Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Moving Goalposts ...

Mark replies on the issue of deportation:
This was fair well gone over by the excuse makers at the Coalition for Fog. The basic strategy (rather ironic for people who were so exercised about Fundamentalist Proof texting) was to point out that since it is absurd to say that all deportations are wrong, then *nothing* JPII mentions can really be intrinsically immoral (and by "nothing" they meant "torture").

Not at all. What we are attempting to point out is that there are a number of unspoken qualifiers with respect to John Paul II's statements from the Gaudium et Spes quotation in question. Thus far, Mark's whole argument on torture has been to appeal to "plain meaning" of a text and then to accuse those who disagree with him of ill motives and loyalty to the Bush administration over the Church. It is my whole point in raising issues such as deportation to note that it isn't that simple. He dismisses the question of deportation on the grounds that it is "absurd" (with which I agree), but then he fails to take it to the next step and understand why it is because of opinions like that which might cause someone to question his invocation of a single text.

Mark writes:
There doesn't seem to be nearly this much energy expended to argue that abortion is not intrinsically immoral. I wonder why?

A couple of reasons, not the least of which being that there is a lot more ink than just Gaudium et Spes and Veritas Splendor when it comes to abortion, to say nothing of a long chain of development concerning Catholic doctrine on the subject. The issue of torture being intrinsically evil, by contrast, is little less than a century old and hence it seems fair to look into the matter closer before pronouncing it as case closed. For those who want to raise the issue of the death penalty or the Church's view of the Jews in order to tar this position as rad-trad, I would say that the death penalty is most assuredly not intrinsically evil and that I believe there is a strong Biblical and doctrinal basis for Vatican II's statements on both the Jews and other religions. One might also note the absence of such statements on the intrinsic evil of torture and be wary of those who would presume to define dogma ahead of the Church.
Anyhow, those of us who are not fundamentalist proof texters point out that when you hit a puzzling ambiguity in Church teaching, the smart thing to do is find out what else the Church teaches about the topic. When you look at "deportation" you discover that the Church does not dispute the right of the state to send a criminal to another country for his crimes. That's called "common sense". Pretty obviously, what is in view here is the violation of "you shall not steal" (by which we mean "It is intrinsically immoral to deprive innocent persons of their homes"). It is also intrinsically immoral to deprive innocent persons of their lives, but not to deprive persons guilty of a capital crime of their lives.

Ah, but if we can kill them, why can't we torture them? Once again, consulting the catechism instead of fundy proof texting helps. The catechism says plainly that prisoners must be treated humanely.

I agree completely with this. And if Mark were arguing that torture is like the death penalty, I wouldn't have a problem with his argument (though his style leaves much to be desired). Moreover, the issue of whether or not prisoners are to be treated humanely is a separate one from whether or not torture is intrinsically immoral. But yes, by all means, let us consult The Catechism:
2297 Kidnapping and hostage taking bring on a reign of terror; by means of threats they subject their victims to intolerable pressures. They are morally wrong. Terrorism threatens, wounds, and kills indiscriminately; it is gravely against justice and charity. Torture which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred is contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity. Except when performed for strictly therapeutic medical reasons, directly intended amputations, mutilations, and sterilizations performed on innocent persons are against the moral law.

As Jimmy Akin noted back in 2004:
The Catechism's discussion of torture (CCC 2298) focuses significantly on the motive that is being pursued in different acts of torture. If it means us to understand that having a particular motive is necessary for an act to count as torture then it might turn out that some acts commonly described as torture are in fact not torture--just as some acts commonly described as stealing are not actually the sin of stealing, such as taking food to feed one's family during a time of starvation when the person who initially had the food has plenty. The same might turn out to be true of torture (i.e., not everything that looks like torture would be the sin of torture).

For example, the Catechism's list of motives for torture does not mention the use of physical pressure to obtain information needed to save innocent lives. It thus might turn out that it is not torture to twist a terrorist's arm behind him and demand that he tell you where he planted a bomb so that it can be defused and innocents can be saved. Certainly the kind of things that Jack Bauer may do on 24 are very different morally from the kinds of things that happened in Soviet prisons.

I would be disinclined to go the route of saying that torture is not always wrong. I think that the Church is pretty clearly indicating in its recent documents that it wants the word "torture" used in such a way that torture is always wrong. However, I don't think that the Magisterium has yet thoroughly worked out all the kinds of "hard case" situations one can imagine and whether they count as torture.

Different churchmen would probably answer the hard case questions differently, some reflexibly shying away from any use of significant physical or psychological pressure, and others holding that the need to prevent an imminent terrorist attack trumps any right a terrorist might otherwise have not to have pain inflicted on him, so that applying physical pressure in such cases might not count as the sin of torture.

Akin later expanded on this in the comboxes to state:
... there is no firm line that has been drawn in these documents between the pain inflicted by corporal punishment and and the pain inflicted by torture.

Indeed, there is no line drawn in them between the pain inflicted by non-corporal punishment and the pain inflicted by torture, since the Catechism and other documents count "psychological torture" as torture.

The fact is, all punishment (even just confinement) causes something unpleasant (i.e., painful) to happen. Further, the threat of punishment is key to deterrence. Unless one is prepared to write off all punishment and threat of punishment (which the Magisterium has not been prepared to do) then one will have to find some other grounds with which to distinguish legitimate punishment from illegitimate torture.

I can think of a number of grounds by which one might do so--e.g., causing excessive pain (i.e., pain that is disproportionate to the good to be achieved) or causing grave and permanent bodily or psychological damage. However, rather than proceding along such lines the Catechism principally concentrates its analysis on the question of motive. Motive is certainly relevant, but the analysis offered in magisterial documents thus far remains non-exhaustive of what does and does not count as torture.

This is pretty much summarizes my own position on the subject. But I'll leave it to Mark to explain why Akin's position is acceptable (or at least tolerable) while mine is motivated solely by loyalty to the Bush administration. Because there's such a huge supply of that among conservative activists these days, yes?

6 comments:

Donald R. McClarey said...

"There doesn't seem to be nearly this much energy expended to argue that abortion is not intrinsically immoral. I wonder why?"

Mark's constant attempts to draw anequivalence between abortion and torture are inane. The Church from the time of Christ has always condemned abortion in the strongest terms imaginable. On the other hand, the Church in long stretches of her history has mandated the use of torture under certain circumstances, such as combating heresy or the use of torture in judicial proceedings in the Papal states. In other words the Church has always treated abortion as intrinsically evil, and her attitude towards torture has varied wildly over time. Comparing the two is comparing apples and rock salt and Mark should know better.

Roger H. said...

Comparing the two is comparing apples and rock salt and Mark should know better.

Gee, I don't know. Shea's constant mischaracterizations and "Frankensteining" of quotes by Michael Ledeen is a pretty good illustration of someone who is not all that interested in intellectual integrity.

Phillip said...

An excellent post. Perhaps Mark will link this.

torquemada05 said...

That would involve him acknowledging the distinction between treating prisoners humanely and that torture is an intrinsic evil and noting a major point of contention between Akin's views and his own. To date, he has refused to do the former and been extremely reluctant concerning the latter.

Phillip said...

Yeah, I know. I have tried to engage Mark, thinking reason would work. Now after all this time it seems there is far more at work then simple misunderstanding that is keeping him from acknowledging the reasons others disagree with him. Sad position for a Catholic apologist to take.

torquemada05 said...

Just be glad that the same wasn't true of the scholastics, the doctors, and the Church Fathers. Heck, we might never have had any councils if the Church as a whole adopted this position of not acknowledging disagreements. Certainly that was not the view of either Jesus or St. Paul.