Entangled Victims: A Misguided Torture Policy

My last post alluded to one of my strongly held convictions; that the manner in which we confront evil circumstances in our lives is of crucial concern to our own spiritual well being. After creating that post I had it reaffirmed as I was browsing about the blogosphere and dropping comments here and there. I'd like to weave these various inspirations together to show that we can easily become entangled victims when confronting evil; as our own chosen tactics often drag us down.

My first stop was to a blog called I Have to Sit Down., where a mother of seven and self proclaimed Lenten Theologian, named Simcha, explained in very clear terms her understanding of how evil is 'not something': actually, it's a 'lack of something'. After considering the Genesis story of 'the fall' she concludes:

"Worst of all, evil convinces you that your new perspective, your new insight, is the way things really are. Once you have the knowledge of evil, it's hard to see anything good."

This is a keen insight: she's telling us that what we have 'gained' by the knowledge of evil is a distortion or privation of 'good'. Since we've all inherited this 'gain/loss' we are now wounded and easily confused. In effect we've inherited 'darkness or sin' which is a 'diminution of the light of Christ'.

My next stop was Postmodern Papist where the author has been consistently speaking up and linking to other posts against the practice of torture. In one of his comments he remarks:

"I'm more and more convinced that the most pressing moral crisis this country faces is not relativism but consequentialism."

Well that sounds important and I think I know what it means; but just to be sure I 'Googled' myself into a crash course in 'consequentialism'; a philosophical construct identified [i.e. labeled] and opposed by Elizabeth Anscombe. [Professor Anscombe was a noted Catholic philosopher and mother of seven (that's two in one post!) who steadfastly promoted Pro-Life causes. She stood up to toast when the Vatican reaffirmed its stand against contraception. She participated in the English version of Operation Rescue and was arrested for defending life.]

I myself am not academically or editorially constrained; so let me characterize (even bend) this school of thought (consequentialism) into a common phrase: the end justifies the means. This is an unwise way of judging our own actions: in fact our actions really don't matter, as long as the outcome is advantageous or has a utility. Prof. Anscombe decried such thinking.

Of course this form of thinking is rampant in our culture today. This thinking (and its cousin utilitarianism) is imperative to what John Paul II termed 'The Culture of Death'. All actions are weighted against a desired end with hardly a thought given to who or what is trampled in the process. Under this system of thought it's easy to justify an abortion…simply look beyond all the actions involved and only consider any desirable end result…let's say for instance…'the goodness of life unencumbered'.

So what of our Nation's 'torture policy'? One way to see this clearly, is to note that no one (other than an unrepentant sadist) sees torture as good in and of itself. It is necessary to suspend our sensibilities, keep it quiet and in the dark, (or record the act then destroy the recording) and hope for a benefit. Again, it overlooks the action and hopes for a good result. Putting any action under light is a great way to test it legitimacy. Even the horror of war is able to be viewed and reviewed. We honor our soldiers and commemorate great battles and struggles. But the act of torture…can we view it and pin medals on those who perform it? Torture simply cannot stand up to the light.

In one of my comments at Postmodern Papist I concluded with this:

"When we oppose the practice of torture we are primarily concerned with the intrinsic evil of the act itself. Though sometimes we're defending those who are corrupt and not innocent, we need to keep in mind (if we're considering this in the light of Christ) that the torturer and his/her supporters are doing much spiritual damage to themselves as well. My spiritual worldview leads me to fight this evil [insert: ALL evils] in a manner that doesn't only consider the result, but also the means and the benefit to all."

This issue of torture (and by extension the battle against terrorism) points out an example of what I was trying to draw out in my last post: namely that we can't give in to the temptation of fighting evil with evil. I'm well aware that it's risky to bring out talk of 'Christlike actions' in a discussion about confronting the 'evil of terrorism': nevertheless when all is said and done, evil can never be eliminated with more evil.

1 comment:

Kyle R. Cupp said...

Are we confronting grave evils in today’s world? Sure, many physical and many spiritual, but as you well point out, it is foolish to do evil for good. Is saving lives worth sacrificing souls? Not to my mind. Yes, we’re up against monstrous evil, but the way I see it is, if the Sermon on the Mount isn’t applicable in hard times of trial and tribulation, then it ain’t much of a moral statement. Praise God, I do believe it applies even when the going gets tough.

Thanks for the links and comments!