The world is obsessed with suffering. In the developed world, this obsession is hedonistic, a chasing after pleasure and the avoidance of perceived suffering. In the underdeveloped world, suffering – real, grinding suffering is the brutal daily reality for most. To the mass of humanity who find themselves counted among the wretched of the earth, much of daily life could settle comfortably with the varied definitions of torture contained in the Wiki referenced in the weekly post, and many other human rights violations besides. Buddhist readers may be nodding at this point at the familiarity of this postulation: “all of life is suffering and death the cessation thereof”. I admit this may seem overly pessimistic, but consider the paucity of actual joy in the lives of your colleagues and realize that the abiding experience of being human is of banal daily slog punctuated by all-too-fleeting quickenings of happiness. In terms that Martin Buber would use, we live the “me-you”, but yearn for the “I-Thou”.
In reading around the film Zero Dark 30 I was struck by the odd disparity between critics who saw a glorification of suffering in the film, and those who saw justification of the infliction of torture. It seemed to be a simple mirror of the macrocosm of the world described above. Those who lived in. Brutalized realty anyway, saw no problem with brutal activity. It was Justified by their paradigm. Those shocked by the jingoistic glorification of systematic barbarity revealed themselves to be from among those fortunate few who think that life should be free from suffering, not just for themselves but for all. Again, this is not surprising; it is the old chestnut of situational ethics versus absolute ethics, played out in the theatre of gore. Indeed, the reference to Biko is appropriate. Many other South African names could be added to the conversation. Wouter Basson, Joe Modise, places like Quatro, Vlakplaas, John Vorster Square.
Situational ethics is not new but could be regarded as a poster child for the post modern era. I suspect many of the moral dilemmas we might face in our daily grind come more from our personal inability to find and hold an absolute moral compass. A typical daily example for me is the use of dry needling therapy. Dry needling works. Most of the patient I see will benefit from the therapy, but it hurts, sometimes markedly so. If I ignore the potential suffering caused to the patient, and Just stick needles under my own self belief, I act upon the patient in much the same way an agent of torture. I am old fashioned enough to believe that causing suffering in that way is just plain wrong. Always wrong. I also does not make sense in term of nociceptive upregulation, but that is beside the point. My (very WASP) dilemma comes not from the sharp end of the suffering, but from the boring and blunt end of obtaining informed consent from non-English speakers. The only thing that separates what physios do from common assault is the informed consent form. No consent, then no delivery of effective treatment. That is a non-clinical issue, driven by an ethical concern to respect the right of a individual patient to self determination regarding health care choices. Potentially this could be a problem – I am often tempted to ignore the language barrier and trade off the power dynamic inherent in therapy and treat without true consent. Fortunately for my malpractice insurer, I have a prior immutable commitment to propositional logic and absolute truth, which dictates my response (written informed consent for each patient with each episode of treatment) without having to wring my hands in anguish.
If one is to follow a Darwinian approach to the inherent status of a human, one quickly spirals from all people being equally products of time plus chance, to the preference of some people over others based purely on their social dominance. Contrary to conventional wisdom, I do not think that Adolph Hitler was insane because he tried to exterminate Jews and Gypsies in Europe in the 1930’s and 40’s. He was not insane, but consequent. He was merely taking social darwinism to its logical conclusion. If humans are just evolutionary accidents, taking either better or worse evolutionary paths, then there really is no sensible reason to believe that we are all equal. In fact, we can decide (as did Hitler, Vorster, and those involved in the forced sterilization of people with learning disabilities) that we are de facto a superior race We can ten logically proceed to proclaim dominion as we deem fit. Surely it is no accident that the rise of the modern human rights culture dates to a revulsion against the horrors of WW2.
This post-war groundswell of human rights awareness is less a lesson in history than it is in epistemology. In order to consider the topic of human torture, we surely need to consider the nature of humanity, or what Francis Schaeffer called “the mannishness of man”. Biblically speaking, a human has no inherent rights. We have all abandoned The Lord and fallen short of His requirements in this life. Whatever standing we may have had when we were created was shattered in the Fall. The prescribed punishment for fallen behavior (another old fashioned word – sin) is death. Through sin we forfeit any rights we had. We humans have no rights, only a sure expectation of the death sentence. This may seem to be at odds with the sense which the US Declaration speaks of “inalienable rights” for all in a unitary nation “under God”, but his paradox actually unlocks the curious link intimated in the title of this blog. Humans are not darwinian accidents. The revulsion most people feel when faced with the opening half of Zero Dark 30 testifies to a core belief that there is something special about a human. The Lord in His wisdom created us in His image, and sinners or not we still bare this image in our humanity. This is a critical concept. There is a direct causal relationship between Social darwinism and racism, Nazism, and the use of medical knowledge as a form of torture. At its core is the epistemological question “What is a man”. If he is just a product of chance+time, then it is of no consequence if he suffers at my hands for my benefit. I win, you loose. People who have abandoned the God of the Bible and a Biblical understanding of man in favour of the brutality of darwinism should really not be surprised by Eugene de Kok, Gitmo or any other expression of racial supremacism.
Our facilitator has posed questions around the Biblical references in Matt 26, Matt 5 and Exodus 21. A contextual reading of these should make the answer plain. The Exodus passage concerns limiting legitimate punishment, binding those who exact retribution to not go beyond the original offense. It is not a prescriptive verse (Thou shalt punish to the nth degree and all is fair in war). The New Testament exposition of the verses given by Jesus in Matt 5 seal this contention. Even if you are unjustly provoked, that is not a mandate for brutality. The high place of humanity in the Bible narrative is informed by their inherent value as being created in God’s image, not their “rights”.
Secular humanism is a religion based on the concept of each person having inalienable rights because other people think that is a nice idea. It is inherently darwinist, and so stands on a house of sand. It is always wrong to engage in torture because it violates the image of God in man. An epistemological understanding of man built on the Rock is required.
As this is posted on Women’s Day, lets not forget the feminist metanarative of Zero Dark 30. Take a listen to the this helpful affirmation of the value of men and women. John Piper: Male & Female He created them