I was recently asked to be the religious voice on a panel responding to a brigadier general on the issue of torture. The organizers wanted me to raise moral questions. This put me into a bit of a quandary because I kept wondering from whose moral point of view I was to speak.
For example, as an American it is increasingly difficult to sustain a moral argument against torture given the reality of our own imperial culture of permanent war. Seriously, is there a huge difference between the capture and torment of an individual versus the destruction of thousands of innocent civilians caught up in the collateral damage of Obama’s drone bloodlust?
Once your way of life becomes rooted in a mindset of dominance where might makes right, what real difference does it make whether or not you butcher your enemies slowly or rapidly, individually or collectively? In other words: Torture as a moral issue helps us avoid the deeper moral issue that America has become the greatest threat to peace on this planet.
We have no credibility as a moral agent in the world. It is clear that we are governed by a seamless fusion between the military and the market. Money rules. The military is merely the muscle of the financial elite, with government simply a bribed propaganda front creating the illusion that we the people have access to decision making. When the military engages in action they do so not through the necessity of self-defense, but rather to defend an elite minority set on robbing, raping and plundering the wealth of others.
Ancient moral doctrines of just war are now as laughable as the quaint Geneva Conventions and the U.S. Constitution. We have gone beyond a moral base.
To speak as a Christian in such a situation is to speak from an apocalyptic base. For us the world as we have known it has ended. Until the system that created torture dies and is swept away into the dustbin of history, there is nothing but wilderness and a barren wasteland looming ahead. Our only word is repent.
For Christians, our moral base is rooted in the sacredness of the Other. That is, Christians claim that the good and true and beautiful is most fully revealed in the person of the One who was himself tortured and murdered by the militarized market forces of plutocracy. Thus, there isn’t much difference between a pharaoh who creates a slave economy so that a few thrive and the majority barely survives, and a global warrior system like Caesar’s Rome or our current imperial presidency.
A religious voice against torture must go deeper and become a voice against America, because we are no longer an America of “We the people.” We are now that which we supposedly fought against. We are now the crucifiers, and such hypocrisy sows its own seeds of destruction. Those seeds are sprouting all around us.