Sunday, June 11, 2006

More Overdoing

Byron is dissatisfied with my reply to his original e-mail taking me to task for my criticism of Andrew Sullivan (here). He argues (see Feedback Page) that I failed to give a satisfactory explanation for criticizing Sullivan's denigration of the administration for opting not to include Article 3:1c of the Geneva Conventions in the Army Field Manual and concludes that I owe Sullivan an apology.

I'd like to explain why I think no apology is needed.

Byron states that:

Sullivan shows that we have violated the Geneva conventions and go against international law, a fact that is commonly accepted. Do you disagree? It is this that makes us rogue, not some odd interpretation you give to his words, suggesting that he is opposed to hurting the feelings of killers.

This is somewhat misleading. Sullivan has written strongly against the alleged use of torture in the past, to be sure, but in the post to which I responded in Overdoing the Outrage he was condemning the administration specifically for its refusal to include Article 3 part 1c in the Army Field Manual. It is that particular complaint of Sullivan's I criticized, and Byron is inadvertantly changing the subject when he shifts the discussion to the broader question of torture.

He changes the subject again when he says:

But your "straw man" argument and your caricature of Mr. Sullivan's views are way off base. Mr. Sullivan did not say we ought not "question the courage of detainees" (what reasonable court could call that torture?).

But it is not torture, exactly, that is at issue in 3:1c. The Article states: ....the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons....Outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment.

If Byron means to ask "what reasonable court could call questioning one's courage humiliating or degrading treatment" the best answer, perhaps, is to ask him whether he would not himself find it humiliating or degrading to have his courage or manhood challenged. Most people would, especially in the presence of others and especially, for a Muslim, by a female interrogator. But don't take my word for it. The concern was raised in the L.A. Times article which initially triggered Sullivan's outrage.

Byron goes on to write that:

Mr. Sullivan simply nowhere suggests, as you put words in his mouth, that we have to treat POW's as "visiting dignitaries" or that we dare not incarcerate captured terrorists. If this possibility is why Mr. Bush scuttled the law on this, it seems pretty thin logic to me. Be that as it may, Mr. Sullivan surely was not operating with these concerns in mind: he clearly was opposing torture.

This paragraph is confusing. I didn't suggest that Sullivan himself actually said any of this, as a fair reading of my post will show. My point was that his insistence that we abide by 3:1c would lead to these kinds of absurd restrictions on how detainees can be treated, whether Sullivan thinks so or not.

Had he said what you said he said I suppose it would be right to call him silly. I simply think it is outlandish of you to suggest that his piece had anything to do with your peeve.

The only thing I can say to this is that anyone who doubts that it was the decision to drop Article 3:1c from the Army Field Manual that precipitated Andrew's diatribe against the administration should go to his blog and read the post for himself.

You slander him by implying Mr. Sullivan thinks we ought not incarcerate terrorists. He has said no such thing. If he did it would be stupid.

Of course I didn't say that Sullivan thinks this, and I don't know why Byron would accuse me of having done so. What I suggested was that the logic of his position leads to that kind of an absurdity. I'm glad Byron thinks that anything which leads to the conclusion that incarceration should be prohibited is stupid, because that's exactly what the vagueness and ambiguity of 3:1c would, or could, result in.

At first glance it would seem that the proscription of humiliating and degrading treatment is a prohibition that every nation, including ours, should respect. But in fact it's meaningless and dangerously restrictive. It is little more than a feel-good clause that allows the signatories to present themselves to the world as humane when in fact, if taken seriously, it's virtually impossible to abide by.

What determines whether an act is humiliating or degrading is more the individual's reaction to the act than the act itself. Most people, but not all, would feel humiliated if yelled at or insulted. Many, but not all, Muslims would feel humiliated if placed in a subordinate position to a woman. If we are to take the Geneva article seriously, which both Byron and Andrew Sullivan insist that we do, then we should never allow a Muslim detainee to be interrogated by a woman if he would find that humiliating. I, and I presume Byron, would find prison both humiliating and degrading. Suppose the Muslim jihadis do as well. If so, 3:1c would, if strictly followed, forbid us from incarcerating terrorists. In other words, the sensibilities of the prisoner determine what measures we can take against him. I submit that this is an absurd position to put ourselves in.

Byron suggests that I exaggerate when I claim that 3:1c would effectively proscribe incarceration, but how could it not? Does he think some forms of humiliation, like imprisonment, are acceptable to use against detainees but others are not? If so, how are we to choose between them? Who decides what's humiliating for a detainee and what isn't? The interrogator? The secretary of defense? The detainee? Byron offers no answer. He seems, rather, to conflate humiliation and torture and insists simply that we should not employ torture and, by extension, humiliation.

Even if the military would arbitrarily be permitted to degrade terrorists by confining them to a cell and depriving them of their freedom, there are lots of things they would not be allowed to get away with, and the L.A. Times article that started this discussion mentions a few of these (shouting at prisoners, questioning their manhood, and long-term solitary confinement, for example). There are numerous others: using deception to get information, giving the prisoner Western food, shackling - in short, anything the prisoner found demeaning would be proscribed by a serious reading of 3:1c.

If I am wrong about this then I welcome someone explaining to me my error because I don't see how the absurdities mentioned above can be avoided if 3:1c is to be taken literally, and if it's not to be taken literally then how can it be binding at all?

Meanwhile, in lieu of some meaningful definitions as to what constitutes humiliating and degrading treatment, adherence to 3:1c places needless restrictions on our military authorities. Interrogators and police, afraid of crossing some invisible line that could get them hauled before a war crimes tribunal, will tend to do as little as possible to elicit life-saving information from terrorist prisoners. In an environment where our kids' lives are at constant risk at the hands of those who will stop at nothing to kill them, it would be irresponsible to insist that our interrogators and police adhere to such vague guidance as 3:1c offers.

Until someone shows me how this is mistaken I will continue to maintain that it is silly for Andrew Sullivan, or anyone else, to condemn the administration for omitting this proscription from the Army Field Manual.

Mere Christianity

I recently came into possession of a book by C. S. Lewis that contains, among many of his great works, Mere Christianity. I read several of his books a long time ago and felt it was time to revisit what he had to say. (I have a great memory except that it's short.) Happening upon the following passage, it occurred to me that many people have communicated the essence of this message in the past but few have done so as eloquently as Lewis does so I thought it worth while to post here.

Here is another thing that used to puzzle me. Is it not frightfully unfair that this new life should be confined to people who have heard of Christ and been able to believe in Him? But the truth is God has not told us what His arrangements about the other people are. We do know that no man can be saved except through Christ; we do not know that only those who know Him can be saved through Him.

With all due respect to this great Christian believer, (and to brother Dick who, I believe, may be inclined to the same position), it seems to me that sufficient evidence is provided in the Word to show that, in fact, Lewis errs in his last statement. See my notes at the end of the article.

But in the meantime, if you are worried about the people outside, the most unreasonable thing you can do is to remain outside yourself. Christians are Christ's body; the organism through which He works. Ever addition to that body enables Him to do more. If you want to help those outside you must add your own little cell to the body of Christ who alone can help them. Cutting off a man's fingers would be an odd way of getting him to do more work.

Another possible object is this. Why is God landing in this enemy-occupied world in disguise and starting a sort of secret society to undermine the devil? Why is He not landing in force, invading it? Is it that He is not strong enough? Well, Christians think He is going to land in force; we do not know when. But we can guess why He is delaying. He wants to give us the chance of joining His side freely. I don not suppose you and I would have thought much of a Frenchman who waited till the Allies were marching into Germany and then announce the was on our side. God will invade. But I wonder whether people who ask God to interfere openly and directly in our world quite realize what it will be like when He does. When that happens, it is the end of the world. When the author walks on to the stage the play is over. God is going to invade, all right: but what is the good of saying your are on His side then, when you see the whole natural universe melting away like a dream and something else - something it never entered your head to conceive - comes crashing in; something so beautiful to some of us and so terrible to others that none of us will have any choice left? For this time it will be God without disguise; something so overwhelming that it will strike either irresistible love or irresistible horror into every creature. It will be too late then to choose your side. There is no use saying you choose to lie down when it has become impossible to stand up. That will not be the time for choosing: it will be the time when we discover which side we really have chosen, whether we realized it or not. Now, today, this moment, is our chance to choose the right side. God is holding back to give us that chance. It will not last for ever. We must take it or leave it.

Now I'd like to offer a disclaimer of sorts. I'm not formally trained to expound on the Word of God and I don't believe it's something that one should undertake lightly. I can only offer what seems to me to be the truth of the matter as I perceive it from reading of His Word. Therefore, I pray that either because of me or in spite of me, the Word of God would be faithfully proclaimed here.

I'll start with some general thoughts and attempt to narrow it down to the specific:

Act iv. 12
12 Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.

I Timothy ii. 5-6
5 For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;
6 who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.

Given these two passages (of which there are many more with a similar message) one could argue that the work of Christ has made it possible for all to have salvation. No matter what one does or what kind of life they lead, they have received a "get out of jail" card and are headed to heaven because Jesus has made it possible through his saving work on the cross.

While I personally know people who believe this, I don't because there is more to the story:

I Corinthians viii. 3
3 But if any man love God, the same is known of Him.

James i. 12
12 Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord had promised to them that love Him.

And of course:

John iii. 16-18
16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.
18 He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

While the work of Jesus made reconciliation with God a possibility it appears to be contingent on us believing in Him and, consequently loving Him. How does someone love God without a personal relationship with Him? And is a personal relationship actually required?

Matthew vii. 21-23
21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

This seems to be telling us that the main, if not only criteria for salvation, is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. While it appears in verse 22 that many will know Him, or perhaps more accurately, know of Him and even be able to perform "wonderful works", Jesus didn't know them possibly because there was no personal relationship with Him. An interesting observation is that if this is the case, then the works of those outside of a personal realationship with Jesus, no matter how wonderful they may appear to be, will be considered works of iniquity.

The only other group of people to be considered are, perhaps, those poor souls who have never heard of the gospel of salvation through Jesus. Here, they are referred to as "the Gentiles":

Romans ii. 12-16
12 For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law; and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law;
13 (for not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.
14 For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves:
15 which show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;)
16 in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.

If it is true that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" Romans iii. 23, then His judgment will be just and we must simply accept that. Perhaps this explains the reason for the great proclamation to preach the gospel to the world, so that those that hear it might be saved.

Finally, we read:

Matthew vii. 13-14
13 Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:
14 because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.

There simply doesn't appear to be any other way to salvation. While God desires that all be saved, it doesn't appear that all will be saved. Those that deny His existence will get what they want, an eternity without Him. Those that acknowledge His existence but do nothing more, may very well suffer the same fate. Only those who 'enter the strait gate" and "narrow way" by, I believe, entering into a personal relationship with Him will see His salvation.

This brings us full-circle back to what C. S. Lewis stated above: "God is holding back to give us that chance. It will not last for ever. We must take it or leave it."