Torture, Part 3

First, I want to say that when I wrote that first post, I had no idea anyone would read it, let alone that it would stimulate a fun little discussion. Consequently, from having to think harder about things that I have said, I am learning more and more about what I think and why I think it. This would never have happened if other people hadn’t started chiming in and challenging some of the things that I have said. A Wise Man said, iron sharpens iron. I also am fully aware of the conflicting priorities that sometimes come to play in these discussions. I am currently at a low and most depressing point in my job, and am thus not feeling all that guilty about spending some time at work thinking and writing and researching these things. Other people have not that luxury. Furthermore, once a fire has been lit under me, which generally takes longer than for the average monkey, I then have a very hard time not completely obsessing over it until I get it. And that’s where I am right now. But obviously, family and work and worship come first. So, I don’t expect anyone to continue this dialogue and I will not continue to press the point on other people’s blogs, for fear of acting as a temptation to either frustration or neglect of their other more important duties. OK. Disclaimer over.

I would like to take a second shot at this again:

VS 80 is, by the blog author’s interpretation, saying that homicide of any kind is wrong, independent of the circumstances. Now, if you look up homicide in the dictionary you will find a definition like this: “a killing of one human being by another” and I can think of many possible scenarios in which killing another human being would not only be moral, but a moral imperative. So, either Veritatis Splendor is very much wrong, or the “common sense” interpretation of VS 80 is wrong.

1) It is to contradict the plain sense of VS 80 to state that there exists a category of actions referred to by Joe as “moral homicide”. The whole point of VS 80 is to state that there exists certain actions whose objects are always and everywhere evil, no matter the intent and circumstance. One of those listed actions is homicide. Consequently, even if one wants to start getting into definitional issues, one cannot refer to homicide as “moral”. It is clear that the Church does not speak that way. So even if there are situations where killing another human being is licit, it is meaningless to speak of that act as “homicide”, as homicide is, by definition, intrinsically evil.

2) Joe makes the claim that homicide means “a killing of one human being by another”, on the authority of Merriam Webster’s dictionary. However, I do not grant that definition. As the Catholic Encyclopedia states in its section on homicide,

Homicide signifies, in general, the killing of a human being. In practice, however, the word has come to mean the unjust taking away of human life, perpetrated by one distinct from the victim and acting in a private capacity.

Now. Clearly, the Catholic Encyclopedia is not a magisterial document. But it is certainly closer to the train of Catholic thought than is MW. And that’s important, because the Church uses specific words to mean specific things. The Church is nothing if not meticulous about her language. And here we find that homicide, though granting Joe’s more general definition, is, in practice, used pretty much as a synonym for murder. We find corroboration of this in the CCC, where paragraph 1856 cites a quote from St. Thomas Aquinas:

When the will sets itself upon something that is of its nature incompatible with the charity that orients man toward his ultimate end, then the sin is mortal by its very object . . . whether it contradicts the love of God, such as blasphemy or perjury, or the love of neighbor, such as homicide or adultery. . . . But when the sinner’s will is set upon something that of its nature involves a disorder, but is not opposed to the love of God and neighbor, such as thoughtless chatter or immoderate laughter and the like, such sins are venial.

For something to be a mortal sin “by its very object” means that act is intrinsically evil, and here, homicide is listed as such an act. So we see that going back at least as far as St. Thomas, the Church has been using the word “homicide” to refer to an intrinsically evil act.

3) Having said this, I retract what I said about homicide, using Joe’s definition, being intrinsically evil. There are certainly some cases where the killing of another human being is licit. But this is not the act of homicide as the Church defines and speaks about it. That act is intrinsically evil, and it is murder.

4) Having said that, this argument of Joe’s falls apart, as murder is an intrinsically evil act, always and everywhere, no exceptions. We find that, at least with respect to “homicide”, VS 80 means exactly what it says. There exist acts that are always wrong, by virtue of their object, and homicide is one of them. This lends credence to the fact that, in fact, all the acts in that list are to be viewed similarly, including torture. In fact, I am surprised that Joe chose homicide as the example of items in that list that, at first glance, do not appear to be actually intrinsically evil. The strangest one, in my book, as Sophie pointed out elsewhere, is deportation. But an argument can be made for that also being intrinsically evil, again, apart from the clear fact that the Church says it is.

5) So where do we now stand? It is seems plainly evident that VS 80 means what it says. It seems odd to be having a discussion about whether torture is intrinsically evil, as that is what VS 80 clearly says. The inevitable retort is that such a statement is meaningless without a definition. I deny that. I believe that, in many cases, though not all, humans do know what torture is, either when they see it or when they are about to do it. Such acts that our administration has been accused of committing, such as waterboarding. Given that there are many acts that we know, instinctively, to be torture, it is therefore false that VS 80, without a definition, is meaningless. Furthermore, when it comes to those acts that people might be tempted to do under certain circumstances, which are not as clearly demarcated as being torture, I submit that those regulations governing prisoner treatment that have been in effect for the last 50 years are still worthwhile. I see no radical change in the past year that warrants treating prisoners any differently than we always have. The Geneva Conventions are one such body of regulations. Furthermore, the Church has not simply given us a negative statement of prohibition of torture, she has also given us a positive statement:

Non-combatants, wounded soldiers, and prisoners must be respected and treated humanely. (CCC 2313)

It seems that if one it seriously trying to live the Church’s teaching, of which this is one, the person will not be tip-toeing up to that ever-elusive line in the sand, in danger of accidentally torturing someone. I know, I know, hopelessly idealistic. This is war, damn it!!! Anyway…

There is much more that could be said, about things like the equivocation of just punishments with torture, or the continually bandied-about strawman that the anti-torture crew are against all forms of coercion or even violence. Not true, not true. I am just against torture. But in the spirit of point #1, I am off to fulfill the more pressing duties of this day.

Lord have mercy!


~ by Rob on November 3, 2006.

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