Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Christians and Violence

1. Yesterday the report on the torturing the CIA did in the aftermath of 9-11 came out. Four questions seem to emerge: 1) Was it moral? 2) Was it legal? 3) Did it work? and 4) Should the report have come out?

I'm primarily interested in the first question today. You can either answer yes or no, or you can say that there was some point where it became immoral.

I am not a Christian pacifist, although I admire those who are. They feel more Christ-like than I do. Of course if I thought their position really was more Christ-like, I would adopt it.

But certainly the Bible accepts the necessity of war, both OT and NT (cf. Revelation). The New Testament implicitly accepts capital punishment (e.g., Rom. 13:4). To me that is not necessarily the end of the story, for we have to consider the trajectory of the kingdom, and it's pretty clear that the trajectory of the kingdom is toward peace. But the Bible assumes, doesn't even consider the possibility that there will not be war between now and the eschaton, IMO.

2. So I am a "just war" guy, and perhaps nowhere sets this position out better for me than the Catholic Catechism (see 2307-17). The danger needs to be severe. All other means need to have been tried. There should be good chance of success. Your action should not create more harm than good.

War requires killing people. It's usually hard to do that successfully without a whole lot of hate going on. Yet hatred of people is immoral for a Christian. There is the rub for the Christian when it comes to war. And how could you torture someone without a whole lot of hatred going on? I'm sure there has never been a war without torture on all sides. It's just impossible to keep it a secret now.

3. I write today with a heavy heart. For many Christians, the immorality of torture is obvious. Blessed are you. You have the spirit of the Beatitudes. You are the kind of person I want to see in the pulpits of our churches. You are the ministers of reconciliation. You are the peacemakers. You are the pure in heart.

The philosopher in me asks the question, "If you had a person who knew where a nuclear bomb was hidden in New York City, and torture would get that information from the person, wouldn't the end justify the means?" This question troubles me, and I won't give an answer. If I did, I would start with lots of qualifications and I'm not sure where it would end up.

What concerns me, and this is where I am going, is that I suspect there are a lot of pastors in America whose sense is, "Of course we should torture those evil people to death." This is what concerns me, that there are many "Christians" who not only would affirm torture, but might do so with no hesitation whatsoever.

We should find this dynamic troubling. There is a human dynamic. We saw it in Nazi Germany. It is the difficulty at some point to distinguish between our religion and our nationalism. It is a morally dark place where we make killing for country or religion a virtue. It is a place where the jihadist lives. It is a place where we enjoy violence and rationalize it.

If you are a Christian and especially if you are a pastor, and your bias is to defend this torture, I hope the Spirit will trouble your heart. I say that without taking a position on the philosophy question. I am taking a position on the attitude question.

Anyone with the heart of Christ should find this report troubling, whatever the answers to these other questions. If you don't, you have no business being in the pulpit.


John Mark said...

The first time I ever read about waterboarding was in a story about American POW's held by the Japanese military. I thought it barbaric. I still do. I'm not a pacifist. But the whole thing reeks to me. My first reaction is that this is simply a reminder of how far we have fallen as a nation (not that we were ever perfect). I presume, in addition, that there are ways to extract information from prisoners without resorting to torture. The whole thing is sad, sad, sad.

Susan Moore said...

I wonder what God would do if all His children refused to snuff out human life? What would He do if there was only 100 of His faithful servants left? 10? 1? Do you really believe He would not intercede, that He would simply wring His hands in helplessness and watch us get wiped off the Earth? (Just question asked in general, Dr. Schenk, not directed at you!)

Anonymous said...

Ken: Have you read "It Is Not Lawful For Me To Fight", by Jean-Michel Hornus? If not, I'd highly recommend it. I have an extra copy I could lend you, if you'd like:-)

BTW, it was out of print for a while, but good old Wipf & Stock is now publishing it again.

~Sean Garrigan