A little after George Tiller, the infamous late-term abortion doctor, was murdered outside of his church, I had a conversation with a middle-aged Catholic man. It was a similar conversation I’ve had in the past. The man boiled down his reaction to the entire killing the murderer incident in these words: “I would never do that, but I can’t help saying I’m happy it’s been done. I guess I wouldn’t do that because I have a family, wife, and kids; but I’m not sure I see anything wrong with it.” My disappointed reaction was similar to my past reactions to these sorts of arguments: “Come on, now. If you go down that road, you lose the dignity of life that you’re protecting by being pro-life. Your gut-emotional reaction may tell you you’re pleased with Tiller’s murder, but your reason and ethics should tell you otherwise.” I could have added: “And whenever these two aspects of our humanity – the emotional and the rational – disagree in situations such as these, it’s because our humanity is fallen. We should never be pleased with something that is immoral.”
Of course the man responded with the usual “Tiller has given up his right to life,” and “he is guilty, while babies are innocent,” and “you’re actually saving lives by killing him.” I had my preprogrammed rebuttals to each of these arguments – and I stand by them today. However, unlike other times, the topic stayed with me over the next few days. I spent a few hours in sustained thought on the subject about a week after the conversation. I didn’t necessarily reason myself to the other side of the argument; but I did run into some logical problems with any positions other than complete non-violent pacifism. I’m pretty sure there are answers to my problems, so please join in the conversation if you have anything to add.
Let me begin by stating the conclusion I came to: Perhaps there is no real way of condemning the killer of George Tiller except through the idealist’s proclamation of complete non-violence. Related, it seems we run into a lot of other issues like this outside of the clearly and simply defined parameters of complete non-violence. Let me see if I can put in a few paragraphs the general outline of my thoughts.
Murder is different than killing in the sense that murder is not done for the sake of self-defense. I may not be correct in my huge generalization, but I think all moral killing is done for the sake of self-defense. This covers the rather specific instance of you shooting a man that is running at you or your children with a broadsword and/or scimitar, with the intent to kill – as well as the general case of killing within the context of a just war.
Since George Tiller was one of a very limited number of doctors willing to do extremely late-term abortions, killing him has the very real (although I suppose it is only potential) effect of saving lives. Let’s take out societal norms and rules, and apply only the laws we know are eternal and true. Are we not saving innocent lives by killing George Tiller? And if this is wrong, how is this any different than killing in time of war? In fact, most who are killed in times of a just war are probably innocent – a Christian German family man during WWII – while George Tiller is not innocent.
As I look back on the previous two paragraphs that outline my initial thoughts, there is nothing new or complex or inventive in my thoughts. I guess my idea right now is that I don’t see a glaringly convincing response to the simple argument stated above. My secondary response is this:
When we take the ethics that allows us to call certain wars just, it seems we can apply that to other situations that we would normally be against, i.e. this George Tiller situation. For the life of me, I can’t think of another example off the top of my head at the moment. (I did before, though…) I realize this post is ending on somewhat of a weak note, but I ask for those we do see a “glaringly convincing” response to my rather simple argument above to respond to me. Thank you.