Thought Experiment

NOT MOVIE RELATED; however, this is my blog, and I can post whatever I want. For anyone who wants film related posts, skip this one. I do promise there will be one film comparison. (There was a second one, but it had to be cut for length.)

CCC 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 law.

CCC 2298: In past times, 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.

(emphasis mine)

Reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church, it seems very clear to me that the Church leaves no room for question regarding her teaching on torture. Much like abortion or euthanasia torture is intrinsically evil, an offense to human dignity, and should be abolished. However, after Sarah Palin’s recent comments comparing torture to baptism, it seems many conservative Catholics who pride themselves on being faithful sons or daughters of the Church are at worst defending her comments, or at least while acknowledging that torture is wrong, saying there is no way we can know whether or not waterboarding constitutes torture.

To those Catholics who believe torture is a perfectly legitimate and moral means to extract information or punish a prisoner, I have nothing to say other than: repent. They are in blatant violation of Church teaching and every bit as deranged as Nancy Pelosi when she uses her faith as a rationale for abortion. However, perusing the comments in response to other blogs posts about Palin’s remarks, it seems the dominant response is to say, “Yes, torture is wrong, but that is some obscure word to define a brutal act with no motive, which we good, noble Americans would not do. Furthermore, the Church does not say anywhere that ‘waterboarding is torture;’ therefore, it is okay for Catholics to support it.”

First of all, notice that the Church includes nearly all possible motives for torture: extracting confessions, punishment, frightening opponents to break their resolve, and hatred. In all cases, using physical or mental violence is intrinsically, gravely immoral, because it reduces the torture victim to something that is subhuman, much like abortion reduces the fetus to a subhuman being.

As the proponents of waterboarding admit, the purpose of waterboarding is supposedly to extract crucial information from the victim. Just because waterboarding has one of the same intents as torture, certainly does not make it torture, but read the Church’s other requirements for torture: an act of “physical or moral violence to extract confessions…” Is there any proponent of waterboarding who will seriously say that waterboarding is not an act of violence? It involves strapping down a prisoner so he cannot move, covering his face with a cloth, and then pouring large quantities of water over the cloth so he experiences the sensation of drowning. As a result, gagging, vomiting, and choking, can often occur, as well as water intoxication – when the blood salt level dips fatally low from consuming too much water. Even if the ordeal “goes smoothly,” and even if you deny it involves physical violence, there can be no denying that it involves psychological violence. Right?

Like physical violence, psychological violence against another human being in order to terrify them or extract information is condemned by the Church. I am not saying all acts of psychological violence constitute torture, nor I am saying there are not times when it is permissible to use violence, although it is a very slippery moral slope to eagerly concoct scenarios in which we’re permitted to enact violence. The sensation that your life is in danger is very frightening, and if that does not constitute mental torture, what does? About two months ago, I was driving home and stopped at a crosswalk for two pedestrians. A car with three young girls distractedly chatting was driving about 45 mph, and they did not see that I had stopped. Then I heard a screech, the pedestrians looked terrified, and I saw in the rearview mirror another car barreling right towards me. Thankfully, there were no cars in the next lane, I managed to quickly swerve out of the way, and the girls managed to stop before the crosswalk. Those two seconds certainly were not mental torture, and I did not think my life was in serious danger (I did think I was going to need a new car), but it was a rather nerve-wracking experience, and I don’t even want to imagine the sensation of truly feeling like you are going to die.

If one still doubts that waterboarding is torture, then let’s try the following thought experiment.

The Church teaches that adultery is intrinsically evil. Let’s suppose a married man wanted to have some fun with his secretary, but wanted to be technically free of committing physical adultery, not caring about adultery in thought. The Catechism defines adultery as “When two partner, of whom at least one is married to another party, have sexual relations” – CCC 2380. Suppose the man decided that kissing or fondling his secretary was not physical adultery since they would not be having sex. Maybe he would go so far as to rationalize sleeping with her as long as they refrained from sex and still claim he had not committed physical adultery.  Is there anyone who would not instantly say this reasoning is insane?

I understand that those who defend torture, or claim waterboarding is not torture, see a very real threat to the security of the United States and their loved ones, and they want to do all they can to stop it. If we are facing two regrettable futures, one with 20 million people dead and the other with 150 million people dead, isn’t there a clear distinction? It seems like a noble impulse to “no longer sit back and allow terrorist infiltration, terrorist indoctrination, terrorist subversion, and the international terrorist conspiracy to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids.” The only problem with that approach is you end up sitting beneath a sign reading, “Peace is our profession,” while strategizing the best way to commit mass murder.

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