Thursday, November 08, 2007


It doesn't surprise me that God's Own Watergate Felon, Chuck Colson, would respond to the question "Can the use of torture ever be justified?" by saying sure, sometimes it can -- but I'm disturbed by his analogies:

...It is well understood in Christian tradition that while we are supposed to obey the law, there may be times when there is a higher obligation (see Aquinas, Augustine, and Martin Luther King). To rescue a drowning person, a Christian would be justified in disobeying a "no trespassing" sign.

So it is with torture; if a competent authority honestly believed that this was the only way to get information that might save the lives of thousands, I believe he would be justified. That is not moral relativism. It is making a difficult decision when human life and dignity will be affected either way. The Greeks called it prudence.

What can I say about the invocation of the greatest pacifist hero of the last sixty years to justify the use of brutal violence? It's breathtakingly appalling.

The "no trespassing" analogy is merely appalling. Let's see if I can follow his logic: Torture is OK if you have to do it to save a lot of people, just as crossing onto somebody's land against the person's wishes is OK if you have to do it to save one person. So the moral evil of torture is erased by the attempt to save a lot of lives, and the moral evil of trespassing is erased by the attempt to save one life.

Therefore what? If no lives are in the balance, multiple acts of trespassing are equal to one act of torture? Torturing somebody once is morally equivalent to ignoring "no trespassing" signs repeatedly?

I think, by that logic, every normally rambunctious kid who ever lived is morally the same as a torturer.


UPDATE: The comments thread for this post is especially thought-provoking. I recommend it.

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