Why killing an innocent is never permissible

I’m having immense difficulty explaining to someone why killing an innocent to attempt to bring about a greater good is morally wrong (specifically, direct abortion to save the life of the mother). Yes, I am aware of the notion behind double effect and performing certain surgeries on the mother that unintentionally result in the death of the unborn child. My qualm is with the idea in which abortion is the only way to preserve Mom’s life.

Setting aside the argument of how common scenarios are in which abortion would be the only way to save the mother’s life nowadays (or whether this scenario happens at all), how do you explain this sort of thing to a person who does not believe in moral absolutes? What’s really hard to explain, furthermore, is why it’s still not permissible to murder an innocent, even if it were to save millions of people. Few people would be willing to listen to the reasoning behind such a shocking statement (and don’t give me the “that’s their problem” response; there has to be some way to respond).

How does one deal with this situation, especially if one is a male who will never have to experience this sort of thing? Whenever I argue about this, it always hits a dead end; the only responses I can think of are: “Well, we all die someday”, or “Just pray that God will take care of everything”, or “That’s what the Church teaches”. If the other person does not agree with that sort of sentiment, where do you go from there?

Don’t use those. :wink:

Some folks, even when denying moral absolutes, will respond or at least think about the notion of “equality”.

Ask if they’re OK with slavery. If not, why not? The notion of slavery is offensive to the dignity of the person, most would probably agree.

Same dignity applies to their life.

It is immoral to kill innocents because: it is an offense against God (10 commandments), it harms those doing the killing (natural law), it deprives children in the womb the opportunity for baptism, and the evil is assured but any “good” outcomes are only intended but not definite.

Unless it is God Himself doing the killing. Some of those first born Egyptian sons would have been babies, and hence innocent.

Similarly, God kills pregnant women in the flood, and orders pregnant Midianite women to be killed. While the women may not have been innocent, their unborn children were.

As a non-Christian, I do not see that the Christian god is consistent with His own rules: “Do as I say, not as I do.”

The Old Testament God is not a very attractive character; His actions are not always consistent with the moral rules. In Buddhism the moral rules are independent of the gods.

rossum

“In buddhism the moral rules are independent of the gods”. That quote is most likely why you don’t understand. For us, God is the ultimate source of justice, morality, etc. An action He undertakes is by definition moral. Your above quote indicates that in Buddhism gods can be or act in an immoral manner. This is not possible in Christian theology.
I believe a better way for you to understand would be to compare God with your independent moral rules instead of the gods that are subject to them.

However, it is only moral by the Christian definition of “moral”; it is not moral by the Buddhist definition of “moral”. You might usefully compare the number of people killed by the Buddha in Buddhist scripture with the number of people killed by YHWH in the Old Testament.

My point that God killed innocents, and that hence the killing of innocents is “permissible” in Christian morality, remains.

I believe a better way for you to understand would be to compare God with your independent moral rules instead of the gods that are subject to them.

The moral rules, karma, cannot be compared to gods, or to God. Karma can be better compared to an impersonal force like gravity; it is very different from the gods.

rossum

  1. The comparison between God and the OT and Buddha and Buddhist scripture only works if a) Buddhists view the Buddha as the ultimate source/author of morality and b) Buddhists believe that the Buddha never has/never could act immorally.
  2. “My point that God killed innocents…” is based on a theological viewpoint in which God is subject to (Buddhism’s view of the gods and moral rules) instead of source/author/perfect form/expression of morality and moral rules.
  3. From what you have explained, the better comparison would be God and karma (and this itself is not a very good comparison if, as you state, karma is just an impersonal force like gravity).

The Buddha is not the source of morality, he is more the discoverer of morality. Morality exists independent of the Buddha or of any gods. The Buddha fully discovered it. You are correct that the Buddha, after his enlightenment, was incapable of any immoral act.

  1. “My point that God killed innocents…” is based on a theological viewpoint in which God is subject to (Buddhism’s view of the gods and moral rules) instead of source/author/perfect form/expression of morality and moral rules.

I disagree. That God killed innocents is explicitly stated in the Bible. The argument is over whether God’s actions were moral or immoral.

The title of this thread is “Why killing an innocent is never permissible”. My point is that, in Christian morality, killing an innocent is permissible when it is God doing the killing or ordering the killing.

rossum

The thing is, God is our creator. Like a potter who destroys some of his own pots when if I went in and destroyed them it would be wrong, God can authorize the desctruction of some of His work.

  1. The title of the thread is actually incorrect. The OP should have used “murder” or “unjustly causing the death of an individual” instead of “killing.” Big difference between unjustly causing the death of an individual (which is immoral) and justly causing the death of an individual (which is moral). I assume there is a similar concept of just/unjust causing the death on an individual in Buddhism.

  2. Given what you state concerning the Buddha I fail to see any bearing your comparison of holy scriptures has outside of a “my guy is holier than your guy” type statement.

Yes, the title is indeed incorrect, as I have pointed out.

  1. Given what you state concerning the Buddha I fail to see any bearing your comparison of holy scriptures has outside of a “my guy is holier than your guy” type statement.

Remember that from my point of view the Tripitaka is “Holy Scripture” and the Bible is the text of another religion. My attitude to the Bible differs from yours, just as your attitude to the Tripitaka differs from mine.

rossum

Everyone who lives, dies, and God allows this. Death is not what we think and fear, it is another step in our existence. The unborn baby fights against being born because instinctively he wants to stay where it is safe (he feels), dark and warm. We are like the babies, we fear the next step, but we would do better to trust in God who created us.

The argument that God kills innocents so it’s all right for us to, is silly.
There is very rarely an instance when directly killing the fetus is necessary to save the mother’s life.

Please read what I said; I did not make this argument. I am pointing out that the title of this thread is incorrect, in that killing an innocent is permissible when either God is doing the killing or the innocent is killed on the direct orders of God.

rossum

The Buddha is not the source of morality, he is more the discoverer of morality. Morality exists independent of the Buddha or of any gods. The Buddha fully discovered it. You are correct that the Buddha, after his enlightenment, was incapable of any immoral act.

I’ve always wondered: in Buddhism, is morality then objective? If so, what is its source? And what exactly made the Buddha “incapable” of performing immoral acts? I know that it’s bad, for instance, to disrespect your parents, but unfortunately I have succumbed to that.

Now I’m confused. I thought that morality was objective because it comes directly from the unchanging nature of God. That is why we have a moral code: we aim to conform ourselves to Truth (i.e., to God himself). But this sounds like morality is arbitrary: it’s okay for God to, for instance, flood the planet directly to take people’s lives, but it’s not okay for us? Where is the line?

Another poster mentioned that the idea that we can do something just because God does it is silly. Call me dull as a dying bulb, but there must be something I’m really not getting here.

Morality is ‘built in’ to the universe, as cause and effect. Your actions have results; good actions cause happiness, wrong actions cause suffering. The Buddha fully discovered these laws, as Newton and Einstein discovered the laws of gravity.

Mind precedes all conditions,
mind is their chief, they are mind-made.
If you speak or act with an evil mind then suffering will follow you,
as the wheel follows the draught ox.

Mind precedes all conditions,
mind is their chief, they are mind-made.
If you speak or act with a pure mind then happiness will follow you,
as a shadow that never leaves.

– Dhammapada 1:1-2

And what exactly made the Buddha “incapable” of performing immoral acts?

Because he never acted thoughtlessly. One of the basic Buddhist meditations is Mindfulness, to be always aware of what we are doing. The Buddha was always aware of what he was doing and also aware of the consequences of his actions.

He controlled his mind, and “mind precedes all conditions”.

rossum

All human beings have equal worth and value in the eyes of God. Therefore it is not right to kill an unborn child in order to save the life of the mother, just as it would not be right to kill the mother in order to save the life of her unborn child. This value is also not cumulative when it comes to numbers of people, that is you cannot add up the values of lots of individual lives and end up with a cumulative value that is greater than the value of one life. It therefore can’t be right to kill one innocent person in order to save the lives of many innocent people.

When we stand before our Lord at the day of judgement we stand alone as an individual, not as a cumulative group. Our value in the eyes of the Lord is also individual, not cumulative.

Wow, well put, thank you!

I suppose this makes sense to a Christian, but the issue is explaining it to someone who does not adhere to many of the Church’s teachings. Someone who doesn’t take the existence of God seriously, let alone the authenticity and authority of the Catholic Church, would roll their eyes and say something along the lines of: “Oh, they’re just criticizing us for ‘playing God’. Heck, I’m free to do whatever I think helps society! No judgment for me!”.

Furthermore, the principle of double effect allows the undesired side-effect of the deaths of innocents if the good outcome at least makes up for the evil consequence - i.e., indirectly sacrifice a few for the sake of many more lives. Thus, it seems that in many cases, numbers DO matter.

The point is that there has to be some intrinsic property to the notion of DIRECTLY killing an innocent person to bring about a greater good (versus killing a “non-innocent” to bring about a greater good, such as legitimate self-defense or just war [And what is the precise difference, anyway? You’re still taking one life to bring about a greater good]) that makes such an action bad in and of itself, without necessitating recourse to a religious explanation. This isn’t just divine revelation; it simply has to do with the natural law.

FrStevenJones did post earlier that abortion harms those participating in it. While I wish to agree, unfortunately there are some people out there who have no remorse for participating in such a deed (or so they claim). Of course, that doesn’t make abortion moral; it simply makes this particular argument against it less effective. Furthermore, one could then make the argument that, for example, a person defending his home from a dangerous intruder would be emotionally and spiritually scarred if he shot and killed said intruder (even though he was justified in doing so), and conclude that self-defense is always immoral.

Re-formulated question: If God is the only one who legitimately gets to decide who lives and who dies, and we don’t because we are not the ultimate creators of mankind (we are not “cosmic potters”), then why are we permitted to take the lives of “non-innocents” in certain situations and never (directly) those of “innocents”? If the fifth commandment, “Though shall not kill”, is to be followed… why then are we permitted to kill in certain situations and not others (unless it specifically means we cannot “murder”, which is another way of saying “unjust killing” rather than “just killing”)?

I should also note that I did not wish to imply that we should be allowed to drown our fellow humans; I was simply trying to make a point about the (seemingly) arbitrariness of morality.

Not necessarily, all you have to explain is the concept that all people have equal worth and that it would not be right to kill one innocent person to save another innocent person (as they have equal worth). When it comes to killing one innocent person to save many innocent people, you can argue that although it may appear that many people together have more cumulative worth than one individual when it come s down to the right to life then surely that one innocent person has as much right to life as every single other innocent individual. This right is not negated because there are many other innocent individuals with exactly the same right. You could even quote the Universal Declaration of Human Rights if you want to keep the basis for your arguments secular.

Article 1 - All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.

Article 2 - Everyone has the right to life.

Therefore the rights of one person to life is equal to the rights to life of many individuals.

It’s not a difficult argument to win. All you have to do is show that the rights of one person is equal to the rights everyone else, regardless of whether that person is alone, or part of a group consisting of other individuals. Rights belong to the individual, not collectively to groups of individuals.

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