Torture is never justifiable

From Amnesty International:

139 countries and several international criminal tribunals agree.

In response to an article published in The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald newspapers today, Amnesty International restates its view that torture is never justifiable. Amnesty International absolutely deplores any suggestion that torture or other ill-treatment is acceptable for any reason, or at any time. Amnesty International believes that to flout the rule of law, to torture, to humiliate, is to undermine long-term security. Respect for human rights is the route to security, not the obstacle to it.

“It is absolutely astonishing and appalling that anybody would justify the use of torture on moral, pragmatic or any other grounds.” Amnesty International Australia’s spokesperson, Nicole Bieske said. “The prohibition against torture at all times and in all circumstances is not negotiable”.

Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment are universally punishable crimes. In all of the ad hoc international criminal tribunals established to date, not one has accepted any justifications for torture or ill-treatment, nor have they found that torturing or otherwise ill-treating certain people is anything less than a crime.

Furthermore, it is generally accepted that torture does not produce the desired result of the perpetrator – quite the opposite. People who are tortured will give any answer to stop it continuing.

Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment are absolutely prohibited in all circumstances under international law. This fact is irrespective of the guilt or innocence of the person subjected to it. This means that there is never any justification for the use of torture.

Governments around the world have recognised and committed to this prohibition. One hundred and thirty nine countries have signed up to the Convention Against Torture which explicitly states that torture, or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, is never acceptable or justifiable.

Not enough (official) torture in the world?

Two Australian academics have argued sparked off a moral firestorm by arguing that torture should be legal even if it causes the death of innocent people.

In a paper soon to be published in a US law journal, the head of Deakin University’s law school, Mirko Bagaric, and his colleague Julie Clarke argue that when many lives are in imminent danger, “all forms of harm” may be inflicted on terrorist suspects or persons of interest “even if this results in his or her annihilation”.

A surprising revelation is that Professor Mirko Bagaric is also a member of the Refugee Review Tribunal and a lecturer in human rights law. On Tuesday he defended his controversial paper, entitled ‘Not Enough Official Torture in the World? The Circumstances in which Torture is Morally Justifiable’, arguing that torture is justifiable “when it is the only means possible in order to avert a moral catastrophe”.

I have to wonder whether this paper, is itself, a moral catastrophe.

However, rather than demonizing the two professors, I think Christian leaders need to look deeper and consider to what extend they are merely extending and making explicit what is already implicit in many public moral debates: that the end justifies the means; that violence can have redemptive value.

Let’s look at the train of logic:

  1. Self-defence is a right
  2. Defence of others is an extension of self-defense
  3. We have the moral responsibility to defend the majority using any means necessary
  4. Torture is in some cases necessary

I think its the third point that we need to look at really closely. Most Christians would accept its ok to waive our own right to self defense. After all, Jesus did that. But what about for others? Is it ever morally justifiable to refuse to defend others? I think this is where people get stuck. So I want to pose a few questions:

  • How does ‘ends justifies the means’ thinking undermine Christian moral authority?
  • Is violence ever truly redemptive?
  • How should our resurrection hope shape our response?

Autobiography of a Yogi

autobiography-of-a-yogiOne book I am really getting my teeth stuck into at the moment is Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda.

I find that my cultural context in Western Sydney is more and more drawing me into an engagement with Hindu thought, and having read the Bhagavad Gita and Swami Prabhavananda’s commentary on Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras in recent months, Yogananda seems like the obvious next pit stop.

Funny how I went through the New Age Movement in the 90s without ever reading any of this. I was caught up so much in Zen, Gaia and Gnostic mysticism that I virtually bypassed one of the major influences on the New Age Movement. Just goes to show how hard it is to pin down New Spirituality into neat little theological boxes I guess.

Anyway, one of the primary things I am trying to come to grips with is the difference between the Yoga-Vedantic philosophy so popular amongst Anglo seekers and the devotional folk Hinduism of my many Sri Lankan neighbours. So I am also reading up on The Spirit of Hinduism by David Burnett (which Philip Johnson kindly loaned to me last week), Understanding Folk Religion by Paul Hiebert and of course primary source material distributed by the local temple.

I also want to learn a lot more from conversations with our Hindu neighbours but unfortunately deep conversations have been precluded by a number of local family crises in recent months. In particular, one of our neighbours Raja recently returned to India after his brother committed suicide, so the more basic needs of prayer support and neighbourly care have taken over on that front. I’d appreciate it if any of you would care to join me in prayer for them at this time.

The Inner Experience of Thomas Merton

thomas-mertonI finally managed to purchase a copy of Thomas Merton’s The Inner Experience.

I first spotted it at a bookshop in Leura a few weeks ago but only had enough to buy a copy of his Dialogues with Silence. Didn’t see it again till I dropped into Adyar last week. What drew my attention is that Thomas Merton is a Christian contemplative that has engaged with Zen meditation. A man after my own heart. Here’s a little of what he had to say:

“This discovery of the inner self [in Zen] plays a familiar part in Christian mysticism. But there is a significant difference, which is clearly brought out by St Augustine. In Zen there seems to be no effort to get beyond the inner self. In Christianity the inner self is simply a stepping stone to an awareness of God. Man is the image of God, and his inner self is a kind of mirror in which God not only sees himself, but reveals himself to the ‘mirror’ in which he is reflected. Thus, through the dark, transparent mystery of our own inner being we can, as it were, see God ‘through a glass.’ All of this of course is pure metaphor. It is a way of saying that our being somehow communicates directly with the Being of God, who is ‘in us.’”

“Zen writers might perhaps contend that they were interested exclusively in what is actually ‘given’ in their experience, and that Christianity is superadding a theological interpretation and extrapolation on top of the experience itself. But here we come upon one of the distinctive features of Christian, Jewish and Islamic mysticisms. For us, there is an infinite metaphysical gulf between the being of God and the being of the soul, between the ‘I’ of the Almighty and our own inner ‘I’. Yet paradoxically our innermost ‘I’ exists in God and God dwells in it. But it is nevertheless necessary to distinguish between the experience of one’s own innermost being and the awareness that God has revealed himself to us in and through our inner self. We must know that the mirror is distinct from the image reflected in it.”

Whilst I have great respect for Zen, as Merton does, I agree that it is equally to recognize the distinctive features of Christian contemplation. Maybe that’s something to contemplate on?

Youth: Postmodern?

How helpful is to characterize the postmodern / modern cultural shift as a “generational gap” as so many emerging church and established church leaders seem to be doing?

Is it appropriate is it to:

  • View churched youth as postmodern simply by virtue of their age?
  • Assume there is no postmodern / modern gap between people of the same generation?
  • Delegate responsibility for postmodern ministry to youth pastors?

Or is the “generational gap” interpretation too simplistic an analysis?

Could it be that many churched youth live in a semi-permeable modernist bubble, and that postmodern ministry which uses churched youth as a benchmark is way off base?

Could it also be that treating postmodern ministry as a youth phenomenon leaves many adults adrift?

I was reading a recently released paper from the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelisation entitled The 12/25 Challenge: Reaching the Youth Generation and was somewhat dissappointed by their analysis.

Digging deep – meditating on growth and unity

lake-parramattaFeeling a bit down and drained this morning, I drove out to Lake Parramatta for some walking and reflection. It takes about an hour to do a circuit of the lake through the surrounding bushland and its an oasis of peace in an otherwise busy city. It’s becoming one of my favourite spots for a bit of God space.

Amongst the many things which percolated to the surface, one I will share is a metaphor for spiritual growth. God reminded me that, whatever else we might get hung up about, however alienated we may feel by the establishment, we need to focus on the Word and the Breath that binds us and our modernist siblings to one another. Just as a strong tree has deep roots and broad leaves, to draw up nutrients and receive sunlight, we need to dig deep into the nutrient rich soil of the Word and broaden our arms to receice the Breath and Light of the Living One. Christians may be divided by language and cultural perspective but we are binded by the love through Christ. I need reminding of that, as I suspect do we all. “Remembering” is an ancient tradition of the Christian community. We need to dig deep into sacred memory that we all share and remember that which binds us together.

ICON – Images of the Sacred

As we start to gear up for the Winter Magic Festival at the next solstice in June, I thought it was appropriate that I finally got around to saying something about ICON – Images of the sacred.

ICON was an art exhibition held in the Katoomba, Australia in 2001. It was co-organised by one of our friends, Warrick Saxby, for the purpose of opening a spiritual dialogue between people of diverse spiritual backgrounds using art as the medium and common ground of expression. Participants included Buddhists, Wiccans, Christians, Pagans who joined for conversation and creative discussion. As the site states, “barriers of prejudice and past hurts came under the scrutiny of our common search and common humanity.”

Truth: Who owns who?

I was meditating this morning and the words came to me:

You don’t own the truth

The truth owns you

I found myself drawn down into a space where I was thinking, “Isn’t claiming to ‘own’ the truth just like saying we ‘own’ God? It puts truth in a box. Yet the bible affirms that we don’t have all truth; we only see dimly this side of the return of Jesus. We don’t even have a monoploy on truth. We just know enough to make a decision. I was struck by how arrogant a claim this human ‘ownership’ is.

Jesus said: “Then you will know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” If the truth is to free us, lets make sure we don’t foolishly try to enslave it.

McLaren on other religions

In his book, The Church on the Other Side, Brian McLaren writes:

“One of the toughest challenges in the church on the other side will be to develop a new way of talking about – and with -other religions.”

I would like to kick off this new site by inviting the emergent church to seriously consider this challenge posed by Brian.

McLaren points out that globalization is reshaping, not only the world, but our local communities:

“To dismiss Buddhism when all Buddhists lived on the other side of the world was easy; but when a Buddhist lives next door or teaches your college chemistry class and proves to be a good neighbour or professor, his beliefs are not so easily dismissed.”

I find this an interesting comment, as I do in fact live next door to a Buddhist. She is a dear old lady who has recently been widowed.

But that’s just the beginning.

On the other side of our house are a young family of Sikhs who’s one year old daughter plays with my son. Two doors further up is a young Hindu family, who’s son also plays with my son. The world is at our doorstep – literally. Yet the majority of Christians I speak to, even in my local area, have a curious resistance to direct two-way dialogue with people from other religions. Despite years of trying to encourage Christians to engage, behavioural change has been meager. It is indeed a great challenge.

Is my area so unique? Yes and no. It is true we are in a hot spot for Hinduism, but other areas have their own demographic quirks. We’re not THAT unique. In my experience it have more to do with willingness to set outside your comfort zones. You don’t see what you shy away from.

McLaren continues:

“To caricature all Muslims as terrorists is easy until you meet a Muslim of grace and ethical depth. To focus on the cruelties of some Hindus and in so doing dismiss Hinduism might work until a Hindu points out a few of our own embarrassments and egregious failures as Christians. Just as we must acknowledge that both kooks and saints stand under the Christian banner, we will have to stop giving ourselves permission to be prejudiced and stereotypical about members of other religions. We can’t keep comparing our best with their worst and feeling smug.”

As a person who is deeply committed to justice and truth I find the vilification of other religions by Christians to be most disturbing. In our previous house we lived next door to a Muslim family. I became friends with the husband, Mohammed, and he was one of the best and most gentle neighbours I’ve ever had. Yet again and again Christians characature Muslims as violent. Only recently a pair of Christian ministers were found guilty in Melbourne, Australia for incitement to religious hatred. It sickens me that this is allowed to continue within the ranks of the contemporary church. One of my great hopes for the emerging church is that it can rise to the challenge of being good Samaritans to our neighbours.