This is Matt: We here at CMR have been huge fans of Erin Manning who blogs over at And Sometimes Tea. And so we wanted to have Erin write over here once a week for the next month as a guest blogger. I think CMR could use some female perspective – other than Patrick’s. So enjoy Erin’s post. Heeeeeeerrrre’s Erin!!!!!!!
When Matt and Patrick honored me last week with their invitation to write a few blog posts for them this month, I was glad to accept, and grateful for the opportunity. I’m still glad and grateful, but what I have to write about this week is a bit more serious in tone than what I’d anticipated writing about when this guest-posting privilege started.
A couple of years ago, I started noticing all the discussions about the morality of torture that were cropping up in the Catholic blogosphere. As a conservative and someone who voted for GOP candidates more often than not (though I’d had a few forays into the fun of voting for independents), I hadn’t really given much thought to the issue. Sure, torture was immoral; and torture was defined loosely in my mind as “Really really bad stuff that does permanent physical damage to people, but only if it’s being done to innocent people by bad guys.” Since Americans weren’t bad guys, terrorists weren’t innocent, and waterboarding didn’t leave permanent damage (well, not most of the time, anyway; I was unaware then that it could actually kill people, which is pretty permanent by anybody’s definition) I wasn’t too interested in the debate.
Or I thought I wasn’t. But it seemed like “my side” was taking a beating, if you’ll forgive the metaphor. So I started entering in the combox discussions, wondering how we could define torture, doubting that the Church really meant enhanced interrogation when she said that torture was evil, and generally acting as though moral clarity on this issue was a practical impossibility.
The story of how that changed and I came to realize that I was out of line with Church teaching is really the story of how better-informed Catholics (one in particular) didn’t give up trying to show me how wrong I was. Eventually the light dawned, and I realized that I was trying to make the teaching fit various political ideas I had, instead of seeking the truth as a starting point. And I realized, too, how right these guys had been: I really was trying to bend Church teaching to my notions, instead of sincerely trying to understand.
I wrote about those things on my blog, and from time to time would address the issue of torture from my new-found understanding that the Church says torture is evil, that this includes things we try to dismiss euphemistically as “enhanced interrogation,” that there is no “good guys exemption” to allow us to torture prisoners, and that there’s also no “Jack Bauer ticking-time-bomb exemption” which somehow transforms torture into a good and noble act if we can just concoct a wildly unlikely-enough scenario to justify its use. I even, about a year ago, stuck a little picture on my blog sidebar which read “Coalition for Clarity/Because Torture is Intrinsically Evil.” But that was all I did.
Until last week.
It started with a question from a reader. What was the Coalition for Clarity? she asked. Was there an actual group of Catholic bloggers opposed to torture?
Good question–so I wrote a blog post about it. There should be such a group, I said.
And the response was overwhelming. I had emails and comments and post links from Catholics saying, in essence, “Sign me up.” But there wasn’t anywhere to sign them up; the group was still fictional. I had written the blog post sort of hoping some qualified person would realize that such a group was needed and would create one–but it dawned on me that I shouldn’t be asking others to do something I wasn’t willing to do myself.
So I started a blog called Coalition for Clarity. Meanwhile Tom McDonald and Sean Dailey had had the idea to start up a Facebook page with that title, too (to which they graciously added me once I broke down and signed up for a Facebook account). And considering this whole thing has only been going on since Wednesday of last week, the response continues to be amazing.
Now, maybe you’re a bit like I used to be. You haven’t given the issue of torture much thought, or you’ve let partisan beliefs set the tone for what you think of the idea. Maybe you’ve even, as I (to my shame) used to do, thought of the Church’s teaching that torture is evil as one of those nice ivory-tower things–sure, in a perfect world, torture might be evil, but if national security demands it here and now in our fallen world, well then, etc. If that describes how you think about torture, may I respectfully suggest you consider giving it a bit more thought? Perhaps delving into the Catechism’s mention of torture, or reading through some key sections of Veritatis Splendor, or seeking out other sources of Church teaching on the topic? I hadn’t yet done even that much when I used to insist that whatever torture was, the things Americans were doing or asking to do couldn’t possibly be included.
Or maybe you’re the opposite–you’re someone who has been teaching and writing against torture since before many Americans even realized that it was being done. Maybe you’re wondering why an upstart with no moral theology training or background is even involved in this effort (and nobody wonders that more than I do, believe me). If that’s you, won’t you consider becoming a contributor to the Coalition for Clarity blog?
I think we have a unique opportunity as Catholics to stand up now, before we reach a situation where one political party is enthusiastically pro-torture and the other is “Personally opposed, but…” on the issue, and be clear about the fact that the Church teaches that torture is evil. But we can’t do that unless our fellow Catholics know what the Church teaches. Right now, according to this Pew Forum survey, 51% of Catholics surveyed believed that torture was “often justified” or “sometimes justified” if it was being used to get information from suspected terrorists–and the question asked used the word “torture,” not “enhanced interrogation” or any other euphemism. A response like that shows that when it comes to torture, many of us Catholics could use a little moral clarity.