Ok, a quick review:
In my initial post, I suggested that the Christian propensity to see torture as necessary stems from a deep-seated assumption about God -- namely, that God tortures (primarily via hell). Therefore, it is reasoned, torture must serve some good purpose.
In my second post, I asserted further (though somewhat clumsily, I think) that this assumption is a terrible misconception, based in the same lie told to Eve by the serpent: "You can be like God." Our primary concern, I suggested, is not to equate our actions with God's actions, but rather to follow Jesus Christ, who is the fullest revelation of God in our reality.
This means that, as Christians, our every action ought to first and foremost be a reflection of Christ's actions, and it is extremely difficult to find any support for torture in the Gospels, unless it is Christ's willingness to accept torture on the behalf of others. With William Cavanaugh, I agree that the proper Christian response to a potentially violent threat is Christ-like sacrificial behavior, not torture.
I also pointed out that only God can determine God's parameters for punishment. This may have sounded like I was saying 'God can torture, but we can't.' If so, that doesn't seem particularly comforting. But what I was actually attempting to point out is that it is quite possible what we interpret as torture by God might not have been torture at all. Our inability -- attested in Scripture -- to grasp God's parameters outside of the context of Jesus Christ means that we should not only be slow to support torture ourselves, but slow to accuse God of torture to begin with.
But, this still leaves us with the troubling question: What about situations where torture might be a way to save many lives? Would it be allowable then? A few thoughts here -- and I'm going to number them, in the hopes of being as clear as possible.
1. First, it seems important to note that this entire question may be rendered moot, if -- as quite a bit of evidence seems to suggest -- torture really doesn't provide much useful intelligence. This debate is ongoing, but it seems quite possible that torture, in fact, does not achieve its goal, at least when it comes to preventing violent terrorist attacks.
2. Even if the torture did provide some valuable intelligence, it would still be wrong for a Christian to support torture, precisely for the reasons stated above. Jesus' example is not based in pragmatic considerations, it is based in self-sacrificial love. So, whether we like it or not, we do not follow Jesus because we think our lives will be safer, we follow because we believe our souls are being saved.
3. "But," someone will probably say, "That is fine for you, but what about the Christian's responsibility to stand up for the oppressed, to fight against the forces of evil, and to prevent innocent suffering?" Here, we finally reach the heart of the matter. Christians shouldn't stand by and allow others to suffer. This is certainly true. So, does Jesus really disapprove of torturing one to save the lives of many? In a word: Yes.
4. Jesus disapproves of sin. Period. Unfortunately, there are times when, no matter what we decide, sin is unavoidable. This requires careful explanation. Torture is, in effect, a symptom of the deeper reach of sin. Human evil is so entrenched that we are all continually reaping the results of previous actions, and sometimes a conflagration of results will lead to an impossible situation. In other words, some situations leave no other option besides sin. (Read Jacques Ellul's "The Presence of the Kingdom" for more on this subject) But -- and this is important! -- this is not a reason to shrug and say "Oh well, there was nothing else I could do." Rather, it is a reason to mourn our complicity in the whole situation, beg for God's mercy, and by God's grace begin to live differently!
5. So, torture is always wrong, but there may be times when, in our sin, we cannot see any other option. I am not comfortable with this conclusion, but I don't expect any resolution of this issue to provide comfort. There is danger either way. The possibility of death looms large. We are dealing with the results of centuries of collective human sin, and our utter inability to break free from the cycle, absent the grace of Jesus Christ. But the wise thing to do, as a Christian, would be to err on the side of grace, which means no torture.
6. Additionally, we must ask ourselves whether what we are gaining by torture is really enough to offset what we are losing. It is easy to think that torturing a few people who are, after all, violent terrorists, is not a terrible crime, even if it is not easily justified. But this reflects, I think, a narrow perspective of the power of sin. As Cavanaugh points out, actions like torture divide the world. Christ calls Christians to be reconcilers. It seems clear that we cannot truly fulfill our call to reconcile the world to Christ while at the same time torturing our enemies.
So, that's my take on it. I'd love to hear more responses... this is an important conversation.