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Thou shalt not….

My last post was a well-deserved tribute to those who are committed to following their beliefs and do so unflinchingly. Today I got thinking about the other side of the coin–those who are committed to following very different beliefs equally adamantly. 

Recently I’ve begun reading the Bible thoughtfully for the first time in my adult life. My father was a minister when I was growing up and there was a certain amount of reluctance to take part in the whole idea. I realize now that in order for me to have any credibility in an argument about the teachings of the Bible, I really ought to know what I’m talking about. The ten commandments always seem to be an area of very broad interpretation and right now I’m wondering about the sixth commandment, the one that says “Thou shalt not kill….”  

I spoke of people being willing to lose their lives for the sake of a person or a cause. What about being willing to TAKE a life for the same reason? I’d like to think that for most people, the killing of another being is a pretty soul-altering act, even when it’s done for “a good cause”…. yeah, define THAT…. There are those who are willing to do whatever must be done in order to defend our country, but how many of them really think about the fact that that may mean killing someone? Maybe lots of someones, people with families, children…. Where in the Bible does it say, “Thou shalt not kill, EXCEPT….” It’s one thing to do something with noble intent, as in defending our loved ones against intruders and others who might harm us, but what about when it’s someone else’s idea?

Take soldiers, for instance. I realize that there is some expectation that those in our military may be asked to kill in order to defend our country, but what about when they don’t believe in the cause? I suppose they ought not have signed up if they didn’t think they might have to do something they’d regret. It just seems that more and more often we are asking our soldiers to engage in fighting that isn’t really about basic human safety.   

I am borrowing from a letter from Rev. Mike Piazza, the president of Hope for Peace & Justice (h4pj.org) in which he makes some good statements: 

  1. Stop exploiting our fears! Yes, the almost 3,000 deaths on 9/11/01 was a horrific tragedy, and we should do everything in our power to prevent it from happening again. But we also should make an effort to stop 3,000 people from starving to death every day, and 3,000 people a month from dying in car crashes, and the 3,000 people who die every two days of heart attacks, and stop the 3,000 people who die every three days of cancer … Well, you get the point. Life is filled with tragedies, and exploiting people’s fear is simply immoral.
  2. Stop dividing us. Yes, we have our differences. Exploiting them may help politicians raise money and get elected, but Americans agree more than we disagree. Most of our conflicts have been created by artificial “either/or” thinking. We can be safe AND care for the poor. We can have the strongest defense one earth AND educate ALL children.
  3. Stop selling out to the highest bidder. Here is just one example: The United States spends more on the military than the next 17 nations COMBINED. Couldn’t we just spend more than the next four or five??? Our military spending is determined less by our need for national security than by the fact that “defense” contractors are among the highest political donors. We have the best military that political bribes can buy.
  4. Think about your grandchildren. Don’t you want your grandkids to be able to breathe the air or swim in the oceans? “Long-term” does not mean the next time you run for re-election. Plant trees under which you may not sit. Build the kind of nation in which youWANT your kids to go to PUBLIC schools, swim in public pools, and work as a teacher or social worker.
  5. Trust democracy and freedom. Eight years of reduced civil liberties, less open government, and consistent fear-mongering has placed our great republic in mortal danger. The threat is not terrorists, but that we will sell out the core principles of democracy in exchange for the illusion of security. Ben Franklin famously said, “He who would trade liberty for some temporary security deserves neither liberty nor security.”
  6. Gamble on the good. Trust the goodness of human nature, and try using negotiations rather than war, or even sanctions, to coerce people into doing our will. By having two wars on Muslim nations, we have succeeded only in manufacturing terrorists. While attacking Al Qaeda in Afghanistan MIGHT have been a logical response to 9/11, we ought to have coupled that with helping the poor in that part of the world and healing rifts that make people hate us enough to die in order to show us. The Iraq war hasn’t made any friends for us, and certainly has not made us safer. It has succeeded in killing another 3,000 Americans, and tens of thousands of Iraqi children, women and men.
  7. Finally, tell us the truth! Don’t cover up the misdeeds of the previous administration just so we can “move on.” We need leaders who will help us confess to the world the ways in which we have let our fears cause us to betray our highest values. Only through our honesty will we ever regain any integrity around the world. How can we be a moral force unless we are honest about our immoral deeds?


Is it ever right to kill? Or be killed? Despite being a commandment, I don’t think any of us human beings will ever be able to take it quite literally, especially since it refers to all beings on the planet. Maybe the vegans are the only ones who are following it, and I’m not sure a lot of them would even describe themselves as Christians. Most killing strikes me as being a result of fear, and I’m pretty sure that God wouldn’t have us do it for that reason. He asked us to do things out of love, the opposite of fear, and I don’t think anyone ever killed anyone else out of an overwhelming sense of love. 



Categories: Politics
  1. Francine
    February 20, 2008 at 4:36 pm

    Sorry to deflate the baloon a little sweetie.

    What about those who translate the commandment as “Thou shalt not commit murder”

    To Murder and to Kill are two very different things.

    Literalist approaches to scripture inevitably lead to corners that one paints oneself into.

    This doesn’t mean I am in the peanut gallery rooting for blood guts and mayhem, but I do so love keeping any and all from getting complacent.

  2. February 20, 2008 at 4:52 pm

    A fine semantic line, indeed…. I guess the difference between “murder” and “killing” is in the heart of the perpetrator. Perhaps killing is more often done with an overwhelming sense of love in the form of duty and honor. Each of us will only ever understand when we are placed in the position to have to do so.

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