One of the most troubling cultural developments of recent times
is the rise of what has been dubbed "torture porn", films that dwell
lingeringly on the physical details of tortured innocents. I have not
seen any of these- the Saw and Hostel films, or The Captive, the
most recent addition to the genre, but I have read written accounts of
them and they are hideous. Much of what passes for entertainment these
days is appalling, an appeal to the basest impulses and darkest corners
of the fallen psyche.
The films have done well at the box office, often outgrossing–in both senses of the word–their competitors.
suppose that we ought to be grateful, at least, that the torturers in
these films are the bad guys, not the heroes, as in the hit television
series 24–which I also have not seen–where the good guy, Jack Bauer, regularly tortures terrorists. All for a good cause, of course.
should trouble us further is the fact that all of this is taking place
against a background of U.S. government-sanctioned torture.
sidestepping and evasiveness marked the Bush administration’s response
to accusations of torture in the past, it has become undeniable that
America has joined the ranks of the torturers.
exposure to extreme temperatures, denial of food and water, sleep
deprivation, attack dogs, aural assault: it reads like a catalog of
tactics from some second rate dictatorship. And that is not to mention
even harsher methods which may or may not be part of official policy.
there is not a massive outcry against the use of torture among
Americans. The architects of such tactics remain safely in office.
Indeed, at one of the early debates between Republican presidential
candidates most of them strove to outdo one another in supporting the
tough guy approach.
All of this is predicated
on the acceptance of consequentialist logic, the notion that the
morality of an act is to be judged by the good it accomplishes or the
evil it avoids, rather than by objective moral principle that
To the well formed
Christian this is both an exercise in the imagination–for who can know
the future?–and a recipe for cooking up a gourmet-level disaster.
appealing to fallen reason and emotion one can justify anything. One
can make a case for using torture to extract information that will save
innocent lives; the most recent one I saw personalized this by
specifying that the person you save is the one you love the most in the
Does this not tug at the heart? Of
course, and God knows what any of us would do in the highly unlikely
event that we were in such a situation. But one does not determine
moral principle by sketching the most compelling temptation imaginable.
But of course one can construct such a scenario to justify anything. Including abortion.
believe it? Try this: your 14 year old daughter has been diagnosed with
an incurable illness. She has been given a year, two at the most, to
live. On the way home from the library she is abducted, raped, and
impregnated. Doctors say the child she is carrying has contracted her
disease and if the child makes it to birth will live only a few weeks.
To fallen reason and emotion the solution is obvious.
But fallen reason and emotion are wrong.
the direct assault on human dignity (torture) and the deliberate
killing of an innocent human being (abortion) are a direct attack on
the Image of God.
I once believed that one
could create a just social order based upon reason alone. That is, I
embraced the fundamental error of the so-called Enlightenment. Contrary
to what some conservatives say it is this–let’s call it faith in
reason–and not the love of liberty or the rejection of oligarchy and
oppression which is the fundamental error of the French Revolution and
the Age of Reason.
I do not mean by this that
unassisted reason cannot come to certain truths, only that it is highly
prone to error, and that certain other truths are unattainable by
reason alone. Unaided reason quickly becomes tortured logic.
first became aware of the insufficiency of reason alone in the moral
sphere when thinking about euthanasia. One simply cannot construct an
argument against shortening the suffering of the terminally ill that
will convince reason, apart from transcendent truth, for there is no
meaning to suffering that can be understood apart from Revelation.
Reason cannot grasp that suffering can have meaning and purpose, that
it can be a participation in the redemption of the world.
Only faith can know that, as only faith can ultimately know that no good end justifies torture or abortion or any other evil.
the time of rapprochement of Church and World heralded by Vatican II
has passed, and a new hour of prophetic witness has arrived.
As St Paul said "For the wisdom of this world is foolishness to God."