This is the second updated article in this series. The first may be found here.
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, even 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. Such a distinction requires one additional, vital, understanding: Each individual, each human life, has value and life may not be taken except under the very 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.
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.
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 clear 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.
But what about those who believe in and practice non-violence? Isn’t that a viable, even a noble, way to live? What about Ghandi and Martin Luther King, for example? Ghandi and Dr. King were educated, intelligent men who knew their methods could be effective and held little or no risk of death because they were employed against peoples and governments who recognized the rule of law informed by the Judeo/Christian tradition. In effect, they knew that the people who ran the governments whose policies they opposed might imprison them for a time, but were highly unlikely to seriously harm or kill them. Their international celebrity status was, surely, a substantial help in this.
Ghandi and King also knew that the leaders of their respective governments could be made to feel shame and embarrassment, and that those feelings of shame and embarrassment could be harnessed to cause desired social change. Such tactics employed against a great many governments, then and now—such as Iran, Syria, China, Cuba, North Korea and others–would be virtually certain to result in torture and death. Non-violence as a method of social change is effective only if those who oppose you have a conscience and you or your followers are around to take advantage of the change their pangs of conscience might provoke. To that end, the governments to be opposed must be carefully chosen indeed.
While non-violence as an individual lifestyle may be, in some respects, a noble choice, its effectiveness ends at the moment its practitioner meets one bent on violence, including murder. At that point, the choice becomes immediate and stark: Noble words in a eulogy affirming a morally superior, non-violent life tragically cut short, or survival. The world will certainly be better served by the continuing existence of one who rejects violence unless it is absolutely necessary, but who is willing and able to employ it when it becomes unquestionably necessary. It can reasonably be argued that pursuing non-violence in the face of one’s impending violent death is not a sign of noble conviction, but of mental illness.
A central lesson of Christianity is the practice of love and mercy. There is no inherent contradiction in one who believes and practices those virtues but who must protect their life or the life of another, even at the cost of their life. The Bible notes in John 15:13:
Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
A lesser saint–General George Patton—said (this is a paraphrase–quotation marks required by the program):
You don’t win wars by dying for your country, but by making the other poor bastard die for his.
Similarly, it is also a great expression of love and mercy to make one who would take your life, or the life of a friend, lay down his life instead. In such a case, the issue is who benefits from that mercy and love, and more, who is deserving of those benefits? Is the innocent under attack more deserving or the violent, unprovoked attacker?
THE SOCIAL UTILITY OF KILLING:
What about those who reject killing under all circumstances, who claim that killing can never be a social good? Take the case of India under the British Colonial Government of 1829. A common Hindu practice—Sati–was to burn a man’s widow on his funeral pyre. The story goes that when the British Governor-General, Lord Bentinck, objected to this practice, he was told that it was the Indian custom. He replied something to the effect of: “Very well, you may practice your custom, but we too have a custom which we will practice. It is our custom to hang those who burn widows.” Needless to say, the Indian custom was hastily abandoned and soon outlawed. The social utility of being willing to kill those who were, for reasons of custom, killing innocent women, can scarcely be denied.
The mere threat of deadly force can also be a substantial societal good when public order has broken down. Take the case of the Los Angeles riots of 1992 in the aftermath of the Rodney King verdict. A great many citizens of the City of Angels took it upon themselves to express their righteous indignation at what they considered an unfair verdict by helping themselves to expensive consumer goods without the intermediate step of actually paying for them. Many Korean merchants took up arms—including evil “assault weapons” such as the AR-15, with their standard-sized 30-round “assault magazines”—banded together, and prevented not only the looting of their businesses, but their destruction by arson even as nearby businesses not protected in such an obviously effective way were burned to the ground—after being appropriately looted first, of course.
In that case, social order in large sections of Los Angeles had totally broken down and reverted to a Hobbesian state of nature where life had the very real potential to be nasty, brutish and short. The police abandoned the law-abiding to the mob. In that case, the mere threat of deadly force was sufficient to protect lives and property—as it commonly is everywhere—and was surely a social good.
Why did the police abandon the people of entire swaths of Los Angeles? Were they cowards? No. They understood several vital truths that every citizen must know. The police have no obligation to protect any individual and cannot be successfully sued for failing to protect anyone. Their duty is to the general public to deter crime by their presence and to investigate it after it occurs. They also knew that there were huge numbers of rioters and looters and very few of them. The mere fact that they would be badly outnumbered among hostile, violent, even murderous mobs made it very likely they would have to kill people—many people—merely to protect their lives and to escape from those who, in the anonymity of the mob, saw a chance to kill police officers and get away with it. Finally, they knew that most of the people they would have to confront were not honest, middle class citizens, but people of favored racial/ethnic victim groups. Shooting them, no matter how justified, would surely cause those officers to be arrested and charged with murder. A ravenous, anti-police, leftist press would demand it.
And so the police made a conscious, rational decision to abandon the innocent to the mob. Keep in mind that most of those innocent were deprived of arms—as they are to this day–by the draconian anti-gun laws written by a democrat-controlled legislature. In short, it was a lose-lose situation for the police—and for the honest public, a real descent into a state of brutal nature.
There is a very important lesson here, a lesson all thoughtful police officers know: they truly are the thin blue line between civilization and anarchy. The only reason they can do their jobs–their very survival– depends upon the fact that most people are willing to obey the law most of the time. Should that voluntary compact change, for any reason, the police will abandon the public; they will have no choice.
In those Los Angeles riots, would the deaths of looters and arsonists have been a social good? Indeed they would. Remember, that for those days and in that place, the rule of law was suspended and as a result, the citizens stranded there were reduced to a state of nature, of survival of the fittest. The government, demonstrating its refusal to so much as to try to enforce the rule of law, ordained that result. Under the rule of law, we do not kill to protect mere property, but even then we may kill to prevent arson, which is not merely a crime against property. People are seriously injured or killed by fire. In that state of nature, if the most brutal and feral reign and succeed in stamping out the civilized, the state of nature may become permanent. Whose survival best serves a just society governed by the rule of law? When the rule of law is suspended, those who violate societal norms justly do so at their own risk.
Sometimes, the mere threat of deadly force does not suffice, as in the case of a woman at home alone with her 9 year-old children when a burglar with a long criminal record broke into her home during the day. Armed with a revolver, she hid her children and herself in the attic, but the criminal hunted them down, and when he opened the attic door and advanced, she fired, striking him with five of six rounds. He was knocked to the floor, and holding an empty handgun, was able to bluff him. He eventually got up and fled, eventually crashing his car nearby. Who could legitimately argue that society would have been better served by the deaths of the mother and her children that the burglar–who did survive–might practice his trade unmolested?
Some people of good will oppose capital punishment, arguing, among other things, that to put men to death is playing God, capital punishment is not a deterrent, and that with life imprisonment, capital punishment is no longer necessary as a means of protecting the innocent. Perhaps the strongest argument against capital punishment is that human beings make mistakes and sometimes execute the innocent.
But if the individual may act in self-defense, why is the state, a government deriving its just powers from men, prohibited from acting in defense of men? True, it is the nature of our criminal justice system that execution takes place not on the spot, but after many years of the exhaustive application of due process, but this long, careful process would seem to be an argument for, rather than against, the capital power of government, for it provides multiple safeguards against the accidental execution of the innocent, which might even be more likely to occur on the spot.
Christian theology recognizes that killing is sometimes justified and necessary, hence men acting in good faith under those conditions are not playing God, but acting in ways anticipated and approved by God. And while capital punishment does not deter the psychopath, common sense (and my own police experience) suggests that some will be deterred, and that we will likely never know their names or numbers. Unquestionably, some will live who would have otherwise died, and their names and numbers will likewise remain unknown.
Life imprisonment is all too commonly anything but. There is such a thing as life without parole, but this is far from universal and relatively uncommon in practice. Killers sometimes continue to kill while behind bars, taking lives that while not entirely innocent, are not deserving of that fate. In addition, escape from prison is not unknown, and foolish politicians have been known to commute the sentences of, or pardon, those who might be in political favor, a case in point being the cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal, who, for the moment, remains behind bars, yet continues to be a popular cause célèbre for progressives who have for more than 30 years labored ceaselessly for his release. It takes little imagination to believe that he will eventually be released or pardoned by a politician of “enlightened” political leanings.
As we have already agreed that evil does indeed exist, there is a strong argument for destroying evil wherever it is found, for evil exists to destroy the good and innocent. There are many apocryphal stories of stereotypical southern lawmen asking of murder victims: “Well, did he need killin’?” Those telling such tales usually do so to ridicule supposedly simple-minded lawmen and the unenlightened denizens of “flyover country.” As Barack Obama put it when explaining such unsophisticated people to a friendly audience, unaware his words were being recorded:
And it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.
In reality, any competent police officer investigating an unattended death (all unattended deaths are investigated as homicides until homicide can be ruled out) must determine if the death was caused by another and if it was justified or unjustified. Asking if the dead “needed killin'” is simply a direct, politically incorrect way of asking if the killing was justified, hence, not murder. To put it simply, to protect the lives of the innocent, some people do “need” to be killed.
It is indeed disturbing that some innocent people—their numbers are thankfully few–have been put to death. This is not an argument against capital punishment but an argument for the perfection of the criminal justice system to the greatest degree possible. And while we must always strive for perfection in every human endeavor, we cannot cease our endeavors because they do not, at all times and in every way, reach perfection. It is indeed terrible when the innocent are executed, but error is a part of humanity and it cannot be allowed to paralyze us from achieving worthy ends. Of course, the argument about whether the good of capital punishment is greater than the tragedy of executing the innocent goes on.
LAW AND THE BALANCING ACT:
How does this apply to governments? To individuals? Each sovereign nation or state may adopt its own laws, which may be applied within its borders and within territories under its control. One of the essential powers of sovereignty is the power to punish those who transgress the law, including the power of capital punishment. Our laws come from the British tradition, under which, during the Medieval period, there were some 200 capital offenses. This led to many bizarre spectacles, including that of pickpockets happily working the crowds gathered to watch the execution of other pickpockets.
Fortunately, American law has evolved such that there are commonly only two capital offenses: Murder and treason. While kidnapping, under some circumstances, may also invoke capital punishment, these two are our primary remaining capital crimes. Our society has devolved to the point that it is difficult to imagine anyone being prosecuted for, let alone being put to death for treason, such “old fashioned” values having fallen out of fashion among the self-styled cultural and political elite whose default position is to apologize for, rather than to defend, America.
For example: With the fall of the Soviet Union, Soviet archives were opened and it was discovered that the late Senator Teddy Kennedy (Democrat of Massachusetts) actually contacted the KGB (through an intermediary Democrat Senator) in 1984 trying to enlist their aid to defeat Ronald Reagan and his arms control policies to pave the way for a Kennedy presidency. While there is no known evidence that they took him up on his offer, it’s hard to imagine a sitting US Senator committing a similar transgression during WWII not being tried for treason, but now it’s a completely different matter (this was known–by the media and the Department of Justice–during Kennedy’s lifetime).
ERRARE HUMANUM EST (To Err–Sin–Is Human):
Is killing, in every instance and always, a sin, and if so, may that sin be forgiven? Again, these are questions that have been argued for millennia. There are several possibilities:
(1) Killing, under any circumstance, is always a sin. God’s gift of life is precious and to take life is God’s province, not Man’s.
(2) Killing, when justified, as in self-defense, is not a sin. God is omniscient–all-knowing–and understands that his creation–Man–will be subjected to situations where killing is necessary, therefore why would God consider that which he has set into motion—ordained–to be sin? Man has free will, also ordained by God, so he who tries without justification to take the life of another sins, but the person who defends them self against an unjustified attack and takes the life of the attacker as a consequence of that defense does not sin. They have preserved God’s greatest gift (affirmed good) while their attacker tried to destroy it (manifesting evil). Sin lies with the attacker.
(3) Killing, even when legally justified as in self-defense, is a sin. However, there is no degree to sin, therefore one may ask for and receive forgiveness for any sin. But what about a serial killer who asks for forgiveness after each murder? It is inconceivable that God does not know whose plea for forgiveness is sincere and whose is not. God pardons whom He chooses, and He knows the hearts of all men.
Even if one should consider killing under any circumstance, whether homicide, self defense, killing while serving in the armed forces during war, or by accident to be sin, our shared faith tradition makes clear that even this sin, if one sincerely repents and begs forgiveness, will be forgiven. This does not mean that the aftermath of a justified killing will be trouble-free or ever forgotten, but one need not worry for the final disposition of their soul if forced to defend their life or the life of another.
THE AFTERMATH OF KILLING:
America has, since its founding, had the experience of citizen soldiers reintegrating back into society after exposure to combat. Men, and recently, women, who have killed others have, for the most part, successfully reintegrated into civilian society, becoming productive citizens. Indeed, some have suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, some few have been driven mad by their experiences, but the overwhelming majority learned to deal with the experience of taking the life of another.
So too have police officers who have been forced to kill in the line of duty, and citizens who have been forced to kill to protect their lives or the lives of others, been successful at living with their experiences. Some have been able to simply and effectively compartmentalize, to wall off their experiences as past and done. They accept what they did as necessary and justified, and it does not haunt them. Others have sought and found peace through faith and forgiveness. Some periodically deal with the doubt and pain of their experiences, experiences that never entirely leave them. Such is the burden of being honorable people, people of good will and conscience, people who deserve to live that society might benefit from their example and that those that love them might benefit from their presence.
That these issues are of concern to you speaks well of your conscience, of your humanity, for if you were not concerned about them, you might very well be a sociopath and as such, completely unconcerned. Have no doubt that if and when killing ever becomes necessary and is justified, the aftermath may be, personally and in every other way, intense, demanding and difficult. The way in which one deals with it will depend upon their upbringing, their faith, the strength of their character, their beliefs and those who love and support them, but it will always, always be better to be around to have to deal with the aftermath than the alternative. I’ll cover this issue to a greater degree in following articles.
Let us further assume that you now accept the inalienable right and necessity of self-defense. Let us also assume that you accept the idea that killing–never murder–is justified and is not sinful. Or in the alternative that it is a sin, but that sin may be forgiven for those who sincerely ask for forgiveness. The next article in this series, to be posted Wednesday, February 12, 2014, will deal with the political issues of crime, social disorder, and employing deadly force. I’ll get to the matter of attitudes, weapons and accessories a bit further down the line. I hope to see you on the journey.
Dell Owens said:
If i were forced to defend myself by killing my attacker, or an attacker who was trying to kill another, i wouldn’t fear God’ds judgement of me,. I would feel sorry for the family who loved the person i killed, but not for that person.My biggest fear would be the person who i killed friends seeking revenge, with out thinking about the act their friend or family member was commiting, or being fair enough to realize i had no choice.
Mike McDaniel said:
Dear Dell Owens:
Thanks for reading and commenting. You make a good point. Anyone with a conscience couldn’t help but feel some degree of empathy for those who loved the predator that forced them to shoot him. And your concern about the survivors of the criminal seeking revenge is likewise reasonable.
My police experience suggests that such acts of revenge are thankfully very rare, but not unheard of, even though the families and friends of such people tend to be pretty dysfunctional themselves. This, among other concerns, is why we must always train to avoid trouble and do all that we can to avoid shooting anyone. However, when it becomes necessary despite our best efforts, we need to take things one at a time. Being alive to have to deal with the issue you raise is surely preferable to the alternative, and if you prepare, physically and mentally, in the first place, manageable.
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Reblogged this on Brittius.com.
Thanks for a very well-reasoned discourse on the morality of taking a life. If I could add anything, I would re-emphasize the mis-translation of the 6th Commandment in the King James bible as “kill” instead of “murder”. This has caused generations of confusion about God’s intention and definition of what is justifiable. I hope that no-one would lightly kill another, but if it is in defense of ones self or another innocent, then it should be considered justified, and in some cases, mandatory.
Mike McDaniel said:
Thanks for your kind comments. You’re quite right.
The needs of the many justify the needs of the few or the one.
Ergo, the innocent man sentenced to death and executed is serving his good by being a deterrent to other would be killers.
Draconian, but essentially the point you are making, since the execution of an innocent man can really serve no other purpose.
So, lets make this an example of justice: if you kill some one, you took a life from some one else, and therefore your life shall be taken from you. But in reality, that isn’t what is happening. You took a life from other people, plural. Families mourn, grieve, etc. So, when you are dead, after having been executed for your crime… is that really justice? Are you genuinely feeling the loss of some one close to you genuinely feel the loss you have inflicted?
If we are to be so draconian as to execute an innocent man for nothing more substantial (even in err) and claim “at least it was a good deterrent”, I can find no better deterrent than instead of killing the offender, killing a member of his friends or family, equal in number to the amount of lives the accused took.
If we agree that accidental executions occur, and it -is- ultimately preventable (and obviously we don’t prevent it), then why not use an innocent life to a much more grand effect? Get the most bang for our intimidational buck out of it? In for a penny, in for a ton sort of thing.
“If a thief be found breaking up, and be smitten that he die, there shall be no blood shed for him.”-Exodus 22:2. “Violence exercised in self-defense, all societies, from the most primitive to the most civilized, accept as moral and legal. The principle of self-defense, even involving weapons and bloodshed, has never been condemned, even by Gandhi.”-Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“If the sun be risen upon him, there shall be blood shed for him; for he should make full restitution; if he have nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft.”-Exodus 22:3 ??? “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.”- Genesis 9:6 ??? “51 And, behold, one of them which were with Jesus stretched out his hand, and drew his sword, and struck a servant of the high priest’s, and smote off his ear.
52 Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.
53 Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?- Matthew 26:51-53 ??? “38 Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:
39 But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.” – Matthew 5:38-39 ???
“But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;” – Matthew 5:44 ??? “19 Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.
20 Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.
21 Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.” -Romans 12:19-21 ???
I am confused, Can anybody help me ? I don’t know what to believe, Jesus or what ? How evil is the evil then (“but overcome evil with good”) ? Is there explained the difference of evil with weapon or without a weapon?
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