3 thoughts on “You Can’t Be Christian and Support Torture

  1. Don says:

    Yes, I accept this teaching. Ends don’t justify means; no utiltarian ethics. But what about the ticking time bomb? I have NEVER heard a credible response to this scenario. Can you provide one?

    Hypo: An Islamic terrorist has planted a nuclear bomb in New York City. There is no question that he did it, and that he can reveal the location of the bomb. It is going to go off in one hour. Ten million people will be anihilated. The aftershocks will be massive – with worldwide economic chaos, possibly the collapse of the world financial system. The terrorist seems impervious to interrogation. However, a little water-boarding will result in confession of the location of the bomb. Millions could be saved.

    I have to admit, I would give the order for waterboarding. I would give the order for much worse. I would get the information and save ten million lives and prevent the great evil, possibly including mass starvation, that would result from the collapse of financial markets around the world. Then I would go to confession. Does one love his neighbors by condemning them to nuclear anihilation because he’s too squeamish to use a little force to extract the information that would save them? What if all that misery could be avoided simply by pulling out one fingernail? Or maybe even by just threatening to pull out a fingernail?

    What do you do? Would you be willing to allow ten million New Yorkers to be incinerated, and permit the worldwide economic chaos and suffering that would follow? I really am looking for a good answer to this.


    • My first thought is to look at Just War Theory as presented in the Catechism of the Catholic Church since there is a lot of overlap between military action in times of war and fighting terrorism. From CCC 2309, parenthesis added by me:

      The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration. The gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy. At one and the same time:

      – the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain; (a bomb is certainly about to go off, check)

      – all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective; (hard to assess in such a time sensitive situation. Perhaps waterboarding is the only way to achieve the desired end. I would hope that I would have the chance to try other, more humanitarian methods)

      – there must be serious prospects of success; (You’ve said that you know that this particular terrorist is likely to confess if he is waterboarded)

      – the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modem means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition. (torture of one to prevent the painful death of millions, check)

      These are the traditional elements enumerated in what is called the “just war” doctrine.

      The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good.


      I think I would take the same action as you. Given how little time there is to pursue other alternatives, I think I would probably do what I believed would bring about the best result and save the city, and would probably go to confession afterwards just in case.

      There was a big difference between that and what (from my limited knowledge) seems to have been done by the CIA recently, where there was little reason to believe the advanced techniques would produce the desired results, other alternatives were not pursued, and the threat was not as grave as a nuclear bomb destroying NYC.

      I agree that moral theology can be a tricky, though fascinating field. Ultimately I don’t think God would punish someone for following what they thought their conscience was legitimately telling them to do, which is different from doing something that you know is wrong but have convinced yourself is ok because (fill in the blank).


  2. True; you CAN. However be Christian and have a different definition of what torture is


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