The Subject of Kneecaps

I’m a little fuzzy on the subject of violence in the Bible, and talking with or reading the opinions of other Christians doesn’t make it any less confusing. We can all agree murder is wrong. After that, there doesn’t seem to be much agreement at all. Should a Christian use violence, sometimes even deadly violence, to save someone’s life or defend themselves?

Zoë: “Preacher, don’t the Bible have some pretty specific things to say about killin’?”

Book: “Quite specific. It is, however, somewhat fuzzier on the subject of kneecaps.”

— Firefly, episode 9 “War Stories”

In this situation in Firefly, Shepherd Book armed himself and joined his shipmates to rescue Malcolm Reynolds from torture and death. He did not violate the commandment “You shalt not murder,” or even the King James’ rendering “Though shalt not kill” (Ex. 20:13). But does this kind of violence violate the spirit, if not the letter, of such commandments? If he had killed in self-defense, would it have been wrong?

Murder vs. Killing

I don’t think there is any question about murder being wrong. Even in societies without the Bible as a guide, laws against murder are usually part of the culture. It’s on the subject of “killing” where things get sticky for Christians. If someone is attacking your family, is it permitted to use violence to stop them? Does unintentionally killing someone who is trying to harm you make guilty of murder in God’s eyes?

The Hebrew word translated “kill” or “murder” in Exodus 20 is râtsach (H7523). Strong’s defines it as, “to dash in pieces, that is, kill (a human being), especially to murder.” Like many Hebrew words, the exact meaning is dependent on the context, and The Complete WordStudy Dictionary: Old Testament points out that the word is used “to indicate premeditated murder” as well as “an accidental killing,” slaying someone as an “act of revenge,” and “death by means of an animal attack.” Other scriptures help narrow down the definition, as C.S. Lewis points out in this quote from Mere Christianity.

It is no good quoting “Thou shalt not kill.” There are two Greek words: the ordinary word to kill and the word to murder. And when Christ quotes the commandment He uses the murder in all three accounts. … All killing is not murder any more than all sexual intercourse is adultery.

The Issue of Hate

Should Christians defend themselves? "The Subject of Kneecaps" marissabaker.wordpress.comC.S. Lewis was not a pacifist (he wrote a whole article on the “why” of this viewpoint, but I have yet to find a copy). I admire his writings, but there are other people whose opinions I admire who are adamant that it is wrong for a Christian to serve as a soldier and wrong for a person to kill someone in self-defense.

For some people, I think the distinction between murder and killing comes down to the idea of a death being accidental and/or premeditated. We know from the instructions God gives for cities of refuge (Joshua 20) that accidental killings  do not come under the death-penalty ascribed to murder. The reasons given for not condemning a man who accidentally caused his neighbor’s death are these: “he struck his neighbor unintentionally, but did not hate him beforehand” (Josh. 20:5).

People seem to go two ways on interpreting this verse. One: killing someone in self defense does not constitute murder because you “did not hate him before hand.” It was not a premeditated, vengeful killing, therefore it is considered an accident. C.S. Lewis seems to come down on this side when he says, “We may kill if necessary, but we must not hate and enjoy hating.”

Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. (1 John 3:15)

Deliberate Self-Defense

The second argument I’ve heard goes something like this: planning to defend yourself makes the death premeditated. You might not be deliberately trying to kill a specific person, but if you intend to kill whoever attacks you and your family, the killing was planned. This also means you don’t fulfill the requirement “he struck his neighbor unintentionally.”

Something doesn’t sit well with me about this last viewpoint. Perhaps it’s partly the implication that most people who intend to defend themselves if attacked also have a desire to kill (which I don’t see in the people I know who are prepared to defend themselves). There are also elements of hypocrisy. The person who thinks self-defense is wrong will probably not hesitate to call 911, and if the person attacking them is killed by police officers I’m not sure they’d feel terribly guilty.

I don’t have much of a conclusion for this post. In theory, I tend to lean more towards C.S. Lewis’s views. In practice, though, one of the reasons I quit Tae Kwon Do is because I hated even practicing how to hurt people. What are your thoughts on this subject?

Writing Heroines

Last week, I wrote a post about the eight hero archetypes listed in The Complete Writer’s Guide to Heroes and Heroines: Sixteen Master ArchetypesI’ve used this book extensively since I discovered it in the library, and I’ve found it a great help in crafting dynamic characters. Characters I wrote before reading it even fit in the archetypes, which I’m taking as a sign that I was on the right track with character development. For these characters, the descriptions have helped me edit them to be stronger and more consistent.

If you’re a writer and you can find a copy of the book, I highly recommend using it. If not, here’s a brief overview of each description for the eight female archetypes. All the quotes below are from the descriptions in the book.

Heroine Archetypes

Heroine ArchetypesThe Boss

This is a strong, tough character who wants to win at all costs. Typically, such a character always got her own way growing up and wants that to continue. “She will shade the truth in order to gain her objective and she is not above manipulating circumstances to make things go her way.”

The Seductress

Assertive, strong, and clever, this type of character learned at a young age she could charm people into doing what she wanted. She is cynical, driven, manipulative. “Her true desires and motives are carefully concealed behind a sensual smile. Knowledge is power, so she makes sure no one knows her” and instinctively distrusts people.

The Spunky Kid

This is the “heroine underdog.” She has a sense of humor and is reliable, supportive, unassuming, and skeptical. Sometimes, she “hides behind her sarcastic wit, and her lack of confidence may make her play down her best attributes, but she is spirited, cheerful and the most loyal of friends.”

The Free Spirit

Sincere, upbeat, and imaginative, this type of character can also be impulsive, meddling, and undisciplined. They have a strong sense of individuality and never plan anything, but always seem to land on their feet.  She is a natural entertainer, and “may be a handful for anyone who has to deal with her, but she makes the experience worthwhile in her zany, high-spirited way.”

The Waif

This character is trusting, easily influenced, kind, and insecure. She inspires others to want to save her, and is generally content to let herself be rescued. “Her delicate fragility makes her an easy target … [and] she adapts to any situation she falls into without complaint.” You’re far less likely to see her in fiction of today than the other archetypes, but that does not mean she should be avoided.

There is something refreshing about a heroine who does not talk back or fight every battle, but rather, allows a man to be a man and believes that if left well enough alone, situations will resolve themselves.

The Librarian

This type of character likes to organize everything. She is efficient, serious, dependable, rigid, repressed, and a perfectionist. She assumes she has all the answers and, “more often than not, she is right, but she can be a bit stubborn about considering other opinions.” She is also portrayed as having a passionate side when she “lets her hair down.”

The Crusader

“This is a heroine in the truest sense — deeds of valor are right up her alley.” She is courageous, resolute, and persuasive. Her flaws include obstinacy, rashness, and being outspokenly opinionated. She wants to set the word straight and “has no faith in the intrinsic merit of human nature; no belief that all will end well if left alone.”

The Nurturer

A character of this type needs to be needed. She is optimistic, capable, idealistic, self-sacrificing, and willing to compromise so she won’t hurt anyone’s feelings. Before thinking of herself, “she makes sure that all her loved ones are happy and content … Her serene, capable and patient manner invariably soothes troubled souls or hurting hearts.”

Writing Characters

There are three approaches to using these archetypes to create characters. A character could be a “core archetype,” fitting into a singe archetype and remaining consistent through the course of the story. Characters can also evolve, changing from one archetype to another because of the events of the story. Layered characters have elements of two archetypes, which may take turns being dominant but will not change over the course of the story.

An example of evolving archetypes is the Beast in Beauty and the Beast, who changes from a Lost Soul into a Chief as a result of Belle’s nurturing character. Layered characters include MacGyver (Warrior and Professor), Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady (Waif and Spunky Kid), and Princess Leia (Boss and Crusader).

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about these character types, and that it sparks an idea for your own writing (or at least provided some interesting reading while procrastinating from writing 😉 ).