Christian View of Torture

Thanks to Perry for the links- he’s the  good man of my friend Kim C, whom I met via our blogs (the site where she’s currently not blogging is ‘In a Shoe’).

While some of the ‘anti-torture’ rhetoric is unbelievably silly (don’t yell at them?  Really?), and some is irrelevant (it doesn’t always produce good info?  What interrogation method does?)- the defenses are nothing to boast about either.

They seem to boil down to pragmatism, or utilitarianism, and Christians are to have a much longer view in mind.

I’ve read the defenses. They appeal to a side of me I am not proud of.  I’ve been reading two different articles this morning, and they have me thinking.

There’s this:

Torture is terrorism. You cannot be pro-life and defend torture. A very important book on this topic is (from Mercer University Press) “Religious Faith, Toerture And Our National Soul.” Different chapters by different authors. Excellent.

Dr. R.J. Rushdoony, in a piece titled “Justice and Torture”, in “Roots of Reconstruction,” says:

“…In terms of God’s law, thus, even a God-established confession must have the corroboration of evidences. Clearly, confession in itself had no real standing in Biblical law. In this respect, Biblical law preserves the person of the suspect with all the respect due to one created in the image of God.


According to George Horowitz, in his influential study, The Spirit of Jewish Law…because a confession was in admissible as evidence, torture was not and could not be used. This preserved the person of the accused from torture, the third degree, or any other like method of extracting a confession. It meant that justice required evidence gained by lawful means.


Read the rest, linked above.

And this, which begins:

In the 4th Volume of his History of the Christian Church, Philip Schaff devotes a chapter to the discussion of torture. Professor Schaff is wholly opposed to the use of torture in order to extract information or obtain a confession of guilt, and it is clear that he believes the best of Christian thought is also opposed to it. However, Prof. Schaff freely admits the church’s failings on this point. He begins with the ancient history of torture, moves through the early church and middle ages, and then concludes with the 18th and 19th Centuries.

It is an informative and not lengthy read.


I understand how we get there- we are desperately afraid, desiring to stop the next attack, to save our people.  Would I be opposed to torturing somebody who had information that could prevent a certain known brutal and heinous attack on my daughters?  I confess I could probably apply the hot irons, knives, bamboo splinters and other instruments of pain myself and in a frenzied rage if I were confronted with that situation.  I pray God I never, ever am, because I do not believe that would be the best part of myself.  The desire to protect my children is nothing to be ashamed of, but it’s the ‘at any cost’ side that is questionable.  Nor do I think the humbled admission that I would personally attempt to tear somebody apart limb from limb, with my teeth if I thought it would protect my children, is a good standard upon which to judge right from wrong.

We often are asked this hypothetical question- what if you knew it could save lives, would you waterboard this man? Would it be okay for somebody else to waterboard this man to save lives?  And we are supposed to answer yes.  But let’s take this hypothetical question game and play it out a little further.   How far would we go?  Is it okay to cut off his fingers? If not, why not?  We’re saving lives.    Is it okay to rape his child in front of him to get him to talk? If not, why not?  We’re saving lives, after all.    Are there limits?  Where are they?  Why there?

The thing is…. well.  There’s not just one thing.

We were told that only 3 people were subjected to a specific torture here, three well known terrorists known for a fact to have specific information that we needed that would save lives (and if we weren’t told that specifically, it was definitely implied).  and now that turns out to be highly unlikely to be true, and we’re just talking about waterboarding.

Other acts of torture left at least one person dead, and he turned out to be a case of mistaken identity.

The torture report, flawed political document that it is, reveals that our government lied to us, deliberately, often, repeatedly, to hide more brutal methods of interrogation than voters wish to sanction.  And it’s still lying to us, keeping secrets, redacting information.

I can’t help but think that if your job is to brutally mistreat others, or to protect those whose job is essentially educated, deliberate brutality, that cannot help but coarsen your attitude toward other people- including the anonymous faces you allegedly work for, Joe and Jane Taxpayer, and pretty soon the people who look guilty to you make up a larger and larger group.

I also have this sense that even if torture saves lives sometimes (and I am totally willing to conced that it probably does), is it ever at too high a cost?

It not only coarsens your attitude, it coarsens your soul, and eventually the national soul.  What are we protecting and preserving in the end?  The land of the free, respect for human rights, like life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, due process, the Rule of Law?  Or just… us.  If protecting the American way requires denying the American Way on our way to totalitarianism, maybe it is not worth protecting.   Isn’t that a cost too high?  And what would be the point of protecting something that you have to destroy in order to ‘protect’ it anyway?


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