Are extenuating circumstances considered when you sin?

For example, if a really insane person kills someone, is he still guilty of committing the sin of murder? If he didn’t know it was wrong, say? He clearly killed the person, but is his soul still at risk? Or killing in self defense?

From what I understand, it’s ok if the president tells you to do it… :wink:

Most religions exempt killing in self-defense and killing in war.

Obviously different religious perspectives could apply different principles here. But I would reckon that most Christian moralists would agree that guilt is subjective, and does depend on the actor’s understandign, appreciation, etc. Pretty well everyone would agree that a killer who is insane and does not know that what he is doing is morally wrong is not subjectively guilty of murder.

Killing in self-defence is a different situation; most Christian moralists would say that, at least in some circumstances, this is not objectively morally wrong. The question of subjective guilt, or the actor’s state of mind, therefore does not arise in the same way.

“Sin” is a religious concept, and each religion has its own teachings about what constitutes “sin,” so it’s impossible to give a correct answer without first deciding which religion we’re discussing. If you tell us which religion you were thinking of, you’ll probably get a better answer.

Judaism generally considers extenuating circumstances when evaluating whether or not an act is sinful. Anything - with the exceptions of murder, incest, and a couple others - is permissible if it’s necessary to save one’s life. There are also a LOT of acts that are required only of adults - if a child doesn’t do them (and in some cases, a child is FORBIDDEN to do them), the child has not committed a sin of omission. Likewise, there are many things that are required of men, but not of women.

Now, on to your examples. An insane person is not considered responsible for his actions, so he hasn’t committed a sin. That doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be institutionalized for the protection of society.

Killing in self-defense is explicitly permitted. It’s also permissible to hand someone over to law enforcement, even if this is likely to result in his death, if they are legitimately pursuing him and by doing so you will protect innocent people from being harmed by said law enforcement personnel in their attempts to arrest the person they want.

Yes, but bear in mind, in the Abramic religions, the Deity is omniscient. He knows what the circumstances really were.

If you really did have a good reason, then He will forgive you.

If you did not, then He will not accept excuses.

This subject was discussed at a seminar on Christian ethics hosted by my church. The speaker, a professor of ethics at a local college, suggested that the old saw “What would Jesus do?” was hopelessly inadequate when determining whether to go to war or to harm or kill in defense of onesself or others. The Bible doesn’t have any record of Jesus doing personal harm (My fairly uneducated guess is that he didn’t want any ambiguity in his message.)

As an alternative, the speaker suggested a guideline of “What would the Good Samaritan do?” If a good person found someone beaten and lying in the road, then they would stop and offer aid. If they had arrived a little earlier, when the person was being beaten, they might fight off the attackers, stand between the attackers and the victim, or act in some other manner. The rules aren’t as clearly defined in this case, and it would be up to the Good Samaritan to make an ethical judgement.

By extension, this analogy can be used to determine if a war is just or if a civilian has cause to join the military and go to war. In this case, the question might be whether military action might ultimately cause greater good for humanity.

Beyond that, it has been expressed elsewhere that the commandment “Thou shall not kill” generally refers to killing out of self will. A soldier who kills while carrying out lawful orders has not necessarily broken that commandment. Then again, they may have. It’s really between them and God.

To be clear here, the distinction between “adult” and “child” is the Bar Mitzvah? And what would be an example of something required of an adult, but forbidden for a child?

Fasting for Yom Kippur. Adults must do this; child may not. Even if we wanted to “try” as kids, we were discouraged. It was an adult responsibility (unless you were ill etc).

Most kids begin fasting the Yom Kippur after their Bar/Bat mitzvah. Don’t know about other things, though.

Not in my Orthodox community - older children (nine and up) tend to fast for part of the day, and many eleven-year-olds try to see if they can do the whole thing. Adults are required to fast (unless it would be very dangerous for them to do so), and children aren’t required, but they’re not forbidden.

There are various legal issues that only apply to adults in Jewish law, especially with regard to contracts and acting as a witness before a Jewish court. I am not sure which specific examples would be forbidden per se for a child, and I’d rather not guess.

As I understand Catholic theology, a distinction is made between mortal and venial sin. A mortal sin must be committed in the full knowledge of its sinfulness and with full intent to do it anyway. Anything less is a venial sin, which must be repented of, confessed, and forgiven, but does not separate you from the Church and the sacraments. I trust it’s clear how that applies to the hypothetical insane killer of the OP, as well as other examples brought up.

Children below a certain age are not deemed capable of forming the intent to commit a mortal sin. The terms for this and the specific age to be identified seem to vary.

Altho it’s popular in English to say “thou shall not kill” I believe the original biblical text is more accurately translated as “thou shall not murder”. Murder being unjustified (absent of extenuating circumstances) killing. As for other sins, some are more strict than others. You are forbidden to do work on the sabbath for example, but this should not stop you from saving a life if need be.

There’s a record of Him doing violence in anger, though (the merchants at the Temple).

Under the branch of Catholicism I grew up in (Spanish Jesuits with a sprinkling of Franciscans) doing something under duress which would in other circumstances be a sin is generally viewed as… not so much forgivable as “not counting”. Resisting the duress is one of the marks of the Martyrs: if you were a married Christian woman and the Roman Governor of your province ordered you to fuck him or else he’d have all your family killed piecemeal, starting with your oldest child, well then giving up wasn’t adultery (heck, calling it adultery would be blaming the victim for being raped); resisting wasn’t murder (of your children and husband) either, but considered a show of strength of will backed by the Grace (rather than, say, a show of stupid stubborness).

“But, St. Peter, she was REALLY Hot!”

Interesting-as in most things Jewsih, get three Jews in a room and get five opinions!

My mom- who was actually raised Lebovitch in Eastern Europe- always discouraged us from fasting, as did the Rabbis in our Conservative Synagogue.


Is there any reason why you brought up this subject without mentioning your religion, if any? The word “sin” can have many meanings . . . and to some secular people, like me, the word borders on the meaningless.

Not quite - mortal sin must also involve a “grave matter”. If you, with full knowledge of its sinfulness and with full intent to do it anyway, call someone a fat pig and make them cry, it’s not a mortal sin.

It’s not exactly the same as the religious concept of sin, but the Code of Canon Law of the Catholic Church, which is influenced by the Catholic doctrine of sins, also declares murder punishable in canon 1397:

(Canon 1336 lists penalties which can be inflicted; canon 1370 deals with physical force against the Pope, a bishop or another member of the clergy. Interestingly, canon 1370 imposes latae sententiae penalities, meaning the penalty is inflicted automatically once the crime is committed, while canon 1397 is an example of ferendae sententiae crimes, which have to be imposed by a judgement of a court.)

Canon 1323 lists possible defenses, among them self defense:

So I guess Catholic doctrine acknowledges the existence of self defense and that it may justify a crime. I don’t know, however, if this affects the theology of sin for RCs.

The passage may be somewhat relevant, but I’m not sure if it is. Greed was one of the big things that Jesus preached against, since it shows a clear lack of compassion towards one’s fellow human. It appears that he was setting a standard that this greed would not be allowed in the temple. I can’t think of any reason why he would have caused bodily harm in the temple though.

Schnitte–I think the key phrase under 1323.4 is “unless the act is intrinsically evil.” When I was in Georgetown’s graduate program in philosophy, one of the thing that was drummed into my head by the natural law theologians there (I’m not Catholic, but of course you have to know this stuff to TA there) is that the Church rejects the notion of ‘proportionality’–the idea that evils can be weighed against each other in a way that performing an evil act could be justified by the prevention of a greater evil. I asked one of the natural law types the old example–“Can you lie to the Nazi at your door about whether you are hiding Jews?” That would be performing an intrinsically evil act to promote an allegedly greater good. He hemmed and hawed and finally said that it was a sin but God would forgive you, which was just his way of trying to have his cake and eat it, too (“It’s a sin, but God won’t hold it against you”).

ETA–Oh, so my point is (I guess my post should have a point) is that sin is not always mitigated by extenuating circumstances, if you are Catholic. Examples like the above are one reason I think natural law is silly.