Admonish the Sinner


Of all the works of mercy,
probably the most thankless and despised is admonishing the sinner. Nobody wants to do it (except human toothaches and people who never get invited to parties), and nobody wants it done to them.

“Repent!” is one of those words that eats at the heart of all but the most egotistical jerk. “Who the hell are you, you great hypocritical gasbag, to go all John the Baptist on people?” And that’s not the target of the admonishment speaking; that’s your own conscience. Here you are, riddled with a thousand sins and vices that leave you in no position to mind anybody else’s business. But then something happens that sticks in your craw, and the Holy Spirit won’t let you rest.

You can’t bear the way that guy humiliates his wife and kids in public and verbally abuses them in your own living room. What’s the matter with him? Somebody needs to make him knock it off, as much for his own good as for that of his family! He’s gonna wind up bitter, lonely, and old with a huge alimony bill and children who won’t be bothered to come to his funeral! What he’s doing is just wrong!

You watch the news and hear some politician lie through his teeth about the graft you know for a fact is happening down at city hall. Somebody should set that guy straight and demand he stop treating voters like idiots. What he’s doing is just wrong!

Again and again, we find ourselves in the position of facing an evil — sometimes obvious, sometimes subtle — and not quite knowing what to do about it. That’s because there is another imperative drilled into us, not just by our Christian background, but by our relativist culture that treats only one passage in Scripture as divinely inspired and rides it for all it is worth in the defense of the Dictatorship of Relativism: “Judge not, that ye be not judged” (Mt 7:1).

The problem with invoking this saying of Jesus as the Only Thing He Ever Said is that it just isn’t the only thing He ever said. Still less was it ever intended by Him as a commandment to not think, to not make moral evaluations of ideas and deeds, or to not speak in the face of grave and obvious evil. The proof of this is Jesus Himself, who not only makes moral judgments frequently but (surprise!) urges His disciples to do the same: “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment” (Jn 5:24).

The commandment against judging is not an exhortation to become an imbecile unable to make moral judgments (a feat that is, in any case, impossible for the human organism to perform). It is, rather, an exhortation to remember that, though we are creatures who by nature make moral judgments, we must always recall that such judgments are provisional, since we are not God. We can (and should) say that a woman who beats her child black and blue is doing an evil act. But we cannot say for certain what lies in the heart of such a woman; what terrible demons, sickness, or suffering may be the genesis of her crime; what her interior freedom was as she acted; nor what her eternal destiny may be. Instead of setting ourselves up as her superiors and lovelessly and pridefully gloating over her fate, we had best be praying for her, warning her away from such evil, taking the appropriate steps to stop her (including calling the cops), and hoping against hope that she will know the healing love of God.

 

Admonishing the sinner, then, is not an act of cold Pharisaic pride, but an act of genuine Christian love. It is always ordered toward hoping for the best, even when there is, to the mortal eye, nothing left to hope for. And that is often the case with the prophets. Here, for example, is the rather deflating mission statement that God gives to Isaiah at the beginning of his ministry:

And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.” And he said, “Go, and say to this people: ‘Hear and hear, but do not understand; see and see, but do not perceive.’ Make the heart of this people fat, and their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” Then I said, “How long, O Lord?” And he said: “Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without men, and the land is utterly desolate, and the LORD removes men far away, and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land. And though a tenth remain in it, it will be burned again, like a terebinth or an oak, whose stump remains standing when it is felled.” The holy seed is its stump. (Is 6:8-13)

“You will do your best and you will fail!” is not the message most of us want to hear. But it’s the bitterly realistic message Isaiah is given at the inauguration of his work. Being told that the overwhelming majority of your audience is going to ignore you and perish, that the ones who don’t perish will also ignore you and then “be burned again,” and that, finally, some tiny stump will be left — well, that’s not the Successful Vision Statement that most of us wants to hear when signing on for the Big Mission of admonishing the sinner.

It is, however, more or less what all the prophets of Israel and the Christian martyrs, following their Lord, signed on for. And the retirement plan?

Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and scourging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, ill-treated — of whom the world was not worthy — wandering over deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. (Heb 11:35-38)

Good times, good times. As the prophets and martyrs bore witness by their blood, admonishing the sinner is a fine way to get hated, rejected, and tortured to death. The nature of pride — that is, the root of all sin — is that the more deeply enmeshed you are in it, the less you want to hear from people who are trying to call you to die to it. Thus it is that one time-honored way of responding to admonitions of repentance is not merely to snap, “Don’t judge!” It’s to condemn the prophet to a particularly grisly, slow, and painful death, the better to remind other prophets not to stick their necks out with annoying moral advice.

Conversely, the nature of the truly prophetic office (as distinct from the busybody and posturer) is that the worse the sin is, the more he feels a burden to speak out against it. That burden may lead to a more terrible conflict than the one between the admonisher and the admonishee. It can lead to the torments Jeremiah describes as he chafes under 1) the burden the Lord lays on him, 2) his own frustration at the failure of his mission, 3) the enmity he receives from the sinners he rebukes, and 4) his own deepest awareness that God is trustworthy, despite all the torments he is enduring:

O LORD, thou hast deceived me, and I was deceived; thou art stronger than I, and thou hast prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all the day; every one mocks me. For whenever I speak, I cry out, I shout, “Violence and destruction!” For the word of the LORD has become for me a reproach and derision all day long. If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot. For I hear many whispering. Terror is on every side! “Denounce him! Let us denounce him!” say all my familiar friends, watching for my fall. “Perhaps he will be deceived, then we can overcome him, and take our revenge on him.” But the LORD is with me as a dread warrior; therefore my persecutors will stumble, they will not overcome me. They will be greatly shamed, for they will not succeed. Their eternal dishonor will never be forgotten. O LORD of hosts, who triest the righteous, who seest the heart and the mind, let me see thy vengeance upon them, for to thee have I committed my cause. Sing to the LORD; praise the LORD! For he has delivered the life of the needy from the hand of evildoers. Cursed be the day on which I was born! The day when my mother bore me, let it not be blessed! Cursed be the man who brought the news to my father, “A son is born to you,” making him very glad. Let that man be like the cities which the LORD overthrew without pity; let him hear a cry in the morning and an alarm at noon, because he did not kill me in the womb; so my mother would have been my grave, and her womb for ever great. Why did I come forth from the womb to see toil and sorrow, and spend my days in shame? (Jer 2:8-18)

And so, down through the ages, we have seen people arise who are filled with a burning-in-the-bone sense that they must speak out and admonish the sinner, for God Himself requires it. Indeed, He requires it so seriously that if the prophet does not speak, he knows he himself will be held responsible for the sinner:

“Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, or from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you will have saved your life. Again, if a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die; because you have not warned him, he shall die for his sin, and his righteous deeds which he has done shall not be remembered; but his blood I will require at your hand. Nevertheless if you warn the righteous man not to sin, and he does not sin, he shall surely live, because he took warning; and you will have saved your life.” (Ez 3:17-21)

 

Now, of course, along with true prophets there have always been a whole raft of pretenders, poseurs, and posturers who are more than ready to shout about some human evil or other — not for the sake of the kingdom of God, nor even for the good of their neighbor, but for the sake of being a busybody, a social climber, a political adventurer, or the next tyrant. Sometimes, of course, it’s pretty easy to spot the phony. The politician profiled in “Won’t Get Fooled Again” who, say, denounces his predecessor’s war, wins the Nobel Peace Prize, and then increases the troop levels is the sort of person who fulfills the job description of the fake who is not admonishing sinners but merely making sure that old sins are a convenient stepstool to his climb to power. Similarly, the Hollywood type who denounces global warming and flies around the country in his private jet to have high-profile empathy sessions with other expensively coiffed carbon consumers is not really interested in admonishing sinners. Next year, he’ll be fluttering about the world admonishing us all about the next trendy thing.

The busybody, likewise, is not so much moved to demand repentance of the sinner as he is to delight in the impenitence of the sinner. If the sinner repents, what will there be to gossip about? One particularly noxious species of this sort is the Christian who urges us to “pray” for so and so — and then proceeds not to pray but to rehash the sins of the sinner with a barely concealed delectation.

Another cognate of this sort of thing (though with a somewhat more redeeming quality) is the guy who plays at “admonishing the sinner” and even imagines he is being bravely “prophetic” as he stays safely ensconced at his keyboard, blogging about Them (whoever They are), or remains safely cocooned in his little peer group, all while issuing thundering denunciations of people he has never met, will not communicate with, and very often knows little about. All this sort of preaching to the choir while striking a brave posture is not “admonishing the sinner.” It is performance art in the service of unit cohesion.

Now, there’s a place for bucking up the Home Team with reminders that the preferred sins of Those People Over There are bad. Allied propaganda that reminded our citizenry that the Axis powers advocated bad things was not wrong. But it was not “brave” and it was not, strictly speaking, admonishing the sinner. It was reinforcement. But, of course, on the other hand, not everybody is the Axis, and not every disagreement is World War II. So it follows that not every attempt to boost unit cohesion is always automatically good. The proof of this is that the Axis powers did it, too.

Admonishing the sinner means confronting the sinner, not talking about him behind his back. Moreover, for the Catholic, it means confronting the sinner on the basis of Christ’s revelation. That is, it means confronting the sinner in hope that the sinner is capable of moral reasoning and repentance by the power of the Holy Spirit. Our civilization is well on the way to completely abandoning the power to conceive that this is even possible. Our manufacturers of culture — left and right — tend to address disagreements everywhere as though those on the opposing (or merely differing) side of an ever-widening variety of arguments can only be motivated by a sort of sub-human stupidity or malice that is impervious to moral reasoning. Liberals and conservatives in pop media routinely talk about each other as though they are crypto-Nazis or animals who have forfeited their humanity. Godwin’s Law states the iron truth of internet discourse that, “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.” And so we observe the spectacle of everybody from pundits to Lefties to Righties to (appallingly) bishops of Holy Church freely labeling somebody who disagrees with them on some matter of policy as Nazis.

This lazy tendency to indulge in tribal vilification instead of admonition is, of course, nothing new. In the New Testament, Jesus has to speak and act against such attitudes not only among His enemies but among His friends. He breaks social and cultural barriers constantly, amazing or appalling both the Pharisees and the apostles. He eats with tax collectors, a people as warmly beloved as child molesters or former concentration camp guards are today. He talks not only with Samaritans, but Samaritan women of extremely shady repute — an act that is roughly as well-received by His countrymen as seating the local trailer-park trash with a pet ferret and Goth tattoos as a guest of honor at a fundraiser dinner for the mayor.

He talks to Roman soldiers, an act as popular as proposing a joint barbecue between Friends of Israel and the Justice for Palestine Committee. He consorts with lepers, takes former terrorists like Simon the Zealot as His disciples, and makes friends with dodgy women with unpromising psychological profiles such as Mary Magdalene, “from whom he had cast out seven demons” (Mk 16:9). It’s therefore not surprising that the spiritual laziness of the Pharisees — which was rigorous about trivial gnats like hand-washings and lazy about big camels like love, justice, mercy, and compassion — was supremely lazy in its harsh judgments against Him. He was friends with tax collectors and sinners; ’nuff said. There was nobody there for the Pharisees to know: just an enemy to be ignored and, now that He was daring to rebuke them, kill.

 

In addition to the old-fashioned laziness and cowardice that can lie behind the tribal impulse to denounce rather than admonish, it is also worth noting that postmodernity has contributed something new. Another very significant (and paradoxical) reason for the abandonment of admonition is that, in attempting to reject the notion of sin, we have ended up abandoning the hope of repentance instead. When you reject the idea of common truth, you reject the basis for reason and argument, but you don’t (and can’t) reject the possibility of anger over sin. For, of course, you can’t ignore it when, say, somebody stabs a child. But you can pretend that the evil of the act was attributable to an irrational animal acting solely due to genes or environment and not to sinful choices of which he can repent. So we treat grave sinners as we treat animals: diagnosing them like diseases or treating them like rabid dogs, but never talking about sin or repentance. The old idea of the penitentiary is almost entirely gone. It is no longer, as the name suggests, a place for penance; it is a state-run warehouse (and slaughterhouse) for human animals who have, as the saying goes, forfeited their humanity.

It is, of course, possible to laugh that off as hopelessly Pollyanna-ish and caricature it as the naïve belief that hardened thugs will melt into saints if you talk nice to them. But that’s not my point or my claim. It is, rather, that in abandoning our understanding of the human person to the secular state, instead of having the courage of our convictions as Catholics, we are laying the foundation for treating all human beings as animals and potential criminals rather than as citizens of a free society. One need only note the changes in our Security State over the past ten years to see it. Big Brother has eyes everywhere, and you are assumed to be up to something if you find that problematic. A bedridden, 86-year-old woman is tasered (twice), while the cops stand on her oxygen hose and her protesting grandson is cuffed and frog-marched out of the house. The cops explain that this was all justified, because she “took a more aggressive posture in her bed.” One more human animal dealt with as animals must be dealt with. The idea that she was a human being seems never to have entered their heads.

The curious result of our culture’s growing abandonment of the notion of sin is (as Faustian bargains tend to be) a loss of our humanity. As our culture becomes coarser and our belief in humans as moral creatures made in the image of God fades in favor of a vision of humans as creatures shaped by heredity and environment, our faith in the power of moral suasion goes with it. So, for instance, despite years and years of evidence to the contrary, self-styled combox experts in interrogation endlessly inform us that our first, rather than last, assumption is that prisoners in the War on Terror must be tortured like animals to get even minimal “results” from them. These self-appointed experts base this claim not on reality but on watching lots of episodes of 24. Meanwhile, real interrogators who dealt with pantywaists like Nazis and Commies insist that real intelligence is much more fruitfully gained by treating prisoners as what they are: rational human beings and not beasts.

As a culture embraces the view that men are essentially brutes, it is not possible to keep that in the bottle of a prison or CIA black site. Caesar starts to treat his subjects that way, too, while congratulating himself on his gritty “realism.” So, for instance, where there used to be public service announcements that said, “Every litter bit hurts,” we now get, “Litter and it will hurt” — something you could just as easily say to a beast via a whip. “Buckle up for safety!” has been replace with “Click-it or ticket” or “Drive hammered. Get nailed.” Threats, not admonition, are the order of the day.

And in the apotheosis of such ads (at least so far), we cannot, of course, admonish the sinner and say, “Sex out of wedlock is a sin. For the love of God and the sake of your family’s happiness, save it for marriage.” That would be a sin against the Conventions, which our culture venerates as much as it despises the Commandments. So instead of moral reasoning, the goal is to just scare the crap out of people because they are, in the postmodern world, held to be creatures of appetite who cannot be expected to control their desires as rational animals made in the image of God. Therefore, the strategy is to (yet again) shout “HITLER!” and thereby do the equivalent of firing a pistol to make the sheep bolt in some general direction away from the sound. It’s to be expected, since so much sexual agitprop (and especially gay agitprop) is, in fact, all about describing the human person as nothing more than a mammal controlled by his sexual desires.

But, if Christ is to be believed, it’s still foreign to what we actually are. Why, then, do we prefer to treat people like animals, when admonishing the sinner and not stampeding the herd is, in fact, truer to our nature as rational beings?

 

Answer: because admonishing the sinner is hard. Christ did it, and it got Him nailed to a cross. For admonition means looking somebody in the eye, rather than long-distance bureaucratic solutions from 3,000 miles away. It means addressing a fellow human being as an equal, not a lab rat, sheep, or contagion. It means stating really and truly unpopular opinions not to peers who share them, but to enemies who don’t. It also means speaking about things that are awkward and uncomfortable. And in our post-Christian world, it means doing it often in a grammar and terminology that members of our culture know, if at all, only in a sort of pidgin dialect. It means the risk of losing friends, family, job, and reputation.

To all this, I know only a few replies to the person who says, “Then I think I’d rather not.” One reply is this: You should anyway, if for no other reason than that you will sleep better at night. Another reply is this: Sometimes when you admonish the sinner, the sinner repents — because the sinner still has a conscience, heart, and soul. Some of the best moments in my own life have been due to the fact that a friend who truly loved me took me aside and, with tears glistening in her eyes, said, “Mark, you know I love you and I wouldn’t want to hurt you for the world. But I have to say that when you said/did X, you really disappointed me. I know you are better than that! You need to repent, ask forgiveness, and right the wrong you did.”

Half the time, when such admonitions have been addressed to me, my own conscience was already playing backup for my friend anyway; instead of shouting them down, I was feeling the crushing weight of my own guilt already. In such cases, admonishing the sinner is particularly revealed for what it is: not a shattering blow designed to humiliate and destroy the sinner, but a reassuring reminder that, heinous as we both know this sin was, God is not abandoning you, but is calling you back to mercy and restoration. Many, many times, admonishing the sinner means admonishing him not to despair over his sin.

The hope of our Tradition, then, is very simple: It is the faith that God saves sinners — real, nasty, repulsive sinners, and not merely colorful, charming, golden-hearted “sinners” from comic burlesques who drink a bit, like the sight of a pretty pair of legs, and wouldn’t harm a flea. It is a faith that is rooted in the R-rated spectacle of the life of King David, a power-drunk despot who used his clout to steal a good man’s wife, impregnate her, and then murder the victim of his despicable crime, Uriah the Hittite, by trading on his very loyalty in order to send him into battle on his behalf — and abandon him there. In any other oriental despotism of antiquity, confronting such a crime would have meant instant death. But when the prophet Nathan admonished David, something extraordinary occurred. David sagged on his throne and, instead of having Nathan executed as a warning to his court, he sobbed, “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Sam 12:13). Then he composed one of the greatest poems of antiquity as a beacon of hope to every sinner who has ever lived after him, Psalm 51, which reads in part:

Have mercy on me,

O God, according to thy steadfast love;

according to thy abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.

Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,

and cleanse me from my sin!

Create in me a clean heart,

O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.

Cast me not away from thy presence,

and take not thy holy Spirit from me.

Restore to me the joy of thy salvation,

and uphold me with a willing spirit. (Ps 51:1-12)

That psalm stands as a permanent reminder of the power of the Holy Spirit, even at this hour, to change the world when a disciple of Jesus calls a sinner to doff the mask of sin and to become who he really is: a child of God in the image of Christ.

 

Mark P. Shea

By

Mark P. Shea is the author of Mary, Mother of the Son and other works. He is a senior editor at Catholic Exchange and a columnist for Crisis Magazine. Visit his blog at www.markshea.blogspot.com.

  • Bob M

    one of the best pieces you have written!

  • Austin

    I think that most of us, to use Mark’s example, would, if we saw a child being beaten, step in and try to stop it. More difficult however, is what do you say, to a brother in law or other relative, who is destroying themselves [and their family]via alcohol abuse? That’s a tougher call. Especially, when you yourself have been known to throw back a few on occassion. You want to help the person, but of course, you don’t want to come across as self righteous, given your own failings.

    The corrrect call is to try to help them, even if it involves some unpleasant truths, and even if it risks your relationship with that person. They may well tell you to jump in the lake, but at least you tried. Not an easy call in any case.

    • http://www.militantlibertarian.org Aaron

      The easiest and best way to help someone with an alcohol problem (esp. if you also drink) is to quit with them. I did this with a friend a few years ago and while I still have the occasional social drink now, for two years with him I stopped drinking.

      Believe it or not, the hardest part about quitting drinking is the fact that most of your friends probably drink as well. So who do you hang out with now? Give them someone to spend time with.

      For the record, the hardest activity to take part in without drinking is fishing. So you know.

  • Alex

    Hey, we admonish the sinners as much as ever. Just not to their faces, cowards that we are.

    And that’s secondary. Because the first sinner to admonish is always the one we see in the mirror. That’s where our cowardice is particularly strong.

  • Bill Russell

    Politically-oriented bishops like to be liked and prefer to confirm sinners in their sin, rather than admonish them. This causes grave scandal. Case in point: recent travesty in Archdiocese of New York:

    Hosanna! America Mag celebrates rededication of NYC Gay Pride Church, St. Francis Xavier
    … more

  • Bill Russell

    Hosanna! The Rededication of the Church of St – America Magazine
    Jun 25, 2010 … This wonderful Mass, and this wonderful event, was celebrated last …. not necessarily reflect the editorial opinion of America magazine. …
    http://www.americamagazine.org/blog/entry.cfm?entry_id=3037 – Cached

  • Amy

    This is a great piece of writing! This is what priests should be preaching from the ambo. Very impressive! Hats off to you, Mr. Shea!

  • Mary

    Of course, the people who throw that around are admonishing the sinner. Or trying to. ’cause the silliest form of judgmentalism is when you judge someone for being judgmential.

  • Judge Report

    FROM THE PASTOR
    July 4, 2010
    by Fr. George W. Rutler

    Jesus did not appoint the brothers James and John apostles in spite of their temper but because of it. These “Boanerges” (Sons of Thunder) had wanted to bring fire down on the rude Samaritans. Jesus knew that such anger, if harnessed, could become “righteous.” There is a difference between using temper and losing temper, as there is between oil for energy and the Gulf oil spill. Anger rightly used and not lost becomes strength. James became the first apostle to offer his life serenely for the Lord, and John in his maturity wrote, “Little children love one another.

  • Brian English

    “Meanwhile, real interrogators who dealt with pantywaists like Nazis and Commies insist that real intelligence is much more fruitfully gained by treating prisoners as what they are: rational human beings and not beasts.”

    Actually, in the circumstances during WWII that most closely resembled those following 9/11 (which were actually far worse since New York had actually been devastated), German prisoners were subjected in April 1945 to

  • Mark P. Shea

    Your note can be summed up as, “What used to be regarded as torture was done by zealous war criminals or in secret by the CIA, because we knew it was dirty and felt ashamed of it. So that means it was fine to make it official policy under Bush/Cheney.” The Left isn’t the only part of the political spectrum that is defining deviancy down, I see.

    Speaking of admonishing the sinner: Stop making excuses for, minimizing, apologizing for, and quietly pulling for the embrace of torture as national policy. Despite your excuses, waterboarding is a) torture and b) not the only form of torture we have deployed in the War of Salvation by Any Means Necessary. We have, as you know, murdered prisoners by means of our “enhanced interrogation techniques”. When the subject dies, it was torture. When the subject is, like Dilawar (http://tiny.cc/q0dh3), an innocent man and you make excuses for torturing him to death, you are going to face a couple of embarrassing questions at the Pearly Gates that could slow down the paperwork on your visa into the Hereafter–particularly if Dilawar winds up being assigned the job of checking your paperwork. Don’t irritate the Defender of the Oppressed Alien. He’s famous for taking their side.

  • thomas

    “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” is Jn 7:24, not Jn 5:24 cited above

  • Brian English

    “Brian: Thanks for your reliable defense of torture.”

    I am not defending anything. I am merely pointing out that the claim by people like you, Joe Carter, Malcolm Nance, etc., that the US did not utilize brutal interrogation techniques prior to the Bush Administration is demonstrably false.

    “What used to be regarded as torture was done by zealous war criminals or in secret by the CIA, because we knew it was dirty and felt ashamed of it. So that means it was fine to make it official policy under Bush/Cheney.”

    You actually believe the White House did not know about the interrogation of the U-Boat crews following Operation Teardrop? What about the Navy investigation after the suicide of the one prisoner? How does the execution of the seven or eight Nazi saboteurs a month after they were captured in the US fit into your theory?

    As for the CIA memo, you believe the Kennedy Administration knew nothing about that? They appeared to be pretty involved with the CIA, so I would tend to doubt that.

    “We have, as you know, murdered prisoners by means of our “enhanced interrogation techniques”. When the subject dies, it was torture. When the subject is, like Dilawar (http://tiny.cc/q0dh3), an innocent man and you make excuses for torturing him to death, you are going to face a couple of embarrassing questions at the Pearly Gates”

    Ah yes, the Mark Shea, “If you do not condemn the entire interrogation program under the Bush Administration you approve of every action by every US interrogator, anywhere in the world, that took place during the Bush Administration,” approach to debating. Very persuasive.

    “you are going to face a couple of embarrassing questions at the Pearly Gates that could slow down the paperwork on your visa into the Hereafter–particularly if Dilawar winds up being assigned the job of checking your paperwork. Don’t irritate the Defender of the Oppressed Alien. He’s famous for taking their side.”

    A two-fer in your playing God routine: (1) Diliwar is in Heaven and checking papers; (2) I am going to have trouble getting into Heaven because I refuse to go along with your “the Republicans are just as anti-life as the Democrats” argument. You keep making that argument Mark. You may be surprised to find that you have some visa problems in the Hereafter.

  • Mark P. Shea

    Ah yes, the Mark Shea, “If you do not condemn the entire interrogation program under the Bush Administration you approve of every action by every US interrogator, anywhere in the world, that took place during the Bush Administration,” approach to debating.

    No. It’s the “We only waterboarded three guys and besides waterboarding isn’t even torture!” approach that I am critiquing.

    And no. I’m not saying previous Admins knew nothing about evil acts they authorized in secrecy due to shame. I am saying that making torture public policy and the proud boast of the “I’d rather be waterboarding” Right is a real act of defining deviancy down. Sort of like the difference between back alley abortions and the notion that Abortion is as American as Apple Pie.

    A two-fer in your playing God routine

    Nice job playing the “Judge not” card. It is not, however, playing God to remind you that when you make excuses for two intrinsically and gravely evil acts (torture and murder) that is grave matter. Nor is it playing God to remind you that God says sharply worded things about those who oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow. I don’t claim to read your soul, just your words. And, in keeping with the piece I just wrote, I would hardly be doing my duty if I let the excuses for the policies which led to the torture and murder of an innocent man like Dilawar go unchallenged. Why you make excuses for such policies is between you and God. Or did you forget to type “And, of course, these evil actions were war crimes and grave sins.”

  • Carl

    How can you admonish those who use Pollyanna-ish, caricatures, tribal vilification, name-calling and other exaggerations while you continue to do the same to so-called

  • Brian English

    “No. It’s the “We only waterboarded three guys and besides waterboarding isn’t even torture!” approach that I am critiquing.”

    Precisely. You are saying that anyone who doesn’t think that the waterboarding of three al Qaeda leaders was a war crime also approves of the murder of Dilawar. That is a lie.

    “And no. I’m not saying previous Admins knew nothing about evil acts they authorized in secrecy due to shame.”

    You really believe that the Truman Administration was ashamed of the interrogation of the U-Boat crew members who were believed to have knowledge of threatened missle attacks on New York, Boston, Washington, etc.? What about the execution of the Nazi saboteurs? You really believe the Kennedy Administration was ashamed of the CIA manual, and that is why they kept it secret?

    “I am saying that making torture public policy and the proud boast of the “I’d rather be waterboarding” Right is a real act of defining deviancy down.”

    Was the use of “shock” interrogation techniques on the U-Boat prisoners a real act of defining deviancy down?

    And where did you hear people boasting that they would rather be waterboarding? Those are obviously people who do not take serious things seriously.

    “Sort of like the difference between back alley abortions and the notion that Abortion is as American as Apple Pie.”

    I am not sure what point you are making with that statement, but since you bring up the subject of abortion, let’s get to my primary problem with you constantly beating the drum on the torture issue in order to create an equivalence between the GOP and the Democrats.

    Did you happen to catch, or read about, any of the Kagan hearing? We have arrived at a point in this country where a dedicated proponent of partial birth abortion (how one would end up being such a thing is beyond me) is going to be sitting on the Supreme Court.

    Under those circumstances, I have a very low tolerance for people claiming that torture (I am surprised you don’t claim murder since Dilawar was probably murdered) occupies the same position in the GOP platform that abortion occupies in the Democratic platform, for the purpose of convincing Catholics they should not vote for either major party.

    “And, in keeping with the piece I just wrote, I would hardly be doing my duty if I let the excuses for the policies which led to the torture and murder of an innocent man like Dilawar go unchallenged. Why you make excuses for such policies is between you and God. Or did you forget to type “And, of course, these evil actions were war crimes and grave sins.”

    But no one is making excuses for the murder of Dilawar. People were punished for it, although apparently there was not enough evidence to convict anyone of murder. I hate to break it to you, but prisoners have been killed in every war this country has fought, but no sane person every sought to use that fact to claim that it was official US policy to kill prisoners. To argue now that the murder of Dilawar was US policy and part of the GOP platform is wrong.

  • Mark P. Shea

    You are saying that anyone who doesn’t think that the waterboarding of three al Qaeda leaders was a war crime also approves of the murder of Dilawar. That is a lie.

    No. I am saying that those who are in the habit of saying “We only waterboarded three guys and besides it’s not torture” (like Dick Cheney) never bring up Dilawar or mention the rest of the people we renditioned, tortured or murdered in carrying out Bush/Cheney policies of prisoner abuse, torture and experimentation. That is a fact.

    That’s why so many conservatives think “I’d rather be Waterboarding” T-Shirts are huh-larious, not unlike those thigh-slapping “Choice on Earth” cards that Lefties found so amusing a couple of Christmases back. Both are calculated to communicate to the tribal In-group that those who object to the Beloved Sin are bedwetting ninnies who are all worked up about nothing.

  • Mark P. Shea
  • Great article, Stupid Comment
  • I just read your other comment
  • Linda

    Is this supposed to be a Catholic website? I guess I’m shocked. First and last visit.

  • Administrator

    Just a reminder that insults and personal attacks will be deleted, and can get you banned.

    Also: I know torture was mentioned (briefly) in the article, but as much as possible, let’s try to keep this discussion to admonishing the sinner; there are other places for the torture debate. Thanks.

  • Brian English

    “”We only waterboarded three guys and besides it’s not torture” (like Dick Cheney) never bring up Dilawar or mention the rest of the people we renditioned, tortured or murdered in carrying out Bush/Cheney policies of prisoner abuse, torture and experimentation. That is a fact.”

    First, rendition started under the Clinton Administration. I know that upsets your whole “GOP is the party of torture” theory, but that is the reality.

    Second, why would Bush or Cheney mention Dilawar? Do you really believe that the President and Vice-President of the United States issued orders to kill prisoners? How was it decided which prisoners to murder? You really believe Dick Cheney gave orders for the prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib? Did he also tell the guards to take plenty of pictures?

    Third, I point out to you again, prisoners have been killed in every war. That is a war crime. Were all of the Presidents and Vice-Presidents in office at the time responsible for those war crimes?

    Fourth, you don’t just hold Bush and Cheney responsible (they haven’t run for anything in six years). You hold the entire GOP responsible, asserting that voting for them is as bad as voting for the party of unlimited abortion.

    “That’s why so many conservatives think “I’d rather be Waterboarding” T-Shirts are huh-larious,”

    Could you identify some of these conservatives who think those T-Shirts are huh-larious? I have never seen this T-Shirt, nor heard it mentioned before.

    “Both are calculated to communicate to the tribal In-group that those who object to the Beloved Sin are bedwetting ninnies who are all worked up about nothing.”

    Actually, I think the issue of what type of interrogation should be permitted in a war where the enemy refuses to wear uniforms and purposely targets civilians is an important and profoundly serious issue. It is not “nothing” and it is something people should get worked up about. I do not think you drawing the line at a different point than I would makes you a bedwetting ninny.

    I do think that you advising people to not vote for the GOP because most of the people in that party disagree with you on the interrogation issue is severely misguided and harmful.

    Give Obama a second term with a Democratic Senate majority and we will not need to concern ourselves anymore with overurning Roe v. Wade. What we will be doing is trying to figure out a way to avoid having all restrictions on abortion (partial birth, parental consent or notification, waiting periods, Born Alive) overturned.

  • Brian English

    “Is this supposed to be a Catholic website? I guess I’m shocked. First and last visit.”

    That would be a mistake. There are many excellent articles and discussions on this site.

    Mark’s article above is excellent, except for the part I took exception to.

  • Carl

    Linda, as Mr. Shea

  • Mark P. Shea

    Gawrsh! Thanks Brian and Carl!

  • Don L

    I have long noticed the penchant of those who do evil so casually to have, as their not so concealed sidearm, ready to fire, at the raising of an eyebrow, at anyone who dares to speak truth about their evil. My favorite was Mother Theresa speaking publically about the evil of abortion with Bill and Hillary gulping uncomfortably in the background -unable to spin the truth about the evils of abortion, that she was telling the world.

    I’ve always been comfortable with knowing the difference between calling and evil act what it is, judging, but not condemning. whenever I hear someone throw that “don’t judge me” (usually said with a self-righteous snarl reserved for Christians) I always am reminded of Satan quoted scripture to Christ (an excellent retort by the way)-it is the single most absurd reality in existence.(tempting the Word of God with God’s own words.)

    It is then and there(as well as on the Cross) where we can learn and understand what the word “Prevail” really means. It involves confronting evil – and defeating it -not running from it pretending it doesn’t exist like a pious Pollyanna.

  • Carl

    Secularized versions of judge not:

      People in glass houses shouldn
  • Krull

    If you can endure the mullet, Dog the Bounty Hunter admonishes criminals in a very dignified and sensible manner. He is artful in this regard, if not in others too.

  • Jean

    To Mr. Shea,
    I don’t know what upset “Linda” so much, but for the first time the “tone” of some of what others wrote in the com box posts responding to your article, and some of your response to their posts troubled me.

    You wrote so eloquently about the value of employing a tone of gentle, loving reproach when “admonishing the sinner”. That temperate and sensitive gentleness seemed missing in the posted dialogue.

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