On torture

21 02 2011

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I found this via the Western Confucian. It seems to me that one cannot speak of the civilization that we have in comparison to civilizations past and call what they had then barbarism. After all, did they have such large portions of their society either incarcerated or formerly incarcerated? And of course, the above link shows that the idea of “at least we don’t torture people” to be a lie. The fact that we incarcerate people for years on end and have them terrorized in such ways is a torture unique in and of itself. Compared to that, a good flogging or caning seems civilized.

Much has been made in the Catholic Church in this country regarding the instrinsically evil nature of torture. While the Church should no doubt be applauded for such a stance, many pundits use it to wash their hands of the actual realities of the prison-industrial complex in this country. If we are going to obsess over such practices as waterboarding of foreign terrorists yet say nothing of repeated gang rapes of prisoners within our own borders, at least we shouldn’t complain if people accuse us of being inconsistent. All we are doing is using our moralistic stance to shield ourselves from the actual realities of our situation. And as this condition is often the result of government and social policy (the “war on drugs”, the economic abandonment of the ghetto by industry, etc.), it might as well be an atrocity perpetrated by the state.

On the other hand, I don’t buy the whole argument that, from a moral theological perspective, torture is “intrinsically evil”. My first reply would be, “since when?” 1993? 1945? As the Catholic Church was supportive of many forms of torture, right under the noses of moral theologians who we now respect in many other ethical issues, one wonders what makes us so smart to see things that they didn’t. If we argue that the Catholic Church could get torture so wrong for so many years, we can only wonder what else it may have gotten wrong. On the other (other) hand, I don’t see anything in any theological teaching (prior to the last fifty years) that says the the State has no right to punitive action against the bodies of its subjects. For me, this seems the case of the Church playing catch-up with the values of the secular Enlightenment (though one must concede that those values were distilled from Christian principles, and many Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment ideologies haven’t been particularly enlightened). For me, I am thankful that the Church doesn’t defend torture, but I think this is a case of secular ideology schooling the Church on how to be civilized.



5 responses

23 02 2011

Arturo: For me, this seems the case of the Church playing catch-up with the values of the secular Enlightenment. […] For me, I am thankful that the Church doesn’t defend torture, but I think this is a case of secular ideology schooling the Church on how to be civilized. (my brackets)

Catch-up? More like the Church has stalled-out on its atonement for the historical tortures committed in the name of Holy Mother Church. Dignitatis Humanae and Nostra Aetate were mere post-Enlightened blips in Holy Mother’s continual denial of the Church’s historic sanction of violence through a purposeful distortion of the Evangelists and handy contortions of patristic texts.

I’ll be the first to say that the Novus Ordo liturgy should go the way of New Coke or Crystal Pepsi. Not a fan, though I must confess that it’s valid. However, I’m disgusted that Pope Benedict would even countenance sitting at table with the SSPX given their bald anti-Semitism. The Vatican’s willingness to talk implies that traditional Catholic liturgy and observance must be tethered to a salutary interpretation of historic pogrom and theocide. I have been booted from traditional blogs for even hinting that support for the SSPX is a vote for moral regression and the ratification of tortures committed in the name of “God” (perhaps a satan or a jinn, but not the God I worship.)

An just and observant traditional Catholic life must recognize that the (post)-post-Enlightened notions of atonement and institutional reparation for past *cides uplifts, rather than degrades, the salutary piety that flows from ancient worship. A Catholic that implicitly confirms the horrors of the past for political expediency has placed him or herself at diametrical odds with the ideals of Enlightened people.

21 02 2011
A Sinner

My dad, a liberal secularist, but a pragmatist, always says, “Oh sure, I’m against torture. Except if some creep had hidden one my kids somewhere and they were going to die if we didn’t find out where in time.”

And I think most people feel the same way “secretly,” even if they won’t say it in public.

Like mutilation, it seems that inflicting pain on the body or part of the body can be justified for the good of the whole. And, like killing in self-defense, it seems like the State is considered a juridical person for these purposes too.

I think it’s a slippery slope, and torturing for “intelligence” purposes can be very suspect. But if a guy is holding someone I love somewhere and they’re going to die if we don’t shock this guy a few times or dunk him in water to make him talk…you better believe I’m going to support that!

21 02 2011
21 02 2011
Arturo Vasquez

I am pretty sure people were tortured in order to admit that they were heretics. And of course, there was the trial by ordeal, but that goes even further back…

21 02 2011

The big difference between torture then and now is that it firmly moved to not being under the pretense of judicial action. Whatever one thinks of the rare burning of the heretic by the state, it was at least done under the pretense of justice. In the modern state it has moved pretty much exclusively to the purview of intelligence agencies.

Yes, our prison system is absolutely ridiculous in scope and size.

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