Justin Taylor, who’s a better man than me, recently did a post on “torture.” It provoked the usual back and forth.
I’ve discussed this issue on many different occasions, so I won’t repeat myself here. Instead, I’m going to focus on one particular question: is it intrinsically evil to inflict pain, even severe pain, on other human being–with or without his consent? Whether or not it’s for his own good?
Let’s take some Biblical examples. Among the various forms of punishment meted out in OT law, some of them are distinctly painful: stoning (e.g. Lev 20:2-5,27; 24:15-16; Num 15:32-36; Deut 13:1-5; 17:2-7; 21:18-21; 22:22-23), flogging (Deut 25:1-3), burning (Lev 20:14; 21:19), and mutilation (Deut 25:12).
I daresay that all of these punishments are pretty excruciating. In some cases the pain may be incidental to the mode of punishment, but in the case of flogging the pain itself is punitive.
Flogging and stoning seem to be the most common forms of punishment, while burning and mutilation are reserved for special cases.
As forms of capital punishment, burning and stoning are inherently retributive. Flogging may be both remedial as well as having a deterrent effect. Mutilation has a deterrent effect–or so I assume!
Needless to say, these penalties are hardly contingent on the consent of the offender. And only one of these is potentially beneficial to the offender.
Assuming that God doesn’t command people to commit intrinsically evil deeds, I don’t think a Christian can claim that the deliberate infliction of pain–on an unwilling subject–is intrinsically evil.
I also think it’s safe to say that all these punishments are more painful than any of the interrogation techniques which the Bush administration authorized to extract information from intransigent terrorists.
That, of course, doesn’t, of itself, settle the question of whether it’s licit to inflict pain in order to extract information from a terrorist. It does, however, debunk facile objections to “torture” based on its alleged affront to human dignity and the imago Dei. Christian critics of “torture” will have to come up with a different argument.