…is under discussion here. Among End to Evil types eager to export democracywhiskeysexy to the world at gunpoint, as well as among Death Penalty Maximalists, there is a cherished notion that people they want to kill have “forfeited the right to life”. The Church’s attitude toward killing is extremely minimalist. It is legit, when protecting innocent life, to use deadly force when absolutely necessary. But it really is “Only kill if you absolutely have to.” What a lot of people in our culture ask is not, “When do I have to kill?” but “When do I get to kill?” It is to these latter that the Church is speaking when it discourages war and the death penalty, while still permitting them under very strict circumstances. Our attitude to killing should be like our attitude toward amputating our own gangrenous leg with a rusty knife. In our culture, it is often more like a trembling greyhound, cooped up in the starting pen, itching for a chance at release. And not a few Catholics bitterly resent the Church putting so many obstacles in the way of our eager lust for death “for the right sort of people, people who have forfeited their right to live.”
Last week on Facebook, I had a reader fantasizing to me about taking abusive priests out back and dispatching them with a single shot to the back of the skull “if I was running things”. The thought that Christ had died for such men did not even occur to him at first. When a horrified pall fell over the FB discussion and a number of people shifted awkwardly in their seat and cleared their throats at this naked display of vigilante fantasy violence, it was then suggested that this was, you know, a naked display of vigilante fantasy violence. The guy quickly tried to patch it up with civil and religious legalism. “If was running things” was, you see, a way of saying that the vigilante violence would be “legal” since he would be “running things” as an elected official who had changed the laws to *allow* him to take people he really wanted to murder out back and put a bullet through their skull. And, being a good Catholic, he assured us that the priest would have access to the sacraments before he took him out back and put a bullet through his skull.
You could practically *feel* the gentle mercy of Christ crackling with electric zeal to start rounding up and shooting People We Can Do Without, Who Never Would be Missed. And golly, when you think about it, there are a lot of people besides that priest who just need killin’. Our world would be so much better off without them. And who better than a good Christian to decide–unilaterally–who they should be? It’s not like the bullets through the skull are being put there for some ignoble purpose like vengeance. We’re talking about justice here. They’ve forfeited their right to life.
It’s that mindset the Church is addressing. We are a species with a genius for finding rationales for killing people “for a good purpose.”