09 October 2012

The Christian Case for Self-Defense

Editor's note: I don't remember where I first saw this; if it's yours, please let me know & I'll take it down or provide credit, as you prefer.

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Thou shalt not kill.

Those four words are often used by opponents of self defense when they claim that divine law forbids the taking of another human life, even in defense of your own. So, how can a Christian justify the carrying of arms for self defense, or should they abhor such a practice and rely on divine intervention?

The first issue with the opening argument of this article is that it is the result of a mistranslation. While many Roman Catholic texts translate the fifth (sixth in some texts) Commandment as "you shall not kill", many other texts hold true to the original meaning of "you shall not murder." That is the key distinction.

In fact, when analyzing the issue using the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Part 3, Section 2, Chapter 2, Article 5 goes right to the heart of the matter.

§2263 The legitimate defense of persons and societies is not an exception to the prohibition against the murder of the innocent that constitutes intentional killing. "The act of self-defense can have a double effect: the preservation of one's own life; and the killing of the aggressor. . . . The one is intended, the other is not."

§2264 Love toward oneself remains a fundamental principle of morality. Therefore it is legitimate to insist on respect for one's own right to life. Someone who defends his life is not guilty of murder even if he is forced to deal his aggressor a lethal blow.

§2265 Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others. The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm. For this reason, those who legitimately hold authority also have the right to use arms to repel aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their responsibility.

This tells us that not only do we have the right to use deadly force against those tho would try to take our own lives, but we have that right to defend others in our care as well. We all have a responsibility to each other individually, and those charged with the protection of the community (such as police officers) are justified using deadly force as well.

When you are forced to defend yourself to preserve your life, it is that act of preservation that is the intended result of the employment of force. You're trying to stop the aggressor. If the aggressor dies as a result of your meeting force with force, that outcome is considered unintentional by the church. You are trying to stop, not kill, though sometimes only the death of the attacker can halt the assault.

During the Last Supper, Jesus was preparing his followers for what was to come after he was gone. He told them, "one who has a money bag should take it, and likewise a sack, and one who does not have a sword should sell his cloak and buy one." (Luke 22:36). Once He, their shepherd, had left them, they would need to protect themselves, even if it meant selling their clothes to be able to buy a weapon to do so.

Some Christians are fond of saying "The Lord Will Provide," yet here is Jesus telling his disciples to provide for themselves, which would seemingly support Benjamin Franklin's 1757 quote in Poor Richard's Almanac, "God helps those who help themselves." What Jesus is really telling his followers is to prepare themselves using the tools God has provided in order that He might work His will through them.

If evil confronts a man in the form of an armed attacker, do we really expect God to strike the attacker down with a heart attack? Or is it more likely that He would provide "a defense for the needy in his distress" (Isaiah 25:4) through placing an armed, good man in the path of evil? If we are to believe that "the secret things belong to the LORD our God" (Deuteronomy 29:29), we cannot discount the idea that there are earthly ways in which God might intervene on our behalf.

But, how do we reconcile this with the Christian value of turning the other cheek? Again, the answer is in the text.

"When someone strikes you on (your) right cheek, turn the other one to him as well." (Matthew 5:39). What is being referenced in the text is not a deadly threat. You're not going to be killed by a slap to the face, and Jesus was urging the letting go of anger and pride.

Consider also Isaiah 2:4, "they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks." Though this is often taken to mean that weapons should be destroyed now, what it is actually referring to in context is Judgment Day.

According to the Scripture, after the Final Battle between good and evil, God himself will rule the Earth and all forms of evil, vice, and sin will be gone. It is only after that time that weapons will no longer be needed for self-defense, and until then, we need to be prepared to act to preserve our own lives and the lives of others. It is the Christian thing to do.


Matt said...

8 But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.

I Timothy 5:8

Even in context, this doesn't rule out the idea of "providing" defense for one's family. Indeed, without defense, all the other things a man "provides" for his family may be taken away from him and his.

eiaftinfo said...

I also believe He gave us an abundance of common sense. Would He really expect a father or mother to stand aside while evil kills their children??

What I find I am most resistant to is the smugness folks involking some of these anti-violence arguments have. I suspect many will learn some very hard lessons.

Great post, thanks for sharing - whoever the author is . . . .

ProudHillbilly said...

Our lives are great gifts, and they are also responsibilities. We have no right to throw away that gift of life if it can be avoided - we have a responsibility to take care of it.

Rev. Paul said...

Matt, eiaftinfo, PH: exactly. Thank you.

My reading of Jesus' teachings has convinced me that we are to turn the other cheek when maltreated for our Christianity, but fight back/protect ourselves at any other times.

PolyKahr said...

I have seen this before, but for the life of me, I can't remember where. You might try Francis W. Porretto. I think I linked to it at the time.

BTW, an excellent explanation. Thanks,

Best wishes,

Rev. Paul said...

PolyKahr, I'll look at his site as soon as get a chance; thanks for the referral & kind words.

Bob S. said...

The lessons commonly cited against armed self defense (turn the other cheek, if someone takes your clock, if required to go a mile) all were based on legal and acceptable practices at the time.

I believe that Jesus used those well known examples to highlight the need respond non-violently to legal issues.

Big difference in the commands to respond to criminal acts -- see Exodus 22:2.

Rev. Paul said...

Bob, that's a great example. Mosaic law was still the law of the land; that would have been part of their awareness of the law at the time.