Moral confusion on the right
0 comment Monday, November 17, 2014 |
Did you watch the '100 Days' press conference? Neither did I, though I've looked at the transcript just to see what was said. But the following question and the ambiguous answer given has me puzzled. At one point, #44 says that waterboarding was torture, and that it 'violates our ideals and values' but then he says he is convinced it was the right thing to do. However I don't expect logic or consistency from him or his administration; it looks like he is trying to have it both ways, predictably:
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. You've said in the past that waterboarding in your opinion is torture. And torture is a violation of international law and the Geneva Conventions. Do you believe that the previous administration sanctioned torture?
MR. OBAMA: What I've said -- and I will repeat -- is that waterboarding violates our ideals and our values. I do believe that it is torture. I don't think that's just my opinion; that's the opinion of many who've examined the topic. And that's why I put an end to these practices.
I am absolutely convinced that it was the right thing to do -- not because there might not have been information that was yielded by these various detainees who were subjected to this treatment, but because we could have gotten this information in other ways -- in ways that were consistent with our values, in ways that were consistent with who we are.
I was struck by an article that I was reading the other day talking about the fact that the British, during World War II, when London was being bombed to smithereens, had 200 or so detainees. And Churchill said, "we don't torture," when the -- the entire British -- all of the British people were being subjected to unimaginable risk and threat. And -- and -- and the reason was that Churchill understood, you start taking shortcuts, and over time, that corrodes what's -- what's best in a people.
It corrodes the character of a country.''
I have not blogged about this waterboarding/torture issue, because it is rather a thorny subject with which I haven't concerned myself very much. On the one hand, I find little sympathy for terror suspects but on the other hand, I cannot and could not bring myself to share the Rush Limbaugh attitude that, say, the incidents at Abu Ghraib were 'no worse than a fraternity hazing', just no big deal. I remember when that scandal first broke I was still somewhat of a mainstream conservative in many respects, but broke ranks with the dittoheads on the subject of the War on Terror or the Iraq War specifically.
So is waterboarding 'torture'? I don't know. I don't have a clear-cut answer. I do see a danger of simply reacting, as most Republicans do, in knee-jerk fashion to the rantings of the left. In other words, if the Democrats are agin' something, we have to be for it, and not only for it, but rabidly so. If they think waterboarding is torture, we have to say it's not only not torture, but in fact a good and virtuous thing. I reject knee-jerk politics or partisanship.
Overall, though, this issue is not high up on my list of priorities. But here is an interesting discussion from What's Wrong With the World, where Lydia writes about the changing views among conservatives on the ethics of 'torture' and capital punishment.
The End of a Consensus
This post is going to be full of sociological claims about which I am uncertain. It's okay if you disagree with me about them, so long as you do so nicely.
First claim: Thirty-five years ago, most conservatives were both very strongly in favor of the death penalty and strongly opposed to torture, where "torture" would have included waterboarding, if they had been asked about it.
Second claim: This is no longer true today. Now, conservatives who are strongly in favor of the death penalty tend to be the same ones who support at least some forms of torture, and conservatives who are opposed to those same forms of torture tend to be, at least, uneasy about the death penalty rather than strongly in favor of it.
Suppose these are both true. What caused the change?'
There is a paradox here. I would say she is right that a generation or so ago, most conservatives were pro-capital punishment yet they would not have approved of torture, or of some of the 'interrogation methods' that are apparently being used in recent years. She asks why views have shifted among conservatives. It does appear that more conservatives now have misgivings about the death penalty, but there is also a much more cavalier attitude about 'torture' in interrogation. I found the approval of torture by many conservatives to be surprising when it first became apparent a few years ago. I wondered at the time why this was so; I always, even when I was liberal, had a picture of conservatives as being more gentlemanly and civilized than many liberals. I suppose the generation of 'conservatives' who were dittoheads or listeners to talk radio generally tended to be less genteel than the old-time conservatives.
This isn't your father's conservatism.
But why has there been a change, as Lydia asks?
Further down, she says:
There is something to my mind bracing and healthy about a person who recognizes, sternly, uncompromisingly, and forcefully, the importance of the death penalty, who takes a manly position also on self-defense, who is nowhere close to pacifism, but who views torture with unmitigated disgust and rejection. Can anyone imagine John Wayne torturing anyone? But I can certainly imagine him solemnly sentencing a murderer to death. And what about the Marine hymn? "First to fight for right and freedom, and to keep our honor clean."
Regardless of what John Wayne would have countenanced, or more accurately, what his movie characters would have done, would, say, Robert E. Lee have approved of torturing anyone? Stonewall Jackson? Thomas Jefferson? George Washington?
Yet all of these men would, as Lydia says of Wayne, would have no objection to the death penalty where appropriate.
We live in a strange and inconsistent age; some of the same people on the right who support the death penalty for certain criminals are too squeamish to send illegal invaders home, or to close our borders, because that would be cruel and inhumane.
As far as the death penalty, this subject has come up here before. I notice something strange about the comments on Lydia's post at WWWtW: almost no one references or cites the Bible on the subject of the death penalty. Someone quotes G.K. Chesterton as an authority; I admire Chesterton as much as the next, and a quote of his adorns my sidebar. But he is not my authority on ethics and morals. Another commenter references C.S. Lewis; I would say the same of him that I say about Chesterton. But shouldn't a Christian look to the Bible to know God's will on that subject? Surely the absence of Biblical references is surprising on a site which espouses a Christian worldview -- or perhaps more accurately a Catholic viewpoint.
I think the question of the Church's teachings on capital punishment is an interesting topic which should be explored, although I won't attempt that here, as I am not a Catholic and I don't feel qualified to explore that. It's a subject for those who are Catholic or who are more knowledgeable about Catholic theology or doctrine than I. I do know, simply, that the Catholic Church used to favor capital punishment for certain crimes like murder, though I don't know how or why that position was reversed.
Even less do I know why Protestants, in some cases, are abandoning Biblical teaching on the death penalty. I was talking about capital punishment with a very conservatively-brought-up Christian recently, when we were discussing various crimes. This person told me that she was not sure about capital punishment because the Bible says ''vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord.'' I attempted to point out that this is in reference to personal matters, admonishing us not to take revenge on someone who has wronged us, just as with the 'turn the other cheek' admonition. But I fear it fell on deaf ears. She thinks capital punishment is revenge, and that it is a failure to show mercy and forgiveness. Again, I tried to point out that God is not only merciful but just and holy, not tolerating sin. She was unconvinced. And I know there are many more like her, who are now becoming more liberal and vacillating on issues like punishment in general. Many have been persuaded by years of exposure to the Oprah approach, and the emphasis on mental illness as the cause of crime, not human sin or evil. Punishment, according to that worldview, is backward; an enlightened society 'understands' and 'rehabilitates' its 'sick people'; it does not punish criminals. That is so 'medieval.'
Someone on the WWWtW thread opines that the tendency to favor harsh interrogation methods for terror suspects is driven by the tribal defense instinct; we feel under threat so we are willing to justify harsh measures to protect our own in wartime or other such extraordinary situations. I think that makes sense; perhaps it's why I am not inclined to feel sympathy for terror suspects or actual terrorists. I don't believe that the Islamic threat is a bogeyman created by the neocons or the media. On the other hand, neither do I see Islam as the primary threat, so I don't fit in with the mainstream right on this issue.
As for the capital punishment question, I think it will assume more importance as the ascendant far left tries its best to abolish capital punishment. They have been relentlessly working towards that goal for decades and they are sensing victory, so they will ratchet up their efforts to end it. And what with the liberalizing of many formerly conservative churches and denominations, I fear Christians will lose the will to defend the death penalty, and concede the moral battle to the left, probably feeling good about themselves as they do so. It's all part of the same phenomenon which causes the Christian 'conservatives' to reverse themselves on homosexuality, same-sex ''marriage'' or other such social issues. What's next?
Here are some good defenses, from a Biblical point of view, of capital punishment. They do a very thorough job of examining many possible objections or questions from skeptics on the issue:
Stand to Reason: The Bible and Capital Punishment
by Gregory Koukl
The Bible and Capital Punishment
Capital Punishment and the Bible

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