With President-elect Obama due to take office in a few days, there's been a renewed surge of attention paid to his campaign promise of closing the prison at Guantanomo Bay. As a result, the topic of torture has come up again and, since the question of how we treat terrorists and the like dovetails (somewhat) with the current discussion I'm having with my Ethics students about the Sixth Commandment and murder, it's probably time I write out what I think.
Me: I just read The Ethics of Smuggling by Brother Andrew. Some interesting ideas and rationalizations, but many came off a little arrogant (probably just the writing). You got any clarifying thoughts on when it's right to NOT submit to governing authorities (this question also got asked today with regard to Romans 13 and capital punishment)?
Another question: how do you think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's attempt to assassinate Hitler compared with Paul and Peter submitting to Nero? Having trouble reconciling that in my mind. And what about torture?
Larry: Profound book entitled Torture: A Collection, essays edited by Sanford Levinson. Don’t know if you could get a copy from the extensive library system of St. Louis or perhaps even the seminary library might have it. With torture, they discuss the difference between terroristic torture and interrogational torture, an interesting and valid distinction as the argument develops.
On Bonhoeffer, the "ultimate question for a responsible man is not how he is to extricate himself…but how the coming generation is to live" (from Letters and Papers from Prison). The key question for Bonhoeffer is not "What is the right thing for me to do?" but rather "What is to come?" In his circumstance, that meant what would the future hold unless action was taken to stop it? It would hold a world in which Nazism maintained its power and extended its sway and its genocidal politics.
Bonhoeffer denounces the "fanatical devotee of truth" who "can make no allowance for human weakness" and who "betrays the community in which he lives." This version of "truth" demands "its victims' even as the truth-teller remains 'proud' and 'pure.'" (Bonhoeffer, Ethics, pp. 361-363)."
Me: Appreciate the thoughts here. Still not sure how I reconcile Bonhoeffer with Paul in Romans 13. Why didn’t Bonhoeffer submit himself to the Nazis as Paul did to the Romans? Not making the connection (it’s probably me).
Larry: The argument as I understand it (and as I have made it myself, too), is that government is responsible, as Paul says, "For he [that is, government] is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid." It seems here that Paul’s argument is that government’s first duty is to promote the good, and secondarily, "to bring wrath…on the wrongdoer." At least that’s how I read it about government’s role (C.S. Lewis said that a government can be judged good according to the number of nights it helps create for a man to enjoy a pint and a game of darts with his neighbors – I think that’s a good example).
Once government ceases to be an agent of good primarily (knowing that no government can be totally good), then it abrogates its role as designated by God and the right of revolution is real and even morally necessary. In this complex and messy world, we have to guard against two things: 1) too quickly assuming the evil of the government and hastening to revolution, and 2) too quickly assuming the good of the government and being apathetic and willing to accept a majority influence of evil. It does require thinking. And this is the short version."
Me: This is probably what I didn’t like about Brother Andrew’s book. He makes the same argument, but he does so very assumingly and arrogantly. I get what you’re saying here and like the tension; it’s just so hard to teach.
Larry: Yeah, arrogance will kill an argument every time. Also, on Paul, his submission to Rome was (as I read it) in part a ploy on his part in the courtroom to throw off the opposition, as he asserted his natural citizenship as a Roman, so I don’t see it as just a submission on his part. Paul had his plans (think of Spain), but God has his plans, too. They didn’t necessarily overlap and yet, Romans 8:28 is the larger canvas for the story.
It also seems to me that Rome, though a conquering country, had established the Pax Romana (peace of Rome). During that time, Jesus was free to travel, preach, etc., carrying out his mission without any real interference until the end.
There’s a lot to talk about here.
Indeed there is. Anyone else care to join the conversation?