For a long time I’ve suspected that many American Christians are decidedly Americans first, Christians second. For these individuals, in the hierarchy of personal identification, being an American comes before being a Christian. A recent poll by the Washington Post/ABC seems to support this suspicion. In this poll, taken after the CIA documents relating to prisoner torture were released, a substantial majority of respondents identifying as Catholics and an overwhelming majority of those identifying as Protestants answered that CIA torture tactics to obtain information from prisoners were justified.
As Americans, I can understand why a majority believe that torture is justified. If torturing a few terrorists can prevent a future attack that could potentially kill hundreds or thousands of fellow citizens, the utility of these tactics can readily be justified. The invocation that “the end justifies the means” may be considered ethically appropriate where terrorist activities are concerned.
But the teachings of Christ don’t follow a utilitarian ethic.
Even if one discounts Jesus’ entire teaching on how to treat one’s enemies……”turn the other cheek”, “do not recompense evil for evil”, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”, “do good to those who hate you”…. it can hardly be disputed that at the very least – the lowest possible bar for a Christian to set as treatment of enemies – is not to demean their essential humanity. It is a Christian concept that we are made in the image of God, that we are a reflection of deity in some essential way. Torture, by its very nature, is designed to degrade and devalue what is human in the one being tortured and by extension profanes the image of God itself.
Given that government policy supports torture and Christian principles prohibit it, polls should indicate a decidedly negative response from Christians when asked if torture tactics are justified. The fact that just the opposite occurs is indicative that between two ideological identifiers – American citizen and Christian believer – American citizen overwhelmingly wins out.