The Defense of Torture as a Pro-life Position

There are worse fates than death even for those whom death has not yet claimed. Better to die a hero or a saint than to live a permanent villain or a devilish slave to sin. Life, then, ought not to be our chief concern or ultimate care. What we do in life’s promotion and defense may make us heroes or make us villains depending precisely on what we do. A true pro-life disposition orders one towards life, but not life as the ultimate good, not life as the greatest of all things. It is a perversion of the pro-life disposition to uphold life at the expense of all else.

We see this perverse disposition in the justification of torture and other forms of coercion among pro-lifers. The argument begins with the premises that the value of life demands that we do everything necessary in its defense and that torture and other coercive techniques are necessary for national security. Such pro-lifers therefore support barbarism in the name of life—in the name of keeping us safe and secure. They support torture because they are pro-life, yet in their hierarchy of values, they place human life above the dignity of the human person, a ranking that allows them to act against human dignity in the defense of life, to sacrifice one for the sake of the other. However, as human life is not the most valuable of things, and not of greater importance than human dignity, a pro-life disposition that sacrifices human dignity in the name of national security is a perversion of the true pro-life virtue.

My Wife Understands the Nature of Blogging

Genece to me: "Are you going to work on a post this evening?"
I to Genece: "Probably not. I have one that I've started, but I'm not making much progress. I'll finish it in the morning. My posts tend to come out better then."
Genece to me: "Sounds like a dump."


A shiver-inducing performance by Natalie Merchant:

Thinking of Vivian a lot today.

A Tale of Two City Magazines

I recently received two locally-published magazines in the mail addressed to the resident of my address—or possibly someone named Resident, a cruelty that would give credence to my position that parent-given names should require the approval of city council or at least the parent’s pastor. In any case, the two magazines tell complementary stories about what it means to be a resident of this fair city. Let me note that I live in one of the fastest growing and most affluent cities in the country. Its median family income has shot up in the past decade from under eighty grand to over six figures. Billboards in neighboring cities advertize our schools to housing developments that fall into our independent school district. We have more restaurants than I could ever possibly sample even if I made something approaching the median income. Concrete parking lots seem to span miles. We have everything imaginable, it seems: consignment shops, designer clothing stores, malls, a store devoted entirely to soccer, another that sells only yogurt, mega churches, and a thirty-foot marble statue of me. Okay, I’m still fixing to make that last dream a reality. My efforts to change the redundant city motto, “Progress in motion,” have kept me busy and made me powerful enemies, so the progress towards my statue hasn’t been in much motion.

The first magazine I received is our unofficial city magazine, a publication that seeks to capture the style of the city. This particular issue has stories about the city’s past and current economic development. We could easily have become another bedroom community, but an early push to make shopping available in the city, while difficult at times, paid off over the years. Our city has a fascinating history of dreams, hopes, risks, benefits, and immense growth. We have successfully become a city marked by mass consumption.

Economic prosperity can be a great thing; in no way do I mean to pooh-pooh it in itself. I live in a fabulous place to raise a family: we have plenty to do, top-notch schools, a relatively safe environment. All we’re really missing is a massive statue of yours truly, but that’ll come in time. That said, the consumerism of this place does seem to be a foundational and fundamental aspect of who we are as residents. To be a character in our city’s story would seem to mean being a consumer.

The second magazine, a publication about living in these parts, features a cover story about becoming a new person through plastic surgery. Another prominent article shows us the 10 shoes every woman really needs. The managing editor writes about how great skin is a foundation for beauty and how we need to feel pretty in order to be pretty. There doesn’t seem to be much difference between the articles and the barrage of advertisements for spas, ultra-white teeth, style floors, home theaters, hospitals, laser body sculpting, white teeth, weight loss, sports orthopedics, more white teeth, stores that proudly sell city apparel, galas, resorts, crawfish, tummy tucks, and divorce lawyers.

I can’t say that my story coheres much with the narrated identity of my city illustrated by these magazines, though I’m not so above or below it all to conclude that the consumerism of this city could never define me. I’m not looking for a plastic surgeon right now, but if I actually had expendable income, I’d be happily browsing and buying from the stores devoted to videogames, computers, and books. So while I cannot very well participate in this city’s story of consumption, I cannot claim at heart to be an antagonist in the tale. I’m in the background, waiting for the plot to push me into the foreground, waiting to be made a center-stage champion of consumerism, waiting for the city to award me with a statue. Of course, were I to embrace consumerism wholeheartedly, I would only be waiting to be, at the end of my days, miserable. A deeper drama underlies our fears of economic collapse: we may get everything we want and find, in time, only misery. At least people will know where to look for divorce lawyers. (MC)

Ash Wednesday

By T.S. Eliot


Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn
Desiring this man's gift and that man's scope
I no longer strive to strive towards such things
(Why should the agèd eagle stretch its wings?)
Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign?

Because I do not hope to know
The infirm glory of the positive hour
Because I do not think
Because I know I shall not know
The one veritable transitory power
Because I cannot drink
There, where trees flower, and springs flow, for there is nothing again

Because I know that time is always time
And place is always and only place
And what is actual is actual only for one time
And only for one place
I rejoice that things are as they are and
I renounce the blessèd face
And renounce the voice
Because I cannot hope to turn again
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice

And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain
Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgement not be too heavy upon us

Because these wings are no longer wings to fly
But merely vans to beat the air
The air which is now thoroughly small and dry
Smaller and dryer than the will
Teach us to care and not to care Teach us to sit still.

Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death
Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.

Read the rest of the poem here.

Palin: The Alienator

Over at The American Catholic, Eric Brown, Tim Shipe, and Joe Hargrave have sparked heated disagreement from readers and fellow contributors by their strong criticisms of Sarah Palin. I have to side with Eric, Tim, and Joe in this debate. I know why social conservatives and others celebrate her as a political leader and a media celebrity. Her supporters see her as the real deal, a politician who has gone rogue by being a rarity in politics: a trustworthy leader on the issues she talks about. They view her as one who’s lived her conservative values, whose principles have guided her real-life moral choices. Palin isn’t seen as just another establishment politician who talks today about effectively winning wars or outlawing abortion only to forget about those matters tomorrow. She is the rogue they can believe in. So they say.

Palin’s well-documented history of making blatantly false statements leaves me doubtful about how trustworthy she is on the issues she represents, but, even assuming that she is truly a believer and will do everything in her power to promote those issues, she isn’t the leader her supporters have been waiting for. Indeed, she’s the opposite of the kind of figure her supporters need to further their goals in the public sphere. Palin excites her base, but she very deliberately alienates just about everyone else by the way she depicts her political opponents, the way she divides America into real and less real, the way she fashions herself as an adversary of the elites and the media and others. The political narrative she has crafted marks her as the rogue, the antagonist, the alienator.

She exemplifies what E.D. Kain calls the politics of pettiness. However right she is on the issues that matter to her supporters, she won’t persuade those of differing or undecided views that her views are the right ones because she doesn’t try to persuade them. Her way of engaging others isn’t even intended to open their hearts and minds; it rather pushes them away and breaks down the consensus that is needed among the general public to maintain political achievements. Those who support her for the values, principles, or issues she represents would be better served by a leader who seeks to advance those values, principles, or issues in the public sphere by convincing others that they warrant wide acceptance and advancement. (VN)

Problematic Signs of God

I take it as part of human nature that we interpret the world through signs and symbols, and those of us with religious faith see events and images in the world as signifying the divine. We are also dangerously prone to see signs of God where none exist and, therefore, to draw dangerously false conclusions about God. I received an email today containing a picture of ruins in Haiti in which a crucifix stood unmoved and undamaged after the earthquake. A caption accompanying the picture stated that God had left this crucifix standing as a sign that he remains in control. I can fully appreciate needing to take comfort in God’s presence amidst an overburdening tragedy and needing to find great hope in small comforts, but this well-meaning caption has it all wrong.

God didn’t leave the crucifix standing anymore than he left thousands to die horribly. I know this because the God I know doesn’t value a man-made image of himself more than he values those he made in his image and likeness. It makes no sense to say that God allowed a work of art to survive amidst mass death as a sign of his control. To say such a thing implies that God cares more for stone structures than for human life, more for signifying his control than for signifying his love. The truth is that God is not some cosmic engineer keeping the whole system in balance while disasters strike from left and right. God’s presence in the world isn’t so much that of control as that of love and shared suffering. He was present during the Haitian earthquake, but not in the undamaged crucifix. He was present in the heartbreak and the loss, in the struggles to survive and the impossible goodbyes, in every prayer and tear, broken body, writhing face, and suffering breathe. He was there in love and in truth, weeping with all those who cried out in horror and confusion. God may be in control, but not because he controls the system. He’s in control because he’s in love, and he is lovingly and therefore powerfully involved in this messy and disastrous world. (VN)

Likeable Weirdness

At the Office

I'm drinking some really bad coffee from a mug that on one side says "Stolen from Shrine of the True Cross Catholic Church" and on the other lists confession times.

Cracked. Me. Up. Drinking from this mug was worth the bad coffee. Thought I'd share.


A Faulty Application of Double Effect on EWTN

There are a number of things wrong in Raymond Arroyo’s interview with Marc Thiessen: the host’s happily unchallenging questioning style about a dreadfully serious moral issue, the way he uses viewer emails to set up a straw-man for his guest to brush aside, Thiessen’s strange claim that arguments against “enhanced interrogation” come from a position of radical pacifism, his failure to acknowledge the possibility of psychological torture, and his dismissal of critics’ moral comparisons of U.S. water-boarding with the water-torture done by the Khmer Rouge because “we did not submerge people in a box full of water.” I’d like to focus on Thiessen’s faulty application of the principle of double effect. Thiessen remarks:
When you kill an enemy soldier, your intent is not to kill the enemy soldier, it is to defend society. There is a double effect: the soldier is killed and society is defended. One is intended the other is not. The same is true with interrogation. When the interrogator uses a technique on KSM, he doesn’t intend to cause him harm; he intends to get information to defend society, and he doesn’t cross a moral line into torture, and so the principle is the same.
The principle of double effect does not apply in either of Thiessen’s examples. You might kill an enemy soldier intending to kill him or not intending to kill him. You might seek to immobilize him while foreseeing the consequence that he might die, or you might simply seek to kill him making every effort to cause his death. In both cases you may also intend to defend society, but having the intention to defend society doesn’t mean you don’t intend what you do in society’s defense. In the case of interrogation, the interrogator may intend to get information to defend society, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t also intend to cause the one he interrogates harm. Indeed, he intends the one so that the other might follow. He intends to inflict physical or mental pain so that his prisoner will cooperate and give him information to defend society. Getting the prisoner to talk is an intended effect of the very much intended effect of pain. Double effect doesn’t work in these cases because we’re not dealing with two effects, one intended and good and the other unintended and bad. We’re dealing with two effects, both of which are intended. Arroyo fails to correct this error and so leaves his viewers with an erroneous presentation of an important principle in Catholic moral thought. (VN)

A Conversation

I to Jonathan: "Who is Daddy's favorite philosopher?"
Jonathan to me: "Paul Ricoeur."
I to Jonathan: "Who is your favorite philosopher."
Jonathan to me: "Mommy."