Archive for February 11th, 2010

Moral Idiots

I recently joined the Coalition for Clarity, a group of mostly Catholic bloggers opposed to torture and to those Catholics who, in defiance of clear Church teaching, defend the use of torture, whatever euphemism they adopt for it. The Coalition was founded by Erin Manning, under the inspiration of Mark Shea, who for years has tirelessly exposed the errors of what he calls “the Rubber Hose Right”.

Mr Shea has what I call a “sar-charism”, a great gift for the sarcastic turn of phrase. I cannot say that I have never seen him get carried away with it and descend into mere name calling, but for the most part he skewers the sort of blowhards who need a good skewering.

Ms. Manning, in an early post on the Coalition website, described torture apologists as “moral imbeciles”. This provoked some reaction from those who thought she should be more conciliatory. What good does it do to offend?, one poster wondered. Shouldn’t we try to evangelize, to reach out?

I have written of torture a couple of times here, and once described its defenders as “moral idiots”. No one objected to that, but I would like to address the use of strong language here.

Let me note that I am generally in favor of irenic disputation. When I was younger I may have enjoyed a good polemical knockout, but I have long tired of it. Arguments weary me. And particularly religious arguments: I am a sentimental ecumenist, all in favor of dialogue and finding common ground.

That said, there is a time for dialogue and a time for prophetic denunciation.

I’m afraid we have become numbed-down, inured to those nice men in their well-tailored suits calmly defending “enhanced interrogation”. To paraphrase Juli Loesch Wiley, “enhanced interrogation” means torture, the way “collateral damage” means dead civilians. Because support for torture is so widespread in our society it starts to seem normal, not so crazy. But madness is madness, no matter how many of our neighbors are infected. Just because the vast majority of Americans believe the US was justified in bombing civilian populations in World War II does not mean it was not a war crime. Just because most Americans believe abortion ought to be legal does not mean it is not murder. And just because most Americans believe that torturing terror suspects is justifiable does not mean that it is not an intrinsically evil act. To be concerned that apologists for evil will be offended, have their poor feelings hurt, when someone calls their moral density for what it is is to grant too much, to imply that good and reasonable people  can come to different conclusions on whether one can torture a man.

But it really isn’t like that. It’s not as if we are disagreeing about how to settle the federal deficit, or whether baseball or football is the superior sport (though the obvious and objective answer to that is “baseball, of course”). It is more like talking to someone who proposes that the solution to third world hunger and overpopulation is for the poor to eat their children. I don’t care if he is offended when I point out that this is insane and evil. I don’t care if the member of the North American Man Boy Love Association, who holds that pedophilia is normal and healthy, is offended when I say he is a pervert. And those nice men in their suits, who hold it good and moral to hang a man by his wrists from the ceiling, to threaten his children, to pour cold water on his naked body in a freezing room, to deprive him of sleep for days, to pour water into his lungs until he is half drowned, or the rest of the horrors we know have been perpetrated in our name? I’m supposed to be sensitive to their hurt feelings ?  Yes, I’m sure they are traumatized. No doubt it is worse than waterboarding. But they are moral idiots, and they need to hear that they are moral idiots.

After all, Our Lord, who is- literally- love incarnate, did not hesitate to use harsh language- whited sepulchers, vipers, sons of the Devil- when the situation warranted. The torture apologists, at least in the public forum, are not the sort of broken sinners to whom Christ extended gentle mercy. They are more like the Pharisees, surely in need of a good skewering.

—Daniel Nichols

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