Thou shalt not kill. Or how? – Occasional polemical remarks on the 5th commandment

“The masses are never bellicose unless they are poisoned by propaganda.” Albert Einstein

“It is murder. They always kill the son of a mother.” Juergen Todenhoefer

It’s a Christian commandment. And it seemed non-negotiable to me when I started thinking about it, “Thou shalt not kill.” Period. It didn’t say, “Thou shalt not kill thy friend, but thine enemies [it is] very well”; nor did it say, “Thou shalt not kill unless thou canst find good cause.” No, it was not said that way. And yet the assembled Christendom, above all the Christian German party landscape, has decided to make a papal exception here. Even “Die Christliche Arbeitsgemeinschaft Tanz” (Christian working group dance) prays not for all people exposed to war, but exclusively for the people in Ukraine according to the motto: “You can’t pray for everyone.”

Blessing for the blessing of arms

It is not the first time. The Nazis were already allowed to claim the blessing for “our armaments” up to Christian weapon blessings of the official church, not to mention the Teutonic Knights, who drove the Lithuanian pagans to baptism with the sword in the 12th century. A proven tradition, therefore, which the Central and South American population was also allowed to enjoy for a long time on the part of the Spaniards. And quite modern: Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik, whose attack in 2011 killed 77 people, invoked Christianity to justify his act. If he had been an atheist, this would not have happened. Even if one does not want to go so far as to claim that violence and Christianity belong together, one can nevertheless state: Violence and organized Christianity have almost never been mutually exclusive. Pope Pius XII was even more concerned about the political unity of Christianity and the safety of his band of servants than he was about fighting the concentration camps.

And what if you are threatened?

But back to the seemingly fundamental commandment “Thou shalt not kill. I’m already hearing from all sides the popular bogus argument: “Christianity or not, if your children were attacked by a terrorist, would you still be a radical pacifist?” When I was 18, I had to deal with this objection on the subject of conscientious objection. The answer is very simple, even if it requires a little ability to differentiate: In this and similar cases, it is not a matter of killing with intent, but of protective behavior with possibly fatal consequences. Those who do not recognize the difference cannot be helped. The “Thou shalt not kill” also refers to the inner readiness, often the desire or even the lust, to destroy one’s fellow man.

Deadly laxity

Interestingly, “Thou shalt not kill” is part of the repertoire of beliefs of all world religions. And everywhere this demand has been corrupted, even in supposedly purely peaceful Buddhism. The – presumably – only exception is the Bahai religion. The Christian foundation of our society, which conservative politicians like to invoke – and which actually exists – has thus ensured that almost all people in Central Europe agree with the ban on killing, but just in the ecclesiastically casual way, namely: “Yes, well, somehow that’s right, but …” No one has to think about this very much, not even the many Muslims – perhaps this is their greatest common denominator with the Christians – because most people think about murder and manslaughter in this casual way, as long as they are not affected themselves; consequently, such thinking is right.

Flirting with war

But even beyond that, the question remains: Why is this so? Why can’t we take the “Thou shalt not kill” seriously? (A small side aspect of this fact: The state monopoly on the use of force probably only exists because apparently our willingness to kill has to be contained by law). Since the last World War II participants have been buried, there are only generations in Germany who perceive “war” as if it were a prime-time topic. In the public media, war-deterring film footage is even taboo. Private stations also essentially follow suit; you don’t want anyone to zap to another channel in the face of the horror shown. But if the horror of war is downplayed to a level suitable for children – no documented murder scenes, no open wounds, severed limbs, spilling brains – then war loses its murderous core in the public perception; then we can even flirt with it a bit. After all, isn’t it ultimately a liberating “discharge” to finally be able to let go, indeed to let go, of all the aggression that we have suppressed for years or decades? So it can only be right for us if war is shown to us as something “unpleasant” but ultimately necessary, as an evil that cannot always be prevented, but in which we are at least on the “right side” of murder and manslaughter. An inner consent to the killing of the enemy is quasi pre-programmed in our minds as a cultural pattern that is available at any time and can be called up at any time. This was the case with the Korean and Vietnam wars, with the war in Pakistan and Yugoslavia; it was and is the case with the war in Ukraine, and it will also be the case with the war in China, to which there are already indications.

The murderous foundation of conscience

A second, similarly relevant reason can be illustrated by the example of the Israelis and Palestinians (or the Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland). The foundation of belligerent killing, by whomever, is human thought, namely the conviction: I am right, my right is inviolable, whoever doubts the correctness of my right is my opponent; whoever threatens it is my enemy and must be repelled by force. Deaths, even hundreds of thousands, are the often desired, sometimes unavoidable collateral damage. This works convincingly on a small scale in the case of blood revenge, it stabilizes and grounds the conscience of every proper terrorist, it works for the Palestinians and the Israeli army, and of course, it works for arms and weapons supply decisions wherever. “Thou shalt not kill” is an outdated demand; it is not industry-compatible and consequently not up-to-date. Consequently, a ban on the arms industry, i.e. ultimately on the supply of murder, is unthinkable on ethical grounds in Germany and elsewhere.

War as a live event

For those who are unsure whether they might not find war useful after all (interestingly, such general approval is also one of the taboo thoughts), the video Traumatic and Combat-Related Amputations, for example, is recommended for further education. War, after all, does not take place abstractly on newsprint, on the Internet, or via news on television; war is the evilest live event in real-time. Therefore, someone who supports waging war should be allowed to experience it “live.” He should be allowed to go to the front lines in person and join in the fight and kill some young men, women and children. And then, provided he survives his deployment and the war hasn’t foolishly turned into a nuclear war, the war supporter should be allowed to do an internship in a military hospital for several weeks. That would be a good basis for a nice little report on his experiences to his loved ones back home.

Strange as it sounds, the cleanest moral stance is taken by contract killers. They are honest people who, with no morals to protect, murder – whomever – as long as the pay is right. In the service of truth, or less pathetically put: for the sake of honesty, we should complete the fifth of the Ten Commandments as follows: “Thou shalt not kill unless otherwise commanded.”

And a question to end on a good note: Suppose you had three sons – or grandsons or brothers – which one would you send to the front? Or all three of them? And asked the other way around, suppose a mother of the enemy had three sons, which one would you kill? Or all three? Because Bob Dylan had the right idea already in 1964 when he sang:

I’ve learned to hate the Russians* All through my whole life
If another war comes
It’s them we must fight
To hate them and fear them To run and to hide
And accept it all bravely With God on my side

* Replaceable by any nationality

Bobby Langer