Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Ah, the fabulous Mark Shea!

Catholics are committed to following the Church's teachings in our lives. How does this sync with allowing torture? Mark Shea has the answer in spades:
My concern, in writing the "Toying with Evil" piece was to say that, for Catholics, it is forbidden to do evil that good may come of it. This elementary moral teaching is what undergirds Paul's thinking in Romans 3:8 and it remains an elementary teaching today. And that means, when the Church says "X is intrinsically immoral" our job as Catholics is to see that we bloody well do not make excuses for X.

In short, when the Church says "This is evil" the mind docile to the Church's teaching says, "Okay, how do I avoid that evil?" The mind looking for legalistic loopholes and a Minimum Daily Adult Requirement standard of obedience says, "Okay, then how do I tiptoe right up to the line of doing evil, but not step over it? How do I figure out a way to say the Church isn't really saying what it is obviously saying?" It is a question asked by randy teenagers, children trying to steal from cookie jars, and people attempting to figure out just how much suffering they can inflict on somebody before it technically is called torture, or people trying to figure out a way to prove that the Church can't really have said that torture is intrinsically immoral. It is not a question asked by people who are want to know "How do we treat our prisoner justly and humanely?"

That there are people who are clearly attempting to avoid the obvious teaching of the Church about the intrinsical immorality of torture is, I think, beyond dispute. The Coalition for Fog distinguishes itself in this way, when it declares that reading Veritatis Splendor as a condemnation of the intrinsic immorality of torture is "fundamentalist proof texting". Clearly, the goal of such rhetoric is to say that the Magisterium does not teach what it does, in fact, teach. It's as believable as Daniel Maguire's attempts to square the circle of the Church's condemnation of abortion with his pro-choice zealotry--and as contemptible. At the end of the day, the Coalition for Fog is trying, by hook or by crook, to tell us that we can ignore Veritatis Splendor when it declares that physical and mental torture are, like rape and abortion, acts for which there can never be any justification. That's what "intrinsically immoral" means, and that's what Veritatis Splendor says. I do not think the members of the Coalition for Fog are fools, therefore I have to conclude they are dishonest in trying to pretend VS does not say this, and that they cover up their dishonesty with name-calling about fundamentalist proof-texting.

One issue that comes up is, of course, the inconsistency between the Church's past behavior and her present teaching. As has been shown elsewhere, this is a fruitless approach, because the Church is not protected by infallibility in her juridical acts. She is only protected by infallibility in her teaching.

"Ah HA!" someone will reply, "But Veritatis Splendor does not *infallibly* define torture as intrinsically immoral." And that would really matter--to a Minimum Daily Adult Requirement Catholic whose sole question when approaching the Church for guidance is, "Just tell me what the infallible stuff is and screw all the rest of it." However, for Catholics serious about obeying the Church, that is not the question. The question is, "What does the Magisterium teach and how do I best obey it?" To Catholics like that, it is sufficient that the Church says "Torture is intrinsically immoral" for them to agree that torture is intrinsically immoral and not rush off looking for excuses, loopholes, apparent contradictions--anything so they can ignore the Church's teaching and ridicule those who take it at face value as "fundamentalist proof-texters".

Generally, what undergirds this quest for loopholes, excuses, and contradictions are two streams of thought. One is the Traditionalist stream which regards whatever is old as automatically more valid and which therefore regards recent developments as modernistic, squishy, and dubiously Catholic. I think Fr. Harrison's argument essentially turns on this and is motivated more by an aversion to the Council and to John Paul's teaching than to a zeal for excusing American policy. As he puts it, "the Catholic “tradition” against torture only goes back to, well, yesterday." Older is better. If the Church of the Middle Ages tortured, then it's good enough for me, etc. Of course, the answer to all that argument by the clock is "So?" There was a time when the Church's condemnation of Arius only went back to yesterday too. Indeed, there was a time when it was heretical to refer to the Son as "homoousious" (one in being) with the Father. Protestants argue every day that the Assumption is likewise false since the definition only goes back to yesterday. Arguments like "this is recent" are completely worthless for establishing whether a development is valid or not. That's what Popes are for. And our most recent Pope has clearly taught that torture is intrinsically immoral.
I can't add to perfection.

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