Ideological Blankets

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.


17 responses to “Ideological Blankets

  1. Great Post……….Now about your kids and school. ;)

  2. I was going to comment but I can’t. The left quotes Jesus and the right quotes Jesus. Where does that leave those of us who would never quote Jesus? Silent perhaps? Nah, we must be the ones with the correct view of it all!

    Doug, you can correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems to me that in cutting through all the WWJD talk, which is irrelevant anyway, you are saying that justice and mercy must always be kept in tension, that to insist on one over the other is to lose both.

    If so, we could almost speak the same language….


  3. Yael. I think your mention of justice and mercy being in tension is right on and is a good summarizing statement behind much of what I am saying. It seems that in most cases, justice and mercy do not coexist well. You increase one and the other decreases and vice versa. They MUST be held in tension and sometimes one is more necessary than the other. God is obviously a God of both justice and mercy but in most situations that we see in our common scripture, one of those qualities is more prevalent than the other depending on the needs of the situation.

  4. Ideology – we all have em’

    I don’t think coming at an issue with your viewpoints (based on your ideas of the world – your ideology) is all that bad. In what Frank is saying – he is correct – rational incongruence will not suffice – it’s what I call ‘hypocritcal’.

    However, we all come to any and every issue in a bubble of sorts – each with our piece of human ideology (experience and beliefs) that we add to the debate at hand – in this case torture. Me, you, Yael, Luke, and Johnny. Only meaning one simple thing – we all come to this sacred ground as equals.

    I do not have all the answers concerning torture – I have my answers – what I have learned and lived by thus far – and it is a valid viewpoint (like yours). Which I think is 1/2 the point in dealing with an issue.

    Yes, I have an ideology that doesn’t work in all scenarios – this non-violence thing sounds great but it is just a standard (a standard I swear by mind you). Standards may require deviation once in a while – a bending of the rules for even more justifiable reasons (ie: like stealing a loaf of bread in Jean Van Jean or lying to protect Anne Frank). This is what I see as part of the process.

    Ideologies are good – we all have em – but they are also open ended.

  5. to echo Jason… yeah we all have an ideology… as for the torture aspect and whether Jesus would be for or against… i just ask “How did he die?”

    wasn’t that torture?

  6. Jason and Luke. I respect that you guys feel the way you do about the torture issue. And I think it great that you passionately defend it. But I think you misunderstand me a bit.

    Of course we all have ideologies, and I am not speaking out against ideologies per se. I am speaking out against applying them across the board, hence the “blanket” in the title of this post.

    Of course Jesus was mostly about non-violence. I say mostly because he sure did tear up the temple as he was ravaging the business that was desecrating the place. But his non-violence ethic was mainly an individually applied practice, and by that I mean between individuals. And of course pursuing non-violence is by far most often the best course of action.

    But we are here talking about a government trying to deal with issues of national security, the security of its citizens. I would say that Jesus, to my knowlege, did not specifically address issues of national defense. And to try to force an ideology of non-violence onto such an extreme circumstance may be greatly foolish. It seems to me that all possible resolutions need to be seriously considered, both violent and non-violent.

    Yes, Jesus died by torture and it was unjust. But that is hardly the situation we see here. These guys are not Jesus and we are not talking about the type of torture that Jesus sustained. I don’t see that his manner of death is all that relevant here. I think an ideology of non-violence under all circumstances is poorly applied to this extreme scenario.

  7. I want to add a follow-up quote from Rob Bell’s “Jesus Wants To Save Christians.” I don’t have the book in front of me so am not sure of the page number, but the quote is accurate: “A Christian should get very nervous when the flag and the Bible start holding hands. This is not a romance we want to encourage.” Now he is not using that to say that we, as Christians, should not consider how Christ would have us run our governments. And in fact, what he is saying is that we should not use scripture to justify things like war and violence when it suits us to do so. And I agree. But I believe the opposite is also true. Trying to apply an ideology to all situations whether or not it fits well is just as much something of which to be wary in my opinion.

  8. “And to try to force an ideology of non-violence onto such an extreme circumstance may be greatly foolish. It seems to me that all possible resolutions need to be seriously considered, both violent and non-violent.” (Doug)

    No problems with looking at from a variety of angles – for ‘resolutions’ to the problem with terrorism, war, and safety at home. I agree there – and it doesn’t mean the gov’t has to take a path of non-violence (however I’d be interested to see America do that?)…sometimes violence is part of the scenario.

    However, how can u be sure torture is part of the best ‘resolution’ – for any gov’t – when this idea was banned for progressive countries in the Geneva papers? Obviously when they signed on to such a document they understood what they were signing correct? America’s official stand on torture was ‘no’ (its wrong) with that signing on internationally – up until Bush/Cheney just recently.

    So how can you claim your gov’t is doing what is in it’s best interest when it already signed on to not committ acts of torture and abide by such an ideal in Geneva (for the intl community)? Heck even Obama is against torture – your current president – and as far as I can tell – is the only president that ever backed torture is George W. I find it strange that guy gets quite the pass on this argument.

    So we speak of ‘resolutions’ – well America knows torture is never the path of the victor – but of the enemy – thus Geneva. It seems to me America is confused now – because they can’t ‘do anything wrong’ – but in this case they admittedly did. They broke their Geneva contract (3rd Geneva Convention) with Gitmo and did something they ‘swore’ they would never do. So by their own admission – from that document – they admit their acts are not ‘right’.

    It’s hard for me to agree with an arguement that is (a) something America stands against up and only until Bush Jr.; (b) something their current president is against; (c) is considered criminal by the intl courts and (d) was very well known as an idea prior to terrorism in this country (ie: Nazi Germany) and known when being signed onto in the Geneva conventions.

    So even your gov’t knows it is a ‘crime’ – but we don’t? I am not saying your gov’t shouldn’t fights wars (something I also despise) and make attempts to end this garbage – but I can tell you – they haven’t. Things are worse than before and terrorism is on the rise since Gitmo and Iraq – that sure ‘helped’ things along don’t ya think?

    Self admission is the first step for America to get back to some semblance of status on the world stage again – and by all standards – they knew this was wrong but did it anyways. If you want to help defend an outdated idea in torture (3rd Geneva convention signed 1949) then go ahead – but is that really honoring your vets who served in WW2?

  9. Jason. I confess I have no idea what the fine details are in the Geneva convention. If they include sleep deprivation and pressured interrogation and similar tactics, then I disagree with that part of it and would suggest that Geneva needs to be revisited. I have no problem with those and in fact think they are smart tactics under these circumstances. Physical abuse, humiliation, nakedness, and inhumane acts are another deal altogether. I have stated in numerous places now that those things should forever be off the table. I have not defended what the Bush administration did for one second during any of these discussions and have not stated and do not think that he should be given a free pass. I am enthusiastic about the fact that President Obama is strongly against torture and is willing to try and tease out exactly what may have occurred that was in violation of Geneva. I have never said that I thought what the US did was the right thing or a good thing. But some of it may have been the necessary thing. I am not suggesting special treatment for anybody. If illegal stuff and human rights violations took place, then it should be appropriately dealt with.

    I feel like you guys keep trying to pin me to the wall as someone who is in favor of all forms of treatment considered torture, as a defender of the Bush administration, as a blind American who needs to wake up. I am none of those things and have said none of that. What I am against is blind application of ideology that might not fit evey situation under the sun. That is all I am saying. You, John, Luke, Yael, and myself have all talked and blogged about how we should not be forcing others to think about things the way we do, how we should be open to listen to what anyone happens to say, how we should be out of the box thinkers, how we should be inclusive. But when it comes to application of this non-violent ideology, you do not seem to have much latitude for different approaches and seem rather fundamental in your speech. I don’t think that fits.

  10. i’m not trying to tuck you into a blanket, nor am i looking to wrap myself in one either.. hence why i posted the “just peace” doctine on Jason’s site that i largely agree with.. i encourage you to take a look at there’s some good stuff in it.

    plus i agree with Rob Bell (you know how to hit my sweet spots don’t ya ;-)) and that’s why i’m so pissed at these “Reich Christians” who support torture in it’s extreme forms! i’m not against using pressure on a person, but we must approach the person as if they are innocent, thus keeping with Habius Corpus. plus we also must apply the golden rule ethic. what would i accept as being done to me, even if i was guilt and withholding something.

    here are two quotes that may help clarify my position.

    “you get more bees with honey than vinegar.” -unknown


    Those who give up their liberty for more security neither deserve liberty nor security.
    -Ben Franklin

  11. “But when it comes to application of this non-violent ideology, you do not seem to have much latitude for different approaches and seem rather fundamental in your speech. I don’t think that fits.” (Doug)

    Maybe…maybe not…beauty/perspective is really in the eye of the beholder.

    I am very flexible on non-violence – for justifiable reasons – as I have stated on my blog. However, justification for those reasons has to be realisitic.

    I see in your commendation of some activities of torture that type of justification – like sleep deprivation and interrogation. I am just not sure the advantages of sleep deprivation per se.

    However, the Geneva contract is set-up to protect POW’s – and if we want our citizens treated sanely then we need to abide by such an idea. That being said, it’s not like these terrorists are playing nice with POW’s. It’s really a question of ethics in some regards – are we gonna go tit for tat w/people we know are not behaving sanely?

    My fear w/torture is pretty much realized though – let a little lee-way on the way we obtain info then how far do we say is too much lee-way? Can we stop at sleep deprivation if we feel we are not obtaining the info we think is there? There really is no marker to how much is enough to be honest.

    However, on a personal level I do not support torture because it is an unneccesary evil that can start off tame enough – but eventually becomes exactly what it is – evil. If this puts my stance on non-violence in question then so be it – just cannot support something I know has the tendency to be without real limits on what is ‘good and fair’. Is there a ‘good and fair’?

    So that’s my fear with torture – and it isn’t found anywhere in the scriptures for me to come to some defense of it. Except for the lone episode of Jesus swinging some cords that has little to nothing about torture of someone in it…not like Jesus grabs someonee, detains him, beats him for info, and then releases him to the jailyard.

    I have put some hard questions and thinking on the table – I agree there – no doubts – but for good reason – this is a tough subject to wade through and I want to make sure (for myself) I am making a stand worth taking. Sorry if I come off harsh in some paragraphs.

    But maybe you are right – maybe some of this isn’t exactly torture and can be just plain old fact finding. But I will have to say, as an addendum to this, torture is not just physical – mental and emotional can be worse at certain times – and the combination of a few of those is disastorous for a human body.

    Are these terrorists humans or not?

    PS: I don’t watch much tv so this whole torture thing is basically coming from what I can recall from the Bush administration.

  12. Luke. I appreciate your input, and in the end, I’ll bet that we all think rather similarly on this. Maybe I’m willing to go a bit further in pressuring somebody (and I do think that I have it in me to administer it, speaking to what John has mentioned as cowardly) than you guys. Or maybe not. In the end I absolutely agree that non-violent resolution is the best first approach to just about anything. I am in full support. I have briefly looked at the “just peace” piece of which you speak and have planned a more in depth look when time allows. Thanks for hanging in there with me on this.

  13. Jesus did instruct to turn the other cheek. But that’s personal. What if you have the opportunity to defend the life and well-being of another person or people? Can it be loving to watch them harmed and do nothing?

    Evidently some of the things our govt. did were torture. But it was torture with restraint. There was a great deal more that could have been done.
    So we probably crossed the line. But remember the aftermath of 9/11 and the tactics of people who were out to get us.

    Just where to draw the line on pressured interrogation is not easy to decide.

  14. “and I do think that I have it in me to administer it,”

    this is why you run triatholons and i can almost run around the block without throwing up.

    rawk on dude.. thanks for being in discussion. it’s a hard issue. i think it’s also a subjective one. i know what i would consider torture if it were being done to me.. and that bar is set pretty low.

  15. societyvs

    “and I do think that I have it in me to administer it,” (Doug)

    I have the power to murder – and the anger from many years of abuse to help me out with that callous action – yet should I cross a line like that – even in self justifying self defense?

    There are a lot of things we are all capable of – sometimes on as much as a drop of a dime – but does that make it more plausible/realistic – cause we can?

    I was thinking about this idea of anger this morning and my inner rage – the rage I do not address and have dealt with and have ceased to step into ever again (thus my stand on non-violence). I know I am capable of many things I consider disastorous to society – including serious acts of violence. Why? Cause I seen them all growing up – from attempts at murder to my mother being beaten week after week…in me was the seeds of violence watered and nurtured.

    But this is my reason for the fight (and as hard as it sounds) for non-violence – because of my years of tutoring under it.

  16. Let me say that this statement was not made in an arrogant or prideful way. I put it in there simply to address a concern John had raised over on your blog. It is bothersome to him that the far right goes around in various vocal support of torturous acts but that none of them would likely have the guts to administer it if it came down to them. I understand his position and put this in there out of respect for his concern. Let me say, however, as I have made clear as to what of the “torturous” acts I feel may be necessary under extreme circumstances, that what I feel I could possible do does not include beating, humiliating, physically abusing, etc. I am only speaking to the psychological and mental side. Granted, I have no training in this and do not forsee that I will be pursuing such training. I am simply speaking to what I feel I would be willing to do.

  17. societyvs

    “Granted, I have no training in this and do not forsee that I will be pursuing such training…” (Doug)

    Whew…had me worried for a bit (lol)

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