For a moment, President Barack Obama stepped over the carnage of his misguided philosophy of encouraging death. After reversing the Mexico City policy, championing stem cell research, and indicating a coming shift on health care worker's conscience restrictions, Obama took a pro-life step. He publicly spoke out against torture and took steps to ensure that America does not participate in it.
Admittedly, it was an odd week. First, Obama removed waterboarding from the arsenal of interrogation techniques and spoke to our moral leadership as a nation that rejects torture. Within hours, the very same President was speaking to the need to have a pro-abortion nominee to succeed Justice David Souter on the Supreme Court.
How, oh how, does one mind hold such contradictory principles? How does one vote for and endorse the killing of unborn children, even via partial birth abortion or via the ending of a life that arrives even after an abortion has tried to end it, and then articulate a “moral” mandate not to torture our enemies because of the dignity of the human individual?
Either one believes in the dignity of the human individual, and its parallel conviction of the sanctity of human life, or one does not. Obama consistently demonstrates that he does not; yet, for a brief shining moment, this week he took a step into the light of life and rejected torture. Every human being has dignity and value, and the word “everyone” leaves no one out, even our enemies, even the unborn.
For decades, I have marvelled at those on the left who so quickly will dismiss the act of abortion, of a mother killing her own child, as a mere “choice.” Likewise, I have marvelled at those on the right who would defend the unborn but simultaneously embrace torture, and the execution of criminals, who also are made in the image of God. When we have the option to imprison convicted criminals for life, why not mean it and use it? Why take the chance of executing an innocent (which we have done) and why arrogate to ourselves the privilege of ending a life? Life simply is not ours to make, nor is it ours to take. Life belongs first and foremost to God.
Torture is an issue of life. Each human life possesses a transcendent value and dignity by virtue of having been made by God in His own image. That dignity forms the basis for any pro-life conviction. It forms the foundation of a respect for human life and human rights. The defense of refugees, the feeding of the hungry and poor, the protection of the unborn and defenseless, and the call for equality of all races. To debase or demean the dignity of any human being simply is unacceptable. To encourage that debasing or demeaning says more about the debaser than it does about his victim.
That respect for human dignity grounds our morality and prevents our acting out of fear and desperation. It gives us principle rather than mere emotion. While America may be in danger of losing its credibility as a moral leader by virtue of Obama's decisions on life issues, his comprehensive rejection of torture gives us at least one small pole to hold up the remaining tent of our own morality.
Rejecting torture appears to come with difficulty to some in our culture. Those persons choose to value security, whether real or hypothetical, at any cost. They reject loving our enemies, blessing those who persecute us, and treating others as we would like to be treated. They reject international humanitarian law and the Geneva Convention, both of which specifically outlaw torture. And proponents of torture, many of whom call themselves “followers of Christ,” forget the very power and dignity of the Incarnation, the fact that Jesus became fleshly and fully human. He became one of us and was tortured for it through death on a cross. After all, that is where we get the term “excruciating” - literally “out of the cross.” It is no accident that Webster's definition of torture centers on the word “excruciating.” And it is ironic that followers of Christ would embrace the same tools used by his torturers.
Proponents of torture, a category of thinkers which includes many of my ostensibly “pro-life” colleagues on talk radio, insist that the ends justify the means. Machiavelli would be proud. “Do whatever it takes to protect us,” they insist. Really? Do ANYTHING? Even sacrifice our own dignity as well as the dignity of those who attack us? Even sacrifice our own morality on the altar of the appearance of security?
No thank you. There are some things worse than the lack of security. There are some things to be feared even moreso than death. Becoming sub-human is one of those. Forsaking the faith is another.
John McCain considers waterboarding to be torture. McCain also calls America to a higher moral plane, a plane where torture of our enemies is off-limits. I am inclined to think that he knows what he is talking about. For once, President Obama is right (both literally on the issue of torture and figuratively as a pro-lifer for the first time in his life). Human life does have dignity. We are not mere animals or accidental collisions of molecules descended from the primordial muck. We are moral creatures. We are unique.
Torture provides the supreme test of our morality. Do we seek to take the higher road, the road less traveled, because it is right or merely when it is expedient? I have heard all the arguments of torture's proponents.
- What if torturing a possible informant might lead to the return of your own daughter who has been kidnapped?
- Desperate times call for desperate measures.
- We are only doing to them what they have already done to us.
Every school child knows two wrongs do not make a right. Of course, we are fighting people who have embraced the cause of evil. But embracing their tactics only leads us into the same immoral morass they already populate. Finally, we have laws and ideals to prevent us from responding out of the “What if this were my daughter?” impulse.
We can choose to be governed by the tyranny of temporary emotion or we can choose to be governed by the self-control of our reasoning and moral thought.
We can choose to be base, or we can choose to be noble. I will choose the latter. For once, Obama has done the same. And America should follow suit.