Monday, June 25, 2007

Bloggers on Torture: Volume 1

Recently, I wrote a number of bloggers inviting them to post on this question: "What is torture, and is it necessarily immoral?" Several have already posted reflections, and I want to share them with the rest of you. I'll link to more as they come in.

It's curious that almost all the bloggers who've responded so far come from a religious perspective. Only one "secular" blogger has weighed in. Wonder what that means...
Anyway, here are the first responses. They're really quite good. Thanks to everyone who's already contributed, and thanks in advance to those who will. It's an open invitation, so feel free to weigh in.

  • In one of the finest short pieces on torture from a Christian perspective I've ever read, Thom Stark of Semper Reformanda concludes that there's no converting the imperial pathology that gives rise to torture. But it can be creatively resisted by nurturing alternative communities with countercultural values. Following Bill Cavanaugh (who really ought to be required reading for all Christians), Tom sees this as "eucharistic resistance." (By the way, I've been a big fan of Thom's blog ever since I ran across it. It's prophetic, thoughtful, and technologically hip.)

  • Orthodox priest Father Stephen over at Glory to God for All Things condemns the act of torture as unequivocally contrary to Christian belief, especially when performed in the name of religion. But he makes a distinction between torture and torturer, insisting that while the act is sinful, the agent is never totally removed from contrition and salvation. Father Stephen's point is well worth remembering. Otherwise, it's too easy to demonize torturers, who in their own way are victims too.

  • In Anglican Resistance, Father Bill Carroll offers a hauntingly beautiful sermon-meditation on torture and idolatry. Also influenced by Bill Cavanaugh, Father Carroll argues that the Eucharist is a memorial (in part) of the torturous breaking of a man which in turn restores, rather than destroys, communicants.

  • Two bloggers, Ben Myers from Faith & Theology and Maha from Mahablog, chose to respond to my question with a comment rather than a full post. Since their comments are relatively short, I reproduce them both here.

Ben Myers:

I think the UN Convention Against Torture provides a reliable definition. In general terms, I'd describe torture as the state-sanctioned treatment of detainees in cruel, inhuman or degrading ways.From a human perspective and also from a Christian perspective, it's clear that torture can never be acceptable or justifiable under any circumstances whatsoever. The American theologian George Hunsinger has put it like this: "If torture is not evil, then nothing is evil." I think that sums it up precisely.


For a definition, this is from a dictionary: "Infliction of severe physical pain as a means of coercion or punishment." I would add psychological pain as well, such as by means of sensory deprivation or isolation. Yes, it is immoral. One could make a "greater good" argument--that torture is not immoral if it saves other people--but all objective evidence I know about show that information by torture is nearly always wrong. People torture other people because they want to. They are gratified by it. That's sick.