Thursday, May 28, 2009

Faith Works 5-30-09

Faith Works 5-30-09

Jeff Gill


Meeting Of the Minds, Maybe Not



There's been an interesting intersection of left and right, liberal and conservative, religious and secular in political debate lately.


Since the "sides," so to speak, have backed into each other, they may not know how close they've gotten, or that they've actually bumped a bit.


On the one side is the torture debate. This gets sticky for all kinds of reasons, not the least of which is that no one (or at least very few) want to come out as being "pro-" torture. My own sense is that no one actually is for torture, anyhow (even Dick Cheney).


And to be perfectly candid, I think there's quite a bit of posturing on the anti-torture side, not that they aren't actually against inflicting pain to speed an interrogation, but because the politics are driving the discussion far more than the facts of what's at hand.


What's at hand goes back to 2002 and 2003, which if you were around then, were nervous and anxious days, with smoke still metaphorically rising from the crater around the site of the World Trade Towers, and every plane crash and "Breaking News" seemed to have the potential to tell us of another mass casualty event in a city or mall or airport, even here in central Ohio.


Apparently, government officials, with the usual disputation between the FBI and CIA folks, looked into what actually and technically constituted torture, got legal opinions on where the line was, and used a set of new guidelines to creep right up as close to the line as they could justify to interrogate freshly apprehended terrorist suspects.


There were three fellows who had these new techniques used, and now, some six years later, there's still dispute over how helpful it was, and actually longer ago it was decided the line should be eased back further towards where it had been, and waterboarding should be considered off-limits.


Lost in the political debate over whether waterboarding was, or legally should be prosecuted as torture, is not only that everyone agrees we should stop doing it (even Dick Cheney), but that there's general agreement that if you could read the law as allowing the specific set of techniques to be this side of torture, the USA should stop doing it because . . .


This is where the noise and static sets in. If doing waterboarding can be done in a way that is technically legal under US and international law, what's the problem?


Well, the biggest problem is that it is so close to torture that it really doesn't matter, mainly because it a) creates a coarsening effect on those who use it, b) those who have it inflicted on them, c) those who support those it's used upon, and d) our entire culture. "If this is OK," the argument goes, "then no justification in the short run makes up for the damage it does to who we are and what we represent in the long run."


Which is exactly the argument used for years by the pro-life movement.


Truth be told, there are many pro-lifers who are not comfortable with a Constitutional amendment putting life as beginning at conception, and are not willing to vehemently affirm that a baby at three weeks is morally and theologically equivalent to a baby at eight months.


But the working majority of Americans who are opposed to the growth of abortion and public funding for abortion is based in no small part on the large number of us who think that there's a coarsening effect on our entire society when you kill a living thing because that's what some other living thing wants done. We're not sure about the exact moment a soul or a spirit or moral standing is imparted under the law to a fetus, but it seems scientifically reasonable to stay with conception as a default safeguard – because working from the other end of viability gets us nothing but coarse and roughhewn definitions that change with the season.


The torture debate and the abortion debate are largely saying the same thing, if partisan politics can be lifted away from the basic faith in human uniqueness and value that is our common holding in this country. Don't inflict pain, even for good reasons; don't kill fetuses, no matter how early – because any justification in the moment becomes a rationalization that can spread and grow and gnaw away at so much more.


Draw bright lines, do no harm, and don't try to dance too close to the edge. You never know when you might fall off.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he's against a great many things he will never have to deal with himself, but he's also for quite a bit he will never get to do, either. Tell him what you're for or against at or follow Knapsack @ Twitter.

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