Monday, June 28, 2004

What About Torture?

Jimmy Atkins, our favorite apologist, writes about torture and hits on something in the Catechism:

The Catechism's discussion of torture (CCC 2298) focuses significantly on the motive that is being pursued in different acts of torture. If it means us to understand that having a particular motive is necessary for an act to count as torture then it might turn out that some acts commonly described as torture are in fact not torture--just as some acts commonly described as stealing are not actually the sin of stealing, such as taking food to feed one's family during a time of starvation when the person who initially had the food has plenty. The same might turn out to be true of torture (i.e., not everything that looks like torture would be the sin of torture).


Blogger WilliamSB said...

I wonder if you and Jimmy Atkins are reading the same catechism I am. My reading of paragraph 2298 is:

"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."

This paragraph notes that civil and ecclesiastical authorities have, in the past, engaged in torture practices. But it calls this fact "cruel" and "regrettable." Nowhere, in this paragraph, does the Catechism equivocate about motive in regard to whether we can call something "torture."

Admittedly, in Catholic moral thought, intent is pivotal to whether a person commits a sin. But that is true in EVERY act; not just the act of torture. An act, on the other hand, is said to be a "moral evil" regardless of whether the person commiting the act knowingly and volitionally commits a moral evil. To wit: whether or not an act is "evil" is in the act; whether or not an act is a "sin" is in the will of the person committing the act.

I respect your right and will to support George W. Bush in this election. But let's not water down Catholic moral teaching because it suits your campaign.

A more acceptable approach would be to analyze whether or not Bush was aware of, ordered, or in any way accepted acts of torture by American troops. Arguments have been made from both sides; and we need to sort those out. We could not, of course, ascribe sin to Bush if he had. That would be between Bush and God. If he had ordered, or had been complicit in, acts of torture by American troops, though, we have a duty as citizens of the United States to decide whether we will accept that from our commander-in-chief.

8:02 AM  
Blogger WilliamSB said...

Correction: My statement assigning evil in the act is not meant to be taken as a universal statement. Often, an act, in itself, can be good or morally neutral; and still be an evil act. That is because the "intent" or "will" of the person committing the act is evil.

In the case of CCC 2298's treatment of torture, however, we do not find a treatment of "intent." We find a teaching about the act itself. Torture is always and everywhere a moral evil; regardless of the intent of the person committing the act.

8:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Trying to justify torture (or "enhanced interrogation techniques" or whatever: torture by any other name is just as foul) is not likely going to win votes for Bush, but may contribute to his losing the election. They don't call it the Stupid Party for nothing...

7:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

By the way, it's Akin not Atkins. Atkins is the diet, Akin the apologist.

1:10 AM  

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