Ambiguous Moral Judgments

The Bible mentions 6 or 7 different suicides and makes no moral judgment upon them. One of the most famous mass suicides occurred at Masada around 70 C.E. committed by Jews who chose to die rather than be taken captive by the Romans. Rabbi …Eleazar (I think) was their leader and left an interesting message. People like Gandhi chose to fast almost to the point of death in protest of a social injustice. Jesus and Socrates in a sense committed suicide since they foresaw their fate but made no attempt to escape. The Greek Orthodox lives of the saints records a case where nuns jumped off a cliff rather than be captured by Muslim invaders and their deaths were reckoned as martyrdom.

If only one person out of the roughly 7 billion on the planet decided to make a lifetime vow of celibacy they would probably be a curiosity and be interviewed by magazines and talk show hosts. But if each and every human being TOMORROW solemnly took lifetime vows of celibacy then their collective action would be the equivalent of genocide since the human species would be doomed to extinction. For several years I worked in an office with a young, beautiful, very devout Jehovah’s Witness woman. One day I commented to her that there is one circumstance under which the Bible would command her to have intercourse with me. She was in a state of shock and asked me to explain. I explained that IF perchance every human being on the earth died and she and I were the only survivors then according to the very first mitzvah (command) in Genesis, “be fruitful and multiply” it would be her religious duty to have intercourse with me and attempt to conceive a child. She reluctantly admitted that under such circumstances it WOULD be her duty.

If we examine a closed container of gas molecules it would appear to use that each and every molecule is moving randomly with total freedom in different directions with different velocities. And yet if we experimented with pressure and temperature and volume we would discover that collectively all those molecules obey very precise laws. Analogously each individual person seems totally free to make many choices or to chose to do nothing. Yet populations as a whole seem to be under some kind of broad behavioral laws though not as precise as those of the gas molecules.

By the way, there is one verse in the Gospels where Jesus basically says “no man kills me; it is given unto me to lay my life down and to take it up again” which might in theory be seen as a suicide of sorts. This is why all were amazed that he died upon the cross so quickly and that his legs did not require breaking.

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