"And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God"
-- Micah 6:8

"The duty of the prosecutor is to seek justice, not merely to convict."
-- American Bar Association Standard 3-1.2(c)

"There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia."
--Pope Benedict XVI, June 2004

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Back to Basics

Yes, Papa Mark heard it right: there is legitimate question concerning whether torture is intrinsically immoral in Catholic moral tradition. He is wrong, however, and engaging in detraction to claim that I embrace the view that torture is not intrinsically immoral.

What I do maintain is that the instant combox magisterium, of which he is the apparent Head, is not necessarily of greater weight than:

Sacred Scripture:
1) Dt. 25, 1-3: "If there be a controversy between men, and they come unto judgment, that the judges may judge them; then they shall justify the righteous, and condemn the wicked.
And it shall be, if the wicked man be worthy to be beaten, that the judge shall cause him to lie down, and to be beaten before his face, according to his fault, by a certain number.
Forty stripes he may give him, and not exceed: lest, if he should exceed, and beat him above these with many stripes, then thy brother should seem vile unto thee."
2) Lev. 20: 1-2: "And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
Again, thou shalt say to the children of Israel, Whosoever he be of the children of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn in Israel, that giveth any of his seed unto Molech; he shall surely be put to death: the people of the land shall stone him with stones.
3) Lev. 21:9: "And the daughter of any priest, if she profane herself by playing the whore, she profaneth her father: she shall be burnt with fire."
4) Dt. 17:2–5: "God said: 'If there is found among you, within any of your towns which the Lord your God gives you, a man or woman who does what is evil in the sight of the Lord your God, in transgressing his covenant, and has gone and served other gods and worshiped them, or the sun or the moon or any of the host of heaven, which I have forbidden, and it is told you and you hear of it; then you shall inquire diligently [note that phrase: "inquire diligently"], and if it is true and certain that such an abominable thing has been done in Israel, then you shall bring forth to your gates that man or woman who has done this evil thing, and you shall stone that man or woman to death with stones.'"
Prior Papal Teaching:
5) "Exsurge, Domine"(1520)(condemning as false and rash the assertion "That heretics be burned is against the will of the Spirit." burning is inherently torture, since it is beyond what is necessary to simply effect someone's death).

If torture (as broadly and all-encompassingly viewed by Mark) is intrinsically immoral (i.e., never good under any set of circumstances, then God mandated an intrinsic evil and allowed His Church to promote, sanction, and justify it for more than a thousand years. It's kinda difficult to square this view with the perfection of God and with the indefectibility of the Church.

The point is, much as Papa Mark and the combox cardinalate want to convert "torture is bad" into a de fide, infallible pronouncement of the Church, so they can end the argument (at least with Catholics) by a simple appeal to authority, it's not that simple.

The Church, following the example of Sacred Scripture, has never apparently before now categorically excluded physical punishment or what we might call "torture." She certainly has expressly condoned its use many times in history. My own two cents is that this occurred because, as with the issue of capital punishment, only in modern times has the view emerged that the body is more important than the soul. Our current shrinking from the death penalty and now, from even mild forms of physical compulsion, spring from the adoption of the modern mindset that the body is our highest good. Only with this predicate can one make sense of the claim that the death penalty is somehow an earth-shattering, to-be-avoided-at-all-costs, imposed "rarely if ever" burden on the "dignity of man." Likewise, the over-delicate concern that we never impose even mild discomforts like sleep deprivation or standing for long periods of time on jihadists, springs from a materialistic absolutization of the body.

Just my thoughts, but how else to explain the dichotomy between: the sources Papa Mark cites (basically, a modern encyclical and a passage in Gaudium et Spes [from a Council that expressly denied exercizing extraordinary infallibility], neither of which tell us what they mean by the word when they forbid "torture") and the traditional understanding that guided the Church for the prior 2,000 years? "We're good and virtuous and the old Church was ignorant and bad" is not a cogent answer.

While we might wish to ignore these teachings and this history, the Catholic who believes in a Church that is not re-invented every generation to meet people's contingent, shifting sensibilities cannot wish these facts away. They must be accounted for and harmonized with whatever it is the Church is currently condemning as torture. Like the modern teaching on the death penalty, the new teaching must certainly be respected and followed, but Mark wants to absolutize the new teaching and elevate it to the highest level of authoritative teaching.

He has to explain why he thinks his sources are as absolute and definitive as he is claiming. He has to show why these sources trump the prior sources. He, as the person promulgating a new understanding (the infallibility of the "no torture" clauses of his sources) bears the burden of proof and persuasion.

It might well be that there is an argument that this is a legitimate development and that the "new" teaching is "definitive" and "infallible." But no one has demonstrated this yet, and certainly the Church herself has not made this claim or even attempted to condemn as "torture" the broad array of practices that Papa Mark has proclaimed ex cathedra to be torture. (He's in the habit of going well beyond what the Church herself proposes, as shown here and here).

His mere ipse dixit is not a sufficient argument.

1 comment:

Victor said...

And as usual, the rebuttal from "some guy named Mark Shea" COMPLETELY misses the point.

He just jerks his knee to The Standard Soundbite™ about Nutrition Standards, the night-follows-day-predictable response whenever the word "infallible" knifes through his mind from someone whom he's already told himself is the "Baddies."

Your point Tom, as I understand it, is that only defined-infallible statements can be cited as stand-alone proof-texts independent of and trumping everything else. Which is obviously far too subtle a point for some. Better instead to just read as "I only have to pay attention to Infallible statements" and posture accordingly.