Southern Baptist Albert Mohler and Torture

A clever piece of American conservative propaganda, under the veil of Evangelical Christianity, was recently furnished by Albert Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and “reigning intellectual of the evangelical movement in the U.S.”; at least according to Time Magazine. If I admire the ingenuity of the piece and its author; it is of the same order of admiration, I have for (St.) Jerome’s ingenuity in his treatise “Against Jovinianus” (393 A.D.) It furnishes an excellent artifact in the art of sophistry.

Blowing Purple Haze

Before getting to the central crux of the matter on torture however, the author first blows some purple haze of journalistic wile to massage the minds of an audience that he knows all too very well. While appearing to transcend the fray of sociopolitical partisanship, Mohler’s true personal perspective speaks through his selection of criticisms, arguments and quotes, which may be found in any op-ed by American conservative authors or journalistic magazine.

There is genius behind this stratagem; that of deniability. Mohler can claim in future to have been merely reporting the “objective realities”, while not necessarily having concurred with such opinion; just in case, the winds of public opinion, especially amongst Southern Baptists, turns against the practice of torture.

Playing to the prejudices of his audience, the recent Senate Intelligence Committee’s Report on CIA Interrogation is suggestively discredited as a mere partisan ploy by a Democratic Senate Majority and its vindictive bitty Chairwoman, Dianne Feinstein.

The report is being described in the media as a partisan report because the report was undertaken in terms of an investigation by the Democratic majority in the Senate intelligence committee.

Certainly partisanship motivates all reports, regardless of whether or not a report is true. If one genuinely believes in the radical fallenness of humanity, and the Reformation insight that within any expression or deed, there will be, at least, a modicum of error in principle, and veniality of motive; even in the truly converted. Frankly, we should care less about the motivations prompting the Report than the veracity of its contents.

And in the phrase, is being described in the media, it disingenuously suggests that these media critics that Mohler cites, are themselves, the fount of all journalistic impartiality; a premise that only gullibility and prejudice could maintain.

And while citing another “Evangelical intellectual” that this report “is a massive dump of intelligence details useful to the enemy in a time of war”, intimating Democratic treason in aiding and abetting the enemy; elsewhere Mohler claims that the 6,000 page report is “highly redacted, that is to say chosen pages”. So which is it? A massive dump or a highly redacted selection? Only a Jeromist can speak from both sides of his mouth.

Furthermore, there are allusions to “threats to embassies, installations and individuals, and explored how partners would react to the disclosure”. But these torture revelations are well known to the outside world, and consequently, America has become even more universally hated for them. It is the self-righteous hubris of the American hegemony; which subjects its actions not to the opinions of others; who regards not the concerns, reasonings and sensitivities of anyone, except those whose blood has become naturalized; to whom such revelations may come as fresh surprise. And it would be a naive and forlorn hope to believe that any revelation could penetrate the incorrigible consciences of the Exceptionalist and Awesome people of this ever benevolent global hegemony.

In an imperial power (and American Imperialism acts along the lines of the ancient Athenian Empire), which seems to be always in a time of war; when exactly would be a good time to report on these travesties and atrocities? Furthermore, is the argument that these revelations might bring harm and embarrassment to Americans not akin to to the condemnation by the rapist against a third party witness, perhaps a family member, for reporting his rape. What marvelous chutzpah!

The Democratic Senate Committee] were simply drawing inferences from documentary material; documenting material that was supplied by the CIA for an investigation about the CIA, often dealing with materials that can only be interpreted and understood by the CIA.

Citing another one of the chief criticisms, which can be found in any conservative op-ed; “the entire investigation, is drawn entirely from documentary evidence provided by the CIA – there was no conversation, no interview, there was no testimony from any living person in the course of this investigation”. From an Evangelical Christian perspective, this becomes a rather odd complaint; considering that our knowledge of the existence, character and works of Jesus Christ, are derived from far less documentation and no now living person to the events of 2,000 years ago. And yet Albert Mohler presumably believes in this Christ, without the same level of artifacts and witnesses, by which he suggestively disparages the Intelligence Report.

And coming from a baptistic heritage, which exalts sola scriptura and soul competency, it behooves how Mohler should intimate that we should need a CIA magisterium to interpret these millions of documents. Considering the nature of the offenses, it would be akin to repudiating the Nuremberg trials, because Hitler’s suicide didn’t give us ample opportunity to hear his side of the story.

John MacArthur, with whom Albert Mohler associates, once and rightly described most Christian psychiatry and counseling as merely a secular template, adorned with God words. The arguments, one observes in all of Mohler’s screeds, echo the ruminations of conservative rags (e.g. The Federalist) and champions (e.g. atheist Charles Krauthammer), and likewise embellished with God words (e.g. “from a Christian worldview perspective”).

The Crux of the Matter

Is torture ever justified? And the answer to that must be almost assuredly no. No policy should ever justify the use of torture under any circumstance for any reason…[yet] there just might be circumstances in something like the war on terror in which one horrifyingly, even immoral thing, may be outweighed by an even more horrifying more immoral reality.But from a Christian worldview perspective we must understand there is no Christian rationale for the use of torture under any circumstances imaginable. But Christians must also be very candid and honest to say that we can conceive that there just might be circumstances in something like the war on terror in which one horrifyingly, even immoral thing, may be outweighed by an even more horrifying more immoral reality.

When I read this gem of circuitous sophistry and acrobatic casuistry of moral reasoning, Jerome’s “Against Jovinianus” come to mind. These convolutions echo an earlier essay on torture by Mohler from 2005 on an Evangelical web site.

First, the use of torture should be prohibited as a matter of state policy– period. No set of qualifications and exceptions can do anything but diminish the moral credibility of this policy. At the same time, rare exceptions under extreme circumstances can be considered under those circumstances by legitimate state agents, knowing that a full accounting of these decisions must be made to the public, through appropriate means and mechanisms.

This tortured moral reasoning is flagrant utilitarianism and Fletcher’s situation ethics; which had once suffered Evangelical declamations in the 1970s and 1980s. Under Mohler’s reasoning, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3), under no circumstance, for no reason. It’s not our ostensible policy. However, since failure to worship Baal, or Allah, or the Antichrist might get you and your family killed; this immoral thing may be outweighed by an even more horrifying more immoral reality. “You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14) under any circumstance for any reason. However, this immoral thing may be outweighed by the hope that one’s fornicating buddy might come to faith in Christ.

And while John McCain advocated a blanket ban, (but would hesitate on this point when challenged); and Charles Krauthammer allowed for exceptions, carefully defined to ensure an honest and coherent policy; and Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz proposed instead a pre-approval process; this Southern Baptist theologian, this “reigning intellectual of the evangelical movement in the U.S.”, suggests no a priori criteria; leaving the perpetration of such tortures to be based on inscrutable caprice, subject to ex post facto evaluations of justice.

And Christians are supposed to be the salt of the earth and light of the world!

Mohler alludes to Charles Krauthammer’s famous “ticking time bomb” scenario.

A terrorist has planted a nuclear bomb in New York City. It will go off in one hour. A million people will die. You capture the terrorist. He knows where it is. He’s not talking.
Question: If you have the slightest belief that hanging this man by his thumbs will get you the information to save a million people, are you permitted to do it?

Although acknowledging that “there is no denying the monstrous evil that is any form of torture” and “how corrupting it can be for the individuals and society that practice it”; Mohler demonstrates these corruptive social consequences by naturally transferring that which has been hitherto done against foreigners to be hereafter applied against American citizens; a sociopolitical dynamic often iterated throughout history.

A similar scenario may hit even closer to home for most persons. Consider the hypothetical case in which a kidnapper, now in police custody, knows where a child has been hidden in a subterranean vault with limited oxygen. He refuses to disclose the child’s location, knowing that the possession of this information will serve as proof of his guilt. Time is running out and the child will soon die if the location is not found. So, what parent would not authorize the use of almost any mechanism of coercion in this case– even the most extreme? In such a case, the parent would agree with Krauthammer that the kidnapper has forfeited all claims upon psychological peace and physical comfort–even upon life itself–by refusing to save the child he has kidnapped.

Only with dearth of common sense and critical thinking in this modern era, can Krauthammer “deceive” so many with such a sophomoric thought experiment, and yet leave his reputation unscathed. The normative critique against this scenario cites incoherence and extreme improbability. It is not so much the improbability that a hypothetical terrorist (and organization backing him) acquires all the necessary materials and constructs the bomb without considerable prior detection; a problem which even sovereign states (i.e. Iran) must contend. It is the intellectual coherence that those who nabbed the terrorist, would know that such a device was in play, the details of its impact, its general locale, its expiry date and time, the person who planted the device and yet not know the rest of the story.

A more incontrovertible dissuasion, however, was provided by Michael Hayden, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, in Testimony to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on April 12, 2007, and recounted in the recent Senate Report.

Number one, we use the enhanced interrogation techniques at the beginning of this process, and it varies how long it takes, but I gave you a week or two as the normal window in which we actually helped this religious zealot to get over his own personality and put himself in a spirit of cooperation.

An academic, familiar with this field of study, and writing prior to Krauthammer’s article, was more charitable as to timing; placing the breaking point at “days, if not weeks. Even torturers know this.” Among the reasons for such delays include that irritating tendency of humans to faint in the face of extreme pain; or the time required in finding that tailor-made form of affliction which works best with the individual captive (think Orwell’s Winston Smith (1984) and the terror of being slowly eaten alive by rats). And hardcore zealots are even less amenable, as the Gestapo found regarding resistance members in World War II.

Therefore, since the time frame, posed in Krauthammer’s hypothetical, is entirely unreasonable and empirically incoherent; the underlying principle, which emerges from this fiction, still lacks a credible inductive basis.

The aforementioned academic also noted that a worldly-wise adversary assumes and prepares for the betrayal of such military secrets under much duress.

For decades, guerrilla organizations have had “torture contracts” with their members: If you get arrested, keep the interrogators busy for 24 hours and let us change the passwords and locations. Give them false information mixed with half-truths. Make them waste their time and resources, and then after a day say whatever you want, since it will be useless then.

Actors in guerrilla warfare usually work in discrete cells. They are unlikely to know much of the operations beyond their own cell group, and only into the near future. Once known to be captured, enemy combatants would likely rearrange any future plans that that captured actor could possibly know. Surely, the American military think and act likewise and have done so in the past. Therefore, to presume that adversaries are just bowling pins seems hardly prudential and safe. This common sense conclusion was confirmed by one of the presumed terrorists himself.

Further, Abu Zubaydah maintained that he always intended to provide information and never believed he could withhold information from interrogators. In February 2003, he told a CIA psychologist that he believed every captured “brother” would talk in detention, and that these “brothers should be able to expect that the organization will make adjustments to protect people and plans when someone with knowledge is captured.

Therefore, even the “ticking time bomb” scenario, which Krauthammer and his ideological pal, Mohler would extend to the domestic shores of America, lacks all credibility. Any torture beyond three weeks, let alone three months of capture would seem to be devolving from those ostentatious purposes to acquire information to that of salacious sadism.

But Krauthammer, having established this sliver of a principle upon this ludicrous and emotionally-laden fiction for the willingly gullible, (a hypothetical which he himself intimates as entirely implausible), can quickly span out from that beachhead. (“Once you’ve established the principle, to paraphrase George Bernard Shaw, all that’s left to haggle about is the price.”) From the saving of a million people to justify the torture of one, we can reverse it to the saving of the life of one of “the us”, to justify the torture of a million of the “not us”. (Since torture is not intentioned to kill any of the “not us”, although, in fact, that will happen; the torture of a million can become morally justified.) Any and all numerical divining points are rationally arbitrary and capricious.

From a Christian perspective, the question becomes at what price (a.k.a. rational moral calculus) do we set aside (a.k.a. sell out) the divinely ordained and immutable value of the intrinsic dignity and worth of human beings? And it is to that, which the good theist Albert Mohler is subscribing.

♦               ♦               ♦               ♦

The subject only became of exceeding personal interest after reading about the opinions of the religious-minded in well-regarded opinion polls over the matter. In a 2009 Pew poll, which asked “Do you think the use of torture against suspected terrorists in order to gain important information can often be justified?”, Evangelical adherents were more inclined to support torture than any other religious or secular segment of the population. A heady 62% of Evangelicals thought it justified or sometimes justified. Only 16% thought it was never justified.

In an even more recent 2014 Washington Post – ABC News Poll, conducted following the release of that Senate Committee report, a similar question was posed. “Looking ahead, do you feel that torture of suspected terrorists can often be justified, sometimes justified, rarely justified or never justified?” Whereas, the overall American population felt it justified by a 59%-31% ratio between often/sometimes and rarely/never, (with ‘never’ pegged at 20%), the Evangelicals’ ratio was 68%-26%, (with ‘never’ pegged at 11%). The non-religious’ ratio was 41%-58%, (with never pegged at 32%).

It utterly flabbergasts that the overwhelming bulk of self-identified Christians, and especially Evangelicals in America are supportive of this barbaric practice. These realities flag the true extent of apostasy in the American Evangelical Church.

I am an Evangelical and of orthodox doctrine and ethics; apparently a good deal more orthodox than Mohler and company. My saturnine soul is deeply appalled, enraged and grieved. Support for torture just runs so contrary to the letter and spirit of the New Covenant ethos of Love. But more relevant as it applies to the civic state, torture runs so contrary to the letter and spirit of that Old Covenant paradigm of universal Justice.

Mohler, in his worldly concerns and greater allegiance to a sociopolitical movement than that of fidelity to the principles of his Faith, now becomes associated much too closely with the likes of Dick Cheney, who had his Nixonian moment, at least to my mind, in a recent interview with Chuck Todd. Cheney declared that no number of innocent foreign detainees, who wrongly suffer “enhanced interrogation techniques”, no margin of error becomes too high, in order to save the life of one American. Does Cheney also oppose the Second Amendment. Or are sociopolitical trade-offs only intrinsically viable within the anointed soil of America?

Of those “enhanced interrogation techniques” is the totally superfluous and salacious delight of sadism in “rectal rehydration”. Us more common and uncredentialed folk, might call it anal rape.

And therefore, albeit being admittedly disingenuous; to paraphrase President Junior Bush in 2001:

Dear good theist, “reigning intellectual of the evangelical movement in the U.S.”, strong proponent of family values and indomitable adversary of same-sex sexuality and civic marriage. Choose you this day.

You Are Either With Jesus Christ, Or With the Sodomites!



©Copyright Johnny Hutchinson

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