This post was prompted by Kyle Cupp’s recent reflections on the “inviolability of human life” (Vox Nova October 6, 2011). Insofar as it concerns a republication of an essay pertinent to the topic of Kyle’s post, I will confine my own introduction to three responses that came to my mind during the course of reading.
First, with regards to the assertion that “any direct killing is not only an attack on the creature but an attack on God, which is always and everywhere evil” — I have often wondered how do advocates of this line of thought address God’s summary execution of Ananias and Sapphira in the New Testament (Acts Chapter 5)?
Secondly, it seems to me that the adoption of a stance of absolute pacifism in some Christian circles flirts dangerously with the heresy of Marcionism — in that its adherents seem all too willing to draw a sharp divide between the God if the Israelites in the Old Testament (who was not above ordering Israel’s kings, prophets and judges to use lethal force, to say nothing of His own actions) and the by-and-large peaceful and nonviolent God of the New Testament (to which, again, the story of Ananias and Saphira might constitute an unsightly and conflicting blemish). This is exemplified in one reader’s comment:
More proof, if any were needed, that the so-called “Old Testament” should be consigned to the literature shelf, along with Homer and the rest of the primitive, pre-Christian texts. The “O.T.” can be cited to justify virtually any kind of homicide one should want to commit, including genocide. All one needs do is think that he’s channeling God’s will and he can kill with guilt-free abandon. Some call it piety; some call it pathology.
Cardinal Dulles once observed that the Old Testament the Mosaic Law specifies no less than thirty-six capital offenses calling for execution, and that while Jesus refrained from using force in most cases (a notable exeption being driving the money-changers from the temple with a whip), “at no point, however, does Jesus deny that the State has authority to exact capital punishment.” While he argued in opposition to the death penalty, he wisely saw that one could not do so in ignorance of, or opposition to, Catholic tradition. His example is worth emulating.
My third and final point has to do with the “dirty hands” perspective — the assertion that even in situations where killing is warranted (as a defensive measure), the mere act of taking human life itself is intrinsically immoral, the equasion of armed force with violance, and lethal force to murder, such that any resort to such is deemed necessarily sinful. Or as Kyle says: “Killing is always wrong, even when it’s right.” Curiously, I find this stance indicative of a distinctly Protestant mentality that dispenses with centuries of Catholic thought and tradition. (That said, we are in an age now where it seems that Protestant and Catholic voices have become indistinguishable on this very subject, with multiple fronts voicing indiscriminate condemnation of armed force without qualification).
This last and final point is best argued in the following essay, “War and the Eclipse of Moral Reasoning”, by Dr. Philip Blosser. (Republished here by kind permission of the author) — a discussion of which I hope will bear much fruit.