God, Death and Faith

Sunday, June 15, AD 2014

 

Grief and Hope

Kyle Cupp has a heartrending piece up at The Daily Beast in which he discusses the death of his daughter and his subsequent loss of faith:

 

In the months following the death of our newborn daughter, I had remained steadfast in my faith, devout and prayerful. I had not for years imagined God primarily as a figure of power, like some cosmic orchestrator of all that is, so I did not feel inclined to blame God for our loss and our sorrow. I didn’t have an answer for it, but I didn’t look to God for an answer. I didn’t expect such a response. I let God be.

As time passed, however, my faith weakened. I lost the feeling of God’s presence and the impetus to pray, and perhaps as a consequence, the ideas I had of God began to make less and less sense to me. I lost clarity of what I believed, finally confessing to my wife late one evening that I couldn’t honestly say whether or not I still believed in God. This was not a confession that brought us peace. A cloud of unknowing separated me from the words of the creed I recited at Mass, and on that evening, sitting close to the love of my life, staring into her misty eyes, I feared that it would separate me from her as well. 

To make matters worse, I had no answers to give her. I couldn’t explain my lapse. I couldn’t point to any decisive event, something that had pushed me off the precipice. Instead, as we reflected back on the previous months and years, I felt as though once solid ground had changed into the wisps of a cloud without my having noticed, and only now did I realize that I was falling. If my broken heart was to blame, it has taken its bitter time, acting stealthily.

I hadn’t fallen into unbelief or atheism, exactly, but more of an agnosticism or skepticism about what I believed and whether I believed. I could no longer say what my faith, such as it was, meant in my life. I no longer had a sure sense of how the Christian story was true. I couldn’t answer where its myths ended and reality began. Occasionally I shot a few words of prayer in what I hoped was the direction of an unseen God, but I struggled and doubted even these simple practices of my faith. Neither Paul nor Kierkegaard were kidding when they wrote of fear and trembling.

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6 Responses to God, Death and Faith

  • It is easy to point to Job 38:1 through 40:2 when I have not (yet) lost a dear loved one. It is hard when the tears obscure the vision and the weight of the Cross bears heavily on the back.

    I have not (yet) lost; however, my 12 step sponsor used to point out to me, “Paul, ‘yet’ means ‘You’re Eligible Too.'”

    Maybe all we can do is hope that God in spite of our unworthiness will be merciful enough to reunite us with our dearly beloved ones who have passed on before us.

  • My own experience with the death of a child is somewhat different. My wife has miscarried three times. Each was early in pregnancy. Only the last miscarriage provided us the opportunity to bury our baby.

    Did not Mother Teresa write in her memoirs how she did not feel the presence of God in her daily life and how it hurt her? Did not St. Teresa of Avila not write much the same thing?

    The idea/notion/fact that God can and does withhold his presence is highlighted in The Screwtape Letters.

    Perseverance is part of the Christian life. Only Jesus was perfect. Only Mary was protected from sin by the grace of the Holy Spirit. The rest of us who reach an age of reason do sin. Often, repeatedly.

    We all lose things and people that are dear to us throughout life. I was nine when my best friend, a girl my own age who lived across the street from me from the time I was two, moved away. I saw her one more time and then never again. I lost my beloved German Shepherd when I was 11 – a dog I had from the time I was six months old.

    From 1990 to 1995, I lost a grandfather, an uncle, my dad, and a grandmother. also, good friends of ours lost a daughter in a car accident in 1995. Most young adults – 20s to early 30s – do not realize that death is going to kick you in the rear end, over and over, before it is your time to go. I knew this when I was 31.

    I never blamed God for any of it. We are all born to die. The only thing remotely fair in life is death, and when it comes is something we do not get to decide.

  • “Silently and sacredly, Vivian lives in our love.”

    ………….and in the perfect Love and Presence of our God.

    My heart goes out to Kyle and his wife.
    I lost a little sister aged two years, when I was ten years old, in 1953. It was a very sad occasion as I recall, but at that age I was too young to fully comprehend, and we used to comfort our selves in that youthful simplicity that she is now a little angel. Mum appeared to get over it after a while, and mum and dad increased our family with another brother and two sisters. But she told me , many years later, that for many years she would weep silently at night grieving for her lost daughter. About 1975 she went to a Catholic Women’s Convention, and there met this priest Fr. Tom Williams – who was later to become Cardinal . He told her that he could “see”- or sense – a type of darkness clouding her spirit – I think they are the words she told me. She told him of her continuing grief for her daughter, and he prayed over her. I recall mum becoming very emotional as she told me how she felt this dark cloud lift away from her, and she felt a totally serene peace and joy come over her. From that day on, she was always a cheerful, positive and happy woman, till the time of her death four years ago at 91.

    My older brother had a serous accident in his truck when working in Saudi Arabia back in 1979. The truck had rolled in some soft sand, and was carrying a large crane. the crane fell on the cab and crushed it, and partly crushed Bruce’s hand and pinned him in the truck for many hours till help came. He said our little sister Lynda came to help him and keep him awake and positive during his ordeal. From that day on, he had a particular devotion to out own little saint.
    I pray that Kyle and his wife will look on their little girl as their own saint, given to them by God for only such a brief time before He called her back to Him. They have their own little saint there in the complete joy and peace of the presence of God and His angels and saints, and interceding for them.

    “More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.”

  • My brother Gregory died after only one day after his birth. I know he cares for our mom, more than I know how.

  • I haven’t read much of Kyle’s writings, but this is the first time I recall him considering the current state of his faith as troublesome. He’s been writing for years about doubt as if it’s, if not a virtue, then at least a viable expression of Catholic faith. Reading this article, I think he may be coming to the idea that he was deluding himself. I’ve been critical of his writings as misrepresenting orthodox thought.

    I will continue to pray for him, and for his family as well.

  • In 2006, I received a phone call that my daughter, then 17, had been critically injured in a vehicle accident as a passenger with a group of students visiting Los Angeles. She actually was ejected from the van she was riding in, and yet, miraculously, on the Ventura Freeway at Lankershim, during a weekday, all the traffic managed to screech to a stop and she was protected, sheltered and removed to Cedar Sinai emergency care.
    For days, she hovered between life and death, with several disheartening setbacks. At one point she appeared to have recovered and was discharged into my step-daughter’s care: when suddenly without any warning, her spleen ruptured. She collapsed on the bathroom floor with a clunk. Fortunately Nicole, my step-daughter, being an RN, diagnosed it immediately, took emergency action, phoned the nearby hospital where she worked and got her on the operating table, somehow within 15-30 min; at that point, appeared to have saved her life again, but it was still ‘beyond critical’, were that possible to be so.
    During this latter phase, I finally came to an understanding with God and also the Blessed Virgin, of whom I have had a childhood devotion to Our Lady of Mt Carmel: “I understand, God Our Lord, and Our Lady, that many parents I see on the night news, disconsolately weeping, having lost their child prayed that this cup would pass. Who am I to ‘demand’ that my daughter should not be one of these?So be it: ‘Sweet Mother, I place this cause in your hands..” (excerpt, from OL Carmel traditional prayer). I made the best resolve of my intention that I accepted this outcome, as that appeared to God’s permitted outcome, for His mysterious reasons. Of course, I continued night and day praying the St Louis de Monfort prayer (“Little Crown of the BV”), but I had accepted she was going to pass, that I had had 17 wonderful years with her, and now I needed to pray for her soul before her meeting with Christ.
    Mysteriously, the next day, a certainty I can say I have never experienced before or since came into my mind that she would in fact recover and live. I had no doubt at all. She did in fact, by inches each day, recover. Also in fact, the ER doc who saved her the second time was amazed too: when she had recovered, he gave the credit to Nicole and her alacritous action, “You know,” he told my daughter, “another 15 minutes and I wouldnt have been able to help you.
    She has however, since, made a “full” recovery (although living without her spleen involves certain precautions) and has had her first child, now living with her husband in Belgium. I also knew that Our Lady told me this was a singular favor granted to me and to her: “Now DO SOMETHING WITH IT.”
    As we all know, I can only observe also that the loss of a child is a parent’s worst experience; I DO feel pain that I cannot express for those, like Don McC., who had to drink the full cup. I do think that I know what Kyle Cupp has gone through and is going through: “how can a good God, etc.” For some of us, the bitterness is seemingly with a depth beyond measure. But this bitterness cannot “end in death” but has to be for the ineffable glory of God (Jn 11:4). and as for us, we two were very “graced”: now I pray we can make something of it.

A Paean to Doubt

Tuesday, May 27, AD 2014

 

Kyle Cupp at The Week has an interesting post in which he celebrates Pope Francis for bringing uncertainty about God to Catholicism:

In fact, Pope Francis has explicitly endorsed doubt in the life of faith. In a 2013 interview published in America Magazine, the pontiff said that the space where one finds and meets God must include an area of uncertainty. For him, to say that you have met God with total certainty or that you have the answers to all questions is a sign that God is not with you. Be uncertain, he counsels. Let go of exaggerated doctrinal “security.” A devout faith must be an uncertain faith:

The risk in seeking and finding God in all things, then, is the willingness to explain too much, to say with human certainty and arrogance: “God is here.” We will find only a god that fits our measure. The correct attitude is that of St. Augustine: seek God to find him, and find God to keep searching for God forever.

The pope has taken a risk with all this, but not without reason. If God really is infinite and indescribable, as Catholicism and other religious traditions imagine, then an uncertain faith makes sense. At the end of the day, those who talk about God really do not know what they’re talking about. People refer to God with symbols and metaphors, stories and analogies, believing that these limited expressions disclose a limitless reality, but even if these expressions are true, they nonetheless differ infinitely from any infinite being. Undoubtedly, a lot gets lost in translation.

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14 Responses to A Paean to Doubt

  • You never can tell. You may go to Heaven. Or, you may go to Hell.

  • “It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged.” Abraham Lincoln.
    .
    Jesus said to test everything, putting all things into the hands of God. Atheism says that to put all things into the hands of God is offensive. Man’s imperfection must not be acknowledged. Man’s dependence upon God for Truth and Justice must not be confirmed. God’s Divine Providence must not be invoked. Our Declaration of Independence specifically instructs American citizens to invoke Divine Providence: ” We, therefore, the representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name, and by the authority of the good people of these colonies, solemnly publish and declare, that these united colonies are, and of right ought to be free and independent states; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as free and independent states, they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent states may of right do. And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.”
    .
    The atheist must be tolerated. Atheism is unconstitutional according to the First Amendment: “or prohibit the free exercise thereof.”

  • Thomas Aquinas said that man cannot comprehend an infinite God with a finite mind. Acknowledging a finite mind in man only results in a recognition of man’s dependence upon a Supreme Sovereign Being. (There can be only one Supreme Sovereign Being as two would preempt one another.)
    .
    Any person who prohibits man’s response to the gift of Faith from God is forfeiting his own civil rights by reason of prohibiting another’s pursuit of Happiness.

  • Open wide the doors of indifferent-(ism)

    Your argument Mr. McClarey is sound.
    The risks that Pope Francis is taking by eluding to the doubts of knowing with any certainty what God desires from his creation opens a can of worms that can only muddy the clear waters of sanctifying grace. If people read indifference in the Popes words, he is only hindering their progress to Truth.

  • Some words are metaphors and don’t fully exhaust what the meaning of the thing is but call our mind to something else. So there is always some doubt as to whether we have completely (or even adequately) captured what the essence of a thing is. When we say that Jesus is the rock of salvation, we don’t me he is made of minerals. Rather, he is our foundation.

    But some words actually do convey a meaning – they are not mere conventions to express some uncertain concept. When we say the word God, then we can actually form ideas about his nature as uncreated being, infinite, omnipotent, etc. Ideas that express real truths that we can hold.

  • good thinking Donald McClarey.
    .
    To me, not-knowing-completely is not the same as Doubt. We can admit freely that we don’t know everything about God, without saying that we doubt God.

    At some point we make a decision to believe. Sometimes the thoughts of our hearts are advance parties for the thoughts of our heads.

  • Seems that the obvious error this approach (no one can know God) risks is equating lack of full knowledge of God with the inability to know anything about God with certainty. Sure, it is obvious that a finite mind cannot know everything about an infinite subject with certainty. But a finite mind can know some things, with certainty, about an infinite subject. I’d take partial certainty over infinite doubt any day of the week.

  • To wrestle with and acknowledge doubt strikes me as sensible. But it loses me when it offers doubt as a positive good, or an essential component of a healthy, living faith.

  • Doubt is good when it causes us to study and seek out more of the truth. And more truth can lead to more doubt which starts the seeking for the answer and the gaining of more truth, etc…doubt does not have to result in lessening our faith.

  • I would suggest that the word “doubt” is ill-chosen, but it points to a real experience, as B John Henry Newman points out: “Notions are but aspects of things; the free deductions from one of these necessarily contradicts the free deductions from another. After proceeding in our investigations a certain way, suddenly a blank or a maze presents itself before the mental vision, as when the eye is confused by the varying slides of a telescope. Thus, we believe in the infinitude of the Divine Attributes, but we can have no experience of infinitude as a fact; the word stands for a definition or a notion. Hence, when we try how to reconcile in the moral world the fulness of mercy with exactitude in sanctity and justice, or to explain that the physical tokens of creative skill need not suggest any want of creative power, we feel we are not masters of our subject.”

    That is not to doubt the Object, but our grasp of it and the adequacy of our language.

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  • I can think of a place where I can say, “God is here”: the Eucharist.

    I’m not a fan of Lincoln, but for what it’s worth, there was more truth in the uninspired Lincoln quote than in the uninspired Francis quote.

  • I understand that Joseph Ratzinger began his “Introduction to Christianity” with an entire chapter on “Doubt.”

  • I think it was John Henry Newman, certainly a reasonable man, a champion of human reasoning, and one who faced the difficulties as he inched his way toward the Catholic Church. And it was he who made it a point to argue that, however many the difficulties in understanding the faith professed by Catholics, difficulties are not doubts. There’s a great difference between struggling to grasp how there can be One God who is the Trinity of Persons. One has but to study the earliest Councils of the Church, from Nicaea to Chalcedon, the period during which the this question was argued. How can one teach in a language which human reason can grasp, that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are One God, without division and without confusion. The truth of the Gospel is not against nor is it a denial of human reason; if what we call “Revelation” is to have meaning, the Lord who speaks must speak a language acceptable by reasonable people, whose assent is an act of reason assenting what is certain. A thousand difficulties do not make a single doubt.

Social Contract and Morality

Friday, June 11, AD 2010

Kyle Cupp has a brief post describing the dehumanizing moral effects of seeing human dignity and rights as springing entirely from a social contract (implied or explicit):

This reduction occurs when we understand and act upon our moral obligations to one another only within the framework of a social contract–when we limit our obligations to those who have entered into such contracts and consider ourselves obligated only to those who share our citizenship, have signed a treaty we have signed, or participate with us in some other contractual arrangement. I make this reduction when I don’t care about torturing terrorists because they’re not signers of the Geneva Conventions, when I wish to alienate the immigrant who enters my country against my country’s laws, when I ignore my obligations to those not yet born because the laws of the land do not recognize their personhood, or when I insist that others shouldn’t be given Constitutional rights when the rights I wish to withhold from them are basic human rights.

I think that he’s right as far as he goes, but I don’t think that his point that basic human rights and duties are inherent to humanity (rather than assumed via some sort of contract/relationship) is actually the point usually at dispute in our society. Rather, what seems often to be disputed is what the extent of basic human rights are — and which “rights” are merely agreed civic rights which we grant explicitly via the social contract.

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15 Responses to Social Contract and Morality

  • Of course what are called “human rights” today are almost entirely the product of Western societies since the Sixteenth Century, much of it from Great Britain and America in origin. Much of what we call “human rights” today would have been denounced as pernicious and/or dangerous throughout most of human history by most cultures. To say that “human rights” arise simply due to inherent moral obligations that exist between people, we are confronted with the difficulty that most cultures for most of human history would vigorously disagree.

  • Thank you for the thoughtful response, Darwin. I’m pretty sure that I agree with the points you make, particularly in your last paragraph. To clarify my post, let me say that when the reduction is made, it isn’t usually (if ever) made flat out in a way that covers a person’s entire morality; it’s rather applied here and there inconsistently.

  • Donald,

    You raise a good point about the history of rights language. It is a recent invention. I tend to call rights a useful fiction, myself.

  • I do agree with what Kyle said. But, from other discussions I know that I don’t agree with how Kyle applies his generic or all inclusive definition of basic human rights to all persons of all types of backgrounds, since his definition doesn’t seem to take into consideration ( or very little consideration) certain circumstances and/or the consequences that one must face when committing a crime or an act of war. This is applicable with regards to both illegal immigrants and terrorists.

    While I do believe that enhanced interrogation techniques are justified in very extreme, life saving circumstances, I do think that the Bush administration allowed the use of them too frequently. But, then again, one needs to realize the atmosphere after 9/11, and no person wanted anything like this to ever happen again. I don’t support the three items on your list. They are in violation of basic human rights. With regards to immigration, I am all for legal immigration but am against illegal immigration. One would think that having secure borders would be a good thing, especially for our safety, but certain people deride people who advocate for secure borders and call us other vile names just because we want immigrants to follow our laws and immigrate here via the proper channels.

  • My only issue is that I don’t ever recall Morning’s Minion, whom Kyle is supposedly defending with his post, demonstrating an accurate understanding of classical social contract theory, nor providing and concrete examples of this bad sort of “contract thinking” in our society.

    There is nothing wrong with the social contract. It defines clearly the parameters of government. The alternative is arbitrary authority. We as Catholics can be proud that the resistance to absolute, arbitrary authority probably began in the Salamanca school.

  • Yes, clearly those who support enhanced interrogation do so on the basis that:

    (a.) It is not a violation of basic human rights;

    (b.) Strictures against using such techniques in the civilian criminal and civil code apply only in the civilian criminal and civil code, because they arise from the social contract;

    (c.) Strictures against using such techniques against prisoners of war also arise, not from a fundamental right, but from a contractual obligation; namely, treaty obligations regarding lawful combatants. These do not apply to persons whose status is “unlawful combatant.”

    Of course, (b.) and (c.) depend on first establishing (a.). If in fact everyone does have a basic human right, intrinsic to their dignity as a human person, not to be waterboarded, why then the presence or absence of a contract doesn’t matter a whit. Only if (a.) is true, does anyone even bother with (b.) and (c.).

    So, what about (a.)?

    To repeat, (a.) asserts that enhanced interrogation is not a violation of the basic human rights intrinsic to the dignity of human persons.

    Now it sounds absurd on the face of it to say this. Obviously we know we shouldn’t go grabbing random persons and waterboarding them, so, in obedience to this moral intuition, we conclude that it must be “a violation of their basic human rights” to do so, right? And if it’s a violation of the basic human rights of any random person, it must likewise be a violation of the basic human rights of a war criminal like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, right?

    Well, not so fast. One mustn’t go around waterboarding random persons. One mustn’t go around locking up random persons, either. Does it follow that locking up Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is a violation of his basic human rights?

    Why, no. It would only be a violation if he were innocent of wrongdoing. As he is a particularly nasty terrorist and about as far from innocent as it is possible to be, it’s perfectly okay to violate his basic human right of liberty, which is intrinsic to his dignity as a human being, by locking him up.

    Actually, I said that incorrectly. It’s not okay to violate his basic human right…but locking him up is no violation, because getting locked up is a freely-chosen consequence on his part. He chose, even asked, to be treated that way just by doing what he did. If he wasn’t willing to do the time, he shouldn’t have done the war-crime.

    But that raises a problem. Why can we not likewise argue that, while of course persons in general have a right to not be waterboarded, KSM voluntarily renounced that right by choosing to orchestrate terror plots to kill thousands of innocent people. Why can we not argue that, by doing this, he “chose, even asked,” to be waterboarded?

    Is there some qualitative or categorical difference between the right to freedom from imprisonment and the right to freedom from waterboarding, such that the former right can be voluntarily renounced by evil deeds, but the latter cannot?

    So the question is this:

    Given that people voluntarily renounce certain of their rights (at minimum, their liberty and/or property) when they commit heinous crimes by committing those crimes, it is reasonable, and not a violation of their rights, to forcibly deprive them of the benefits of the rights they have renounced.

    Yet, even before we read Church teachings on the matter, we recognize that the Moral Law forbids us to treat these persons as if they had, by committing whatever evil deed, renounced all of the rights intrinsic to the human dignity. We may lock them up; so, crimes are clearly capable of constituting a rejection of one’s right to liberty. We may not hang them from a mechanized hook and lower them an inch at a time, screaming, into an industrial shredding machine; so, crimes are clearly incapable of constituting a rejection of one’s right to not be shredded alive.

    How then, can one distinguish between the two categories of rights? Which ones may be renounced by crimes of sufficient magnitude, and which may not, no matter how horrific the crime?

    The Right to Not Be Waterboarded seems, according to Church teaching and most thinking Catholic opinion, to fall in the category of rights which are never, ever renounced. Even if one were, say, to personally rape and slowly murder fifty thousand innocent children while enjoying the whole process, one would have, by doing so, renounced one’s rights to both life and liberty, but not one’s right to avoid waterboarding.

    Why so?

    I am perfectly content agreeing that there is a line to be drawn; I am perfectly content saying that that is where the line is drawn; but I am confused about whether it was drawn there arbitrarily and could have been placed elsewhere, or if it was drawn there according to some unalterable moral principle which, when understood, allows us to see that the line could only ever be drawn in that way.

    Does anyone want to propose a principle which explains the positioning of the line? Or is it arbitrary, after all?

  • Joe,

    I agree that there is nothing wrong with the social contract per se. My concern is with the social contract used as a metaphorical framework for moral thought and action. I’m critical of thinking of moral obligations too much in terms of a social contract, moral thought that relies too heavily on the metaphor, that at times fails to account for obligations that exist beyond its boundaries. When someone denies another a basic human right because that other is not a “signer” of the social contract, he has treated a personal moral obligation as if it were an obligation under a social contract.

  • And as others have pointed out, we have to distinguish between civil and “basic human rights.” Who decides what a basic human right is?

    For instance, I believe an illegal immigrant has a basic human right to have their immediate needs met – if they are hungry, feed them, if they are naked, clothe them, if they are sick, care for them, contract or no contract. That is the basic Christian obligation.

    But when it comes to say, access to social services such as medical care beyond the emergency level, or education, or food stamps, etc. – then the public authorities, whose charge is to maintain the common good, have every right to regulate and restrict who has access to these services on the basis of what is fiscally and socially sustainable.

    This used to be understood in Catholic social thought. Now I’m not so sure it is. Now “common good” has come to mean services and spending without limit, in the name of satisfying “basic human rights.” That is to say, more and more things are falling under the umbrella of “basic human rights”, all of which the state is obliged to tax and pay for.

    But unsustainable policies cannot benefit the common good. If society collapses under the weight of entitlements, benefits, and a greatly expanded understanding of “basic human rights”, then I would say a much greater moral harm is done a great many more people. Some may call that “consequentialism”, but I don’t think it is an intrinsic evil for states to set boundaries and limits in order to ensure basic functionality.

  • Who decides what a basic human right is?

    Spoken like a good anti-Christian nihilist!

  • I wasn’t going to allow or respond to this childish nonsense, but for the sake of clarity I will indulge:

    My intention was not to say that it is impossible to decide what a basic human right is, but that in politics, there are many competing claims that demand recognition.

    I am neither anti-Christian nor a “nihilist” (another one of the pet words). I will rephrase the question: who decides which claims to basic human rights are endorsed by the state? Why is it that many more things are considered “basic human rights” than were 100 years ago? I don’t say that there are no basic human rights, but that in the current political climate, the concept continues to expand without limit, without regard for realistic limitations, and in doing so, putting ALL human rights in jeopardy.

  • Joe, don’t let Karlson get under your skin. That’s just how he reacts when he can’t control the discussion and drop the comments that he doesn’t see as advancing his pet agenda. He becomes unhinged and resorts to desperate ad hominems. It’s his tell – like when someone who doesn’t have any good cards tries to bluff his way through a poker hand but doesn’t realize that when he does his unconscious “rub-his-nose-with-his-index-finger-and smile” routine he is telegraphing the fact that he’s got nothing to every skilled player at the table. Pity him.

  • Yeah, sorry, Joe. I didn’t see Henry’s comment while it was still sitting in moderation, or I probably would have just deleted it as the non-comment it is.

    Pity is probably the right move here.

  • Eh. Maybe I should have let you, but it’s good to clear the air. People should see what we’re dealing with too.

  • My understanding, with regard to whether a terrorist or criminal forfeits the right not to be tortured, lies in the distinction between torture and other types of violence. War is inherently violent, and if it is unjust it is a travesty, but if it is just it is permitted (notice I don’t say noble, however, though personal acts of courage that are genuinely noble certainly occur even in unjust wars). Torture is not merely violence, but violence ordered toward a particular end: getting information out of the subject. So, where punishment or defense merits “violation” of the right an aggressor forfeits, the same may not be true of merely getting information from them by force that damages the body or the mind. (That’s my definition of torture in concrete terms, also.) I would suggest that while punishment is oriented directly toward dealing with the action it punishes and defense likewise, torture is on the other hand oriented directly toward information and therefore not, in the moral order, an immediate necessity and justified response to forfeiture of rights (which is a very limited forfeiture even where it does occur, by the way; it’s almost as if the criminal forces his rights out of the picture, although I do not mean by that a necessity argument which is a nicer way of saying a utilitarian argument). I would further argue that we have historically viewed torture as wrong regardless of any contract — things such as the Geneva Convention were put together largely after and in response to the great war crimes of the twentieth century that we prosecuted anyway (waterboarding by the Axis forces in WW2, for example). Finally, I would note that the Church appears (I say appears because the Catechism has been unclear in the past, inasmuch as stating as if it were required what is still technically only pious opinion is technically unclear) to teach that torture, that violence ordered toward extraction of information rather than either punishment or direct defense, is intrinsically evil.

    Thus, while I’m not totally closed to being corrected if I’m mistaken as to any of those moral standpoints, those are the well developed points that would need to be addressed to even begin suggesting torture is permissible on those who forfeit the bulk of their rights.

    Also, if one does argue that torture is permissible on war criminals because they’ve forfeited rights, one has to demonstrate the forfeiture of rights before one can act on it — and in terms of law, that generally means convict the war criminal first and interrogate after — which entirely robs the “necessity” argument of any urgency factor, the way it takes time to convict. One could argue also that an active combatant proves his status by that action, as these are whom one may shoot in a war without any trial or other formal process; however, one may not generally shoot an enemy who is captured and deprived of ability to combat because you’ve removed them from the very situation of immediate combat that both allows and necessitates said immediate judgement, so it’d be questionable whether such a parallel would even make torture of captured foes legitimate or rather prove it illegitimate.

  • I should also note regarding my definition of torture that damage need not be permanent. Also, I’m not sure I shouldn’t include direct infliction of pain in there, but one could argue pain as passing mental damage (since it impairs one’s immediate ability to think clearly)… but it’s the direct infliction, not the result of damage, that makes the difference — not that the classical notion of the direct object of an act means anything to the vast majority even of Catholics today, who would probably fail to realize that that _is_ drawing the line between mere discomfort (which is different from pain in kind, not just degree) or poor living conditions or anything like that and actual inflicting of pain. Let’s see, anything else… Risk. I’d probably count anything that risks such things just as sure as anything that obviously does it, simply because morality doesn’t play loose with possibilities and doubts (even where it acknowledges the _subjective_ effects of doubt, which, mind, can worsen the moral content if one is guilty of allowing the doubt to stay and especially to stay in a thing one knows one will act in).

    There’s a lot of temptation these days to call definitions unclear because we can equivocate around them, as if a clear definition would be immune to equivocation — and yet actually, that’s in the definition of equivocation: when something’s not clear in the first place, there isn’t a good meaning #1 for which to misconstrue with meaning #2, now is there? So anyway… yeah, I felt the need to try to add further qualification. Not sure I succeeded.

    And of course, one can also say all this is my “armchair theologian” pontification, but then, I don’t have to be stolen from to tell you we should criminalize theft either.