Tuesday, May 19, 2009

a few thoughts on Christians and torture...

In a recent blog entry, my pastor pointed to a recent study which found that Evangelical Christians are more likely, than the public at large, to accept torture as valid in certain circumstances. He then makes a couple of suggestions as to why this might be the case (Christians have historically supported justified wars/God sometimes told Israel to wipe out their enemies/Sometimes violence must be allowed to prevent worse violence).

While I agree that these hint at the connection, I want to suggest that the real reason for the polling results goes far deeper, to the very core of the Christian faith - and that the decision of any Christian to advocate any legitimation of torture is actually the symptom of an even greater, devilish, lie that must be rooted out, bit by bit, in order for the Kingdom of God to be made evident.

Why do I make such a bold claim? Consider the definition of torture. I am not going to refer here to the expansive definition given by the UN Convention against Torture, but to the more basic definition found in the Merriam-Webster dictionary:

1(a): anguish of body or mind; agony (b): something that causes agony or pain.
2: the infliction of intense pain (as from burning, crushing, or wounding) to punish, coerce, or afford sadistic pleasure.

Now, what image(s) does this definition bring to mind? Torture is anguish, agony, pain, punishment... in a word: Hell.

Yes, that's right. The Old Testament genocides are just the beginning. Christians, particularly today's Evangelicals, are slow to unequivocally condemn torture because we have, as a primary tenet of our faith, an eschatological precedent: Our God tortures. And not only does God torture those who are his enemies eternally, God tortures them beyond any punishment we can muster (see Matt. 25:46, 1 Thess. 1:8, Rev. 20:15).

So, if God will torture those who reject Christ, surely a bit of torture to protect ourselves isn't so wrong? After all, Christians use the threat of hell as a means to save souls all the time.

What does the second part of Merriam-Webster's entry say? It defines torture as the infliction of pain in an effort to coerce. Think about this: Christians torture every time they use the threat of hell to coerce someone into accepting Christ. We, as Evangelicals, have grown up in an environment where torture is not only advocated, it is encouraged! To place the fear of eternal damnation in someone's psyche as a means to encourage their decision... what is that besides torture?

I can hear the responses coming: "But it's for their own good! They need salvation!" Exactly. And so, we are obligated to sometimes torture, as good Christians, to bring about the good. At this point it may sound like I'm actually building a Christian case FOR torture -- what about my claim that all this is a devilish lie?

That will be in the next post. :-)


Richard Dahlstrom said...

this is good... looking forward to where you're next steps are going. Thanks for the thoughtful declaration...my own thoughts tended towards seeing the link more rooted in how tied american evangelicals are to nationalism, but your thoughts make sense.

BenMc said...

I'm watching too. I'm skeptical of a few things: defining torture broadly and then condemning everything that falls under that broad definition just as broadly (and uniformly); putting a modern definition of the ideal state being a lack of pain above a theology of the cross; and going down a road that leads to a reinterpreting of words spoken by Jesus such as in the rich man and Lazarus. However, I think your line of questioning is so important that I'm waiting to see where you go with it -- I think the question may be more important than even the answer. We should be asking these questions. (And I really should read Stanley Hauerwas' Suffering Presence, which I own but have not read!, to be able to talk about this better.)

Geoff said...

Good thoughts, Ben! Read my next post and tell me what you think...