Sunday, October 9, 2011

Torture and the Imago Dei.

For my Christian ethics class, we are examining the question whether the ends can justify the means in human action. This question is being asked from the side of the practical by analyzing the issue of torture. We were assigned to read five sources about the issue of torture; two in support of the practice (obviously with qualifications) and three against the practice. I assumed it wouldn't be that difficult to do the reading for this week given the move away from theory toward concrete issues. But reading about torture is no easy task. Even if one is against torture from the outset, the hypothetical and emotionally-manipulative scenarios that the pro-torture side provide are difficult. Afterall, doesn't everyone want to secure the end of perserving thousands of innocent lives in the face of an imminent threat? That is why I was grateful to read the following passage from an ecumenical project against torture. George Hunsinger, in his essay entitled "Torture is a Ticking Time Bomb", provides a necessary theological account for why torture is never an acceptable option for Christians even in the face of imminent acts of terror. He distinguishes between three types of torture: interrogational, terroristic, and demonic. None are ultimately effective and only dehumanize both the torturer and the tortured. In his section describing "demonic torture", Hunsinger offers a moving account for why all forms of torture can never be justified:

"For something to become an absolute end in itself means that it has usurped a
status that does not belong to it. The place belonging to God and God alone can
be only seized by the human creature in the form of a monstrous caricature. The
power of love is replaced by loveless power, compassion for the weak by sadistic
cruelty, fair treatment by demonic subjugation, respect for life by the meanest
contempt. Demonic torture is essentially destructive in its brutal self-elevation and self-justification. It proceeds at the expense of all legitimate obligations and norms. Its needs, its pleasures, and its purposes are carried out by shattering the essential humanity of another.

When Christians appeal to the image of God in their arguments against torture, they
are not, properly speaking, merely adding a religious patina to the concept of
human dignity. They are pointing to the ultimate meaning of human life. From
Bonhoeffer through Barth to recent Catholic theology, the doctrine of the imago
Dei has been reconceived in terms of relationality instead of the traditional
rationality. It is human relationality as such that stands in analogy to the
Holy Trinity, and therefore to the ultimacy of community. For the Trinity is
itself a holy communion of love and freedom, joy and peace. Human creatures
receive the vocation and the gift of living with God and one another on these

When torture is conducted as an end in itself, and is therefore become demonic -when the purpose of power is power, and the purpose of cruelty is cruelty, when torture's purpose is tyrannical subjugation and sadistic degradation - then the divinely given meaning of life is unspeakably distorted and destroyed. The relation of the torturer to the tortured, and of the tortured to the torturer, makes a travesty of the most basic relations given by heaven to earth. In so degrading the human being and human community, torture blasphemes against God, neighbor, and self."

George Hunsinger, "Torture is the Ticking Time Bomb" in Torture is a Moral Issue: Christians, Jews, Muslims, and People of Conscience Speak out, 68.

1 comment:

nick d said...

I'd love this class...I wrote my senior thesis on this very issue. Best quote I found was from a CIA operative in the early 1960's who said, "You wouldn't beat your donkey and expect him to plow the field. Prisoners likewise."

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