Saturday, January 23, 2010

In the comboxes below, bilbannon says:
Good luck with your blog though as it develops hopefully away from "intrinsic" as a pertinant concept herein. There are brutal people in the military and I was in it. But I also hold to rare use of torture. Within the past several months a five year old girl was raped and killed in NC and an 11 year old girl was raped and killed in Florida. Both girls trusted the man who was about to rape and kill them. The girl in NC had her hand on his shoulder as he carried her into a hotel room seen on video. And the girl in Florida brought her tooth brush.

Long ago I read of that type of man who raped and then left a child dying in a shack but he would not tell the police where the child was dying. I suspect there are people in this world who could obtain a change of mind in such a person and maybe with pain and I think that would be a very good thing and a virtuous thing approved by God implicitly in Proverbs 20:30 NAB "Evil is cleansed away by bloody lashes, and a scourging to the inmost being." We can assume the passage is not about child discipline.

It seems to me that the quotation from Proverbs does refer to criminal punishment, rather than torture.

I fully admit to being squeamish, and passages such as the above can turn my stomach. And I agree that we must not let our fears or squeamishness - or, for that matter, our desire for vengeance - cloud our thinking on doctrinal or moral issues. Hence I accept the legitimacy of corporal punishment, even though it is easier for me to receive it than to deliver it.

But torture is not punishment. Torture is, more than any physical assault, a spiritual assault on a person's dignity. Torture does not refer to the amount or degree or kind of pain inflicted, but to the manner of inflicting it: in such a way that denies the humanity of the prisoner.

We do not live in an ideal world, and I do not know what an "ideal" interrogation would look like. But I do know that our government has condoned torture as a matter of policy under the previous administration, and so far as I know has not removed that policy in the current administration. Can we at least agree that this policy is horrific and unjust?

Can we agree that even those examples given above, the kidnappers and rapists who seem to do all they can to deny their own humanity, ultimately remain human beings? Isn't this why we give them due process of law, and access to legal counsel? Isn't this also why we punish them: to hold them accountable to their responsibility as human beings?


  1. Robert, I like this post. I'd just add that people who pull Old Testament quotes to justify certain things are on a par with those who use God's command to the Israelites to kill every last man, woman, and child in a particular area to justify abortion, or to pull up quotes barring mixed fabrics or the eating of shrimp to justify homosexual acts.

    The thing is, we have two millenia of Christian thought and present magisterial teachings to help us determine what to do. We don't have to scratch our heads and say, for instance, "Well, God commanded total warfare waged against the innocent in the Old Testament, so how can the Church possibly teach that warfare like that is morally evil?" or "Proverbs says to whip the guilty, so how can we say that torture is evil?" We don't have to cherry-pick the Old Testament to find out what the Church teaches. The answers are widely available even to people of average intelligence such as myself, so I remain suspicious of the OT cherry-picking.

  2. Red,

    Agreed: OT cherry picking - like all forms of quoting out of context - leads to bad analysis.

    At the same time, I'm slow to dismiss such passages. For example, I'm still not sure just how the conquest of the Promised Land and the Ban of Destruction squares with Just War theory.

    But, my not knowing doesn't mean that either Scripture or Just War theory is wrong. It only means that I don't know everything.