An unidentified reader, who I infer from the screen name is a Muslim, sent me the following in response to the post on enhanced interrogation techniques titled Of Course They Work:
If your views on torture represent Christianity, I do not want anything to do with it as I do not want anything to do with terrorists that claim to be of the Islamic faith.
Concerning your support for torture, does that mean that a North American soldier or citizen can be tortured by your enemies in order to protect their nation from an U.S.A. invasion?
Are your views on torture the foundation of your theology about the death of Isa alMasih?
I deeply regret that the reader feels that my disagreement with the absolutist position against torture makes it impossible for him to consider the truth claims of Christianity. Nevertheless, I simply do not see rationality in the absolutist's position. Here's my reply to the writer (slightly edited and amended):
Thanks for your email. I appreciate the questions you raise.
I'm afraid, though, that you'll have to explain which views on torture you're talking about. I am very much opposed to torture, but I don't believe torture is an absolute moral evil. I believe there are extreme circumstances which justify its use. Do you disagree? Would you allow your child to be brutally murdered if torturing the murderer's accomplice was the only way to save her? Would you condemn someone who saved your child by employing painful measures on the accomplice? Would you look your child in the eyes and say that you would have rather she died than be saved through such means?
Would you allow millions of people to be vaporized in a nuclear explosion if torturing the terrorist who planted the bomb was the only way to learn its location before it went off? Do you think it permissible to use lethal force to prevent an intruder from harming your family? If so, if you think that killing a man in self-defense is morally justifiable, why would you balk at using pain to prevent a man from killing dozens or thousands of innocent people?
Christianity is a religion that enjoins us to love others and to honor their human dignity, but sometimes those two imperatives are in conflict with each other. When that's the case, I think the proper course is to love those you are responsible for and that may mean doing all you can to save them from a terrible death. It may mean violating the dignity of their would-be killer. Life is filled with tough moral choices, but for me this one isn't tough at all.
You asked about my theology about the death of Isa al Masih. I can't answer that because I don't know who al Masih is.
The question of torture, paradoxically, is really a question about who we will love. Will we love innocent human beings or will we love those who threaten them? Sometimes, in certain extreme cases, we can't do both. We have to choose who'll be the beneficiary of our mercy and compassion. When we're confronted with a forced choice, one we can't avoid, to choose the terrorist over one's children or the children of our neighbors strikes me as perverse. There are times in life when compassion and mercy require of us that we do very difficult things. Love is not always about warm, fuzzy feelings.
If you disagree please reread the questions I asked my correspondent and explain to your children why you would rather sacrifice them if the alternative was causing a terrorist discomfort.
A second correspondent's email can be found on the feedback page.RLC