Monday, April 26, 2010

May Christians Assassinate Evil Doers?

Justin Taylor recently interviewed Eric Metaxas concerning his new biography on Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I was particularly struck by the way Metaxas answered the question, "Do you think Bonhoeffer was justified in conspiring to kill Hitler?"

In a word: yes. Bonhoeffer knew what was going on with the Jews. His family was well-connected, and he knew the worst stories of what was happening. He saw it as the plain duty of a Christian to protect the weak and the innocent. To sit back while this was going on, while he knew it was going on, was simply unthinkable. It would have been nothing less than cowardice. He felt that God Himself was calling him to act boldly, in faith. To step out and act. It was what his faith and his theology led him to do. That’s very important to understand, and if I’ve finally clarified that somewhat in my book I think I’ve done something very valuable.

Agree? Disagree?

Think about the number of lives that could have been saved had Hitler been assassinated.

Before you answer, however, consider one thing. What if you were asked if George Tiller's assassin was justified in killing the notorious abortionist.


Jerry F said...

Tough and valid question. We can throw John Brown out there as well. I have to think about it.

Harley A. said...

Jesus was good at pointing out to folks that they were asking the wrong question – or at least asking with the wrong motives. (As Ravi Zacharias says, “Intent precedes content.”) That’s why He often replied with a question of His own – to pull the person outside of his own construct for a moment. These kinds of questions of justice are most often asked not in genuine concern for justice but to justify the questioner’s own moral position – they think they’ve found a trap, when in reality they’re walking into one. I think many Christians are too quick to oversimplify the issue and immediately assert that Roeder was unjustified and that it was murder on his part – end of the story. To do that (while I believe ultimately this is a true statement) cedes too much ground too quickly, and avoids the opportunity to challenge the secular worldview. They need to understand that they have no moral ground on which to based Roeder’s guilt, especially if they want to maintain Tiller’s innocence. And, in the end, if God has not established absolute standards of morality, then they certainly have no ground to base ANY moral judgments upon. They cannot escape this truth – though they will continue to hide from it.

In the case of Bonhoeffer - yes, he was justified. No question in my mind. He was recruited by a military resistance organization. He was part of a military action on behalf of his country to stop a despot. Not only was he justified – he was heroic.

Dave Rogel said...

"They need to understand that they have no moral ground on which to based Roeder’s guilt, especially if they want to maintain Tiller’s innocence."

Who are "they" and when did civil laws become meaningless? This isn't an issue of whether Tiller has the moral high ground or not--it is an issue of whether or not people are permitted to shoot other people with whom they take issue. (Spoiler: they're not.) With a few lingering exceptions, we left that kind of nonsense behind in the saloons of the 1800's, didn't we?

If it was okay to shoot others for shamefully un-Biblical behavior, it would be good news for ammunition manufacturers and very bad news for everyone else. That's not the case, and even implying that it might be is rather disconcerting. Morality is morality, but laws are also laws. And as for morality, it is God (NOT a person with a handgun) who will make those calls.

We are all capable of making bad decisions, and exposing another person's very existance to that capacity is a very bad idea...

...which, I believe, is why we're not allowed to shoot each other.

Jase and Melissa said...

I see your point, but I think I disagree to an extent. People are permitted to shoot other people with whom they disagree, but the question is when and in what circumstance. War and self-defense are rather classic examples of what most people regard as Biblically justified instances where it is ok for people to shoot other people. I think Bonhoeffer was justified in trying to kill Hiter. To me, killing or trying to kill Hitler was fair game, he was a military figure engaged in military actions (though he sadly violated the law of war by his terrible crimes against humanity, was not engaged in a just war, etc.) Tiller was a civilian killed by another civilian, and as such, I believe that killing Tiller was Biblically wrong. Scripture gives us some good principles on which most agree on (war, self-defense). But even in those applications, I think we have to realize that there are no easy answers.

Harley A. said...

Dave, you might want to reread my response – carefully. I agree Roeder was not justified in shooting Tiller – and I said as much in my post. And, I didn’t say “they” had no ground on which to base Roeder’s guilt, I said they had no moral ground “if they want maintain Tiller’s innocence”.

As to who “they” is, obviously I’m referring to the large % of Americans who would agree that Tiller was innocent and Roeder was guilty. I didn’t think it took a huge leap in interpretation to glean that. Perhaps I’m more sensitive to it living in Wichita and hearing the man lionized and almost sainted for the “wonderful work” he did “for women”.

Harley A. said...

By the way, Dave, which civil law do you want me to follow ? The one that says I cannot murder people, or the one that says I can murder people as long as they are still in their mother’s womb ? Roe v. Wade, my friend, is certainly not meaningless – there’s all kinds of meaning attached to it – but it is illegal and unconstitutional all day long.

Dave Rogel said...

Jase & Melissa,

"I think I disagree to an extent. People are permitted to shoot other people with whom they disagree, but the question is when and in what circumstance."

I never really went into the Hitler half of the discussion, and, as it turns out, we actually agree completely. The distinction between a civilian and a military leader in an active war is a good one. (Devil's Advocate: might a disgruntled Iraqi see our president--either Bush or Obama--in the same light, as a military leader in an active war. I don't mean to equate the war in Iraq with the Holocaust, but to raise the question "Where is the line between 'should not be assassinated' and 'should/could be assassinated'. If it is as simple as "a military leader in an active war with whom one or more individuals disagree strongly", that would have unsettling implications regarding our own leaders.)


I apologize for misreading what you wrote. I believe we agree that both parties (all of us, really) are of a morally questionable nature.

As to which civil law to obey, the first you mention is a prohibition, whereas the second is a permission. You must act on the first (by not murdering others), whereas you need not act on the other if you do not choose to. The first is straightforward. The second is less so. If it is legally permissible but morally wrong (and abortion is hardly unique in that respect), then it is one's moral duty to a.) not have or perform an abortion, and possibly b.) take action to overturn or otherwise modify the law for the better (as has been the ongoing effort ever since '73).

So, we agree that both parties are morally guilty, and that firearms probably oughtn't to be involved in any of it?

Harley A. said...

Yes, I think we agree for the most part. I suppose my biggest problem is that Roeder is painted as a far more morally reprehensible character when, in actuality, Tiller is. I do believe in levels of sinfulness. But both were wrong in what they did, yes.

My point in the juxtaposition of the laws is that the latter judicial legislation contradicts already established law, not to mention God's Law on which the original murder laws are based. Those who should uphold law and protect constitutionality failed us on both points.