Jesus Died For Torture Apologists

Discussions of torture and the United States’s use of it in the “War on Terror” are not new. Many thinkers, including Christian theologians, have considered the matter before, and there are some legitimate qualifications and discussions to be had. However, in the wake of the recent Senate Intelligence Committee’s report, there are no longer relevant reasons to prevent us from concluding that the United States did participate in torture and that many of the specific forms were unjust and abhorrent. They were evil.

Writing for The New Yorker, Amy Davidson summarizes the report explaining:

The interrogators didn’t know the languages that would have been useful for real intelligence, but they did come up with a lexicon of their own: “walling,” which meant slamming a person against a wall; “rough takedown,” in which a group would rush into a cell yelling, then drag a detainee down the hall while punching him, perhaps after having “cut off his clothes and secured him with Mylar tape”; “confinement box,” an instrument to make a prisoner feel he was closed in a coffin (the box came in large or small sizes); “sleep deprivation,” which might mean being kept awake for a hundred and eighty hours before succumbing to “disturbing hallucinations”; the ability to, as the report put it, “earn a bucket,” the bucket being what a prisoner might get to relieve himself in, rather than having to soil himself or being chained to a wall with a diaper (an “image” that President Bush was said to have found disturbing); “waterboarding,” which often itself seems to have been a euphemism for near, rather than simulated, drowning; “rectal rehydration as a means of behavioral control”; “lunch tray,” the assembly of foods that were puréed and used to rectally force-feed prisoners.

This is what the talk of family could look like: “CIA officers also threatened at least three detainees with harm to their families—to include threats to harm the children of a detainee, threats to sexually abuse the mother of a detainee, and a threat to ‘cut [a detainee’s] mother’s throat.’ ” The interrogation of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri included “implying that his mother would be brought before him and sexually abused.”

These ought to be shocking and disgusting revelations. The use of sexual assault and threats of sexual assault (and murder!) against family members are the kind of enormities which make rational men go mute in shock and moral disbelief. Yet sadly, many of these very practices were not surprises just revealed this week. Taxi to the Dark Side documented several of them 7 years ago. The new revelation is that they were not episodic offenses carried out by individuals but were rather intentional parts of official strategy.

Americans ought to be upset. Americans ought to be sad. Americans ought to be driven to introspection.

And this should be especially true for Christians. Continue reading

Political Talk as Totalitarian Distraction

Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World is the kind of book that should be read several times throughout one’s life and for a variety of reasons. Most people who read it do so as assigned reading in High School or College. They then apply it to history and politics, respectively, seeing the themes and connections that Huxley is presenting throughout the story. What I would propose, however, is applying it not simply to politics, but to society itself and indeed ourselves, to human nature. While a much better book, Brave New World is less iconic than Orwell’s 1984 and so it does not contribute to our common parlance in quite the same way. Everyone knows what “Big Brother” is, but hardly anyone in the general population would know what I meant if I referred to soma, Fordianism, or “the feelies.” This is too bad, because Huxley much more accurately foresaw the condition of the middle-to-late 20th century, and what he saw continues today. In fact, I think it is a book with immense pastoral value. (Pastors: read it next to Walker Percy’s Lost in the Cosmos and for the same reason.)

The difference between Huxley’s vision and Orwell’s lies in the nature of coercion and repression. Orwell’s presentation is of the classically totalitarian sort: traditional-style propaganda, the military-industrial complex, and top-down control. Huxley sees things from the opposite direction. True, there is still a “program” which is enforced on society, but in Brave New World, the powers that be have figured out how to make the people impose this program on themselves, voluntarily and without ever feeling discomfort. This is achieved through a strict class stratification, the disestablishment of the family, free sex, ubiquitous prescription drugs, and an entertainment industry which keeps everyone constantly distracted. Where Orwell depicts the old-style statism of Nazis and Soviets, Huxley captures liberal-progressivism of the sort that the modern West, including the US, embodies today. We have largely entertained and distracted ourselves to death. Continue reading

Men, Women, and Sexual Identity

gender-symbolsMy last post really should have been called “What are men and women, and how do you know?” I emphasized that second question, only scratching the surface of the first. I’ll try to say more about that one now. Also one commentator suggested that I read some books on the distinction between sexuality and gender. Presumably I wouldn’t be so outrageously backwards if I did so. Herein I have to make a confession. I have read “some books.” I’ve also read some other ones. It’s just that I have this old-souled conviction that the best way to understand humanity is through the study of the humanities. I’ll explain.

In our modern day, the assumption seems to be that “social sciences” are more reliable, because they are “science” after all. They rely on statistics, and we all know that statics are the way to go. In fact, at the political science conference I go to, it’s about 70% statistics. (I go to the theory panels, but you knew that.) And it’s not that statistics are nothing. It’s just that they are inherently democratic, and I don’t believe that wisdom is. I believe in external and objective truth, something which we can all pursue and be relatively persuaded of through reason, patience, and charity. We don’t determine such wisdom by amassing testimonials from eye-witnesses though. We identify self-evident truths and indubitable realities, which stand outside us all, and then we deduce and we induce. Science will be very helpful along the way, but science will only do some of the work. It will not do all of the work. It cannot do all of the work. This is because it is necessarily limited. It observes and sometimes predicts. It does not really interpret or “understand.” Science can tell no stories.  In fact, science itself rests upon a foundation which is pre-scientific, a set of assumptions about the nature of reality and knowledge, and these assumptions cannot actually be “tested” in the scientific manner without falling into a vicious circle. I probably should have told you that some of those books I read were philosophy books. Continue reading

What are Men and Women?

7321265-man-and-womanAs I’ve written about sexual identity and the natural differences between men and women, several questions have come up in different venues all asking the same thing: Where are you getting your concepts of gender roles? There are a lot of complicated ways to answer this question, and there are a lot of flat-out wrong ways to answer this question. I’ll try to keep it as simple (and right) as I can, but it will still take some ins and outs.

I believe that men and women have distinct roles and functions in life because I believe that sex matters. Men are men. They do not choose to be men. There is not some internal asexual self waiting to be freed. The same is true for women. This is both physical and psychological. It is a matter of body and soul.

Now all of this is derived from my own understanding of God and His design, but also from the nature of things. This can get us into the “complicated” very quickly, and so I’ll start by giving us some easy analogies. Imagine yourself in something of a desert island situation. You’ve got leaves, trees, sand, dirt, rocks, animals, etc. Then you stumble upon a fully-crafted ax. You can tell it is different from the other items because of its composition and the clear evidence of design. You run your thumb across the blade and cut yourself. This thing is meant for cutting. It might work for other jobs, but obviously cutting is the primary one. Continue reading

Women, Family, and Economy

rosieI’m not sure what it takes for something to qualify as having “gone viral,” but my latest post on feminism and women in combat is hinting in that direction. It isn’t that it got so many hits all at once, but (more interestingly) it is getting very diverse traffic, some friendly and some not so much. And so instead of leaving well enough alone, I figured I should be like the Apostle Paul and not let a small-scale riot be an opportunity wasted. For those who were confused, bothered, or enraged, let me say that while yes, I do believe some very radical and outrageous stuff and wish to persuade you all of it as well, I probably don’t quite mean what you think.

For starters, I don’t condemn or even blame women living in our society who have sought to go be their own persons and do what they believe. I think they are wrong, of course (as are also most of the men), but they’re doing exactly what you would expect, given our culture’s values and the basic framework of our society and economy. Frankly, it wouldn’t make any sense if they weren’t trying to make it to the top. To quote Mrs. Sayers again, women are human. Continue reading

Women at War

GijaneG.K. Chesterton once wrote, “Feminists are, as their name implies, opposed to anything feminine.” We are now seeing this come to its most poignant fulfillment, as “women’s equality” has reached the point of the US government putting them in full military combat roles. Many conservative Christians are outraged, but this shouldn’t be seen as anything new. Women have already been in mostly non-combat positions in the military, and women firefighters and policepersons are commonplace. Women are taught from the earliest ages that they should do anything that they desire, no matter the perceived restrictions. We could trace this development back much further, of course, as it goes back at least to the middle of the 19th century. We are simply at the logical end of all of that. The women’s movement would say that they are finally winning “the war on women,” but I would suggest that the sides have been misnamed. It is true that there is a war against women. It’s just that the feminists are the ones waging it, and they’ve nearly won. Continue reading

The Sin/Crime Distinction

So I do a bit of writing on politics, law, and religion.  I was even fortunate enough to have one article published by an academic journal last year.  This isn’t my primary vocation, but it’s a solid second calling.  It’s more than a mere hobby.  And the further I’ve gotten into this field, the more convinced I am that Christians really don’t know how to think about law and politics.  There are very large segments of the Christian population who have severed themselves completely from Christian jurisprudence, namely the far-Left progressives and the Libertarians.  These folks can certainly be true Christians.  They are just very mistaken about how that relates to politics.  The majority of “Evangelicals” find themselves in the middle of the GOP spectrum, some reluctantly and some happily.  And a few other well-intentioned Christians stick with the “moderate” and “independent” labels.  Hardly any of them, however, are terribly confident as to whether this is actually a consistent Biblical outlook, and those that are “very confident” are also often very mistaken.

Now let me quickly add that I don’t think I’ve got it all quite figured out either.  There are a number of contemporary political issues of which I am not totally sure what the best approach is.  But one thing I have managed to do over the last few years it to get a  comfortable grasp of the guiding principles of traditional Christian legal thought.  Notice that I said principles.  Principles are different than positive commands and prohibitions.  They go back to basic concepts and founding themes and ideas.  Principles can often take different expressions depending on the rest of the context.  Still, basic morality never changes.

One of the perennial questions is always regarding what role religion should even play in politics. Continue reading

Why I Loved Les Mis

The 2012 movie version of Les Miserables reminds me of the reception of Mumford & Sons’ latest album.  Throngs of adoring fans, having awaited the releases for some time, made both huge commercial successes, both were then widely panned by critics for being too earnest (and thus unbelievable), and both were sorta Christian.  The differences are important too. Whereas Babel generated a surprisingly hostile review from a significant number of critics, Les Miserables is holding out at a respectable 70% on Rotten Tomatoes and has been nominated for 8 Academy Awards.  Another key difference, from my point of view at least, is that I mostly didn’t like Mumford’s new album (really liked the first one, but am now a little worn out by the monotony), but I absolutely loved Les Miserables.  I came very close to feeling those dreaded emotions after watching it, and you can ask around, that’s not a common occurrence for me.

Now, I’ve read a lot of criticisms of Les Miserables.  The New Yorker, somewhat predictably, turned their collective noses up at it.  Anthony Lane did his usual cynical routine, and David Denby, usually the good cop, was even worse, saying that, “It’s terrible; it’s dreadful. Overbearing, pretentious, madly repetitive.”  Oh well.  At least Adam Gopnik liked it.  I’m not too bothered by The New Yorker.  It’s a publication for people who think of themselves as intellectuals, which is a distinct group, actually, from mere intellectuals.

More relevant to my circles, and more directly challenging towards my own sentiments, are those critiques coming from Christian viewers.  I’ve seen the basic concern that Victor Hugo was himself not a Christian, along with other criticisms about the too-heavy emotions of the movie, the perils of Romanticism, and the overshadowing of any true message of grace by a sort of Enlightenment humanism.  Here I was thinking that I’d seen a profound presentation of the impossibility of lawbut perhaps I’d been mistaken.  What are we to think of these observations? Continue reading

The Actual Culture War

So there definitely is a culture war.  It doesn’t take much reading through academic literature and the press to see that discussions of reason and revelation, faith and science, social freedoms, public morality, and sexual identity all attract attention and all cut to the deepest convictions and principles of American society.  And it doesn’t take long to see that America is unsettled on those convictions and principles.  The problem is that this culture war is often pretty mixed up, with participants shooting themselves in the foot as often as anything else.

They say that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.  This is true.  People learn a couple of talking points and a few intellectual formulas, and suddenly they think they have profound weaponry for social regeneration.  One example is a billboard on Interstate 55 here in Jackson.  It’s advertising a school which, I’m told, actually does do a good job at placing students into colleges and preparing them for high-paying jobs.  Still, the sign’s faux intellectualism is unnerving.  It advertises that the school will “Teach you how to think, not what to think.”  Now that certainly sounds pious.  This school, unique among all others, will avoid brainwashing its students with socio-political bias and will instead impart to them a view-from-nowhere objectivity that will allow these students to discover the best world and life for each of them, as they freely realize it on their own, with no intrusion from the principalities and powers.

Obviously that’s ridiculous.   Continue reading