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Tortured Theology

A recent survey found that people who attend church more often are more likely to support torturing people. Also, white evangelicals are more likely to support torturing people than are those of no faith. Sadly, I am not making this up. What is it about going to church that makes people want to torture others? It seems like instead of asking "What Would Jesus Do?" we are instead asking "What Would People Do To Jesus?" How can a Christian support torturing the image of God? How can someone who is pro-life--as most white evangelicals are--support taking an action that rejects the sacredness of life? A couple of years ago, I wrote an Ethics Daily column entitled "Tortured Theology" to critique evangelical leaders promoting the use of torture.

UPDATE [5-9-09]: Ethics Daily had a couple of good columns this week on this latest news on torture. Chuck Warnock had one entitled "Attend Church Regularly? Odds Are You Think Torture's OK." Jim Evans had one entitled "Evangelicals' Support of Torture Reveals Double Failure."


  1. Brian,

    I know you don't agree, but let me answer your questions simply.

    I support the interrogation methods used recently by our government to obtain information which saved lives. I am pro-life. We didn't take any prisoner's or terrorist's life--we saved innocent lives.

    Our motive, and arguably the outcome, was not to inflict pain or torture--it was to gain information to save innocent lives.

    To the majority of us Christians in the poll, that is a pro-life end which justifies the non-lethal interrogation means.

  2. How can a Christian support torturing the image of God? How can someone who is pro-life--as most white evangelicals are--support taking an action that rejects the sacredness of life?Human nature, sadly. I think it comes down to a kind of "gang mentality" where we all get together and decide it's all OK if people we approve of are saying so.

    Not to pick on Cat's Dad, but he pretty much sums up the "Christian" pro-torture argument (yes, I'm going to call it what it is -- torture). To do so, one has to ignore certain facts, such as these techniques he speaks of were designed to extract false confessions and are useless for gaining actionable intelligence. Another inconvenient fact is that, contrary to Dad's claim, we have in fact taken prisoner's lives. here's but one example. The argument completely falls apart when you get to it's conclusion -- that the ends justify the means. Every torturer pleads that excuse, why is it only accepted when "our side" does it?

  3. Free Man,

    Murderers will and should be prosecuted. But we don't and shouldn't make policy based on exceptions. If your "independent" source article is factual, it reports an exception.

    You're free to call interrogation what you think it is. False information is not what we're after from interrogation. You should be careful of whose facts you're swallowing hook, line, and sinker.

    I can assure you I'm not a gang member.

  4. Cat's Dad: I know you're not a gang member, and I never meant to imply such a thing. I said "a kind of gang mentality" and then described what I meant by that. It's easier to believe we're right about something when all of our closest associates agree.

    As to your warning "You should be careful of whose facts you're swallowing hook, line, and sinker.", you're right! We shouldn't blindly trust reports by the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Senate Armed Services Committee, both of which document deaths of detainees from abusive treatment, some "authorized", some not. Here's a shorter summary of the second document. From page 19: "Conclusion 3: The use of techniques similar to those used in SERE resistance training – such
    as stripping students of their clothing, placing them in stress positions, putting hoods over their
    heads, and treating them like animals – was at odds with the commitment to humane treatment of
    detainees in U.S. custody. Using those techniques for interrogating detainees was also
    inconsistent with the goal of collecting accurate intelligence information
    , as the purpose of SERE
    resistance training is to increase the ability of U.S. personnel to resist abusive interrogations and
    the techniques used were based, in part, on Chinese Communist techniques used during the
    Korean War to elicit false confessions

    But I would argue that torture is definitely wrong, regardless of motive, outcome, or whether or not the victims all survived their "harsh interrogations".

    When Jesus was being tortured to death, he said "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do". I pray the same for my fellow Christians who advocate the mistreatment of any human being for any reason whatsoever.

  5. StanD,

    I will respect your and others' principled stands against harsh interrogation as long as you and others are also and equally passionate about ending our government's legalization and accommodation of the snuffing out of innocent unborn human's lives through abortion.

  6. Thanks for the comments!

    C.D. #1: This is still using the ends to justify the means. Would you support killing a terrorist to save lots of lives? Why not? It's the same argument. How about cutting off their arms? That's non-lethal. Once you head down the road you are advocating, it is difficult to draw the line.

    Stan #1: Good points.

    C.D. #2: The fact is that torture often leads to false information and thus is not a good source of information.

    Stan #2: Thanks for the links.

    C.D. #3: I love how when you are losing an argument you change the subject. Here's an idea: how about being pro-life on BOTH issues? Life is sacred before and after birth. All people, those born and unborn, are created in the image of God. So, let's be consistently pro-life.


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