Sunday, 5 August 2018

** FATHER FRANK’S RANTS Rant Number 780 31 July 18 HIRING A HITMAN

Tempted to hire a professional assassin? Don’t do it. For one thing, it might be a scam. Like the Chechen Mob website on the dark web. And the law would get you. Still, could it ever be morally justified? It partly depends on the intended victim’s identity…

‘Do not avenge yourselves, dearly beloved’, St Paul urges his Christian converts in Rome, ‘but leave it to the wrath of God. For it is written: “Vengeance is mine, I will repay”, says the Lord’. The Apostle meant personal offences, note. Not major social and religious crimes, like adultery, theft or robbery. It is the State’s duty to punish those. Actually, personal insults and slights are those who make your blood boil. Much more difficult to overlook. Even Pope Francis admitted that when, memorably falling short of Christ’s teaching, he said he would have struck a man who had insulted his mamma! As to poet Heinrich Heine, he confessed his happiness would have been perfected by seeing his personal enemies swing from a rope in his front garden. Well, at least Heine was not a Christian. I am – or try to be – a Christian and am a priest. But would I really mind dancing over my enemies’ grave? Groan.. What answer do you expect? Truth or hypocrisy? Guess!

Having a dictator killed. How would that be wrong? Its slayers would be acting righteously. Hence the ancient Greeks revered and honoured with splendid statues Harmodius and Aristogeiton, two gay lovers who killed the Athenian tyrant Hipparchus. Brutus and Cassius, Julius Caesar’s assassins, were long celebrated as republican heroes. More controversial the case of John Wilkes Booth, the actor who shot Abraham Lincoln – was Honest Abe a tyrant? He was so in the eyes of the South. Similarly, devout Catholic Colonel Bastien-Thiry attempted to assassinate General De Gaulle. (Chronicled in The Day of the Jackal, indeed a book and movie about a hitman.) At his trial the Colonel invoked St Thomas Aquinas’ teaching on tyrannicide but was sentenced to death. He died by firing squad clutching his rosary.

Controversies apart, the principle is the same. Killing an evil ruler for the sake of liberty and justice is no crime or sin. But political assassinations achieve little. Russian nihilists, anarchists and like revolutionaries made it into a method. In 1881 a terrorist from the People’s Will blew up Czar Alexander II. It did not cause Czarism to fall. It only made the repression more ferocious. Lenin was opposed to terrorism like that. Instead, he favoured general strike, mass action. In fact, the Russian regime collapsed in 1917 only because it lost the war. A gift to the revolutionaries and the terrorists, hitherto impotent.

The people who sought to hire an assassin on Chechen Mob and the like were not motivated by politics, however. They thirsted after revenge for private wrongs or hurts. A Minnesota deacon of a Protestant sect desirous of murdering his wife was conned out of 6000 dollars by the bogus website. Alas, he went on to do the killing himself. (Perhaps, he should have tried Sicily. Much easier to find a trustworthy hitman there, I suspect.) Others plotted to dispose of their lovers or business competitors through the same website. Naturally, they lost their money and the cops stepped in. Serves the dupes right!

What about the hitman? Has he got a conscience at all? (In the film The American, George Clooney displays such qualms but not in the more realistic, original novel.) Does he feel no compunction, no remorse over his bloody profession? ‘Just a job’, he might argue. ‘It is a capitalist society, isn’t it? Buying and selling. Some buy sex, others drugs and others death. I sell death. And I do it efficiently and reliably. It is a service like others. When I bump off a cheating husband or a dishonest businessman, about whom the law can do nothing, am I not acting well? I am a good assassin. What’s the fuss? I should be rewarded, if you ask me.’

A good assassin. Does the phrase make sense? Is it like considering the goodness of a chess player? You can examine how good a man is at playing chess without bothering to check whether he pays his taxes or beats up his children. He may be a champion chess player, top of his game. Another Capablanca or Bobby Fisher. But does that entail that he could be legitimately be described as a good man? Despite not doing his duty as a citizen and brutalising his kids? No way. Being a good person encompasses more than just having excellent technical skills at chess or rugby or any other game.

Calling someone a ‘good killer’. Philosophers point out that there is no such thing as judging a thing good unless you know what that thing is. And you know the meaning of ‘assassin’. A killer or murderer is bad. He is ipso facto a bad man. Regardless of his sniping skills at targeting people with a high-precision rifle. Thus, the hitman cannot hide himself behind any spurious pretence of being ‘good’ at his job. It is a rotten, dirty, evil job. That’s all.

In a truly well-ordered state, in a just society with rational, ethical and effective laws and a judicial system and police bodies also equally well-functioning, there would no need for tyrant-slayers. And the Church, in harmony with the authorities, would gradually and gently bring people’s minds and hearts to align themselves with the sublime teachings of the Gospel and shun with horror the idea of revenge or, worse, of hiring professional killers. Utopian goals? Reminiscent of Plato’s Republic or Campanella’s City of the Sun? Maybe but…still worth a try!

Revd Frank Julian Gelli


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