The Literary Salon

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Location: Toronto, now Ottawa, Ont, Canada

Thursday, April 06, 2006

To kill or not to kill?

[This entry may seem incoherent and out of a modernist novel, but stream of consciousness clearly had a role to play in my business today].
I was cleaning out my room today when I found some old notes from my undergraduate English courses (I was a terrible note-taker, so there wasn't much). I went through the notes I took for the Dostoevsky and Tolstoy courses I took that year, the only courses for which I can say I took serious, albeit unorganized, notes (2002-2003; boy did I read a lot that year!).

After this, I was reminded of Voltaire's entry in his Dictionnaire Philosophique under Jephtah, who, in the Old Testament, promised to sacrifice whomever came through the door of his house as a gift for his victory over the Ammonites. Of course, who else but his daughter should come through the door, and, irrevocably doomed to death, she then goes to the mountains to lament her virginity.

I bring this up in connection with C.S. Lewis' chapter on murder in Mere Christianity. He tells us that when Jesus, in the gospel of Matthew, tells us not to kill, he uses a slightly different word. In Greek, there exist the words for "kill" and "murder," and Jesus here uses the latter, and C.S. Lewis' takes this as proof that "killing" is sometimes allowed (his argument is far longer and includes other elements). This brings me back to the story of Jepthah and the Old Testament in general. In the book of Exodus, Moses tells us "Thou shalt not kill" (ed.: as a side note, few people know that the Ten Commandments were inscribed twice. The first time, Moses smashed the tablets to pieces because he got really pissed off, so he had to go up the mountain again and receive them). Although we are admonished not to kill fairly early on, we see killings fairly frequently in the Old Testament, and they are oftened sactioned by God. The first example is the killing of Jephtah's daughter, which he was essentially commanded to undertake (no one, including God, thought unseemly). Apart from the thousands of people killed by the Israelites after Exodus, we even see one person punished because he didn't kill, viz., Saul, who captured Agag but refused to kill him. He didn't think it necessary (or he showed mercy, I forget which), and God punished him for this. There are many other examples I could burden the reader with, but I will merely implore them to consult their Bibles.

Unlike Voltaire, my purpose is not to denounce Old Testament culture/laws: I merely wanted to make this observation and connect it with the New Testament admonition "thou shalt not kill." Either the Old Testament contradicts itself egregiously, or, as C.S. Lewis suggests in connection with Christianity, that there are different types of killing, some of which are permissble.

To conclude, the stream of consciousness scheme I experienced today goes as follows: thoughts on Dostoevsky and undergrad courses generally -- C.S. Lewis -- the Bible/killing. What occasioned the leap from Dostoevsky to C.S. Lewis was the idea of reason versus faith. Very briefly, Dostoevsky would have probably agreed with much of what C.S. Lewis says, especially concerning instincts and a moral code.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good example...

1 Samuel 15:9

"But Saul and the people spared Agag, and the best of the sheep, and of the oxen, and of the fatlings, and the lambs, and all that was good" ~KJV

Just in case you wanted the source.


8:53 p.m.  
Blogger Vixen said...

To kill or not to kill, that is the question...
In terms of the commandment "thou shall not kill", I think a better interpretation would be "thou shall not kill (intentionally)". Yes, God did sanction various times where it was fine to destroy people, but it would seem it was for a greater purpose.
In terms of Jephtah's daughter, God said that no man should make vows, and foolish Jephtah should have listened.

10:09 p.m.  
Blogger Pious Labours said...

Wow, two responses!! Best ever :)
Thanks for contributing guys.

10:17 p.m.  

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