Thursday, September 06, 2007

"You shall not murder."
Unless I missed an asterisk or a footnote, this would seem to be a rather easy commandment to understand, and reject. It doesn't say thou shall not murder unless the murdered person was himself a murderer. I also see no mention of an exception for the use of smart bombs or the targeting of Muslims. And as far as additional invisible words ("a fetus" or "people that look like you"), I can't see them so I'll have to operate on the assumption that they don't exist.

I can identify a few realities that are ignored by a rule as simplistic as the sixth Commandment. War is, at least for now, not completely avoidable. Criminals are everywhere a reality, even in Scandinavia. Crime and it's active prevention sometimes involves, and even necessitates, death. War, crime, the death penalty, and abortion are complex issues involving factors beyond simple calculus of life and death.

So, unless I missed something, the substance of this commandment, that human life is inviolable, is not currently recognized and is not a defensible argument. I won't even get into the argument that all life is inviolable (if you think this, good luck with eating). Everyone who argues that human life is sacred in one debate, conveniently set that position aside in another. Most people who claim that abortion is murder, support the death penalty and/or the war in Iraq. Saying that criminals earned death invents clauses that don't appear in the commandment, and fails to explain the deaths of innocent civilians in war. There is an increasing recognition of this hypocrisy on the conservative right, and, being the logical people they are, the lesson they have drawn is that they must drop their support for the death penalty and hew more 'religiously' to the Commandment. This is ridiculous. To hold to the inviolability of human life across the board is to advocate for a fantasy. Usually this advocacy is made without any recognition of the fallout from its implementation (asking about what happens to these fetuses after we save them or what happens to oppressed people when we refuse to use force to protect them only scratches the surface).
So, "you will murder," is a better statement of fact and "you should do whatever you can to avoid murder," is a more realistic commandment. Neither is sexy or soothing, but such is life.

1 comment:

bangus9 said...

When I read your blog I thought you had it wrong. I Googled the Ten Commandments and was startled to learn that in the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible the sixth commandment does read "You Shall not murder." That is a big improvement over Exodus 20:13 of the King James Bible which reads "Thou shalt not kill." I hate to bring Webster in here but Merriam says "Murder" is "the intentional and unlawful taking of another person's life". The key word being "unlawful". As I read it, according to the NRSV, God told Moses, "don't kill without agreed upon formal guidelines". As a non-theist, and it is just an academic point, I'd prefer that the Christians stick with King James.