Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Stop Killing People

I spent some time brainstorming what the next topic for this blog might be. Often I have a backlog of ideas; I have recently come to the end of my log. Unfortunately, yesterday provided a pretty vivid and all too common tragedy that screams (literally, figuratively, emotionally and just about every other -ly) for something to be said.

As with any loss of life or bad news we hear, the first and most appropriate response is simply to participate in the hurt and affirm the pain of suffering. A bunch of people were killed yesterday and that sucks.

When things like this happen, I get angry. Not really at anyone in particular, but at everyone in general. It's a simple response that's fraught with complications:


If everyone stopped killing people, no one would be killed. Hard to argue with that logic. Of course it's not likely everyone will stop killing people and if the good guys stop killing the bad guys the bad guys are going to kill more people than they otherwise would. So we all keep killing as if it is a sane act simply because it can be justified through some logical stream of consciousness.

The main problem I see is that people aren't numbers. We forget that sometimes. We forget that in medicine and in war and in elections and in church. People are people. They are individuals and we are all interconnected in one giant mass called "people." (Theologically we should probably include all of creation in that giant mass, but that could be a bridge too far for today.) It's not so simple as "killing one person today, saves fifteen tomorrow." Beyond the fact that people aren't numbers, it's awfully difficult to predict the future and it's just plain asinine to think that killing someone, with or without good intentions, affects only that person.

The great Brian Zahnd speculated on mass killings as an idea a bit. It's an interesting read.

What we do has an effect on the world around us. The things we see today and results, partly, of things done previously. I'll say again, people are not numbers and we're not isolated individuals - we are individuals in community whether we like it or not. Things effect us.

(A brief side note, I finished Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers recently - I know, I'm close to a decade behind - but the research he highlighted on the cultural foundations of our inborn reactions, even generations removed from their principal causes is both outrageous and amazing. We are not and can not be isolated!)

My thoughts on this are obviously rooted in Jesus Christ, who chose death over killing and in doing so rendered death impotent of real power (despite all appearances to the contrary, both from Christians and otherwise). The ethical implications of which are exemplified in the earliest Christians and explored for modern readers in the theology of the Anabaptist tradition and laid out by bad-ass prophets like Stanley Hauerwas, among others.

Yes, the degree to which, and situations where, killing might be acceptable for Christians is a difficult conversation. In the end, the Christian response is simply to call each other and the world to less violence. Hence:


I first started thinking about this on a large scale when considering Israel and Palestine. They shoot rockets at each other and blow up buildings and arrest people over a legitimate, complicated, historically-rooted dispute that will likely never be settled. Just on a practical level, if they're ever going to move past violence, one side is going to have to denounce violence preemptively - instead of the current posture of "no, you do it first."

Whatever side of that, or any particular tense situation you may consider sane, logically, it is the sane person who should expected to act rationally. Of course, one can't trust the insane to act sanely - but neither is the insane guaranteed to act insanely simply because of their lack of sanity.

What I'm saying is, take the chance. Yes, it's a chance which could cost your life or the lives of lots of other people, but it's better than banging your head against a wall for another 6,000 years. AND, guess what? You look a lot less threatening to the other guy if you stop actually threatening him. The same would likely be true if roles were reversed.

I use the sane/insane argument not because I believe those roles fit well in any conflict, but because those involved in the conflict believe them. If you're the sane one, do the sane thing.


Killing is contagious. The more advanced we get in our technology the further we come from actually physically understanding the reality of killing. When it was hand to hand combat and you had to grip the throat of an enemy and physically feel the remaining air in his lungs disappear - that's a difficult position. It was never taken lightly. When you can punch buttons on a keyboard and blow up an occupied house 15,000 miles away, then go home to dinner with your wife and kids - that's a lot of distance. The more killing we do, the easier it is to kill. That's not just for individuals, but for societies as a whole.

It trickles down. There's all this debate about why the US has so many gun deaths despite lower gun ownership rates than, say, Canada. There's a lot of factors going into it, a lot. One I never hear is that we live in the only developed country on Earth that still executes people. Could it be so simple as "my daddy does it, so it must be ok?"

It starts with society - and it trickles down to individuals. When we're part of a system that uses killing to impose an understanding of morality on the world, we should not be surprised to find individuals within that society who use the same logic - even if their morality is ridiculous and flat out wrong.

If you or I stop killing people, people will still get killed. I don't like what's going on in Syria anymore than anyone else (and I can't think of a single person on the planet, Asad included, who likes what's happening there). I have the same response for Syria that I do for the United States:


I do not pray for quick resolution to war. I don't even pray for a cessation of fighting. I pray that every armed combatant everyone, on a battlefield or angry at home, will just lay down their weapons and renounce fighting altogether. I pray that words like war and peace will lose all meaning because people have refused to fight so long, they've forgotten what it means to kill.

Please, just stop killing people. It may not make a lot of sense in the short term; the math might not add up well (it probably won't). But in the end, the simple statement remains true: if everyone stopped killing, no one would be killed.

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