Is There a Right Use of Deadly Force? By Theresa Crater

Is There a Right Use of Deadly Force?

This is the thorny question I took up in my new release Assassin Awakens. I’ve always loved spy stories and am a special fan of Jason Bourne films and other such characters. So, that’s one reason I wrote this new book. But there’s more.

My paternal ancestors were pacifists from the Thirty Years War in Europe (1618-1648) onward. They only went to war starting with WWI. I grew up during the Civil Rights Movement listening to King who learned nonviolence resistance from Gandhi. This was the way to change society, it seemed.

What about extreme cases of brutalization in a relationship or a violent attack where one’s life is at stake? Is killing in self-defense moral?

What if species after species is going extinct and the life of the planet is at risk, but the people responsible will not stop or even admit the situation is real? What if all legal means have been exhausted? Is there ever a time for deadly force?

Oddly enough, Vedic literature says yes. When I first started meditation years ago, I learned about the Bhagavad Gita. The hero Arjuna is torn. He is a warrior and his duty is to fight for his family and people. Yet isn’t killing wrong and bad karma or a sin? Still, shirking his duty as a warrior is also bad karma. He turns to his charioteer, Lord Krishna, for an answer. Krishna does not say, “Never kill. It’s always wrong.” What he says is, “Established in Being, perform action.” Of course, this means be enlightened, then perform action. The enlightened being is in harmony with the laws of nature and does not act outside those laws.

After the Vietnam War, the Just War theory emerged in political and military science. What is a just war? Is there such a thing? If not, how do we stop war? If so, what are the rules by which it should be fought? We all remember that refusing to obey an illegal order is justifiable—a part of this theory. According to this discussion, there are right uses of deadly force.

I contemplated this question in Assassin Awakens. The heroine Rainey was brutally attacked by fellow soldiers in Afghanistan. Rape in the military is a big problem mostly ignored. Rainey has a near death experience when the soldiers leave her for dead. She travels through the light and is handed a list of names. The instant she touches the list, she understands her mission. She is to assassinate everyone named on it. She understands this is necessary to turn the tides and bring the planet back into balance. But Rainey has a choice. Go into the light and experience divine bliss or return to earth. She accepts her mission and goes back.


Rainey works as a contract killer. If she receives a name that is not on her list, she consults a spiritual advisor that she trusts to get permission for the job. In the first novel, she receives such a name and returns to the Buddhist nunnery where she healed from her trauma in Afghanistan. They’ve given her a nickname there: Arjuna.

Rainey receives permission and takes the job. Warned not to make a martyr of a corrupt president (her target), she must stop a world-class rival assassin so she can create the illusion of a natural death. But to get close to the villain-in-chief, she’ll have to elude the evil soldiers who made her what she is today—a soldier who has risen from death with a divine mission.

Does she kill the president in the end? Or does he really die of natural causes? You’ll have to read the book to find out.

But the other question? Can deadly force ever be the correct, spiritual choice? There I can get off scot free. I write fiction. We storytellers explore questions. We don’t answer them.

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10 thoughts on “Is There a Right Use of Deadly Force? By Theresa Crater

  1. Theresa Crater says:

    I found something I’d been looking for after I sent this blog in. Here it is: Christian writer and Inkling C.S. Lewis considers this question in Perelanda. Professor Ransom arrives in a pristine world, untouched by human hands. After enjoying this oceanic paradise, he sees Weston’s ship fall from the sky. Weston proceeds to walk down the beautiful, untouched beach and mutilate small frogs, leaving them strewn in his wake. As he continues to spread devastation in this dreamland, Ransom reasons, cajoles and begs Weston to change. Ransom finally realizes he must fight him. The bookish Ransom is afraid, but attacks Weston and wins the fight. Weston flees. After a prolonged chase, Ransom at last throws Ransom into a volcano, killing him.

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  2. Saleena Karim says:

    Thanks Theresa for your most interesting article. It was especially interesting for me as a VF writer whose story happens to feature deadly force used by at least two characters who are otherwise enlightened. You’re quite right to say that we as storytellers can only really explore these questions. Our characters can and will represent the various shades of opinions, not all of them clear cut.

    I don’t think VF is necessarily all going to be totally free of violence. In fact arguably, since the primary feature of VF is the expansion of human consciousness, it must invariably address the dark side of humanity as well.

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  3. margaretduarte says:

    Your article left me with a lot to think about, Theresa. As do some of the other books you’ve written that I’ve read. I’m on the fence on this issue. Can every assassin justify his or her mission in some way, at least a way that encourages continued murder in the name of justice? From whom or what do they get their spiritual advice? When and where does it end?

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  4. Allysha Lavino says:

    What a great inquiry, Theresa! I love the way you bring it back to the ancient texts and stories. Certainly, the theme of applying violence has coloured human history and development for the last 5000 years at least. I’m intrigued to see how you handle it. My new series is tending in the other direction. What does life look like if we stand up but refuse to fight? These are fabulous questions for our times! … Questions humans need to be asking at this important crossroads 💜✨

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  5. Jodine Turner says:

    I agree, Theresa. To transform we must face our shadow selves, our dark sides both personally and collectively. You bring up important issues we must face. And this current crises dredges up so much we can contemplate and change.

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  6. Eleni Papanou says:

    This is a very intriguing concept and one that is certainly challenging to explore as a writer. It’s always interesting to hear other authors discuss this topic. I agree with Saleena. I think the representation of the dark side of humanity in visionary fiction is important. We all go through dark periods in our lives, and I think seeing our characters evolve through their struggles makes them more relatable. I especially appreciate the thought process that brought you into your story and how you related it to the Bhagavad Gita. The Buddha also never directly answered a question, which led the seeker to answer the question through her own quest. It’s the struggle, which to me is akin to Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey, that leads the protagonist through a series of trials that are challenging and tempting. In the end, the hero meets with success. Of course, that doesn’t happen in every story. Admittedly, I’m a bit of a romantic!

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