ON THE IMPERATIVE AND THEOLOGY OF SELF-DEFENCE

ON THE IMPERATIVE AND THEOLOGY OF SELF-DEFENCE

1. It is not a new knowledge that in recent times, the Christian churches all over the world have been the recipients of the most gruesome and cold-blooded forms of persecution. David B. Barett and Todd M. Johnson’s research gives an interesting clue about this in their research. According to the duo, in their work World Christian Trends AD 30 – AD 2200, they calculated that up to the year 2000, there had been some 70 million Christian martyrs, of which 45 million were concentrated in the 20th century. Be that as it may, in a more recent research, Barett and Todd in their work, “Christianity 2011: Martyrs and the Resurgence of Religion” published in the International Bulletin of Missionary Research, concluded based on their statistics, that the number of Christian martyrs per year peaked around 160,000 in the year 2000 because of local situations. Based on the above, Massimo Introvigne makes a more revealing and shocking assessment of Barett and Todd’s findings. By implication, “assuming, conservatively, that the situation will deteriorate only slightly in 2011 with respect to the figure offered by Barrett and Johnson for 2010, we can estimate that the figure for 2011 will be 105,000, i.e. between 287 and 288 martyrs per day: twelve per hour, or one every five minutes (Massimo Introvigne, “Christian Martyrs, One Every Five Minutes: A reliable Estimate” retrieved from http://www.cesnur.org/2011/mi-cri-en.html )

2. As much as we may try to ignore this data or jettison them as mere mental assumptions or statistical lies, factual evidences of this gory events have come down to us in Nigeria, in a fashionable and steady-rising way from the so-called Boko-Haram politico-Islamic bloody campaign of Islamizing the nation and dipping the Qu’ran in the Atlantic to the recent Fulani-herdsmen surge to forcefully acquiring and occupying lands that have never been theirs. So many are dead, dear ones have been lost, as too beloved priests and pastors. With this the Christian Faithful are lost in the dilemma of how best to save their lives and property and yet, be true to the Christian call of being pro-life and avant-gardes of peace. Sadly however, most Christians have died bad and untimely deaths owing largely to an ignorance and Controversy accruing from some form Bibliolatry/ Biblicism and Naïve Biblical literalism.
3. Biblical literalism refers to some form of a reductive interpretation of the scriptures, wherein there is a strict adherence to the exactitude of letters or the literal sense of the scriptures regardless of the figurative, metaphorical, allegorical and contextual implication of words and expressions. On the other hand, especially in this context, Bibliolatry or Biblicism refers to the elevation of the Bible to the status of a deity and a consequent worship of it, often accompanied by the literalism. This becomes naïve in character when it happens in an innocent-ignorance.
4. The basic questions thus become: was Christ in the scriptures advocating for extreme pacifism? Can one apply violence or take another life in the service of self-defence? The answer to these questions must necessarily proceed from an understanding of the biblical excerpts within the context and times they were made. Here it is necessary to call to mind that the Bible is not just about a book but primarily about a person- Jesus Christ, about his words, actions, contexts and circumstances. Hence, one would not be out of place to ask- what would Jesus do if he were to live in these present times of incessant persecution and maiming of Christians and yet preach the Gospel (of peace) to the ends of the earth?KNOW THIS THEN
5. Taking note of times and context in different epochs thus as well as adapting herself to them yet remaining true and faithful to the Biblical provisions and Tradition, the Catholic Church recognizes that Violence may thus be justified in the service of self-defence even to the point of killing an unjust aggressor. Leaning on Aquinas’ argument for legitimate self-defence the Church instructs, that “Love toward oneself remains a fundamental principle of morality. Therefore it is legitimate to insist on respect for one’s own right to life. SOMEONE WHO DEFENDS HIS LIFE IS NOT GUILTY OF MURDER EVEN IF HE IS FORCED TO DEAL HIS AGGRESSOR A LETHAL BLOW (Catechism of the Catholic Church no. 2264). Pope St. John Paul II would later reaffirm this position when he averred that “the demanding commandment of love of neighbour, set forth in the Old Testament and confirmed by Jesus, itself presupposes love of oneself as the basis of comparison…( John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae, 1995, 55). In other words, loving one’s neighbor means nothing if you don’t first love yourself in a rightly ordered way. Little wonder why Jesus says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.6. Self-defence is a countermeasure that involves defending the health and wellbeing of oneself from harm. The Catholic Encyclopedia gives a more specific definition of self-defence as “the right of a private person to employ force against anyone who unjustly attacks his life or person, his property or good name.”7. In confusion one may ask, is the church not however erroneous in this conclusion since Christ clearly forbids revenge and taking of another’s life. The answer to this lies in St. Thomas Aquinas’ resolution of this genuine paradox. Hence Aquinas argues:
It is written (Exod. Xxii.2): If a thief be found breaking into a house or undermining it, and be wounded so as to die; he that slew him shall not be guilty of blood. Now it is much more lawful to defend one’s life than one’s house. Therefore neither is a man guilty of murder if he kill (sic) another in defense of his own life (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theological, II-II, 64, art. 7).
Prior to the above, Aquinas establishes that “by sinning man departs from the order of reason, and consequently falls away from the dignity of his manhood, in so far as he is naturally free, and exists for himself, and he falls into the slavish state of the beast.” (Summa Theological, II-II, 64, art. 2.). Hence in so far as someone embarks on a journey to harm another, he immediately divorces of himself the claim to life and as such incurs the treatment proper to brutes.

8. It follows rightly then, that Christians are empowered to defend themselves in the wake of threats and assaults, not so much only as a right but as a duty one owes himself and the creator, since one is only but a custodian of his/her life. In this wise, if one is left only with an option of not sparing an unjust aggressor, a Christian may take such life and be not liable to it. In such scenario, the protection of one’s life becomes an imperative. It must also be noted that the instinct of self-preservation is based on the fact that life is a good given to us by God. Since we have an intrinsic and fundamental right to live, therefore, we also have a right to defend ourselves. As a matter of fact, “no one can renounce the right to self-defence out of lack of love for life or for self.” (John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae, 1995, 55.).

9. The Christian morality is summarized in the injunction to love. This love is first directed to God who is the author of life and the First Lover; secondly, man is commanded to love his neighbor; and lastly he is called to love his own self by doing everything within his power to seek his own salvation. Our argument, so far, on the right to self-defense, has been centered on the love of the self, since the self is the primary agent and victim of the danger, oppression and evil. However, the need for self-defense is as well a form of pastoral charity towards one’s own neighbor. It is a pastoral duty one hold against his brothers and sisters. Here, attention is directed not just to one’s self but the other in the spirit of brotherhood. Particularly, a Christian who occupies the position of leadership is bound by duty to seek the welfare the flock entrusted to his care.

10. IN INSTANCES OF A LEGITIMATE EMPLOYMENT OF SELF-DEFENCE, THE CHURCH INSTRUCTS:
a. Self-Defence does not preclude the law against the intentional killing of another since in self-defence, the killing of an unjust aggressor is in fact unintended.
b. The use of more violence than is necessary in a situation is unlawful. If in some scenarios, violence and killing in self-defence can be avoided then to do otherwise than this would be immoral. In more practical terms, this would imply that it is immoral to kill one who may have stolen a loaf of bread in order to eat and survive or to kill one who merely slaps your cheek. These would amount to applying a more than necessary violence.
c. It is as well a grave moral duty to protect the lives of others. “For this reason, those who legitimately hold authority also have the right to use arms to repel aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their responsibility (CCC n. 2265).” This however goes with a caveat to make an initial attempt to avoiding violence before using force and the employment of a proportionate force.
d. It follows that in situations of grave danger, even religious leaders as much as civil leaders have a moral duty when germane to defend the lives of her adherents even when it means that arms are employed.
e. The taking of a human life in self-defence should be a last resort, when all other options have all been expended.

11. CONCLUDING REMARKS
a. In the present circumstances, self-defence becomes not just a moral duty, but also a religious duty, that of witnessing. Through such witnessing, we become instruments of God in the defense of his people. In such witnessing we are called to become signs and symbols of the Spirit we have received at Baptism and Confirmation. For we did not receive a spirit of timidity or naivety and cannot mediate such in the world. By such witnessing, we express as body our belief and commitment to the mission of Christ-Taking the Gospel to the ends of the earth, and the not even the swords of Jihadism can/should prevail against this.
b. Naïve deaths or refusal to defend oneself does not amount to martyrdom but a failure in one’s fundamental moral obligation.
c. Religious leaders are advised to teach the Christian faithful the necessity and right modes of self-defence and as well to rise and take up necessary measures to protect themselves.
d. Finally the concept of self-defence is a delicate issue that must be handled with diligence. It is a counsel and not a commandment, hence individual consciences shall always play a part in its interpretation and decide contexts of appropriation in so far as the conscience is rightly formed.

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