Conservatives, Christians and torture  

Posted by Denis Haack in , ,

Andrew Sullivan, blogger for the Atlantic, is convinced that “the question of torture—and the United States’ embrace of inhumanity as a core American value under the presidency of George W. Bush—remains, in my view, the pre-eminent moral question in American politics. The descent of the United States—and of Americans in general—to lower standards of morality and justice than those demanded by Iranians of their regime is a sign of the polity's moral degeneracy.”

What he writes next is worth careful reflection not only by all those who consider themselves to be conservatives, but especially those of that number who claim to be Christians.

Indeed, much of the American people, especially evangelical Christians, expect less in terms of human rights from their own government than Iranians do of theirs’. In fact, American evangelicals are much more pro-torture in this respect than many Iranian Muslims.

This is what Bush and Cheney truly achieved in their tragic response to 9/11: two terribly failed, brutally expensive wars, the revival of sectarian warfare and genocide in the Middle East, the end of America's global moral authority, the empowerment of Iran's and North Korea's dictatorships, and the nightmares of Gitmo and Bagram still haunting the new administration.

But what they did to the culture—how they systematically dismantled core American values like the prohibition on torture and respect for the rule of law—is the worst and most enduring of the legacies.

One political party in this country is now explicitly pro-torture, and wants to restore a torture regime if it regains power. Decent conservatives for the most part simply looked the other way. Unless these cultural forces in defense of violence and torture are defeated - not appeased or excused, but defeated—America will never return the way it once was. Electing a new president was the start and not the end of this. He is flawed, as every president is, but in my view, the scale of the mess he inherited demands some slack. Any new criminal investigation which scapegoats those at the bottom while protecting the guilty men and women who made it happen is a travesty of justice. If it is the end and not the beginning of accountability, it will be worse than nothing.

Evangelical faith is centered on the evangel, the gospel as expressed in Scripture and revealed in Christ and his finished work. Essential to that gospel is the biblical insistence that every person is created in God’s image and must therefore be treated as such. But what if they have committed heinous crimes? This does not erase God’s image. Justice must be served, but jettisoning basic morality in the pursuit of security is both unwise and unjust. It is noting less than a practical denial of the gospel of Christ.

You can read Andrew Sullivan’s post here.

This entry was posted at Tuesday, August 25, 2009 and is filed under , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


Is the war in Iraq an unjust war? Undoubtedly.
Did the Bush administration condone the immoral treatment of prisoners? Quite possibly. (I say "possibly" only because despite all the rhetoric of the left on this issue, I still don't have a clear idea of exactly what happened.)
Should Bush administration officials be prosecuted for their actions? Probably not. Their actions, while at times indefensible morally, were probably legal. If when the rules change we prosecute those who broke them when they weren't in force, we make a mockery of the rule of law, and do so in the name of morality.
Ironic, isn't it?

August 27, 2009 at 10:40 AM

The Holocaust has forever darkened the image of Germany, the land that gave us Luther, Bonhoeffer, not to mention many of the greatest philosophers, theologians, artists, etc. The legacy of the Bush-Cheney rule in America has likewise marred the image of America, the land of Lincoln, Martin Luther King,Jr., and so many other great men and women. As Christians, at least those of us who claim to be such, we must boldly condemn the criminal acts of the Bush-Cheney regime. There is a court of international justice at The Hague, shouldn't they be called to account for their deeds before that tribunal? WJB

August 29, 2009 at 9:11 AM

So, what's the status of ex post facto in the US? If it's still part of our legal system, the issue that needs to be investigated is whether the actions taken during the investigation of prisoners went against any torture law and regulations to which the US had already agreed to abide. If that is found to be true, then we aren't simply changing the rules we are abiding by them.

I'm not sure either if what was done was legal for the US to do, but I know I'm not willing to assume that it "probably was" since it was definitely immoral - I agree totally with the arguement made in the post, it has been what I have been arguing with friends about from the beginning of this mess in which we use "security" to justify any behavior. The Bible tells us that to do right and follow the Lord is to be, according to the wisdom of the world, unsecure. The wisdom of the world has crept into our worldview without us realizing, we would now rather hallow security that the image of God.

August 29, 2009 at 11:12 AM

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