h/t to American Papist for linking this great article by my friend Christopher Tollefson on the ethics of torture (he’s against it), and, more importantly, on framing a more intelligent debate about the “questionable areas.”
I haven’t given much thought to the torture question. I’ve followed Mark Shea’s discussion of it, and he’s made a pretty convincing case as far as I’m concerned. I’ve mentioned somewhere on this blog a comparison to the death penalty: even if it’s morally justifiable, a Christian society really should appeal to a higher standard. Chris mentions the following quotation, which I’d never heard before:
as former Vice-President Cheney put it, “we’re not going to win this fight by turning the other cheek.”
Uhh, actually, we’d be more likely to win it if we *did*, in the sense that God favors those who take the moral high ground . That’s not to say we shouldn’t fight, but by taking the moral high ground, we’ll get Divine Protection on our side. Taking the easy out will only lead to destruction.
I am reminded of Thomas Merton’s contention that monks, far from being sheltered from the world, were crucial to the world’s survival. Or Fr. James Gould’s daily Mass homily I heard a few years ago, where he said, “There’s a misconception that priests are the focus of the Church and the laity serve the priests. It’s just the opposite. I am celibate because I am here to support *you*. You do the real work of the Church, and we priests and religious are here to spiritually support you.”
It always strikes me how God’s providence works in my reading. On 9/10/01, I read two things: looking up somethiing for my MA thesis, I reread the section on patriotism in C. S. Lewis’s _The Four Loves_, and, in that section, Lewis addresses Just War theory, saying that we have a right to defend our homes; we do not have a right to vigilantism; similarly, we have a right to defend our countries but not to hunt down the invading country.
The other was an article in the Arlington Catholic Herald that had been sitting there for some time, since shortly before the execution of Timothy McVeigh. The article quoted Cardinals Mahony and McCarrick (even a broken heretic can be right twice a day) warning that the execution of McVeigh, responsible for the then-worst act of terrorism on US Soil, would only create a spiritual rift that perpetuated the cycle of violence .
The next morning was 9/11.
If I live to be 81, I will remember the image of those two readings in that apartment that night.
So, that’s one thing: even if it’s justifiable, it’s still better to take the moral high ground.
Here’s another: a common argument is, “If it’s torture, and it’s wrong, why do we do it to our own soldiers?” The rather lopsided logic of torture proponents in this instance is that the very training we give our soldiers to *resist* torture is somehow evidence that these practices don’t constitute torture. Uh, no. It’s evidence that the US obviously thinks they constitute torture. The difference is that the soldiers are voluntarily allowing themselves to be conditoined to harsh circumstances (more on this a bit later).
Another standard I go by, speaking of Fr. Gould, is the priest who was Fr. Gould’s assistant pastor during the time when I’d attend daily masses offered by his parish. This priest, Fr. Joseph, was from Sudan, and he normally said the evening Mass I attended. One time, he said, “Do not wish for martyrdom. Martyrdom is indeed a blessing, but it is a horrible experience. I was ordained in a class of [I forget how many] men, and, of them, only two of us are still in service as priests. The rest are either dead, or in prison, or in mental hospitals.” He then proceeded to explain, in great detail, the practices the Muslims use on Catholic priests.
When I hear Republicans describing these very same practices, and calling them “enhanced interrogation,” I cringe. As many have said, the United States must necessarily attend a higher standard.
It is amazing how quickly Republicans adopt a “penumbral shadow” mentality when it comes to constitutional and human rights in war time. If such-and-such a reason is worth violating the Bill of Rights or violating the Natural Law, when do we determine another reason?
Again, Rush Limbaugh warned that a stricter post-Janet Jackson FCC could just as easily be turned by a Democratic President to silence conservative speech. The basic principle of conservatism is to keep power out of the hands of the government, because Lord Acton was right.
If they can wiretap suspected terrorists, they can wiretap anyone they accuse of being a suspected terrorists. This is *exactly* why the Bill of Rights exists: the British would do horrible things to anyone they suspected of sympathizing with the Revolutionary cause.
Advocates of torture immediately throw this one out: “What if there’s going to be a bomb going off, and you have a suspect who knows where it is, and he won’t talk?”
What ever happened to truth drugs? What good does beating the guy do? Does beating anyone ever make them talk, at least truthfully? No. It makes them obstinate and angry.
The whole reason they try to justify this is the staunch moral convictoins of Islamists, and how they are immune to most other forms of coercion. Yes, and they’re ready to be martyrs.
We exalt our Catholic martyrs, who refused to bow to Roman pressures to deny Christ in the face of horrible tortures. How can any Catholic say that torture makes an effective tool for extracting information?
If there’s going to be a terrorist act, and you do everything possible–within moral boundaries–to prevent it, then you’ve done everything morally possible. If the terrorist act happens, you don’t want that evil compounded by the evil you’ve committed trying to stop it? And why not have faith in God to reward your actions by intervening to prevent the act from happening?
That said, I do agree with those who question the boundaries between torture and “coercion.” I mean, if having to listen to loud rap music is torture (not that I don’t think it is), can I have certain drivers arrested for violating UN human rights treaties?
What about a slap on the face?
It parallels the whole question of corporal punishment and parenting, as well as corporal punishments of prisoners, and self-mortification in the spiritual life. Getting back to Chris’s piece, this is where he leaves off, insisting that we need to reform the level of the dialogue on this issue so we can intelligently discuss these grey areas.
Liberals make a big deal about the “violence” in the Old Testament, but the point of the wars in the Old Testament is not the violence: it’s the importance of trusting God. If Israel had followed worldly wisdom the way that “Christian” Americans do when it comes to wartime and other crises, then God would’ve wiped them out centuries before Jesus.
And, to the extent that God *did* wipe them out, it was because they adopted worldly accomodations to their moral laws.
When Israel did it God’s way–even if it seemed foolish from worldly eyes–they won.
And that gets me to the point that bothered me in Chris Tollefson’s article, regardless of the rest:
I begin with the following normative claim: human life and health is an intrinsic, and indeed, a basic, human good. That is to say, life and health constitute a fundamental aspect of human well-being; the possibility of the promotion of either provides not just a possibility but an opportunity, an offer of benefit. And the possibility of damage or destruction of either provides not just a possibility, but an evil to be avoided and, insofar as such damage or destruction is willed, a wrong not to be done. The normative principle that can be drawn from this practical truth is that in willing, one should never intend the damage or destruction of the life or health of another human being.
This principle is compatible with acts that will, in fact, damage or destroy human life: the use of force in self-defense, the decay of the body brought about by intense study, or the possibility of ill health consequent upon incarceration as punishment for one’s crimes. For none of these forms of damage need be intended; they are, if willed appropriately, willed only as side effects of some other reasonable activity. By contrast, the destruction of human life in, for example, mercy killing or capital punishment, is intended—willed in each case as a means to some further end: cessation of suffering or justice.
I like his qualifications, which are better than most articles I’ve seen that make this claim.
However, whenever I see a Catholic ethicist say that pursuit of health is an intrinsic good, I have to ask two questions:
1) what about mortifications (Chris addresses this question partially in the second paragraph above)? I’m not just talking about fasting and such, but things like flagellation ? Yes, the wonderful post-Vatican II Church has turned away from such practices, but look what our priests and religoius have to show for it.
Just as it may be OK to induce torture methods on a soldier to train him to resist torture, isn’t it also permissible to “torture” oneself or one’s spiritual subordinate for ascetic purposes?
I know that the more severe penances I impose upon myself, the easier I find it not to sin, as I can feel in my own body a small fraction what Christ felt for my sins, and it motivates me not to sin.
2) How does this correspond with Christ’s claim that those who seek to preserve their lives will lose them? Christ specifically commands us to *reject* attachment to our mortal lives as such.