Thursday, September 23, 2010

My Rambling Thoughts On Aggressive Self-Defense

Here are some thoughts of mine in relation to the other night’s topic. I was trying for one cohesive argument; I then decided it would be more like a semi-organized amalgamation of a interconnected thoughts; by now, I’ve simply decided to make separate points. If you can find the pattern or the unity, let me know.

1. Playing God. Although there is something in me that appeals to this argument, I don’t think it holds water by itself. We “play God” in creating life, in transferring organs, reorganizing ecosystems, etc. The obvious difference in most of these cases is the continuation of life vs. its termination, as in the act of aggressive self-defense. Regardless of this distinction, it remains true that we “play God” in ways that we find perfectly moral. God allows humans to be actors on this earth. In fact, there are many things that we are required to do.

2. Another reason I don’t like this appeal is the fact that I can flip the argument right over. Who is to say that God doesn’t want us to defend to the point of taking a life? I could then ask, “Who are you to say that God didn’t put your child in your life to protect?” or something like that. I’m not saying this is a good argument. I’m simply saying the argument, either way, must be developed further.

3. Mother and Baby in Womb. Let me use an analogy – although perhaps it’s not quite an analogy, but a related situation. If I remember correctly, if a mother’s life is in mortal danger, and her life can only be saved by an act or medicine that will undoubtedly end the life of the baby in the womb, the family is permitted, morally, to allow the woman to take the medicine – as long as a major requirement is met. The action taken cannot directly kill the baby. Therefore, almost all forms of normal abortion are not permissible, even though they would be saving the mother. The baby can’t be directly killed. The baby’s death must be a by-product of saving the mother.

4. Essentially, the argument and requirements here are a version of thedouble-effect. What this creates is the following moral truism: Act A has Effect B and C. B is necessary for saving the life of an innocent person. C will, by all conscious reflection, result in another death as well. Without getting into too many more specifics, Act A may be permissible if Effect B is intended, and Effect C is not intended. Although you may find this silly, I do think you can perform an action that has two results – both of which you are pretty sure will ensue – and that you can intend one and not the other.

5. This gets us to the issue of intention. I think it was Matt C that kept saying, “It’s all about intention.” Well, in this case, even though the ending of a life is a pretty sure consequence, it doesn’t mean it’s intended.

6. But even as I reflect on how to relate the mother-baby issue to our normal self-defense situations, I see problems. In the first case, I cannot directly kill the baby. So does that mean I cannot directly kill an attacker? Or is the case different because the attacker is not innocent like the baby? By now I’ve confused myself.

7. All of the rules and regulations of just-warism, or aggressive self-defense, almost lead me to say, “Let’s just make it easy. Let’s just say that all aggressive, intentional killing is wrong.” However, a desire for simplicity is not a basis for ethics. I find myself always trying to explain distinctions and such about religion, the existence of God, and morality to my agnostic brother; and he usually responds by claiming that these distinctions are just bogus. But the fact is that we live in a complex world. No answers about natural things seem to be easy – laws of physics, etc. – so why would moral answers be simple?

8. The Catholic tradition of the moral permissibility of killing to defend. Now, I don’t think that simply because there is a Catholic tradition for something, that this something is necessarily correct. There was a Catholic tradition for selling indulgences. However, when a Catholic tradition is being questioned or rejected, it is a serious matter. On a personal level, I don’t feel as if I have the ability or right to make definitive claims about heavy moral matters that are in opposition to the Catholic tradition. I can entertain arguments about such, even express my confusion or disagreement. But this is different than putting my own reasoning, my own ego, ahead of the Truth as it is preached by the Church that has been established by Christ.

9. I know that I am called to think open-mindedly and to bring my own personal self into matters, even if they are weighty matters. But I still don’t accept that I can argue something that is not in line with Catholic tradition, without there being some sort of opposing tradition.* I don’t trust my own mind. Although I make daily attempts to come to know the Lord – although I have experienced His presence in my life – I understand that recognizing the beauty of Truth takes more than simple logical reflection. This isn’t because human logic or reason is flawed, but because my sin, weakness, and position in a fallen world make it incredibly difficult for me to be sure I’m using my reason and logic well. For me, I know how my “objective, unbiased analysis” can be very much affected by my pride. But this is the beauty of Revelation. This is the beauty of the Catholic Church. We are able to reason wholeheartedly, to think and to question; but at the end of the day, we are able to submit ourselves to a body and a structure that we believe is established and supported by Christ – and that our willingness to submit our personalistic values and beliefs to this greater good is rewarded by an assurance that we are as close to Truth as we can be.

10. [*Of course, someone has to begin an opposing tradition. But as for me, I don’t trust myself to be this sort of person; and I wouldn’t trust someone unless they were a person of deep prayer life, a person who understood deeply the Trinitarian love. I like to think about John Henry Newman’s discussion about the development of doctrine. It’s not that Catholic doctrine is directly canceled or rejected, but that doctrine will look different to different cultures at different times. Truth doesn’t change; but the worlds in which it resides changes constantly.]

11. "The Catholic Church is the only thing which saves a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age"--G. K. Chesterton

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Statement of the Issue:

...And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

Thus penned Jefferson, and signed the delegates of the Continental Congress in 1776, pitting grave resolve in the cause of liberty. This line struck me in relation to our discussion of "just wars" last night. In the depths of specificity and nuance, I think we may have at points left the ground of common experience which calls forth just war. This ground I believe to be the idea that one has a duty to protect one's family, clan, city-state, and country, with the understanding that family, clan, etc. are impossible without such a duty. Along these lines, Chesterton said, "The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he hates what is behind him"; Ben Franklin (not necessarily our standard of moral rectitude, but a man capable of wisdom) said, "They who give up an essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety"; and probably many other people have said many similar things. What I am observing is not a specific moral formula but a common thought that has a long tradition in humanistic history.

**Now, it could be argued that aggressive war also has a long tradition (God wills it!). However, it does seem that defensive war tradition is distinct in being accepted on its own merit, as opposed to requiring an outside motivation and legitimization (such as the will of God, realpolitik, or the requirements of a particular social system).**

It is from this tradition that this discussion begins. The claim of pacifism then enters the dialogue: the moral values from which we draw in order to defend defensive war (defending the innocent) are in fact grounded in the truth of human dignity. Thus when defense against evil resorts to killing human beings, it attacks its own moral foundations. The old tradition was a disordered legitimizing: like aggressive war, it held certain goals to be worth causing the destruction of human life. Even though those goals were the protection of innocent human life, and even though the ultimate and indirect cause is the aggressor's, the defender's decision to use force to the point of death is a breach of the fundamental moral value.

But is this the final word? Is this indeed the certain end of the conversation?