"The Christian must discover in contemplation, and in the giving of his life, those symbolic actions which will ignite the people's faith to resist injustice with their whole lives, lives coming together as a united force of truth and thus releasing the liberating power of the God within them." - James Douglass, Contemplation and Resistance.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Justifying Torture

“By contrast, 41% of "secular" respondents replied that torture is never justified, the highest percentage of any group surveyed.” Street Prophets, March 24, 2006.

“But the portion of Catholics who justify torture is even higher, according to the survey. Twenty-one percent of Catholics surveyed said it is "often" justified and 35 percent said it is "sometimes" justified. Another 16 percent said it is "rarely" justified, meaning that nearly three of four Catholics justify it under some circumstances. Four percent of Catholics "didn't know" or refused to answer and only 26 percent said it is "never" justified, which is the official teaching of the church.” National Catholic Reporter, March 24, 2006.

As painful as it may be for religious people to recognize, the reason for the higher levels of justification for violence and torture among the explicitly religious may be directly related to the implicit view that respect for human dignity is treated as a relative value in the monotheistic religions. While respect for the divine is absolute, respect for the human is relative to circumstances and the guilt or innocence of the person. In the extreme, violation of the divine law may result in an eternity of torture, so it naturally follows that such violation may result in the beginnings of such torture here below. In such cases, the torturer may see him or herself as carrying out God's will against the violator. In fact, it could be that these religious believers are referencing something much less than human by the term "God", while degrading the God-imaging human beings who must suffer this torture and murder. Atheists, on the other hand, tend to see the dignity of human beings as absolute since there is no higher power to trump that dignity.

As a Catholic, I have to endorse the words of the theologian John Perry: "As followers of Jesus, we must state clearly and unequivocally that torture violates the basic human dignity afforded all of God's children, and is never morally acceptable. On this two-year anniversary of the revelations of the cruel, inhumane and humiliating treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison -- the first of numerous revelations regarding institutionalized torture practices in the U.S. war on terrorism -- we reiterate our church's profound respect for the dignity of all persons and reject as antithetical to Christianity any and all justifications for the use of torture." Christ is being crucified today through the practice of torture.
Most disturbing now, says Pax Christi’s executive director, David Robinson, is the “merging of the profit motive with the routine use of torture.” Robinson says the U.S. government is “outsourcing torture to private entities” in Iraq that use abusive interrogation methods. The introduction of profit into the mix, he says, assures that there will be more of it.

During Lent especially, he says, the image of Jesus, who was tortured to death, should be powerful for Catholics, reminding them that “Christ is being crucified today through the practice of torture.”

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