Thursday, May 1, 2008

Mike on the Sixth Commandment

"You shall not murder," or as a number of translations have it, "You shall not kill." Rami, I would be interested to hear more about your understanding of the term translated "murder" or "kill." One translation is more restrictive than the other, as you note. I rather doubt the earliest adherents had plant or animal life in mind, but certainly some modern sensibilities require the matter to be raised.

I think we agree the commandment prohibits premeditated murder. Insofar as I can determine, no "out clause" is in effect. Premeditated murder is unacceptable, regardless of provocation. Taking the life of another denies the image of God found in each of us. This is wrong in several ways. First, the act attempts to destroy a work of God. Second, murder denies our essential kinship. Third, it is a kind of theft, isn't it--the taking of a life which may be said to belong to God and the one the murdered, but certainly not to us.

Murder amounts to an attempt to take the place of God. In Christian terms, murder finds its origin in the root cause of all sins: our attempt to be God unto ourselves.

Jesus, of course, argued that harboring hatred or despising another was a kind of murder. At first blush, this sounds strange. How can we possibly hope to control our feelings? Actually, though, I think Jesus had something else in mind. He understood that deep rooted feelings sooner or later find a way to express themselves in words and deeds. Murderous feelings lead to murderous actions, including some of those you list (demeaning others, for example.). Can't ghettos (of all sorts), genocide, and the like be said to start with hatred and despite?

Of course, if we opt to translate the passage to read "You shall not kill," we open up a broader range of concerns. Even if we stick with murder, though, the commandment seems to me to imply something larger. Once you refrain from premediated murder because of your regard for the image of God in one another, you've opened the door to many questions. I think your account of the rabbis and their reluctance to execute even a convicted murderer illustrates the point.

I agree with your last point: we will have to discuss abortion. We probably need to talk about the possiblity of a consistent life-affirming (I prefer this term to "pro-life") ethic as well.

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