March 29, 2010

Moral clarity

Or the lack thereof.

I am continually stunned by those who would know better defending torture. It is a long rant on this blog, but still true. I was told today by someone who works with a ministry for college kids that torture is difficult to defend, and he would not want to be a part of it himself, but thinks that we have to respond in kind to people who would behead reporters. "Our government has to fight by the same rules to defeat this enemy" is his essential argument.

Missing, and seemingly unknown are the numbers of people tortured by our government who are not known to be KSM or someone of his stature. Some were, as we know, in the wrong place at the wrong time and turned in by a rival leader. Missing is the knowledge that these techniques were first honed in the KGB torture rooms to elicit false confessions for show trials. (In fact he assumes that torture works and is necessary). And of course, missing is the great elephant in the room of defining your morality by those who commit evil acts. As long as we are better than people who behead captives, we are good?

These Christians can condemn the Affordable Care Act with great fanfare, btw, but can only seem to suggest that they would prefer to not actually waterboard the suspected terrorist as that would not be ethical. Here, you do it.

In fact, it seems that for many, the issue of torture is one they have not really thought about. It is outside their moral/ethical framework. They have debated whether gossip is a sin or if taking that pen from work constitutes "theft," and of course can speak firmly about the various types of sexual sins. But asking them if shackling a person to a D-ring in the floor with both hands and feet in a manner that does not allow the person to either lay down or straighten up--to ask them if that is moral or torture? Well, maybe we have to do that because these are really awful people. But I haven't really thought about it that much. They can quote OT passages to condemn homosexuality, but can't really question the corporate raider's morality, because that is "not for me to judge." Torture? Wrong when done by others. Greed? Redefined so to exclude any of us.

If Christian ethics can condone this, is there such a thing as Christian ethics? If it can be set aside this selectively, what is the point?


Anonymous said...
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Monk-in-Training said...

Torture is intrinsic moral evil, you can not do this without not only sinning against the imageo deo in the person you are torturing, but against your own soul. I think that is one of the deepest wrongs in this issue, ordering our soldiers to corrode their souls in such a way.

Where do these people who advocate the use of torture think the torturers will end up? These soul wounded men and women will be back in our society, and Lord only knows how the pain of what they did will work out in their lives over the years.

Torture is a thing that is wrong in itself, and can never be justified.

Br. James Patrick

steves said...

Streak, I don't know what the disconnect is, but it sounds like you have had more face to face discussions on this topic. Most of mine have been on-line. Most of the Christians I personally know are either against torture or at least not torture cheer leaders.

Of the discussions/arguments I have had on Christian forums, there does seem to be issues I just can't explain. It is, as you say, something that many have not really thought through. I also find it puzzling that some can spend more time talking about whether it is proper for a married person to have lunch with a co-worker of the opposite sex or if people should get a tatoo, but torture get little attention.

With others, they seem to think it is justified. To them it seems to be a part of war, which is justified in some cases. It is "self-defense." These people also seem to be the ones that are ok with the death penalty.

Streak said...

I wonder if these trolls look as dumb as they sound? Of course that is impossible.

Anyway. Monk, I could not agree more. God only knows what happens to those who torture. But as I noted in my post, so many Christians feel enough moral twinge to not want to do it, but not enough to actually say that our government should not. It is, quite frankly, the most cowardly approach. "I can't do it, but you can and I will look away and pat myself on the back."

Steve, to be fair, my conversations have been online as well, but with people I actually know, or knew in a different life. And the one thing that has become crystal clear to me over the years is that for conservative Christians, their faith applies to only part of life. The rest is up to their cultural, ethnic, and class bias. We saw that in the Pew Research polling on torture. 60% of white evangelicals supported torture and said that they based that on their common sense. When the question was framed in light of their faith, the support for torture dropped. Evangelicals are not being urged or taught to actually see the world through their faith and grapple with those questions. The WWJD craze didn't stick, in other words.

Worse, in my mind, is that many of those conservative Christians believe they vote based on moral values and actually do frame all of their decisions through their faith.

leighton said...

Streak, I would say that since the primary goal of WWJD was to increase the visibility of evangelicals in U.S. culture, it did what it was designed to do. I'm not convinced that the thought of actually changing anyone's behavior was ever taken seriously by the promoters.

It seems to be a sickness of empires that prescriptive values are rewritten to be descriptive in order to drum up support for further power grabs. Thus, citizens affirm that the U.S. is a bastion of justice and liberty, rather than being compelled by conscience to make it more just and more equitable. If you believe Yoder, Christian churches have had this problem roughly since Constantine. There have been many notable exceptions, but evangelicals in the U.S. are not among them.

Streak said...

Leighton, I think you raise several interesting points, and some you have raised before. One point that comes through is how much my own assumptions are still to see stuff like the WWJD as at least partially earnest. Even though I saw the consumption angle, I assumed better intentions.

The exceptionalism issue is another one that I think deserves more thought. That assumption is so embedded, and especially so in the evangelical mind, that seeing the US for what it is is very hard to do.

leighton said...

Streak, there is definitely sincerity among the rank and file, who form the majority of evangelicals. But the program coordinators chose methods that most half aware people could see would (1) maximize evangelicals' public exposure and (2) minimize long-term effects on individual bracelet wearers. They may not be mustache-twirling villains (though if they have ties to places like C-Street, I wouldn't bet on their ignorance). But there is a lack of social awareness that I think rises to the level of serious moral failing, given the amount of influence they wield.