14 November, 2010

The Morality of Killing in Self Defense: A Christian Perspective

The Morality of Killing in Self Defense: A Christian Perspective

by J. in the Great White North
By James Wesley, Rawles on November 14, 2010 10:46 AM

Part 1 Introduction

The Inspiration for the first twenty years of my life, I believed not only that killing in self-defense was morally permissible but also that such defense was appropriate insofar as it was just. St. Augustine’s treatise On Free Choice of the Will, however, challenged my views on self-defense. In that work, Augustine and his interlocutor, Evodius, question “whether an attacking enemy or an ambushing murderer can be killed without any inordinate desire, for the sake of preserving one’s life, liberty, or chastity.” 1 After the two discuss the moral issues involved in the act of killing in self-defense, Evodius, though admitting that no human law condemns an individual for defending himself, asserts the following regarding attackers: I don’t blame the law that allows such people to be killed; but I can’t think of any way to defend those who do the killing. . . . I suspect that they are condemned by a more powerful, hidden law, if indeed there is nothing that is not governed by divine providence. How can they be free of sin in the eyes of the law, when they are defiled with human blood for the sake of things that ought to be held in contempt? 2 Although Evodius recognizes the practicality of a law permitting individuals to kill in self-defense, he argues that it is impossible to take such action without violating God’s law. Immediately, Evodius’ argument made me wonder whether or not I fully understood the act of killing in self-defense. The more time I spent considering the topic, the more strongly I felt that the morality of such action was much more complex than I had originally imagined. Although most everyone I knew held that it was permissible for individuals to kill in self-defense, I doubted that they had ever seriously considered the question. Consequently, I took it upon myself to delve deeper into the issue. The Project My investigation is directed at understanding the morality of killing in self-defense from a Christian perspective. I examined the works of numerous Christian authors and a broad range of perspectives, including those of St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Augustine, Stanley Hauerwas, Reinhold Niebuhr, Paul Ramsey, Leo Tolstoy, and John Howard Yoder. Although each of these authors affected the way I understood the morality of killing in self-defense, I limit the following discussion to three authors, Aquinas, Augustine, and Ramsey, whose works address the issue at hand with particular clarity.
I have no such qualms as I was taught early on that the choice is irrevocable and my thoughts can be summed up in this shortened philosophical example starting at 09:10 and goes to 09:50.

Always, always, always remember; "Someone ever tries to kill you, you try to kill 'em right back."


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