The incident got me thinking about how I'd act in less-than-ideal circumstances. In another blog, I came up with this:
That "maybe not" wasn't entirely satisfying, so I kept thinking. And researching.2401-2463) Bottom line? Don't.
"But consider a hypothetical situation: You survived an earthquake. The town you live in is mostly knocked flat, but at least now many of the fires are out. It's hot. You helped pull a few people out of the grocery down the street. You can tell from the smell that others didn't make it. The local police force, fire department - the whole city staff - are either dead or putting out fires - literally - on the other side of town. The people you're responsible for are wounded, sick, and haven't eaten for days.
"Is it wrong to salvage food from the grocery, while it's still edible? Maybe not.
"Is it wrong to salvage your neighbor's plasma screen television? Probably...."
(Vigilante Justice isn't Nice: Haiti," Apathetic Lemming of the North (January 23, 2010))
That section covers quite a lot of territory: including the treatment of animals, games of chance, and economic justice. Some key points, toward the end:
"'You shall not steal' (Ex 20:15; Deut 5:19). 'Neither thieves, nor the greedy . . ., nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God' (1 Cor 6:10).Aha! It says "reasonable will of the owner"! I can take that food. Give me a running start, and I'll cobble together an excuse for taking that plasma screen television, too.
The seventh commandment enjoins the practice of justice and charity in the administration of earthly goods and the fruits of men's labor.
The goods of creation are destined for the entire human race. The right to private property does not abolish the universal destination of goods.
The seventh commandment forbids theft. Theft is the usurpation of another's goods against the reasonable will of the owner."
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2450-2453)
Check this out:
"A good intention (for example, that of helping one's neighbor) does not make behavior that is intrinsically disordered, such as lying and calumny, good or just. The end does not justify the means. Thus the condemnation of an innocent person cannot be justified as a legitimate means of saving the nation. On the other hand, an added bad intention (such as vainglory) makes an act evil that, in and of itself, can be good (such as almsgiving).39Okay. That's clear enough. The end doesn't justify the means.
The circumstances, including the consequences, are secondary elements of a moral act. They contribute to increasing or diminishing the moral goodness or evil of human acts (for example, the amount of a theft). They can also diminish or increase the agent's responsibility (such as acting out of a fear of death). Circumstances of themselves cannot change the moral quality of acts themselves; they can make neither good nor right an action that is in itself evil.
"II. Good Acts and Evil Acts
"A morally good act requires the goodness of the object, of the end, and of the circumstances together. An evil end corrupts the action, even if the object is good in itself (such as praying and fasting 'in order to be seen by men').
"The object of the choice can by itself vitiate an act in its entirety. There are some concrete acts—such as fornication—that it is always wrong to choose, because choosing them entails a disorder of the will, that is, a moral evil.
"It is therefore an error to judge the morality of human acts by considering only the intention that inspires them or the circumstances (environment, social pressure, duress or emergency, etc.) which supply their context. There are acts which, in and of themselves, independently of circumstances and intentions, are always gravely illicit by reason of their object; such as blasphemy and perjury, murder and adultery. One may not do evil so that good may result from it."
On the other hand, I might not need to let my household starve, with a supply of food nearby.
"In virtue of commutative justice, reparation for injustice committed requires the restitution of stolen goods to their owner:I sincerely hope that I never have to make decisions like that."Jesus blesses Zacchaeus for his pledge: 'If I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.'193 Those who, directly or indirectly, have taken possession of the goods of another, are obliged to make restitution of them, or to return the equivalent in kind or in money, if the goods have disappeared, as well as the profit or advantages their owner would have legitimately obtained from them. Likewise, all who in some manner have taken part in a theft or who have knowingly benefited from it—for example, those who ordered it, assisted in it, or received the stolen goods—are obliged to make restitution in proportion to their responsibility and to their share of what was stolen."(Catechism, 2412)
"This is what the Apostle Paul makes clear when he says: 'Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her,' adding at once: 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one. This is a great mystery, and I mean in reference to Christ and the Church.'110"My Lord died for the sake of the Church. I'm more use to my wife and family alive, now, but if my death means that my wife lives: I die.
If that doesn't sound like the version of Christianity or Catholicism you've heard about: I don't doubt it. There have been - and are - jerks who have cherry-picked what they like out of the Bible and tradition, and ignored the rest. I've written about this before, and probably will again. (June 21, 2009, November 24, 2009, for starters)
Oh, great. I can't let my family starve. I can't salvage food and supplies, because that would be stealing. And I can't quit, either.
- "I followed the letter of the law, and let my household die as a result. Wasn't that virtuous of me?"
- "I stole to keep my household alive. The decision was mine, not theirs. I am responsible for the theft, and died before I could make restitution to the owner's heir."
"Death puts an end to human life as the time open to either accepting or rejecting the divine grace manifested in Christ.592 The New Testament speaks of judgment primarily in its aspect of the final encounter with Christ in his second coming, but also repeatedly affirms that each will be rewarded immediately after death in accordance with his works and faith. The parable of the poor man Lazarus and the words of Christ on the cross to the good thief, as well as other New Testament texts speak of a final destiny of the soul—a destiny which can be different for some and for others.593"Okay: so it doesn't give me warm fuzzies. So?
The hypothetical situation, whether or not to steal from a collapsed building, is one I'll probably never face. But unless my life ends really soon, I will have other decisions to make, and some probably won't be easy.
A sort of bottom line for me has been what I heard once: "It's easier to ask forgiveness, than permission."
- "Vigilante Justice isn't Nice: Haiti"
(January 23, 2010)
- "Vaccines, Aborted Babies, and Catholic Bioethics"
(October 26, 2009)
- "Death, Dying, Dignity, Intravenous Tubes and Catholic Teachings"
(September 22, 2009)
- "Animals: Yeah, the Catholic Church has Rules About Them, Too"
(August 17, 2009)
- "Dinosaurs, Mutant Chickens, Evolution, and Faith in God"
(June 29, 2009)