Pursuing Virtue, Not Clintonism

I think G. K. Chesterton is onto something profound when he says that when you abandon the big laws, you don’t get freedom and you don’t even get anarchy: You get the small laws.
In other words, the paradoxical effect of attempting to be lawless is to become more and more legalistic, to parse words ever more finely, to look for every loophole, excuse, technicality, and microscopic nuance in order to try to show why what you are doing is not really against the law that haunts our heart.
We see it in the kid who carefully tells his mom, “Yes, I had a piece of cake,” while neglecting to mention that the piece consisted of three quarters of the cake. We see it in the memorable words — almost the only memorable words — of a recent president, who pondered what the exact, precise, fine-tuned meaning of the word “is” is. We see it in the closely parsed attempts of people who attempt to find excuses when it comes to their preferred evils; whether it be abortion on the Left or torture on the Right.
The excuses are psychologically necessary because something in our hearts tells us there’s something wrong with beating, drowning, and hanging a defenseless (and sometimes innocent) man. When that man dies of injuries inflicted by interrogators, as some prisoners in our charge have done, we have to rename what we did “enhanced interrogation” in order to avoid looking ourselves in the eye. When we willingly endorse a system that leaves a baby to gasp out her last breaths on a sterile tabletop, we can’t endure having to look at that. So to distract ourselves, we embark on a prolonged search for exact, super-precise legalities that will place a cushiony barrier between our conscience and the crime.
“Does waterboarding rise to the level of torture?” ask ostensibly Christian pundits, oblivious to the fact that we hanged the Imperial Japanese for it, and doubly oblivious to the fact that present Christian defenders of torture are using precisely the microscopically parsed language the Clintonoids deployed eight years ago to avoid impeachment.
“Exactly when does a fetus become a baby?” Nancy Pelosi trots out all her best lawyerly skills to enlist the Church Fathers in splitting ultra-fine hairs about precisely, technically when a child is being torn to pieces and burnt alive and when it’s just a piece of meat.
What all this lawyerly electron microscopy overlooks is that such attempts to tiptoe right up to grave evil are themselves wicked.
Don’t believe it? What would you think of a friend (let’s call him “Bill Clinton”) who is constantly e-mailing you to ask just how far he can go with the hot secretary without it actually crossing the line into, you know, “adultery” (he always puts the word in scare quotes, as though there isn’t really such a thing, and he’s certainly not guilty of it).
He continues:
After all, not all touching is necessarily sexual in nature. And besides, her husband is really a jerk. And just because you kiss somebody doesn’t necessarily mean you mean it in that way. Why, St. Paul says to greet the brethren with a holy kiss! So you could say that I’m just obeying God. And she’s so lonely and frightened right now. I feel like I’m her only friend. And let’s not forget King David. He was a friend to Abigail when her foolish husband acted like a brute and he was rewarded by God for it. And another thing, just how much clothing is “too little” for us to wear around each other? I’m just asking for clarity here!
No. The last thing such questioning seeks is clarity. These — like the vast majority of the “What is torture? What is a baby?” questions — are asked not to find things out, but to keep from finding things out.
 

 

Happily, there is a remedy for all this tergiversation. The straightest, truest highway out of the morass of intellectual darkness caused by the sinful attempt to ask “How much sin can we get away with?” is this: “How do we act virtuously?”
The moment we go from framing the question in terms of trying to bargain our way out of damnation and instead put it in terms of seeking virtue, all the fog disappears. We no longer have to wonder just how close we can tiptoe up to adultery without committing it. We don’t have to endure puzzlement about how near to hypothermia we can push our victim without it being torture. We don’t have to microscopically parse the question, “How near to personhood should our victim be before it’s wrong to burn him alive or tear him apart in his mother’s womb?”
When you are working to be virtuous and not merely trying to get away with something, you don’t do that kind of thing. The discussion begins on a different footing. You ask things like, “How can I love, honor, and cherish my wife and avoid the near occasion of sin?” You seek to interrogate prisoners in a framework of humane treatment and discover that people more readily divulge accurate information to people they trust than to people they hate and fear. You seek to care for women and their children without making it a kill-or-be-killed scenario.
You trust, in short, that Jesus knows what He’s talking about when He tells us, “Seek first the kingdom of God and all these things will be added to you as well.”

 

Mark P. Shea

By

Mark P. Shea is the author of Mary, Mother of the Son and other works. He was a senior editor at Catholic Exchange and is a former columnist for Crisis Magazine.

  • Vince

    “In other words, the paradoxical effect of attempting to be lawless is to become more and more legalistic, to parse words ever more finely, to look for every loophole, excuse, technicality, and microscopic nuance in order to try to show why what you are doing is not really against the law that haunts our heart.”

    Mark, I thought you were revving up to write about the immorality in the form of greed, deception, fraud, misrepresentation, gross negligence, incompetence, etc. that brought about the recent death of the unregulated, irresponsible, and ultimately, fanciful, free-market economy.

  • Ender

    The last thing such questioning seeks is clarity. These — like the vast majority of the “What is torture? What is a baby?” questions — are asked not to find things out, but to keep from finding things out.

    Some questions have answers that are binary: either yes or no, like “does life begin at conception?” You are right that to question this fact is to descend into unanswerable word games over the presumed difference between a human life and a human being where the objective is clearly to find a more convenient answer.

    Other questions, however, have no definitive answer, such as the definition of pornography and, not incidentally, torture. These questions are like asking where in the middle of the Saint Lawrence river do we leave US water and enter Canadian water? The fact is, these questions don’t have precise answers and it is rational to question where the lines should be drawn. This is not to say that people don’t try to play the same sorts of word games with this class of questions to justify the conclusions they want to reach, but there is a fundamental difference between the questions “what is a fetus?” and “what is torture?”

  • Nobody

    “preferred evils; whether it be abortion on the Left or torture on the Right.”

    There is just no moral equivalence! If someone is intent in harming my family the last thought I

  • Kevin

    “In other words, the paradoxical effect of attempting to be lawless is to become more and more legalistic, to parse words ever more finely, to look for every loophole, excuse, technicality, and microscopic nuance in order to try to show why what you are doing is not really against the law that haunts our heart.”

    Mark, I thought you were revving up to write about the immorality in the form of greed, deception, fraud, misrepresentation, gross negligence, incompetence, etc. that brought about the recent death of the unregulated, irresponsible, and ultimately, fanciful, free-market economy.

    There is nothing immoral about the free-market economy. Besides, if the market was truly free, there would be no unjust laws to avoid.

  • Andy

    You wouldn

  • Scott

    Do the people who write article like this actually live by what they write? Or is it a case of “do as I say, not as I do?”

  • Joe Marier

    Can I ask that we not go down the same “what is torture” rabbit hole again? Mark will just parachute in, say “Thanks for proving my point”, and leave.

    I do ask this, though, and I beg that you take the question in good faith. Who called what happened at Bagram and Abu Grahib “enhanced interrogation”? It looks more like the law called them “manifest violations of the Army Field Manual”, and “prosecutable offenses”. Is it fair to lump the case of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, which people have called “enhanced interrogation”, into that?

  • R.C.

    Andy:

    Congratulations. You just did exactly the kind of justification Mark was talking about.

    Repeat after me: You may not do evil so that good will come of it. You may not do evil so that good will come of it. You may not do evil…

    Remember, also, that you may not allow (when you could avoid it) your only begotten Son to be brutally tortured and murdered in pursuit of a great good, even if it’s the salvation of the human race.

    Ahem.

    Lord and God, repeat after me: You may not do evil so that good will come of it. You may not do evil so that good will come of it. You may not do evil…

    That what ya’ meant, Andy?

    (P.S. No blasphemy intended; my point is that your argument is incomplete; the pretense that its conclusions are immediately obvious lends an unworthy snarkiness to your response.)

  • J. M. Walden

    Reading the comments, especially Mr. Marier’s insightful observation, demonstrates that the author’s premise is valid, without the need of Mr. Shea’s ever having to turn up and say so.

    If you can stand before Christ and justify torture, then you are a marvellous sophist indeed.

    If you can do the same with abortion, I’m sure Old Scratch himself will sketch you a mocking bow from his dark throne.

    While folks parse words, nit-pick, yammer on about equivalency, and try to cram morality into political molds, the Protestants (or at least their “sloganeers”) have bested you – What Would Jesus Do?

    Would Jesus waterboard a prisoner?

    Would Jesus approve of abortion?

    I could be wrong, but somehow I think he’d say “NO” to both, and to many more examples of man’s evil to man, besides.

    This is not to say that we shouldn’t use the mind God gave us. Or that reason and thoughtfulness should be left unapplied, but come now, would any of you really wish to try and justify evil to God? Could you euivocate before the Throne? God loves the terrorist as much as the victim; he loves the abortion doctor, the murdered child, and the desperate mother all with the same eternal love.

    While the two evils – torture and abortion – may not be fully morally equivalent, they are both EVIL. Try not to do evil. Why? Because it’s evil.

    On your list of ‘Things To Do’ put “Imitate Christ” at the top and just don’t put “Find Justifications For Evil” on there at all.

    All the best. – JMW

  • Andy

    Remember, also, that you may not allow (when you could avoid it) your only begotten Son to be brutally tortured and murdered in pursuit of a great good, even if it’s the salvation of the human race.

    Are you really comparing arguments for the acceptability of torture to the torture and killing of Jesus?

    How far are you willing to go to justify this?

    Is “allowing something to happen” the same thing as making excuses for it? Your analogy would be better served if you were actually defending the Jews’ and Romans’ actions.

    Also, there’s the glaring point that of course God could make evil into good.

    You and I cannot, and we certainly shouldn’t hope that God justifies our evil like that.

  • Teri

    Mark,
    I liked this article on the whole.
    Abortion is the property of the Left. They bought it; they own it, or so they say, proudly.

    I do have an objection however. Who said that torture was a property of the Right? It’s not. Torture is not a property of the Right; it is the property of the Wrong. I will not defend it and I know most Americans will not defend it, despite the fact that should my son ever be captured by the enemy, they’d use it on him. Our soldiers are trained to survive and excape it as best they can. That means they have already been subjected to it in training. Surviving it is each soldier’s, each person’s, right to self defense.

    I pray every day for all the people who actively fight Terror whether they are Americans, Iraqi Christians, innocent women and children doing their holiday shopping in the market places, people going to work on Wall Street or train passengers in Spain or London, or those out for an evening in Bali, Israel or resorts on the Red Sea, or the many who are killed standing too close to an embassy on the wrong day.

    Terror is torture on a horrific scale. It has got to be fought and defeated!

  • Ender

    If you can stand before Christ and justify torture, then you are a marvellous sophist indeed.

    I might not try to justify the use of torture but I would certainly try to clarify what it is. Given the definition Nobody provided, for example, it is not clear that even waterboarding satisfies the conditions. It is quite clear that loud music, sleep deprivation, and threats do not, despite the fact that many people consider these examples of torture. Nor do I accept that to ask the question is to engage in nit-picking tergiversation. The questions of abortion and torture are fundamentally different in that the former has a single specific answer and the latter does not.

  • Andrew Scales

    When did a barbaric killed ever die from being interrogated by
    American officials. You claim that some in our custody died as
    a result of harsh interrogation tactics. Could you please name
    the source of this information? I did not finish your article
    because if you stretch the truth in one place you will in others.

  • Andy

    Given the definition Nobody provided, for example, it is not clear that even waterboarding satisfies the conditions.

    It’s true. I think “jam a rag down someone’s throat and pour water into their mouths to simulate drowning” is one of the Corporal Works of Mercy, isn’t it? Right after “feed the hungry,” “visit those in prison,” and “beat dissenters with rubber hoses,” right?

  • Joe Marier

    *banging head on desk, repeatedly*

    Mark, I know you’re reading this. Sorry, I tried.

  • Mark Shea

    Do the people who write article like this actually live by what they write? Or is it a case of “do as I say, not as I do?”

    I daresay I’m lousy at pursuing virtue. That doesn’t make our Lord’s words untrue.

    Nobody, Andrew, and others (especially the inimitable RC): thanks for proving my point. (Sorry Joe.) The argument “God tortured Jesus, so torture is A-OK” is an especially twisted bit of moral reasoning from Screwtape’s Department of Theological Research. But, yes, Joe: this sort of stuff does prove precisely my point about the way in which far too many Christians on the Right are willing to justify what Veritatis Splendor call “intrinsically immoral”.

    Aim for virtue, then you won’t accidently torture somebody. You also won’t, by the by, say stupid, blasphemous crap like “Torture and murder are okay sometimes cuz God did it to Jesus.” You may as well say “Infanticide is okay cuz God had the Holy Innocents killed.”

  • Mere Catholic

    God did not “make” the evil that led to the crucifixion of His Son. He allowed it to take place but the distinction is not a small one. Yes, through that evil, Christ suffered and died for us, allowing us our salvation, but the evil belongs entirely to man and not to God. To create a parallel between the Gospel of Christ and the machinations of the state makes neither religious or political sense. Besides, Bushmessiah is no more palatable than Obamamessiah.

  • Joe H

    Waterboarding creates the sensation of being drowned. Along with sleep deprivation, loud music, and other supposedly benign “interrogation techniques”, it causes lasting and sometimes irreparable psychological trauma. Permanently disfiguring a person’s psyche is as bad, if not worse, than doing so to their body. No Christian can justify this in good conscience.

    Psychological torture also includes the most perverse attacks on the psyche, or what torturers believe to be the psyche of the “Muslim male” – being stripped naked in front of females, having the females point and laugh at their genitals, being smeared with menstural blood, being forced to wear women’s underwear on their heads, being forced to simulate sexual acts with other men. How any Christian can justify, let alone engage in this behavior is absolutely beyond me.

    Can we still really ask with a straight face “why they hate us”?

  • BenK

    I must admit, I violate the current dogma when I say this:

    THERE ARE THINGS WORSE THAN DEATH

    A ‘culture of life’ is something of an idol in many present Roman Catholic circles.

    God Himself authorized many kinds of killing; almost all with the words ‘his blood is on his own head.’ In a frail human attempt at justice, the person whom we reasonably believe to be a murderer, a rapist, a witch, an adulterer, an idolater, we are wrong not to execute. The means of execution suggested by God are also not the most gentle, least painful known. There is no attempt at a ‘halal’ killing there.

    So, what does this say about torture? Perhaps we can start with this: we should not torture people whom we could not justly execute. This would seem to be a bright line. Do not torture the innocent, or even those questionably guilty.

    This, we should remember, does not protect enemy combatants. In shooting at a US soldier, for example, a person has just ‘done wrong’ and is no longer innocent.

    Knowing that execution is the final step in the sentence changes the process… no longer is it ‘information for freedom.’ It becomes ‘do your penance before you die by giving up your co-conspirators.’ It becomes ‘as part of making it right with God, and repenting, turn your back on your former allies and pay your victims with information that prevents further death.’

    This is a very different thing than waterboarding a suspect. But I’m sure that some people here will oppose it all the same.

  • Adriana

    A wise friend of mine in Spain told how they made abortion palatable there: by seizing an extreme example – a fourteen year old incest victim carrying a deformed child, and the question “do you want to torture her further by having her carry her pregnancy to term?”

    And after the extreme case was swallowed, then came the routine ones.

    So, when I heard the “ticking bomb” scenario I recognized the tactic – start with the extreme case, and make it palatable when it becomes routine.

    On that basis I am willing to make an equivalence between abortion and torture – they are sold the same way, with the same amount of cynicism, by people who quibble about semantics.

    “Define torture” How Clintonian… Bill must be proud to have so many followers here.

  • Jason

    You also won’t, by the by, say stupid, blasphemous crap like “Torture and murder are okay sometimes cuz God did it to Jesus.” You may as well say “Infanticide is okay cuz God had the Holy Innocents killed.”

    I hate to continue this tangent, but a more appropriate analogy would be God killing (actively killing, not allowing the killing of) the firstborns of every Egyptian household. Indeed, of every household that did not paint lamb’s blood over their doors. This was done, ostensibly, to force Pharoah to do something good. Pharoah refused, so God killed innocent Egyptians.

  • Eric Pavlat

    As the site’s resident English teacher, may I just say that nearly everyone missed the article’s MAIN IDEA.

    That idea is: BE HOLY.

    If you aim for the top, you won’t accidentally scrape against the bottom.

    Instead, everyone is going into side conversations about torture (about which many theologians posting here seem to think they’re better moral interpreters than the Vatican) and abortion.

    It’s extremely troubling to me that here we are on a Catholic site and so many of us seemed to speed read right over the idea that we should be holy.

  • JC

    Scott,

    Do the people who write article like this actually live by what they write? Or is it a case of “do as I say, not as I do?”

    Even “better” than the kind of legalistic sophistries Mark is condemning the column is this classic ad hominem. Jesus said, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone,” not “Let he who is without sin be the fist to promote holiness.”

    Actually, you may be surprised to learn that the actual quotation is, “Do as *they* say and not as *they* do,” and it’s spoken by Jesus of the Pharisees, earnestly, not sarcastically. Jesus is saying, “The fact that the Pharisees don’t practice what they preach does not obviate the content of their preaching.”

  • SWP

    Thank you, Eric, for finally pulling us out of the mire.

    Yes, people, please practice VIRTUE: that includes both temperance AND fortitude, so have the courage to speak or combox your convictions but also temper what you say and how you say it. Justice must go hand in hand with Prudence and being careful about how we seek Justice, so violating human dignity in order to punish those who violate human dignity is not the most prudent path to serving Justice, ergo not the most virtuous Christians we are called to be.

    I will be the first to raise my hand and say that I do not practice Virtue often enough, so I will not demand that Mark Shea be perfect in Virtue– but Hallelujah that someone is reminding us all how much we need Virtue.

    Thank you, Mark, for this article. Based on the comments from your readership, the topic was ripe.

  • JAS

    While I completely agree that the point is being overlooked, I feel that a new, more foundational, question is being posed. Of course we should examine every moment of our lives and strive to live them according to goodness, holiness, vitue, and the like. That is obvious and importatnt.

    The new question is how we can define those “good” actions biblically. Jason makes a great point in his post:

    “I hate to continue this tangent, but a more appropriate analogy would be God killing (actively killing, not allowing the killing of) the firstborns of every Egyptian household. Indeed, of every household that did not paint lamb’s blood over their doors. This was done, ostensibly, to force Pharoah to do something good. Pharoah refused, so God killed innocent Egyptians.”

    For all of us, the killing of innocent children is intrinsically evil. How can we say that? God killed innocent children… This is the tip of a very dangerous iceburg, if you ask me.

    Thank you for your insights and comments.

  • nobody

    Mr. Shea,

    Absent a description on how you personally would handle enemy combatants who possess critical information to help defeat them, I would assume you would read marandi rights to every terrorist and combatant henceforth. (Which would be in conflict with CCC 232smilies/cool.gif

    A disproportionate amount of innocent lives would be lost.

    Mr. Shea, please offer another means of putting an end to Islamic Terrorism (CCC 2309) and specifically how you and/or the Church teachings say how handle enemy combatants possessing critical information.

    Harsh interrogation of enemy combatants:
    >Has given purveyors of terrorism lasting, grave, and certain damage.
    >Has successfully halted more 9/11 type attacks.
    >Is water boarding graver than beheadings, 9/11 like attacks, threatening Israel with destruction, ect.?

    It

  • nobody

    The Just War doctrine is just (CCC 2309); War itself can be described with many transitive verbs including torture.

    Clintonism 101: parsing words.

    Clintonism 102: Being critical of others while offering no alternatives.

    Clintonism 103: Creating false moral equivalences to confuse the masses.

  • nobody

    Yes, someone please describe the oxymoronic

  • Mike

    I can say without qualification that I have neither tortured nor aborted anyone.

  • Ender

    I have seen only one definition of torture in this discussion and it is straight out of Webster. I have never claimed that waterboarding was not torture nor did I say that sleep deprivation, loud music, threats, etc were not torture either. What I said was: they don’t meet the definition. Anyone who claims that these actions constitute torture should at least be able to define what he means by the term.

    So – step up and define torture. Frankly, if you can’t say what the term means you shouldn’t be using it. I’m not claiming that we should use employ torture; I’m just insisting that we define it.

  • Andy

    Ender,

    Let’s turn your challenge around, shall we?

    I challenge you to defend waterboarding, sleep deprivation, and threats as “treating human beings with dignity.”

    We can agree that we should strive for that, can’t we?

  • Richard

    “Any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.”

  • KD

    If we are to assert that the Church has recently taught infallibly that the intentional infliction of severe bodily pain is inherently wrong under all circumstances, are we not ignoring:
    (a) the long and varied history of church teaching on this subject, and
    (b) the requirement that the church not contradict itself in its infallible moral teachings?

    Furthermore, regarding the definition of severe bodily pain: as someone who approves of spanking, am I not required to think about where the line is, so that my spanking is moral and useful, and not immoral and harmful?

  • R.C.

    Folks.

    I don’t support torture.

    Not even waterboarding.

    My point was not that it is supportable.

    My point was that men can reach wrong conclusions on moral questions without thereby being moral imbeciles worthy of scorn and derision.

    In short, I intended to show — by the most extreme example I could conjure — that in a fallen world, when nearly all significant choices take the form of a closely-balanced choice between the lesser of two evils, a man’s duty to conscience can be non-obvious.

    Confronted with such choices, we weep and tremble and yet must choose. Those of us sitting in our armchairs would do well not to belittle those who, in such a place, choose badly.

    I pointed this out once before when someone posted the results of a poll showing that white males in the American South tended to think waterboarding could sometimes be justified.

    Some of the comments in that thread, in reaction, reflected a smug attitude of superiority: (Oh, those dimwitted Southern White Boys, and their love of torture: Do they also tell the prisoners to “squeal like a pig?”) One reaction asserted that the poll results indicated that Southerners were all still slaveowners at heart, because, y’know, the massahs used to torture slaves, and that was in the South, too.

    Perhaps I was over-sensitive, but I thought I detected the same smugness beginning to build, in this thread also. And I believe those feeling of superiority, and that tone of derision, are entirely unwarranted.

    For, some of you say, “Of course torture is never justified; no, not even in a ‘ticking-bomb’ scenario; no, not even when it’s the pain of one known terrorist stacked against the lives of millions; not even then is it justified.”

    But you can articulate no reason why this is so.

    (Or perhaps you can? I know only that no-one here has yet done so.)

    I suspect that the best reason you can give is that which is the only sound reason I can give: “The Church says so.” (“It feels wrong” is not trustworthy logic.)

    And that’s a good reason. As I said, it’s the best I have.

    But of course that’s not the Church’s reason.

    Prior to uttering the “never justified” judgment, the Church herself could not have relied upon that same utterance. Her moral philosophers had to do the “grunt work,” upon which we can so casually rely (and some of us puff up our chests about, as if we’d done the work ourselves).

    They must show why it is preferable that a million (or a billion, or all) people die, or even be tortured endlessly, than that the one person whose knowledge could save them be subjected to extreme but temporary fear of drowning.

    Can you show why, on your own?

    If not, then be cautious about your boasting. The folks who say, “Gee, I hate the thought of it, but perhaps in extreme circumstances, it might be the right thing to do” may not be your moral inferiors. Perhaps you just have the luxury of not taking the question seriously.

  • fbc

    When did a barbaric [sic] killed ever die from being interrogated by American officials. [sic] You claim that some in our custody died as a result of harsh interrogation tactics. Could you please name the source of this information?

    The source would be a radical leftist organization known as “the U.S. Army.”

    Go here: http://tinyurl.com/3opsb

  • Ender

    Any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as …

    Thank you. The UN definition uses the phrase “severe pain”; the Webster definition used “intense pain.” I’m not sure how great a difference this is but in any event neither definition would include things like sleep deprivation, loud music, or even slapping someone around – “techniques” that many consider to be immoral.

    It seems that what some people really object to is the use of any coercive techniques – which may or may not be the proper Christian position. My objective has not been to justify the use of coercion but to distinguish between coercion and torture. If ones objection is to coercion then that is the point to be argued. I am unimpressed with the attempt to win that point by redefining torture to be synonymous with coercion and then simply declaring victory because (sniff) everyone knows torture is immoral.

  • nobody

    Why are we arguing the definition of torture?

    War is a human failure.
    War is hell.
    War is evil.
    War kills the human spirit.

    War in itself is torture.
    There is no such thing as a “virtuous war.”

    Virtuous interrogation amounts to nothing more than,

  • J. M. Walden

    Most folks I know that are happy to find the wavering line between full-on, out-right torture and conscience-deadening coercion are those who are not subject to either technique.

    Sleep deprivation, Mr. Ender, can turn a perfectly sound man into a hallucinating psychopath. Loud music can cause intense emotional and physical disturbance, leading to more serious effects. As for “slapping someone around” – pray go to a womens’ shelter and make your case.

    I agree that “torture” is ambiguous enough not to equal abortion in its immediate moral equivalency, but you seem bound and determined to leave a sense of moral vaguery around torture, and now coercion, that is utterly disheartening.

    Techniques that inflict severe or even just moderate pain and discomfort are BAD. They may be effective, but so are many other horrible, hellish inhumanities. They corrupt the user, pervert his purpose and taint any victory he achieves. They sully and denigrate the society that finds them acceptable.

    My objective, Mr. Ender is not to distinguish between torture and coercion, but to simply point out that both are evil. And coercion can – and has – and will – quickly become torture. Why start down the slippery slope? Define torture all you wish and then, please, undergo – as much as you can – the physical, mental, emotional, and societal effects of everything that your definition precludes, i.e., everything that can be done to you that isn’t “officially” torture.

    You may be striving for lexical or juridical excellency, but in a discussion that seems to seek to find out just how much pain and suffering you can inflict on another human being before you’ve crossed the line, I’d say you’ve stopped striving for Christian excellence.

    I’m a sinner (and a bad one), and I’ll go to my judgement a sinner, as will we all. But I don’t think that I want to explain to God that when I forced a man to go without good sleep for half-a-week, blasted him with loud music, and beat him just a little bit, that I was really doing a good thing, all for the best. It was for the common good, just not the common good of the guy I coerced. It certainly, Lord, fell short of torture. It also fell short of love thy neighbor as thyself.

    -JMW

  • JohnA

    Treating a prisoner humanely is the Christian thing to do. Though then it seems there is really little we can do to interrogate a prisoner. Certainly we can gain his trust and some will tell us what they know. On others this won’t work.
    For those it would seem even the “good cop/bad cop” routine would be immoral as the bad cop would be inflicting some degree of psychological pain on the prisoner. Thus the prisoner is not being treated humanely. Thus little we could practically do. Thoughts?

  • J. M. Walden

    JohnA, I empathize with your question. And though it may be decried, I think the Bad Cop is well named. Treating people inhumanely is bad, even if done for the best reasons. So, do you justify that you indulge in sin by telling yourself that you’re doing the “right thing.”

    Or is the amount of inhumane treatment pertinent, as others above may suggest? Should the bad cop – desperate to save other victims or to bring justice to the dead – merely exhaust and mentally bully his suspect? Is that ok? What if the suspect seems truly heinous and is recalcitrant, perhaps a beating – when weighed against his known or merely suspected crimes – is in order?

    As soon as you start thinly slicing evil into portions that are more easily swallowed, you’ve gone too far.

    Please refer to Mr. Pavlat’s point above.

    In the end, it’s not about perserving ourselves or others for THIS world, but for the next.

  • Ender

    You may be striving for lexical or juridical excellency, but in a discussion that seems to seek to find out just how much pain and suffering you can inflict on another human being before you’ve crossed the line, I’d say you’ve stopped striving for Christian excellence.

    What I have been striving for is an honest discussion of the real issues involved rather than a contrived one centered on torturing the meaning of words. It appears to be coercion of which you disapprove, so that’s what the debate should be about.

    As for myself, I do not oppose coercion per se. I have no problem with subjecting terrorists to some degree of distress – at least to the level to which we expose our own military in their training. Do I look for a line that shouldn’t be crossed? Yes, but that line is somewhat beyond tea and cookies.

  • JohnA

    Mr. Walden,

    I am simply asking the question. I am not in the position to be a good or bad cop. So from a practical standpoint it is not a moral issue for me.
    It merely asks the question of whether any coercion is ever licit. You seem to say none is. That being the case my original statement is true. It is only through non-stressfull question that a prisoner may be interrogated.

  • Jason

    Ender is correct that this discussion (which, of course, shouldn’t be on this particular thread at all, but since it is…) is more properly about coercion, not torture. Those, like J.M. Walden, who state that all coercion is immoral have the burden of proof upon them to show why. It’s not obviously wrong, so let’s start drawing lines. Stating, as you did, “Treating people inhumanely is bad, even if done for the best reasons” is simply an assertion, not a self-evident proof. Or at best, you need to define “inhumanely”.

    Those who really are charged with protecting the safety of others don’t have the luxury of rejecting all coercion as “bad”. It amazes me that, in an era when terrorism is real, when the possibility that information gained through coercive means can save many innocent lives, many people still prefer to treat the issue of coercion as an angels-on-the-head-of-a-pin discussion. These people may someday have to stand before the throne and answer for why they failed those under their protection because they were too compromised by erroneous pacifism to act.

    Finally, Mr. Walden, your challenge to Ender to “Define torture all you wish and then, please, undergo – as much as you can – the physical, mental, emotional, and societal effects of everything that your definition precludes, i.e., everything that can be done to you that isn’t “officially” torture.: is reidiculous, because you leave out the most important part – that of guilt. One should not have to undergo incarceration to support the concept of appropriate puishment, nor should a supporter of capital punishment have to submit to it in order to demonstrate his convictions. We’re talking about someone “guilty” in the sense of deliberately withholding information that could prevent a heinous disaster. You want to avoid all forms of coercion because you’d rather not face them yourself? Wouldn’t we all. That cuts no ice as to the coercion’s intrinsic morality.

  • R.C.

    I’m trying to break this whole topic down in an organized fashion, and failing.

    Previously I posted that people should get off their high-horses (those that were on them, I mean; not everyone was) about this topic where serious examination produces some extreme cases where the “right thing” is not obvious.

    Because of the non-obviousness of those extreme cases, I relied on what I’d heard and been told of Church teaching to achieve any degree of certainty on the matter.

    Now I’m trying to read up. Here’s the Catechism:

    2297 Torture, which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred is contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity.

    2298 In recent times it has become evident that these cruel practices were neither necessary for public order, nor in conformity with the legitimate rights of the human person. On the contrary, these practices led to ones even more degrading. It is necessary to work for their abolition. We must pray for the victims and their tormentors.

    2313 Non-combatants, wounded soldiers, and prisoners must be respected and treated humanely. Actions deliberately contrary to the law of nations and to its universal principles are crimes, as are orders that command such actions. Blind obedience does not suffice to excuse those who carry them out.

    So, “torture is evil, don’t do it.” Okay, fine.

    And yet…yet…we seem so easily to come up with radical scenarios in which torture would seem to be the lesser of two evils! I mean, consider this situation:

    Your prisoner is a member of a small terrorist cell. You don’t know the location of their lair; all you know is that in that lair are the other five members. The cell has stolen a nuclear weapon and has kidnapped some of the U.S. personnel who know how to arm the weapon. These personnel are being held in the lair. The terror cell are planning to detonate the nuke in some metro area. To learn how to arm the weapon, they plan to waterboard the captured personnel, to learn the procedures and codes.

    Your prisoner knows the location of the lair, and is unwilling to tell you. He has resisted all other coercion and the sole remaining option you’re permitted to use is waterboarding. Failing that, the captured U.S. personnel will themselves succumb to interrogation (by waterboarding), give up the codes and procedures, and a nuclear fireball is the likely result. What do you do?

    This is a typical “ticking time bomb” scenario; the sole novelty is that you’re contemplating using waterboarding against one person to save several persons from waterboarding.

    How then to justify a Church teaching against torture, when its implementation leads to more torture?

    I suppose one way to justify the Church teaching is to say that it is an outgrowth of her prophetic gift. That is, perhaps God has revealed to Church teachers that no scenario providing sufficient justification for torture will actually ever happen.

    She is therefore justified giving this sweeping “don’t do it” command, and also justified in not considering whether any squeaky ticking-time-bomb scenarios would qualify as exceptions.

    A stretch, yes. But if anyone has something more well-reasoned to say, I’d be happy to hear it.

  • R.C.

    Two more thoughts about reconciling (real) Church teachings with (imagined) nightmare scenarios:

    The Catechism says:

    2297 Torture, which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred…

    I notice that “extract factual information unrelated to the guilt of the prisoner” is not listed.

    An intentional oversight? Included under “confessions?” Assumed to be understood?

    But for all I know other Church sources elsewhere do specify such “actionable intelligence” scenarios. (If anyone can cite such a source, please do!)

    Here’s another thought:

    It seems to me that the Catechism, and prohibitions against torture in general, tend to assume helplessness on the part of the prisoner. And of course one isn’t allowed to use violence against a helpless prisoner, unless it’s to enact the death penalty (which should be very limited).

    On the other side, the Church does teach a right to self-defense: When one is about to be the victim of a deadly attack, one can defend oneself by force. Now that teaching always assumes that the person against whom one is defending oneself is not a helpless prisoner but rather an assailant who is about to inflict harm on you.

    Is it possible that the “ticking bomb scenario” is complicated because it falls neatly between the “self-defense” category and the “helpless prisoner” category?

    The prisoner in and of himself is helpless: But there’s an attack coming, and he’s using his silence to further that attack. It is the only attack he has left (since his personal arms have been taken from him, and he’s confined). But it is a weapon he still has, and he’s about to use it to inflict serious damage.

    Is that the way to look at it?

    Something tells me “no”; it feels like a distortion of language; a weasel-wording. I’ve no desire to join an “Axis of Weasels.”

    But I thought I’d better raise it here, in case it led anyone else to helpful conclusions.

    Sincerely,

    R.C.

  • nobody

    The “ticking bomb scenario” passes muster because it is supported by triangulating the Just War Doctrine, legitimate self-defense, and capital punishment.

    CCC 2265,2266,2267,2308,2309

    Clearly governments and individuals can have the justification for using the death penalty to defend innocent human lives against an aggressor. Governments can even legitimately preserve public order and safety utilizing capital punishment.

    The Church appears to be void of exact language of legitimate interrogation techniques; but it appears to me to be a small step from the aforementioned that someone who is knowledgeable and/or involved in a scenario of a yet to be completed terroristic plot is an enemy combatant (an aggressor) and subject to harsh penalties.

    R.C. I find it interesting that you picked out one sentence of CCC paragraph 2297 that deals with the various methods of Islam-o-fascism and applied it to the Bush administration. CCC 2297 is talking about the methods of kidnapping, hostage taking, various methods of terrorism, torture, amputations, and mutilations all used to frighten, satisfy hatred, and creating a general reign of terror for sadistic purposes.

    CCC 2297 is not addressing aggressive coercion tactics to defend potentially scores of innocent human lives.

    CCC 2298 also under the Respect for Bodily Integrity heading says torture and cruel practices are not to be used as medicinal punishment purposes like the death penalty can be(2265).

    And Mr. Shea, CCC 2270 says Human Life MUST BE Respected and Protected Absolutely from Conception!

    NO MORAL EQUIVALANCE.

  • Andy

    R.C.,

    I understand that you do not agree with your own arguments for the Orwellian worded “enhanced interrogation,” but allow me address at least this part:

    The Catechism says:

    2297 Torture, which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred…

    I notice that “extract factual information unrelated to the guilt of the prisoner” is not listed.

    An intentional oversight? Included under “confessions?” Assumed to be understood?

    Your own previous post included:

    2313 Non-combatants, wounded soldiers, and prisoners must be respected and treated humanely. Actions deliberately contrary to the law of nations and to its universal principles are crimes, as are orders that command such actions.

    Unlike 2297, the meaning of this is abundantly clear, even for prisoners (explicitly stated). It’s tough to parse the words must be respected and treated humanely to mean anything else. This is only further clarified by the following sentence of 2313. Natural law aside (it shouldn’t be put aside, but it frequently is even in our own country), it’s tough to justify the harm of unarmed prisoners as being a part of our nation’s universal principles, much less God’s.

    Love your neighbor. Just do it.

  • nobody

    If you can execute someone to save innocent lives how is it that can

  • nobody

    Andy, shouldn

  • Andy

    You’re reading far too much into my words, and allying yourself too much with a political party. I’ll never vote for Obama. I might go for McCain, but I’m not made up yet. Not that I need to defend that to you.

    Andy, shouldn

  • Ender

    this discussion (which, of course, shouldn’t be on this particular thread at all, but since it is…) is more properly about coercion, not torture.

    There are three questions on this topic that ought to be separated but have all been jumbled together:

    Is torture ever justifiable?
    Is coercion ever justifiable?
    Is there a line between torture and coercion?

    What I object to in Mr. Shea’s article is that while his condemnation of torture is explicitly stated he (a) defends his position by disparaging those who would even question it, and (b) implicitly rejects coercion by inferring that asking this question is the same as asking about torture. The elimination of coercion also eliminates the need to distinguish between coercion and torture and – voila – all the questions are answered in the negative.

    Unfortunately for this argument, however, I don’t think any case at all can be made that coercion is always inappropriate. It is the underlying nature of plea bargains: “Give up Mr. Big or we’ll put you away for life!” It’s also how we get recalcitrant children to finish their spinach and go do their homework. Now, given that coercion is an honorable tool, it is not only appropriate but necessary to address my third question: where is the line between coercion and torture?

  • nobody

    No, the false premise of Mr. Shea’s argument is that we must choose between baby killing democrats and the torturous republicans. This is so blatantly false and only servers to paralyze Catholic voters.

    I realize I

  • Mark Shea

    …for doing such a bangup job of illustrating everything I’m trying to say. His frank and open contempt for the elementary Church teaching that the moral law is not suspended in time of war, his Clintonian parsing, his open and naked consequentialism in direct contradiction of Veritatis Splendor, his fantasy courage and real cowardice, his panicked demands for salvation through war crimes, his ridiculous false dilemmas, his sotto voce suggestions of unpatriotism, and the thick layer of prolife hypocrisy that tops it all off do a fine job of summarizing the past five years of destruction the Rubber Hose Right has wrought on conservative Catholic thought in the US.

    As to this:

    Is torture ever justifiable?
    Is coercion ever justifiable?
    Is there a line between torture and coercion?

    The answers are quite clear if we stop thinking like a Clinton and start paying attention to the Church and common sense. They are No, Yes, and No.

    The (mildly) problematic part is the last answer. It’s the sorites paradox: how many grains of wheat constitute a “heap”? It’s the sort of “problem” sophists and Clintonian thinkers rely upon in order to keep something shrouded in fog.

    You can play the same game this way if you are Larry Flynt:

    Is P*rn ever justifiable?
    Is Art ever justifiable?
    Is there a line between p*rn and art?

    When it is pointed out that there is no Bright Line between p*rn and art, you can then a) announce yourself baffled while b) announcing the p*rn opponent to be an enemy of “art”.

    That’s the little trick being pulled here when it is announced (without consulting me) that I oppose all forms of coercion, which is rubbish. Police legitimately use coercion constantly, and rightly so. The Church nowhere opposes the legitimate use of coercion, just as the Church does not oppose art, yet does oppose p*rn and torture. In both cases, the touchstone is “Treat people with the dignity due them as human beings.”

    The key here is to recognize that just because real distinctions cannot always be made via Clintonianly parsed Bright Lines, it does not follow that the absence of Clintonianly parsed Bright Lines means that no distinctions can be made. Actual human beings, as distinct from Clintonian parsers know this, which is how they figure out that Larry Flynt’s and Michaelangelo’s work are not indistinguishable, even though both present us with naked bodies. In the same way, sane people recognize that police who use handcuffs, nightsticks, pepper spray, and shout “Put your hands on your head!” are doing something legitimate while a CIA agent who places a prisoner in a stress position till he suffocates or an interrogator who induces hypothermia in a helpless prisoner is doing something the Church, whether you like it or not, calls “intrinsically immoral” because it’s torture.

    Also, of course, what is overlooked in all the crap spewed throughout this miserable thread by the persistent defenders of prisoner abuse are the prisoners who have been tortured or murdered, and then found to have been innocent (see the cases of Dilawar and Maher Arar, for instance). Like the Communists, the Rubber Hose Right apologist of the Bush era seems, even among Catholics, to have subscribed to the notion that you have to break a few eggs to make the omelet of national security. Is it all “collateral damage” guys? War is hell? Mistakes were made? Better the innocent should die than the guilty escape?

    Amazing that there are still Catholics who will fight against all the blandishments of reality to avoid facing all that. Shame on them.

  • Ender

    The answers are quite clear if we stop thinking like a Clinton and start paying attention to the Church and common sense. They are No, Yes, and No.

    Well, if torture is not moral but coercion is then there must be a line between them … so I cannot understand Mr. Shea’s insistence that there is not. I have already stated that it is not bright line (all the way back in post #2) but, having agreed that coercion per se is not immoral, it would seem we have an obligation to draw that line somewhere. And nowhere have I argued that we should tip-toe up as close as possible to torture.

    Despite his unhappiness with this “miserable” thread I believe that some things have been clarified, namely that coercion is not synonymous with torture and that some coercive methods are acceptable. Given that, the debate should really be about where to draw that line. This is not a Clintonian parsing of words to serve an end; it is a moral requirement if we are to satisfy competing needs: keeping ourselves safe without losing our souls in the process.

  • Mark Shea

    As blogger Tom Kreitzberg pointed out several years ago, those making the case for fog habitually look for what is not there.

    http://tinyurl.com/3fkdw6

    He sums it up by pointing out that “‘bright lines’ between coercion and torture don’t exist.

    They do not exist.

    Of existence they have none.

    There are no bright lines. There are no dim lines. There are no lines.

    The lines you insist on do not exist. They are not.

    I recommend against constructing laws based on these bright lines, since they don’t exist.”

    I merely add that the fact lines don’t exist does not, in the slightest, mean that it is impossible to distinguish between legitimate coercion and torture, just as it is not impossible to distinguish between Larry Flynt and Michaelangelo, even though both make the nude body the subject of their work and you can doubtless find somebody out there who will say they are impossible to distinguish.

  • Ender

    I merely add that the fact lines don’t exist does not, in the slightest, mean that it is impossible to distinguish between legitimate coercion and torture, just as it is not impossible to distinguish between Larry Flynt and Michaelangelo

    I’m not sure we’re all that far apart in that we both believe that it is possible to distinguish between legitimate coercion and torture. I consider that to be drawing a line between them but if you prefer a different term, fine with me. I accept that there is a distinction between coercion and torture and that reasonable people can distinguish between the two, just as most librarians can distinguish between the works of Larry Flynt and Michaelangelo.

    I do feel, however (and here is where you and I may part company), that not all distinctions are so easily made and that it is both reasonable and appropriate to ask the question about different forms of coercion and that such questioning should not be denigrated as merely searching for a legalistic way to bypass a moral standard.

  • nobody

    that not all distinctions are so easily made and that it is both reasonable and appropriate to ask the question about different forms of coercion and that such questioning should not be denigrated as merely searching for a legalistic way to bypass a moral standard.

    And as long as the Church is silent on this topic of coercion to save innocent lives, Mr. Shea, I yield the haughty high ground to you.

    But the Larry Flynt defense is blown away by the Humane Vitae teachings and the expressed views of Paul VI predecessors.

    Speaking of Humane Vitae:

  • nobody

    Isn’t Msgr. Sot reasonably triangulating the right to defend life with the fifth and seventh commandments in his evaluation?

  • Mark Shea

    And as long as the Church is silent on this topic of coercion to save innocent lives

    The Church is not silent. She has spoken in Veritatis Splendor. Torture is intrinsically immoral.

    80. Reason attests that there are objects of the human act which are by their nature “incapable of being ordered” to God, because they radically contradict the good of the person made in his image. These are the acts which, in the Church’s moral tradition, have been termed “intrinsically evil” (intrinsece malum): they are such always and per se, in other words, on account of their very object, and quite apart from the ulterior intentions of the one acting and the circumstances. Consequently, without in the least denying the influence on morality exercised by circumstances and especially by intentions, the Church teaches that “there exist acts which per se and in themselves, independently of circumstances, are always seriously wrong by reason of their object”.131 The Second Vatican Council itself, in discussing the respect due to the human person, gives a number of examples of such acts: “Whatever is hostile to life itself, such as any kind of homicide, genocide, abortion, euthanasia and voluntary suicide; whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, physical and mental torture and attempts to coerce the spirit; whatever is offensive to human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution and trafficking in women and children; degrading conditions of work which treat labourers as mere instruments of profit, and not as free responsible persons: all these and the like are a disgrace, and so long as they infect human civilization they contaminate those who inflict them more than those who suffer injustice, and they are a negation of the honour due to the Creator”.132

    With regard to intrinsically evil acts, and in reference to contraceptive practices whereby the conjugal act is intentionally rendered infertile, Pope Paul VI teaches: “Though it is true that sometimes it is lawful to tolerate a lesser moral evil in order to avoid a greater evil or in order to promote a greater good, it is never lawful, even for the gravest reasons, to do evil that good may come of it (cf. Rom 3:smilies/cool.gif

  • nobody

    First I think you need to lay off all the sexual perversion theatrics in your arguments—it

  • nobody

    Let

  • Mary

    Time to address torture on the Left – The Democrats now OWN it!

    Obama ‘breaks promise’, gives blessing to rendition
    http://tinyurl.com/ap7nq7

    Obama Administration Maintains Bush Position on ‘Extraordinary Rendition’ Lawsuit
    http://tinyurl.com/aqaomo

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