Monday, January 31, 2005

Is torture OK?

Bev's blog raises an important issue:

"Because today is also a day Christians in America need to speak up. We need to demand to know if the horrific conduct at Gitmo recently reported by the Associated Press is true. Did American women sexually humiliate Muslim men to gain information? If it is true, we need to abhor and condemn it. We need to be alarmed that our fellow countrymen and women would stoop so low as to shame grown men into being afraid to pray."

Here is the response I posted at her site:

"Hi, this is my first visit to your blog.

I am not ready to condemn Gitmo. I'm sure we all agree there was a major problem at Abu Gharib. I find it hard to draw the line on prisoner interrogation techniques.

Remember these people are most likely hardened terrorists, willing to die to destroy us. It is quite difficult to get them to give out valuable information, let alone abandon their "death cult" philosophy. The information they have could save untold lives.

You may be right, but you haven't convinced me yet. One of the things that make me hesitate to condemn is the Bible clearly depicts Hell as a place of eternal torture for those who have rejected his (update God's) authority. I am deadly serious, Christ is the ultimate torturer. I grant that we are not God and cannot take this authority up on our own; but I believe it is possible that God has called Bush and America to this war and He accepts the terrible methods we must use to gain the victory. (Or maybe not.)"

I'll update this if she responds.


Beverly Choate Dowdy said...

There are many dimensions to the discussion you began on my blog. The concept of Christ--the eternal torturer begs more consideration. Check out this commentary by a friend of mine, Greg Taylor, if you are interested in more thoughts on the nature of the afterlife and Christ.

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Jonathan said...

Hi Peter,

This is an interesting question and a thoughtful post. Here are my thoughts on the torture question.

1. It is important to establish that the judgment described in scripture is a response to humans who chose sin over God. In this world we cannot experience total separation from God, but my understanding is that hell is a place of absolute separation from God. The violence described there is not God torturing evil but evil torturing itself. (Possibly I am wrong about this, but on first thought this is how I’d describe it.) God does indeed obliterate evil, but not in a pulling-out-fingernails kind of way. Even when God judges in the OT (Sodom, Egypt, David’s Israel, etc.) violence is generally sudden and total. As you’ve noticed, such “holocausts” are at God’s initiative, and we are not given the authority to instigate such total judgment.

2. Scripture also provides a sort of proportionality about violence. I used to think an “eye for an eye” was about vengeance, but I now understand it as an improvement on traditional societies (“a life for an eye”). The punishment for terrorism is not torture.

3. I would say that torture is also something that scripture simply does not propose for human justice. Presumably there are cases where it would have been tempting. If it was not used for the exodus or during the dynasties, and it is hard to see God encouraging us to use it.

It also seems pretty clear to me that American torture has been low-grade sadism and not justified, life-and-death interrogation. Everything I’ve seen says America is just terribly bad at state building and that it does not play well with neighbors. I think it is an overstatement to say that “Thoughout history there has never been a dominion as benevolent as America.” Remember, America had state-sponsored segregation until 40 years ago. It has fought some just wars, but also many unjust wars (Phillipines, sponsorship of regimes in South America, Africa, etc.). These actions influence millions of lives, and they have usually been done in a very manipulative, real politics approach. Sometimes there is a humanitarian aspect to our policy, but it is very inconsistent.

Just my two cents…