I wrote this article for Helium, a now-defunct ezine in January, 2013. All of the statement are based upon that version of the Catechism on the commandment “Thou shall not kill (murder).” I still hold to these opinions. Please note that all the links to the USCCB comments on the Catechism of the Catholic Church are now dead, BUT the link to the Vatican archives with the Catechism at that time, has the original interpretation on Capital Punishment (now changed by Pope Francis).
God’s commandment, found in the list of the Ten Commandments in both Deuteronomy and Exodus, of “Thou Shall not Kill” can be re-written as a positive command, “Respect Life” or “Respect for Life.” There are many meanings and interpretations to “Respect for Life” depending upon what is added to the phrase. For example, some faiths expand the concept by teaching: “Respect for all life” which means both animal and human life. Therefore, to kill a fly wandering around a baby’s face, or to thoughtlessly swat a mosquito would be morally wrong.
Other faiths, limit this command to “Respect for Human Life.”
Respect for Human Life
When doing a Google search for the clause “Respect for Life” the first page of references is related to abortion. Respect for human life is a far broader concept than just abortion; it refers, instead to “Respect for Human Life from conception to natural death.” This version or interpretation of the concept appears to more closely reflect what God seems to want: stop killing each other no matter what age; whether fetus or an octogenarian. Killing another person is morally wrong.
Is there ever a time when killing another person is considered morally neutral? Every country and culture has laws that establish who can be killed and when.
Over the centuries, the state (whether country or township) has felt that it was morally neutral to kill its citizens if the citizen disobeyed its rules. History is replete with hangings, beheadings, electrocutions, burnings at the stake and lethal injections for getting rid of unwanted citizens. It is called Capital Punishment. Others may call it justice. It is, nevertheless, the killing of another human being. There is no way of knowing where a person’s soul is in its journey to God, but that journey is shortened when they are executed for whatever reason.
Humans seem to enjoy war; there are so many of them. Humans seem to prefer killing as many people as possible. The more people killed, the more certain of “winning.” There are Holy Wars, Just Wars, wars of aggression and wars of defense. Soldiers are allowed to kill each other as a morally neutral act, if the war is considered to be in defense of country or faith. The military are allowed to kill innocent bystanders, usually women and children, even if they are not part of the aggression. They are considered “accidents of war.” Just think of the carnage caused by bombs dropped during wars. Most of the casualties are women and children, not other soldiers. These accidents of war are considered “regrettable” but “justifiable.” Would God agree?
There are laws that allow citizens to kill other people if they are believed to be trying to harm or kill them. Killing an intruder is justifiable. If the family is under attack, fighting back is justifiable. If the intruder is killed, no one is charged with murder.
In some cultures it is perfectly acceptable to kill other members of the family (usually the female members) if they are perceived to have blemished the “family honor.” This is particularly true in cases of rape where a father or brother is justified in killing the female member of the family who has disgraced the family by being raped.
Killing oneself or self-killing has always been judged to be morally wrong by Christians. People believed to be suicides were not allowed to be buried in “hallowed ground” because they were believed to go directly to Hell. Today, there is a great deal more understanding of the reasons behind suicide and so the moral teachings on suicide always include intent or ability to understand what one is doing. The newspapers say that so and so was “driven to suicide” by the actions of others.
Today, the courts are arguing endlessly about the morality of Euthanasia. Some believe it is morally neutral if the individual is dying from an incurable disease. Others feel that it is up to God to take a life and not humans. Sometimes the act of Euthanasia is also part of the process of self-killing or suicide in which the other person euthanizing another is simply carrying out the wishes of an individual who cannot, physically, kill themselves but desires to commit suicide. Assisted suicide is always in the news because a single definition of the morality or immorality of assisted suicide has not been generally accepted.
In some cultures, “feuding and fighting” are part of the lifestyle. There is a poem about “The Hatfields and the McCoys” that always carried guns with them in case they saw a member of the other clan and could shoot them. The “feud” was usually over some forgotten slight, but the hatred and killings remained. These “feuds” were considered “justified.” Today, there are laws against killing for “revenge.”
Abortion is simply one aspect of the command “Respect for Life.” If, as Christians believe, the fetus is endowed with a soul at conception, interrupting this individual’s journey to God before it leaves the womb is not a morally justifiable act. The responsibility for the abortion is usually laid at the woman’s door.
Others have emphasized abortion over all the other forms of killing other humans. If asked “Why?” they say, “Because there are so many!” Are moral codes based upon numbers? It is doubtful God would agree.
Killing the newborn and innocent
When abortion is illegal and there are few to no alternatives available to the pregnant woman, a woman’s choice may be to abandon her newborn just after birth. The news media always reacts with horror when a neonate is discovered in a toilet or in a trash dumpster. Frequently, these are teenaged mothers who believe this is their only choice. They are punished severely for murder.
China has had the custom over the centuries of abandoning little girl babies at birth to whatever fate has in store for them; whether death from exposure to the elements to being picked up by missionaries or by people who will sell them into prostitution. Only in cultures where male children are preferred to female children will this happen.
Feelings run high on the topic of abortion. Some have become so enraged that they have killed abortionists. This is also murder. God has plans for that abortionist. Killing him or her does not allow God to work on their souls.
If humans really believed in practicing respect for all human life, from conception to natural death, and really thought through what it means, it could have great impact on how the world is run.
CCC Respect for human life http://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/what-we-believe/catechism/catechism-of-the-catholic-church/epub/index.cfm
Vocation to chastitiy http://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/what-we-believe/catechism/catechism-of-the-catholic-church/epub/index.cfm
The fifth commandment, thou shall not kill http://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/what-we-believe/catechism/catechism-of-the-catholic-church/epub/index.cfm
Respect for human life http://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/what-we-believe/catechism/catechism-of-the-catholic-church/epub/index.cfm
The church’s teaching on human sexuality http://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/what-we-believe/catechism/catechism-of-the-catholic-church/epub/index.cfm