Friday, September 30, 2005

Christianity, Killing, and Murder

Some time ago, I responded to a letter whose writer said that all killing was wrong.

He has recently responded in the comment section. See here.

Well, here is my response. The blue words are his from an email (and some of them are from the comment mentioned above).

Thank you for your response. ...

I hope to answer your main points so please let me know if I do not or if I misunderstood what you wrote.

First, you wrote:
To violently take a life is to kill--the image and likeness of God present in each person born into this world. It is therefore impossible to justify the killing of that presence of God, for whatever reason. You cannot love one another, including the enemy, and justifiably kill/murder them simultaneously. Thus, thou shalt not kill (period) has no exceptions.

You seem to be equating killing with murder. Do you regard them as the same? As having the same moral weight?

I do not. I, along with most traditions of morality (both east and west), see a distinction. Killing (a human) is an act whereby a human's life is ended. This can be shooting them, choking them, hitting them with a car, injecting them with a chemical, giving them something poisonous to eat, etc. The death can be unintended or intended. Killing is an act that results in the death of someone. Murder is when someone intentionally takes the human life of an innocent other. You may disagree with this distinction, but it is the distinction advocated by Christianity from its beginnings. The Church has maintained it. She did not come up with it. The Jews had already understood this as can be seen with statements and distinctions drawn from the Old Testament.

So if you regard killing and murder as the same, with no distinctions, we are arguing from different bases. Which means we probably will not come to agreement. But please realize, since you bring in the Christian component to this moral issue, that your view is at odds with Christianity, with the Bible, with God's own words (Gen. 9:6), and with the authority and interpreter of God's Law and Word: the Catholic Church.

The second command God gives humanity (after "be fruitful and multiply") is to kill murderers: "If anyone sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; For in the image of God has man been made." (Gen. 9:6) Because of the value of the human being, God demands the just killing of those who murder, of those who desecrate the special status humans have (as being in the image of God) through murdering them. "Just" because it is giving to one what is his due. "Just" because God, the Creator of humans, demands such a response.

I presume you are Catholic based on your writing in The Tidings. If I am wrong, then appealing to Church authority probably does not carry weight. If I am right, then how do you square your view being at odds with the Church?

As regards God's Word, the fifth commandment should not be understood as literally meaning "Thou shall not kill." Why? Because first off in the Hebrew, it reads "Thou shall not murder." Hebrew has two words that could be used. The one meaning "murder" and not "kill" is used. Therefore, what God said was "Thou shall not murder."

Why did Christians write it differently? Perhaps it is an issue of the Greek language. I will look into that: if Greek had two words to distinguish this and what the Greek translation of the Old Testament had.

Regardless, from the beginning, as can be attested to through a reading of the Early Church Fathers, the Church always regarded the commandment as meaning murder. There was never a blanket prohibition on any killing. (If you say there should have been, then you are departing from the Christian moral tradition, let alone the original meaning of what was said and believed; on this latter point, see St. Paul's writing where he acknowledges the state does have the authority to kill certain criminals. Cf. Romans 13, esp. 13: 1-5.
It is therefore impossible to justify the killing of that presence of God, for whatever reason.
The presence of God is not material. It is not physical stuff in a human. It is an immaterial presence, a spiritual presence, in the person. Therefore, any physical act (killing) cannot kill the immaterial component of a human. We do not say that someone's soul dies. No, we do not because the soul is immaterial and cannot be killed, especially by a physical act. We do not have that power. Thus, the killing of a human being is not the same nor can it be as killing the presence of God within them.

More to your point, "for whatever reason."
There are no times someone may be killed? What about in self-defense? What about to stop Nazis from killing millions of innocent civilians? What about to stop someone from raping a young child? What about from stopping a persistent criminal from attempting to kill your own child? I argue and so does the Church and the Bible that there are times when one may kill. In fact, even should kill. The "should" may sound too strong, but my only point is to show that there are times when one may justifiably kill.

You cannot love one another, including the enemy, and justifiably kill/murder them simultaneously.
What do you understand "love" to mean? Love, as understood by the Church and many of the great thinkers in the Church, is to will the good of another. What is the good of another? What his nature calls for and what is his due. Love means we facilitate his journey to Christ. Love means we are witnesses to truth in this world. Love also means that one supports another getting what is his due. If someone is guilty of a crime, they much pay the punishment. It is not a lack of love to support punishment. It is not love to say someone should not be punished. If someone merits Hell, love does not say God is mean. Rather, love says that is what the person chose through their actions. They are getting what they sought: a life separate from God. Here, however, it is an everlasting life. Thus, to love someone is to seek the good for them. The good is what their nature calls for and/or what they deserve by their actions. This can be rewards or it can be punishments. Killing murderers is a just punishment. (I am not saying all murderers should be killed. I am saying that it is permissable by morality and by biblical morality. I think those who have demonstrated a willingness to murder by actually doing so and are a continued threat to hurting others should be put to death. I think just war is a possibility and that enemy combatants in a just war may be killed. And these instances, by definition, are not murder and are thus morally permissable.)

Thus, thou shalt not kill (period) has no exceptions.
Wrong. It does have exceptions. The Bible itself speaks of times when killing is not only permitted but called for (cf. Gen 9.6, Rom. 13). The Church has always understood "Thou shall not kill" as meaning "Thou shall not murder" because some forms of killing are permissable.

Your next paragraph has a lot to consider. First, all the examples you state are moments of personal not civil instruction. I understand this to mean that one should not take the law into his own hands. That when one wrongs me, I should turn the other cheek. That does not mean that when one wrongs an innocent and vulnerable person that I turn their cheek or even mind. I defend the innocent and vulnerable. I defend them even if that means inflicting force on the aggressor. I defend them even if that means having to kill the would-be rapist, attacker, murderer, etc.

There is a difference between violence and force. Force is typically the use of power of some sort (physical, emotional, moral, psychological, etc.). Violence is the unjust use of force. An important distinction.

God alone, as the author of life, has the right to give and take life.
And God has the authority as the author of life to instruct us to impose punishment and even to take the life of murderers: Gen. 9:6: "If anyone sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; For in the image of God has man been made." Does not God have the authority to transfer this right? As possessor of this right, to demand those in this world to administer justice? He does and did. Here in Genesis and further through the ages.

NO WAR (war is terrorism)
War by its very nature is terrorism? Was the fight against the Nazis terrorism? Was the fight against the Japanese terrorism? Was the fight against the Communists attempting to bully and persecute the South Koreans terrorism? Was the fight against Saddam Hussein and his invasion of Kuwait terrorism. Iraq invades Kuwait. What is Kuwait to do? Turn the other cheek and be massacred? I am not saying every war the US has fought has been just. I am only saying that some wars can be and are just. Some wars are morally permissable. Further, war is not terrorism. You are conflating the terms. Some wars may entail terrorism, but war in itself is not terrorism. Terrorism means to attack innocent civilians (non-combatants) for some political or ideological purpose. There is a difference. What some Arabs in Israel have done is terrorism. They target innocent civilians to further their cause. The same was true of the IRA in North Ireland and Britain. The same was/is true of ETA in Spain. And so on.

I find it interesting that you included in your list "NO POVERTY."
Do you think that poverty is engineered or intended to keep people down? Who wants to continue this "poverty"? All public officials or representatives I know of want to help those in poverty. There is just disagreement on how and what works best.

Curious, do you think direct abortions are wrong and should be outlawed (either outright or gradually)? Is this a form of oppression and violence upon those innocent and vulnerable ones in the womb?

That said, I realize I probably did not answer all your points. I hope I answered the main points and enough of the points to cause you to rethink some of your positions. If they continue to be your positions, that is your choice, but they are not the views of the Church nor of traditional Christianity.

In Christ,

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