Morality of looting

I really do agree with Joe from Evangelical Outpost far more than I disagree, recent posts on creation notwithstanding. For example, he’s got some good thoughts on looting:

Before we can answer the question, though, a few necessary premises need to be established. First, the inability of the government to enforce order does not negate our duty to obey the law. Criminal actions are neither permissible nor excusable just because they occur at a time of disorder and crisis. On the contrary, they are even more heinous for being committed at a time when our fellow man is most vulnerable.

Second, it makes no difference whether the item is a loaf of bread or a big-screen TV, when we take property that does not belong to us we committing theft. Our need for an item – even if it is essential for our survival — has no bearing on either the criminality or the morality of the action. Before you disagree, ask yourself this question: if a person in Detroit needed food or medicine as much as someone in New Orleans, would we look the other way while they broke into Wal-Mart and took what they needed?

I couldn’t agree more. We in America think we’re rich enough and powerful enough to avoid reality, and this week is teaching us different. Governments forever have known that you simply cannot allow looting and rioting, or it turns into full-scale chaos. If they’d just shot some people right off the bat, we would have saved ourselves a lot of trouble.

4 thoughts on “Morality of looting

  1. I agree that you cannot allow looting, but the difference in your example is that hungry sick people in Detroit and beg or borrow what they need. The situation in NO was totally different. It was an emergency disaster. Even Jesus with His disciples took somebody’s grain to eat as they went along the way. God’s Law makes provision for people’s extreme needs with the corners of the field. If there is no provision we make thieves out of desperate people.

    There must be a difference made between surviving and hauling off loot. Otherwise we become as rigid as those who would not allow for healing on the Sabbath.

    You can’t apply your understanding of the letter of the law in a merciless application. It then makes no sense.

    There should have been an orderly manner, but there wasn’t and you had criminals mixed in with helpless decent people. You can’t make rules that continue to further punish people by refusing them necessary food and water.

    Think about it.

    There wasn’t much that could have been done about the looting when it showed officers of the law engaging in it themselves, anyway.

    There are going to be lots of places to place blame… I think this guilt burden upon people trying only to get what they need to survive is wrong. They need to be released from our offended sense of propriety ( and that is what it is) while those who were supposed to have the care for people in this situation are to be examined, instead.

    It will again boil down to world view here. We will again grapple with whether we desire our government to manifest our Christian convictions or whether we go by some other sense of what the purpose of the law is.

  2. As a Christian, I keep coming back to Matt. 12:1-8. The law was that you didn’t work on the Sabbath. Yet Jesus’ disciples were working on the Sabbath, gleaning the fields.

    In cases where it was life or death, it is wrong to take the food, water, or medicine you need, but it’s worse to allow someone to die. There are higher laws.

    As soon as possible, one should repay the person one stole from and ask forgiveness.

    I don’t know about Detroit, but in Pittsburgh, there are places where one can go if one is starving. All such institutions were destroyed in New Orleans.

    My respect is for the man who opened his store and told people to take what they needed.

    There is a vast difference between taking food or insulin and taking a TV or jewelry. To say it’s no different doesn’t make it the same.

    Rob of UnSpace

  3. ” in cases of life and death”
    Thanks, Rob, for helping pinpoint the underlying principle.
    If it pertains to saving a life, God has a general principle of allowing for that in the law. Like the cities of refuge for manslaughters, who -by rights- could be killed under the law.

    We think of God as a law and order guy, instead of the justice and mercy God that He is.

    The state does have duty and right ot keep order as they see fit, and in the matter of looters who are plainly stealing to enrich themselves, those are risking th elives of others, as we’ve seen. So on that larger scale of keeping order for the well-being of people in general, looters could well be shot, and that would be moral and right under the law.
    A balance is needed.

  4. It was Joe’s example, not mine. But I still agree that lawlessness is lawlessness. I recognize that some flexibility, in a situation like that, is called for. So, for people taking supplies from a store, an IOU or something similar would be appropriate.

    The problem is, there’s no such thing as a little disorder, in a situation like this. If there’s no restriction on stealing, even if it’s bread and water, then next it’s sneakers and jewelry, and next it’s rapes and potshots at rescue workers. Law and order must be maintained, or the price is high.

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