The President of the United States has announced that torture “works”. He has further stated that he would support torture within the bounds of what is allowed legally.
Christians remember on Good Friday that Jesus was tortured to death. The Gospel writers were at pains to point out that this was done within the bounds of what was allowed legally. An angry mob did not lynch Jesus. The State crucified him.
Throughout the first three centuries of Christianity’s history, Christians were periodically subjected to persecution and torture by the State. Torture is a form of terror used to protect the good citizens from the other, and for much of this period, Christians were “the other”.
Unfortunately, in later periods when Christians attained power and indeed became associated with the power of the State, the Nation or the Empire, Christians too started using torture. It is hard for progressive Christians to imagine how this happened but it did, and it happened on a large scale. It happened during the Crusades, it happened during period of the Inquisition and it happened during the Reformation with barbarous torture conducted by Catholic and Protestant alike.
Gradually the world has begun to accept that torture is unacceptable. In 1984 the UN Convention against Torture was adopted by the member states and subsequently both Australia and the USA have ratified this Convention. The wording of the Convention is interesting. It makes clear that torture offends against the “recognition of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family (which) is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world”. Consistent with this, it makes clear that “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.”
Torture is an extreme form of violence in which overwhelming pain is used to produce an outcome. One of the outcomes Jesus spoke about often was the Kingdom of God whose features were peace, justice and love. The word Kingdom is strange to us today. Perhaps Jesus would have used the term Democracy of God if he lived currently, but the principles would be the same. In such a Kingdom or Democracy, torture is unthinkable as a means to an end. It does not work. It does not lead to truth, but only inflames further violence. It is a regression to barbarism.
As Christians we should not be silent on this issue. In our own local communities we need to let others know we are opposed to torture. When political leaders give the ethical OK to such barbarism, many simply follow without thinking. We need to be an alternative voice. Amnesty International is an organisation that has long spoken out against torture. It is an organisation worth supporting. Everyone reading this article can do something, no matter how small; everyone’s effort is important. It is in such ways that Democracies and Kingdoms of freedom, justice and peace are built.