Two things first. Sorry for the length ahead of time. This gets wordy. Also, I know I said I was done with Crazy For God, but as it turns out, I am not. So if you loved that book as much as I did you are in for a treat. If you didn’t, then you might want to skip this one.
Yesterday, I got deeply involved in a discussion on my friend Jason’s blog over at Losing My Religion. The topic at hand is the issue of torture. Unless you are living under a blanket you are probably aware of the issue in the media right now and the ideological lines that seem to be drawn up between the left and the right. The left thinks that all things torture are always and unequivocally off limits. The right thinks we ought to torture more and do it more severely. And of course the Democratic line becomes the left side of the issue and the Republican line becomes the right. To me this is just stupid, and I refuse to take my cues about what I think from either side. I want to own what I think and believe for myself. And as I have come to learn, the most truth can be found somewhere in the middle, and it is that middle for which I search on the torture issue.
Part of the left side of the argument is that once we step a single foot down this path of torture we are on a slippery slope. It’s as if once we start, we won’t be able to control ourselves, and before you know it we’ll be plucking eyes out, cutting off fingers, pulling teeth, and giving awfully bad raspberries ( not making light of the issu- just lightening the load with a little humor ). That’s ridiculous. It doesn’t mean that at all. And then oddly enough, the left pulls out the Christian ethic club to beat the right over the head with claiming that Christ would not be for torture. They like to say that torture is never helpful and never results in valuable information.
Part of the argument on the right side is that these guys did horrible awful bad stuff and deserve any ill treatment they get and that this will be a deterent for other bad dudes contemplating like activity. It’s as if we have a right to take out our revenge on them and that this will somehow make it all better, all the while forgetting that these guys are often holding to a passionate religious level belief and will not hesitant for one second by the ill treatment of their comrades. In fact, they may be energized by it. And then the right seems to overlook the fact that Christ sure did talk about turning the other cheek and going the second mile. And they like to point out a single instance where information gained from torture brought about something valuable to the lives of many therefore justifying torture and supporting expansion of its use.
The problem that I have with both arguments, the right and the left, is that the search for ideological purity where there is none available is a way to absolve ourselves of having to make hard choices. It’s a way of sticking our heads in the sand. It’s a way of not facing head on the issues that are before us. I grew up in a church that condemns all alcohol consumption across the board partly because once we start we may not be able to control ourselves. That ideology fails to consider the significant benefits of responsible alcohol use and is touted by a bunch of people who obviously can’t contro their food intake ( so maybe they should in fact be scared ). My boys used to go to a school where they teach young earth creationism with an unwillingness to consider the evidence that good science has produced, even calling it evil. That ideology results in a faith built on a house of cards with a frantic scramble to defend against every slight breath of wind for fear the house falling and really teaches people to be dishonest with themselves about what is right there in front of them. There are countless other examples that could be named. But the point is that mindless adherence to an ideology like a bunch of little robots often leads to weakness in faith and mind and body. I thinks it’s a bad policy and that we need to watch for it hawks.
I am reminded yet again of Frank Schaeffer’s book, Crazy For God, and chapter 57 where he is discussing the abortion debate. He describes how it has become political ideology that doesn’t even really make sense any more. How can the right passionately defend capital punishment and abortion at the same time? If human life is precious then human life is precious. On the other hand, how can the left passionately defend taking capital punishment off the board and supporting abortion for any reason? If human life is precious then human life is precious. Those ideologies cannot rationally coexist. On page 347:
“It seems to me that by demanding ideological purity on abortion (and other single issues as well [I would put the torture debate in here]), both parties have worked to eliminate the sorts of serious smart pragmatic people who make competent leaders. What we are left with are those willing to toe the party theological line, who are talented at kissing the asses of their party’s ideologues, raising money, and looking good on TV, but not much else.
But what if the absolute consistency on any issue from the left or the right, religious or secular, is an indication of mediocre intelligence and a lack of intellectual honesty? What if the world is a complex place? What if leadership requires flexibility? What if ideology is a bad substitute for common sense? What if ideological consistency, let alone ‘purity,’ is a sign of small-mindedness, maybe even stupidity?”
I think Frank Schaeffer is right, and I would add the following question: what if ideological consistency is a way of sticking our heads in the sand and avoiding the tough choices that we need to make? I think the torture debate is very well defined by these same questions and is falling into this same trap.
Now don’t get me wrong. I am not in favor of torture at all. It is tragic. It is mostly unnecessary. It should rarely be something that is even considered. And things that produce inhumane conditions, humiliation, nakedness, physical harm, permanent disability, etc should forever remain off the table. But I am willing to consider that under some severely extreme circumstances where some sort of action is demanded, some sort of decision must be made, and the choices available seem to be between hell and more hell, such tactics such as sleep deprivation, pressured interrogation, and light/auditory stimuli, which are by definition considered torture, may have niches where they are useful.
I’m getting long so I will close with a final quote from Crazy For God. Page 353:
“I want to live in a society that is willing to struggle with these balancing acts. I want to be in a society that values human life, because I am human, and far from perfect, and I want to be valued.
What I don’t want to live in is a culture that makes sweeping and dismissive secular or religious ‘theological’ one-size-fits-all decisions that oversimplify complex issues. And ideas of the good life based on perfection are a trap, a trap that prophetic books like Brave New World gave us fair warning about, and that films like Blade Runner explored. We have been warned.”
I don’t have any idea what Frank Schaeffer believes about torture. I suspect he is mostly if not completely against it. But I think these quotes are applicable in what they say about ideologies and how we get trapped into them in society, in church, in our families. They are mostly destructive. Thanks for reading.