The second 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.
The first two articles in this series:
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.
Disclaimer: I do not claim that belief in Christianity is the only way to come to an understanding of the morality and social utility of laws against murder; I merely use that vehicle for analysis for the purposes of this article.
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 express such great concern 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 usefulness to the state.
Government has no conscience, no morality.
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.
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 governmental leaders could be made to feel shame and embarrassment, and that those feelings of shame and embarrassment could be harnessed to leverage desired social change. Such tactics employed against a great many governments, then and now—such as Iran, Russia, 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 to continue to work for higher ends. The world will certainly be better served by the continuing existence of one who rejects violence unless absolutely necessary, but who is willing and able to employ it when unquestionably required. It can reasonably be argued that pursuing non-violence in the face of one’s all-but-certain impending violent death is not a sign of noble conviction, but of mental illness.
A central lesson of Christianity is the sincere and unreserved practice of love and mercy. There is no inherent contradiction in one who believes and practices those virtues but who is willing and able to 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.
As I mentioned in an earlier article of this series, 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.
August of 2005, Hurricane Katrina caused substantial damage in new Orleans and social order broke down. Remaining residents quickly understood the need to protect their lives and property with privately-owned firearms, but the corrupt politicians and their lackeys had other ideas:
In the nearly two weeks since Hurricane Katrina, the government of New Orleans has devolved from its traditional status as an elective kleptocracy into something far more dangerous: an anarcho-tyranny that refuses to protect the public from criminals while preventing people from protecting themselves. At the orders of New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, the New Orleans Police, the National Guard, the Oklahoma National Guard, and U.S. Marshals have begun breaking into homes at gunpoint, confiscating their lawfully-owned firearms, and evicting the residents. ‘No one is allowed to be armed. We’re going to take all the guns,’ says P. Edwin Compass III, the superintendent of police.
Even the police took advantage of the breakdown in the rule of law and behaved like conquering barbarians:
In the rest of the city, some police officers abandoned their posts, while others joined the looting spree. For several days, the ones who stayed on the job did not act to stop the looting that was going on right in front of them. To the extent that any homes or businesses were saved, the saviors were the many good citizens of New Orleans who defended their families, homes, and businesses with their own firearms.
Why did the police abandon the people of entire swaths of Los Angeles? Were they cowards? Some surely were, but most were not. And what of New Orleans? In that city, the inherent corruption that had always reached deeply into the ranks of the Police Department saw its chance and acted on it.
In both cities, more than a decade removed, the police 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 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 classes, people then being broadly painted as sympathetic, even saintly, suffering at the hands of evil, racist Republicans. Shooting them, no matter how justified, would surely cause those officers to be arrested and charged with murder. A ravenous, anti-police, leftist press willing to print any outrageous lie would demand it.
And so the police of Los Angeles, and to a lesser degree, New Orleans, made a conscious, rational decision to abandon the innocent to the mob, and in New Orleans, even to join it. Keep in mind that most of those Los Angeles innocent were deprived of arms—as they are to this day–by the draconian anti-gun laws written by a democrat-controlled legislature. In New Orleans, they were deprived of arms in the aftermath of disaster, making everything even worse. In short, it was a lose-lose situation for the police—and for the honest public, a real descent into a state of brutal, survival-of-the-most-vicious nature.
The same thing ha shappened to a lesser degree in Ferguson, Baltimore, and other places where Black Lives Matter cracktivists and other race hustlers, including the President and Attorney General of the United States, stir the racial pot.
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 and New Orleans riots and mass lootings, would the deaths of looters and arsonists have been a social good? Indeed they would. Remember, that for those days and in those places, 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 grim state of existence.
Under the rule of law, killing to protect property is generally not allowed, but there are some exceptions in some states. We generally may kill to prevent arson, which is not merely a crime against property. People may be seriously injured or killed by fire, which may be used as an instrument of murder. 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: the honest and law-abiding that wish harm to none, or the brutal, cruel and sociopathic? In Los Angeles in 1992, New Orleans in 2005. Ferguson in 2014 and Baltimore in 2015 the politicians and the police knowingly chose the latter. In truth, the veneer of civilization is thinner and far more fragile than most imagine.
When the rule of law is suspended, those that violate societal norms justly do so at their own risk, unless public servants disarm the innocent.
In next week’s installment of this series, we’ll explore additional realities of law and morality. I hope to see you here again.