Thou shalt not kill is the 6th of Ten Commandments.
Whether God listed the Ten Commandments in order of importance, I can’t say, but if they are, then “not killing” is slightly more important than not committing adultery and slightly less important than honoring your parents. Yet, I can’t help but wonder why murder is so far down on the list. Why isn’t it at the top of the list of unacceptable behaviors?
You’d think if there was ONE commandment that everyone could agree upon, all religions and secular communities, it might be #6, the “no killing” command.
Although, apparently, there’s some disagreement on the order of the Ten Commandments and on the wording. Putting aside differences in interpretation and translation (which could fill a library), various groups do number the Ten Commandments differently. Also, some say God wrote the word murder not kill and that there’s a difference between the two, allowing leeway to kill someone as long as you’re not murdering them. Leave it to humankind to take a list that a god wrote on tablets of stone, twice, and argue about the order and the wording.
(Disclaimer: I’m not a biblical scholar. I’m not even a Christian, so as I sorted through the story of the origin of the stone tablets, I freely admit that I found it confusing.)
You’d think that those two tablets would end ALL arguments.
But they actually began with a big clash. According to the biblical narrative, the first set of tablets, inscribed by the finger of God, were smashed by Moses when he was enraged by the sight of the Children of Israel worshiping a golden calf. The golden calf debacle is fodder for an entire article of its own. Suffice it to say that Moses chiseled out a second set of tablets so God could rewrite the commandments.
Ahem! Thus the tablets have continued to cause great controversy to this day. Even a command as straightforward as thou shalt not kill.
The responses to such a simple command quickly became convoluted. When we casually examine the different interpretations of the command, we soon discover that there is no end to the lengthy explanations concocted to clarify why some kinds of killings are acceptable and others aren’t.
Killing comes in many forms. Here’s a short list:
1) murder of an individual by another individual
2) self defense
4) killing animals
5) pollution for profit resulting in disease and death
6) poverty and social neglect
8) capital punishment
10) killing to promote an ideology
This is just a starter list.
However, I’ll admit that I’m surprised at how common murder has always been in “civilized” societies. I’m also aware that there is a huge variance in what people consider to be murder.
For some people #2 and #7 are the only two acts that qualify as murder.
Evangelicals are part of a group that has defined killing as sin largely in these two instances, self-defense and abortion. All the other forms are justifiable homicides and sometimes, as with war, considered God-sanctioned.
Other people, however, feel strongly that #1, #2, #5, #6, and #8 qualify as murder.
These people sometimes fall on the more liberal spectrum of political and religious views. They see a slow but deliberate extermination of humans through corporate greed as unjustifiable killings. The millions of people killed in wars are also viewed as mass murders.
Today, I read an article from a local news station about a man who killed a police officer.
The prosecutor is seeking the death penalty. It was the long string of comments that followed, however, that made me cringe. I live in a state that has recently passed some of the most restrictive laws in the country when it comes to abortion. Yet, the comments consisted largely of one person after another demanding an execution, a distinct mob mentality. Execution isn’t supported by all countries, but Hoosiers were calling for blood.
The very clump of cells they strive to protect after conception deserves the death penalty later in life. A death for a death seems appropriate to many people. That clump of cells was so flawed when it grew up that execution is the only solution. Never mind that there are many cases on record of people who’ve been executed who turned out to be innocent.
Clearly, we have mixed interpretations of what thou shalt not kill means.
I rarely meet anyone who thinks killing in self-defense is wrong. Apparently, “turning the other cheek” doesn’t apply to an attacker intent on killing you. Almost everyone agrees that a person can do whatever is necessary to stop an attacker in their tracks even if it means killing them. Jesus supposedly led by example. He didn’t resist his own execution nor did he allow his followers to do so on his behalf. He didn’t lift a finger when they nailed him to the cross. There’s a message in there somewhere.
Most people aren’t pacifists either.
It’s not too hard for individuals to find at least one war that appears to be a “just” war. Which war that might be can vary, however. This is another area of strong disagreement when it comes to killing. Yet, humans have killed more of their own species in brutal wars than any other type of murder. Babies, children, women, old people, have been obliterated by the war machine.
War is so brutal that if you allow yourself to think about it, you’d probably never bring another child into this world again.
Yet, humans justify war by telling themselves that they’re fighting for a good cause and that their GOD is on their side. The very God that said thou shalt not kill is rooting for them to kill thousands upon thousands of human beings. He forbade killing but is now telling them to strap guns to their boys and girls and send them into battle to kill or be killed.
There are some who find murdering animals much more offensive than murdering humans or at least as reprehensible.
They dedicate their lives to saving abandoned animals rather than resorting to euthanizing these homeless pets. Sometimes, they form alliances to save animals on the edge of extinction.
The abortion issue, which has become highly politicized in America in the last few decades, centers around the question of when a life is a life.
Obviously, some people consider a cluster of cells to be a life. For others, that cluster remains in another category until further developed. However, once the child is born, keeping it alive by providing sufficient food, a safe environment. and adequate care becomes another battle based on strongly differing opinions. Children suffer and die all over the world and have been doing so since the beginning of time due to war, neglect, abuse, and starvation.
Whether the killing takes place in the cluster-of-cells phase or as a toddler in a war-torn country will determine who delivers a murder charge.
The many combinations from the list are interesting and varied. It’s clear, however, that when it comes to the sin of killing — the jury is still OUT!
Suicide or the right to end one’s own life is a controversial topic surrounding a deeply personal experience.
With the doubling of the human lifespan, more and more people are unwilling to die a long, drawn-out death where quality of life is absent. They believe that it is their personal right to end their own lives when the pain and suffering becomes unbearable and that the state has no right to interfere in this choice. We euthanize our dogs when they’re suffering from an illness that has no cure, but humans don’t have the same rights.
The point I am trying to make is that agreeing on moral issues isn’t as straightforward as we might think.
Even something as blatant as murder is open for interpretation and influenced by cultural bias. Every form of murder listed above is condoned by someone. Yet the God of the Bible didn’t qualify his command with a list of exceptions. His command was straightforward. Thou shalt not kill. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. Simply put, don’t do it. Societies across the globe continue to wrestle with these moral questions to this day.
Most people would probably agree that if everyone believed that every type of killing was morally wrong, the world would be a much safer place.
However, we also know that most likely everyone is capable of murder given the right circumstances and many even feel justified. That puts us in a very uncomfortable position when it comes to our moral convictions concerning murder.
We don’t feel safe with one another.
So, we change the rules to fit the situation which isn’t morality at all but a kind of survival mode. The evolution of societies hasn’t yet mastered an array of conflict resolution skills. We still go from feeling threatened to feeling angry, which often catapults us into violent acts. When we’re involved in a conflict with another individual, group, or country, the odds are that if things escalate, aggression will follow, maybe even resulting in murder.
Living in a world of such uncertainty makes us neurotic.
I’m not a religious person, but I was raised in the American culture that promotes one true god, the god of the Bible no less. He means as little to me as Zeus or Satan, but I’m still impacted by the beliefs that permeate the society I was gifted by the sheer lottery of birth. It’s hard to escape the tribal customs, rituals, beliefs and values of the culture you were born into.
For all the talk about how great the Christian god is, however, America cherishes a violent culture.
Yet, I can’t help but wonder that if everyone who claims to believe in the Christian god decided that thou shalt not kill really means killing of any kind was a mortal sin, we might have a safer place to live out our lives. I mean Christianity is the religion of most Americans. If they only practiced what they preached, life would be a lot different. Can you even imagine?
Unfortunately, that’s not the case.
It makes you wonder how we dare to bring new life into this dangerous environment. We aren’t allowed to feel safe for very long. Eventually, life traumatizes people, and they function accordingly. So much so that some people simply opt out and commit suicide. It’s hard to be a human. Contrary to popular opinion, we weren’t given a road map to navigate our way safely through life. Many Christians, however, insist that the Bible IS that road map. So, unto them I say …
Thou shalt not kill.
To the rest I offer this. Society needs to evolve. It’s long overdue. If we want to keep bringing new life into this old world, then it’s time to rethink how we care for those lives. Our belief in gods hasn’t proven to be of much help. Our big brains aren’t doing us much good either.
Are we doomed to be creatures of violence and cruelty?
Can we make the shift from competition to cooperation for the sake of the children we claim to love? I don’t know. But deep down inside, I think we’re tired of killing. We’re exhausted no less. We recognize how pathetically ineffective our religions are and that our violent natures make the sanctity of life an impossible concept. We also know that change of any kind is up to us. There’s no super power coming to our rescue.
Both Heaven and Hell are NOW not after we die.
Teresa is a retired educator, author, world traveler, and professional myth buster. You can find her books on Amazon.