The Ten Commandments
A book by Joseph Lewis
The Sixth Commandment
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The Frequency of Murder and the Prevalence of Suicide
One would imagine murder to be the most irregular and variable of offenses. Yet we can determine the number of murders that will occur within a given year with almost the same accuracy as the trivial matter of the number of letters that will be misdirected. Statistics show that approximately the same number of murders as were committed last year will be repeated this year -- unless, of course, some great fundamental change takes place in our social and economic life. Acts committed this very day will be responsible for murders committed "tomorrow." To prevent murder, therefore, it is necessary to do something more constructive than merely repeating a meaningless precept about not killing. The important thing is to remove the causes that provoke people to kill, whether they are due to environmental conditions, conflict in love matters, or the pressure of economics.
This Commandment has not had the slightest effect in diminishing the number of murders. Despite the death penalty, murders continue to be perpetrated with unfailing regularity. In other words, the reasons which impel one person to kill another are stronger than the forces that are working to restrain him. Once he is bent on murder and emotionally immune to reason, the threat of death, much less this Commandment, is not strong enough to overcome the obsession to kill.
Dr. Walter A. Lunden, criminology professor at the University of Pittsburgh, made an extensive research into 2,500 murders. He found that not only were murders committed with amazing regularity year after year, but especially on certain days and at certain times of the year. He discovered that murders were committed more frequently on Saturdays than on other days of the week, and that on the Fourth of July and Labor Day, and during the Christmas season, when there are family gatherings, a larger number of emotional killings occurred. Motives ranged from triangle slayings to arguments over the Ten Commandments! [*43]
If, when a person was about to kill, his hand became temporarily paralyzed so as to stay his act, then this Commandment would be valuable as a warning signal. But the fact is that most people are easily provoked to anger, and the urge to kill -- a vestigial primitive instinct -- when it becomes an all-consuming passion, completely dominates the mind to the exclusion of all other thoughts.
The Rev. Henry Sloane Coffin, in discussing this Commandment, says that it is "almost an element of humor" to preach against murder to members of "the present congregation." [*44] He made the statement in the belief that this Commandment prohibits murder, and that members of a modern congregation are incapable of committing homicide. However, if a member of the Rev. Mr. Coffin's congregation were to find himself in circumstances provocative of murder, he would, like others, be prompted by the strongest impulses within him. He would kill under the stimulation of patriotism, blighted love, revenge or self-defense, just like any other person.
What better illustration of this truth than the incident which occurred when Judge Ben Lindsey was in the Cathedral of St. John, during Bishop Manning's sermon, which was an attack on him. When Judge Lindsey arose to defend himself against the unjustifiable charges, the congregation almost in unison cried, "Kill him! Kill him!" [*45] How easily the members of the church were aroused to kill by the mere provocation of having the remarks of their pastor challenged by one against whom his denunciation was directed! The occasion would not have been so humorous, Reverend Mr. Coffin, if the police had not rescued Judge Lindsey from the murderous passion of this congregation.
Not only are murders committed by members of congregations, but by clergymen themselves.
The Rev. Walter Dworecki, pastor of the Camden Polish Baptist Church, promised $100 to a youth to entice and murder his own eighteen-year-old daughter, solely for the purpose of collecting the insurance which he had placed on her life. [*46] If the Rev. Mr. Coffin says that it is almost an element of humor to preach against murder to members of his congregation, how does he account for this minister, who pretended that the words of this Commandment were a divine message, and yet was able, callously and brutally, to cause his own daughter's murder for a mercenary return? The State of New Jersey made this heartless clergyman pay with his life for this foul deed.
Another minister killed a colleague because he was jealous of his success at a revival meeting. [*47] The Rev. J. Frank Norris, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Texas, killed a man who had come to his study in the church as an emissary of good will. There were no extenuating circumstances except religious hate. Mr. Norris was considered one of the most outspoken protagonists of the Bible, preaching that it is the exact word of God. [**48] How, then, did he justify his act?
And yet there are some people who would rather die than kill another. Randolph Godfrey Phillips, in refusing to bear arms, said that he would "rather die than kill a man." [*49]
Is the person who takes his own life guilty of violating this Commandment? What we find prevalent as the basic law concerning murder is equally true in relation to suicide. Suicides take place year after year with almost unchanging regularity and among all ages and classes. The youngest will generally be about five years old, and the oldest approaching the century mark. There will be bankers, brokers, clergymen, stock clerks, etc. The motives which prompted these suicides were the same as those which caused others before them to take their own lives.
The Catholic Church considers self-destruction a mortal sin because of this Commandment, and yet faithful Catholic priests, as well as devout laymen, have committed suicide when faced with intolerable situations.
Not until man is made with a mentality strong enough to withstand all the rebuffs of life, and is capable of meeting the varying situations which are bound to occur in our social order, will he be able to refrain from self-destruction in the face of overpowering circumstances which make death preferable to life.
Moses Kills a Man
More important sometimes than the precepts of a moral code is the example set by the one who promulgates them. If the originator of the code does not follow his own precepts, he not only invalidates their worth, but very often diminishes greatly the possibility of its benefiting others.
Certainly, if anyone should have known how these Commandments were to be observed, it was the one who was selected to deliver them to the children of men. Perhaps in the study of the character of Moses, "the great lawgiver," we may find the true meaning of the words and the proper action to be followed in the fulfillment of this Commandment.
That this Commandment was not a prohibition against killing or murder, is proved by the Bible itself, because the man whom the Bible selected to deliver the Tablets of Stone (containing the Ten Commandments) to the Children of Israel was himself a murderer! He killed not in self-defense, not under the emotional stress caused by suffering a great personal wrong, but deliberately and with calculation.
After Moses had been saved by the daughter of Pharaoh, she nurtured him as her own child. We find him now fully grown in the land of Pharaoh and we begin the Biblical narrative with the very first act of Moses after he became a grown man, "full forty years old." [*50]
11. And it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown, that he went out unto his brethren, and looked on their burdens: and he spied an Egyptian smiting a Hebrew, one of his brethren.
How Moses knew that the Hebrew was "one of his brethren," the Bible does not tell us. But what did Moses do when he spied an Egyptian smiting a Hebrew? Did this divinely protected and favored child seek to separate them? Did he tell them that it was wrong to fight? Did he tell them that the stronger should protect the weaker? Did he tell them that it was more manly to try to settle their disputes by reason and not resort to brute force? Did he offer to arbitrate their differences and render a decision fair to both? The Bible tells us that he did none of these things. It does say, however, in Exodus, Chapter 2, verse 12:
12. And he looked this way and that way, and when he saw that there was no man, he slew the Egyptian, and hid him in the sand.
Without even making an effort to determine whether the Egyptian was justified in smiting the Hebrew, Moses "looked this way and that way, and when he saw that there was no man, he slew the Egyptian, and hid him in the sand."
For deliberate, unmitigated murder this act of Moses is difficult to parallel. First he made sure that no one saw him; secondly, he summarily killed the man, and, thirdly, to cover the evidence of his deed, he buried him in the sand so as to avoid detection and punishment. All this only because he saw this man striking a fellow Hebrew. There was no other provocation. Even according to the laws that Moses himself promulgated, he should have been judged guilty and punished. [**51]
What an example from the man whom God selected to give to the people a Commandment, "Thou shalt not kill"! Moses remained in hiding for two days, evidently with the hope that by so doing all suspicion of his crime would be dispelled. I quote Exodus, Chapter 2, verse 13:
13. And when he went out the second day, behold, two men of the Hebrews strove together: and he said to him that did the wrong, Wherefore smitest thou thy fellow?
The question of Moses indicates that he sought to interfere in the quarrel: "Wherefore smitest thou thy fellow?" he asked. Judging from his answer, it becomes doubly evident that Moses had absolutely no justification for the murder he perpetrated. I quote Exodus, Chapter 2, verse 14:
14. And he said, Who made thee a prince and a judge over us? intendest thou to kill me, as thou killedst the Egyptian? And Moses feared, and said, Surely this thing is known.
Even his fellow Hebrew condemned his act against the Egyptian, and as he had seen him deliberately kill one man without justifiable cause, he not unreasonably feared for his own life. "Intendest thou to kill me, as thou killedst the Egyptian?" he asked.
Faced with the knowledge that his crime was known, Moses feared the consequences. He became frightened and did what murderers almost invariably do: he fled from the scene in the hope of escaping. The narrative continues in Exodus, Chapter 2, verse 15:
15. Now when Pharaoh heard this thing, he sought to slay Moses. But Moses fled from the face of Pharaoh, and dwelt in the land of Midian: and he sat down by a well.
Pharaoh intended to make Moses pay with his life for the murder of the Egyptian. Certainly Pharaoh had more justification than Moses. The latter had killed a man merely because he was striking another; Pharaoh intended to execute Moses for killing another man. But Moses fled into another land out of the jurisdiction of Pharaoh, and "sat down by a well," evidently contemplating his deed and meditating upon his act. He was not apprehended, nor was he punished for this murder.
In view of these facts, we must again ask, What is meant by the words, "Thou shalt not kill"? If this Commandment is an injunction against killing human beings, why was one who had violated it been selected to impart it to the people of the earth?
The Clergy, This Commandment, and War
Has this Commandment had any effect in reducing human slaughter? Have the men who proclaimed this Commandment as a divine precept been instrumental in preventing wars?
Dean Farrar says that "the primary aim of this Commandment is to inculcate reverence for human life." [*52] Yet he immediately follows this statement with "though this Commandment is God's eternal interdict against unjust and ambitious wars, it is a falsehood in the extreme to say that it brands with criminality a war of justice or necessary self-defense." It is regrettable that the inspired Dean did not explain the difference between "unjust and ambitious" wars and those of "justice and self-defense." He continues, "nor need I enter into the plain right of society to inflict capital punishment." If the primary aim of this Commandment is to inculcate reverence for human life, by what method of reasoning did Dean Farrar come to his conclusions?
The Rev. G. Campbell Morgan agrees with Dean Farrar concerning wars of "justice and self-defense," and from him we get a glimpse of the strangely "inspired" reasoning of a religiously warped mind. [*53] The reverend gentleman says: "The only justifiable wars in human history have been those undertaken immediately and directly in obedience to a definitely express Divine Command ... in such cases God chose to make man, instead of plagues or famine, the agent of his judgment." With this explanation, every instigator of war can justify his slaughter. Why should God send plagues and famine or provoke wars to kill people when he so definitely tells us that we should not kill? If there are too many people in the world, why does not God -- since he is presumed to be all-knowing and all-powerful -- regulate the production of life so as to prevent overpopulation?
But let us continue with the reverend gentleman's remarks. To cap the climax, he says: "The history of the ancient people proves that when wars were undertaken only under these conditions the loss of life was almost entirely upon the side of those against whom God sent his hosts. When, as is often the case, God's people entered the war upon their own initiative, they were routed with slaughter." The reverend gentleman distinguishes between righteous and unrighteous wars merely by learning which ones were victorious and which ones were failures! However, historical facts show that the victor generally suffers as much as the conquered. And, finally, the Rev. Mr. Morgan makes the most amazing of all amazing statements: "The whole history of the Hebrew people proves the Sixth Commandment was of abiding importance."
Similar quotations from the books of clergymen could be continued ad infinitum. David Lloyd George, England's colorful Prime Minister during the first World War, said: "The last war was made by monarchs, statesmen, warriors, who were all Christians, every one of them. It was not the pagan, the atheist, the infidel. It was Christian ministers, kings and Christian emperors." [*54]
The Rev. Frederick David Niedermeyer [*55] sees the "call for renewed attention to the Sixth Commandment, because our Monday newspapers nearly every week record many persons killed on the preceding day, and accidents are so frequent that they have ceased to be news." This Commandment, he says, "condemns the so-called sport of prize fighting" and at the same time "sanctions intelligent insistence upon a safe observance of the Fourth of July." He says that "capital punishment is a recognized penalty" and that "such punishment does not violate this ordinance ... neither does this injunction forbid killing in self-defense." He also makes this enlightening statement: "When God said, 'Thou Shalt Not Kill,' He did not forbid the taking of animal life, so the persons who find objection against eating meat and the sports of hunting and fishing lack Scriptural foundation for their positions" because "much of animal life was divinely decreed for food."
If the reverend gentleman would be kind enough to specify the animals that were provided for human food so that we could determine which ones not to kill, it might help us to understand his statement and save many animals that are now ruthlessly destroyed. However, he is certain that "it gives the foundation for the work of mosquito extermination, and calls for the destruction of rats and other vermin carriers." He also believes that it is not a prohibition against killing fleas!
The Rev. Mr. Niedermeyer makes the startling statement that "to take life" is not murder, and that "neither capital punishment nor war can be wholly dispensed with till murderous assaults on the individual and on the nation come to an end." He goes so far as to condemn those who would abolish capital punishment as brutal murder, and war as wholesale slaughter, as "individuals whose minds have undergone a moral perversion."
In a further and labored elaboration, the Rev. Mr. Niedermeyer goes into minute detail regarding the liquor traffic in England, and the benefits to be derived from the "establishment of the Society of Registered Plumbers"! However, "the ultimate and dominant reason for obedience to the Sixth Commandment is that man may have the maximum opportunity for knowing Christ and serving Him."
The then Archbishop of York, during a debate on the attitude of the Church of England toward the death penalty, declared that although he favored the abolition of hanging, the penalty should be inflicted because it was the law. "For some reason, which I think idiotic, there is special sentiment against hanging women," he said. "I wish Englishwomen would rise in protest. It is a horrible insult to them and they ought to resent it with ferocity." [*56]
To advocate execution for a crime is, in my opinion, no different morally from being the actual executioner. And so we place the Archbishop of York in an even worse position than that of Grover Cleveland. It was the public duty of Cleveland to perform the act of slaying as provided by law; while the Archbishop urges such execution and even protests the exemption of women from such a penalty. The Rev. Walter F. McMillin, of Philadelphia, said to a congregation of ministers:
"Capital punishment was instituted by God. We have found in the Bible that God instituted capital punishment, that the crime in connection with which it is to be administered is murder, and that God requires the perpetuity of the institution. Murder is to be punished by the death of the murderer, and the institution to whom is given the prerogative of capital punishment is the organized State." [*57]
The advocacy of capital punishment as a means of self-preservation because the murderer might kill you as well as another person, is quite different from trying to justify it by Biblical sanction.
The Rev. J. C. Masse tells us that "this Commandment ushers us into the immediate presence of a Holy God. It reveals to discerning eyes the awfulness of that God of whom Paul wrote, 'Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men,' for 'Our God is a consuming fire.'" He tells us that "Satan, the author of sin, is declared by the Lord Jesus to be the murderer from the beginning." He maintains that this Commandment "does not prohibit capital punishment for certain crimes" and that "God explicitly requires the death penalty for men who violate the Sabbath day." Nor does this Commandment prohibit war. For "the holy nation under the immediate government of God was required to go to war." He also thinks that it is a prohibition against giving a permit to carry a pistol!
R. H. Charles, who does admit that the Decalogue is better understood when considered as a religious development rather than as an ethical or legal code, is so positive that this Commandment is a prohibition against the taking of human life when applied to deliberate killing only, that he has reinterpreted it to read, "Thou Shalt Do No Murder." "Hence the ultimate religious ground which justifies the sentence of death on the murderer is not the so-called sacredness of human life, but the fact that man is made in the image of God." He believes, as did the previously mentioned prelates, that those who oppose war and capital punishment "are moral perverts and degenerates; they have lost the capacity for righteous indignation." [*58]
The Rev. James M. Gillis, widely recognized as an authoritative Catholic spokesman, states: "There is, or at least there may be, such a thing as just warfare, the conditions of which have been laid down by Christian morals. These conditions have been recognized by Catholic theologians back to St. Augustine, 1500 years ago."
"In a just war," says the Rev. John La Farge, associate editor of the Catholic weekly, America, "killing is not necessarily murder." But since no nation goes to war -- not even Hitler's Germany -- without considering its cause a "just" one, we can see how little support for the cause of peace among nations is to be expected from the clergy.
This Commandment has not had the slightest influence in diminishing war. In Christian nations during war, Bibles are generally distributed to soldiers by the hundreds of thousands -- not, however, for the purpose of stopping the war. It is done to influence God to be with them in battle, that they may kill the enemy soldiers before they are killed by them. A distinguished medal of honor is usually given to the soldier who kills the greatest number in battle. That the enemy soldiers also carry Bibles for the same purpose, and also receive medals for the number of soldiers they kill, makes doubly evident the utter uselessness of this Commandment as a preventive of war.
As late as the sixteenth century, it is said that children were baptized by immersion; but the right arms of the males were carefully held above water in order that, not having been dipped in the sacred stream, they might strike a more deadly blow. [*59] How far removed are we from such a state when a priest in our own day blesses the pistol of an assassin that its bullet may be successful in finding its mark! The Rev. Aurelio Jimenez Palcios was held for trial in connection with the Obregon assassination in Mexico in 1928. It was charged that he heard a confession from the assassin, José de Leon Toral, and blessed Toral's pistol before that youth killed President-elect Alvaro Obregon. [*60]
In order that religion might carry on its holy wars in its mad determination to exterminate the heretic and unbeliever, penance was prescribed for those who had shed blood on the battlefield. [*61] Since religious believers were convinced that God sanctioned war, could there be a holier one than for the salvation of lost souls? Fighting against infidels and heretics took rank with fasting, penitential discipline, visits to shrines, and almsgiving. [*62] Nor must we forget the command of the Abbot Arnold in his mad, religious zeal to wipe out the heretics: "Slay all; the Lord will know his own."
War was looked upon as a judgment of God, and victory as a sign of his special favor. Pope Adrian IV says that a war commenced under the auspices of religion cannot but be fortunate. [*63]
Jeremy Taylor said: "Kings are in the place of God, who strikes whole nations, and towns and villages; and war is the rod of God in the hands of princes." How simple it is to justify a war when the divine right of kings is believed "to work out the noble purposes of God." We are further assured that there is nothing among men "like the smell of gunpowder for making a nation perceive the fragrance of divinity in truth." [*64]
War, "when God sends it," says a Christian authority, "is a means of grace and of national renovation"; it is "a solemn duty in which usually only the best Christians and most trustworthy men should be commissioned to hold the sword." [**65]
According to Proudhon, "it [war] is the most sublime phenomenon of our moral life, a divine revelation more divine than the Gospel itself"! And the warlike people are the religious people. [*66]
That this attitude has not changed in the slightest is evidenced by the statement of the late Arthur Cardinal Hinsley, Archbishop of Westminster. He said: "There are persons who tell us that all war is unjust and utterly opposed to the gospel of Jesus Christ, and that the Church forbids us to take part in warfare of any kind. This is a false conclusion." [*67]
The Rev. Dr. John H. McComb, of the Presbyterian Church in New York, is even more emphatic in his justification of war. He said: "Pacifism has not a leg to stand on in the light of the Scripture. God permitted Israel to defend herself time and again against her enemies, and aided her to do so successfully. If the Jews had not taken up arms again and again in self-defense, they would have been destroyed by their enemies." [*68]
Of all his monumental contributions to the history of human conduct in society, none is more valuable than Lecky's summation of the wars provoked by religion:
"In looking back, with our present experience, we are driven to the melancholy conclusion that, instead of diminishing the number of wars, ecclesiastical influence has actually and very seriously increased it. The military fanaticism evolved by the indulgences of the popes, by exhortations of the pulpit, by the religious importance attached to the relics of Jerusalem, and by the prevailing hatred of the misbelievers, has scarcely ever been equalled in its intensity, and it has caused the effusions of oceans of blood, and has been productive of incalculable misery in the world. The religious orders which arose united the character of the priest with that of the warrior, and when, at the hour of sunset, the soldier knelt down to pray before his cross, that cross was the handle of his sword." [*69]
Not only has this Commandment had absolutely no influence in diminishing wars, but no greater wars have been waged than those instituted by religion itself in defense of the faith and for the glory of God. With what hypocritical pretense do clergymen utter this Commandment!
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