Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Unity, Diversity, Charity

OK, most of the Catholic blogosphere is pondering Archbishop Dolan's election (I think h is a good man) or Domini Verbum (which I haven't finished reading yet). So I thought I'd write about...Mark Shea.

Disclaimer: I don't agree with many of the things Mark says, and I think he is naive about his world view on some issues. Mark trends to demonize "the right" and forgive "the left" (although since I consider myself neither it is of no consequence to me). However, he is spot-on on many issues and is probably sharper than me on some issues. If we ever meet, perhaps we'll have a spirited discussion. I had considered commenting on his blog, but there's so much noise and heat there I thought I'd think about it, hence this post.

Mark is a convert and Catholic blogger and has recently come under fire for his stance on torture and war, as described in "Obedience, Orthodoxy and Torture". No, he's not too lax on torture. Apparently he's too strict on torture.

It always amazes me when someone denounces something and people jump in and say "because you do not denounce 'X' you may not denounce 'Y'". In a blinding flash of tu quoque "reasoning" Mark is a communist and water boarding is A-OK.

And so,  ad hominem and tu quoque responses aside, there seem to be two main points of contention. The first is that the hings Mark condemns, like waterboarding, are not, in fact torture. The second is that torture, although it is generally bad, can be justified in some sort of double effect scenario.

To put it quite simply, both of these arguments are answered quite effectively in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
2297 Kidnapping and hostage taking bring on a reign of terror; by means of threats they subject their victims to intolerable pressures. They are morally wrong. Terrorism threatens, wounds, and kills indiscriminately; it is gravely against justice and charity. Torture which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred is contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity. Except when performed for strictly therapeutic medical reasons, directly intended amputations, mutilations, and sterilizations performed on innocent persons are against the moral law.
2298 In times past, cruel practices were commonly used by legitimate governments to maintain law and order, often without protest from the Pastors of the Church, who themselves adopted in their own tribunals the prescriptions of Roman law concerning torture. Regrettable as these facts are, the Church always taught the duty of clemency and mercy. She forbade clerics to shed blood. In recent times it has become evident that these cruel practices were neither necessary for public order, nor in conformity with the legitimate rights of the human person. On the contrary, these practices led to ones even more degrading. It is necessary to work for their abolition. We must pray for the victims and their tormentors.
I have emboldened the definition of torture and the prescribed stance on it above. Could anybody say with a straight face that they follow what the Catechism teaches, but that water boarding does not fit the definition, or that the use of torture can be justified by legitimate government? Could the refutation be any more obvious?

Yet people who are otherwise much wiser, better Catholics than I sometimes turn a blind eye. Even Jimmy Akin disappoints (me) on this issue
In the same way, there may be things that would count as torture under the popular understanding and yet be justified, leading an ordinary person to want to say "Sometimes torture is okay." But the Church will not want to say that and so--if my thesis is correct--it will instead define torture such that those things which are potentially justifiable do not count as torture.
I don't think it is necessary to weasel word a definition of torture to allow some forms of what would popularly be considered torture, and I find it repugnant that Jimmy would think the Church would seek to narrow the definition of torture to allow some forms of it. Then again, I'm don't have a degree in theology. In my book, the definition of torture is simple. If you would betray your country, your family, your beliefs to make something stop, that thing is probably torture.

I would like to propose a litmus test for issues like this, based on Cardinal Arinze's beautiful response when asked about whether pro-abortion politicians should receive Holy Communion.

To paraphrase him, you don't need to ask a cardinal whether water boarding is immoral. Go to the little children receiving Communion for the first time and say to them "I will put them under the water until they cannot hold their breath. I will do this again and again until they give me what I want." Then ask them if that is right or not.


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