Sunday, January 20, 2008

the paradox (or is it one?) of murder

Most religions teach that life is sacred. Many, if not all, religions teach that harming or killing life is in some way sinful. Many religions, especially in their later forms, also make a distinction between body and spirit, localizing the essence of a person in something that cannot be touched, because incorporeal.

If we roll with this view of things for a moment-- the view that one's essence is untouchable and perhaps eternal-- what problem is there with killing a living body? The thing we destroy, after all, isn't the essence of that living being, correct? If anything, we might be said to be liberating the essence from its shell, but in no way can we be said to be harming that thing's essence.

Given that something like this body/spirit dualism dominates human thinking in the present day (whether scripturally/traditionally justified or not), why, then, do we have a concept of murder at all? Americans, for example, are largely Christian; most of these Christians, if you asked them, would affirm that we have souls, and that those souls are inviolable by mortal means.* Yet these same Americans would bay for blood if someone killed one of their family members. Why the disconnect?

(In case you're wondering whether I've lost my marbles, no: I don't seriously question the wrongness of murder. I do, however, think the disconnect is real: many people are convinced that we possess some inviolable essence of which our bodies are merely the housing or a shallow physical manifestation. These same people wail and gnash their teeth when a loved one dies. Why, if they're absolutely convinced we have souls/atman/etc.?)

*Pop culture reference: Hermione, in the seventh Harry Potter book, tells Ron that running a sword through someone would do that person's soul no harm.



Anonymous said...

I think you’re making this more complicated than it should be.

Regardless of the state of the soul, people *miss* loved ones who are gone.

As for wanting to kill someone who has murdered kin, there is difference between killing and murder. I take the commandment to say ‘thou shalt not murder’ over ‘kill,’ and I think this makes sense in that man can judge man for breaking man’s law and execute him for it, but only God can judge the soul.

So if someone has committed a crime that meets the standard of deserving death (first degree murder, in the U.S.) then I have no problem with that person being put down, as he/she has done something to deserve the loss of their life.

On the other hand, I see abortion as killing someone who has committed no crime, which is murder.

I’ll never understand those who are against capital punishment and for abortion, which seems to me a complete mix-up of right/wrong.

Kevin Kim said...


"Regardless of the state of the soul, people *miss* loved ones who are gone."

I agree, but the question is: why? If one believes in, say, the immortality or indestructibility of the soul, then those folks aren't really gone. They can't go.

re: kill/murder

Yes, I agree with your interpretation of the commandment. It was originally meant as "you shall not murder fellow Hebrews," but I think that, as the religion evolved, the original meaning of the commandment naturally (and justifiably) widened.


Anonymous said...

"...the question is: why? If one believes in, say, the immortality or indestructibility of the soul, then those folks aren't really gone. They can't go."

I see what you’re getting at, but I don’t think the destructibility/indestructibility of the soul is the issue for people in mourning; that person is gone from the lives of the living and the living will miss them. If they believe they will meet in Heaven that could ease the loss of separation but probably not erase it. Or maybe the person wonders (worries) where one of them will end up (e.g, if I go to hell, my job will be in daycare).

Wouldn’t you mourn a friend/family member if you were told you’d never see them again (in this life), if they were dead or not?

Believing in the abstract of afterlife does not necessarily do much to fill the concrete void created by the loss.