Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Perils of Accurately Representing an Opponent's Positions

First of all, I've said before that I'm all in favor of dialing down the rhetoric for our disputes with Mark. I thought that both Victor and I have made this fairly clear. Heck, I'm even willing to send him books free of charge so that he can actually learn something about the evil neocons that he so vehemently (and ignorantly) disagrees with from the horse's mouth. As I said repeatedly, I don't consider Mark an enemy but nor do I feel that it is the pinnacle of disrespect to have a forum in which you can respond when someone repeatedly and consistently misrepresents you.

There's a discussion going on in the combox as to whether or not Victor and I are justified in our accusation that Mark has lied about our positions. As more than one individual has noted, we are extending a lot more charity to him than he has either to us or the Bush administration. To illustrate this, let me note his explanation for how the entire American political system works:
And they [religious conservatives] have been exploited and used by the beltway pros, the Karl Roves, the Dick Cheneys, the various consummate professionals and millionaires who make up the culture of DC and who differ from their consummate professional multimillionaire Democrat opponents, so far as I can make out, primarily in terms of which vast pools of political innocence they prefer to exploit with empty promises and cynical contempt.

The evidence that Mark cites to support this assertion is the "failure" of the religious right to adequately criticize the administration on the war in Iraq (that some of them might not adhere to Just War doctrine or might, shockingly as it seems, consider the war in Iraq to be a Just War has escaped him), their "quasi-idolatry of the Prez" (as I'm sure was apparent when Harriet Myers was nominated for the Supreme Court - also didn't Mark defend a group of hard-core evangelical Christians' reverence for Bush on the grounds that they were just trying to follow the old tradition of honoring the man they consider to be God's annointed or something similar to that?), "the weird conflation of GOP corporate values and culture with the Kingdom of Heaven," though it isn't apparent to me how his picture demonstrates this. If I recall, Ralph Reed favorably quotes Pius XI in Active Faith on the need for both subsidiary and limited government. But I am getting ahead of myself, since the standard of proof that Mark uses to demonstrate the deception and cynicism of the entire American political system (and what does that say for supporting democracy at home, one wonders?) is considerably lower than what we are willing to grant him. I'm not doing this as some kind of self-righteous chest-thumping, but rather to help readers understand the problems inherent in why Victor or myself exercise a little less restraint in using the term "lie" when Mark willfully misrepresents our positions.

Speaking of which:
But that said, let's not kid ourselves, shall we? The *main* reason this is even an issue is because the Bush Administration has pushed for and is practicing torture. Nobody was making excuses for it, or writing articles in the right wing press justifying it and laughing it off till it became clear that the Bush Administration was *doing* it and was determined to go on doing it. In previous wars, we have not seen Americans urged to accept and justify torture. In this war, we have. Catholics, to be sure, may contribute specifically theological attempts to justify torture in the interest of "preserving the indefectibility of the Church" as Chris Fotos put it. But what drives the discussion is the need of the Right for justifying Bush policy since the outbreak of the GWOT.

While it could be argued that Mark is reasoning from the particular to the general here (and if this is again supposed to be insinuation that I am Chris Fotos, I must once again state that I am not and do not plan to be), I don't think it's too much of a stretch to read this as applying to us. And if Mark gets too incensed by our use of the term liar to describe him, he might want to be more careful about using his charism of telepathy to assert the real motives of Victor and myself.

He has done this repeatedly (and not just to us, as I believe he also asserted that Chris Fotos was some kind of rad-trad because he dared to criticize Mark's view of Veritas Splendor) and we have both refrained from responding in kind by, for example, arguing that his criticism of torture is due entirely to the Iraq war, his stated animosity towards Bush, or his desire to see the Democrats win politically. Now I think that all three of those claims would be smears and I don't think that it would be that terribly hard for him to extend the same courtesy towards Victor or myself. If our arguments are as twisted and vile as he claims, then what is lost in accurately representing them in order to refute them. Dave Armstrong does this repeatedly, and his ability to argue convincingly while assuming the best possible motives of his opponents was one of the things that helped along with the Holy Spirit to lead me towards converting to Catholicism.

Mark then proceeds to argue:
In the same way, one *could* put forward some sort of abstract theological justification for slavery (it was, after all, tolerated by the Apostle Paul). But, oddly, nobody is pouring out elaborate arguments for slavery and declaring that if we do not all accept the defensibility of slavery we are endangering the "indefectibility of the Church." Nobody is saying that the condemnation of slavery by the Church is "slavery phariseeism" or laboring to show that there are situations in which it would be a good thing to reinsitute slavery. We don't find sustained efforts to show that slavery is really quite compatible with Catholic teaching, nor to demonstrate that Dignitatis Humanae or Veritatis Splendor can basically be ignored or discounted in their condemnations of slavery. Why?

Because there is no driving political agenda that has suddenly made excuse-making for slavery a theological premium. Because, in short, the political situation is not imposing itself on the teaching of the Church in such a way as to make some Catholics want to accomodate the Church's teaching to the needs of the powers that be.

Actually, if Mark actually bothered to read both our arguments what Cardinal Dulles and others have had to say about slavery, he might be surprised to learn that my view on torture is almost exactly like that which Cardinal Dulles and others have argued with regard to the Church teaching on slavery. Among those who hold to this view are Dave Armstrong and Jimmy Akin, for instance. That doesn't mean that either of them have a desire to revive the practice of slavery, no more than Victor or I have to see anyone tortured. Clarifying theology (assuming Mark can decouple it from politics for a moment) is quite different from wanting to revive practice, but Mark has wrapped his political arguments under the banner not only of theology (I don't have a problem of this) but of what I think is a very bad theological argument at that. So I argue theology rather than politics, because at least to me one flows naturally from the other and not the other way around. Mark, near as I can tell, can't even conceive of such a scenario where anyone would disagree with him except for the basest of political motives and so he lumps me in that category.

The failure, it would seem to me, is one of his own imagination.

Anywho, I really wasn't planning to type this much because like Victor, I take no particular joy in posting about Mark Shea. However, if he is going to continue to willfully misrepresent our positions to fit his own paradigm of how we must, I don't think Victor or myself is going that far out of the way to set the record straight on the subject.

Monday, February 19, 2007

"Why do I have enemies ..."

I'm not used to it ... Shea wonders. While calling us a "star chamber" (which might answer the question, but let that one go).

But then in the combox, when Chris Blosser says some people want their opinions accurately represented, Shea goes back into rant mode.
It's not my fault if they describe themselves as "anti-anti-torture" or declare that torture is a "Randian anti-concept", or spend trillions of watts of electricity quibbling over just how much prisoner abuse you can get away with before it's technically, precisely, torture, or waste months complaining that the plain and obvious meaning of the Catechism is not "Don't torture or abuse prisoners. Treat them humanely" but "fundamentalist proof texting" that we can safely ignore if the exigencies of Bush policy demand it.

It's not like they haven't got a chance to get their views out. It's just that they don't like it when their views are clearly stated in broad daylight.
I get more and more the sense that this is completely hopeless. It not simply the ideas, but the fact that this came in the context of a post and combox where he acted like he wanted peace, that he wanted to understand what we have against him, soliciting suggestions on "how can I even start reconciling with them," etc. But the minute someone suggested fault with him, the same old Shavian Straw Men™ came gushing out, as predictably as Old Faithful.

There is exactly one statement in there that is accurate without a score of long ago fleshed out qualifications and additional premises, none of which I at least would accept. And others that are simply lies (that we are motivated by "the exigencies of Bush policy").

I did indeed (and would again) describe myself as anti-anti-torture, though if someone were to reflect seriously on what that might mean, it's obviously a way of saying one is NOT "pro-torture" despite appearances. English has plenty of analogous "double negative" terms -- "I don't dislike it" does not mean "I like it."

Here's another deal, Shea. You stop putting words in our mouth (like the fake baptisms, about which we hadn't said word one before you ascribed support of this to us; or Hugh Hewitt's interview with the general, which actually had little with which I disagree) and you stop pretending to understand what we think because I guarandamntee you: You. Don't. And we'll lay off.

The alternative? You can keep ascribing the false views to us that you do. And we will keep calling you a liar.

I'm glad Lent is coming up.

POSTSCRIPT: He will never figure it out. First he misrepresents Mark Adams, pretending that our accusations of lying are circular. Which is not true. I have quite fastidiously documented where Shea has lied. All he has had in rebuttal is sneers and repetition of the original lie. Second he offers Andy Nowicki an apology worthy of John Edwards' bloggers, apparently not remembering that he made great sport of calling him "The ASCII Martyr." Combined with his reaction to Blosser ... well, to engage in classic Shavian tactics, the person who e-mailed me earlier was right -- this thread was a bid for an ego-bath.

Admirer: "Why don't you turn the other cheek?"
Mark: "Yes, I think I might"
Admirer: "All of these people HATE you so . . . "
Mark: "I know. I just can't understand it."
Admirer: "You're so great, Mark"
Mark: "I trust your judgement"

And as for his saying that he has not misrepresented us. Well ... to stick to one example -- the easiest to document and the one where he has the least defense, he has done exactly that when he attributes motive, as in "the Coalition is motivated by the exigencies of Bush policy." (link is above)

Shea ... I am *telling* you that you have engaged in serial misrepresentation of what we think and why we think it. I know what I think and why I think it. My knowledge on those subjects is infallible. You have no knowledge whatever (your four-characters "bunk" is not an argument). Neither you nor any third party has any no right to claim to know my thoughts or motives contrary to my word. Period. Particularly with such pathetic responses as "bunk." Do not think or pretend otherwise.

Sunday, February 18, 2007


This is an off-the-cuff observation (and is not intended to be anything more than that), but I am once again struck by the fact that it seems to me that a lot of Republican activists who regard my own preferred candidate for 2008 as some kind of arch-traitor are quite willing to support Guiliani as the epitome of leadership despite the fact that he, by his own account and even those of many of his supporters, disagrees with them on far more issues than McCain ever has.

As I noted in the past, I think that a lot of the criticisms that are made about McCain are selective or overblown. Campaign Finance Reform, for instance, tends to be an issue brought up to tar and feather him that was widely supported in Congress, signed by the President Bush, and which no candidate to my knowledge appears to want to make a serious effort to repeal. But accepting that the conservative criticism of McCain is valid, I truly don't understand how it can be argued that Guiliani is preferable to McCain on this given that nearly every serious criticism against McCain is doubled or in some cases tripled against Guiliani. This is particularly true among social conservatives that I count myself among.

I've heard a variety of explanations for this, ranging from an assurance that Guiliani will moderate his positions once in office (of which I think we have little indication and to which I would reply that hope is not a strategy), to claims that religious conservatives believe that McCain will seek to retaliate against them for his 2000 primary loss should he take office, to vague criticisms about how Guiliani is preferable to McCain because he did not receive favorable media coverage, and of course, the issue of who can slay the dragon by defeating Hillary Clinton. While I certainly understand justified conservative criticism of the media and suspicion of that regard, just as there is an old adage that a paranoid person may indeed have enemies. Just because conservatives should be suspicious of candidates receiving favorable media coverage doesn't mean to me that we should judge the entire character of candidate on that deciding feature. Guiliani's coverage at this point, for instance, has been adulatory to the point where it is only rivaled by the messiah status now accorded to Barak Obama.

I am also somewhat surprised that Guiliani has basically been given a pass by one of the major sleeper issues in American politics, that being illegal immigration. All of the three major candidates (Guiliani, McCain, and Romney) have a position on this issue that is more or less identical to that of President Bush. McCain and to a lesser extent Romney have both been criticized on this score, but Guiliani appears to get a pass on this.

Understand, this is just surface thoughts, not a well-thought criticism of Guiliani and his supporters. Right now, I'm genuinely interested in understanding where they are coming from.

PS - People like Mark or Zippy have been complaining for some time that they feel the GOP is marginalizing social conservatives because Guiliani has received so much favorable press. I would note that Mitt Romney has gone out of his way to court social conservatives (as has McCain, though I expect they both consider him too icky) on the issues that matter to them. Don't complain that you can't find a date for the prom when you've already turned down two of the top cheerleaders.

Clarification on the previous post

I see my initial post has created some discussion and controversy, so please let me start by apologizing to anyone that I may have offended by the lack of clarity due to the brief nature in which it was posted.

Concerning lawsuits online, what I meant was that it is silly to try and sue people for most of what they say on an internet blog. It may well be stupid, outrageous, or malicious, but I in my non-lawyer mindset think that in most cases it doesn't rise to the level where a lawsuit would be adviseable. It's the equivalent of taking a nuke to a knife fight. The fact that Comerford was so eager to play that card the moment he was confronted with serious criticism or scrutiny was one of the things that indicated to me that the man was off his rocker because I don't think that the overwhelming majority of what is said online, whether it be at Mark Shea's or anywhere else, rise to the level where those kinds of threats become even remotely viable.

Now I do understand that people like Joe D'Hippolito have basically been cyberstalked by Mark Shea and that he has tried to harm him professionally. I don't think that's right, but at the same time I don't think that it is rises to the level where a lawsuit is wise or even remotely viable. I don't control Joe so he can do whatever the heck he wants to, but that's my $0.02 on the topic and I don't think that offering my thoughts on the matter should be taken so offensively. Your mileage may vary.

On the overall question of what to do with the blog, this is something that I have been thinking about for some time now, in large part because when Victor first tried to set up a forum where those of us who had been misrepresented by Mark could reply in kind to reply, I was initially somewhat reluctant to participate, in large part because I think that there needs to be something more to a blog than our disagreements with Mark. That said, his continued refusal to moderate his rhetoric towards myself or Victor (if anything, it has intensified over time) has left both of us with little choice on the topic. The problem has now grown to the point where even if the Coalition shut down completely, I see little chance that Mark will view this as anything other than encouragement that he was correct both in his rhetoric and more importantly in what I regard as a serious problem concerning his theology. I do not want to see that happen, because I do not want to see bad theology disseminated regardless of its character. And the fact that Mark continues to have no real answer apart from ad hominem or rhetorical slight-of-hand on what I think is a fairly strong critique of his interpretation of the Gaudium et Spes quotation that forms the core of his argument that has been authored by myself and others strikes me as pretty glaring.

Dave Armstrong, whom I will continue to note here as the apologist who helped to bring about my own conversion to Catholicism, writes:
Often I have read here, e.g., that Mark Shea gave me a pass in the torture discussions because I was a fellow apologist. I agree that I was treated a bit differently than Torq and Victor were. I didn't receive the direct personal attacks that they have been subject to.

But on the other hand, I wouldn't say I was treated with any particular courtesy, let alone personal warmth (and I have met the man and drove him around town when he spoke in the Detroit area). My comments were routinely ignored or misrepresented in subsequent posts, and Mark himself said that he didn't even read most of my stuff on the issue. Fellow apologist or no, this fact didn't change how I was responded to all that much. It was certainly not normal discourse, by any reasonable definition.

I regard it as a basic courtesy to at least read the other guys' material, if one is claiming to be in a "discussion" with him.

I think that the core of my allegation here is that Mark tends to treat Dave or Jimmy differently than he does Victor or myself lies in the fact that he remains extremely wary of coming out and stating that their arguments are out-and-out wrong and/or in conflict with his own even though this flows logically if you compare them side-by-side. He still ignores or represents their positions, but their views at the end of the day are to Mark acceptable points of disagreement that people of good faith can differ on. Not so with Victor or myself, who are frequently accused of only disagreeing with him in order to curry some kind of favor with the Bush administration. He has yet to produce any evidence to support this charge, but that has not stopped him from making it or from arguing that to disagree with him is to objectively support/excuse torture and prisoner abuse (the differences between which appear to elude him), that his is the only correct view of Gaudium et Spes and Veritas Splendor, and so on and so forth.

Then there is Mark's ever-increasing tendency to conflate being a faithful Catholic with his own essentially paleocon (minus a hard line on illegal immigration) views. This to me is something I regard as a bad thing for secular political reasons and it is for those same reasons that I desire to take issue with someone promulgating it with such vitriole from the platform of a major Catholic blog. Especially if that someone is an individual who has, on the balance I think, done pretty good apologetics work in the past.

One other thing that I tried to mention before is that some of the people commenting here appear to have far more far-reaching disputes with Mark (and in some cases other Catholic apologists) than do I myself. I haven't followed the particulars of these other disputes (except in the case of D'Hippolito I am familiar with Mark's particular beef with him because he continues to raise the topic with Pavlovian accuracy whenever Joe's name is invoked), just as I haven't really followed the disputes between Drehrer and some of the commenters here beyond my broad philosophical objections to his "crunchy conservatism." So I once again want to make it clear, as Victor prepares to address these issues for himself, that to me Mark is nothing more than a stranger that I disagree with.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

What is to be done

A couple of points, not the least of which being that I think Greg and Joe have a lot more beef with Mark than Victor or myself. As we have repeatedly stated, we want Mark to mind his manners rather than lose his livelihood. The man does, by all accounts, a fairly good job as a Catholic apologist and I see no reason to deprive him (or the faithful of that right now). I'm also not sure how Akin or Keating could realistically discipline him other than telling him to cool it, given that the source of our arguments against him was always that he mind his manners rather than lose his livelihood. Victor and I have been quite clear on this one from the beginning.

Look, when Victor first discussed the idea of this kind of site, I have to admit that I was rather skeptical of it. But as long as Mark is going to keep misreading and distorting our positions as well as demonizing us, I really don't think it's that much to ask that we create a forum to fire back.

IMO, both threatening lawsuits (wasn't that how we knew that Comerford was flaky) and online petitions are silly, especially given that the intended target is at the end of the day little more than an annoying stranger.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Let's make a deal

In his latest fumbling attempt to obsess-o-stalk us, Shea approvingly quotes Greg Mockeridge's claim that "Quite frankly, all this responding to Mark is not only getting old. It's looking more like a blog whine-in."

Let me first note two ironies:
  • Greg speaks from a position that is far more "get Shea" than I and Torq do. We've said more than once we're just calling Shea on intellectual matters of honesty, seriousness and probity and have no desire to have him black-listed or otherwise jeopardize his family weal. Greg's point, whatever its merits, is that this site is not enough.
  • He (1) bitches about "obsess-o-stalker blogs." While also (2) declaring that the topics of certain "obsess-o-stalkers" are beyond disagreement (not "discussion"; he discusses them constantly) at his site and banning people who disagree. While (3) at the same time setting those person up as named foils (and often, to put the politest possible spin on it, not describing their stances accurately) and continuously linking back to their "obsess-o-stalking," just to make certain he can obsess and stalk back. Any one of these is one thing. The three together are simply chemically-pure and comically-pure self-righteousness.
But let me offer Mark a deal. We will go at our current approximate posting rate without mentioning you, directly or allusively, or repeating points that refer specifically to you and the specific disagreements already hashed out. In exchange, you keep up your current approximate posting rate without either mentioning us or repeating the intellectual errors and slanders on foreign-policy that cause the said specific disagreements.

You couldn't last two days.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Guest poster Chris Fotos sez ...

Victor has provided me the opportunity to reply to Mark Shea in a posting on this site.

I am taking advantage of his offer because Mark continues to attack me by name without providing me the ability to respond, having banned me from CAEI. How a professed Catholic apologist can abuse his position by using the leverage of his massively larger audience in this one-sided way is beyond my ken. That abuse is compounded in Mark's comboxes, where the pile-on continues by Mark and at least one commenter secure in the knowledge their representations cannot be challenged directly by the person they are attacking. I thank Josiah and others who speak where I cannot speak for myself.

I will not tackle every collapse of reason in this post because much of what Mark is saying has been refuted at length by Victor, Torq, Jimmy Akin, Fr. Harrison, Tom McKenna, Shawn McElhinney, Christopher Blosser, and the barista at Starbucks. But I will note that when Mark writes the following:
This quote speaks volumes about a person's ecclesiology. What lies behind it is nothing less than the belief that there are basically two Churches (generally known as the pre and post-Vatican II churches). The pre-Vatican II Church taught one thing infallibly. The post-Vatican II teaches another (and often the opposite) thing infallibly. Our task is to choose between them.
He commits the characteristic error of misrepresentation. In this case it is a perfectly symmetrical misrepresentation since it is the opposite of how I approach the magisterium in general and the torture debate specifically. This is not some deep meta-narrative I have buried so in normal circumstances I would be astonished that someone could describe it exactly backwards.

The venture outlined by theologian Fr Brian Harrison tries to harmonize 2,000 years of Catholic tradition and the foundation of that tradition going back through the Old Testament. Jimmy Akin arrives at what I believe is the same destination by a slightly different route. Cardinal Dulles has made similar points in a different arena.

Now, as we know, Mark — how should I put this — Mark has intemperately rejected this approach when proposed by Victor or myself or the other usual suspects, but has been open to it when proposed by Jimmy Akin. It also appears that Mark has yet to read Fr. Harrison's exemplary examination of the issue, having assigned him to the Dark Side of the Force. I therefore recommend that somebody send Mark a copy of the Harrison article, especially Part 2, but sign it under Jimmy's name. Either that or sign it "fondly, Cdl Dulles." Though Mark has occasionally been flippant towards the latter he has yet to refer to him as Some Guy Named Cardinal Dulles so it might get through the filter.

As I have said before — I really should have this on a save-get key — Harrison's examination of the issue does not singlehandedly defeat every objection. But it's charitable, learned, well-documented, placed within honest historical context, and as a bonus positively fascinating. Jimmy does not ignore history but Harrison marshals it in a way I think most of us don't have the training to achieve. Other than that, all I can say is that an apologist who does not accurately describe the arguments of his adversaries poses dangers that are more troubling than the immediate disagreement.

Mark continues to impress ...

Thankfully, a number of his commenters seem to have done my job of answering him for me, so I will quote them on this one. A number of his remarks seem to basically indicate that he either has not read my recent posts or does not understand my positions on them and his tendency to shift back and forth like a drunk driver between Catholic morality and the actions of the Bush administration aren't helping. The fact that the closest thing resembling his willingness to engage the Akin argument on Gaudium et Spes and Veritas Splendor was done so that he could declare "Even if this is true, the administration is still against Catholic doctrine!" might lead a more cynical mind to the conclusion that his only interest in even discussing the issue is to use it as rhetorical club against the Bush administration.

First of all, as to the issue of embryonic stem cell research, posts like this lead me to the bizarre situation to the point of thinking that he has been absent from the entire debate over embyronic stem cell research in the United States with regard to the Bush administration. As Josiah notes, Mark has basically transformed a major pro-life victory in the public sphere into a justification for abandoning the GOP in favor of a third party. My own view on the matter, for those who are curious, is that the media has been entirely too successful about selling embryonic stem cell research as a veritable fountain of youth and cure for all diseases known to man. My guess long-term is that it is going to end up as being more or less analogous to cold fusion, which was touted as an equally perposterous solution to all energy problems and now ranks just slightly higher than astrology as an acceptable solution.

Incidentally, I would note that the kind of zero-sum mentality that Mark is now expressing with regard to abortion is rather unsuited to actual democratic politics. What the pro-life movement has actually understood from the beginning as John J. Reilly discusses in his review of Active Faith regarding the formation of the Christian Coalition:
What the Republican Party did have was a great need for new members. Therefore, when evangelicals and some conservative Catholics began drifting into the party as the Democrats became stranger and stranger, the newcomers were more than welcome. After all, in the beginning, they did not act as a self-conscious faction within the party. All you had to do to win their support was buy them off with a few token phrases about the defense of the traditional family and opposition to abortion. They rarely showed up at meetings, but they would vote Republican like clockwork, at least for president. Poor, ignorant and easily led, so the party's traditional leaders thought, they made the perfect electoral cannon fodder for high-visibility races.

The problem with this strategy was that it succeeded. When Ronald Reagan was elected Emperor of the Last Days in 1980, his devoted followers among the cultural conservatives thought they were owed something. Jobs in the new administration would have been nice, but more than cursory attention to their agenda would have been better. As it happened, they got nearly nothing. Reagan would not even address the annual anti-abortion rallies in Washington in person. They had not just been slighted, they had been deprived of access to the only political institutions they could consider using. They therefore began to build their own institutions. At first, they did this badly.

Evangelicals and conservative Catholics had no permanent local political organizations. Politics for them was largely something that happened on television. Thus, while they might be important for presidential politics, they were much less important in deciding who sat in Congress or on local school boards. (Most important, they had little say about who would be nominated to run.) There are two general strategies for mobilizing an inchoate voting block, a "rally" strategy or a "grassroots" strategy. The first is a strategy of mailing lists and television. It is the sort of politics for which the term "hot button" was coined, meaning any issue that is certain to attract the attention of easily defined constituencies and, hopefully, provoke them to donate money. A "grassroots" strategy sounds like it should be something homey and neighborly, but in fact it simply means political organization as it has been traditionally understood. It means building permanent local organizations of volunteer workers and precinct captains, people who may pay regular dues but who, much more importantly, can be counted on to donate some of their own labor to a campaign. It has long been known that the best way to maintain such an organization is as a collateral activity of some other institution. Labor unions are very good frames to hang a political party on. The Christian Coalition would eventually show that local churches are, too.

Before the evangelicals proved the power of organized religion in politics, however, they first tried a rally strategy. This is what the Moral Majority organization was all about. It was certainly conspicuous enough. The press loved it, like vampires love young women who neglect to wear crucifixes around their necks. It lived and died by its own knack for publicity. It was a remarkably clerical organization: at one point, all but one of its board of directors were ordained ministers. Since the televangelists of the 1980s could claim an audience in the tens of millions, ignorant reporters translated these figures into millions of political followers. The problem with the Moral Majority was that there was really nothing to it. Being a member simply required writing a check, so it had little control over what the prominent people associated with it did. More to the point, it had no troops on the ground. After a while even reporters began to notice that the only actual representative of the Moral Majority in a state where it claimed hundreds of thousands of members might be a single pastor with no staff. It was not a "majority" by any reasonable construction of the word. Then the garish downfalls of the great '80s television preachers amidst charges of embezzlement and sexual scandal suggested that it wasn't particularly moral, either. By the end of the Reagan Administration, it appeared that the era of the evangelical in politics was over.

The Reverend Pat Robertson thought otherwise. His experience during his run for the presidency in 1988 gave him some notion of what actual politics was like. If he conceived the "long march" of the Christian Coalition by himself, then he must be a very smart man indeed. But even if, as Reed suggests, Robertson was at first uncertain about whether to continue with the rally strategy or try the grassroots method, then he at least deserves credit for continuing to support what at first must have seemed like a doubtful enterprise. He is also, perhaps, to be given credit for having the good sense to limit his public association with the Coalition as much as possible. Everyone knows, of course, that Robertson provided the inspiration and backing to get the Coalition off the ground. Indeed, Reed began work in a warehouse amidst the old posters, office furniture and mailing lists of Robertson's 1988 campaign. However, the Coalition was never just a branch of Robertson's ministry, nor indeed a particularly clerical organization at all. Its board of directors, says Reed, contains only a single ordained minister. I do not think it is being cynical to suspect that Reed is exaggerating the independence of the Coalition from Reverend Robertson. Nevertheless, the Coalition has benefited immensely from not being structured as a preacher's fan club.

Unlike the Moral Majority, its has a professional lobbying presence in Washington that does not go away. This means that it can exert pressure, not just on the sort of hot button issues that were sometimes manufactured in the past to keep evangelicals placated, but on day-to-day legislation affecting welfare and education, or for that matter on things like telecommunications reform, which might seem to be peripheral to the Coalition's concerns. Even more important, legislators hear about the Coalition's positions not just from lobbyists, but from their own constituents. The Coalition is adept at organizing letter-writing and telephone call-in campaigns, as well as delivering live bodies to party caucuses and other meetings.

... The Christian Coalition makes no claims to be a "majority" (it has 1.7 million members). An well-organized minority is important enough. There is nothing about its demographics which suggests that it could become the dominant force in American politics. Nevertheless, it is seven years old and a force that must be reckoned with. One can easily imagine it and organizations like it becoming as important as the unions were in their heyday. The problem with this picture, however, is that the unions knew more or less what they wanted. Because they had some vision of how society as a whole should work, they were able to advance beyond their original concern with wages and hours to present coherent policies on everything from foreign affairs to the structure of the health care system. The Christian Coalition, as Reed himself recognizes, is in contrast characterized mostly by what it is against.

In other words, the Christian Coalition learned over time how to fight and how to win in Washington in order to obtain the practical policy incentives it wanted. Mark, it seems to me, is currently inclined to throw all of that practical effort and the victories that came with it away and cede all practical political ground to the cultural left. The end-result of such a measure would be that he will feel more self-righteous and vindicated when issuing his jeremiads against American culture but that those of us who actually care about doing anything more than rhetorical condemnation of these issues are going to be in dire straights indeed. He might be willing to play Russian Roulette on the cultural (and indeed existential) fate of Western civilization, but I'm not.

As for Mark's sneer against Jonah Goldberg, I think it's an extremely sad state of affairs given that he once respected the man. I don't know whether it was ever reciprocated or not, but it's still cheap shot. There are a lot of possible replies to this, not the least of which among them being that Mark might not want to be so eager to blast someone for claims like Jonah's given his own willingness to repeatedly and loudly declare his certainty that Osama bin Laden was dead from 2002-2004, even to the point of arguing that we had images of him on horseback right before carpet-bombing Tora Bora, that all of his audiotapes since were all old or fake, and that the administration was actually aware of bin Laden's demise but were covering it up to keep the Democrats from declaring an end to the war on terrorism. This was a right-wing conspiracy theory that was circulated almost exclusively on talk radio and the internet. So if Mark wants to criticize Jonah Goldberg because his predictions didn't pan out, someone might want to point out to him that there is ample grist on his end.

Furthermore, as was noted in the comments, Goldberg has publicly stated that he now considers the Iraq war a mistake. Perhaps Mark would prefer a public shaming or a Maoist-style self-criticism session, but that's usually been enough for most people given that upwards of 70% of the country initially supported the Iraq war, Mark reluctantly among them. And as for the idea that Juan Cole is kind of great prophet of our times because Iraq has gone to hell, I would note from the work of Tony Badran and Martin Kramer that the good Yale professor isn't exactly the Oracle of Delphi when it comes to Iraq. Indeed, as Niall Ferguson noted some time ago and I doubt Mark will concede, even if the arguments in favor of the Iraq war were all wrong, this does not mean that the anti-war movement is correct. If anything, the reverse is true. And I'm much just going to note the passing the combox claims that the neocons are the same as the communists or the Nazis for the next time Mark wants to argue that the Coalition is so completely tainted beyond the pale because we, like Jimmy Akin, allow Joe D'Hippolito to post here incumbered of Mark's vendetta against him.

Also, might I suggest that Mark's decision to go after people like Jonah Goldberg so that:
It's just that, as with Michael Ledeen's lying pretense that he did not support the war in Iraq, I'd like to see the people who beat the drums for this war take some responsibility for it.

Might well go after some larger targets. So far Mark has mainly focused on Ledeen, Derbyshire, and Goldberg, three people who have probably the least to do with the decision to go to war with Iraq. I realized that he's defined Ledeen as pure evil (with evil emanations to boot!) and what not, but anyone who is even remotely familiar with the man's writing (i.e. not Mark, who still gets his position on Iraq wrong and is still welcome to a free copy of War Against the Terror Masters to set him straight) would recognize that his primary focus is Iran, not Iraq. Then again, Mark engaging far larger and more important targets like Kristol, Perle, Gerecht, Pollack, et al (many of whom have said they were wrong) would involve him actually understanding their arguments, which I have repeatedly noted he has thus far simply refused to do.

If only that flaw were limited to his understanding of Iraq.

In response to reader criticism that he is now heavily motivated by his Bush Derangement Syndrome, Mark writes:
Once again, I urge folk who believe this to go read the blogs of *real* Bush-haters. Your imagination is running away with you. I've actually confined my criticism of Bush to pretty narrow bandwidths: torture, his tepid support for the prolife movement, his conduct of the war. That's about it. No "smirking chimp" talk. No speculations on Halliburton's plans to rule the world. Not even any insults about his mangled syntax. No comparisons to Hitler. No speculations about the Coming Bush Declaration of Martial Law and Subsequent Dictatorship. No blather about the Drunk in the White House. No chatter about his daughters.

All I've done here is point out the bare minumum of where Bush does not measure up to Catholic teaching. And even *that*--even torture!--is too much for many Kool-Aid drinkers on the right to stand.

Except, as Josiah notes, things are a little more complicated than that:
I seem to recall you saying a couple of months ago that Bush had done more than any other President in your lifetime to screw up this country. Combine this with some of the more hyperbolic statements you made during the debate on the Military Commission's Act, as well as your frequent references to Bush and Cheney in totalitarian terms (Glorious Leader, the Fatherland, etc.), and it's easy to see why people might get the impression you're doing more than merely pointing out where the Bush administration doesn't come up to the bare minimum of Catholic teaching.

To which I would add that Mark goes back and forth in his denunciations about Bush as to whether or not Dick Cheney really runs the US government, which is a leftist trope if I ever heard. His refusal to retract regarding his more hyperbolic claims on Cheney also comes to mind as someone could maybe, just maybe argue that he's moving beyond the "bare minimum" of criticism of the Bush administration.

Mark writes:
The reality is this: Bush and the GOP *RAN THINGS* for the most part for the past eight years. That means they are responsible. The next reality is this: not a few of my readers are conservatives who are (judging from the torture discussions) fantastically willing to overlook the most egregious blunders and sins of Their Guys, just as Clinton Kool-Aid drinkers were willing to overlook the blunders and sins of Their Guy. I am a political agnostic who thinks that no prince is worth that. I suspect the majority of my readers agree, but you don't hear much from most of my readers in the comboxes. Instead you hear from a small and vocial minority. However, outside St. Blogs I think it's a different story. I think most conservatives in America have no problem at all with the administration's conduct of this war.

I think it really matters that this Administration has chosen to make the United States embrace torture as a matter of policy because I think the Church's teaching really matters. It *bothers* me that the GOP has been able to get so many Christians to overlook this with prolife promises that maintain the US at Carthaginian levels of practice while *increasing* our utilitarian contempt for the dignity of human life on the battlefield.

This is counter-factual on a number of levels, but let me address the most basic ones. The idea that there has been no criticism of the administration from the Right is well ... where have I heard that before? And if Mark believes that most conservatives have no problem with the administration's conduct of the war, he might well want to take note that it is the neocons he so demonizes in publications like the Weekly Standard who in many cases have been at the forefront of such criticism because they still care the most about winning the war.

Finally, on the issue of Veritas Splendor and Gaudium et Spes, I have already written a ton about this in the last week and quoted far more material. Mark either hasn't read this, doesn't understand it, or is willfully distorting the positions of people like myself and Chris Fotos when he writes things like:
What lies behind it is nothing less than the belief that there are basically two Churches (generally known as the pre and post-Vatican II churches). The pre-Vatican II Church taught one thing infallibly. The post-Vatican II teaches another (and often the opposite) thing infallibly. Our task is to choose between them. According to this scenario, simplistic idiots like me choose the 30 year old teaching of the post V2 Church and reject everything the Church has ever said before that if it inconvenience some Vatican II novelty. If the most recent encyclical of the Church says that torture is intrinsically immoral we are being fundamentalist proof texters if we take the encyclical at its word. We are (allegedly) canceling all the dogmatic teaching that has gone before, and declaring "the last encyclical wins!"

In contrast, according to this scenario, Truly Deep Catholic Thinkers[TM] realize they are doing nothing less than "protecting the defectibility of the Church" when they refuse to believe that Veritatis Splendor means what it actually says. Because they know that Veritatis Splendor is actually in *competition* with previous Church teaching and they know that Veritatis Splendor actually *loses* that competition.

Myself, I gather that a combination of the first and second explanations are the case because no one here has ever argued that there is a discontinuity between recent encyclicals and those of prior popes. Rather, we have argued that Mark has created such a scenario through his exegesis and refused to budge when confronted with alternate and far more reasonable explanations or even engage the argument, instead appealing to "clear meaning" despite the numerous logical problems (among them deportation) involved in doing so.

I've already written a lot on this that I would really recommend Mark go back, re-read my posts because he clearly doesn't understand my or Chris's positions. Thankfully, some of his readers recognize this in the combox and I will quote their responses.

First, Josiah says:
This is horribly unfair. Chris Fotos doesn't believe in a "hermaneutic of discontinuity." Just the opposite. He doesn't reject Veritatis Splendor. He simply believes that it needs to be read in light of previous statements on the matter.

I don't want to try and pit you against Jimmy Akin, but I think the following post provides the best exposition of the problems with your interpretation of Veritatis Splendor 80:

http://jimmyakin.typepad.com/ def...nta_corpor.html

The conclusion of Mr. Akin's analysis is that "one cannot assert as fact the idea that Veritatis Splendor says torture is intrinsically evil."

... If Jimmy Akin has retracted anything in the post I've cited, I'm not aware of it. He's said that his conclusions are tentative (which is not the same as saying that they are wrong). In any event, point of citing the post was not simply to say "see, Jimmy agrees with me." The post in question contains several arguments about why Mark's reading of Veritatis Splendor is incorrect. I've never seen Mark offer any response to these arguments, or offer any support for his position other than repetition.

Also, it's important to distinguish here between (a) the moral status of torture, and (b) what Veritatis Splendor says about the moral status of torture. A person might condemn torture without thinking that VS 80 is dispositive on the point (this is my position). Alternatively, a person might think that VS 80 does unambiguously condemn torture, but reject the document (this is the position Mark falsely attributes to Chris Fotos and others).

... Perhaps an analogy will help here. Suppose someone says that because the Bible says "thou shalt not kill" the only acceptable position for a Christian is pacifism. You respond by pointing out that the Hebrew word the Bible uses is better translated as 'murder' that other portions of the Bible making clear that there is no absolute prohibition on killing, and that there is a long Christian tradition accepting killing in self-defense and other such circumstances. Instead of answering any of these arguments, the guy simply repeats "the Bible says thou shalt not kill. If you want to reject Christianity, that's your call."

This is similar, IMHO, to your handling of Veritatis Splendor. It's not that you reject the arguments in favor of different interpretations of Veritatis Splendor so much as that you refuse to acknowledge that there could even *be* any differing interpretations. The meaning of the document is obvious, and if you reject that then you reject the document. This, I believe, is what the Fogstsers mean when they refer to your treatment of Veritatis Splendor as fundamentalist proof-texting.

I think that Josiah accurately represents my view (and I believe Victor's) correctly. I have repeatedly stated that I have no problem with Mark opposing torture, but that it is his extremely bad argumentation and poor theology on the subject. His usual rebuttal to this is to claim bad faith, which usually precedes or follows a long string of hyperbole.

Seamus writes in the same combox:
This quote speaks volumes about a person's ecclesiology. What lies behind it is nothing less than the belief that there are basically two Churches (generally known as the pre and post-Vatican II churches).

Uh, no, actually he's accusing *you* of adhering to a hermeneutic of discontinuity. He cites Fr. Harrison as an attempt to take both pre- and post-Vatican II magisterial statements seriously and read them so as not to contradict one another. I may or may not agree with how Fr. Harrison comes out on that issue, but I have yet to see a comparable effort on this site.

... Except that I don't believe there is any previous Church doctrine that Veritatis Splendor "defeats". I think there are prudential judgements and previous praxis that document implies were wrong, but I don't think it's a question of "win" or "lose".

Then presumably you have a way of reconciling Veritatis splendor with Exsurge Domine, when the latter states that it is an error to state "That heretics be burned is against the will of the Spirit." If not, it's hard to avoid the implication that the working principle is: given two magisterial statements (and the condemnation of propositions in Exsurge Domine *is* a magisterial statement, not simply a "prudential judgement[]" or a statement about "previous praxis") that appear to contradict one another, pay attention to the later one and ignore the earlier one.

Seamus is correct here as to my view. Mark's usual response is to dismiss such things with a rhetorical slight-of-hand and a reference to prudential judgements. If he ever offered anything more substantive, I have yet to see it.

-- From Torquemada, despite the sig below (he's apparently having some kind of posting issue)

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

He just doesn't get it ...

Here again, this where understanding another's actual positions in useful. Mark writes:
When Chris Blosser acknowledged that the Bush Administration has in fact sanctioned and authorized torture, I thought we might be heading toward a rapprochement on this question with the hard core members of the CfF. The CfF seems to regard Chris, at any rate, as a reasonable soul. But apparently I was wrong to think they'd follow suit.

First of all, there are no "hard core members" of the Coalition for Fog. There are two contributors, myself and Victor, and everyone else posts in the comments. Mark's inability to understand this may be the reason why he keeps attempting to project his feud with Joe D'Hippolito onto us, but that is another matter altogether.

Here is what Chris Blosser said:
In response to #2, in the specific cases that Mark specifically cites ("the murder by hypothermia of torture victims in Afghanistan? The rendition and torture of Maher Arar? The torture and murder of the Ice Man by CIA ops at Abu Ghraib?"), I'd say yes.

I'd also note that with respect to the latter story, there appears to be conflicting testimonies -- Salon.com's account, for example, states that Several Army and Department of Defense investigations found that the CIA presence may have contributed to the abuse committed by military police and that abuse occurred under direct supervision of the CIA. TruthOut's interview with Gen. Janis Karpinski (in charge of Abu Ghraib), on the other hand, counters this impression:

... So as I had discovered in past investigations of this matter, explaining the root causes of Abu Ghraib abuses are rather more complex than "the CIA did it" and, quoting Mark, "Dick Cheney wants more Abu Ghraibs."

Now Blosser is of course able to speak for himself on this, but I certainly didn't see this as an endorsement of Mark's repeated and rather hysterical denunciations of the Bush administration on this subject. If anything, I would say that the last sentence is trying to point that these particular situations are a tad more complicated than Mark's cartoon version.

Mark continues:
Today, I discover they are backtracking (and, of course, hurling insults) concerning something I thought they had agreed to yesterday: the fact that Veritatis Splendor 80 teaches torture to be "intrinsically immoral". Yesterday, they were citing Jimmy Akin to the following effect:

Instead of worrying about whether or not something counts as torture, we can start figuring out whether particular acts are or are not moral. If the pain involved in them is disproportionate then they are immoral and therefore torture. If the pain involved in them is not disproportionate then they're not immoral and not torture.

What this argument means is this: "Torture *is* intrinsically immoral, just as John Paul says. However, some forms of pain infliction are "proportional" to the desperation of the situation (i.e. the ticking bomb scenario). Such proportional acts are not torture and therefore not intrinsically immoral."

I won't argue the merits of that argument here. I simply note two things:

First, the CfF approved of that argument yesterday.

Before you get mad at us for hurling insults, we're still waiting over here for a retraction of your claim that we have no intention of providing a definition of torture when we did exactly that back in November. Moreover, I would note that the whole point that we and others have made in setting up our current understanding of torture is note that you determine the desperation of the situation on a case-by-case basis. I'm rather confused by the fact that Mark is unwilling to engage our argument rather than noting that it exists. If it's wrong, then by all means set us correct on where it errors, but I doubt that this will happen because that would mean ending Mark's rhetorical tap dance where he can condemn us as apologists for Satan, equivalent to abortionists, et al. while simultaneously arguing that someone like Jimmy Akin is just a poor naive soul who hasn't thought his positions out in full. At least Zippy, to whom Mark leaves much of his intellectual legwork, has the guts to come out and explain why he believes Akin to be wrong.
Second, that arguement means that the torture which the Bush Administation has, as Chris agrees, sanctioned and authorized is real torture and is therefore "intrinsically immoral", even by the standards given in Jimmy's scenario. We know that prisoners have been subjected to abuse, torture, and even death when there has been, at times, no solid evidence that they were guilty of anything, much less in possession of information of some imminent life-or-death situation. We also know this has happened, not just at the hands of the "few bad apples" at Abu Ghraib, but at prisons in Afghanistan, or due to rendition, or and at the hands of CIA operatives who were authorized by the administration (and previous administrations) to torture.

Here again Mark, you are conflating a whole host of issues here under a single umbrella for rhetorical effect, which is one of the reasons why I continue to note that in many cases you are engaging in crude demagoguery on this issue. The fact that you can't even conceive of a reason for us to disagree with you on this except to defend the Bush administration speaks volumes in and of itself as to how far he is willing to project motives on this one. The issue of what interrogation techniques are moral and what interrogation techniques should be legal are two separate but closely related issues. The framework that we and others have stated explicitly work on a case-by-case basis, ergo your sweeping condemnation is invalid under the criteria that we have lifted. In the specific cases that you are so apt to cite (Maher Arar and the individual in Afghanistan) I am quite ready to acknowledge as Blosser has that torture occurred and that it was immoral. He will forgive me, however, for not then proceeding to adopt all of the premises of an argument that I do not share to rail against the evils of the Bush administration.
At some point, this appears to have dawned on the CfF, because today I find Tom McKenna in my combox trying hard to pretend that we are talking about non-torture coercive methods and not cold cells, strappado, and waterboarding which have, on several ocassions resulted in the death of prisoners. Meanwhile, over at the CfF, talk reverts to the attempt to show that "because Veritatis Splendour doesn't perfectly align with personal interpretations of Church history and previous practices, it cannot mean what it actually says."

First of all, Tom McKenna is not a contributor here and in contrary to whatever paranoid fantasies Mark may indulge, he and I do not coordinate our positions. Also, he's got the situation reversed when it comes to Gaudium et Spes and Veritas Splendor. The Church does not, simply as a practical factual matter, teach that deportation is intrisically immoral. Now Mark can try to argue that because the Church does not hold to this that this refers to something else (forced deportations, perhaps). Because we at the Coalition believe in the indefectability of the Magisterium, we do not believe that you can just carry out a rhetorical slight of hand and dismiss Catholic teaching on very unpleasant topics like torture or slavery because you think that the latest encyclical wins. This is basically what the rad-trads argue concerning Vatican II and I would like to thank Mark for essentially arguing that they are correct. And as I noted in my previous post, it isn't just me but also people like Cardinal Dulles, Jimmy Akin, and Dave Armstrong who hold to this position about topics like torture or slavery. If Mark wants to argue with them, that's fine, but to just dismiss the idea that this isn't a serious position or hold that "the plain meaning" of Veritas Splendor and Gaudium et Spes must lead one to his position when anyone can see that his view is clearly not what the Magisterium teaches (again, see deportation) when confronted with the full text of the passage strikes me as being nothing short of fundamentalist, which is why I will continue to refer to him as such.
So apparently we are back to pretending that Veritatis Splendor does *not* say torture is intrinsically immoral, even though the text is right there for anybody to read. Undoubtedly, this will be billed as saving the Church's indefectibility from the clutches of muddy thinkers like John Paul II, but in actual fact, what we are seeing is the attempt to save George W. Bush's bacon from the fact that he has sanctioned and approved torture. Look for more name-calling at us "fundamentalist proof-texters" for the crime of reading Veritatis Splendor according to what it actually says.

First of all, this whole discussion would go a heck of a lot further if Mark refrained from constantly shifting back and forth between the issue of morality and that of politics. But since Mark can't separate the issue of the morality of torture from that of the Bush administration, I guess we can't either. And as far as "reading Veritatis Splendor according to what it actually says" goes, Mark might want to take note that his resident DNC shill has already set sail on that trip and it is manifestly clear to me that this is not what the Church actually teaches. The whole reason that we have a Magisterium and rejected sola scriptura in the first place is to avoid such attempts at "clear meaning" as being our standard for what a text says in the first place. But I guess the Catholic Church is too far in the tank for the Bush administration to recognize the intrinsic evil that is deportation.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

I declare myself correct!

Is sort of the general reaction that I have while reading Mark's latest post in reaction to my own. In addition to continuing to misrepresent my and Victor's positions, it engages in the same straw man arguments, conflation of secular policy with morality, fundamentalist proof texting of Magisterial documents, et al. that have defined Mark's entire approach to the issue of torture.

Let's start from the beginning:
Like Zippy, I'm gratified to hear that Victor and Torq have, in fact made it clear that there are some forms of torture they do, in fact, reject. According to Chris Blosser, they made this clear in November 2006. I missed it, but I'm happy to hear that, something like a year and a half after I raised the subject , we have finally reached some sort of agreement that, at bare minimum, "Palestinian hanging" and "cold cells" certainly are torture, particularly if (in the latter case) it risks hypothermia."

I'm so glad Mark is just now grasping that Victor and I were far more motivated by something other than a desire to inflict pain upon others. Perhaps in another 4 months he will be able to understand that we are motivated by something other than mindless fealty to the Bush administration when it comes to disagreeing with him on this one. But now given that he recognizes this, is perhaps an apology due given his previous assertion that:
We know the thread has been read, because the operators of the site have found time to get rid of the Viagra ad that posted itself there. But they seem strangely reluctant to reply to Patrick's rather simple question.

So Patrick, in answer to your question, the Coalition has already spoken to your question in the past. Answers include "Torture is a Randian anti-concept", "Torture Pharisee!" and "I refuse to answer your question--on principle!"

They aren't called the Coalition for Fog for nothing.

Remember, however: the real question is not "What is torture?" As the Coalition has abundantly demonstrated to you, gifted wordsmiths can pretend to be baffled about the meaning of "torture" till kingdom come. The *real* question is right there in your field manual: "How do we treat prisoners humanely?" The related question, of course, is "How do we do that and still get the intelligence we need?"

If not, perhaps he could exercise a little less umbrage when he assert on the basis of this behavior that he is a liar. Of course, the same might be said for his continued willingness to proudly cite and without apology his slander against his white whale Michael Ledeen despite being provided repeated evidence to the contrary by Christopher Blosser et al.

Moving right along:
Chris Fotos writes in the combox at the CfF blog that the "foundational" question here is the indefectibility of the Church. I will take him at his word that he really believes he is defending some article of the Christian Faith in trying to leave a loophole open for "proportional" forms of prisoner abuse. That is, I will take it for granted that he is sincere. I will merely add that he is also wrong. One reader sums up his wrongness this way:

The "foundational issue here," Christopher Fotos writes, is the preservation of indefectability.

I once expressed the idea that, when theologizing, we should move from what is clearer to what is less clear.

Either Christopher isn't following that idea, or he understands the indefectibility of the Mystical Body of Christ more fully than whether torturing a confession out of someone is wrong.

I wonder how much really bad reasoning has been done over the centuries in the interest of preserving indefectability.

I agree with Josiah in the comboxes at CfF that this has nothing to do with indefectibility. There is no article of faith that torture or prisoner abuse is just fine, so there is no question of the Church "contradicting itself" doctrinally when Veritatis Splendor says that torture is intrinsically immoral. The permission of torture by the medieval Church was a prudential judgement that was quite capable of being in error.

Except, what Chris Fotos was likely referring to were issues like the following:
Curiously enough torture was not regarded as a mode of punishment, but purely as a means of eliciting the truth. It was not of ecclesiastical origin, and was long prohibited in the ecclesiastical courts. Nor was it originally an important factor in the inquisitional procedure, being unauthorized until twenty years after the Inquisition had begun. It was first authorized by Innocent IV in his Bull "Ad exstirpanda" of 15 May, 1252, which was confirmed by Alexander IV on 30 November, 1259, and by Clement IV on 3 November, 1265. The limit placed upon torture was citra membri diminutionem et mortis periculum -- i.e, it was not to cause the loss of life or limb or imperil life. Torture was to applied only once, and not then unless the accused were uncertain in his statements, and seemed already virtually convicted by manifold and weighty proofs. In general, this violent testimony (quaestio) was to be deferred as long as possible, and recourse to it was permitted in only when all other expedients were exhausted. Conscientiousness and sensible judges quite properly attached no great importance to confessions extracted by torture. After long experience Eymeric declared: Quaestiones sunt fallaces et inefficaces -- i.e the torture is deceptive and ineffectual.

Had this papal legislation been adhered to in practice, the historian of the Inquisition would have fewer difficulties to satisfy. In the beginning, torture was held to be so odious that clerics were forbidden to be present under pain of irregularity. Sometimes it had to be interrupted so as to enable the inquisitor to continue his examination, which, of course, was attended by numerous inconveniences. Therefore on 27 April, 1260, Alexander IV authorized inquisitors to absolve one another of this irregularity. Urban IV on 2 August, 1262, renewed the permission, and this was soon interpreted as formal licence to continue the examination in the torture chamber itself. The inquisitors manuals faithfully noted and approved this usage. The general rule ran that torture was to be resorted to only once. But this was sometimes circumvented -- first, by assuming that with every new piece of evidence the rack could be utilized afresh, and secondly, by imposing fresh torments on the poor victim (often on different days), not by way of repetition, but as a continuation (non ad modum iterationis sed continuationis), as defended by Eymeric; "quia, iterari non debent [tormenta], nisi novis supervenitibus indiciis, continuari non prohibentur." But what was to be done when the accused, released from the rack, denied what he had just confessed? Some held with Eymeric that the accused should be set at liberty; others, however, like the author of the "Sacro Arsenale" held that the torture should be continued. because the accused had too seriously incriminated himself by his previous confession. When Clement V formulated his regulations for the employment of torture, he never imagined that eventually even witnesses would be put on the rack, although not their guilt, but that of the accused, was in question. From the popes silence it was concluded that a witness might be put upon the rack at the discretion of the inquisitor. Moreover, if the accused was convicted through witnesses, or had pleaded guilty, the torture might still he used to compel him to testify against his friends and fellow-culprits. It would be opposed to all Divine and human equity -- so one reads in the "SacroArsenale, ovvero Pratica dell Officio della Santa Inquisizione" (Bologna, 1665) -- to inflict torture unless the judge were personally persuaded of the guilt of the accused.

But one of the difficulties of the procedure is why torture was used as a means of learning the truth. On the one hand, the torture was continued until the accused confessed or intimated that he was willing to confess, On the other hand, it was not desired, as in fact it was not possible, to regard as freely made a confession wrung by torture.

It is at once apparent how little reliance may be placed upon the assertion so often repeated in the minutes of trials, "confessionem esse veram, non factam vi tormentorum" (the confession was true and free), even though one had not occasionally read in the preceding pages that, after being taken down from the rack (postquam depositus fuit de tormento), he freely confessed this or that. However, it is not of greater importance to say that torture is seldom mentioned in the records of inquisition trials -- but once, for example in 636 condemnations between 1309 and 1323; this does not prove that torture was rarely applied. Since torture was originally inflicted outside the court room by lay officials, and since only the voluntary confession was valid before the judges, there was no occasion to mention in the records the fact of torture. On the other hand it, is historically true that the popes not only always held that torture must not imperil life or but also tried to abolish particularly grievous abuses, when such became known to them. Thus Clement V ordained that inquisitors should not apply the torture without the consent of the diocesan bishop. From the middle of the thirteenth century, they did not disavow the principle itself, and, as their restrictions to its use were not always heeded, its severity, though of tell exaggerated, was in many cases extreme.

And so on and so on.

Now Mark argues that these were all nothing more than prudential judgements that happened to be wrong, but given the complexity of the issue and the fact that you basically had no one calling torture an intrinsic evil during the period in question suggests to me that the indefectibility of the Church is indeed at stake since we have Christ's guarantee that the gates of hell cannot prevail against it but that Mark would have us believe that basically they did for quite a long time in that the Church not only condoned the practice in question but even went to the extent of drawing up a proper set of procedures for how it is to be used. To better illustrate the problem, substitute torture in this context for abortion or contraception and I don't think that one will be so cavalier at this kind of rhetorical dismissal. I don't regard this as insurmountable because I think the explanation offered by Akin:
In producing a definition, I'd like to start with two basic parameters:

Parameter 1: The definition should correspond as much as possible to our pre-reflective sense of what constitutes torture.

Parameter 2: The definition should point to something that is intrinsically evil.

The reason for Parameter 1 is that you should always start with a commonsense understanding of a term in attempting to give it a technical definition. The technical definition should capture as much of the commonsense understanding as possible. Otherwise you get linguistic chaos.

The reason for Parameter 2 is that I think the Magisterium would want the word "torture" used in a way that points to something intrinsically evil.

In Veritatis Splendor, John Paul II quoted a list of social evils--including torture--from Gaudium et Spes and seemed to apply the label "intrinsically evil" to this list. This does not strike me as sufficient to settle the question, though, for as His Awesomeness Cardinal Dulles has pointed out, John Paul II's use of this passage from Gaudium et Spes appears to have important unstated qualifiers and thus some of the items on the list (e.g., deportations) do not on their face appear to be intrinsically evil without further qualification. The possibility is thus raised (and I view Dulles's article as turning the possibility into a probability) that the pope was speaking in a general rather than a technical way and without further qualification we cannot simply say that every item on the list is intrinsically immoral.

So I don't think Veritatis Splendor is decisive on this question. Instead, I think that the evolution of the word "torture" will unfold in such a way in the future that the Magisterium will want it used of intrinsic evil.

The reason is this: The history of an institution can constrain the way that institution uses words. A classic example of this is the development of the Roman Empire out of the Roman Republic. Prior to the Republic, the Romans had kings, and getting rid of the kings and establishing a Republic was one of their proudest achievements. Consequently, Romans of that era could never allow themselves to have a king. This meant that, even when the Caesars were given king-like powers and were clearly functioning as kings (as in "We have no king but Caesar"), the Romans themselves couldn't call them kings. So Augustus Caesar asked instead for the title "Imperator" ("commander"), which is how Rome got its emperors.

Americans, because they threw off the rule of both a king and an empire, likewise can have neither kings nor an empire. Even if the presidency were one day morphed into a functional monarchy, we couldn't call it that. Similarly, even if we acquire a functional empire (I don't perceive us as having one, though I know others do), we will not in the foreseeable future get to the point that you have Congress and the president referring to "our empire" the way the Romans did.

A similar situation applies with regard to the history of the Church: The fact that Church authorities once used torture, in keeping with the legal custom of the day in secular society, is a matter of intense shame. To make it clear that this chapter of history is definitively over and that the Church has thoroughly broken with and renounced this practice, it will want to issue vigorous condemnations of torture--as indeed, it has.

And that constrains the way that the word "torture" is likely to be used.

If "torture" is not restricted to things that are intrinsically immoral (always wrong) then the Church--or at least moral theologians--would be put in the position of having to say that sometimes torture is not wrong.

Given its history, that is not something the Church will want itself--or its moral theologians--to be saying. The Church would be a lot happier if Catholic thinkers proposed definitions of "torture" that point to things that are intrinsically immoral, so I will seek to develop such a definition.

The inclusion of Parameter 2 may mean that our definition may not capture the full range of what has historically been called torture. Historically, the word has not been subject to the requirement of Parameter 2, and as a result, our commonsense understanding of torture likely covers things that are not intrinsically wrong but only extrinsically wrong.

This is normal whenever you try to give a technical definition for something that previously has only had a commonsense understanding: The technical definition never corrsponds fully to the previous, non-technical usage.

There thus may be some things that would historically have been thought of as torture that are not intrinsically wrong and thus can be justified in at least extreme circumstances. Indeed, this seems to be a large part of what is prompting the present theological and social debate about torture: Some people feel that due to the War on Terror we are in a situation in which some things that would historically have fallen under our commonsense understanding of torture (Parameter 1) may now be justified, but there is also a contemporary impulse to say that torture is always wrong (Parameter 2).

When combined with the same approach recommended by Armstrong here on a similar issue:
I don't believe, myself, that Pope John Paul II (the Great) has contradicted past development of doctrine regarding these issues. The approach that I believe solves the seeming contradiction lies in the analysis of Fr. Harrison and Avery Cardinal Dulles, in his First Things article, "Development or Reversal?" [Slavery]

The solution lies in understanding the subtle nuances in Pope John Paul II's language and the necessary distinctions in magisterial and non-magisterial beliefs and notions in the Middle Ages up to the present.

Whenever issues are complex and nuances and subtleties are ignored, and an "either/or / dichotomous mindset" employed, there is a ton of controversy. Hence, the present one.

We see the same dynamic in the predestination debates, "faith vs. works", "salvation outside the Church" discussions. It's always the same: things are assumed to be contradictory when upon closer inspection, they are not. So it gets very heated because folks talk past each other, and it is mutual monologue.

When Catholics such as Fr. Harrison and Cardinal Dulles take the past seriously and incorporate consistent development of doctrine into the equation, then the way is open for a satisfactory solution.

You get a more than adequate explanation that accounts for all variables and leaves indefectability untouched. I find this explanation far more reasonable and intellectually convincing than that offered by Mark Shea's rhetorical slight-of-hand in which the way to best understand Catholic doctrine is simply to pick the latest encyclical and go from there. It is the fact that his entire argument consists solely of an appeal to his interpretation of a text to the exclusion of all else that I will continue to hold that he argues like a fundamentalist.

One final point to be made that Mark completely misses is that adopting a view similar to that of Cardinal Dulles on slavery with regard to torture is not the same as seeking to revive the practice no more than Cardinal Dulles was with regard to slavery.

Mark continues:
Much is still being made of Jimmy Akin's argument for "proportional" use of painful coercion.

Seeing how Mark never actually engaged it, this isn't terribly surprising.
However, if that is the criteria the CfF really wants to go by, then I think about 99% of what I've had to say in complaint against this Administration's use of torture is vindicated.

If those complaints took some kind of coherent format beyond Mark's tendency to rant and conflate events such as KSM being waterboarded and Abu Ghraib, it might make his arguments more intelligible beyond the demagoguery. As I keep mentioning, we have primarily directed our attack towards your approach to torture with regard to moral theology not the political one. It is Mark who keeps on bringing it back into the political arena and asserting without evidence save that obtained by your peculiar charism of telepathy that the only reason Victor and I disagree with you is because of our support of the Bush administration. As I said, something to keep in mind the next time you wonder why we have the gall to call you a liar.
Jimmy's "proportionalism" theorizing basically applies (assuming we accept it) to a tiny minority of situations (i.e. ticking bomb scenarios). Essentially, what Jimmy is trying to argue is that, in such cases, it is not torture but proportional coercion and therefore not torture and therefore not intrinsically immoral.

Say I grant all that (I don't, because I think a) hard cases make bad law and b) I'm leery of just what is and is not "proportional"). But say I do grant it, for argument's sake. Where does that leave us? Basically, it leaves the Coalition in almost complete agreement with me because such ultra-rarified criteria are not what the Administration used in sanctioning and authorizing honest-to-God torture, including torture that resulted in murder of prisoners. As Chris Blosser acknowledges, we have in fact and under official sanction tortured (not "tortured") prisoners in the sense meant by proposition #1. I would only add that I bet my reader Katherine could supply numerous other instances of such torture and prisoner abuse beside the few I limit myself to for brevity's sake.

No doubt she could, except we're back in the arena of politics rather than moral theology. I realize that Mark tends to conflate the two so he can rant against the evils of the Bush administration and screech from his keyboard all kinds of wide-ranging pronouncements about how irredeemable the GOP is, but this is sort of a distinction worth noting. I agree with Chris Blosser's position which, if you actually read it, notes that there are some differences in the particulars of what exactly happened in the cases he is so apt to cite as Exhibit A.

As Blosser notes:
So as I had discovered in past investigations of this matter, explaining the root causes of Abu Ghraib abuses are rather more complex than "the CIA did it" and, quoting Mark, "Dick Cheney wants more Abu Ghraibs."

Not that Mark is likely to take that particular point to heart when issuing his next anathema sit against the GOP. As to the overall matter, I agree that something needs to be done to fix (and more importantly IMO) standardize our detainee system and I regard the McCain Amendment as a step in the right direction on that one. Victor does not, due in part to his (IMO justified) fear that the people that Katherine and many others who have made this issue a cause celebre seek to empower are the ones least interested in actually winning the war on terrorism. Call it a cynical view from many of these same individuals' approach to domestic crime.
So it seems to me to come down to this: The pretty clear and obvious teaching of the Church is that prisoners should not be tortured and abused, but treated humanely. That, not tiptoeing up to but not crossing the line from abuse to torture, is the goal.

Treating prisoners humanely is quite a different claim from the types of sweeping statements you have made (and continue to make, see below) about Catholic teaching. You want to oppose Bush on the grounds he's actively formenting the inhumane treatment of prisoners, go right ahead. It is your continued invocation of Gaudium et Spes to support that view and refusal to actually engage any arguments to the contrary, however, that has me seeing red.

Mark then proceeds to assert:
This is not Pollyanna unrealism. This is the 1983 Field Manual of the US Army, perfectly understandable to any speaker of English until the President of these United States suddenly discovered that it was impossible to understand because the President of these United States has, in fact, officially sanctioned both torture and prisoner abuse, denied having done so, and therefore desperately *needed* words like "torture", "outrages upon human dignity" and "humanely" to be impenetrable linguistic riddles. Accordingly, media pundits who have wanted to save the Administration's bacon (and who have likewise embraced a realpolitik vision of how to conduct the war) began suggesting such things as shooting wounded unarmed men on the battlefield, as well as making fuzzy calls for "legal" torture and issuing blurry condemnations of "squeamish" moralists who would not acquiesce to the line coming from the White House (which is what drew my attention to the subject).

I think you would be very hard-pressed to find serious pundits making arguments like this (their actual arguments, not Mark's caricatures or knowledge of their true intentions via telepathy). Chris Blosser did a round-up awhile back noting the real differences in the conservative movement on this one. I would also add, though Mark fails to understand this, that it is entirely reasonable to understand why non-Catholics would not adhere to Catholic teaching on topics such as this. IMO, it would be rather intellectually obtuse to expect them to do otherwise. I also think that you could oppose the McCain Amendment in good faith and not support torture, a point that I suspect Mark's demagoguery will not allow him to recognize on this one. IMO, much of the conservative skepticism towards many of the individuals and organizations that were so interested in the detainee topic was entirely justified in light of their past and current behavior. I suspect that many conservatives would unquestionably extend that point to apply to Senator McCain as well. But if you are curious why people are so skeptical towards your arguments on this one, Mark, it might have as much to do with your less than measured attitude towards those who dare to question you on this one.
For the past two years, I have argued that the Church says torture is intrinsically immoral (Veritatis Splendor 80) and that prisoners should be treated humanely and that the Administration is wrong (I would even say here *criminally* wrong) to ignore that in its official sanction of torture and abuse. The Coalition has condemned this appeal to the teaching documents of the Church as "fundamentalist proof-texting" meaning. Initially, they apparently meant that sometimes torture is not intrinsically immoral, despite the pretty clear wording of VS 80. With the advent of Jimmy's argument for proportional coercion, it now appears that the Coalition grants that torture *is* intrinsically immoral, with the qualification that if an act of pain infliction is proportional, then it's not really torture and therefore not intrinsically immoral.

Actually, we still don't agree with you on Veritas Splendor (I keep saying Gaudium et Spes because this is where the relevant quotation is from) and it would really help this debate if you bothered to keep track of your opponents positions rather than those that you assign to them.

As Jimmy Akin explains yet again:
In Veritatis Splendor, John Paul II quoted a list of social evils--including torture--from Gaudium et Spes and seemed to apply the label "intrinsically evil" to this list. This does not strike me as sufficient to settle the question, though, for as His Awesomeness Cardinal Dulles has pointed out, John Paul II's use of this passage from Gaudium et Spes appears to have important unstated qualifiers and thus some of the items on the list (e.g., deportations) do not on their face appear to be intrinsically evil without further qualification. The possibility is thus raised (and I view Dulles's article as turning the possibility into a probability) that the pope was speaking in a general rather than a technical way and without further qualification we cannot simply say that every item on the list is intrinsically immoral.

So I don't think Veritatis Splendor is decisive on this question. Instead, I think that the evolution of the word "torture" will unfold in such a way in the future that the Magisterium will want it used of intrinsic evil.

This is not a small point and I really wish Mark would bother to engage it rather than just citing the "plain meaning" of the text and then arguing that anyone who disagrees with him has ill motives. That is how a fundamentalist argues whether he wants to bristle at that label or not.
But since virtually none of the torture performed on prisoners by Bush Administation was proportional according to the criteria Jimmy describes, much of the prisoner abuse sanctioned by the Bush Administration is, in fact, torture and a violation of the laws of God.

The Bush Administration has managed to create a situation in which it is not a violation of the laws of man because the same man who orders torture--the President--is the man who defines what torture is according to the venerable Nixonian standard "It's not illegal if the President does it." I can't do much about that other than bleat protests. But I consider it real progess that the Coalition for Fog is now at a place where they at least acknowledge that the Administration has, in fact, sanctioned and ordered the use, not of "torture", but of torture. I look forward to the day, perhaps in another year and half, when acknowledging this will lead, not to blogs devoted almost solely to attacking those who oppose torture, but to blogs devoted to urging the Administration to fight the war on the basis of ius in bello.

When last I checked Mark, you had basically given up on the justice of the war as well as the war itself, deciding instead that Western civilization was more likely than Dar al-Islam to produce the Antichrist. Moreover, you clearly missed the whole point of my response to Dave Armstrong in which I said:
My own view on torture (or if torture is defined as intrisically evil then interrogation techniques that many would classify as torture) in general is fairly akin to how the Church currently views the practice of the death penalty as formulated by Mark Shea: that it is far more defensible in primitive societies than it is currently and that in the latter case it should only be used in the most extraordinary circumstances such as those represented by Rashid Rauf or Abdul Hakim Murad.

As I said in my reply to Patrick, the key here for me when determining the porportionality is the extremity of the situation, which as a practical matter has to be worked out according to a case-by-case basis. IIRC, this is also the same standard that the Israeli Supreme Court came to when this subject was raised there in the late 1990s. Because how you determine the extremity of the situation is based on the particulars of the situation, I really don't think that you can make the kinds of sweeping generalizations that Mark seems to favor here as a matter of morality.

As for my goals over the next year and a half, they're a lot less lofty: that Mark Shea manages to get to the point where he stops the demagoguery and actually processes the arguments of those who are disagreeing with him.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Oh goody ...

I think that a couple of points need to be made before responding to Mark's latest. The first point that I want to make is that despite whatever reading comprehension problems he may have, Joe D'Hippolito is not a contributor to the Coalition for Fog. He is instead a commenter who posts stuff in the comments ... just as he does over at any number of other Catholic blogs including Jimmy Akin's. So unless you want us to start applying the opinions of certain choice commenters (Marv Wood, Morning's Minion, Chris Sullivan, Celine, etc) onto yourself, please refrain from projecting his opinions onto Victor and myself. While you're at it, you might also want to stop distorting our positions in favor of your straw man caricatures, but it's pretty clear that this isn't likely to happen.

Skipping past the above mentioned caricatures, when Patrick raised the issue of whether or not the Coalition has a definition of torture. I pointed him to my answer to Dave Armstrong as well as to Victor's. I don't think that we're being terribly unclear here and neither does Mark judging from the fact that he has been made aware of these posts repeatedly (and he seems to spend an awful lot of time thinking about us) but doesn't find them worthy of response. So while he is claiming that we have never really sought to engage the question so he can continue to accuse us of bad faith, he might want to read this post where I explicitly said:
Jimmy Akin has started trying to define torture over at his blog. I'm still reading through all of it but there doesn't seem to be anything I've come across so far that I disagree with. The differences between this and the views articulated by Dave Armstrong (which I also agreed with) strike me as being mainly stylistic and semantical rather than substantive.

Nothing has happened since November to change my view on that point and if Mark wants to provide evidence to the contrary with quotes explaining where Akin or Armstrong and myself differ substantively on this one I would be very interested to see it. Instead, he continues to claim bad faith and slavish adherence to the Bush administration as the only reasons why anyone could possibly disagree with him here.

The reason I keep invoking Akin or Armstrong, as I have explained repeatedly, is that I believe that the positions of myself and Victor are identical with their own and would challenge Mark to provide evidence rather than assertions to the contrary. Thus far, he has failed to do so and has continued to assert that Victor and I are arguing in bad faith whereas Akin and Armstrong are decent Catholic apologists whose positions are only due to the fact that they haven't spent enough time studying the subject. Ignoring the patronizing nature of the latter claim, the sad fact as many of us here have come to recognize is that the only real difference appears to be who exactly happens to be in good standing within Mark's social circle of Catholic apologists. You will forgive me for not regarding that as a substantive reason to accept your claims on matters as important as morality.

As to Mark's other points:

1) The comment in question was not made by a contributor, but by a commenter. And given some of the stuff that occurs within your own combox, I thought you might be willing to sympathize. As for claims about the general hostility that exists here towards your views, we have been more than willing to turn down the temperature of the debate but as long as you keep calling the tune we will be more than happy to pay the piper. At the very least we manage to do our best to keep your actual positions straight without hyperbole while doing so, which is more than I can say for you.

2) To be fair, you seem to enjoy reading our site enough that it looked like a decent enough guess to me.

3) This one deserves its own response in full:
A curious elaboration of the cherished myth that Jimmy Akin dealt some crushing blow to my point that the basic Church teaching that torture is intrinsically immoral.

Thank you for once again demonstrating that you have no real conception of what this discussion is about. We hold that the passages from Gaudium et Spes that you cite cannot possibly mean what you claim that it means because of the obvious contradictions between that claim and what the Magisterium in fact teaches concerning the issues that are given equal weight in the relevant quotation such as deportation. Akin concurs with that assessment, as does Armstrong. When presented with this problem, your only recourse to date has been to continue to appeal to the text and to accuse those who continue to note this as holding to ill motives. This is why I say that you argue like a fundamentalist.
I'm still not sure what the CtF guys think Jimmy did, but what he in fact did (if we grant his argument) is this: he made a case that, as with abortion, there could be a situation in which the principle of double effect makes an act that would otherwise be torture "proportional" and (somehow) justified. I'm not ready to grant that, but let us suppose that I did. What are we saying at the end of the day? It seems to me obvious that we are saying something equivalent to "On rare occasions, tubal pregnancies make it necessary to remove the fallopian tube in order to save the Mother. The intention is to save mom, not kill baby (who will die in any event)."

Now, does anybody in his right mind say that, because of this extreme situation, that therefore abortion is *not* intrinsically immoral?

No, because you clearly either don't understand what Jimmy did:
I see the situation as analogous to the use of the term "theft." There is a popular understanding of the term "theft" that would include taking food from someone who has plenty if you are starving and cannot buy food. According to the popular usage, that would count as theft, and an ordinary person might say, "Sometimes theft is okay." The Church does not want to say that sometimes theft is okay, and so it defines the sin of theft in such a way that this is precluded (i.e., taking property against the reasonable will of its owner). The Church would thus say that theft is always wrong, but taking food in the above circumstances does not count as the sin of theft.

In the same way, there may be things that would count as torture under the popular understanding and yet be justified, leading an ordinary person to want to say "Sometimes torture is okay." But the Church will not want to say that and so--if my thesis is correct--it will instead define torture such that those things which are potentially justifiable do not count as torture.

Mark may well disagree with that, but my point is (as it has been stated repeatedly) that he cannot hold to a good faith argument by making the case that our position is so horribly removed from that of Akin's. To be fair, I think that Zippy, who Mark seems to rely on to do most of his intellectual heavy lifting on this topic, has in fact conceded this point.
So, granting all that Jimmy said, the question remains: "Does Jimmy remote and hypothetical argument justify, for instance, the murder by hypothermia of torture victims in Afghanistan? The rendition and torture of Maher Arar? The torture and murder of the Ice Man by CIA ops at Abu Ghraib? Nope.

No he didn't and neither do we. To begin with, we distinguish what was authorized by policy (rendition, for instance) and what occurred as the result of abuse (Abu Ghraib). Mark doesn't, all the better to serve his demagoguery, but this is a distinction that needs to be made. As far as whether or not Akin's argument justifies any of this, I think that the answer (and I haven't studied all these cases in-depth) is no. But Akin was making an argument on the morality of torture rather than whether or not we should practice it as a matter of public policy, so this is something of a category mistake to begin with. Moreover, Akin was speaking of a situation within the context of extraordinary circumstances, something that I don't think was met in any of the cases referenced by Mark. Now there are cases, such as those of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, where I think that the arguments for extraordinary circumstances are much, much stronger, but that is my own opinion. Now maybe if Mark were actually reading this blog for something other than polemical value he would recognize it.

4) Here again, this was said in the combox rather than by a contributor. Mark can take that argument up with the individual in question, but unless he want us to start citing every single moonbat remark that shows up in his own combox (a task I have neither the time nor inclination to engage in) I would ask him to exercise a little charity here assuming he were reading us for something other than demagoguery. Oops, too late.

5) Except you have frequently cited Richard as an expert witness on this one Mark, and argued that we unfairly persecuting him for opposing torture until it has surfaced that he is more than a little loopy. Oh yeah, and then he threatened to sue us for pointing that out and claimed that we were being financed by some shadowy group in order to engender ourselves to the ruling elite or some such nonsense. You have yet to take note of this, near as I can determine, though you have been polite enough to (more than justifiably) remove such remarks from your combox.

6) The reason for these contradictory statements lies in the fact that in the combox, a variety of individuals often surface with a variety of different points of view. Imagine that!

7) See replies 4 and 6. It seems to me that Mark is only willing to allow for good faith in the "oh, these people have just started the debate and are still learning the ropes of the discussion" when he's certain that they'll come around to his point of view. How intellectually charitable of him.

8) The efficacy of torture is a factual point, whether or not it is moral is another matter altogether. To draw a comparison I'm sure Mark will approve of, the fact that we can yank organs from babies or the mentally retarded and place them within our own to live longer is likely entirely workable but that has nothing whatsoever to do with whether or not it is moral. MacDonald's atheism is a red herring and an ad hominem in this instance, though she seems to be ideologically pure enough to get a hearing from Mark's new buddies over at The American Conservative these days.

As to answering Patrick's question of what torture is, I will here again defer to Jimmy Akin:
The sin of torture consists in the disproportionate infliction of pain.

So much for Mark's whole "they won't define it because they want to justify everything" shtick.

To understand how he got to that point, I would recommend following his posts on the subject here, here, here, and here. As I said at the time, everything he said pretty much makes perfect sense to me as a matter of both sound reason and Catholic theology.

As for the specific case that Patrick cites, my answer would be, "Not enough information." Because torture (for lack of a better term, see Akin) is only to be used under extreme circumstances, these have to be weighed on a case-by-case basis. Using the term "terror suspect" is far too vague because we have no idea what the individual in question is suspected of doing. Are they a cell leader? A bombmaker? A chemical weapons expert? A member of the al-Qaeda ruling council? I don't think, and Victor may disagree with me on this, that you should adopt a blanket set of interrogation techniques for everyone and anyone who is suspected of being a terrorist. The more they are suspected (or known) to have done and the danger they continue to pose to the community, the closer you would come to becoming justified in an "extreme measures" situation. This, by the way, is pretty much what Senator McCain said during the debate over the McCain Amendment when discussing secular policy.

Addendum: Because just reading over my post in retrospect, I want to make sure I make my point clear on the issue of chopping off fingers. I don't support it, I don't want it carried out by the United States, etc, etc. I have repeatedly made this clear as a matter of secular policy, which is why I supported the McCain Amendment in the first place. I also have absolutely no idea as to whether or not it would be effective and my best guess would be no (the detainee need only endure the pain until he runs out of fingers, not a terribly efficient method). The broader point that I was trying to make (as opposed to that which Mark will almost certainly misinterpret), however, dealt with the issue of extreme measures and porportionality as explained by Jimmy Akin far more than it did the specific technique described by Patrick. This is because (and I think that Akin does an excellent job of explaining why this is) the issue is far more one of porportionality and intent than it is of the specific technique in question.

Or as Akin explains it:
Take waterboarding as an example. I would say that waterboarding is torture if it is being used to get a person to confess to a crime (it is not proportionate to that end since it will promote false confessions). I would also say that it is torture if it is being used to get information out of a terrorist that could be gotten through traditional, less painful interrogation means (it is not proportionate to the end since there are better means available). I would not say that it is torture if it is being used in a ticking time bomb scenario and there is no other, less painful way to save lives (it is proportionate since there is not a better solution). And I would not say that it is torture if it is being used to train our own people how to resist waterboarding if it is used on them (this is apparently something we do, and it is proportionate on the understanding that there is no better way to help people learn to resist waterboarding).

I find it hard to think of particular physical acts that automatically count as torture irregardless of the circumstances. Even cutting off parts of a person's body is not torture if you're doing it to prevent them from dying of gangrene and there is no anesthetic available. But if the pain involved in that physical act is not automatically torture then I don't know what would be. Indeed, I don't know how to establish a maximum amount of pain that can be inflicted, even if it is for purposes of saving someone's life.

The only amount I can think of is one that would permanently damage the person in some way, and then we're talking about some kind of physical or mental mutilation rather than torture itself--and even that might not always be immoral since the Catechism acknowledges that mutilations can be legitimate for therapeutic reasons. "Okay, maybe removing your leg on the battlefield left you mentally 'scarred,' but at least you're alive, and you can live with the scars," I could see someone arguing.

It also strikes me that adopting the kind of general moral definition that I have proposed may be a good thing in that it lets us get past a semantic chokepoint in the discussion: Instead of worrying about whether or not something counts as torture, we can start figuring out whether particular acts are or are not moral. If the pain involved in them is disproportionate then they are immoral and therefore torture. If the pain involved in them is not disproportionate then they're not immoral and not torture.

Somehow I expect that this isn't the answer that Patrick wanted to hear, but I just wanted to make my opinion on the issue plain, Mark's demagoguery be damned.