Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Quote of the Day: Barth

"In our enquiry into the relation between the norm and the exception in obedience to the commandment, we now turn to situations in which it is a matter of the killing of one person by another. We have already noted in passing that the gravity of the question is no less but always necessarily greater in this case. There may be a necessary surrender or self-sacrifice of one's own life. But how can it ever be permissible or obligatory to sacrifice that of another? Can any of us be judges in respect of the life or death of others? What scruples there must be at this point regarding the sanctity of human life! What reservations are necessary in respect of the exceptional case!
Is it superfluous to interject a word at this juncture on the common crime of murder or homicide in the sense of the civil code? At least it is not superfluous to recall, on the basis of Mt. 5:21-26, that the so-called offender against the life of his fellows in the primitive sense is to be found in a preliminary form in all men, even though it does not usually result in the crime itself. In most of us the murderer is suppressed and chained, possibly by the command of God, or possibly by no more than circumstances, convention, or the fear of punishment. Yet he is very much alive in his cage, and ready to leap out at any time.
This is revealed by the amazing ease with which, in spite of every deterrent, war has always been approved and even enthusiastically welcomed and vigorously prosecuted not merely by individuals but by whole nations. It is pertinent that when the shooting of traitors became necessary in Switzerland in the Second World War, an astonishing number of volunteers is said to have offered for this melancholy duty. How are we to explain this? Even if we had not already learned it from Dostoievski, the experiences of our own day have surely taught us that we can no longer have any illusions as to what is dormant even in the heart of the average man in this respect. The presence of this sinister factor, of this "Hitler within us," can be verified in almost all of us by occasional dreams."

Barth, Church Dogmatics, III/4:413

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