Christian Convictions: Assassination in Writing

Assassination in Writing

Death comes in many forms when one is writing a book. Weather, sickness, battle, or personal revenge. In many books, warfare of some kind or another progresses through the story. As writers, sometimes we need to decipher what is acceptable for our characters to do; or at least what they can do in good conscious (Of course, this doesn’t mean they always will behave right, because having a character fail morally and then having to face the results of his failings is a great story-line.)

Christians and assassination

Now I am not a pacifist by any stretch of the imagination. The Bible says do not kill, but it does allow for war. Killing in battle or self-defense is acceptable; murder is not. Pacifism, when one should fight, if one should fight…it’s quite a large topic that I might address sometime else if people show interest. Right now I’m focusing on a narrower topic. Given that fighting and killing is a part of general warfare, how should a Christian (and, by extension your characters) deal with assassination?

In battle, men line up in shield walls, shoot from defended trenches, or swoop above the enemy in planes. The enemy knows they are there…sometimes. There are also ambushes, surprise attacks, night attacks, and dawn attacks were damage is done and then the attackers fade into the night. A killed guard. Sniper shots inside enemy encampment. It is all part of warfare and part of the danger of being in the army.

Assassination moves a little closer to home. This is no random shot fired or a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. This is purposeful. Watching a target, waiting for him, looking through a scope at a real person instead of a nameless soldier. It is pulling the trigger, throwing a knife, or striking up close from an ambushment with a dagger.

So, is assassination in wartime an acceptable course of action?

The answer, I believe, is yes. With some restrictions.

Now don’t get me wrong, just because killing is a part of war doesn’t mean it is desirable. It will be a necessary part of surviving, but war doesn’t mean all rules go and one can kill or assassinate anyone on the opposite side.

I do not believe, even in war, that killing or assassinating the defenseless and civilians is ever right. When it comes to an armed enemy, however, it is another matter. Soldiers die on the field, from sickness, and in surprise attacks or in ambushes. Generals, officers, and leaders may, for practical reasons, stay away from the main conflict, but they are still actively engaged in warfare. As a soldier, they are fighting with the knowledge that they could die. And if it is not possible to kill a target from the battlefield, then I see no problem with a secret attack which gets the job done.

It may not seem the most honorable course of action, but since when is killing honorable? What must be done, must be done. In a pitched battle, in an ambush, or in a surgical strike behind the lines, if a leader of an army needs to be taken out, then there is no moral problem for your characters accomplishing the task.

And an item of note here – this does not mean your characters are ‘playing God’ and deciding who lives and who dies. A soldier in another book, when confronted with the question about how he could kill, especially when he knew those dying probably weren’t Christians, put it very well. I don’t remember the exact quote but it was to the tenor of ‘God is in control, and if He wants someone to be saved, then He will save that person regardless of what I do. But as a soldier for my country, I will do my duty to the best of my ability…even if that means killing’.

When it comes to writing, I do not have a moral problem with a character planning an assassination on the leader or general of an opposing side. Now, just because it might not be a matter of conscience, it does not mean it won’t affect and haunt your character in personal and emotional ways…which is, of course, what you want for them. Your characters shouldn’t plan an assassination for no reason, but if there is a reason then have no hesitation throwing the turmoil and contention of planning and performing (either in success or failure) at them and seeing what happens.

Note: I do not claim to know everything about the various topics I’ll be discussing in these Christian Conviction articles. What I write is what I believe after reading the Bible and holding conversations with friends and parents, but that does not mean I’m not interested in Bible evidence for another point of view. If the topics interest you, I encourage you to study them on your own as well. Friendly discussion in the comments is encouraged if you have points you’d like to bring up, but this is not the place for a full-scale debate. : )

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  1. What do you think of the plots Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his friends were involved with, to assassinate Hitler? There was a fair amount of deception going on as well as plans to kill an enemy leader.

    Spenser says, “Die, rather than do aught, that might dishonour yield.” In Pendragon’s Heir, one of the characters says a thing that cannot be done without dishonour is not worth doing, even if it brings ‘the greater good’. The citizens of Heaven, he says, never have to choose between two evils.

    The difference at the root here is the difference between two moral theories, two ways of looking at the same problem. In my first example, you get Utilitarianism, which disapproves of murder and killing in general, but says if you have a choice, say, between killing one bad man to save the lives of five goodish ones, do it. Utilitarianism is the most commonly espoused in America, even though most people don’t even realize it’s called that, and think “utilitarian” means “useful”, not (which is the correct meaning) “calculated to produce the greater good for the greater number in the longer run”.

    The theory used in the second example is most likely the Divine Command, which is simple enough, or possibly influenced by the Kantian, whose famous categorical imperative is that whatever you do, you should at the moment of doing it be fine with the idea of it becoming a universal law (so lying, for Kant, is always and without exception, wrong). The second example shows, I think, the difference between a firm belief both in the Triune God and in absolutes. The first one is free to change morality based on situations, which is dangerous.

    It’s a bit like the question, “If you were a doctor and you knew that this pregnant woman was carrying the next Hitler, would you abort the baby?”

    • Well, part of the question would be ‘is assassination considered morally wrong’ and I’d say no given the right circumstances. One of the judges in the Bible began his freeing of the people by assassinating the enemy king. It’s not that I would say one can change what is right and wrong depending on the circumstances…there are absolutes. But there are also Biblical exceptions, for lack of a better word. We are commanded not to kill, but the judges and kings, under orders from God, led many battles and war with death being the natural result. Assassination is another form or warfare, such as Bonhoeffer’s plans to assassinate Hitler. But, as a part of warfare, it is not something one can morally justify for personal reasons, on civilians, or ‘before-the-fact’ judgement such as the abortion of a baby by someone who somehow knew it would grow up to do horrible things.

      • The Biblical exceptions offer no difficulty to the Divine Command theory, as they were commanded by God. (And then people object that it’s a standard that God can change arbitrarily, and I say yes, he’s a judge, judges are arbiters, they do things arbitrarily, there’s nothing wrong.) But without similar commands today, I’d hesitate for a long time before assassinating someone — even Trump or Hillary, if one were elected — if I had the opportunity. And believe me, I wish it weren’t wrong and that I could.

        Here’s a moral dilemma I’ve been playing with, which you might find fun: If killing either Trump or Clinton (assuming one of them gets in office, this is after the election) would end the idea that beauty, truth, and goodness are relative/subjective/not real, would you do it?

        • But are you saying that war or even self-defense itself, and the killing that results, is wrong because under the Divine Command theory such actions haven’t been directly order by God for over 2000 years?

          As for assassinating a head of state…we are not at war with our own government, however much we might dislike what they are doing. So definitely not.

          And that’s not that difficult of a moral dilemma. N0. Of course, it would be nice for everyone to accept that truth isn’t subjective, but that’s not going to save anyone. And once one lie is put down, another will spring up. Killing anyone to put such a lie to right would be undermining the very truth one was trying to bring about in any case. We aren’t called to spread truth through death. Killing, either in self-defense, war, or even assassination (in war against enemy combatants, in what is basically a heightened form of ambush) is only resorted to when necessary.

  2. Very interesting, Hope.

    I’ve been struggling to figure out what is right in war, especially in relation to conquering another country. It’s a very difficult topic, and I haven’t got the answer yet.

    My temporary solution is to write a different book. (Which also has war but under different circumstances.) However i’m going to to need an answer someday. this has given me food for thought.

    • War is a difficult topic. I want to write a post about is lying allowed in war, but I’ve not come to a conclusion on the topic myself yet. There are good arguments for both sides…

  3. It’s a very interesting topic you have brought up, and some good thoughts too. It is hard to know what to think about such things.

    • Some of these topics can be hard. They are important, though. As Christians I think we should study and represent the ‘hard things’ in our stories to the best of our ability.

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