instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Only in cases of rape and incest terrorism

To me, the idea that the United States government might advocate torture is not particularly shocking. I mean, what do we expect, when push comes to shove?

What I find truly appalling are the statements of politically conservative American Roman Catholics who positively do advocate torture.
Am I in favor of torturing that guy? You bet I am....

Look, you can cite as much sweeping, vague, out-of-context language as you desire, but unless you can cite a specific, ex cathedra pronouncment that prohibits torture in any circumstance whatsoever, I'll take my chances with the Lord on judgement day....

If it were my duty to stop such an attack, I would kick that person in the teeth with no moral problems whatsoever. It wouldn't be a sin.
This isn't the worst stuff I've ever heard from practicing Roman Catholics, but it's close to it.

The arguments that torture is not objectively immoral seem to be variations on the following:
  1. If torture were objectively immoral, then really bad things could happen, so it can't be objectively immoral.
  2. Torture can prevent really bad things from happening, so it can't be objectively immoral.
  3. In certain circumstances, I'd torture someone, so it can't be objectively immoral.
  4. The Church used to use torture, so it can't be objectively immoral.
  5. The Church has never said torture is objectively immoral, so it isn't objectively immoral.
The first three arguments can all be answered with variations on, "So what?" Of course, it's one of those answers that, while impeccably reasonable, is utterly unsatisfying emotionally, which I suppose is why the responses are so emotional, along the lines of this:
Not everybody lives in your world. Only a few very lucky people. Quit judging the real world by what you read in the comfort of your living rooms.
When someone takes what happens in the "real world" -- which is to say, what sinful people do in a fallen world -- as the standard of morality, how can he possibly believe he is thinking with the mind of the Church?

Well, there's always #4: the Church used to advocate torture. That's true, but we must not equivocate on the meaning of "the Church" here. If the question is whether something is objectively immoral, that "the Church" as an organization once advocated it may be evidence that it's not immoral, but no one with any knowledge of Church history would claim that it's proof. And in fact, the Catechism speaks directly to this point:
In times past, cruel practices were commonly used by legitimate governments to maintain law and order, often without protest from the Pastors of the Church, who themselves adopted in their own tribunals the prescriptions of Roman law concerning torture. Regrettable as these facts are, the Church always taught the duty of clemency and mercy. She forbade clerics to shed blood. 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.
Which brings us to the final argument, that the Church has never taught that torture is objectively immoral. This strikes me as an argument based on semantic games. We have, for example, the Catechism stating that torture is not "in conformity with the legitimate rights of the human person." We have the CDF teaching:
One can never approve, whether perpetrated by established power or insurgents, crimes such as reprisals against the general population, torture, or methods of terrorism and deliberate provocation aimed at causing deaths during popular demonstrations.
We have Gaudium et Spes teaching:
Furthermore, whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia or wilful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where men are treated as mere tools for profit, rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others of their like are infamies indeed. They poison human society, but they do more harm to those who practice them than those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are supreme dishonor to the Creator.
Insisting on the specific words "torture is intrinsically evil" is not thinking with the mind of the Church, it's morality by incantation.

At the risk of being uncharacteristically concise: To advocate torture, under any circumstances, is to support objective evil.

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