April 27, 2009
Perhaps, a scarry combination! But if Aristotle is right when he said: “No man willingly does wrong”, the only reason one takes the law into his hand is because he thinks it is right. He considers to be good subjectively what is truly and objectively evil. We could say, it is his moral philosophy or the lack of it.
I have wanted so much to forget this very sad experience, but news about the continued extra-judicial killings in Davao City remind me of an unforgettable and horrible incident that happened more than two years ago. As a newly ordained priest, I was assigned as spiritual director and philosophy professor in our pre-college seminary. One afternoon while the seminarians were doing their usual manualia (house cleaning), I received a phone call from a resident of NHA Village, Ma-a, informing me that the brother of two of our seminarians was dead. More shocking was the cause: he was gunned down by an unidentified man in motorbike right infront the rented house of my elder brother.
I waited for my companion formator to arrive before both of us could divulge the painful news to the two seminarians – one (the younger brother of the victim) was my student in Catechism in the pre-college; the other (the older) was in the major seminary and, at that time, was in his pastoral apostolate. The first could not contain his tears upon learning the news, the second was thunderstruck. The whole pre-college community was drowned in confusion, fear and sadness. The last topic we discussed in the class that day was: “If God is so good, why does evil exist?”
* * *
Evil exists, I suppose, because man misuses his freedom. Instead of exercising his freedom to do good, he employs it in doing evil. But it leads us back to the aristotelian principle: “No man willingly does wrong”.
Evil exists, then, because man, by judging erroneously what is objectively evil to be good (subjectively), employs wickedly his freedom. We see clearly here that in order to exercise well our freedom, we need to judge rightly what is good and what is evil. And this requires perception of the truth by the intellect.
In order to exercise well our human freedom, we need to see the truth clearly. This is what Pope John Paul II called the “fundamental dependence of freedom upon truth, a dependence which has found its clearest and most authoritative expression in the words of Christ: ‘You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free’ (Jn 8:32) (Encyclical Veritatis splendor, 34).”
* * *
Taking the law into one’s hands, as what occurs in these extra-judicial killings, is never a right exercise of one’s personal freedom, although no doubt it is a free act (in the sense that it is done freely and consciously, hence, the agent is culpable). On the contrary, it is an act of enslavement. And this, in two ways: with respect to the perpetrators and with respect to the society.
The right use of freedom always uplifts human dignity. But the act of killing a person or murder is an offense, not only against the human dignity of the victim, but also of the murderer. The assassin loses his moral dignity. Hence, he is enslaved.
Moreover, if he is simply obeying orders or simply doing it for pay, the assassin is also enslaved by his own fears that one day he might be the next victim. How sure is he that the one who directed him to execute someone (without due legal process) would not ask another assassin to liquidate him? And this would go a long, long way until the last axe falls on the mastermind’s head. Could we imagine the terror that it sows in the society?
* * *
This may appear like sheer philosophizing, an academic drill and – as what most people think – philosophy has very little usefulness in life! (That’s why, very few study it). But the very fact that philosophy is useless (in the sense that it should not be used for functional or ideological purposes) is what makes it sublime and noble. And for being so, philosophy can dignify life and human persons.
Of course, one need not take up licentiate or doctorate in philosophy to learn how to respect the dignity and life of a human person. It is a mandate of our being human. In the film “Horton, Horton”, it is affirmed that “a person is a person no matter how small”. It simply means that every person has dignity no matter how wicked his actions may be – including the perpetrators of extra-judicial killings.
If the DDS thinks that taking the law into its hands is morally right (even for whatever good intentions it may have), I think, it should reconsider its “philosophy”!