You posed two questions for my response:
1. How can someone support the sanctity of human life and at the same time support the use of force as a punisher of wrongdoing or as a defender of freedom?
2. Is all life equal? (You asked, "who besides humans has ever said human life is more valuable or holds more sanctity than other life?")
Before I present my arguments, let me discuss a couple of your ground rules or conditions. One, you said to "work from the assumption that we both believe God exists." I can find no common footing in this statement because you have not told me about your God. Is he a capital-G God or a small-g god? Is he creator of all things, who establishes right and wrong, good and evil? Or is he a generic, amorphous god without characteristic? Is he the creator that made man in his own image, or was he merely a watchmaker that started the universe ticking from an unformed primordial ooze? If your god is just someone or something that started everything ticking, what use is your god? You might as well call your god "nature," as the humanists and naturalists do. If your god simply made everything and then walked away, what purpose does he have today? If, on the other hand, the God we have in common is the Creator of all things, made us in His image, set man in authority over the earth and the animals and, most importantly, "has a plan a purpose for our lives" then, indeed, we have something in common or a common world view, if you will. But, I seriously doubt that I should assume we believe in the same god or share the same world view. And, absent a shared world view, most all of our logic, debate and argument will likely come to little effect as we have no basis for truth. For if there is no truth, we cannot persuade one another by rational arguments.
I must therefore violate your other condition, "do not present the Bible as literal truth because you don't believe it is." What then is the basis of truth for you? Is truth what man is able to reason in his mind? Is truth only the laws of nature (ignoring they were founded by nature's God)? Is truth what one person thinks, a collection of people think? Perhaps before I can even begin to address the questions that you posed to me - and which I reiterated at the opening of this letter - we must establish what is truth, because without truth there is no basis for rational argument.
So, your ground rules for debate leave me with little hope that you will be persuaded by my reasoning, but, I've gone this far, so let me try.
If there is no "truth" - no absolutes - that separate right from wrong and good from evil - then why shall we have this debate? If peace is no better than war, why does it matter what the most warring nation has been? If animal/insect/plant life is equal to human life, why not just let the rules of nature apply - that since man, in survival-of-the-fittest-mode, is the most able he can do whatever he wants to the other animal life and to the earth. Who's to say that killing a cat (or a human) as a ritualistic sacrifice is more or less worthy than killing a cow to eat? Why shall we have this debate if truth is relative and all viewpoints are equal?
And, if truth is not relative, then what is the basis for truth? How can truth be known? You pull the rug from under the Bible before the debate begins by stating the Bible is not true. If the bible is not true, then I again ask what is true and how do you know it's true? Is it good or bad to kill an unborn baby? Is it good or bad to kill invading insects that ruin crops? Is it good or bad to slaughter an animal for food? Is it good or bad to harness coal or wind or water to have electricity? Is it good or bad to mine the earth for oil and fossil fuels to heat homes and drive cars? How do you know? If there is no absolute standard for morals or other things, then one cannot say in a final sense that anything is right or wrong. By absolute, I mean that which always applies, that which provides a final or ultimate standard. There must be an absolute if there are to be morals or real values. If there is no absolute beyond man's own ideas, then there is no final appeal to judge between individuals and groups whose moral judgments conflict. We are merely left with conflicting opinions. This, I am afraid - conflicting opinions - is what you and I have between us. And, it was based on these differences that I previously decided it was better not to debate with you. But, as you argued when you were in town, if we don't discuss the essential things of life we really will not have deep or close kindred relationships. But, if the beliefs continue to stand in contrast, I would rather have a brother than a debate partner. "A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city." Proverbs 18:19
You say the Bible is not true, but I say that it is. I used to think that Christianity was a crutch - something to explain the unexplainable, something to prop you up when you needed a lift. Many people, I think, confuse "religion" with Christianity. "Religion" was instituted by man to commune with God, but Christianity - a belief in the life and teachings of Christ - is what God instituted to commune with his people. Religions - sects or denominations of people who tend to share similar spiritual viewpoints - have gotten off line many times over the ages. You made a claim in your note that "it's not like Christian beliefs have not changed in the last 2000 years and they will again." To which I would say that people's beliefs have changed, but God has not changed. The god of the bible is the same yesterday, today and forever - and just because man or man's religious beliefs have gotten off kilter from time to time is no reason to discount the Bible. Christianity is a relationship with God, not a relationship with a church. The truth and authority of the Bible has been the question of the ages. This debate is won in the hearts of men and women and children who freely chose to give their hearts to Christ. Until that debate is won in the heart of each man, I believe he will be incomplete, that he will suffer doubt and indecision about the purpose of life and of the existence of life ever after.
The Christian world view is the only one I have found that holds together, that is complete from beginning to end, that establishes a purpose for life and creates the groundrules to hold life together in the face of unexplainable and unspeakable tragedies and heartaches. So, it is only on this basis that I can present my arguments to you. If you dismiss the foundation of my arguments, you dismiss my argument. You have heard that Jesus is the rock, that He is the foundation - and for me he is.
Question 1: How can someone support the sanctity of human life and at the same time support the use of force as a punisher of wrongdoing or as a defender of freedom?
To answer the question, I will assume there is right and wrong and good and bad. (Sadly not all even agree to this anymore).
Is human life sacred? Yes.
Why? We are created in God's image and it is his desire that all men should come to know him in a personal way.
Then how can man ever be justified to kill another man? Because, at the same time that the Bible teaches Thou Shalt Not Kill, it also teaches justice and the establishment of governments to carry out justice. The actual translation of the sixth commandment in Exodus 20 is Thou Shalt Not Murder. Is killing justifiable as a punishment for murder? Yes. Someone who murders has broken the law and in a lawful land should and will face punishment for that murder. Is the death penalty the appropriate punishment, we can debate that another time. As laid out in scripture, government has the god-ordained responsibility to protect the innocent, reward good and punish evil. Does every government do this flawlessly? No, and when they do not, it is the responsibility of the people to reform the government. And if the government cannot be reformed, it sometimes (as in the birth of America) is the responsibility of good men to revolt and to establish a new and better government.
Is government ever justified then to go to war to protect its people and the freedoms of its people? Of course. Does this mean all wars are just. Of course not? But, at least in the U.S. - as opposed to the Taliban or Nazi Germany - we have a form of government that allows us to elect our leaders, to chose the people we want to lead us - and we have the constitutional protections to get rid of those leaders if it is warranted. Is the U.S. the most warring nation ever? Perhaps? Is the U.S. the worst nation ever? Far from it. People still flock to America as a beacon of freedom.
Can human life have sanctity and there still be justification for killing in defense or in punishment? You bet.
2. Is all life equal? No.
Only man is made in God's image. Only man was given authority "Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. ...And God blessed them and said to them, Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over it. I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you; and to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the sky; and to everything that moves on the earth which has life, I have given."
Now, if you disagree with this evidence that life is not equal, then let's look at the natural evidence. Is any animal, insect or plant life equal to man in what they have been able to establish since creation? Do lions not still hunt for food and kill other animals? Have any animals cultivated crops, engineered buildings, given donations for the poor, built hospitals for the sick (don't many animals just eat their wounded?) If you aim to tell me that all life is equal, please be prepared to provide the evidence of that equality.
As it appears our correspondence may be marked by lags in time, if you will refresh the dialogue (as I attempted to do today) I will be better able to follow the argument. If we can stick to the two questions you raised - perhaps you could provide rebuttal to my positions - that would be good. But, if like me, you feel compelled to address other portions of my statements, I would ask that you address the questions I raised: Is there absolute truth and how do you know? Is your god the creator and what purpose does this god give for your life?
Please let us end this debate at any future point that it could begin to diminish, rather than improve, our relationship. I am after far more than intellectual understanding in this exchange. I think you and I understand each other full well. And if our understanding of each other's positions just drives us further apart, I want no part of the debate. My desire is to draw us together - not intellectually - but in our hearts.