Bible reference – Exodus 20:13
Thou shalt not kill.KJV
What I thought this meant: Do not murder people.
What I think this really means: Do not murder people.
This is the first no-brainer Commandment. This is the one that most people think of immediately when trying to come up with universal rules for a society. Let’s not kill one another. The obvious reason is that if you make a mistake, you cannot take it back.
Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement.J.R.R. Tolkien. The Fellowship of the Ring
When people come together, they will disagree. Often, their interests will butt up against one another. When mentalities or ideologies clash, hostilities escalate and violence can break out. This Commandment encourages other ways of resolving those conflicts. We all have the latitude to make mistakes or make bad decisions, we should not allow those errors to lead to extinguishing life so cavalierly. Destroying is always easier than making and maintaining. The universe is bends to total entropy. It makes sense for life to seek to protect life. Death has a 100% success rate, so why do we need to help it?
Some people argue that there is a difference between killing and murdering people. Killing in a war can be justified, especially against the godless or the enemies of God. That never made sense to me: killing people is ok if they are not on your team. How do you differentiate yourself from the people you want to kill? Are you better than them? Who decides that is the case?
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of HappinessThomas Jefferson, Declaration of Independence
The Creator grants us with life – all of us. If life is a gift from God and we are all equal beneficiaries, and moreover we are obliged to allow our neighbors to live, live freely, and seek their Purpose. This is one of the foundational messages of Jesus Christ:
Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.Mark 12:31 KJV
This echoes the sentiment that we all have a right to live, so we should govern ourselves with empathy. Like Commandment 1, we do not put ourselves over anyone else, and Commandment 2, we do not put ourselves under anyone else either. We live as peers, and if we decide we want to kill the other… the other is justified to kill us. That is a self-defeating and destructive plan. It’s stupid and simplistic. I don’t want to believe in that kind of God. Instead, we treat all life as precious. We treat it with respect and empathy. Including our own. We make the hard choice to live and let live. Killing is the easy way.
You can die anytime, but living takes true courage.Himura Kenshin, Ruroni Kenshin
Things can become more complicated when dealing with personal choice. It’s easy to think that suicide is a coward’s way out, something that weak people do. Whatever doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger after all, right? However, if a person is in great pain… it may seem like mercy for their life to end. My sister suffered through suffocating depression for decades. She shot herself a day after I begged her not to. Do I believe she went to hell because she wanted to escape a sucking emptiness? Was it her fault that every day she encountered crushing despair? This is the problem with absolutes. I did not want my sister to die. I wanted to believe that there was a path, albeit hard, where could have found peace. On the other hand, I did not want to force her to endure additional emotional anguish for the opportunity. Selfishly, I wanted her to live for me… but in the end, that was not compelling enough for her. In this regard, I have to tell myself that these are just guidelines – an ideal that we will strive toward but never achieve.
Some people would argue that killing anything is not justifiable. I went through a phase where I did not kill insects. That allowed me to feel morally superior, until I considered where all the meat I ate came from. Is condoning the slaughter of animals for my consumption morally different from me smashing a spider with my shoe? What about the preservation of all life? If I am not doing my utmost to prevent any number of microscopic organisms on my body from being killed by my immune system… am I not doing my duty to preserve life? For society’s sake, this Commandment refers to people only, though it is interesting to think of it in terms of all life.
Does this pass the Ricky Gervais Test? Yes. I would argue it is the gold standard. You cannot have a society if we are allowed to just murder each other.
Does it make sense at #6? Absolutely. This is the division. The first 5 Commandments in Context deal with a broad philosophy of life: Remember your place in the universe, question everything, keep your efforts in perspective, your words and actions matter, respect your family and history. This are choices you make as an individual. The last 5 Commandments are more focused and “straightforward”. These seem to be considerations for when you encounter other people – the rules of engagement. And at the top of this list is if you meet someone else, do not murder them.
It is the Commandment that sparked this exploration of universal truths, because I often wondered why the other 5 Commandments were listed above this one, which seemed at one time to be the most obvious choice for the top spot.
In this interpretation, it makes sense as the first of the rules of engagement. Murder wholly takes agency from another being. It removes another’s ability to exercise their own choices, and that is the greatest crime of all in a society. And it is something, as Tolkien reminds us, that we cannot take back.