The first two articles in this series:
The first article of this series ended with this paragraph:
But let us assume that this article has, at least, persuaded you to the point that you are willing to tentatively concede that an individual, inalienable right of self defense is probably necessary. Or perhaps you’ve just been enraged to the point that you’re anxious to see what lunatic ravings I present in the next article. What then? The next installment of the series explores the legal, moral and spiritual issues revolving around taking the life of another, legally and illegally.
IS KILLING MORALLY JUSTIFIED?
This is an ancient argument about which countless volumes have been written. I can only touch on a few of the salient points, but fortunately, for our purposes, that is all that is required. Since Western culture is built on the foundation of the Judaeo/Christian tradition, and America is, by and large a Christian nation, which tolerates, and for the most part, embraces all faiths, I’ll focus on that tradition and its holy texts.
The Sixth Commandment, in the King James translation of the Bible (1769), states:
‘Thou shalt not kill’ (Exodus 20:13 / Deuteronomy 5:17).
It is the misunderstanding of this Commandment that has caused much confusion. The Bible–particularly in the Old Testament–makes clear, explicitly and implicitly, that killing is both justified and unjustified, and that unjustified killing is murder. In fact, more recent translations of the Bible use that word, the word closest to the correct translation of the Greek and Hebrew: “Thou shalt not murder.” It is this ancient distinction between justified and unjustified killing, between lawful and unlawful killing that is the foundation of our criminal justice system.
According to the Bible—Genesis 4:8—the first murder was committed by Cain, who killed his brother Abel, and lied about it to God. For this, he was terribly punished, and remembered as not only a killer, but as a servant of Satan, as in 1 John 3:12:
“Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous.”
The distinction between killing and murder requires one additional, vital, understanding: each individual, each human life, has immeasurable value, and life may not be taken except under the narrow exceptions imposed by God’s law, and man’s law, so long as it faithfully reflects God’s law in embodying the importance and value of each life.
This is why the rule of law is so important and why those that understand these issues and distinctions experience such great alarm when our own government appears to trend toward tyranny. When the rule of law is no longer in effect, when God’s law is ignored in favor of the whims of a man, or a small group of men, human life has only the value their whims accord it at any moment. The sanctity of life goes unrecognized by government and the value of the individual rests only in their minute-by-minute usefulness to the state.
This is also why tyranny is Godless and inherently hostile to religion and people of faith. No tyrant can allow anyone to openly recognize anyone or anything greater than the tyrant. That way lies rebellion.
It is important to realize too that killing animals is justified in the Christian tradition. While the Bible does not specifically state “though shalt hunt,” there are many references that make clear that hunting—and of course, killing game—is not only acceptable, but expected. For example, Genesis 27:30-31:
And it came to pass, as soon as Isaac had made an end of blessing Jacob, and Jacob was yet scarce gone out from the presence of Isaac his father, that Esau his brother came in from his hunting. And he also had made savoury meat, and brought it unto his father, and said unto his father, Let my father arise, and eat of his son’s venison, that thy soul may bless me.
In the Judeo/Christian tradition, there is a very clear distinction between animals and man. Surely, no moral man mistreats animals or causes any animal unnecessary pain, and our laws rightly treat the wretched people that do harm animals harshly. However, murder with its attendant penalties, is reserved for the unlawful and unjustified taking of human life. As God recognizes a fundamental difference between Man and animals, so too does the law.
The Bible also, in many ways, makes clear that killing is anticipated by God and is permitted when justified. Ecclesiastes 3:1 & 3 states:
To every thing there us a season and a time to every purpose under the heaven: …A time to kill, and a time to heal…
Yet the Bible also draws the distinction between the province of Man and of God in Matthew 5:21:
Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall KILL shall be in danger of the judgment:
Remember the biblical difference between killing and murdering. One may kill if justified in killing and face no penalty under the laws of Man or God, but murder is quite a different matter, invoking not only the potential destruction of the body by Man, but the eternal damnation of the soul by God.
And while the Bible enjoins believers to respect governmental authority because God allows it to exist, it makes clear that each individual, because of his or her intrinsic worth, has not only the freedom to protect their most precious, God given gift–their life–perhaps even the duty to do so. This was, at one time, almost universally understood (see Jeffrey Snyder’s article A Nation of Cowards, for additional commentary on this issue; it’s linked here and in installment 1 of this series, and very much worth your time if you missed the first article). Decades of relativistic thinking have, to greater and lesser degrees, and in some quarters, muddied what were once transparent philosophical waters.
In Jewish tradition, the word for murder is based on the concept of longing for or desiring, in other words, invoking passion, a passion to kill–to murder–in an unjustified manner and for unjustifiable reasons. Killing, however, is a matter of necessity or of justifiably applied justice. Neither the Bible nor the Torah prohibit self-defense and both recognize the inherent value of each human life. Therefore, the distinction between justified and unjustified killing—the latter being murder or lesser crimes such as negligent homicide or manslaughter—is obvious.
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