Thursday, October 01, 2009

Religion and self-defense

Here's an interesting situation in the States. Many states allow concealed handgun licenses (CHL) but some prohibit concealed carry in places of worship. This raises the issue of the role of self-defense and pacifism in religion, as well as whether the State should be saying anything about it at all.

Obviously not all churches have the same beliefs about the legitimacy of self-defense and defense of others as does the New Life Church. This brings use to the second violation of the First Amendment. The morality of using deadly force when necessary to protect innocent lives is a strongly debated topic among various denominations. The early Christians disagreed on the topic. Historically, the standard Jewish and Catholic view was that self-defense was a right and defense of others was often a duty. Some Christians, particularly since the 20th century, take an opposite view. Likewise, many adherents of the major religions of Asia also support self-defense, while some (especially some Therevada Buddhists) do not. These doctrinal differences about self-defense represent very important, sincerely-held differences in religious beliefs. A religion is, after all, not just about the forms of ritual; religion is especially concerned about providing guidance for moral conduct at moments when a person may face decisions involving the end of life.

The state, of course, must be neutral between the various religious beliefs. The state should not compel a Quaker to shoot someone who is trying to kill her, nor should the state forbid a Baptist from saving her own life. The CHL prohibition in churches violates the Free Exercise clause because it prevents self-defense by members of a religious community, when they are gathered as a community, even if key tenet of the religion is the communal duty of the adherents to protect their fellow adherents.

Moreover, the CHL ban also violates the Establishment clause because it favors some denominations over others. In effect, the statute privileges pacifist denominations over non-pacifist ones, by forcing the non-pacifist religions to obey pacifist standards of conduct in their own houses of worship. This is not only a Free Exercise violation, it is an Establishment clause violation, because it plainly creates the message that the pacifist way of being is the only way of being which the state will allow in any church, anywhere in the boundaries of the state.

This is from the Volokh Conspiracy. As with everything over there, the comments are worth reading too.

Discuss this post at the Quodlibeta Forum


Karl said...

I can't speak for every Christian, but I am of the mind that sometimes it is necessary to use deadly force to protect innocent lives.

Anonymous said...

Hi Im from Australia.

How many guns would Jesus have owned?

Who would Jesus shoot?

How many guns, and which kind would Jesus recommend that people own?

At what age would Jesus recommend that children be given their first gun?

And thus be introduced to the "culture" of death--seriously

And of course who would Jesus bomb?

Anyone that wears a gun in a place of worship, or in other words, a Holy or Sacred Space which may even be consecrated by some kind of Sacred Blessing Ritual is completely and utterly deluded.

But such is indicative of the essentially psychotic nature of right-wing USA religiosity. And its death-saturated psyche.

And as such hasnt even begun to understand the great calling of Jesus to practice self-transcending love in all relations.

Jim S. said...

Anonymous, you need to reread the post. The issue of self-defense is not clear-cut. Many Christians throughout history have held that one not only has a right to defend oneself, but an obligation to defend innocent life (with deadly force if necessary). And this isn't merely a Christian issue, it's one that cuts across most religions. Follow the links in the quote.

Jesus told his followers to carry a sword, the weapon of the day (Luke 22:35-38). So to suggest that being a follower of Jesus means you shouldn't carry weapons is, at least, not self-evident. And the question is: why should those religious groups that disagree with you about this issue be forced to meet your standards?

Your statement about "the essentially psychotic nature of right-wing USA religiosity. And their death-saturated psyche" is ridiculously over the top. People aren't psychotic or death-saturated just because they disagree with you. The "culture of death" is usually a term referring to the issues of abortion and euthanasia, not gun laws. Try again.

Karl said...


When the fundamental obligation a Christian has to protect and preserve human life collides with the equally fundamental Christian obligation to protect others from harm this can quickly become a complex subject. JP Holding has a good article detailing this:

Also bear in mind that in Luke 22:35-38 that Jesus did instruct his followers to buy swords to defend themselves.

Anonymous said...

The state of Michigan, USA, has attempted to solve that problem by allowing concealed carry by CPL holders in places of worship with the permission of the pastor. (Yes, my pastor gives his permission, and yes, it is a factor in why I attend that church).