter's? Adolph certainly thought of his as being righteous, and he had a lot of people who thought so, too.

--

 

Neon,

 

I'm sympatheic with the bulk of what you've said.

But you've yet to tell us WHY you consider Jesus' teaching and example as true and important over anyone elses teaching or example, which includes mass murderers; i.e.; WHY is murder wrong?

 

We all seem to agree that Jesus' message of truth and love is unique. But WHY is truth and love right? WHY should we think Jesus' example carries any authoritative weight over what is truth and love than anyone else?

 

The evidence says that Jesus was killed. Whether on a tree trunk or a spike is debatable, but hardly worth the effort. Jesus taught of the vital importance of His sacrifice. Had He not been killed, then His example of self-sacrificing love would not have any basis of understanding, and where would that leave the progressive movement in Christianity?

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Truth and love is right because if we all lived in a society where everyone murdered each other all the time, life would be much more difficult. Human beings are sociable creatures and we depend on each other for support and to reproduce. If we spent all our lives looking over our shoulder, we wouldn't be able to trust each other and life is more difficult to live when you can't trust in anyone. According to the bible, God gave the commandment "thou shalt not murder" long before Jesus' death. Jesus' death wasn't needed to figure this out as humans figured out long before then that murder is immoral and dangerous for society to engage in unless the Ten Commandments suddenly had no value before Jesus' death.

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It is very unlikely that Hitler had any concept of 'righteousness' other than 'self-righteousness' owing to the likilihood that he was a sociopath and thus lacked the capacity to value anythig other than his own self-interests. If this is the case, then any comparison to Hitler would be ... well, rather crude (IMO).

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BINGO, Neon!

Right on the nose.

Why is murder wrong?

It is because, God said it was.

It is by His having the final authority to say so, only, that we can say murder is immoral. Anything less than God can provide no such authority.

By having referred to the Bible as the source of such knowledge, it seems you've given your tacit approval of the Bible as providing the authoritative guidance on the issue of murder. That authority is God's.

--

 

minsocal,

I agree with the assesment.

I think we can rightly consider Hitler's perspective as well off the mark. But what makes our perpective accurate.

 

If you read him, you will find he saw himself and the Aryan race, as men and a nation, who had evolved to superiority over all other men. He believed he and his nation had final authority; that it was he who sets the rules of right and wrong; that he, and his movement was righteous beyond anyone or anything else.

 

If it is not God who first loved and so established the moral code, we could have no real experience with love, or right and wrong. As we've seen, our claiming autonomy undoudtedly leads us to untold problems.

--

Davidk

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BINGO, Neon!

Right on the nose.

Why is murder wrong?

It is because, God said it was.

It is by His having the final authority to say so, only, that we can say murder is immoral. Anything less than God can provide no such authority.

By having referred to the Bible as the source of such knowledge, it seems you've given your tacit approval of the Bible as providing the authoritative guidance on the issue of murder. That authority is God's.

 

Davidk

I think you're misunderstanding the point I was bringing up. I don't believe murder is wrong because God said so. I believe murder is wrong because society would be more chaotic if everyone murdered each other. My point about the Ten Commandments is that Jesus' death is irrelveant to whether or not murder is wrong. Even if Jesus never died on the cross, murder would still be wrong and societies would have found out murder was wrong even without Jesus' death. The Israelites discovered murder was wrong long before Jesus came along. Likewise, there were moral codes long before the Ten Commandments were wrong which also reached the conclusion murder was wrong such as the Egyptian Book of the Dead which was written long before the bible was. Yahweh and Jesus are not needed to understand murder is wrong. In fact, in the U.S. it is the religious states which have the highest crime rates and the more secular liberal states which have lower crime rates. Murder is wrong because of the social chaos that would ensue if it became a social norm and no society would be able to survive if murder became a social norm. Atonement theology or divine command theory are not needed to explain why murder is immoral. Would murder become good if God said it was good? I do believe the bible can serve as A moral guidance but it not the only moral guidance that you must turn to nor is it needed to figure out why murder is wrong.
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Neon,

With an impersonal beginning, morals are just another form of metaphysics. Everything finally and equally impersonal (mass, emotion, energy). Real morals would simply not exist.

We could discuss what is antisocial, what society doesn't like. We could talk about statistical averages for our ethics, and we could vote to see who gets the 51%. Or, some elite class of bureaucrats could tell the rest of us what is right and what is wrong, based upon their own votes. We could just hook everybody up to a computer and have it strike the average at any given moment what will be right or what will be wrong. It will be the big against the small. But we could not rightly discuss what is really right or wrong.

 

The Bible is not relatable in that context. Because, when it speaks of right and wrong, it is on the basis of an infinite-personal God saying what is right and wrong, not a fickle society.

Why Jesus' death on the cross is of any importance is attributable only when in the context of a personal-infinite God, and not on what society may or may not say about it.

 

You have the answer within your reach. Just open you heart to the possibility.

--

Davidk

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Yet the bible contains some of the most fickle moral values I've seen. In one passage, God fights to set the Israelites free from the Egyptians but turns around and allows the Israelites to have slaves. In one passage, God forbids murder but commands the Israelites to murder non-believers and children. Sex outside marriage is a sin yet God commands the Israelites to keep the women they capture from their enemies for their own sexual pleasure. There are many beautiful passages in the bible and I love the moral teachings of Jesus but the bible also contains many horrifying and out-dated moral passages which even most biblical literalists no longer follow in modern times. If absolute morals are necessary and you can only have those under God, why aren't Christians no longer required to stone people for eating shrimp? Isn't that clearly a case of relativism?

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I've been floating around a few forums, having various debates and chats with all and sundry (mainly sundry) and I must say it becomes illuminating just how various the opinions are of those who advocate allegiance to an "inerrant/infallible/inspired" book. Which makes its own point, which is seen - or not. But it got me thinking (always a bad sign) about the "moral code" and maybe what "justice" is, and is something "just" because a "God" would declare it so, or do we have an innate sense of justice, and if so, where does it come from. Really - and I'm not being disingenuous - I'm unable to follow many of the various arguments on some of these threads. As I've said, maybe I'm more the intuitive type...i.e. "thick", as we say in the UK.

 

But, as I say, I was reflecting upon the various ideas concerning "judgement", and "justice" or whatever. Some of my debates were with fellow Universalists, who share my own view that justice and mercy are one and the same, that without justice to the full there can be no mercy, and without mercy to the full there can be no justice. Why? Intuition! Don't ask me for Biblical verses, nor logical syllogisms! But others saw the "lost" as being extinguished, and this was justice, because God decreed it. And others claimed that the "lost" suffer eternally, and this, again, was justice, because God decreed it. All, I suppose, had their various Biblical verses to support them. (Though, of course, none would admit to actually "interpreting" such, but each merely accepted the plain meaning!!)

 

Then back through time. St Augustine claimed that unbaptised infants are in fact "damned" - I think some sort of not quite so painful "limbo" was envisaged, but "damned" nevertheless. And lest anyone think this sort of thing is long gone, I once had the dubious pleasure of reading a Protestant Tract entitled "The Reason Why" which in fact claimed the self same thing....yes folks! All those children who die each year, curled up in a foetal position, unfed, awash in their own excrement, all lost. As one modern Christian has claimed in a sermon on the subject, "Ignorance of the law is no excuse!" (I kid you not!) Fortunately I havent seen this particular tract recently. Hopefully it is out of print, or maybe the Vice Squad caught up with it..............

 

But to get serious - though I am being serious throughout in my own way - its just seems that we as human beings can stomach so much then we revolt. Just how much can each of us, as individuals, stomach? As I have sought to argue, it just does not seem the case that some sort of "justice" or "moral code" has been defined precisely in a book. If so, what is it? Who of those who claim not to interpret it but merely accept its plain word are in fact reading it correctly? If we knew, perhaps we could listen to them. (The only guide we have been given is that a true prophet is known by their fruit.) This all concerns the fate of our fellow human beings who we are asked to love as ourselves, and perhaps some of us do. Yet for all intents and purposes, the inerrant/infallible book may as well be silent.

 

Personally I have let my stomach take over, and quite frankly I do not give a toss if this is innate, autonomous, or anything else. I might as well claim it is the guidance of the spirit. Why not?

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“The events of inner experience, as emergent properties of brain processes, become themselves explanatory causal constructs in their own right, interacting at their own level with their own laws and dynamics. The whole world of inner experience (the world of the humanities) long rejected by 20th century scientific materialism, thus becomes recognized and included within the domain of science.”

 

Source: Roger Sperry, 1981 Nobel Prize lecture.

 

“In my view the psychophysical relation is a problem in itself, which perhaps will be solved some day. In the meantime, however, the psychologist need not be held up by this difficulty, but can regard the psyche as a relatively closed system. In that case we must certainly break with what seems to me the untenable “psychophysical” hypothesis, since its epiphenomenalist point of view is simply a legacy from the old-fashioned scientific materialism (Jung, 1960).”

Edited by minsocal
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tariki your post was Buddha-full. We seem to get so caught up in being Christians that we forget the Spirit. Christians are so busy following the Bible they have no time for intimacy, silence, and solitude with Christ. I think you pointed us in the right direction from religious thinking to spiritual thinking. We seemed fixed on limiting God’s actions to forms familiar to our minds, definitions and descriptions. Awareness of the depths of God leading to the soul is rejected as subjective experience, but the rules, laws, and codes of the Church are meaningless without spiritual experience. The purpose of grace is not to just keep the commandments, but to live life openly, not afraid of weaknesses and difficulties. Impoverishing the spirit increases the attraction of the materialistic world. Saint Thomas Aquinas said, "No one can live without delight, and that is why a man deprived of spiritual joy goes over to carnal pleasures" We have seen preachers who are adamant against carnal pleasures usually give in to them if they have no spiritual joy.

 

Matthew 5:20

For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

 

The spiritual experience is a gift so we need space to receive it. We need to be receptive so emptying the mind as the Buddhist says would be welcome for such an experience. We need to be empty and open to make room for God’s spiritual grace. The purpose of Calvary was not death, but the intensity of life that results in an openhearted attitude and an intense, universal love. On that day religion ceased to be a moral code, a list of commandments, but an exciting love affair between God and man. As a Christian I feel I no longer live to satisfy myself, but to make an effort to live in the ever presence of God. The spiritual experience, enlightenment or love for all provides the basis, authority, and imperative for moral action. Paul pleaded with us to discover a law of the spirit, an internal experiential law, a law of the heart. Jesus also pointed to this internal imperative in Mark 7

6He replied, "Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:

" 'These people honor me with their lips,

but their hearts are far from me.

7They worship me in vain;

their teachings are but rules taught by men.' 8You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men."

 

We have made the passion of our Lord into a dull system of rules, we need to discern and discover our own story and change the events in the Bible into a spiritual experience. Yes, change what some perceive as myths to mysticism. I feel there is a Christian need to let go of our attachment to words, rules and dogma, not be afraid of emptiness and go below the surface of the images to find the Truth. We need to let go, relax and be still and let God be God.

 

Psalm 46:10 (New International Version

10 "Be still, and know that I am God;

 

 

Jesus said, “Know the Truth and the Truth shall set you free.”

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Neon, When claiming the Bible says something in a particular passage, it would be helpful if you would identify which particular passage you're refering.

When you say 'absolute morals', do you mean- right and wrong?

What gives substantive meaning to Jesus' death, or the word 'morality', if it were not an immutable God?

 

--

Tariki, A thoughtful post- honest questions.

--

 

Minsocal, Interesting quotes. By 'inner experience', do you suppose Sperry could've meant 'personal experience'?

Do you think we could, perhaps, find those quotes in a book?

--

 

Soma, Thanks for the Biblical quotes. Do you think that they hold to the truth?

I believe that it's not just that we need to be empty, I think we are empty, until we recieve God's Grace.

--

Davidk

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Neon, When claiming the Bible says something in a particular passage, it would be helpful if you would identify which particular passage you're refering.

Leviticus 25:45-46: God permits the Israelites to keep slaves for themselves:
You may also acquire them from among the aliens residing with you, and from their families that are with you, who have been born in your land; and they may be your property. 46You may keep them as a possession for your children after you, for them to inherit as property. These you may treat as slaves, but as for your fellow Israelites, no one shall rule over the other with harshness
Judges 21:10-12: God commands the Israelites to wipe out everyone in their enemy tribes but keep the virgin women for their own pleasure
So the congregation sent twelve thousand soldiers there and commanded them, ‘Go, put the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead to the sword, including the women and the little ones. 11This is what you shall do; every male and every woman that has lain with a male you shall devote to destruction.’ 12And they found among the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead four hundred young virgins who had never slept with a man and brought them to the camp at Shiloh, which is in the land of Canaan.

 

1 Samuel 15:3 God commands Saul to murder all the children of the Amalekites:

Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.” ’

 

When you say 'absolute morals', do you mean- right and wrong?

What gives substantive meaning to Jesus' death, or the word 'morality', if it were not an immutable God?

 

 

Davidk

By absolute morals, I mean the belief fundamentalist Christians have that morals are absolute and unchanging and that the moral commandments of the supposed unchanged God have remained unchanged for all time yet the bible contains some of the most fickle moral values as seen in the above verses. I might ask you the same question. What gives meaning to the word morality if you can claim any action you want is moral simply by claiming God is on your side? Edited by Neon Genesis
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