Meaningful Distinction:

Patrick S. Lasswell Look outward for something to accomplish, not inward for something to despise.
pslblog at gmail dot com
Thursday, January 13, 2005
No Atheists in a Foxhole, No Christians in a Torture Chamber

Some years ago I badly lost an online argument about theology based on my flat assertion that conventional wisdom was right about there being no atheists in a foxhole. The assumption behind my statement is that Christian theology and culture accepts and forgives soldiers for the sins they do in defense of their people. Christians have the cultural capacity to forgive those who trespass upon others within the boundaries of organized military endeavor. Arguably this dates to the adoption of Roman military theology into Christian ritual tradition, but a millennium of cultural integration of chivalry is probably a substantial part of the acceptance of soldiery by Christians. In this way we can still demand decency from our soldiers and mitigate the evil that is done in war.

In order for Christians to exonerate themselves for sending others to do evil to the enemy, it must be believed that the soldiers have belief. Sending others to fight without religious imprimatur is a morally vacuous act and causes Christians lingering harm. The history of the last fifty years makes much more sense in the context of a Christian nation on a slippery slope of expedient immorality, in danger of losing its soul. There is a price to pay for doing evil without absolution, and for withholding absolution from those who need it. There is an abhorrent societal cost for accepting atheists in foxholes. We are more willing to lose a war than to abide amoral troops.

Christian culture is at a loss for how to deal with the willful and deliberate infliction of harm on those without the capacity to directly retaliate. If the subject is not an immediate personal threat, there is no Christian capacity to forgive harming them. Much of the death penalty debate revolves around this point. Torture is beyond the capacity for Christians to accept, understand, or forgive. It just isn't in us, and we are unwilling to accept the expedience of torture to gain even crucial information. There is an abhorrent societal cost for accepting Christians in torture chambers. We are more willing to let our soldiers and citizens die than to abide these acts.

The President of the United States is a Christian. Soldiers and civilians are going to die because George W. Bush refuses to allow torture, even on those who have no rights in international or US law. The war, however, will be fought until it is won, because the overwhelming Christian majority can still believe there are not atheists in foxholes. I cannot justify the loss of life that failure to torture will cause, except that the loss of the war would certainly kill many times more. There is no optimal solution and this is an excruciatingly difficult decision. The political reality is that the United States is a Christian culture that cannot abide torture in support of a war, regardless of the cost. I honestly wish I could argue in favor of torture because I will certainly lose friends because of the lack. I simply believe that it is more important to win the greater war, and we cannot do that with torture as a weapon.

Hat Tip: Norman Podhertz
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