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First Things Thinks Torture is no Big Deal

October 13, 2009

From “the Anchoress“, who I believe pretends to be a Catholic blogger:

“All indications are that the torture was very limited in scope and that -whether we are comfortable with it or not- information gleaned through waterboarding saved lives.”

Who cares about doing something intrinsically evil if it is not that evil, and if good might come of it? Consequentialism overcomes First Things. Surprised?

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41 Comments
  1. awakaman permalink
    October 13, 2009 9:51 am

    1. It is interesting to note that she didn’t mention abortion since at this time in 2007 the Anchoress was an enthusiastic supporter of Rudy Gulianni. The Anchoress is one of those individuals so scarred by 9/11 that she is willing surrender to a police state where torture is allowed, personal freedoms and privacy are expendable, and the notion that “war is peace” is the norm.

    2. The title of her article should not be “Why Do You ‘Hate’ Obama?” Rather, it should be: “if You Liked Bush You Should Love Obama”, since she spends most of the article showing how Obama after a year has not only retained but expanded most of Bush’s most reprehensible (though not in her eyes) policies.

    The more things change the more things stay the same.

  2. Pinky permalink
    October 13, 2009 10:33 am

    The Anchoress didn’t say “therefore torture is ok”. She implied “therefore it isn’t a big enough deal to merit hating the Bush administration”. That’s not a position I’d take, but it is arguable for a Catholic.

  3. October 13, 2009 10:53 am

    MM:

    I have no interest in defending the Anchoress (I have no idea where she stands) but your cut here is suspicious. The full part reads:All indications are that the torture was very limited in scope and that -whether we are comfortable with it or not- information gleaned through waterboarding saved lives. But the thing is, after making a big noise about “ending” torture, Obama has still left the door open even if it’s just the tiniest bit, to its use, if needed. Why don’t you “hate” Obama?

    The point is that people who love Obama and hate Bush on the basis of torture are kidding themselves; Obama has not shut down torturers and so far as gone to great lengths to defend the practices in the courts.

    Maybe the Anchoress is soft on torture; I have no idea. However, so is Obama, and that should give all Catholics, particularly ones who supported his campaign, much pause in their evaluation of Obama.

  4. phosphorious permalink
    October 13, 2009 12:02 pm

    Why is she still talking about Bush? Why do conservatives always bring up Bush? He’s not president anymore.

    :-)

  5. October 13, 2009 12:38 pm

    Michael Denton: The Anchoress’ statement about torture was embedded in a wider point about Obama, yes. But in making that point about Obama, she made a pretty clear, and unacceptable, statement about torture. That’s pretty obvious.

  6. Matt permalink
    October 13, 2009 2:41 pm

    Judging by her response to the fourth comment, the Anchoress didn’t intend to defend torture:
    “Anchoress, do you realize that Catholics can never endorse or excuse torture according to Gaudium et Spes?

    [Uh-huh. Do you see me “endorsing or excusing” torture?…”

  7. October 13, 2009 3:20 pm

    Matt – I see that as typical of the ambiguity we see on this issue from the Catholic right. She did not explicitly endorse torture, no. But she did indeed imply that it’s no big deal.

  8. David Nickol permalink
    October 13, 2009 3:41 pm

    Obama has still left the door open even if it’s just the tiniest bit, to its use, if needed. Why don’t you “hate” Obama?

    I would say that actually torturing people is quite dramatically different than leaving the door open, “just the tiniest bit,” to using torture if it is “needed.”
    If one buys the argument of the WSJ piece that she cites to make her case against Obama, it is still one thing to actually do something and quite another thing not to rule it out unequivocally.

    I see from a Google search that her real name is Elizabeth Scalia. It seems just a little bit silly to me for her to call herself “The Anchoress,” especially when she writes elsewhere under her own name.

  9. October 13, 2009 3:57 pm

    Actually, she is excusing torture. Why else would she talk about it “saving lives”?

    And if you look at the rest of what she rights, you will find some shocking ignorance of basic economic facts. Anchoress seems like the typical Republican Catholic, where secular ideology always comes first. And yes, I have seen her pro-war stuff before…she can give Weigel a run for his money….

  10. October 13, 2009 4:00 pm

    Oh, and I don’t think anybody questions that Obama has ended the Bush-Cheney torture regime. What he refuses to be is enforce accountability. I can sort of understand not wanting to prosecute the torturers (although Cheney and Addington deserve jail), but his decision to take the Bush-Cheney side in a number of torture-related court cases is indefensible.

  11. ben permalink
    October 13, 2009 4:09 pm

    It seems to me that her main point is that Obama has continued to do all of the horrible things Bush did.

    This leads me to think that Obama is nothing more than a pro-abortion Bush.

    Therefore, Obama is worse than Bush–who was a horrible president.

    Thanks for point out this post MM, I would have missed it otherwise.

  12. October 13, 2009 4:22 pm

    Good catch. I’m continually astounded by that woman’s willingness to excuse torture and war on “moral” grounds.

  13. phosphorious permalink
    October 13, 2009 4:30 pm

    It seems to me that her main point is that Obama has continued to do all of the horrible things Bush did.

    True, enough. . . but it’s worht pointing out that these things were not considered at all “horrible” by the right. . . until they could be blamed on a liberal.

    The Anchoress’ question can be turned around, can’t it? “Why don’t conservatives love Obama, since he insists on continuing policies that they cheered for under Bush?”

  14. October 13, 2009 4:45 pm

    Oh excuse me

    This “supposed Catholic” Give me a break. The Anchoress in the immmigration debate lost about her her readershiopbecause she tried to deal with the issue within the Catholic Teaching. Now to see her blasted when she was not even praised a coule of years of ago is beyond belief. But to be expected

    Despite what Morning Minion asserts if water boarding is torture is still up to debate. I am not sure of the Anchores’s viewpoint on it. But I am pretty sure that it up to debate. I say that now after confirming I will not endorse waterboarding. Thought strangly I don’t take peoples Catholic card because they disagree with me

  15. October 13, 2009 4:46 pm

    “Good catch. I’m continually astounded by that woman’s willingness to excuse torture and war on “moral” grounds.”

    What else do disagree with as you say “This woman”

  16. Mark Gordon permalink
    October 13, 2009 7:58 pm

    I see that as typical of the ambiguity we see on this issue from the Catholic right.

    Yes, and as we all know there is never any ambiguity on the Catholic left about another intrinsic evil or the politicians who endorse it.

  17. October 13, 2009 7:59 pm

    “All indications are that the torture was very limited in scope and that -whether we are comfortable with it or not- information gleaned through waterboarding saved lives.”

    I would just like to point out that, whatever one thinks of the Anchoress (I never have read her), of Bush, of Catholics in relation to either party, etc., the first assertion she makes here is quite easily shown to be factually false and the second one is unsubstantiated.

  18. October 13, 2009 10:09 pm

    The Anchoress’ question can be turned around, can’t it? “Why don’t conservatives love Obama, since he insists on continuing policies that they cheered for under Bush?”

    Exactly. I’ve been thinking this the whole time. They criticize Obama for being “no different” than Bush. Um, but they supported Bush (and still do).

    Yes, and as we all know there is never any ambiguity on the Catholic left about another intrinsic evil or the politicians who endorse it.

    Of course there is ambiguity on other issues from the Catholic left. Who denies that? We should condemn that as well. But that is no reason to defend the Anchoress. That both “sides” get various things wrong does not mean we should not point out when one side gets something wrong.

    Right?

  19. phosphorious permalink
    October 13, 2009 10:12 pm

    “Yes, and as we all know there is never any ambiguity on the Catholic left about another intrinsic evil or the politicians who endorse it.

    To be honest. . . no, there is no ambiguity on the left. The morality of abortion is not in question, merely the fact that it is not something that can be easily or justly outlawed. Not everything that is immoral can be made, or should be made, illegal. Those catholics who are “pro-chice” do not, in my experience, think that abortion is not a sin, just that it should not be a crime.

    Whereas the catholic supporters of torture are rather slippery on the basic definitions, as shown by The Anchoress.

    Water-boarding is torture. Any body who says it isn’t, or suggests that this is still an open question with no way of settling it, is up to no good.

  20. adamv permalink
    October 13, 2009 11:19 pm

    Exactly. I’ve been thinking this the whole time. They criticize Obama for being “no different” than Bush. Um, but they supported Bush (and still do).

    This is one of my least favorite things about the Right. They complain that something is BOTH not wrong AND constantly perpetrated by their opposition. Pointing out hypocrisy is one thing, but this is just intellectually irresponsible. This sort of thinking keeps coming up in the Health care debate as well.

  21. Pinky permalink
    October 14, 2009 11:35 am

    WJ, you say that the use of torture wasn’t limited, and that waterboarding hasn’t been shown to have saved lives. The second point is easy to address; the Anchoress provides two links. The first point is tougher, because we haven’t defined the term “torture”. If you mean waterboarding, then it was limited to three people, by all accounts. The prison abuse at Abu Ghraib was wider, but it was abuse, not policy. If you (or MM, or the Anchoress) are referring to anything else, I’m not sure what it is.

  22. Magdalena permalink
    October 14, 2009 11:38 am

    Phosphorius, unfortunately I have known people on both the left and the right, Catholics among them, who thought there was no moral problem with abortion. So ambiguity does exist on both sides :(

  23. Mark Gordon permalink
    October 14, 2009 12:04 pm

    Iafrate: “Of course there is ambiguity on other issues from the Catholic left.”

    phosphorious: “To be honest. . . no, there is no ambiguity on the left.”

    The point of my comment is that posts like this constitute nothing more than “gotcha” Catholicism, which is the very thing most of the leftwingers here decry about rightwingers in the Catholic blogosphere. A figure like Morning’s Minion, who apparently spends an extraordinary amount of time heresy hunting on the right side of the street, is really just a mirror image of folks like the Anchoress. It’s all just cramped, binary thinking.

  24. October 14, 2009 12:17 pm

    I thought that calling someone a fake Catholic based on their political beliefs (even those in stark contrast to the teachings of the Church) was about the worst things someone can do.

  25. October 14, 2009 2:00 pm

    Mark: don’t confuse exposing hypocrisy with heresy hunting! Under no circumstances would I make the argument that Anchoress should be denied communion, which seems to be the preferred method of “heresy hunting” among the American Catholic right – even if, I would point out, she would be ineligible by their very own metric (and by the Burkean reading of Canon 915).

    [As an aside, now that I recall, I remember once a post by Anchoress where she added Ronald Reagan to the litany fo saints, which is the height of blasphemy, but that's another debate.]

    The fundamental point is this: I do not expect every Catholic to agree on political tactics and on how to engage the public square. But I wish those Catholics who leaned toward the right would do so in spite of, not because of, those positions that are egregious violations of Catholic social teaching – and torture is possibly the clearest example here.

  26. October 14, 2009 2:20 pm

    So what was the purpose of, “who I believe pretends to be a Catholic blogger?”

    ==

    And do you really wish that Catholics who leaned toward the right did so in spite of, not because of positions not in concert with the Church? It seems to me that you are continuously marshalling evidence to convince yourself and others of the latter rather than the former. There is no shortage of those who “lean to the right” and abhor the last Administration’s torture policies in your comment boxes.

    As ill-advised as the Anchoress’s post was, it is not evidence that she supports the GOP because of its support for torture.

    It seems you are quite happy to believe that any Catholics who would consider voting for a Republican are phony hypocrites.

    This doesn’t get us anywhere.

  27. October 14, 2009 2:22 pm

    BTW, in the annals of the internet, I have probably seen thousands of articles and blog posts exposing the hypocrisy of one side or another.

    I have yet to see a response along the lines of, “Thank you for pointing out that hypocrisy. Because of that, I have changed my opinion.”

  28. Mark Gordon permalink
    October 14, 2009 3:34 pm

    MM, you’ve now made your point dozens of times. So, let me ask, what about this don’t you understand: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”

    Let’s admit. The truly fundamental point is that you’ve been stung in the past by criticism from other Catholics because of your support for the Democratic Party, which is dominated by the pro-abortion/pro-choice faction. This compulsion to point out obvious hypocrisy on the other side is really just payback. Now, how Catholic is that? How productive is that? You could be spending this time and energy turning your own Democratic Party away from the evil of abortion.

  29. October 14, 2009 3:54 pm

    Mark: What you seem to miss is that MM voted Democratic in spite of his thoroughly pro-life stance. If I am reading MM correctly he is not accusing the Anchoress of being a hypocrite for voting this or that way despite her opposition to torture, but because she seems to support torture.

  30. October 14, 2009 4:16 pm

    Mark,

    I’ve been “stung” by a narrow group of American Catholics whose outlook is more in tune with the dominant Protestant culture in the society in which they live than with global Catholic culture more generally. Sure, they claim to oppose abortion, and yet in so many ways they embrace a culture of violence and death.

    The hypocrisy point is valid. As I’ve said many times, I agree with the Church’s official stance on pretty much every issue, from abortion and marriage to just wages and strong unions to gun control and nuclear disarmament. But so many on the right, so many who snuggle up to the Republican party, do so because of, not in spite of, its position on war and peace, economic justice etc.

    Not only that, but they have embraced the bitter nihilism of a movement that seems to represent the last gasp of the segregationist south. They might not be racist themselves, but they are most imprudent by staying silent while their dubious allies prowl across the public square. Racism is also an intrinsic evil, and a sin on Ameican soil with deeper roots than abortion. See what Bishop Steib and numerous African bishops have said about the anti-Obama sentiment.

    For me, the last straw was the vitriol spilled out by these people after Teddy Kennedy’s death, a vitriol that also stung people like Cardinal O’Malley. There was nothing vaguely Catholic about this response, though it was not far removed from the politics of the evangelical right.

    Just look at the health care debate. The bishops have been clear – universal healthcare is a right, but no abortion coverage, please. But the right are not on board, are they? Instead, they oppose reform for nihilitic reasons (bloody Obama’s nose) or for free market liberal reasons (the government has no role in healthcare) – obviously, neither position is really Catholic. By tying the abortion standard to this mast, these people are making it less likely that an abortion firewall will be erected. But then again, is this not their goal? Just as Bush and Bin Laden drew strength from each other, so do the hardcore pro-choice organizations and the Catholic and evangelical right.

    I learned a long time ago that consequentialism is an equal opportunity temptation – people on the left embrace “choice” to give the woman a better life, while people on the right defend nuclear weapons, pre-empive war, a huge military and even torture to keep us “safe”.

    As for the point on judging others – I believe there is a profound difference between judging a person’s soul and pointing out severe flaws in their outlook. Don’t you?

    One final observation. The Democratic party is not “my” party. I really don’t care too much about them. In many ways, they are American exceptionalist-lite, nationalist-lite, militarist-lite – and their individualist ethic is just as damaging. But I see little alternative at the moment. In terms of what they can achieve, they are the better choice for one who cares about the full gamut of Catholic principles. And the way to end abortion is not to infiltrate parties and do back room deals – it is to change the culture.

  31. October 14, 2009 4:25 pm

    Do you think that a steady drumbeat about how hypocritical most pro-lifers are is going to help move the culture in the pro-life direction?

    My suspicion is that those whose consciences might be troubling them about our country’s toleration of abortion will cling to these instances of hypocrisy you are so dutifully calling out as an excuse not to take up the Cross of the truth about it.

  32. October 14, 2009 5:03 pm

    My suspicion is that those whose consciences might be troubling them about our country’s toleration of abortion will cling to these instances of hypocrisy you are so dutifully calling out as an excuse not to take up the Cross of the truth about it.

    Most pro-choice people I know in fact admire Catholics who take the pro-life stance all the way, in its fullness. When Catholics witness to the ENTIRETY of the Catholic vision of what “pro-life” means and denounce false “pro-life” views that exclude human persons from the circle of human dignity, then we are building something more attractive because it is more true than the incomplete and often perverse version that many pro-lifers follow.

  33. Pinky permalink
    October 14, 2009 5:31 pm

    McG –

    As ill-advised as the Anchoress’s post was, it is not evidence that she supports the GOP because of its support for torture.

    I agree. You also made a valid point about the internet obsession with hypocrisy.

  34. October 14, 2009 11:43 pm

    MM,

    Which of your readers has expressed the least amount of sympathy or support for segregation? Is there one?

    If not, then you are not “pointing out severe flaws in their outlook,” you are engaging in guilt by association. Which is a game Catholics supporting a party heavily intertwined with organizations like Planned Parenthood might not want to get into.

    There are jerks on the political right. I agree. The political right and the Republican Party is not aligned with Catholic values. Agreed. So what?

    As another commenter said, you are the flip side of the Anchoress’s post. Who cares if my side is doing the right thing, so long as I can point out how the other guy is worse? Or that there are hypocrites on the other side?

  35. Pinky permalink
    October 15, 2009 11:36 am

    McG – Also, whatever the motivation behind the disagreement is, it’s worsened by the use of shorthand. The Anchoress shorthanded an analysis of the effectiveness and moral implications of US interrogation policy. It’s understandable that that happens, but a lot of detail is lost. MM shorthanded it into “First Things Thinks Torture is no Big Deal”, and more detail is lost. If you or I had a blog, we might angrily rebut this article with one entitled, “More America-Bashing at Vox Nova”.

    We’re all still figuring out how to interpret each other using this new technology. As Catholic bloggers, we should be distinguishing ourselves by our charity.

    • October 15, 2009 11:37 am

      Thing is, “America bashing” ain’t intrinsically evil. Torture, on the other hand, is.

  36. October 15, 2009 12:33 pm

    @Pinky,

    Indeed — reading Catholic blogs, about the last thought that would occur is, “see who those Chritians love one another.”

  37. October 15, 2009 12:58 pm

    John – As we tried to get across in our recent post about our comment policy, being charitable in our conversations does not require letting up in our critique of distortions of Catholicism.

  38. October 15, 2009 3:48 pm

    If you want to critique distortions of Catholicism, here’s a good example: http://www.doublex.com/blog/xxfactor/could-abortion-opponents-embrace-contraception

  39. October 16, 2009 9:39 am

    Your quote of the Anchoress does not say, as you seem to think it does, that “torture is OK when it has a good outcome”.

  40. October 16, 2009 9:37 pm

    One more thing: Bishop Steib did not call anyone a racist, or even hint that opposition to Obama was motivated by racism, as much as you might have like it to be the case.

    What he said was that there is some racism in the Church, and that the hostility to Obama and his agenda from parts of the Church creates a bit of a pastoral problem with African Americans who were excited by Obama’s election and inauguration.

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