"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

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Gestalt Morality

Not to beat a dead horse... all the hand-wringing over the moral questions swirling around torture and agressive interrogation have to make one smile. For a decadent, post-modern, post-Christian, worn out Republic, we sure do spill tons of ink and shed lots of tears about how to treat our enemy (who coincidentally, cares nothing for such concerns as ours).

Nevertheless, I direct anyone interested in exploring the minutiae of these questions to this very useful summary of Catholic thinking about this topic. The bottom line appears to be that there is little actual guidance about this for conscientious Catholics other than "torture is bad; do not engage in it." The Church to this point has been content to state the broad principle, but has yet to flesh out the details: what constitutes torture; when do agressive interrogation techniques cross the line into torture; what ramifications for civil law enforcement might the answers to these questions hold?

One thing is certain: the view that holds "it is fundamentally wrong-headed to approach this question from the perspective of 'How close can we get to committing the grave evil of torture and get away with it?'" is a variety of Quietism that negates the whole endeavor to make distinctions in moral theology so that we can know "what it right and what is wrong." A police officer interrogating a suspect for 8 hours with only bathroom breaks might be on one end of a spectrum. Waterboarding might be on the other end. Simply repeating, mantra-like, "torture is evil" does not answer the question for the interrogator "what may I do in the (legitimate) endeavor to elicit information from a wrongdoer?" Not only are such lines important in and of themselves for moral reasons, but the government agents need to know what is civilly permissible. Hence the efforts on the federal level to codify some of these distinctions.

So to those who think even asking such questions converts one into a "torture apologist" or "torture excuser" I'm sorry, but I'll keep asking questions and making distinctions, which is in the great Christian tradition of moral reasoning. This is preferable to viewing provocative interrogation pictures or descriptions and then relying on one's emotional response to be one's moral guide.

Call it moral theology by gestalt.

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