Torture

I have several topics of interest I hope to post about in the next week or so – health care being at the top of the list and what I had intended to blog about today, but then I read the editorial that Cal Thomas had in today’s paper about torture. I have to be honest, I have been way out of touch with things in the media lately (that must account for the peace that I have felt over the past few days), and have just heard a piece here and there in regards to the big debate about torture and all that has come with that. Just another partisan battle for the ages.

I guess it’s because I am a glutton for punishment, but for the most part, I expose myself to more conservative media personalities and outlets than liberal ones. It seems to me that listening to folks you agree with all the time doesn’t do much to help your critical assessment of the world, so I listen to people who drives me nuts. In that spirit, I spent a few minutes over lunch a bit ago watching videos from conservative discussions on the topic of torture mainly from Fox News. I suppose what surprises me (and disappoints me) most in these discussions is to see publicly confessed Christians (Cal Thomas is a Presbyterian from Washington D.C., and I also saw Glenn Beck following his same lines of argument – he’s a Mormon) offer the party byline when it comes to overt matters of morality.

It would be my hope that something like the possible torture by the United States government would help expose the idolatrous relationship that so many Christians have with their state. Much of the time the patriotism that has invaded the faith of so many Christ-followers sits idly by as they pledge allegiance to their flag, sing the National Anthem before their sporting events, and sport their “God Bless the USA” bumper stickers on the back of their SUVs – seemingly harmless events. I’m the first to say that seeing one’s faith through the cataract of post-Constantinian Christendom, the aforementioned actions are difficult to give much critical attention to. This realm of life espouses such incredible passion and fervor that seldom do these issues ever leave the level of passion to a place where critical self-examination can take place.

Perhaps you don’t see the harm in pledging your allegiance to a flag. Maybe you believe the United States is the great hope of the world (an aside note: I just finished reading Captain America and the Crusade Against Evil which does a great job of illustrating how the “Captain America complex” has dominated the pages of American history where her politicians, leaders, and public-at-large has seen the America in the role as super hero: never guilty, but falsely accused; never the provoker, but always the provoked; never fully appreciated for what she means to the world; always working from the omniscient presence – “I’ll save you even though you don’t realize you need saved.” They do a fantastic job of showing how this fautly logic has driven the country’s foreign policy since its inception and how the current chlallenges faced in the “war on terrorism” are the same challenges that faced the U.S. in the Cold War, Vietnam, and on back through history) but surely the sight or thought of your nation’s government toturing criminals delivers you a bit of an ethical quandry.

Charles Sheldon suggested we ask, “What would Jesus do?” That, apparently, only applies to personal matters of morality. We allow governments to operate under their own rules of engagement. It’s different for them, right? Well, that’s the thing: a lot of folks are having to ask that question now. Is that right? Jesus would never torture anyone. Jesus was tortured. How can we sit back and, even for one moment, for one criminal, allow an exception? When does the Bible ever teach that the end justifies the means – especially when we are at war?

I’m tired of conservatives telling me that I just don’t understand. Sean Hannity told me I suffer from a pre-September 11 mentality. I’m the dumb one. I’m the naive one. It’s one thing for liberals and conservatives to banter this stuff back and forth. It’s entirely something else when I Christian can idly stand by and join the conversation without maintaining their sense of uniqueness – holiness.

My plea for conservative Christians is to acknowledge that fighting violence with violence will not work – it never works. Our government has promised us that greater force is needed to fight off the enemies so that peace will prevail . . . again . . . even though it hasn’t worked before . . . even when we dropped two atomic bombs and killed thousands of innocent people in Japan. The terrorists killed 3,000 people in the United States, and we have killed more than ten-fold in civilians in two other nations. When will it end? We should expect this faith in the empire from those without hope, but from people with faith in Jesus? Those pulling triggers and dropping bombs will always be closer to the soldiers killing Christ than the innocent one on the cross.

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8 thoughts on “Torture

  1. I won’t address everything in your post — just the last paragraph.I believe war (violence)IS sometimes necessary. You say “it never works.” I disagree. Will it succeed in completely eradicating violence from the earth? No. Nothing will — the world is polluted by sin.But what about World War 2? What if no one had stood up (using violence) against Germany and Japan? What would have happened to innocent people in Europe, England, North Africa, Russia, China, and the Philippines? How many more Jewish people would have been slaughtered in Germany and Eastern Europe? How many people would have been forced to live under tyranny and oppression?Yes, many people were killed when the atomic bombs were dropped. But do you realize how many more American and Japanese military as well as Japanese civilians would have been killed if the war hadn’t ended then and there?Few people would say war is a good thing or that violence should be the first option. But there are worse things than war. Things like oppression. And slavery. And genocide. If war can help end such things — as it did in WW2 — then it is necessary.

  2. Thanks for the post, Jeff, and I think you hit at the real source of divergence in our thinking. We can ramble on and on about this war or that strategy, but it is at its core, about the redemptive nature of violence – something I do not believe in. I will grant you that the WWII example is one of the more difficult to maneuver. It was a challenge to pacifist hero Dietrich Bonhoeffer. [See http://speakingoffaith.publicradio.org/programs/bonhoeffer/particulars.shtml%5D for a better treatment. Bonhoeffer, seeing the horrors of Hitler firsthand in his native Germany, uncovered a group seeking to assassinate the leader of the Third Reich. They got as far as placing a bomb under his desk, which he uncovered at the last minute. Hitler, uncovering the plot before he was killed, was affirmed all the more of his God-led mission. While it may be an extreme exception, I think it is a story worthy of reflection.The basic divergence in thought here is that, for you, the end (ridding the world of a specific horrific evil) justifies the means (violence). So, in WWII, dropping the atomic bombs was justified due to the evil it eradicated (both present and future). [I’m putting words in your mouth, so if I’m overgeneralizing, correct me :-)] A sobering realistic look at the horrors of the A-bomb’s devastation must give any Christian reason to pause and asking for His forgiveness that man had once again constructed Babel (see: http://www.thewe.cc/weplanet/news/asia/japan/hiroshima_cover_up.htm)This is really about our understanding of the sovereignty of God in history. First of all, it should be said that a pacifist cannot assault the end result of war (freedom of African Americans due to the Civil War, the end of Naziism due to WWII) – the end result is not the case of discussion, it is the means. I do not believe, had A-bombs not fallen on Japan, the result would have been as grim as you preclude. I cannot find the reference, but it has been argued by high-ranking military officials serving at the time, the A-bombs were not necessary. But that’s an aside. I believe that God is in control of history. It is not my role. He may use the military of nations. He may use violence (he did in the OT, to be sure). But I believe the place of the Christian is outside of that realm. Neither of us can picture Jesus in the military (I can’t imagine you could). I can’t imagine Jesus flying the Enola Gay. So, what are we to make of that? Did Jesus simply come to offer a loving example of a personal moral life with nothing bearing on the larger sociological picture? I believe we must be consistent here. Jesus never upholds violence as a means, how can we?

  3. Hey manGreat thoughts. I don't know if you caught this engagement on torture, but I thought it was a pretty good one between Jon Stewart and Cliff May on the Daily Show. Very little of the dialogue made it "on air" because it ran long, but the unedited version is available online at the link below. Fair warning for those who get offended at such things…there is a little profanity. The interview is in 3 parts and a link should appear at the end of each clip to take you to the next one.http://www.thedailyshow.com/video/index.jhtml?videoId=226121&title=cliff-may-unedited-interviewAE

  4. Interesting post…it seems to follow the reasoning that war and violence are ALWAYS wrong which is hardly the case. War and violence should be used as a last resort and after all available options have been exhausted. As you know the Bible ends with Jesus, after giving people many opportunities to get right, comes back, and according to Revelation, a lot of people are going to die when He does. Evil never leaves polietly…It’s one thing to take an honest, critical look at U.S. foreign policy which is loaded with positive, and unfortunately, negative ventures. Its another thing to make a blanket statement about violence always being wrong.

  5. Adam,I’m not going to address your post…we both understand the other’s viewpoint.However, I do want to say that I think your counterpoint to Jeff that there was not sufficient justification for using the atomic weapon is a red herring. The point of your post, as I understand it, is that war and violence are wrong and Christians should oppose all warfare. Please correct me if you feel I am mischaracterizing your statements. If that is indeed your point, you are opposed to all use of weapons. Yet you try to point to the most devastating weapon in history to prove your point.There is room for debate on whether the use of atomic weapons was justified even amongst people who believe World War II was justitified. Most people who accept warfare believe that civillian casualties should be prevented as much as possible. Pointing to the atomic bomb and the high civillian casualty rate does not prove your underlying point. As warfare gets more advanced and the military is able to be more precise and surgical, it becomes more difficult to point to the atomic bomb, and many other practices from WWII, as examples of why warfare is wrong.On another note, here is something to consider regarding the two atomic bombs used against Japan. I think our own nation/people are more restrained from engaging in warfare b/c of the bombs. We’re as scared as H**l as anyone of having such a weapon used against one of our own cities. Everyone, knowing the effects of two technologically crude weapons by today’s standards, is more hesitant to engage in warfare than they would be in the absence of nuclear weapons. Mutually assured destruction kept us from war with communist Russia.

  6. Brian . . . for some reason, I am not as well-versed in logic and arguments as you . . . must have been the difference between training in law school versus seminary! ๐Ÿ™‚ You are very correct that the nuclear argument is a very much an additional one . . . I appreciate everyone’s comments and acknowledge this is a minority perspective among Christians in our nation. I hope you can read in these posts not the intent to change your mind, but to explore together some of the difficulties and new ideas in our faith. I tend to overstate my position in these matters not to express malevolence towards anyone, but simply because the alternate opinion is so widely held. America has done much good in the world and has brought about many good works. That should never be lost. However, it also cannot be blindly held that those good works have not come without a great deal of harm and negativity. Martin Luther King Jr. declared in 1967 that the United States is the greatest purveyor of violence in the world. This is something that creates a dilemma for Christians. I suppose the impasse expressed in these posts comes down to the redemptive quality of violence. Can violence be redemptive? Those who answer positively, no doubt, will point to the Old Testament examples of the Israelites invading Canaan – very difficult texts for me. I’ll work on posting some reflections to these soon. To the counter, those who do not see violence as redemptive, will point to Jesus’ example, culminating in his death on the cross where he gives himself over to violence, choosing instead to be the victim of the violence of the state. What I’m saying is that no matter what direction you choose on this matter, there are difficulties to wade through . . . just be sure you are wading through them and not ignoring them (like I do ๐Ÿ™‚ ignoring the massacre of the Canaanites . . . I’ll get there). I also saw that Brian McLaren will have a chapter devoted to this topic in his forthcoming book. Thanks again for the posts.

  7. Quoting Adam; It seems to me that listening to folks you agree with all the time doesn’t do much to help your critical assessment of the world….This is so true. Regardless of the particular topic, the idea that one can read or listen to another perspective is vital in the hope of reaching out to one another for the common good.Alas, the willingness to consider the other is sorely lacking in our political and spiritual discourse.Last Sunday I hear a phrase;”The fish doesn’t know it’s wet”That is humanity, at least until we step outside of what we think we know and firmly believe and try another perspective on for size.I appreciate this post, thank you.

  8. Adam,I understand your posts because I know you. I know the heart and mind that have produced the thoughts you type into your keyboard in this forum. I know the love of God you have that drives your search for the best way to live out the scriptures. And I know you want to share your understanding with others. I know there is no malevolence whatsover in what write and I respect the way you handle subjects with care. [I won’t disagree with you that you sometimes overstate your case. ;)]I want you to know that your writing has influenced me. I am much more disengaged from politics than I used to be and that is at least partially due to some of your writing. And I try to make sure my attitudes about politics/country/patriotism are not idolatrous and I also attribute that, to some extent, to your influence.As iron sharpens iron…Please continue to challenge those of us who read your blog and expect us to challenge you back knowing that we all ultimately seek the same ends…the glorification of God.Besides, there are much more important things to argue about…you KNOW that was a bad call at the end of the Fiesta Bowl. ๐Ÿ˜›

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