Torture

It is disheartening that America’s leaders are arguing over the permissibility of torture and splitting hairs over its definition. Water boarding or the near drowning of a prisoner has been defended as an "interrogation" technique. It also seems beyond doubt that U.S. officials have forcibly handed over persons to countries such as Syria which do torture suspects. Why has it taken so long to mobilize protest groups such as the International Federation of Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture? America’s resistance to torture may have been faltering for secular and religious reasons. Secular moral arguments against torture rest on cognitive concepts of universal human dignity and rights that are abstract and too undeveloped for the popular mind. As for the theological grounding of the ban on torture, it has not gone far enough or been focused concretly enough to arouse action.. Or more suspiciously, if one takes seriously the Christian grounds for banning torture then it leads to unsettling conclusions and questions about other legally accepted practices. In the Gospels Christ tells his disciples to love God with all their heart and mind and their neighbor as themselves. Jesus commands his disciples to love their enemies and do good to them.. Moreover Christ warns that harsh words of contempt, such as "thou fool," are worthy of punishment. In another searing parable Jesus claims that whatever you do to the least of these, you do to me. Very concrete physical actions are being described such as feeding, clothing, sheltering and visiting the imprisoned. The clear message is that God in Christ dwells within every human being made in the image of God. Each is loved and cared for impartially as a child of God. The characterization of any action which affects another is that you are doing this act to Christ himself. Torturers are holding Christ in ropes water boarding him. Electric shocks, burnings, beatings and other cruel humiliating ways of inflicting suffering on a victim are being inflicted on Christ Arguments for tragic choices are arguments over Christ. If you don’t believe the gospels you can decide on the acceptability of a treatment by imagining it being done to you--or better still being inflicted upon your beloved son. A stroll through Guantanamo imagining your own son blindfolded and kneeling in the cage, should clarify the mind..The ultimate bases of human rights and moral ideals of justice are the capacity for empathy and a belief in God’s Incarnation. But once confronting the abomination of torture in Christ’s eyes we can be forced to conclude that other practices are impossible to justify through utilitarian reasoning. Can we accept killing in war, inflicting the death penalty, aborting the fetus, or euthanizing the old and ill? Every mistreatment or neglect of the helpless that is countenanced becomes too threatening to confront. Better to avert our eyes. Sidney Callahan
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